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Tag: games

Should we let our cats play video games?

If I had a cat — and I don’t — I would never let it play video games.

Why would anyone want to take an animal that is always so joyously in the moment — in the natural moment — and immerse it in an artificial, non-tactile, monotonously repetitious, pixelated, and quite possibly addicting world where time passes in a blur?

To take the house pet perhaps best known for being able to make a game out of anything — string, toilet paper roll, dust bunny — and put a $200 iPad in front of it so it can paw at virtual fish? That just strikes me as wrong.

It might be fun for you to watch the first time, and it might even be amusing for the feline for a while.

ipads-for-catsBut then it becomes more obsession than play, and your feline, once a wildly imaginative beast with an admirable knack for making anything fun, is stalking the room, zombie-like, Jonesing for his iPad.

Then, when you try to take their iPads away, they become evil tantrum-throwing monsters who no longer see joy, mystery and adventure in something as mundane as a cardboard box or paper bag.

Sure, it is all starting out innocently enough. Remember, though, we humans started with Pong before progressing to virtual murder and mayhem. If history is any indication cat computer play will progress into darker realms — to the point where cats are tuning the real world out and, albeit virtually, engaging in pretend sex and violence, car theft even, on their computers.

Am I exaggerating to ridiculous proportions? Clearly. But seriously, taking the long view, is this best for cats?

Or will we, with all good intentions, slowly drive them insane?

How long, for example, can you watch this before feeling a certain panic in your soul?

Video games for cats have been catching on for several years now — to the point that even some animal shelters have turned to them.

The Regina Humane Society in Canada turned to iPads last year to keep their resident cats occupied and engaged.

“This is just another way, another tool in our toolbox that allows us to keep our animals healthy and happy while they’re awaiting their special someone who’s going to take them home forever,” said Lisa Koch, executive director.

“Owned cats around the world have apps that they play with on their owners [iPads], and it’s something that we’ve adopted here at the Humane Society for cats who don’t have families to make the environment that they’re living in more stimulating for them mentally.”

Koch said these programs are meant to keep cats active and stimulate them mentally.

Stimulate? Maybe. But does laying down and pawing a mouse on a $200 screen keep a cat more active than batting an actual $1.29 play mouse around the room and chasing it?

Lost, too, if we let cats live their nine lives in the virtual world, is interaction with humans. High-tech pet toys that bill themselves as “interactive” have a way of removing a human’s resolve to spend one-on-one time with their pet, to the point where they no longer feel much need to do so. It’s like setting child in front of TV set for three hours.

The Regina Humane Society does good and noble work, and maybe in a shelter situation, where it’s challenging to keep all the animals occupied, something like this is acceptable.

On the other hand, cats are already the ultimate game inventors. We should be pinpointing what is in them — a play gene? — that makes them so able to look at a spool of thread, a pencil, a puzzle piece, and see an amusement park.

Instead, we appear headed to making them as addicted to the computer screen as we are?

Fetching: Who needs a human when you have a catapult?

It may take two to tango, but fetch is a game that can be played solo, assuming you’re a dog with a catapult in your back yard.

This video was posted on YouTube last month, under the title, “This is What Happens When an Engineer Owns a Dog.”

An anonymous dog owner apparently built the contraption, then taught his dog to operate it.

Rocks, as opposed to softer projectiles, seem to the object of choice for this dog, who places a tennis ball-sized stone on the launch pad then jumps twice on the other end of the board, activating a spring that sends the rock flying across the yard.

The dog fetches it, and repeats the process.

The video was featured on the website of yesterday’s New York Daily News.

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?

Dognition: Louie’s deemed a “socialite”


Didja hear the one about the blonde Fox News anchorwoman who took her golden retriever to get an IQ test?

While that has all the ingredients for a pretty good joke, it’s actually the basis of a pretty informative news report, in which Fox 8’s Katie Nordeen brought her dog Louie to Duke University scientist Brian Hare to find out just exactly what type of dog genius he — Louie, not Dr. Hare — is.

Hare, co-author of “The Genius of Dogs,” is the founder of Dognition, a research firm that puts dogs through a series of science-based games designed to assess their personality type — information that Hare says can help dog owners better understand their dogs.

Users of the service (it costs $39) don’t get to bring their dog to Hare, as Nordeen did, but get a “toolkit” and instructions on how to conduct the experiments in their own homes.

The experiments measure five dimensions: cunning, empathy, communication, reasoning and memory, and by virtue of the results, dogs are judged to be one of nine types —  Ace, Maverick, Charmer, Socialite, Protodog, Renaissance Dog, Expert, Stargazer, or Einstein.

Customers, after submitting their test results, receive a full report explaining their dog’s type, and how the conclusion was reached.

Louie, for example, was found to be a socialite.  (You can read Dognition’s full report on Louie here.)

“… Gracefully interacting and communicating with others requires talent. In Louie’s case, she takes this talent to a whole new level – it is definitely her genius. Although Louie is not as adept at independent problem-solving skills as other dogs, don’t jump to any conclusions about her intelligence. Louie relies on a very specific strategy – using you and other humans in her pack to get what she wants.”

(Yes, they got Louie’s sex wrong in the report, but they are personality experts, not gender experts.)

Cutsomers also have the option of becoming members of Dognition (for an additional $60 for a year, or $5 a month), entitling them to receive tailored training tips and activities and get a discount for testing additional dogs.

Hare says Dognition, established last year, is proving popular, with thousands of users from around the world.

“Everybody wants to understand what’s going on inside of a dog’s head. It has not been hard to get people excited about this.”

