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Tag: documentary

Secret Life of the Human Pups

secret-life-human-pups

All we can learn from dogs, and how, in many ways, we should strive to be more like them, are recurring themes on this website.

But, for the record, this is not what we mean.

A new documentary by Channel 4 in the UK takes a look at the “secretive” world of men who like to dress up as, and play the role of, dogs.

Around 10,000 people follow the pet play craze in the UK, according to “Secret Life of the Human Pups” — in which several members of this “secret” society dress up and strut before the cameras.

Apparently, it’s another one of those secret societies that — judging from some of its related websites, and the public competition it holds every year — really craves attention.

The documentary — sensationalistic as it is, albeit in a properly restrained British kind of way — isn’t unearthing any new ground.

Furries — people who dress up and behave as animals — have been around for decades, and the only new twist we can see is a trend towards preferring latex over fur costumes.

Participants, as always, range from those who enjoy a playful escape from reality to those who truly wish to be another species, from those seeking to shock and grab attention to those who are probably in need of some mental health counseling.

Anonymous sex, as always, while not what it’s entirely about, remains a strong component — at least for some participants.

The director of the documentary, Guy Simmonds told Newsweek he began pursuing the project after he “stumbled across some pictures [of human dogs] on the Internet.”

“… The more we researched it, the more surprised I was to learn how large the community was in the U.K. They’ve got their own social networking sites, events and competitions.”

The documentary aired Wednesday night.

Simmonds says puppy players (generally men) come from all walks of life: “We’ve come across librarians, security guards, even CEOs of huge corporations who wanted to remain anonymous. There are gay, straight, transsexual, asexual pups.”

One 42-year-old man described the appeal of pretending to be a pup this way:

“Life is getting more hectic nowadays, so much pressure on work and life. Some people drink, there’s drugs… You’ve got to be civilized in our society. When you’re in puppy mode, all that goes away. We don’t care about money; we don’t care about what job you’ve got, or the bigger car.”

For other people, role-playing as a dog can be a way of dealing with social anxiety, deep-rooted childhood issues or chronic medical conditions.

London-based psychotherapist Wendy Bristow says it is not uncommon for those who have experienced childhood trauma to seek comfort in forms of escapism. She points to cases of paraphilic infantilism, in which adults seek comfort by putting on diapers and regressing back to being a baby.

By taking on the role of something in need of nurturing — be it puppy or baby — they may be attempting to make up for a lack of it in their pasts.

“The technical term is displacement,” she said. “They’re doing an activity that gets them comfort, but they’re not expected to relate back apart from being grateful.”

Whatever the case, it seems there is one thing that both dogs and men who dress up as dogs are probably seeking more than anything else — attention.

Dogs vs. cats: The battle goes on

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In the perpetual debate over which makes a better pet — dog or cat — cats have been taking a drubbing lately.

It’s a silly argument to begin with: Why must we deem one species superior? What possible good does that serve? And it’s mostly a waste of time. Converting a dyed-in-the-wool dog lover to a staunch cat lover is about as likely as getting someone to switch from Donald to Hillary.

Yet, conflict seems to be something we humans require, or at least enjoy. And the endless argument does provide fodder for bloggers. And, every now and then, something interesting comes up.

In the past year, scientific and semi-scientific studies comparing dogs and cats have come down more squarely on the side of dogs — enough so that you’ve got to wonder if some cat-hater is behind it all.

dog_wins_tee_cat_tic_tac_toe_1024x1024(For the record, we confess a personal preference for dog right here at the start, though we like cats, too.)

One such study was conducted as part of a new BBC2 documentary called “Cats v. Dogs: Which is Better” — a silly concept for a TV show, though we admit some of what they bring to light is thought provoking.

Dr. Paul Zak, a California neuroscientist, compared how much oxytocin dogs produce compared to cats, and he concluded that dogs love humans more than cats do. Five times as much to be exact.

It has been well documented that bonding, petting and having eye contact with your dog produces increased levels of the oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, in both dog and human.

“It’s one of the chemical measures of love in mammals,” Zak said. “Humans produce the hormone in our brains when we care about someone. For example, when we see our spouse or child the levels in our bloodstream typically rise by 40-60 percent.”

The neuroscientist checked the oxytocin levels in both cats and dogs, taking saliva samples from 10 cats and 10 dogs on two occasions – 10 minutes before a playtime session with their owners and immediately after.

“I was really surprised to discover that dogs produced such high levels of oxytocin .. The dog level of 57.2 percent is a very powerful response. It shows these dogs really care about their owners,” he said.

dog-ppl-vs-cat-ppl4Zak said he was surprised to find any oxytocin at all in cats, which he said had never been tested for the hormone before.

