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Tag: documentary

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.)

“Last Minutes wih Oden”

The short documentary above — and, be warned, it will make you cry — chronicles the last minutes of a dog named Oden.

One of more than 6,500 submissions from thousands of artists and filmmakers, “Last Minutes with Oden” won top honors in a video contest sponsored by Vimeo, the online video sharing website.

The video focuses on Jason Wood and his dog Oden, who got cancer and had a leg amputated last year. But the cancer spread, leading Wood to make the anguishing decision to put down the dog who taught him how to love.

The video by Eliot Rausch documents the last day of Oden’s life. Vimeo’s panel of judges named it the best documentary, and the best video, and Vimeo presented the owners with a grant of $25,000. The awards were presented last month in New York City.

Jeremy Boxer, Co-Director of the Vimeo Festival + Awards called the video “one of those rare, intimate shorts that leads with its heart and soul.”

“Through a Dog’s Eyes” re-airs tonight

PBS will be showing an encore presentation tonight of “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” a documentary that followed four families on their journey to receiving a service dog.

The program, which highlights the non-profit service dog organization Canine Assistants, originally aired April 21.

It can be seen tonight — Wednesday – at 8 p.m. (eastern), 7 p.m. (central).

Through a Dog’s Eyes

As the founder of one of the country’s largest service dog organizations, Jennifer Arnold has spent the last 20 years breeding, training and matching service dogs for people with disabilities or special needs.

Now she has documented that mission, which began when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 16, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I remember not wanting to leave the house,” she said. “I felt very awkward, scared. It surprised me how frightened I was to be left alone. You feel so vulnerable.”

throughdogseyesArnold’s book, “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” comes out in September. A PBS documentary based on the book and narrated by Neil Patrick Harris debuts April 21.

Arnold and her family decided to set up their own service dog training school when, as a teenager, she was diagnosed and found herself in a wheelchair. She applied, but was so far down the list that the family began making plans for their own service dog academy.

Three weeks later, though, her father, a surgeon,was hit and killed by a drunken motorcycle driver. Arnold and her mother spent the next 10 years raising funds, and incorporated on Dec. 31, 1991. They started training their first dog the next year. Canine Assistants is now among the largest service dog providers in the country.

“Through a Dog’s Eyes” looks at Arnold’s treat-based teaching methods, five of the people to which the organization has provided dogs and how the dogs have helped them regain independence.

One of them is Bryson Casey, 30, of Kansas City, Mo., who served in Iraq as a captain with the National Guard. He came home and was in a car crash that left him a quadriplegic. He and his dog Wagner bonded instantly.

Arnold is now 46, her disease is in remission and she is married to the academy’s staff veterinarian.

In the last 20 years, Canine Assistants has given away 1,000 dogs; there is a waiting list of nearly 2,000. The organization does not charge for the dogs, and will pay for food and vet bills for the life of the dogs, if needed. The recipients are asked to do community service in return.

Canine Assistants breeds its own dogs, and trains rescue and shelter dogs. There are 150 dogs in training year-round. About 5 percent fail to make the program and are placed as pets.

It costs about $22,000 to train a service dog, Arnold said.

The book can be pre-ordered from Random House.

Why I object to the Michael Vick Project

The attempted reinvention of Michael Vick continues tonight with the premiere of BET’s “Michael Vick Project” — a quasi-documentary that focuses on his alleged redemption and glosses over the horrors he perpetrated on dogs.

As its name implies, the show stars Michael Vick, who, up to now at least, has been less than convincing in the role of the remorseful, regretful and rehabilitated fighter of dogs who managed to resecure a multi-million contract as an NFL quarterback.

The word on the show is it focuses little, and then only superficially, on the evils he committed — as has been the case with his appearances at schools and before youth groups on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States.

opinion sigThose appearances, the TV show, and his Ed Block Courage Award — all focusing on Michael Vick’s travails, Michael Vick’s ”bravery,” Michael Vick’s struggle, Michael Vick’s “redemption” — are only reinforcing the concept that one can get away with murder, or at least end up sitting pretty afterwards, at least when the perpetrator is a quarterback and the victims are dogs.

At this point, let me say that I’m all for rehabilitation, and all for second chances. In the eight years I reported about and hung out with prisoners — murderers even — I came to know, trust and, in a few cases, even respect many of them. I’m not a throw away the key kind of guy.

But allowing a convict to return to society is one thing. Seeing him return to the NFL, giving him a TV show, and topping it off with a “courage award” based on — what? — are quite another.

Michael Vick has every right to pursue and obtain those things. I’m not saying he should be banned from reaping riches, or anything else, with the possible exception of dog ownership — only that it turns my stomach to watch it all, and to watch the masses not just accept it, but throw their support behind him.

Yes, he served his time. Yes, he has a right to make a living. Yes, he can throw a football. But as for his choreographed image makeover, I’m not buying it – based on the comments he has made and his seemingless emotionless demeanor. I’ve yet to see any remorse in his face, and I’ve heard far more, from him, about his suffering than that of his dogs.

There’s no question he — and many others — are putting a lot of work into redeeming his image, but that’s different from redeeming oneself.

In an a radio interview with Dan Patrick this week to promote the TV show (it premieres tonight at 10 on BET), Vick was asked if he would still be fighting dogs if he hadn’t been caught.

“That’s the scary thing,” Vick responded. “I think about it. I would have continued to put my life in jeopardy. From a distance I would have still been involved.”

James DuBose, CEO of Dubose Entertainment, which is producing the Michael Vick Project, said, ”We hope his story will be one in which years from now, people particularly young men, will view and learn valuable lessons from.”

My fear – given that in the year since he completed his less than two-year prison sentence he’s been signed up as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, given a TV show and will be honored in March with an award – is that those lessons may not be the right ones.

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed” gets first U.S. airing

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed, ” the controversial BBC documentary that shed some much needed light on purebred breeding practices and the horrors they have produced, will get its first airing in the U.S. tonight (Dec. 10).

Probably the single most important piece of dog reporting in the past decade, the documentary led to the BBC dropping its coverage of Crufts, the UK’s equivalent of the Westminster Dog Show.

The documentary looks at how many breeds have had their physical appearance so exaggerated they’re unrecognizable from a century ago, and it examines some of the breed-specific health problems that have resulted from breeders emphasizing looks over health when breeding dogs for shows.

The show, which led to some changes in Kennel Club and breeder policies and practices,  airs at 8 p.m. tonight on BBC America.

The documentary revealed that dogs suffering from genetic illness are not prevented from competing in dog shows and have gone on to win “best in breed”, despite their poor health. It says physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s breed standards in the U.K., such as short faces, wrinkling, screw-tails and dwarfism, have led to inherent health problems.

This excerpt from the program shows a prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when a dog’s skull is too small for its brain.

The documentary looks at other problems that have resulted from mating dogs who are close relatives, all for the purposes of accentuating certain physical features deemed desirable by the dog show crowd — boxers suffering from epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs who are unable to mate or give birth unassisted because their heads are so big.

While picked up here and there by the U.S. media, the story of shaping purebred dogs to fit arbitrary human standards of beauty — despite the health ramifications – remains best told by the BBC documentary. By all means, watch it.