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Tag: houston

Why a real dog should have played McGruff

mcgruff2

A Houston man who once portrayed McGruff the Crime Dog has been sentenced to more than 16 years in prison on drugs and weapons charges.

John R. Morales was sentenced to federal prison last week for charges related to his 2011 arrest.

Police who raided Morales’ residence then seized 1,000 marijuana plants and 9,000 rounds of ammunition for 27 weapons — including a shotgun, pistols, rifles, and a military grenade launcher, according to court documents obtained by NBC.

What does all this prove? If you want mascot who is pure, ethical and beyond reproach, choose a real dog. They are far less likely to get arrested, far less likely to cause a scandal, and far less likely to cave in to temptation, unless they are of the bacon variety.

This wasn’t the first time the choice of a human to play McGruff has come back to bite law enforcement. There was an incident in Phoenix in 1998 when a prison trusty police assigned to play the role removed his head and was recognized by parents in the audience as a convicted child molester.

Morales wore the McGruff costume for the Harris County Sheriff’s Association in the late 1990s. Fox News reported.

mcgruffThe human-like, trench coat-wearing dog was created by the global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi through the Ad Council for the National Crime Prevention Council to increase crime awareness among children.

He appeared on television in animated form, and in public appearances he was portrayed by actors wearing the giant dog head and costume.

He urged young people to “take a bite out of crime.”

Morales, after his McGruff gig, was stopped in 2011 by police in Galveston for speeding, and marijuana was detected in his car trunk. Authorities said that, in addition to marijuana plants, they found a clipboard with diagrams of two indoor pot farms in his car.

That led officers to a stash of 1,000 marijuana plants and the weapons.

And who was it that first detected the marijuana in the car? A real police dog.

Report calls attention to dog shootings by Houston police


Since January of 2010, Houston police have gunned down 187 dogs, killing 121 of them.

And last year alone, law enforcement officers in Houston and Harris County shot more dogs than New York City police officers shot in 2010 and 2011 combined.

All of those shooting were deemed by police to have been justified, but it’s not too hard to find families that disgree with that.

The KHOU 11 News I-Team did, and its report this week is more evidence that, across the country, requiring police to be trained in dealing with dogs could save dogs, and their families, a lot of pain.

Colorado passed a law requiring that, and it was signed by the governor this week.

The KHOU report, when it looked at the police-involved dog shootings for all of Harris County found at least 228 dogs had been shot by officers and deputies since 2010, 142 of them fatally.

“If the dog turns and comes at a citizen, or the deputy, they have all right to use lethal force,” explained Dpt. Thomas Gilliland of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Records show Harris County deputies shot 38 canines in the last three-and-a-half years.

When asked if all those shootings were justified, Gilliland said: “The justification is, in that matter, and at that moment the deputy had to choose the decision to use lethal force against that animal.”

Sgt. Joseph Guerra, who works as a cruelty investigator for the Houston Humane Society, said it teaches some officers how to safety interact with threatening dogs. But the training isn’t mandated for all officers.

“A lot of times, officers are not sent to training to get that type of certification to feel comfortable enough to deal with these animals,” he said. “We need to get those officers involved in some mandated training in how to defend before going to deadly force.”

The Arlington and Fort Worth Police Departments started mandatory dog training for officers last fall, and state lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the training for officers across Texas.

Houston is first in postal carrier dog bites

More postal carriers are bitten by dogs in Houston than any other American city — or at least that was the case last year.

According to statistics released yesterday by the Postal Service, 62 Houston letter carriers were “attacked” by dogs in 2010 — almost 20 more than the second place cities (a tie between San Diego and Columbus, Ohio).

Nationwide last year, 5,669 postal employees were bitten in more than 1,400 cities, leading to medical expenses of $1.2 million, the Postal Service said in a press release issued in connection with National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 15-21).

Among the entire population, about 4.7 million Americans are bitten annually — and dog attacks accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners’ insurance liability claims paid out in 2010, costing nearly $413 million, the press release added.

“Given the right circumstances, any dog can bite. Dog attacks are a nationwide issue and not just a postal problem,” said Matthew Lopez, Houston’s postmaster.

Rounding out the top 10 cities for dog bites among postal carriers were Los Angeles (44), Louisville (40), San Antonio and St.  Louis (tied with 39 each), Cleveland and Phoenix (tied with 38 each), Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon (tied with 35 each), Denver and Philadelphia (tied with 31 each), Sacramento (30) and Seattle (28).

(Photo: Ace greets my postal carrier almost everyday, and likes to follow him, even though he doesn’t carry treats and has never given him one.)

