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Pet Rescue Saga: How I single-handedly saved hundreds of pets from being crushed

petrescuesaga

I rescued dozens, possibly hundreds, of pets from certain death the other night.

But before you call me a hero, or saint, you should know I only did it on Facebook, and only in a video game.

Pet Rescue Saga is the popular new puzzle game, downloaded more than 150 million times and playable on Facebook and through apps. It’s free, at first,  but then, like a drug dealer who has handed out samples to get new clients hooked, it starts charging you to play more, or play more effectively, or to reach greater highs.

The game comes from King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, which is similar and reportedly equally addictive.

When invitations to play Pet Rescue Saga first started showing up on my Facebook page, I wrongly assumed — given most of my Facebook friends are die-hard, do-gooding animal lovers — that it was a game that somehow was related to, or benefited, animal welfare causes.

It’s not, and it doesn’t.

There might be some unintentional similarities to the real world of animal rescue, such as walls being put up in front of you, and things piling up faster than you can handle them. But “Pet Rescue Saga” isn’t about rescuing pets in the animal welfare sense of the word. It’s mainly about busting blocks, and then more blocks, and then more blocks, by clicking on them to ensure that the “adorable” little pets atop them don’t get squished.

Given video games have a reputation for catering to our basest instincts — chopping off heads, running people over in cars and the like –  I had hopes, especially when Facebook friends kept inviting me to play, that this one might actually be about a noble pursuit, or might even be educational.

No such luck. What it teaches us about pet rescue is that we can save animals by matching two or more blocks of the same color.

Still, I ended up spending an hour playing it on Facebook, which annoyingly notified me to “share” every time I passed some friend’s record, before it got to the point where further play would require an investment of money. (That — having to fork up some money — generally prevents and/or cures any addictions to which I might fall victim.)

There are hundreds of levels of the game, and the higher you go (or the more you spend) the more tools you get to “save pets” – like sizzling rockets, hammers and exploding bombs.

In playing it, one becomes so focused on the blocks that he forgets about the animals. The endangered animals really seem a well-contrived afterthought, as if the gamemakers thought putting pets in need of rescue atop the stacks of blocks — as opposed to pots of gold or damsels in distress – might give it some relevance, or, pet rescue being a popular cause, add to its popularity.

“Wait! Don’t forget about the animals! ” says a review of the game on gamezebo.com. “Some levels of Pet Rescue Saga have dogs, pigs, and pigeons trapped on stacks of blocks, or wedged in columns. When you successfully clear away blocks, said animals drop safely to the ground. However, since many levels of Pet Rescue Saga scroll vertically, the animals on tall columns are in constant danger of getting squished on the top of the screen. Nothing ruins your day like the anguished squeal of a piglet.”

Squishing aside, it’s nice to see a game that’s seemingly about rescuing and saving, as opposed to killing and maiming.

It would be much nicer to see a game that was really about rescuing and saving animals, or that really taught compassion, or at least tried to.

I’m not necessarily saying the makers and marketers of the game are trying to capitalize on tender-hearted pet lovers, or that they mislead people to think the game might have some legitimate connection to the actual world of animal rescue.

But, after playing the game, I did start receiving emails from the gamemaker — far too many emails — with subject lines like: “Pets in danger. Help them now!” Clicking on the link in the email took me directly to the game’s Facebook app.

I don’t keep up much anymore with the latest developments in video games. So I don’t know if phony altruism is the latest video game trend: Bust up the blocks and find a cure for cancer. Bust up the blocks to feed the starving children.

Maybe there are some truly altruistic video games out there. The Game Show Network came close to that last month when it introduced Pet Pals Slots, a limited-edition game on Facebook. It earmarked a portion of money made from gameplay in November — up to $30,000 — to go to Best Friends Animal Society, providing food, medical care and shelter for animals at the organization’s Utah sanctuary. In other words, while playing a mostly mindless game, those who played Pet Pals Slots, at least in a way, were saving pets.

Video games, with exceptions, are rarely educational, and I don’t really expect them to serve as our moral compass. (More often they seem aimed at sending that compass haywire.)

And of course they’re not obligated to share the wealth they make with any deserving causes they borrow their themes from.

But how cool would it be to see — in addition to less squishing — more of that?

