OUR BEST FRIENDS

whs-logo

The Sergei Foundation

shelterpet_logo

The Animal Rescue Site

B-more Dog

aldflogo

Pinups for Pitbulls

philadoptables

TFPF_Logo

Mid Atlantic Pug Rescue

Our Pack, Inc.

Maine Coonhound Rescue

Saving Shelter Pets, Inc.

mabb

LD Logo Color

Tag: jobs

When drones deliver will dogs get to growling? Amazon wants to know

drone

Reports surfaced this week that Amazon, as it continues to develop its top secret project to someday deliver packages by drones, has obtained a “simulated dog” so they can assess what obstacles dogs might pose to drones, and how to avoid them.

This is a real story. Honest.

It sounds a little like something out of an episode of Robot Wars, but the dangers dogs could pose to drones, and, more important, drones could pose to dogs, are well worth considering if this whole drone delivery idea is going to come to pass.

(Which I’d prefer it didn’t.)

Amazon doesn’t care what I think, though, and it is proceeding very secretly on the drone project, and looking at how to equip drones with enough artificial intelligence (beyond GPS) for them to cope with what postal carriers have long been coping with — everything from dogs to clotheslines.

Ironically, the Amazon simulated dog story came out same day the Postal Service released its latest dog bite figures, which are undergoing the largest increase in three decades.

Dog attacks on postal workers rose last year to 6,755, up 206 from the previous year — but the increase comes amid double-digit increases in the post office’s package business. Postal carriers are visiting more homes more frequently and at all times of day, often burdened with packages, thanks to agreements the Postal Service struck with Amazon in 2013 and 2014.

In other words, the more Internet shopping we all do, the greater burden we put on postal carriers, thereby increasing the chances for them to be victims of dog bites.

Unless of course packages are being delivered by drones, as Amazon — clearly the biggest catalyst in online shopping’s growth — proposes to do.

If there’s a conspiracy theory that might apply to all this, please feel free to apply it. Because I can’t come up with one.

According to the International Business Times, Amazon is using the simulated dogs as it conducts tests with drones in the UK.

It is not known how many simulated dogs there are in Amazon’s pack or what, if any, behaviors they’ve been programmed to imitate — barking, biting, tail-wagging?

410I1FkDAkLNor is it known whether Amazon created them, procured them from a contractor, or ordered them from themselves.

Amazon has been testing delivery drones since 2015. In July 2016 it signed a partnership with the UK government to explore the safe use of UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) to make deliveries in rural and suburban areas.

There are plenty of rough spots still to be figured out, most of them dealing with the drone’s use of air space.

But, once it comes time for a drone to land, one of the major concerns is going to be dogs. The drones will deliver packages, guided by GPS, and leave them on a special welcome mat the customer has placed on a front porch or a back patio.

Some dogs, I suspect, will cower in fear when a drone appears overhead; maybe a few will take them in stride, but many will see them as humming and hovering monsters, intent on trying to invade their territory.

(Which, to me, is a pretty accurate description.)

A drone’s blades can inflict serious damage, and ingesting a drone’s parts could also be a hazard. And Amazon is not unaware of the potential liabilities.

So now it’s researching how to give drones some artificial intelligence — to equip them with the ability to protect themselves when they sense a danger to themselves or others.

Given it’s a dog friendly company, it’s not likely Amazon will arm drones to spray cayenne pepper when a dog approaches.

Dropping a couple of treats — charming as that would be, and though it works well for postal carriers — probably wouldn’t work, either.

More likely, the drones will be taught to just abort their landing and return to their home base if a dog’s presence is sensed.

That could ruin many a “same day delivery,” but, unless you are ordering insulin, is that really so important?

The best solution is pretty obvious. Drop the fanciful and futuristic pipe dream. Keep the skies clear. Let humans make the deliveries.

I’ll gladly wait another day, or two, or three, for my package in exchange for the benefits that would offer — jobs, peace and quiet, and safer dogs and children among them.

(Photos: At top, an Amazon delivery drone, courtesy of Amazon.com; lower, the Genibo SD Robotic Dog, available from Amazon)

“They were the best person for the job”

A home improvement store says a disabled vet and his service dog were “the best person for the job.”

So now you can find them, in matching employee vests, helping customers at the Lowe’s in Abilene.

Clay Luthy says he has had Charlotte since she was a puppy.

texas-lowes-dog“She was never supposed to be a service dog. I found out a couple years ago she was alerting me and I didn’t even know it,” said Luthy, who always has Charlotte at his side at work.

“I was trying to figure out where I could go that would be a good fit and it wouldn’t mind having Charlotte, and my wife said I was at Lowe’s so much anyway, I might as well get a job there,” he told KIDY.