Dog parks have blasted off in Houston

Yesterday, I took Ace to the largest and most amenity-laden dog park he’s ever been to — with 13 acres to romp and two cool blue lakes to swim in.

And here’s what he did: Sniffed. Sniffed some more. Peed. Pooped. Waded, zombie-like, into to the water twice, for about two seconds each time. Approached strangers to be petted. Then he found some shade and collapsed.

Millie Bush Bark Park in Harris County was by far the most impressive dog park we’d ever been to, and Ace — rather than frolicking, merely peed and sacked out. After five days pretty being limited to motel rooms, and spending limited time (his choice) outside on tiny patches of grass, I was expecting him to go nuts, make friends, splash around and have a gay old time.

Instead, it was like taking your kids to Six Flags only to find they wanted to spend the entire time in the restroom.

While Ace, probably for reasons heat related, was uninspired, Houston and its surrounding areas have been quite the opposite when it comes to dog parks.

Houston and its suburbs now boast over 20 fenced, off-leash dog parks with amenities that include swimming ponds, agility equipment, shaded (thank God) seating and trails.

Millie Bush Bark Park, located in George Bush Park and named after former President Bush’s dog, was Harris County’s first dog park, opening at the end of 2003.

Its success inspired other municipalities, including the city, to start opening dog parks as well.

The City of Houston announced the planned opening of its first dog park in 2004; today, in the city alone, there are six, with still more in the planning and fund-raising stages. Throw in the surrounding area, and the number of dog parks jumps to around 20.

Millie Bush Bark park features large and small dog areas, doggie swimming ponds, doggie water fountains, doggie showers, shade areas, benches, scattered trees, walking paths, fake fire hydrants, and a huge parking lot.

It makes Baltimore’s dog parks look like postage stamps.

You can find a complete list of the area’s dog parks at the website of the Houston Dog Park Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1998 to help establish and support a network of off-leash dog parks in the Houston area.

I’m impressed with my former hometown’s performance when it comes to dog parks.

As I’m sure the Basset Hound below would agree, it’s pretty darn cool.

Two owners die trying to save their dogs

In Houston and Philadelphia, sad stories emerged at the end of the last week of humans who, while trying to save the lives of their dogs, lost their own.

In Philadelphia, a woman was struck and killed Friday night as she ran onto a set of railroad tracks to save her dog from an oncoming commuter train, police said.

The woman, who police described as in her 40s and from out-of-state, was standing on the platform of the Bryn Mawr station about 6 p.m. when her dog got loose and bounded onto the rails, according to Lower Merion Township police.

The woman was waiting for a train when her dog got loose. She chased the black Chihuahua onto the tracks as an eastbound SEPTAtrain pulled into the station. She was killed instantly, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The dog was recovered without injuries and taken to an animal hospital.

In the Houston arrea, Harris County sheriff’s Deputy Eddie Wotipka drowned late Thursday as he attempted to rescue one of his dogs from a canal near his home in Baytown.

The 51-year-old officer had pulled up to his home in his patrol unit and was told by neighbors his dogs were running loose near an industrial canal.

Wotipka saw his English bulldog go into the canal and plunged in after her. He resurfaced once then went under again. Wotipka’s body was recovered the next morning about 150 feet from where he entered the canal, the Houston Chronicle reported. The dog also died.

Wotipka joined the department in 1993 and was known as a lover of dogs. While in his patrol cruiser a week ago, he slammed on his brakes to avoid a stray dog in the middle of the road, then ended up bringing the dog, who he named Skidmark, home.

The police officers’ union is planning a fundraiser for the Wotipka family on July 31.

Dog’s Country: The journey so far


 
Today –19 days and 1,750 miles since our journey began — Ace and I pull out of Houston, destined for Bandera, Texas (population 975) and points west.

We’re over budget, sick of fast food and a bit weary and leery of cheap motels — though thankful for the air conditioning they have bestowed upon us. I don’t want to say our most recent motel was a fleabag, but both Ace and I are scratching more than usual, and I know for a fact that at least one spider and one roach were still there when we left.

On the other hand, it did have a crack security squad — one 61-year-old man who left Baltimore after a nasty divorce 16 years ago and circles the parking lot at night in a beat up old van, at least until next April when he plans to retire. As you might guess, he’s now an official Friend of Ace, and by the time I left, I almost had him talked into going to the shelter and adopting a big but friendly dog to assist him in his job duties.

Searching for inexpensive dog-friendly lodgings is a pain — even with the convenience of websites like Bringfido.com and dogfriendly.com. Before heading to Houston we perused both, only to find most motels listed in our price range had weight limits and required non-refundable deposits.

