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Tag: environment

Fireworks: Do we really need the bang?

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There are only two possible explanations for this stand I am about to take:

One, I have come around to my dog’s way of thinking on the matter of fireworks, which is that they are to be feared, freaked out by, and avoided at all costs, even if it means hiding in the bathtub.

Two, I have become a certifiable old fart.

Oh wait, there’s a third possibility: Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

I am speaking here of the entire gamut of fireworks, from big sanctioned municipal events to small backyard displays to solo performances by those who feel the need to mindlessly fire a gun into the air while intoxicated.

With New Year’s behind us, and the Fourth of July ahead, I pose the question: Do we really need any of it? And, if so, is it possible to have the spectacle without the noise?

There’s a town in Italy, called Collecchio, that has reportedly introduced legislation requiring people to use “silent fireworks” out of respect to animals, for whom the noise causes some serious stress.

That’s an idea worth importing.

Other than a reference on a travel website, I couldn’t find a lot of information about the proposal on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, good and quiet ideas tend to get buried by loud, stupid and flashy ones.

Nor could I find any truly “silent” fireworks. There are a few videos on YouTube that claim to feature “silent” or “quiet” fireworks, but the companies behind them seem to be promising more than they are delivering.

In the UK, this past November, Birmingham Botanical Gardens offered a silent fireworks show they promised would be “ideal for the little ones,” but it was followed by complaints from parents who said they were forced to leave because the loud noises frightened their children, according to a BBC report.

Why is it society has been able to come up with the technology to put silencers on guns, but not on fireworks?

Fireworks have been an American tradition for more than 200 years, and any voice calling for putting a muzzle on them — much like any voice calling for gun control — is likely to be blasted as unpatriotic.

For dogs, they are more than just annoying. They confuse and stress out many dogs, often leading them to run away, sometimes getting hit by cars in the process. They have negative effects on birds and other animals, too, not to mention air quality and all the injuries to humans the do-it-yourself variety cause.

But the spectacle, and the tenuous link to patriotism, somehow rate as more important than all that.

Even in an age of heightened fears over terrorists, we still feel the need to see and hear the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air. We need to see and hear what is, in effect, a re-creation of war.

Fireworks displays are like Donald Trump — big and loud and in your face, full of bangs, booms and bombast, a spewing spectacle that prides itself in being outrageous and pushing the limits.

I would not mind in the least if they both went away. But neither is likely to, even though there are quieter, saner alternatives.

Laser light shows are one, but they don’t seem to have wowed us like traditional fireworks displays.

When an air pollution control district in California offered three towns $10,000 to call off their fireworks shows and replace them with laser light shows in 2012, none of the towns accepted the offer.

“You can’t have a Fourth of July show with just light beams,” one fair official said. “It would have been two minutes and the kids would have been done and gone.”

Another California town, Morro Bay, tried a light show in 2009 — due to predictions of a foggy night — but says it won’t do it again.

“It was like a bad Pink Floyd concert,” one official said.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as silent fireworks or, for that matter, such a thing as a bad Pink Floyd concert. But both my dog and I — while not being so brash as to suggest celebrating peace instead of war — cast a vote for quieter celebrations.

Here’s a not entirely quiet example, from a company that provides “quiet” fireworks for weddings and other events:

(Photo: Freestockphotos.biz)

Oddball: How a dog saved the little penguins

Take a vulnerable colony of tiny penguins, throw in some villainous foxes intent on killing them all, and top it off with a heroic dog who comes to the rescue, and you’ve got a plot line that might make Walt Disney himself jump out of his grave (or freezer if you believe that tall tale).

This tale is based on a true one, though — how the little penguins of Middle Island, off the coast of Australia, saw their population drop from more than 800 to less than five before a local farmer suggested a dog on the island could keep the foxes away.

It may be a feelgood movie now — and how could it not be given it features penguins (everybody’s favorite animal) and dogs (everybody’s favorite animal) — but the story, when first widely publicized, was a nightmarish one.

Little-PenguinIn October of 2004, 180 penguins were found dead on the island, just off the coast of Victoria.

The penguins had already all but disappeared from Australia’s mainland by then. Once common along Australia’s southern coast, the flightless birds began diminishing in number after red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century.

