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Tag: government

Protecting animals just got a lot harder

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For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.

APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.

The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.

lolitakillerwhaleAnimal welfare organizations say the removal of the information will allow animal abuse to go unchecked.

“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.

The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.

In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”

Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.

Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.

The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.

beagle-5The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.

“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”

The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.

The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.

“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”

monkeyThe searchable database allowed anyone to check government regulation of how animals are treated at about 9,000 zoos, circuses, research laboratories, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.

“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.

“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”

“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”

The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.

HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.

The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.

In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.

“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.

“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the statement added.

rabbitYesterday, the USDA released another statement, saying the change had nothing to do with the new administration:

“In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”

Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.

Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:

“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”

North Korea urging citizens to eat dog meat

Dog-soup1-500x375

The consumption of dog meat may be slowly going out of style in South Korea, but its neighbor to the north is encouraging it.

North Korea’s government since late June has been urging citizens to eat more dog meat, or as leader Kim Jong-un has labeled it, “superfood.”

Media outlets in the country have produced multiple stories this summer about the health benefits of dishes made with dog meat — some of which have even touted the culinary benefits of beating dogs to death before butchering them.

According to the Korea Times in South Korea, the broadcasts have touted dog meat as “stamina food” and “the finest medicine” — especially during the summer.

“There’s an old saying that even a slice of dangogi can be good medicine during the dog days,” reported the Tongil Voice, a North Korean radio broadcast. “Dangogi is the finest of all medicines, especially during the dog days when the weather is scorching.”

The Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS), also a radio network, introduced culinary competitions in Pyongyang last month in which contestants made stew, broiled dishes and other recipes using dog meat.

DPRK Today, a propaganda outlet on YouTube, proclaimed in June that dog meat has more vitamins than chicken, pork, beef and duck and is also good for the intestines and stomach.

It also said a dog should be beaten to death before it is butchered for better taste.

Some observers believe Kim is preparing citizens for hard times ahead. On top of a heat wave that has forced the government to close some businesses, recent reductions in the state-controlled handouts have “severely threatened” much of the nation from getting enough to eat, according to an Amnesty International report.

A modest proposal: Let’s lose “control”

I have a simple and modest proposal — one that would involve only a name change, a slightly new way of thinking, and maybe some new stationery.

It has long been in the back of my head, but was brought to the forefront by recent cellphone videos gone viral — one (it used to be above but was removed from YouTube) of a dog being dragged through the halls of an animal control department in California; one (below) of a police officer slapping and otherwise berating a homeless man in Florida.

Both are examples of what can go wrong — and often does — when you give one group power over others. Both are about control.

Seeking, seizing and holding “control,” necessary as it sometimes seem in a so-called civilized society, almost always leads to bad things, including most of the dog abuse that occurs in our country. We get a little too caught up in the whole idea of having control — over our fellow man, over other species, over other nations, over nature itself.

Those put in control, as today’s videos show, tend to lose control when they see their control being threatened.

Hence, I propose that we do away with the term “animal control” and rename all those county animal control offices “animal protection” departments — protection being what they are mostly about, or should be mostly about, in the first place.

I’m not suggesting doing away with regulating and enforcing in the dog world — only that those doing it go under a different moniker, which, just maybe, would allow them to be seen by the public, and see themselves, less as heavy-handed dictators, more as noble do-gooders.

And animal control offices do do good. They operate shelters, find dogs new homes, rescue strays from the streets and abusive situations. The new name would put an emphasis on that, and take it away from “control.”

The term “animal control” is archaic — not much better than the even more outdated “dog warden” — yet most counties continue to use it. Employees see it on the sign when they pull into the parking lot, when they walk through the front door, on their memos and their paychecks. It’s a constant reminder, even though most of their duties are aimed at helping dogs, that they are, above all, strict enforcers and inflexible bureaucrats.

A simple name change could help fix that.

I, for instance, would love working as an animal protection officer; I’m not sure I’d want to be an animal control officer — even though most of what they do is about protecting animals. The name change could attract job applicants who see the mission as helping dogs, and possibly help weed out those who see all dogs as nuisances, and control as paramount.

In addition to improving employee self-esteem, it could help change the negative public perceptions that come with being the agency that tickets dog owners for leash-less or unlicensed dogs, euthanizes dogs when their facilities get too crowded, and sends the “dog catcher” out on his daily rounds.