Question: Is it really a deposit when you don’t get it back? I think not. It’s a fee, giant motel chains, and you should call it such. Non-refundable deposit is a contradictory term.

Normally, we stay at a La Quinta, knowing that almost all of them allow dogs, with no fee and no weight limits. This trip though — frugal trek that it is — we’ve opted for Motel 6′s (generally dog friendly and slightly cheaper), and have stayed at a few motel 5′s, 4′s and 3′s, at least on a scale of 1 to 10.

We found our last stop on Bringfido.com — where it turned out to be one of the few whose rate was actually what the website listed. It turns out their “as low as” price and the motels actual prices were most often two different things, leading me to waste hours on the computer.

It’s a good thing John Steinbeck didn’t have Internet, or he and Charley wouldn’t have covered nearly as much ground.

Our goal when we left Baltimore — well mine at least, Ace doesn’t really care — was to spend no more money on the road than I was at home. Less than 20 days in, though — and despite 12 days of free lodging mooched from family — we’ve spent close to $300 total on motels and about $350 on gas, our biggest expense.

We probably should start using that tent rolled up atop my car, which has yet to get unrolled. Before leaving New Orleans, we looked into the possibility of volunteering to help rescue and clean up oily wildlife, especially after we heard trailers were being provided for volunteers. But my phone calls didn’t get returned and the websites I checked all were accepting only trained wildlife rescue professionals.

There’s still some hope of meeting my goal of spending less than $1,000 a month on the road. We’ve finagled some free overnight stays this week, which you’ll be hearing more about in the week ahead.

By the time you read this, we’ve departed Houston — after a planned stop at the Millie Bush Dog Park, west of the city. Assuming my Internet connection works in Bandera, and all else goes well, you’ll be seeing our report on Houston’s dog parks tomorrow.

It’s not so lonesome in this old town

Well it’s lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I’m a face without a name
Just walking in the rain
Goin’ back to Houston, Houston, Houston

You can go home again – whether you’re Thomas Wolfe or Dean Martin —  just don’t expect it to look even vaguely like it once did.

That’s the case with Houston, where I spent my puberty – from 1965 to 1970. (It was a long puberty.)

Since then, Houston has spread even more than I have. Its rich have become richer, its poor have become poorer, its hot has become hotter, its freeways – weren’t there just two? – envelop the city like a mound of spaghetti.

And the Astrodome, that behemoth “modern-day” marvel where I would watch the lowly Astros — the eighth wonder of the world, they called it — now sits empty and unused, an antique that’s dwarfed by even larger Reliant Stadium. (I vote for making the Astrodome the world’s largest dog park.)

I drove by it yesterday on my way to meet an old friend – more than a friend, really. Houston is where my parents got divorced. While I’d spend summers with my father – here, and there, and then somewhere else – from 12 on, I grew up mostly with my mom.

I don’t know if she made a conscious effort to provide me with a male role model, but a co-worker at the Houston Chronicle, the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist, ended up being just that.

He cartooned under the name C.P. Houston, though his real name is Clyde Peterson. And as many of my memories that have faded away, I can still semi-clearly recall sitting in his office and watching him conjure up biting editorial cartoons, tennis outings during which we would sweat buckets, Astros games that we’d usually leave disappointed and – yes! — professional wrestling, even, with its absolutely good guys and totally bad guys and never anybody in between.

All that was 45 years ago, and what little we have stayed in touch has mostly been through reports relayed by my mother. He went on to get married, have children, then grandchildren, and test the waters of retirement.

I don’t know if I’m a part of him, but I’m pretty sure he’s a part of me, to digress back to one of the songs we mentioned yesterday. He – at a time in his life that he probably had far better ways to spend his time than hang around with a snot-nosed pubescent — shaped what I became. (A snot-nosed adult?)

He is honorable, witty and unafraid, a hardcore storyteller, a full-time pursuer of curiosity, the type who, were he a wrestler, would definitely be a good guy, the sort who’s willing to set off on a trip whose destination is to be decided later.

I don’t claim to be all those things, but I think I am some of them, and – not to totally discount genetics or anything – I think he may be a big reason why. (I don’t hold him liable for my numerous negative traits; I think I’ve managed to develop them on my own.)

The point, other than waxing nostalgic, and thanking Clyde the only way I seem able to – at a distance — is this: I think we are shaped by the people who come into and out of our lives, and by our experiences, to a far greater extent than we are shaped by our genes.