Zak, also known as “Dr.Love,” believes upping our oxytocin (and hugging more) could change the world. He once took blood from an entire wedding party and a sampling of guests, to see how their oxytocin levels went up during the ceremony.

He also spent two years trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve his use of oxytocin inhalers on experimental subjects. (In the meantime, as reported in The Guardian, he used one on himself.)

Zak’s determination that canines love us more than felines do was just the latest bit of bad press for cats.

Another recent study, at Manhattanville College in New York, found canines provide humans with more benefits than cats.

The research suggested dog owners are more conscientious, less neurotic and more agreeable than cat owners. Dog owners scored higher in well-being than cat owners on all measures.

Last year, a study at the University of California, Berkeley, found, through web-based surveying, that cat owners were more anxious than cat owners.

If you still don’t believe cats have been getting some bad press, check out this headline on a story about a study of cats last year: “Study: Your cat might be trying to kill you.”

The story dealt with a study by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the Bronx Zoo that compared the personality of the domestic cat with bigger, wilder members of the cat species.

The headline … well, it’s what happens when you try to condense a 40-page study into eight catchy words.

So if you find yourself reading/listening to/watching the latest account of which is better, cats or dogs — whether it’s labeled science or not — be at least a little wary.

And if it stresses you out, go pet your dog. Or cat.

Of Dogs and Men: Documentary examines epidemic of dog shootings by police officers

A new documentary brings attention to an epidemic that really needs some — the shooting of dogs by police officers in America.

Anyone who reads this website knows it happens far too much — take Tuesday, for example — and often without good reason.

There are no firm statistics, but consider the estimates: The Department of Justice says about 10,000 dogs are shot by police officers every year.

And the number of police officers killed by dogs? None. Ever.

The documentary “Of Dogs and Men” takes a look at those alarming numbers, and what’s behind them, featuring many of the same cases we’ve reported here:

• Cisco, who was playing Frisbee with his owner in his Austin, Texas back yard when police at the wrong address for a domestic dispute call, shot and killed him.

• Payton and Chase, who were shot by police during a raid on a Maryland home – not only was their owner innocent of any charges, he is the town’s mayor.

• General Patton, who watched as his owners were handcuffed on the side of a Tennessee highway, completely innocent of any charges, and then killed as he exited the car, wagging his tail.

• Patches, a 12 pound Jack Russell terrier, who was shot by a 250-pound police officer who claimed to be in fear for his life.

“From SWAT raids to simple calls and even visits to wrong addresses, we are seeing more and more incidents of officers using lethal force against a family pet, despite the fact that no officer has ever been killed in the line of duty by a dog,” said director Michael Ozias. “We are hoping that this film compels more jurisdictions to follow the lead of states like Texas and Colorado that have taken steps to protect our law enforcement officers and our family dogs through increased awareness, proper training and effective policy.”

Of Dogs and Men, by Ozymandias Media, Inc., will premier Nov. 1 at the Austin Film Festival.

The film is being released in association with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

“Use of deadly force is rarely justified in these types of cases,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “With better training, we are confident that we can put an end to these pointless killings,”

“Of Dogs and Men does an excellent job educating citizens on both the common facts of these heartbreaking cases and the surprising scope of the problem, while highlighting the tools citizens can employ to change outcomes for the better—from legislation requiring officer training in canine encounters to litigation under the federal civil rights act,” Wells added. “This film needed to be made and ALDF is proud to be a part of it.”

Some states are headed in the right direction.

Texas, where the problem is perhaps most severe, passed HB 593 in 2015, which requires mandatory canine encounter training for incoming Texas peace officers as well as those who seek advancement. The training helps officers who encounter dogs achieve safe and non-confrontational outcomes for both the officer and the dog.

The State of Colorado also enacted a statute that requires local law enforcement to undergo training to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening dog behaviors, and employ non-lethal means whenever possible.

Illinois has enacted similar legislation and other states are considering it as well.

Denali: A “little” film with a big message

Denali from FELT SOUL MEDIA on Vimeo.

Denali is a short film, but definitely not a “little” one.

Documenting the bond between a nomadic photographer and his dog, it is beautiful and sweeping, both in its photography and in what it says about the human soul, the dog soul, and that “team soul” that often forms when dog and person are thrown together.

Ben Moon and Denali came together in 1999, when he and his girlfriend adopted the dog from a shelter. After breaking up with the girlfriend, Moon and Denali hit the road, traveling around the Pacific Northwest as Moon photographed surfers, rock climbers and other adventurers.

In 2004, Moon was diagnosed with cancer. While in the hospital for surgery and, later, long chemotherapy sessions, nurses permitted Denali to be in the room — and you get the impression neither of them would have allowed it any other way.

