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An app that’s not apt to be very useful

Only in these mega-awesome modern times could a product that really doesn’t work well at all become a big hit.

And only in the Internet age could how badly it works be a selling point.

Fetch! is an app that lets you upload a photo of your dog and learn what breed it is, or, judging from my try, what breed it’s not.

It was released yesterday just in time for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, according to promotional material. (Last I checked, competitors at Westminster were pretty sure what breeds their dogs were.)

triaddoggames 093

Not a Rhodesian Ridgeback

The app analyzes a photo and makes a guess as to breed — using its artificial intelligence and tons of data stored in clouds.

It’s just one of the latest products to hit the market offering to guess everything from your age to your state of mind to the significance of your mustache — all via the power of object recognition, a key facet of artificial intelligence.

It comes as a Web app or download for devices running Apple’s iOS, and you can also get an idea of what it’s all about at the website what-dog.net.

I generally avoid apps (I’m app-rehensive?) so I went to the website to give it a test. I fed it three different photos of Ace, and it identified him as a Rhodesian Ridgeback each time. (He’s not.)

Next I uploaded a photo of myself and was told I was a “Chihuahua … quick witted, loving, wary of strangers and other dogs.”

(Strangers and dogs are actually the two things I’m NOT wary of.)

Microsoft is using the device’s lack of reliability as a selling point, as if to say,  ”Well no, it’s not really accurate at all, but isn’t it fun?”

Seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

As in the series of ads from Time Warner that make light of the sheer hell the company — once, they’d have us believe — put customers through.

As in the direction the news media has been going in ever since it realized there was an Internet.

As in all those overused hooks designed to get us to click a link on the Internet – such as awesome, epic, jaw-dropping, life-changing, pee-your-pants-funny, you’re not going to believe what happened next.

With Fetch, in my case, not too much happened next.

But its developers say they expect it to wow the masses.

“There was an interest in creating a framework that would allow you to take a domain – in our case, dogs – and recognize numerous classes, such as breeds. We were interested in enabling an app to allow you to make object recognition extraordinary, fun and surprising,” said Mitch Goldberg, one of the Fetch  developers

“If you want to take photos of dogs, it will tell you what dog breed it is, if it’s one of our supported breeds. If I choose to take a photograph of a flower, it’ll say, ‘No dogs found! Hmmm… This looks more like…flower?’ But if you take a picture of a person, it’ll kick into its hidden fun mode. And in a playful way, it’ll communicate to you not only what type of dog it thinks you are, but also why.”

Follow all that? When the app works, it’s an amazing example of artificial intelligence. When it doesn’t, don’t worry, it’s in playful, fun mode.

I sometimes wonder if artificial intelligence is gaining on us, or if we’re just getting more stupid.

Who wouldn’t be distracted by Pluto?

Testing how calm he could remain amid the crowds and distractions was exactly the reason Ace, a guide dog in training, was taken to Disneyland.

But throwing Pluto into the mix seems almost unfair.

Ace, who began his formal training with Guide Dogs of America at the end of January, was with his caretaker, Sandy Steinblums, when they bumped into Pluto.

While he might not have followed his training to the letter, Ace did calm down after some initial excitement and, once directed to stay a few times, he did a pretty good job, given Pluto was egging him on.

Steinblums said that, though it’s not in the video, Ace remained in the stay position for several minutes.

A video of the meeting was posted on Disney Dorks, a Disney fan page on Facebook, and it has been shared more than 15 million times in three days.

Ace will undergo six to nine months of training before he graduates and is matched with a human.

Dog rental company comes under scrutiny

lede_3902(hannah)

Want all the joys of having a dog and none of the responsibility?

You could do the smart thing, and avoid getting a dog.

You could volunteer with a shelter or humane society, or go to dog parks and get your doggie fix by hanging out and bonding with other people’s canines.

Or you could turn to a company — and make no mistake, it is a company — like Hannah the Pet Society.

Based in Oregon, it is a pet leasing company, and more — much more.

Picture a combination of a pet store, Jenny Craig, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motel 6 and eHarmony, with your own personal trainer and what used to be called burial insurance thrown in.

Hannah the Pet Society will match you up with a dog, and provide that dog with what it calls “Total Lifetime Care” — from dog food to boarding, from veterinary care to final arrangements.

All for a start-up fee and “low” monthly payment.

Founded in 2010, it offers a whole new model of pet ownership that really isn’t pet ownership at all.

Hannah retains ownership of all the dogs it places, which means that, under the law, it can apparently do with them as it pleases, including euthanizing them.

Last month, after Seattle Dog Spot exposed some of the questionable practices at Hannah, an investigation began into complaints against the company that include unnecessarily euthanizing three dogs in November.