“We knew he was gonna make a great employee – we just got the benefit of getting Charlotte right along with him,” said Jay Fellers, Lowe’s human resources manager.

The duo has been getting some news coverage since Judy Dechert Rose, a customer at Lowe’s, posted the image online last week:

“This is a retired vet who struggled to get a job because he needs his service dog! Lowes hired them BOTH!!” she wrote.

Luthy, who served in the Air Force, said he was surprised when it went viral.

“By the time I looked at it, there was 1,000 comments on it. Oh my gosh, it was ridiculous,” he said.

It wasn’t the first Lowe’s to hire an employee AND his service dog.

Back in June, a Lowe’s in Saskatchewan was in the news for hiring Owen Lima and his dog Blue.

(Photo: Facebook)

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on “Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  “… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room —  no matter how sexy its voice — saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives — though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

Running in circles: Corgi on a carousel

Happy Monday.

Does this video remind you of your work week?

You run your ass off, despite your tiny little legs. You surmount all the obstacles put in front of you. You bark now and then. And by the time you’re done, you’re right back where you started, except now you’re dizzy.

This five-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, named Meatball, is getting a workout on a backyard carousel, built by his owner’s dad.

The video isn’t quite as soothing as that Pomeranian on a tire swing we showed you earlier this month, not as rhythmic as mutt on a cart path, but like them it shows that dogs quickly adapt to the opportunities they’re introduced to — whether the activity is recreational, relaxational or simply some human’s ridiculous idea.

Dogs love to repeat a familiar act, whether they are at work or at play. Their trick is — however repetitious or mundane the task might be — they almost always see it as play.

Maybe that’s the secret of having good work week.

The road to financial insecurity

I found 1975 again — right where I left it.

For this story, you need to go back to the year you entered the real world, the working world, the man-up (or woman-up), you’re-on-your-own-now world.

For me, it was at age 21 — like many I was able to forestall my entry into it with college — but, during my senior year, I started looking for a job in journalism. After more rejection than I care to remember, I finally got an offer — to be a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

There was a three-month probationary period and, self confidence never having been my strong suit, I decided — here in what appeared to me, as an easterner, a lonely and alien land of dust and cacti — to live somewhere I wouldn’t have to sign a year-long lease.

That’s how I ended up at the Howdy Manor.

It was old even then, as were all the other little motels that lined Benson Highway — a once major thoroughfare that, when the Interstate came, saw its clientele turn from tourists to transients.

The 1940s and 1950s vintage motels, with rare exception, had lost their charm — places like the Eagle’s Nest, on whose sign pigeons now  squat.

The Howdy Manor wasn’t nearly as hospitable as its name sounded, but it had a kitchenette, and it was close to the newspaper, and the price was right, given my $160 a week starting salary — $5 a night, if you signed up for a full week.

At first, it was a depressing little place, full of people I didn’t think I wanted to meet. And given my shift, I didn’t. I worked 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., spending most of that time at the Tucson Police Department, waiting for crimes to occur. (Now there’s no waiting). The captain was Linda Ronstadt’s brother, and the desk sergeant was a big man with a mustache man who always greeted me the same way when I came in: “How’s your hammer hangin’?”

I was always a little intimidated by the question, and try as I might to come up with an appropriate answer — “Oh, it’s hangin’,” or “quite well, thank you” — I never did.

In the wee hours of the morning, I’d get back to Howdy Manor, lock my door, turn on the TV — I’m pretty sure it was black and white — and heat up something on the stove to eat while I watched Perry Mason reruns, until falling asleep. Around noon, I would wake up, eat, shower and it would be time for work again.

My stay at the Howdy Manor — I can’t remember now if it was for only one month or all three, before I moved into a modern, boring apartment — came during one of only two two-year periods in my life that I didn’t have a dog. I probably could have used one. I was, except for work, leading the insular life I’m prone to slip into.

That, though maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, was why I got into journalism — to force myself into the world, to force myself to meet people, to force myself to learn new things. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, despite the fact that the industry’s hammer hasn’t been hanging to well for more than a decade now.

The point is, the time came, there at the Howdy Manor, that I got tired of being in my room, that I ventured out and met its other denizens — or at least those who weren’t bigger recluses than me. And I found them — just as I found the people I’d encounter on the job, which took me, in siren-chasing pursuit, to neighborhoods of every ilk — fascinating.

That is probably when, rather than ignoring and evading oddballs, I started seeking them. That’s when I began to realize that the common man isn’t really common at all, and I’d much rather rub elbows with him than schmoozers in suits.

So, as another leg of my six-month journey with my dog across America came to a close, I decided I needed to visit the Howdy Manor, or at least where it once stood, before my planned month-long layover in Phoenix. 