Before long, the only surviving little penguins– once known as fairly penguins — were to be found on islands.

In the late 1990′s, tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make small and uninhabited Middle Island accessible from the shore, and the foxes took advantage of the island’s easy prey — even when those seeking to preserve the penguins experimented with various solutions, including building shelters for the birds on the island.

The 2004 incident, labeled a “massacre” by the local press, led to some serious consideration of a solution that had been proposed by a local chicken farmer.

The farmer, who goes by the name Swampy Marsh, had offered to send one of his Maremma dogs to the island to protect the birds.

Named for the region northwest of Rome where they originated, the dogs were bred to live among livestock. While vigilant and territorial, they are generally amiable toward people they know and the animals they are trained to protect.

In 2006, the first Maremma, named Oddball, was sent to the island. Since then Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox, according to a New York Times article last month.

Oddball is retired now, and six other dogs have taken over patrolling the island, including the most recent two, Eudy and Tula.

The dogs operate in the penguin’s breeding season, usually from October to March, during which they spend five or six days a week on the island.

Even when the dogs are not there, their lingering scent of them is enough to keep the foxes away — even though the penguins have quite a scent of their own.

“Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,” Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council, told the Times. “They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.” The dogs are taught to defend the penguins as they commonly do with other kind of livestock.

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Local groups managing the project recently raised more than $18,000 online to buy and train two new Maremma pups, and the new movie has given their efforts a boost.

The movie focuses on Oddball, portraying her as a mischievous sort who spent most of her time trying to stay one step ahead of the local dogcatcher. Then she is given a mission — protecting the penguins — redeeming herself and saving the colony.

The real Oddball is 14 now, and spends most of her time under Marsh’s house — not to avoid celebrity seekers, but because she likes it there.

“She comes out when she wants to,” Marsh said.

(Photos: Penguin photo from animalspot.net; Photo of Peter Abbott with Eudy and Tula on Middle Island by Rob Gunstone / Queensland Country Life)

Where can a poop bag go to biodegrade?

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Using “biodegradable” dog poop bags may ease our guilt, but the way we commonly dispose of them isn’t really doing the environment any favors.

That’s because most of them will end up in a landfill — the one place they are least likely to biodegrade.

Recognizing that, the Federal Trade Commission has warned 20 manufacturers of “biodegradable” dog waste bags that their marketing claims of being environmentally-friendly may be deceptive.

Apparently, even if a bag would biodegrade in a compost heap, or on a sidewalk, that doesn’t happen in your typical landfill — they being, after all, places intended primarily to be home to the unbiodegradable.

“Most waste bags … end up in landfills where no plastic biodegrades in anywhere close to one year, if it biodegrades at all,” the FTC said in a press release .

The warning letters were sent after examining the companies’ environmental claims on their websites and in other media, the FTC said.

“Consumers looking to buy environmentally friendly products should not have to guess whether the claims made are accurate,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It is therefore critical for the FTC to ensure that these claims are not misleading, to protect both consumers and honest competitors.”

The press release leaves two things unclear. For one, are there any dog doo bags that do, in due time, biodregrade in landfills? Or do the companies that didn’t receive the letter simply avoid calling themselves green, or otherwise qualify the claim enough to avoid scrutiny?

If some bags do work better than others, the FTC doesn’t tell us. It declines to identify the 20 companies that were sent warning letters.

Calling a product ”biodegradable,” without qualification, generally means the product will completely break down into its natural components within one year after disposal. Calling the bags “compostable” is also deceptive, and potentially unsafe, the FTC says. Dog waste is generally not safe to compost at home, and while there are some facilities that compost dog waste, they are few and far between.

The FTC advised the companies to review their marketing materials and contact agency staff to tell them how they intend to revise or remove the claims, or explain why they won’t.

“To say your product is ‘degradable’ or ‘biodegradable,’ without qualification, you need competent and reliable scientific evidence that it will degrade in most landfills within the claimed time period or, if you don’t specify a time period, within one year,” the letter says.

“For your dog waste bags, you need competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire product will completely break down and return to nature — in other words, decompose into elements found in nature — within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. To describe your product as biodegradable, you must have evidence that a substantial majority of consumers won’t dispose of them in a landfill or incineration facility since materials thrown away in that fashion don’t biodegrade.”