There’s no reason — assuming a stray dog is being captured humanely, and treated humanely in a shelter, and put up for adoption — that the “dog catcher,” traditionally portrayed as a villain, can’t become a dog savior in the public view.

Having “Animal Protection Department” written on the side of the truck, instead of “Animal Control Department,” would go a long way toward that.

A simple shift in emphasis, and in how some agencies present themselves to the public, is all I’m talking about. It wouldn’t be only a matter of spin, though. Being an animal protection department would require actually protecting animals — and seeing that as a primary mission.

It wouldn’t make the world a kinder place overnight, and it wouldn’t keep cranky police officers from slapping homeless people — like I said it’s a modest proposal — but it could be a start, at least in the dog world, to a new way of thinking both about and among the government employees we entrust those duties to (and pay the salaries of).

They would be more about helping and educating, less about controlling.

A handful of agencies have at least worked “animal protection,” or “animal care” into their names, but most can’t quite bring themselves to let go of the term “control.”

Thus you have, for instance, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control.

Maybe they think losing “control” would be a sign they are losing control.

The term “control” might be appropriate when it comes to those agencies dealing with things like disease and traffic.

But not for those dealing with our family members.

Thailand’s new military government taking steps to crack down on dog meat trade

(Warning: The videos accompanying this article are graphic and disturbing)

Street dogs in Thailand can end up in stew, served as jerky, and even worn as golf gloves (made from the skin of their testicles), but those behind Thailand’s brutal dog trade could be finding it harder to conduct their business.

Thailand’s military government, which seized power from an elected government in May, is considering a law that would ban the dog meat trade, and it has intensified enforcement of laws that ban slaughtering and transporting dogs without a license, the New York Times reported yesterday.

The change comes partly as a result of changing attitudes, partly at the encouragement of animal rights activists, partly from increased scrutiny from news media inside and outside the country, and partly, the Times suggests, for political reasons.

The newly installed military government may see cracking down on the dog trade as a way to enhance its image internationally.

National police have intensified a crackdown begun two years ago on the dog trade, setting up sting operations in the forests where dogs are slaughtered and shipped, often to Vietnam and China, where dog eating is more prevalent.

While most of the dogs are strays, family pets often end up among the mix.

Police have stopped trucks carrying as many as 1,000 dogs bound for Laos, Vietnam and China, where, in addition to selling the meat, dog traders sell dog skin, which is used to make drum skins and gloves.

Inside the country, members of Watchdog Thailand recently met with senior military officers in the junta and urged them to pass an animal rights law that would outlaw killing dogs for meat.

Foreigners are playing an important role in trying to eradicate the dog meat trade, the Times article notes.

British celebrities like Ricky Gervais and Judi Dench were featured in a video posted on the Internet last month condemning it. And the animal welfare group Soi Dog receives much of its funding from the United States and Europe.

“It’s not about cultural difference or anything else,” said John Dalley, a co-founder of Soi Dog. “It’s a horrendously cruel business from start to finish. The dogs are crammed into cages, and it’s not unusual that live dogs are thrown into pots of boiling water.”

Dogs and Ebola: Looking for answers

bubbledog

You’d think in a world preparing for Ebola — especially in a country as sophisticated, dog-crazy and health-oriented as ours — someone would have given it at least a moment’s thought.

You’d think — between all the agencies and organizations, protocols and precautions; between the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association — someone somewhere would have stood up and said, hey, what about our dogs?

Instead, with Ebola’s spread to countries outside Africa, public health officials find themselves scratching their heads and — even though there’s no proof yet that dogs can transmit the disease — considering options as drastic as incarceration and extermination for the pets of humans diagnosed with Ebola.

Caution, of course, is good, but planning would have been better.

Excalibur was the first one to come to light. The large mixed-breed dog belonged to a nurse in Madrid who contracted the disease from Spain’s first Ebola patient. Her dog, over the family’s objections, was killed and incinerated nearly immediately upon the order of government officials.

America, or at least Dallas, took a more compassionate approach when a local nurse was determined to have contracted Ebola from a patient being treated in a hospital there. Bentley, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, was moved into a quarantined area at a decommissioned Naval base, where he’s being tended to by hazardous material crews in full protective garb.

bentley3

Bentley

The question arises, and should have arisen long ago: What are we going to do with the pets of Ebola victims?

Will we turn to extermination, as the number of cases, and our fears, increase?

Will we keep them isolated in crates, bubbles or decommissioned military bases?