To my surprise, when I looked it up on the Internet, it seemed to still exist — mostly in newspaper crime reports, some of which provided the address.

But when I hit Benson Highway earlier this week, I couldn’t find the Howdy Manor, or the address. Eventually, I realized the relevant portion of the highway, rather than having disappeared, is still there; it’s just a matter of making a couple of turns after it seemingly comes to a stop. I found the proper block and drove slowly down it — passing the Lariat, the Western, the Bucking Bronc and several other motels and trailer parks with cowboy names. But not, as far as I could see, the Howdy Manor.

The block looked a little more faded, a little more battered — but pretty much otherwise exactly as it did when I left it. It could still be 1975 there.

I was headed back up the block when I spotted my former home. One side of its sign is blown out, so it’s visible only to the westbound traveler.

Today’s Howdy Manor appears even more down at the heels than it was when I — fearful and uncertain, young and naive — became a resident. It’s a little more worn and torn, and the plywood cowboy who I recall stood waving his hat in welcome is gone now, replaced by a sandwich board sign, supported by cinderblocks.

I pulled over, and was immediately approached by a young woman who asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I answered, I’m just looking. I used to live here. Thirty-five years ago. It was five dollars a night.”

It’s now $99 a week, she pointed out, and $20 a night. That’s what her brother pays. She pointed me in direction of manager, and I knocked on the door.

A girl with blue hair and multiple face piercings opened it, and called her mother. When she came to the door, I told her I used to live there, 35 years ago, and that it was only $5 a night. She was unmoved and unimpressed.

“Do you want a room?”

“No,” I answered, “but could you give me the name of the owner? I’d like to talk to him”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“To learn more about the history of the place,” I answered.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“So I can write about it.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I’m a writer.”

Our conversation seemed to be going in circles, so I thanked her, excused myself and got back in the car, leaving a trail of dust in my wake as I pulled out.

Back on Benson Highway, I thought back to the old days, and compared them to my current ones. Back then, I managed to make it through my probationary period, to learn the ropes, and to fall in love with the desert and Tucson. After three years there, I spent 30 more in a newspaper career that wasn’t entirely undistinguished.

When I left the business, I wrote a book, and continued to write my own website, making about enough in the latter pursuit to afford the modern-day Howdy Manor, if I paid by the week.

In some ways, I’m even more insecure than I was when I moved into my motel room with a kitchenette in Tucson 35 years ago. I have no real job, no health insurance, no boss, no salary — not even a salaryette.

But, two years after departing the newspaper industry, I continue — stupidly, maybe — doing the thing I love and know how to do: seek out stories and write them. I continue to occupy, like some kind of squatter, my former occupation.

Why?

Because I’m a writer, dammit.

And that, good sir, is how my hammer hangs.

The Grapes of George (and other crops)

I’m not sure who’s behind it, but in the flatlands of eastern Washington — before the westbound traveler gets to the far more magnificent side of the state — someone has decided to label the crops.

“Crop names in fence lines next 14 miles,” reads a sign on Interstate 90, somewhere west of Moses Lake and east of a town named George.

I like this idea. For one thing, it turns a fairly boring drive into a learning experience. For another, possibly, it makes people a little more aware of/involved in the place they’re at — as opposed to the text they’re sending, the video game they’re playing, or the cell phone on which they’re blabbing.

It’s kind of like a picture book for kids: Here is the field corn, here is the alfalfa. You don’t even have to turn the page, just your head. On your left, potatoes; on your right, peppermint. Here is a field of … wheat. Here is a field of … grapes (wrathless variety, it appeared). Here is some Timothy. Timothy? (It’s a kind of hay.)

For 14 miles, on both sides of the highway, I got a lesson in agriculture — thanks to, I’d guess, the state or some agricultural commission. I wanted to learn more about crops, including why every state seems to package its hay differently. But the lesson came to an end; and as I progressed west, instead of crop signs, the only ones I saw in the fence lines — not counting those of politicians — said “For Sale.”

It struck me as a good idea, though, all this labeling and identifying — one that, if carried to extremes, could both create jobs and lead to a more informed public.

In addition to crop identifiers, why not farm animal identifiers: Sheep, goats, cows, llamas? Tree identifiers that would help us differentiate between our birch and our aspen? Factory identifiers that tell us what’s being made inside that big building? A much needed explanation of what silos (a) hold and (b) are for? The American public would get a better understanding of the importance of farming, and everything else we take for granted.

(Label this idea satire, but only kind of.)

Of course we don’t want drivers reading signs so much that they neglect their driving, but it’s nice to see signs that inform, instead of those that merely advertise, or give harsh orders — as if we were dogs or something: “No this … No that … Stay in lane … Right lane must exit … ”

I’m tired, too, of the signs that scare us: Dangerous Crosswinds Ahead, Watch for Ice, High Accident Area, Gas: $3.15.