One-time landfill provides backdrop for photographer’s portraits of throwaway dogs

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Once a week, Meredith College art professor Shannon Johnstone takes a homeless dog for a walk to the top of what used to be a landfill.

The Raleigh area landfill has a new life now, as a park.

The dogs she photographs there are still waiting for one.

They all come from the Wake County Animal Center, where, after being abandoned or surrendered, they’ve been living anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a year.

The park, located atop a 470-foot peak formed from 20 year’s worth of Raleigh’s trash, serves as a scenic backdrop, but also, for Johnstone,  as a metaphor.

Johnstone has photographed 66 “landfill dogs” so far — either on her climb up or atop the hill, according to a column in the Raleigh  News & Observer.

Shot at what’s now one of the highest points in Wake County, the pictures of throwaway dogs playing atop a hill made from other things people threw away are sometimes haunting, sometimes hopeful, sometimes a little of both.

Some of the dogs she photographed have found homes right away; others remained at the animal shelter. Five have died.

johsntone2Johnstone, 40, has degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and she’s on a yearlong sabbatical from Meredith.

Johnstone has photographed shelter dogs before. While she declined to name the city, one project she was involved in photographed animals before, during and after euthanasia.

She said the idea for the current project came from Wake County’s former environmental director, who envisioned dozens of dogs at the park.

Instead Johnstone brings them there one at a time, and doesn’t remove their leashes (except later with Photoshop).

Landfill Dogs, according to its website, is a project with three overlapping components: fine art photographs, adoption promotions, and environmental advocacy.

The project  was made possible by a year-long sabbatical granted by Meredith College’s Environmental Sustainability Initiative, and with cooperation from the staff and volunteers at Wake County Animal Center.

(Top photo by Shannon Johnstone; bottom photo by Corey Lowenstein / News & Observer)

 

Human poop poses problem for Berlin dogs

biodegradable pet waste bagsThe health hazards that unscooped dog waste in public places can pose to humans has been well-established, well-documented and well-hollered-about.

So — yucky as it is – it’s only right to share some news that shows the reverse side of the equation can be true, too.

According to a report from the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, dogs in Berlin are being sickened by human feces left in some public parks frequented by drug users.

Veterinarians say they’ve seen an increase in such poisonings.

Dogs who ingest the waste show symptoms that include shaking, dehydration and difficulty walking. Tests on dogs have found heroin and other illegal drugs present in their systems.

Vets say most cases took place in parks the city’s Treptow and Kreuzberg areas, where drug users are known to gather, especially at night.

Berlin-based veterinarian Reinhold Sassnau told Tagesspiegel that the poisonings are rarely fatal. Most dogs recover if they quickly receive treatment, which includes inducing vomiting. Otherwise, prolonged treatment might be required.

Just something to keep in mind next time you (or your dog) step in a  pile of dog poop (or is it?) at the park.

Woof in Advertising: Trifexis

This ad for Trifexis depicts a dog living in a bubble — albeit it one that’s outside and has plenty of tubes to run around in.

It serves to protect him from heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, flea infestations and all those other frightening hazards that exist in that place where dogs, for centuries, managed to survive:

Outside.

What we find most interesting about it, though, are the disclaimers, which seem to have risen with doggie prescription drugs to the same level they have with human ones, where three-fourths of the advertisement are devoted to a listing of potential scary side effects, quickly recited in monotone, in hopes you — or your dog — won’t really hear them.

With Trifexis, it goes like this: “Treatment with fewer than three monthly doses after the last exposure to mosoquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. The most common adverse reactions were vomiting, itching and lethargy. Serious adverse reactions have been reported following concomitant extra-label use of ivermectin with spinosad alone, one of the components of Trifexis.”

On top of the warnings recited, more appear in small print during the ad:

“To ensure parasite protection, observe your dog for one hour after administration.”

“If vomiting occurs within an hour of administration, give another full dose.”

“Puppies less than 14 weeks of age may experience a higher rate of vomiting.”