For how long? At what costs? Under whose supervision? And is it even necessary?

No one knows the answers to any of those questions, and the fear and uncertainty that ignorance leads to is bound to take us to some bad places, if it hasn’t already.

In an ideal world, we’d have studies to turn to — proving, one way or the other, whether dogs can contract and transmit the virus. We’d be testing them, as we do humans, before quarantining them, or at least before releasing them from that quarantine. We’d know how long, if at all, they need to be sequestered and monitored.

Instead, we’re playing a messy game of catch-up, and the argument can be made that it’s because we were wearing blinders.

Even in this supposed era of increased awareness about the health issues that cross species lines, our planet seems to once again have gotten caught up in the view that only humans matter.

Perhaps too it could be argued that, among many in America, some strange disease in Africa didn’t strike us as a big concern, or as an opportunity to learn and prepare for what might be coming. (Maybe we humans don’t like to look at the big picture when the big picture is too big, and too scary.)

What is abundantly clear is that no one, up until now, gave much thought to how Ebola might affect our dogs — if not the disease itself, at least the fear of it.

No one knows whether dogs can get the full-fledged virus. One study during the 2001-02 Ebola outbreak in Gabon showed some exposed dogs carried signs of infection, and had an immune response — but that’s not the same as getting the disease.

“Studies have shown that dogs can have an immune response to Ebola, but there have been no reports of pet dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of passing the disease to other animals or people,” said Kristen Nordlund, a CDC health-communications specialist.

“In a situation where there is a dog or cat in the home of an Ebola patient, CDC recommends public-health officials evaluate the animal’s risk of exposure,” she added.

Given dogs are present in nearly half of American homes, given many of them share our beds and lick our faces, we’d like to see the CDC recommending something more than “risk evaluation.”

excalibur2

Excalibur

Between the lack of knowledge, and the lack of a clear-cut recommended response when it comes to the pets of Ebola victims, public fears will only snowball as questions go unanswered.

Why, given all our physiological similarities, can’t the dogs of Ebola patients be tested like humans are to confirm if they’ve been exposed? And if, as limited study suggests, dogs can have the virus without getting sick and dying, might there be something worth further studying in that?

“We know that you and your clients are looking for answers, and we’re working to get information for you,” the American Veterinary Medical Association says on its website.

“The AVMA is collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USDA along with other agencies and experts and is tapping into the broad expertise of our member veterinarians to develop information for our members and the public. We will strive to ensure that veterinarians have a prominent voice as these issues are discussed and decided in the U.S.”

Up until now, the CDC has taken the line that the risk of Ebola to pets is low. Its website also says there is little risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

“The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low,” says a question and answer fact sheet on the CDC website.. “Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.”

And yet Excalibur is dead and Bentley is being treated as hazardous material, and with each new case there will be new fears and ripples.

In Madrid, a dog that often played with Excalibur was surrendered to a shelter by his owners because of fears he might have contracted the disease.

tronco

Tronco

Tronco was dropped off by his owners at the Spanish animal charity Escuela Canina Esga in Madrid, according to the New York Post.

“They were parents with young children and they just were not prepared to take the risk and so [they] handed him over to us,” said manager Esga Juan Esteban. “We did everything we could to reassure them that it was probably OK, but of course we couldn’t guarantee that the animal didn’t have Ebola, and so they were adamant that they didn’t want him any longer.”

The shelter, in its effort (successful) to find Tronco a new home, used only photos of him as a pup — so that, once he was adopted, he wouldn’t be recognized in public as a dog who once played with a dog whose owner has Ebola.

(Top photo: The image of Soviet Space dog Belka is from the distant past, but might we see something like it in the near future?)

Who put a noose around my dog’s neck?

acelookalike

A friend recently emailed me this poster she came across online — because the dog with the noose around his neck is the spitting image of my dog, Ace.

Or is it Ace?

For a while, I thought it was my dog, and wondered whether someone had copied one of the many photos of him that have appeared on ohmidog! and elsewhere, and then photoshopped a noose around his neck.

It reminded me of a photo I took of him in Montana about seven years ago, but that was noose-less, and  in the middle of a snowstorm (hence the downward cast face). I guess snowflakes can be removed as easily as nooses can be added, though.

I have no problem with the message on the poster, even with its misplaced comma: “Abandoning a dog, means killing it.” 

That is, usually, the case.

snow 030xAnd I have no objection to Ace’s image being used for a good cause.