The Oregonian reported yesterday that the state Department of Justice is looking into the euthanizations and the 10 complaints and two lawsuits filed against the company since 2012.

The euthanizations were brought to light by a dog rescue in Vancouver, Washington, which posted about them on Facebook to warn other shelters and rescues that may be providing dogs to Hannah:

“Two weeks ago Hannah the Pet Society euthanized 3 shelter dogs – Pip, Charlie Bear and Kelso. Rather than offer them back to the shelters they came from or provide the support that they needed to rehabilitate them, Hannah chose to kill them. We’re sending this information to as many shelters as possible to get the word out.

“These may have been dogs that they received from you. I know that you work hard to save as many animals as possible. Unfortunately Hannah does not have the same passionate commitment as you do. When you provide an animal to Hannah, there is no guarantee that they won’t put to sleep an animal that could be re-homed with a little bit of effort. There is no guarantee that they will return an animal to you.

“You may want to reconsider working with Hannah. At the very least, please think twice before putting an innocent life into their hands.”

Hannah chief executive Fred Wich said all three dogs had bitten people and been deemed aggressive. Here’s one of them:

Wich said returning the dogs to the shelters they came from would have been irresponsible.

Those who have gotten dogs through Hannah are required to feed that dog the food Hannah supplies, get veterinary care from the vets Hannah specifies and, to get out of their contract when a dog dies, bring proof of that death — often the dog’s carcass — to Hannah headquarters.

Hannah also offers to provide a dog that is a perfect and “harmonious” match for a potential customer, using a “proprietary placement process was created exclusively by Hannah with the help of psychologists, veterinary behaviorists and personality testing experts.”

Hannah offers, or claims to offer, so many things that it defies simple description.

But we’ll describe it this way — it’s creepy, and becomes even creepier yet when you throw in the fact that company officials decline to say where the dogs it places come from, except to say some come from shelters.

Several shelters in the northwest say they had relationships with Hannah in the past, but have terminated them.

Apparently they’ve come to realize what has been proven over and over again — dog leasing, for profit, isn’t a good idea. It’s a business model that may work with automobiles, but not with family members.

When is a hoarder not a hoarder?

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If you were to pick up Jung Myoung Sook, her 200 dogs and her ramshackle hillside compound and plop them down in rural America, she’d be consider a hoarder for sure.

But in South Korea, where the dogs she’s caring for might well have otherwise ended up as meals in homes and restaurants, she’s really more of a saint.

Her neighbors don’t always feel that way, but I do.

Jung, who was featured on NBC Nightly News last week, has had to pack up and relocate seven times in the more than 25 years she has been rescuing dogs, due to complaints from those living nearby.

Jung picks ups strays living on the street, and she has also bought dogs that were headed to be sold for their meat.

The AP article said all the dogs in the compound appeared to be healthy.

While a small minority of South Koreans eat dog meat, dogs are raised on farms for that purpose, and can be bought, slaughtered and butchered at open-air markets.

While it has been six years since I visited one there, while researching “DOG, INC.,” my book on dog cloning, I haven’t been able to get those images out of my head since.

Seeing Jung’s smiling face, and reading of her work, helps some.

“My babies aren’t hungry. They can play and live freely here,” said Jung, 61. “Some people talk about me, saying, ‘Why is that beggar-like middle-aged woman smiling all the time,’ but I just focus on feeding my babies. I’m happy and healthy.”

It looked like they needed each other

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A dog at a Canadian pet motel and foster care center broke out of her kennel and positioned herself outside the kennel of two whimpering foster puppies spending their first night there.

The center’s employees had gone home for the night, but when one checked surveillance cameras they saw that a dog named Maggie had somehow gotten out of her kennel and was sitting in front of the kennels the puppies were in.

maggieAlex Aldred said his mother, Sandy, returned to the kennel to put Maggie back in her own kennel.

When Maggie indicated she wanted to be with the pups, Sandy let her into that kennel.

“Sandy stayed in there for about 15 minutes and then said, ‘Well it looks like they need each other,’ and then let Maggie stay the night in their kennel,” Alex Aldred, who also works at Barker’s Pet Motel and Grooming in St. Albert, explained.

“When we came back in the morning they were all still cuddled up together,” he added.

Turns out Maggie had recently had a litter of her own, and all the pups she gave birth to had been adopted.

“We think that’s why she got so attached to the puppies,” Aldred told ABC News. “We’ve never really seen it before, where a dog sneaks out to some puppies and is so excited to see them.”

Deanna Thompson, who works at the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS), the organization that rescued the puppies, said she was not surprised by what Maggie did.