Yesterday, in what was probably the second time I’ve seen Clyde since my boyhood, we shared a tale or two, or six, and ate some breakfast, after which we stepped back into the humidity and headed to our cars. As I started up my bright red SUV, I glanced into my rearview mirror to see him pulling out.

In a bright red SUV.

Suddenly, it wasn’t so lonesome in this old town.

To read all of Dog’s Country, click here.

Chihuahua brouhaha: Was movie idea stolen?

beverly-hills-chihuahuaA Houston-area kennel worker claims the movie “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was, basically, his idea, and that the Walt Disney Company stole it from him.

Zenon Yracheta has sued the entertainment giant in federal court, saying the similarities between the movie and a story he wrote called “The 3 Chihuahuas” are many — and that he spoke with Disney officials about his idea in 2006.

Disney has asked a  federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the movie, which was released last year and grossed $130 million, bears little resemblance to Yracheta’s script, according to the Houston Chronicle.

While both stories feature hero dogs, villain dogs, talking dogs, traveling dogs and chase scenes, they have vastly different premises, Disney says.

In Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” a pampered California Chihuahua is taken by its owner’s niece to Mexico, gets lost, nearly winds up in a dog-fighting ring but escapes and is chased by a mean fight master, a sidekick and his nasty dog before finding her roots, romance, and her way back home.

In “The 3 Chihuahuas,” three Chihuahuas escape from their jobs as acrobats in a South Texas circus and head to Hollywood while pursued by their mean ringmaster, a sidekick and his nasty dog. As with the movie, the Chihuahuas have different ethnic personas. In the end they are rescued by a kind woman who turns out to be Beyoncé Knowles’ aunt. The three dogs eventually wind up living in a California mansion with the singer.

Yracheta said he was enraged when he saw the movie last year, jotting down the similarities between the film and his story.

Yracheta said he got the idea for “The 3 Chihuahuas” after three Chihuahuas ran in front of his car in a rural town near Houston. He worked up a three-page story, then commissioned a screenwriter to write the screenplay.

Disney denies the screenwriters saw or were told about his work.

Alaska shelter shoots all its animals

The animal shelter run by the town of Houston, Alaska, says its eight residents — four dogs and four cats — were just too difficult to adopt out.

So, according to police Sgt. Charlie Seidl, under orders, he shot them all.

Seidl said some of the animals had been at the city’s “Animal Protection and Safety Shelter” since November — unclaimed and unadopted.

“We stretched out as long as we could,” Seidl said. “At one point in time, we were completely full. So we were able to adopt out the animals that we could adopt out, but with these ones that were left we weren’t able to do that. And like I said, we can’t hang on to them indefinitely.”

Even in Alaska — a state with, to put it nicely, different sensibilities — the event sparked outrage.

“This is barbaric,” said shelter volunteer Evelyn Rohr. “I think there are better ways to handle it.” Rohr told the Anchorage Daily News she managed to get six or seven cats out before the culling and planned to deliver them to rescue facilities in Anchorage, about 30 miles south.

The Alaska Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now there’s a tough job) said it would have tried to help find homes for the animals, but Houston animal control hadn’t contacted the agency.

“There are more humane ways of killing animals than taking them out and shooting them,” said Cindy Liggett, who operates Kitty and K-9 Connection animal rescue in Anchorage “We are not a poor society. We are not a backwoods community. There is a vet clinic there.”

Rohr said Mayor Roger Purcell ordered police to kill the animals after an officer at the shelter refused to do it, and police Sgt. Seidl said he carried out the shootings under the mayor’s orders.

Purcell denied issuing any such order. “Animal control keeps them for three to five days and then they’re disposed of in a legal way. But I don’t get told when they dispose of dogs,” he said. “I know our officers try really hard to find homes and we keep dogs longer than any other.”

Purcell said the city was working to have its animal control officer licensed by the state to euthanize animals by lethal injection rather than having a veterinarian do it at greater cost. He said euthanizing by gun is common in rural areas around the state.

Sally Clampitt, executive director of the Alaska SPCA, said lethal injections are for more humane than is terminating a dog’s life by gunshot. “I think that’s really horrible, frankly,” she said. “Our position is that euthanasia done by a licensed veterinarian is the preferred and most humane way.”

Owner revives pup in fire with mouth-to-snout

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Houston firefighters rescued three dogs from a burning apartment complex, including one pup that was resuscitated by its owner with mouth-to-snout resuscitation.

Authorities say two puppies and their mother were saved.

The cause of the fire, which left several units damaged, is under investigation. All of the residents were able to get out safely.

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