In their print ads, the makers of Trifexis additionally advise the drug be used with caution in breeding females, and in dogs with epilepsy. Its use in breeding males has not been evaluated. Print ads also list lethargy, depression, decreased appetite and diarrhea as possible side effects.

The chewable, beef-flavored tablets — administered once a month – are a combination of spinosad and milbemycin oxime, and they serve to prevent heartworm disease, kill fleas and prevent infestations and treat hookworm, roundworm and whipworm infections.

The tagline for the ad is “You don’t have to go to extremes to protect your dog from parasites.”

Apparently you do, though, if you’re selling prescription drugs — for canines or humans — to protect your ass from lawsuits.

To see all our “Woof in Advertising” posts, click here.

Odd behavior along an even odder sea

Driving down a two-lane highway whose dips send your stomach somewhere in the vicinity above your lungs, alongside an accidental lake that is saltier than the ocean, through a landscape that can only be described as lunar, you know there’s a good chance things might turn weird — if they haven’t already.

There are, I’m convinced, certain little pockets of America that attract the eccentric — the sort of people who  march, to use a cliche, to the beat of a different drummer, or, given how alien and variable their rhythms may seem, perhaps to no drummer at all. They are like highly spicy food: You can avoid them and play it safe, or you can dive in, which could leave you dazzled, or possibly being asked for some spare change.

Which brings us to the Salton Sea.

It wasn’t the first oasis of oddness we’ve encountered on our cross country (twice) journey. Butte, Montana was surely one; along the southern coast of Oregon we unknowingly stepped into another. But unlike those places, the Salton Sea gives you fair warning.

Heading south on Highway 111, the salty lake stretches out to your right, while to your left there’s the jagged outline of bald and craggy mountains. It’s a bumpy, bouncy road, dotted with boarded-up businesses and lonely trailers, punctuated by small towns, recreational areas and wannabe resorts, and populated, in large part, by people who moved there to either get rich or be left alone.

If you ever saw “Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea,” a documentary narrated by John Waters, you have some idea of the place.

I was in more of a hurry than usual — so much so that I didn’t have time to stop at the Fountain of Youth.

I wanted to visit Slab City (that story tomorrow), catch Leonard Knight, founder and builder of Salvation Mountain (tune in Monday), and make it to the Arizona line and get something for Thanksgiving dinner, other than the Reese’s Cups and Orange Crush that served as breakfast and lunch.

So I sped along the highway, from Indio to Niland, portions of which were like a roller coaster ride on the moon. A powerful wind sent me drifting in and out of my lane, and with each dip, Ace issued a “harrumph” from the back seat.

We didn’t see the roadside nudist or the Hungarian revolutionary depicted in “Plagues and Pleasures,” but we did see Lawrence of Arabia, or at least a guy that looked a little like him when he galloped by.

We stopped only once, at a gas station/convenience store where a bearded man walked up to me, but said nothing. He just stood there, for a minute or so — leading me to pop open the back window of the Jeep, at which point Ace stuck his head out and the man left.

Later, we’d get stared at by some recently-shorn sheep, though, in fairness, I had stopped to stare at them first, wondering if they, like me, always think they look funny after getting a haircut.

Much of the trip, though, was along California’s largest lake, which is at once an environmental disaster and a recreation area, drawing about 150,000 visitors a year who engage in boating, water-skiing, fishing, jet-skiing, hiking and birdwatching

The Salton Sea is basically a basin that filled and dried up over the ages, until 1905 when flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the entire volume of the Colorado River poured into the below-sea-level basin  By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breach — shades of BP! — two years later, the Salton Sea was 45 miles long and 20 miles wide, with about 130 miles of shoreline.)

If that weren’t weird enough, it’s also located directly atop the San Andreas Fault.

To fully understand the Salton Sea, you have to go back three million years, and I’m not willing to do that.

Suffice to say, the accidental lake, by the 1920′s, had developed into a tourist attraction, and was even referred to as the California Riviera. Since then, its salinity has steadily increased, primary because of agricultural runoff. Wastewater inflows have added to its problems, leading to high bacteria counts, massive fish kills and subsequent bird deaths.

I stopped alongside it only briefly. I didn’t dip my toes in, and didn’t allow Ace to, either.