After visiting Dognition’s lab in Durham for the FOX8 report,  Nordeen continued conducting the experiments at home over the next two weeks. Once submitting her findings, the results were delivered, by email, almost instantly.

Hare says the purpose of Dognition is to enrich people’s relationships with their dogs, but it, like his book, is also aimed at showing the public how truly brilliant dogs are.

“Dogs were thought to be totally unremarkable. There were really no interesting things they could do relative to say dolphins or bonobos, so people were focusing on these other animals,” he said. “But at our feet, literally, were geniuses that had been undiscovered … What makes dogs such geniuses is that, relative to other species, they’re really skilled, really flexible, in understanding what it is we want and what we’re trying to tell them.”

The Dognition tests, in their at-home version, may not be the hardest of science, and their results may not be irrefutable. But given the firm’s stated goals, given the not entirely exorbitant price tag, and given that they’re fun and result in people spending more time with their dogs, I think they have a place in the spectrum of doggie evaluation services.

If people are willing to pay more than $100 to determine what breeds are in their dogs, through DNA testing, $39 doesn’t seem like too much to pay to assess that dog’s personality — and may even provide more telling clues into what makes them tick.

I haven’t run my dog Ace through the online Dognition drill yet, in part because I think his genius is too vast to be measured and could forever skew Dognition’s data base, in part because I already know he’s a charmer, with shades of socialite and Einstein. But Nordeen’s report answered a lot of questions I had about the service, and one of these days, I’ll give it a try.

We’ll close with some bloopers, courtesy of Fox 8, that occured while Nordeen and Louie were taping a promo for the piece — none of which, I’m sure, had anything to do with them being blond:

“Dog Wars” is back as “KG Dogfighting”

After a brief hiatus due to copyright infringement concerns, “Dog Wars” — the controversial game app for Android smartphones — is back on the online marketplace, where it’s being offered under the new name of “KG Dogfighting.”

Google’s Android Market website began offering the renamed app Saturday. While originally available for free, it’s now listed at $2.99.

A Google representative said the application was removed last week “based on a trademark infringement complaint” but did not say at the time whether it would be sold again if those issues were resolved, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The game application allows players to raise and train a virtual pit bull to fight other virtual dogs, garnering streed “cred” and “money in your pocket,” according to its developers.

Among those who have filed complaints about the application with Google is the president of Los Angeles police officer’s union.

In the letter sent to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul M. Weber urged Google “to do the right thing and ban this game permanently.”

“The game teaches users how to breed, train, fight, medicate and kill virtual dogs,” Weber wrote. “The entire concept is repulsive and sickening.”

Animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have voiced concerns about the game and urged it be removed from the market.

Kage Games, the creators of the Dog Wars application, said in an email to The Times that the game was meant to educate the public on the evils of animal cruelty.

App-alling: A dogfighting app for your phone

A dogfighting game application called “Dog Wars,” in which players fight virtual dogs for virtual money, is being offered through Google’s Android Marketplace.

Developed by Kage Games, the downloadable game allows players to choose an identity, pick their dogs and feed, train and fight them, thereby gaining “cred” and making money.

The game is now available for free download. Players can purchase virtual “adrenaline pens,” from Android which can be used to “revive your dog during a fight or even bring it back to life.”

“Never let your dog go hungry or thirsty… you must train it and feed it a while before you can fight other player’s dogs … Building Cred puts money in your pocket and lets you earn more in fights,” the game description reads.

“Let’s get it on!”

Given its exceedingly bad taste, and how it perpetuates pit bull myths and glamorizes cruel and illegal activity, there are many who’d rather see the game taken off — the market, that is. 

In a post on BSL News, (BSL standing for Breed Specific Legislation), readers are encouraged to flood both Google and Android with emails and complaints.

(Android is an open source operating system created by Google. While Google does not approve every app offered there, it does maintain a website where people can complain about objectionable content in games and apps. You can find it here.)

The makers sound more than a little defensive about the game.

“It is just a video game,” they say in the game description, as if anticipating some controversy. “Perhaps one day we will make gerbil wars or beta fish wars for people who can’t understand fantasy role play games …  Just because something is illegal in real life in certain countries, does not mean it is illegal to make a song, movie, or video game about it.”

It doesn’t mean it’s right, or smart, either.

What’s next, a game in which players compete to see how many children they can molest?

Sure, the folks who came up with “Dog Wars” have a right to market any sick game concept they want. But my advice? Zap that app.

Dog on Xbox, spends $62 while owner sleeps

Greg Strope claims his dog Oscar, in the process of chewing his Xbox remote control, purchased $62.50 worth of Microsoft Xbox points while he, his roommate and girlfriend were asleep.

Oscar managed to purchased 5,000 Xbox points, thanks in part to the fact that Strope had programmed his credit card information into the remote control of the computer game system.

Nevertheless, Oscar, a Lab-hound mix, turned on the console and, by gnawing the remote, purchased the points, Strope insists.

“I realized it when I checked my phone to see what time it was (I had to be at work soon) and saw the e-mail from Microsoft confirming the purchase for $62.50,” he told Kotaku via email. “At that point it was a little after 5 a.m … not something you want to wake up to.”

Oscar has a history of gnawing, Strope said, having chewed up pillows, boxes, flip flops, socks, slippers, underwear, candles, toiler paper, bottles, work IDs and the living room blinds.

“Now, I can’t call Microsoft and say ‘My dog chewed my controller,'” Strope said. ” That excuse never worked in school for homework, what makes me think that a multi-billion dollar corporation is going to believe it?”