Cecil Williams will keep his guide dog; help pours in after they’re hit by subway train

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A blind man and his guide dog who were struck by a subway train in Manhattan Tuesday will be able to remain together — thanks to donations from members of the public touched by their story.

Cecil Williams fainted and fell on the New York City subway tracks, taking his harnessed dog, Orlando, with him.

Orlando barked for help and stayed by his side, even as the train passed over them.

In a story about the accident that aired on NBC Nightly News Tuesday night, it was reported that Orlando was slated to retire in January, and that Williams lacked the funds to continue to care for the dog afterwards, when the dog would no longer be covered by his insurance.

Since then, enough donations to their cause have been received by Guiding Eyes for the Blind to help pay for all of Orlando’s retirement expenses, and ensure that the pair’s eight-year relationship continues.

williamsand orlandoWilliams, 61, was on his way to the dentist when he fainted at the 125th Street platform. Witnesses said the dog was barking and tried to stop Williams from falling, as he is trained to do. When they both landed on the tracks, Orlando tried to rouse Williams, who was unconscious. Both lay there as a slow-moving subway train passed above them.

Nieither sustained serious injuries.

“The dog saved my life,” Williams said of his Labrador retriever. “I’m feeling amazed. I feel that God, the powers that be, have something in store from me. They didn’t take me away this time. I’m here for a reason.”

Williams, who is on insulin and other medications, was taken to a hospital, where Orlando remains at his bedside.

The Brooklyn man has been blind since 1995. Orlando, his second guide dog, “saves my life on a daily basis,” he said.

At a press conference Williams thanked everyone “for showing their humanity and peace and goodwill” by making donations to the guide dog school that trained Orlando.

“All the people who contribute and donated I think we should take our hat off to them,” he said. “There’s still good people in this world.”

(Photo: Williams and Orlando at press conference; by Carlo Allegri / REUTERS, via NBC)

Happy birthday, Bob Barker

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Bob Barker — game show host, outspoken proponent of animal rights and a man who has been putting his money where his mouth is — turned 90 yesterday.

And he was back on TV for the occasion.

Barker, who stepped down after nearly 35 years as host of CBS’s The Price Is Right in 2007, returned in an episode (taped last month) that aired yesterday, during the show’s celebration of Pet Adoption Week. He was greeted with a resounding round of applause from the audience.

Barker was known for his tradition of signing off with the words, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” His successor, comedian Drew Carey, has continued the sign-off.

THE PRICE IS RIGHTBarker’s passion for animals goes way back, and in 1987, it led him to resign from hosting the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe pageants — when organizers insisted on having contestants wear fur coats.

Since then he has campaigned for controlling pet overpopulation, fought for elephants and bears in captivity, supported anti-whaling efforts and funded college animal law programs.

 In 1994, he established the DJ&T Foundation with the goal of helping solve the tragic problem of animal overpopulation. The Foundation funds low cost spay/neuter clinics and subsidizes hundreds of spay/neuter voucher programs across the country in an effort to help control animal overpopulation.

Barker’s involvement with animal welfare is said to have begun in 1979, the same year he became a vegetarian. He has credited his wife, Dorothy Jo, with that, and after her death in 1981 he intensified his efforts for animal rights causes.

He was named national spokesman for “Be Kind to Animals Week” in May 1985. In 1994 he founded the DJ&T Foundation, named after his wife and mother. He has contributed millions for animal spaying and neutering programs and  animal rescue. In 2010, he donated $2.5 million to PETA to open a new Los Angeles office. The Bob Barker Building opened in 2012 on Sunset Boulevard.

HERE'S HOLLYWOOD -- "Bob Barker" -- Episode 54 -- Pictured: (l-r) TV game show host Bob Barker,  (Photo by Paul W. Bailey/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

He has also funded animal law and ethics programs at several law schools, including a $1 million donation to the University of Virginia, $1 million dollar to his alma mater Drury, and endowments to Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, UCLA, Northwestern and Georgetown.

In 2007, Barker was presented with the first ever Animal Legal Defense Fund Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of a life committed to animals and achievements made on their behalf at ALDF’s “Future of Animal Law” conference held at Harvard Law School.