“It’s innate in a lot of female dogs, especially if they’ve had a litter in the past. It’s just in their nature. We’ve seen it in a lot of dogs, even with male dogs, when they hear other puppies crying they want to console them and make sure they’re feeling safe.”

(Photos: ABC News)

600 animals seized from The Haven in N.C.

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Authorities in Hoke County, N.C., yesterday unearthed the remains of 15 dogs on the grounds of a “no-kill” animal shelter from which 600 animals were seized this week.

A day after Hoke County deputies and the ASPCA raided The Haven — Friends for Life shelter near Raeford, authorities on Thursday dug up the remains of 15 dogs that had been buried on the property.

stephenspearmsspearShelters owners Stephen and Linden Spears were released on bond after appearing in court on charges of neglect and possession of a controlled substance, but authorities says more charges against them are possible.

They’ve been banned from returning to the shelter.

Representatives of the ASPCA continued to remove some of the more than 600 neglected animals from the shelter yesterday, taking them to a warehouse near Raleigh where they could be checked by veterinarians and cared for.

ASPCA officials called the raid the largest companion-animal raid they’ve conducted nationwide in the last 20 years.

More than 300 dogs, 250 cats, 40 horses and numerous farm animals were living at the 122-acre shelter in Raeford, the ASPCA said in a press release.

hoke2“What we found today at this facility — self-described as ‘North Carolina’s most successful no-kill shelter’ — is unacceptable,” said Tim Rickey, senior vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response.

“This is one of the largest animal seizures the ASPCA has ever conducted in our 150 years as an organization,” he added. “We have a team of nearly 140 responders on the ground to remove and care for these hundreds of neglected animals who have clearly not been receiving adequate care. Our goal is to help them become healthy and ultimately find them homes.”

The ASPCA’s assistance was requested by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office, which began an investigation into the shelter after receiving complaints about sick animals and unsanitary conditions.

The Haven was operating without a license for about a decade, according to the ASPCA, and past inspections by the state Department of Agriculture had deemed the facility “inadequate.”

The population at the facility has fluctuated over the years, reaching more than 1,000 animals.

According to the shelter’s Facebook page, it was often seeking donations to improve the shelter, and had recently launched a GoFundMe drive to build roofs over the outdoor pens where dogs were kept.

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The seized dogs, cats and other animals will be held at an undisclosed location, and the ASPCA will continue to care for them until custody is determined by the court,

“The condition of these animals is pressing and required immediate attention,” said Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin. “In addition to protecting Hoke County citizens, law enforcement has an obligation to ensure the safety and well being of Hoke County animals at all times. We cannot and will not allow this type of mistreatment to continue any longer. All persons involved will be held accountable.”

No deceased animals were found on the property Wednesday, but yesterday investigators found at least 15 dead dogs and “dozens” of animals buried on the property, according to WRAL in Raleigh.

(Photos of shelter courtesy of ASPCA; photos of Spears family courtesy of Hoke sheriff’s department)

Rugby star facing fines, suspension

An Australian rugby star faces fines of up to $50,000 and has been stripped of his title of club captain after simulating sex with a dog during an Australia Day party he and some of his crew attended.

Most of Mitchell Pearce’s Neanderthal-like behavior (sorry, Neanderthals) was caught on camera.

The full video shows the shirtless Sydney Roosters halfback forcing a woman to kiss him, then picking up the party host’s small dog, saying he was going to have intercourse with it and holding it in his lap while making thrusting motions. The party host also accuses him of urinating on her sofa.

pearceThe Daily Telegraph reported that Pearce faces a fine of up to $50,000, will be sacked as captain of the Roosters, suspended from the club’s trip to England for the World Club series and banned for at least six weeks of the season.

The team also reportedly intends to insert a new clause into Pearce’s $750,000 contract, stating it will become void if he is involved in one more off-field scandal.

The RSPCA in New South Wales says that, despite the appalling nature of his simulated act, no animal cruelty charges are forthcoming.

Catharine Lumby, the National Rugby League’s adviser on women’s issues, says Pearce — who was also fined after groping a woman in a Sydney pub two years ago — should be terminated.

“I think he should be stood aside. I think this should be the end of his career,” Lumby told ABC News 24. “The whole thing was an act of disrespect towards the woman. It just sends the wrong message and the NRL has to continue to show leadership on this issue.”

The National Rugby League could impose disciplinary measures against Pearce once the team investigation and a review by the Australian Rugby League are completed.

Pearce’s father serves on the American Rugby League Commission, but news reports say he wouldn’t be involved in any decisions on disciplinary actions against his son.

From all appearances — or at least based on the video — he wasn’t involved in too many when his son was growing up, either.

(Photo: Courier-Mail)