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Tag: information

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.”

What it means when your dog pees on you

dsc05666Christmas was kind to me this year. I got some gift cards, some underwear, some cookies, a hummingbird feeder and a drill.

And from my dog, I got peed on.

This was actually the day after Christmas. Out for the afternoon walk, we saw some neighbors and their dogs, all of whom we’d met before, approaching.

With Jinjja being the new guy on the block the other dogs were pretty excited to see him.

So three of my neighbor’s poodles, and the giant schnauzer down the street swarmed around him, barking and sniffing.

That was when Jinjja — either because he was stressed out or wanted to show all those other dogs that I belonged to him — lifted his leg and enjoyed a nice long pee on my pants leg.

I didn’t notice until the neighbor shouted, “Hey he’s peeing on you,” which was about the same time my leg started getting warm.

dsc05447I’ve been on the lookout for strange behaviors in the dog I’ve had about a month now. He was rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, so I expected to face some unique behavior, in addition to all the other new dog issues.

Other than his initial skittishness and getting accustomed to new surroundings and what seemed, to him, novel things like television, there haven’t been that many.

Other than one small pee the first night home, his record is spotless, and so are my carpets.

But this one surfaced over the weekend — first when I, against my better judgment, brought him over to a party at my neighbor’s house. The one with the five dogs.

He’d met a couple of them by then, and they all greeted him in a friendly manner. But it wasn’t long before Jinjja decided he should leave a mark, or 20, on this new home he was visiting.

He’d been well drained before we entered, but peed by the door anyway. Then about five more times he started to lift his leg, but stopped when I yelled at him. When all five dogs went out on the back patio, Jinjja went into a peeing frenzy, dashing from spot to spot and, if not actually peeing, going through the motions.

He’d also peed a week earlier in the exam room at the vet’s office — despite having peed repeatedly outside before entering.

Whether it’s stress, or turf-marking, I can’t say for sure.

My kindest interpretation, though, is that he was passing on information to the other dogs — for in one good squirt of urine a dog reveals much of himself, to other dogs at least.

It’s like, “sure you can smell my butt, but that is ephemeral, a quickly passing pleasure.” By peeing in the home of five dogs, though, he could have figured, “I’ll just leave this and you can get to know me better after I leave.”

dsc05464That’s the generous view, and one that’s hard to see when you’ve just been peed on.

The more immediate reaction is more like, “Dammit, you peed on me!”

(I’m sure I’ll laugh about it later. My neighbors laughed about it right away.)

Many experts will tell you a dog who pees is marking his territory, and when he pees on a person, there may be some dominance issues involved.

With Jinjja, I think the bigger issue is insecurity, and that he is still figuring out his place in the social order. (Happily, it is no longer as meat.)

I’m, in a way, doing the same thing, being new to the townhome neighborhood. On my street there are 20 homes, and 26 dogs. I am pretty sure the dogs outnumber the people. Part of the reason I moved here was because it seemed so dog friendly, and because I thought it would be a good place for my previous dog, Ace, and myself, to enjoy our golden years.

He died before I made the move, and six months later, I met Jinjja.

The neighbors have welcomed Jinjja with open arms. My neighbor Trish with the five dogs was even smiling as she mopped us his pee from her entryway Friday night — in the middle of her retirement party.

I’m glad I’m on a street of dog lovers. I’m glad to be among all those dogs. I’m glad Jinjja is now one of them.

I’m not so glad about being peed on, or the prospect that whenever Jinjja visits someone’s house, he will feel the need to christen it.

Oh well, something to work in the New Year.

Dogs are better at filtering out useless info

While both human children and dogs learn from copying adult humans, dogs are better at spotting the bullshit.

So says (though not in those words) a new study from Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center.

Imitation, in addition to being the sincerest form of flattery, is how we — be we a puppy or a baby — learn. But young humans tend to be more trusting, following adult advice exactly. Dogs are more likely to see a shorter route to accomplishing the goal and opt for it, filtering out unnecessary steps that are just a waste of time.

(Might this explain why dogs don’t watch television all that much, or get on the Internet?)

In the experiment, researchers presented over 40 breeds of dogs with treats hidden inside puzzles.

They showed the dogs the steps necessary to solving the puzzle, but in doing so they included many unnecessary steps.

When the dogs’ turn came to solve the puzzle, they skipped the irrelevant steps that had nothing to do with getting to the treats, showing that dogs are able, or at least more able than human children, to separate bad advice from good advice.

Researchers contrasted their study results with those from a similar study at Yale that examined children, and they found humans relied more on imitation than the dogs. The children, after watching an adult solve the puzzle, tended to duplicate every step — even the unnecessary ones.

The study is similar to one about a decade ago that compared chimpanzees with human puzzle solvers. Chimpanzees, while prone to imitation, were slightly better at discerning the unnecessary steps and avoiding them than humans.