In a recent interview with Parade, Barker revealed that, in addition to being a lover of dogs, bears and elephants, he also has a soft spot for rabbits.

“One day about 10 years ago, my housekeeper was coming to work and it was a cold day. And there was this little baby rabbit, sitting shivering in a yard about a block and a half from my home. She brought it home to me, and he is still thriving.

“He’s about 10 and a half years old, which is very old for a rabbit, but he’s getting good care so that he lasts long. He follows me around like a dog. He loves to be scratched, and I scratch him by the hour. I’ll scratch him until I get cramps in my hands. It’s true. He deserves it because he’s a fine, fine animal.”

Donations pour in for Barbara and Bowser

The Oklahoma tornado victim whose missing dog emerged from the rubble in the middle of a TV news interview may get another prayer answered.

Barbara Garcia’s Scottish terrier, Bowser, was spotted under a pile debris by the news team interviewing her after she lost her home in Moore.

“Well, I thought that God had just answered one prayer, to let me be OK,” Garcia said after freeing her dog. “But he answered both of them.”

Now, those touched by the scene, which went viral on the Internet, have donated enough money to make a new home a possibility.

A fund set up to help her get back on her feet and under a new roof was approaching $40,000 as of Monday night, just $10,000 short of its $50,000 goal.

“We’re still looking for a corporate sponsor who will match funds donated, so we can make the dream of building a new home for Barbara and Bowser a reality. Not only did Barbara lose her home, her daughter did as well,” said Erin DeRuggiero who’s spearheading the fund drive.

According to CBS News, the clip of Bowser emerging from the rubble has been viewed more than 3 million times.

“All of the other things … you know, one by one they can be replaced. A lot of it wasn’t even important, but I couldn’t replace him,” Garcia said in an interview.

Garcia didn’t have homeowner’s insurance.

“I was really just compelled, personally, to do something,” said DeRuggiero. In the first five days of the fundraiser, more than $35,000 was raised.

“Before the CBS piece aired, I didn’t know Barbara Garcia personally, but was incredibly moved by her story and of her reunion with her sweet dog,” DeRuggiero wrote on the Gofundme page. “… My goal is to ease her recovery, raise enough money to help her start to rebuild or relocate her life, and above all else, to show her that ‘life in the big city’ also means helping one another, even from 1500 miles away.”

Garcia says she’s overwhelmed by the support: “I didn’t know I was that important. Really, truly, I didn’t. I just thank everybody,” Garcia said in a follow-up interview with CBS News.

The “Build Barbara Garcia a Home” fundraising page can be found here.

Where did donations to Charlie go?


David Gizzarelli took in more than $17,000 in donations from big-hearted dog lovers in what he described as an attempt to save his dog Charlie, who was deemed dangerous after attacking a National Park Service horse.

But his attorney says Gizzarelli is unable to help out with the $9,000-plus tab for veterinary care, feeding and shelter that Charlie, an American Staffordshire terrier, has received since last August, when he was taken into the custody of animal control in San Francisco.

Apparently the $17,000 that was donated was spent on attorney fees, paying for the horse’s vet bills and “other living expenses.” That’s what Gizzarelli’s new attorney says, adding that his client can’t afford to help pay the bill and is currently sleeping in his car.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins ordered Gizzarelli to pay  anyway — specifically, half of the costs for boarding and treating Charlie since the incident.

Gizzarelli is still raising money to “help save Charlie” — via a Facebook page and his Help Save Charlie website — even though he has relinquished ownership of the dog, who is now in foster care and will likely end up in an adoptive home or sanctuary.

Until his court appearance, he had not provided any accounting of where the donated money went, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Charlie has been in the custody of Animal Care and Control in San Francisco since August, when he was  deemed “vicious and dangerous” by the police department. The cost for housing  him and providing veterinary care for an earlier injury totaled $9,808 as of Monday’s hearing.

Gizzarelli, in an earlier settlement, agreed to give up custody of Charlie and attend a hearing to discuss payment for Charlie’s care.

But he kept selling “Help Save Charlie” merchandise and collecting donations even after that. And while Charlie could probably still use help — he hasn’t been deemed adoptable yet — it appears little if any of the donated money has gone for the dog.