But, if it is my dog, and my picture, someone should have checked with me first before looping a noose around his neck — even if it was done only through photo manipulation.

Is it Ace? I’m not sure. (That’s him to the left.)

The dog in the poster looks like him, with his big head, little ears, and high-rise legs. And that seemingly contemplative pose is one Ace strikes frequently.

Then again, the dog in the photo might be just a little grayer around the muzzle than he is.

To try to get to the bottom of it, I turned to tineye.com a reverse image search engine that allows you to play detective on the Internet by uploading a photo and getting a list of websites on which it has appeared.

It, after searching 5.283 billion images in an amazing 0.001 seconds — which is harder than I will ever work — found six results.

Three of them were in English, and two were this French version:

frenchacelookalike

Another one was in Italian, and it was the one that had been on the web the longest.

I clicked on that link and it took me to an Italian government webpage, listing public service campaigns the government had sponsored over the years.

The Ace lookalike appeared in a 2011 campaign aimed at informing the public that abandoning dogs is illegal, and that abandoned dogs usually die.

acelookalikeitaly

The slogan,”Chi abbandona un cane lo condanna,” means roughly that one who abandons a dog is condemning that dog to death.

The campaign made use of billboards and TV and radio spots, with most of the publicity coming at peak times of holiday travel. As a computer-translated version of the web page explained:

“It was decided to carry out the campaign at this time in view of the fact that the problem of stray dogs is sharpened so evident during the summer, when they touch the peaks of dropouts due to the difficulty of managing the presence of the animal in a recreation area.”

I’m sure it makes more sense in the original Italian.

What did come across clearly were the potential punishments for dog abandonment — a year in prison, or a fine of up to 10,000 Euros.

(Not a bad idea for this country to try, given recent instances like that doofus in Denver, or that revolting case in Parker County, Texas.)

If that is Ace helping make the Italian public more aware of the problem, I’m proud to have him serve in that capacity. If it’s not, I can only assume it’s another Rottweiler-Chow-Akita-pitbull mix).

With Ace being a mix of four breeds (according to DNA tests) it’s not as common as it is with purebreds to come across nearly exact replicas of him. But I have seen a few doppelgangers.

One thing I found while researching “DOG, INC.,” my book on commercial dog cloning, was that — rather than spending $100,000 to have your dog replicated in a laboratory in South Korea — you can generally find a lookalike in a shelter, if not in your hometown, probably not too far away.

I’m guessing Ace is not the poster boy in this case, and I’m assuming that Italy used an Italian dog for its public service announcement.

As for the Ace photo it reminds me of, it’s on my other computer — the one that’s not working right now — so I can’t call it up and compare. And the post I may have used it in apparently tunneled its way out of the Internet (which is the only way of escaping). 

If anyone in Italy knows about the dog in the photo — assuming an English to Italian computer-translation of this account makes any sense at all (and I bet it doesn’t) — get in touch with me at ohmidog@triad.rr.com.

Grazie.

Beijing officers beat one-eyed dog to death

oneyedjackCity management officers in Beijing beat a small, one-eyed dog to death in front of his owner over the weekend because the dog lacked the proper paperwork, according to the magazine, The Beijinger.

The dog belonged to a British man working at an international school in Beijing. He’d taken in the dog, known in the neighborhood as “One-Eyed Jack,” after finding him on the streets.

The incident came during Beijing’s annual dog registration period, when city management officers — known as chengguan, and known for getting brutal — are on the lookout for dogs and dog owners who are in violation of regulations.

Pet owners must pay $160 the first year they acquire a pet in Beijing. During the registration period, the officers knock on the doors of homes to check on whether dogs are present, if they are in compliance with size and breed regulations, and if they are properly registered and vaccinated.

The Beijinger, an English-language city magazine, reported that the man was out for a walk on Saturday morning when he was pushed aside by one officer while four others held his dog down and beat it to death with sticks.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, was first asked for the dog’s registration papers. When he explained he only recently got the dog, and was in the process of getting him registered and vaccinated,  officials told him he was “out of order,” the magazine reported.

After killing the dog, the officers placed it into a body bag.

Beijing bans large dogs, as well as 40 breeds it has deemed “large and vicious,” including Dalmatians, collies, Weimeraners and boxers, according to the New York Times blog, Sinosphere.

Chinese veterinarians have warned that the rules will be enforced more strictly this year because of rising rabies infections from unvaccinated animals.

(Photo: The Beijinger)