Moon beat the cancer, and the pair hit the road again.

More than a few times, in the years that followed, Denali was featured in Moon’s published photography.

In 2014, Denali, at the age of 14, was diagnosed with cancer.

One month later, he was gone.

In Denali’s last weeks, Moon began compiling what would turn into the movie, Denali — his tribute to the dog he’d traveled with, over peaks and valleys both literal and figurative, for nearly 15 years.

A collaboration between Moon, director Ben Knight, and cinematographer Skip Armstrong, the film premiered at 5Point Film Festival, winning both Best of Festival and People’s Choice.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and I highly recommend viewing it on your full screen. And given it’s a work aimed at exploring emotions — not tugging at them — you may also watch it with a fully open heart.

It shows us how resilient humans can be, how resilient dogs can be, and how that resiliency — and the joy of life — can reach even greater heights when dog and human bond.

In his eulogy for Denali, Moon noted that, painful as losing him was, it was a time to celebrate.

“…However difficult the transition, it’s cause for reflection and a celebration of how much love and joy this incredible dog brought into my life.

“Thank you Denali for giving me the courage to hit the road with a camera, a van, and no plan back in 2001, for never taking your eye off me through a year of cancer treatments, surgeries and countless other challenges. Thank you for your uncanny ability to walk into a frame at precisely the right moment to elevate an image, for teaching me patience and the joy in the simple quiet moments as I watched you grow older, and most of all, giving selflessly the unconditional love that only a true friend can give. It’s impossible to put into words all that you were and will always be to me — I was always convinced you were more human than dog, and all of the countless lives you touched felt the same.

“Thank you for your unwavering belief in me, happy trails my friend!”

Inmates + dogs = a second chance times 2

A new documentary takes an inside look at the kind of “win-win-win” program I think should exist in every state, if not every prison.

“Dogs on the Inside” follows the relationships between abused stray dogs and inmates at a Massachusetts prison who are training and caring for them, getting them prepared to be put up for adoption.

dogsoninsideUnder a program called “Don’t Throw Us Away,” shelter and rescued dogs from the southeastern U.S. are sent to the North Central Correctional Institution at Gardner, where a group of inmate trainers work to regain their trust and, in the process, get some lessons in resilience and empathy.

The program benefits dogs and inmates. The third winner? Society — the one to which those inmates eventually are returning.

It’s similar to programs in other states we’ve written about before, including Philadelphia’s New Leash on Life, and, in North Carolina, a program with the same name, operated by the Forsyth County Humane Society.

insideGiven we’re a country with more two million inmates incarcerated, given six to eight million dogs and cats enter shelters each year, and given most of both spend that time unloved and idle, getting them together — given the benefits that can follow — makes good sense

Dogs on the Inside” follows the relationships between neglected and abused stray dogs and prison inmates in Gardner, Mass., as they “work together for a second chance at a better life: a forever home for the dogs and a positive life outside prison for the inmates.”

“Connected by their troubled pasts, the dogs learn to have faith in people again while the inmates are reminded of their own humanity and capacity for love and empathy,” the filmmakers say.

Directed by Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup, the film shows “the timeless connection between man and dog, showing the resiliency of a dogs’ trust and the generosity of the human spirit in the unlikeliest of places … In the seemingly dark recesses of a prison, a spark of light emerges that is a reminder of the wonderful and timeless connection that exists between dog and man.”

(Photos: Courtesy of “Dogs on the Inside”)

Documentary looks at Thai dog smugglers

As many as 200,000 dogs a year are smuggled out of Thailand, across the Mekong River and into Vietnam. The cruel journeys — in which the dogs are crammed in cages — last for days. The destination is even, by Western standards, meaner yet.

While smuggling the dogs is illegal, killing, cooking and eating them is not, and remains a tradition among some  in China, Vietnam and South Korea.

This CNN report, based on a new documentary, The Shadow Trade, looks at both the supply and the demand — and the cruel road between the two.

Dogs commonly become dehydrated, stressed, and die during the trips, in which they are packed 20 or more to a cage, and 1,000 or more to a truck.

“Obviously when you’ve got dogs stacked on top of each other they start biting each other because they are so uncomfortable, any kind of movement then the dog next to the one that’s being crushed is going to bite back,” said Tuan Bendixsen, director of Animals Asia Foundation Vietnam, a Hanoi-based animal welfare group.

When they arrive in Vietnam, the dogs are bludgeoned to death and have their throats slit before they are butchered for their meat.

Some animal rights activisists say the stress all that inflicts, even before death, is intentional — that some believe the stress and fear release hormones that improves the taste of the meat.