Questions during Monday’s hearing revolved around the amount of legal fees Gizzarelli paid to two attorneys, and $3,000 his attorney said was spent on ”food,  transportation and housing” — apparently for the human, not the dog.

Gizzarelli’s attorney, Orestes Cross, said his client has no money. “My client is on social welfare, living on $422 a month and sleeping out of  his car,”  told the judge during the hearing. “He fought the fight because he cares about his dog.”

Rebecca Katz, director of Animal Care and Control, says some donors to Charlie are likely upset. “I don’t believe those who contributed expected that money to go toward personal expenses,” she said. Since the settlement, Charlie has been in foster care. According to Katz, he needs several more months of training before he can be considered for adoption or placed in a sanctuary.

Gizzarelli faced federal assault charges after the attack on the police horse, but according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office those have been dropped.

(Photo: Help Save Charlie Facebook page)

A matter of Faith: Girl, 5, gets service dog


A family in northern Maine says it is “overwhelmed” by the generosity they saw from friends and strangers who donated enough money for them to get a service dog for their 5-year-old daughter, Faith.

Faith has spina bifida and experiences seizures. The new dog — a black Lab named Dandy — has been trained to detect when they might be coming.

Bruce and Beverly McNally, of Island Falls, took Faith in as a foster child, then as their adopted daughter. They quickly realized they needed help monitoring her for the seizures, which could be deadly if not addressed.

“The family became very worried, which is why they wanted to get the dog,” Michele King, Faith’s aunt, told the Bangor Daily News.

King is also the chief administrative officer for Brave Hearts, a nonprofit Christian home for young men in Island Falls, and that organization sponsored a fundraiser last month to try and raise the $2,500 that was needed.

King said that donations came from the more than 100 people who attended a benefit supper, and from people as far away as North Carolina.

“We just couldn’t believe it,” Beverly McNally said. “We eventually had enough money and we had to gently turn people away. We had to tell them that we had enough for the dog, but that we wanted them to donate the money to a charity of their own choosing.”

Dandy came from CARES — Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services — a nonprofit organization in Concordia, Kansas, that trains and matches assistance dogs with owners.

“Dandy has just been wonderful for Faith,” McNally said on Friday. “She picks up on a chemical change in the body when a seizure occurs. One day when we got back, Faith was very lethargic. She was in the chair with me and needed to be snuggled a lot more. And the dog got up in the chair and started whining. And I didn’t realize what was going on. And 45 minutes later, Faith had a seizure. Then I realized what the dog was trying to tell me.”

(Photo: Michele King)

Reynolds: The man, the smokes, the legacy

So he played a big role in getting a nation hooked on cigarettes. So he was the richest man in the state of North Carolina. So he was the sort of fat cat businessman from whom I tend to initially withhold respect — based on my automatic assumption that they had to crush a lot of butts on their way to the top of whatever heap they are on.

I wanted to hate him — for being the father of my addiction, for the fact that I can’t finish this blog entry without taking a break for one of his products — but, after a little research, I think I almost like R.J. Reynolds, and, even more, the estate he left behind.

Ace and I hang out there at least once a week — roaming the 130 acres that were part of his 1,000-plus acre country home, known as Reynolda.

The mansion is an art museum now. There are formal gardens, and a one-time village that’s now home to galleries, shops and restaurants.

But what we like best are the hiking trails that take you through thick woods and open meadows, rich with wildflowers and wildlife, past beds of pine needles and vines of  honeysuckle so pungently sweet they penetrate even a smoker’s jaundiced nostrils.

I got my start in cigarettes at, probably, age 16, pilfering Salems from my mother. Then I moved on to unfiltered Pall Malls — also a R.J. Reynolds brand, and also pilfered, in this case from a neighbor.

I remember my mother used to put her Salems in little ceramic holders. The little cups with a dozen or so cigarettes in them could be found around the house, serving almost as decorations. She didn’t smoke them that often, and when she did, she didn’t inhale.

I did — first her throat-searing menthols, then the neighbor’s filterless Pall Malls, before working my way up to Marlboros; those, after all, were perceived as the most manly, and didn’t leave you spitting out little pieces of tobacco.

Like most smokers, I ponder quitting at least weekly, most recently last week as I walked the trails of Reynolda, past a vine of honeysuckle that was leaning out into the path, the tiny tendrils of its blossom waving in the wind, like beckoning index fingers.