We tend to readily identify dangers, we profusely post rules, we slap advertising everywhere — so why not label the run of the mill good stuff, like cows and creeks, steaming bowls of oatmeal and doers of good deeds?

My label-everything-on-earth plan could help the economy. Think of all the jobs. Think of the stimulus. We would need more signmakers, more sign putter-uppers, more sign repairers, more sign changers — for when the crops are rotated, or the landscape changes.

Maybe knowing what’s what would help us appreciate our Earth a little more, teach us to better “live in the moment.” Or maybe not. In any event, here’s the one I want to see:

A sign that the economy is improving.

St. Bernard: The imperishable parish

If you don’t think dogs are being hurt by the BP oil spill, perhaps you need a lesson in the trickle down – or, in this case, ooze down – theory of disaster economics.

And there may be no better place to learn it than St. Bernard Parish, southeast of New Orleans, a community that was struggling to survive to begin with, left underwater by Hurricane Katrina and, with more than half of its families owing their incomes to fishing, is now feeling the rippling ramifications of the oil spill.

They evacuated during the hurricane, came back and have been rebuilding ever since. Now, the oil rig explosion and subsequent contamination of the gulf means a loss of work and more sacrificing.

Right down to the family dog.

This one statistic pretty much sums it up: The St. Bernard Parish animal shelter took in 60 dogs in May 2009; this May it saw 288 come in, many of them surrendered by owners who, having at least temporarily lost their livelihoods to the oil spill, said they could no longer afford to provide care for their dogs.

That sad-eyed girl above, named Abby, arrived at the shelter a week ago, surrendered by a family that subsisted on harvesting seafood from the gulf – only a few pockets of which are still open to shrimping, crabbing, and oyster harvesting.

While some fisherman have turned to working on the cleanup, “they’re not making nowhere near what they were making before,” said Shannon Asevedo, a St. Bernard Parish animal control officer.

Another occupant of the shelter, Sasha, was owned by a BP employee who turned her over to his mother-in-law because he was being called upon to travel so much. When Sasha had ten pups last month, it was more than she could handle. Now all 11 are at the shelter, where the BP employee’s ex-wife works as a volunteer – partly so she can see her former dog. Due to financial and legal problems, she’s unable to care for Sasha as well.

“Our intakes have probably doubled if not tripled since the oil spill,” Asevedo said. “They may not all be related to it. Most people just say they can’t afford to take care of them anymore. It’s a shame. More are here because their parents can’t take care of them. At the same time, adoption rates are down, too. So where do they go?”

St. Bernard Parish Animal Services Director Beth Brewster says the shelter attempts to place all dogs in adoptive homes, ships some to rescue groups and tries to put down only those deemed aggressive.

Interestingly, the shelter sees a large number of large dogs and pit bulls. Families returning to rebuild after Katrina often bought large dogs and left them at their homes at night to protect against the theft of construction materials.

Brewster, in the job for two years now, said the parish’s previous shelter, with a capacity of 26 dogs, “was a dump.” The parish opened its new facility this January, with financial help from the Humane Society of the United States and FEMA.

The old shelter had reopened shortly after Katrina, but went nearly two years without electricity or running water. It strung together hoses to bring in water, and used extension cords to supply electricity. It, unlike the new facility, had no air conditioning, which took a toll on dogs and humans alike.

The shelter was so shoddy that the shelter bought an old school bus and would load it with adoptable dogs, parking in front of the Home Depot and trying to find them homes.

Now they have a gleaming new shelter, and a new air-conditioned mobile unit. But they also have more dogs than even their new and expanded capacity can handle, with more and more dogs being surrendered for economic reasons.

“This is not a wealthy community to begin with,” Brewster said. “Most of these people grew up on the water and more than half make their living on it.”

Recognizing the parish’s problems, the Humane Society of the United States has sent a shipment of dog food to the area, to be distributed to pet owners facing hardships associated with the gulf oil spill. The food is also being distributed in Plaquemines Parish.

“The Humane Society of the United States was saddened to hear that animals inland from the shoreline are also suffering from this disaster,” said Julia Breaux, the organization’s Louisiana director.

St. Bernard Parish, as you’ve probably guessed, is not named after the dog breed, but after the actual saint — Saint Bernard, who devoted himself to the conversion of the people of the Alps and is known as the patron saint of mountaineering.

But the determined people of the parish may have more in common with the dog breed, which is named after St. Bernard’s Pass in the Alps (which is named after the Saint). The dogs were brought to a famous hospice there in the 1600s, where they developed their reputation for mountain rescues and where, it is said, rugged and adverse conditions honed their strong instinct for survival.