While some of the dogs rounded up in Thailand are strays — known as soi dogs — John Dalley of the Phuket-based Soi Dog Foundation estimates 98% of them are domesticated and says some are wearing collars and have been trained and respond to commands.

“You can see all types of pedigree animals in these captured Thai shipments — golden retrievers, long-haired terriers, you name it,” says Dalley. “Some are bought. Others are snatched from streets, temples, and even people’s gardens.”

A dog in Thailand can sell for $10, according to animal rights activists, but they’re worth $60 once they are served up in restaurants in Vietnam, where they estimate a million dogs a year are eaten.

The trade is illegal in Thailand, but, with no animal cruelty laws, traders are commonly charged with illegally transporting animals.  The smugglers usually receive sentences of just a few months in jail. And the dogs taken from them often wind up being captured again by traders, and shipped again to Vietnam to become meat.

“Dog, Inc.” — Uncanning an excerpt

The agitated American was back.

She’d stood before the same ticket agents at the United Airlines counter in Seoul-Incheon International Airport the day before, and the one before that – pleading in tears one moment, loudly threatening lawsuits the next. She and her five nearly identical puppies needed to get home to California and putting them in the jet’s cargo area – as the airline was insisting its rules required – was, to her, out of the question.

Even after she presented them with some dubious “official” certificates stating the pups, despite their tender age, were service dogs, the airline officials held firm. She could carry one in her lap. The other four, they insisted, would have to travel as cargo.

“But I have three handicaps,” Bernann McKinney countered, big blue eyes staring out from under blond bangs. “I should be allowed to take at least three dogs, one for each…”

From Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend

When airline officials refused to let Joyce Bernann McKinney and her five dogs board the cabin for a flight from Seoul to San Francisco, she took some drastic steps. That’s the kind the former beauty queen with a scandal in her past has always been prone to taking — the cloning of her dead pit bull Booger being perhaps  a prime example.

McKinney, who, like other customers, banked her dog’s cells before the cloning of dog was even achieved, would wait for years — first for the science that brought us Dolly the sheep to get around to dogs, then for her laboratory-made replicas to be born.

When, as the first customer of commercial dog cloning, she went to meet the newly born clones, things went smoothly at first. She and her dogs would have a moment in the spotlight — but stepping into it would bring some other things back to life as well.

She’d be recognized from video of the press conference as the woman who, 30 years earlier, had been charged with abducting a Mormon missionary in England, and accused in court of having her way with him. (Her trial never took place because she fled the country then, disguised as a member of a deaf mime troupe.)

Getting Booger cloned — and all this is just part of the “uncanny” referred to in the book’s title — was a similar mission in many ways, marked by the same single-minded persistence and her refusal to take “no” for answer as she crossed an ocean, and a number of other boundaries, to be reunited with her true love. In 1977, it was Kirk, the Mormon missionary. In 2008, it was Booger, the dead pit bull.

When she returned to Seoul a second time to pick the Booger clones up, her problems — once she refused to permit the pups to fly in the cargo hold — continued.

What she did next was one of the scenes I used to open my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Cloning of Man’s Best Friend” — an excerpt of which, for those of you seeking a preview, I’ve just added to the book’s website: Dogincthebook.com.

Once she’d picked up the dogs in Seoul, she sought travelers who would be willing to pretend they were handicapped and take one of the “service” pups aboard the cabin with them. She went to the airport every day, offering free airfare to anyone willing to take part in the ploy. But she found no takers.

Eventually, her money and patience and energy running out, she began bringing the dogs to the U.S. one at a time — leaving four in a Seoul kennel, flying one to San Francisco, leaving him in a kennel there, then flying back to Seoul to pick up another.

Not until her third trip there did she find some willing accomplice. She managed to get all five clones to her home in Riverside, Calif. But there would be more troubles ahead.

In addition to being one of the main characters in my book, McKinney is the focus of a new Sundance-bound film by documentary-maker Errol Morris, called “Tabloid.” It focuses on the 1970s-era “Manacled Mormon” scandal, the feeding frenzy it represented for the British press and the toll that took on McKinney.

“DOG, INC.” delves into Mckinney’s background, as well as those of pet cloning’s other customers, including a police officer-turned-actor who says his German shepherd found the last survivor of 9/11, and a Texas rancher who learned the hard way that the clone of his unusually tame bull Chance, Second Chance, wasn’t the same gentle soul. It looks too at those who funded and researched the effort to clone a dog, and those who sought, and are still seeking, to make cloning pet dogs a profit-making business.

(This Saturday, Feb. 5,  I  — along with my dog Ace (no, he’s not a clone) — will hold a book signing for “DOG, INC.” at the Book Escape, 805 Light Street, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, from 1 to 3 p.m.)