If only I could be hooked on honeysuckle, I thought. If only its sweet essence could be inhaled. Then I realized that’s exactly what I was doing. As I wondered if honeysuckle might be my salvation, I realized, if somebody studied it enough, honeysuckle could turn out to be bad for us too (though I don’t see how something with “honey” and “suckle” in its name possibly could).

Then too — even if honeysuckle did satiate that urge, and even if I harvested my own and came up with a smokeless way to imbibe it — it would still lack that ease of use that plays such a big role in getting us hooked.

It was R.J. Reynolds who made smoking so convenient.

In 1913, Reynolds developed the pre-rolled, packaged cigarette. He priced them low, called them Camels, because Turkish paper was used, and they helped propel him to the top of the tobacco heap.

Reynold was born in Virginia to a tobacco-growing, slave-owning family. He attended two colleges, one of them in Baltimore, and went to work for his father before striking out on his own.

In 1874, he moved to what’s now Winston-Salem to start his own tobacco company.  He started his own tobacco company in what was then Winston. There were 15 other tobacco companies in town, but his outgrew them all.

Reynolds was an astute businessman and a hard worker, and he quickly became a wealthy man. He married a woman 30 years his junior, his former secretary Mary Katherine Smith, who, historical accounts suggest, helped bring out his progressive and philanthropic sides.

She successfully urged him to shorten the work hours of employees, pay them more and provide them with meals, schools and nursery services.

When he built what would become Reynolda House, he also had a village constructed nearby where workers could live. It’s now called Reynolda Village, a collection of restaurants and shops. Also on the grounds, golf being his passion, he commissioned a 9-hole golf course, which now serves as the grassy meadow where Ace likes to romp, or just rest.

Before he died, in 1918 of pancreatic cancer, Reynolds served as a city commissioner and helped get both property taxes and income taxes approved.

He also granted endowments to Guilford College, the Oxford Orphan Asylum, and the Baptist Orphanage, in addition to a lot of  other charities and churches in the Winston-Salem community. He became the first southern man to establish a hospital serving African-Americans. He donated as well to establish the Slater Industrial School, which became Winston-Salem State University.

R.J. didn’t get to enjoy Reynolda House too long. He died the year after it was completed.

His daughter, Mary Reynolds Babcock, would donate it for use as an art museum, and the Reynolds’ philanthropic ways would continue. About 300 acres of the Reynolda estate was donated to Wake Forest University, which moved from the town of Wake Forest to Winston-Salem in 1956.

Today, the Reynolds family name is stamped on much of Winston-Salem, including the library at Wake Forest, the airport, a high school, a park and an auditorium, and the various components that make up Reynolda — Reynolda House, Reynolda Village, Reynolda Gardens.

(Having recently returned to my ancestral homeplace in Winston-Salem, moving into the modest apartment in which my parents lived when I was born, I thought about naming it and its adjoining patch of grass after me. But I’m only renting, and Woestendieka doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Reynolda.)

My honeysuckle encounter, and the hours I’ve spent slow-walking with Ace around Reynolda, have got me thinking I need to do more walking and less smoking, more pursuing of health and less feeding of urges. They’ve gotten me thinking too about how times change, and how things we were told were OK turn out not to be –  like slavery and smoking, which, not to diminish the massive evil of the former, have much in common.

I don’t blame R.J. Reynolds for inflicting the scourge of cigarettes on society. He was a product of his times, peddling a product of his times, and pouring some of the profits back into his community. Far more devious, I think, were the subsequent generations of tobacco pitchmen and the marketing techniques they used, aimed as they were at young people (Camels) and women (Virginia Slims and Eve).

Light up — if you want to be cool, if you want to be sexy, if you want to be liberated, or if you merely want to be a rugged Marlboro man.

Most of us — though it took decades — wised up and saw through that. Smoking is bad, and bad for you — always has been, always will be.

At least, maybe, until they come out with All Natural Smokeless Honeysuckle 100′s, which would have the added benefit of leaving you smelling sweet.

Then, and only then, will we have come a long way, baby.

(For more about visiting Reynolda with your dog, see our next entry.)

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