“So this tells us something really important about how humans learn relative to other animals,” said Yale Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos, one of the study’s authors. “We’re really trusting of the information that we get from other individuals – even more trusting than dogs are.”

“And what this means is we have to be really careful about the kinds of information we present ourselves with,” she added. “We’re not going to have the right filter for bad information, so we should stick to looking at information that’s going to be positive, information that’s going to be good.”

Or, as easily duped as our species is, we could just let dogs give us the advice.

A parade of pit bulls, prompted by pride

If you happen to be strolling around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Sunday and run into a pack of pit bulls, fear not — they are there to make friends, influence people, and lick away any misconceptions you may have about the breed.

B-More Dog, the organization behind “Pit Bulls on Parade,” plans to make group walks like Sunday’s a monthly event, held in various parts of the city — all aimed at erasing the stereotypes surrounding the breed.

While all breeds are welcome, dogs must be signed up in advance to take part in the parades. So while it’s too late to get your dog into Sunday’s, you can find out about participating in next month’s by emailing bmoredog@gmail.com.

To check out Sunday’s parade, show up around the Inner Harbor at 11 a.m.

Pauline Houliaras, a founding member and current president of B-More Dog, came up with the idea for the parade after noticing how often she’d be stopped and asked about the dogs she was walking. Her own dog, Ravenopolis, she found, often got greeted on walks around the harbor by tourists and locals alike, who’d stop to ask questions and pet the dog.

Taking the concept to the next level, B-More Dog organized groups of pit bull owners to walk together and spread goodwill about the breed. Then they decided, rather than just do it once a year, to try and parade pit bulls every month.

B-More Dog is an outreach and education organization that formed in the fall of 2007 to speak out against breed specific legislation being proposed in Baltimore County. That legislation, which would have required all pit bull owners to muzzle their dogs and confine them in locked kennels, was not passed.

Since then, B-More Dog has gone on to focus on improving the breed’s image and promoting responsible ownership of pit bulls and all other breeds through education, mentoring, and outreach.

Its members work with local shelters to provide information packets about the breed to adopters. B-More Dog also offers a “Humane Education” program in which members take their friendly, trained and well-mannered pit bull to community centers and after-school programs.

Reward given in case of slain police dog

jimiThe Atlanta Humane Society on Monday gave a $5,000 reward to the woman who provided the names of two people eventually charged with shooting and killing a Griffin police dog.

Jimi, a two-year-old German shepherd, apparently strayed onto a nearby property, where he was shot. The dog’s body was found last November dumped along the side of a rural Georgia road in Lamar County.

Lamar County investigators announced the arrest of Kevin Pippin, 37, last month.

Lamar County District Attorney Richard Milam said he plans to ask a grand jury in June to indict Kevin Pippin, 37, and his mother, 66-year-old Geraldine Pippin, for misdemeanor animal cruelty, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The Humane Society said the woman who provided the names was unaware of the reward at the time she gave the information.

Jimi’s handler, Griffin police Cpl. Chad Moxon, and his family also put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for killing Jimi, who was trained at detecting drugs and explosives and tracking people.

Hayes received that $1,000 reward earlier, though the case has yet to go to court.

(Photo: Jimi, on the right, with Moxon’s other dog, Yager)

Reward offered in case of pelted pit bull

christy2The Humane Society of the United States is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for injuring Christy, a one-year-old pit bull who was pelted with rocks and bricks in Baltimore.

A witness says children threw rocks and other materials at the dog who was tied up in the 3700 block of Greenspring Avenue near Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School.

The pit bull was taken to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter where she is being treated for injuries that include wounds to her paws, head, snout and hemorrhages in both eyes.

The children responsible for the crime are believed to be about 12 or 13 years old.

Police dog shot and killed in Georgia

fp-police-dogs_295866cThe Atlanta Humane Society added $5,000 to the reward  for information leading to the arrest of the person who shot and killed a Griffin Police Department German Shepherd.

The dog’s handler, Griffin police Cpl. Chad Moxon, and his family had already put up $1,000 , according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Moxon discoverd Jimi, the police dog, and his own dog, Yeager, missing from their kennel at his home in Lamar County last week.

Moxon said he searched all Monday night and most of Tuesday night for the dogs, handing out about 300 flyers. On Wednesday morning he received a call about a German shepherd found dead in a ditch. It turned out to be Jimi. The 3-year-old dog was shot in the side with a shotgun and dumped there. 

“I just sat down in the ditch for the next 30 minutes. I didn’t have the energy to get him out,” Moxon said.

Shortly after he got home a neighbor called with the news that Yeager had been found, badly beaten, but alive.

“Hes still at home recovering,” Moxon said of his 2-year-old dog, also a German Shepherd. ” I’m hoping he’ll recover in the next few days.”