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Tag: law

TJ Maxx manager asks Boston Marathon bomb survivor to remove her service dog

sydney

A 19-year-old survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing was told her service dog was not allowed to walk the aisles of a TJ Maxx in New Hampshire.

Sydney Corcoran says she was shopping at the store in Nashua when a store manager said her service dog needed to be placed in a store-supplied “carriage” or leave the store.

Corcoran suffered shrapnel wounds in the bombing and her mother, Celeste, lost both legs. Sydney Corcoran got Koda, her service dog, to help her deal with post-trauamatic stress disorder.

“He’s crucial to my everyday life now,” she told WCVB.

Last Thursday, Koda was wearing his service dog vest when a manager approached and said, “If you want to keep your dog in the store, you have to put him in the carriage.” Sydney said she informed the manager that Koda is a service dog and that he wouldn’t be able to fit comfortably in the carriage. The manager, she said, told her the carriage was a new policy, and that she was required to comply.

celesteSydney left the store and called her mother, who, when she went to the store in person, received an apology.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry.’ And I said, ‘That’s not good enough. You should have known,’” Celeste said. “You just made someone with an emotional disorder so much worse.”

She added, “There are so many people with invisible, silent injuries — and the public needs to be aware that their service animals are sometimes their lifeline.”

TJ Maxx said in a statement: “We are taking this customer matter very seriously. Customers with disabilities who are accompanied by their service animals are welcome in our stores at any time.

“We have looked into the particulars regarding this customer’s experience and deeply regret that our procedures were not appropriately followed in this instance. We are taking actions which we believe are appropriate, including working with our stores to reinforce the acceptance of service animals.”

(Photos: Top, Sydney and Celeste Corcoran with Koda, WCVB; bottom, Celeste and Sydney in this year’s Boston Marathon, Reuters)

Best Western could do better


You’d think a big hotel-motel chain would know and share the rules when it comes to service dogs — even one whose inns are “individually owned and operated.”

By federal law, service dogs are allowed. No ifs, ands or buts.

But a Best Western in Baton Rouge, citing its policy prohibiting dogs, recently denied reservations to a North Carolina family whose golden retriever serves as an epilepsy alert dog to their 13-year-old son, Beau.

Chip goes everywhere with Beau, who has a rare type of epilepsy called Landau-Kleffner Syndrome. “Chip alerts us to when Beau is having a seizure,” Beau’s mother, Karen Vaughn, told KPLC.

But after Vaughn made an online reservation at a Best Western in Baton Rouge, pointing out that service dog Chip would be among their party, the motel notified her that the reservation was being refused because the inn doesn’t allow dogs.

Vaughn, who is an attorney specializing in the rights of children with special needs, said that after she raised a stink the corporate office called back, a week later, saying they would honor the reservation. She said no thanks.

Normally, we would say sue the pants off the motel’s individual owner, and sue the pants off Best Western corporate honchos, too.

But Best Western has an unusual corporate structure — one they’ve argued doesn’t comprise a profit-making corporation, but is more of a cooperative. All hotels are individually owned and operated, and Best Western, from its headquarters in Phoenix, provides only reservations, marketing, brand identity and support services.

Individual owners of Best Western inns are allowed to make their own rules — but not rules that violate federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Best Western spokesman told ohmidog! that the Baton Rouge motel has been temporarily banned from representing itself as a Best Western hotel.

“Best Western International has restricted the hotel on our reservations systems and we have required the hotel to stop representing itself as a Best Western branded hotel (cover or remove all Best Western signs and logos) until its representatives attend a hearing at our corporate headquarters at which their future association with Best Western will be decided,” he said.

“Best Western International requires each independently owned and operated hotel to comply with all federal, state and local laws and standards, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We provide extensive training to ensure our hotels understand and address the needs of guests with special needs. When this matter came to our attention, we immediately provided direction to the hotel and a reservation was offered to the family.

“We deeply regret the matter and we will continue to proactively communicate ADA requirements and training to Best Western branded hotels to ensure all guests are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.”

Best Western’s website boasts about their 1,600 pet-friendly locations.

One very brave piece of “property”

mickNormally, we would call Mick, a Portland, Oregon, police dog killed in the line of duty this week, a hero.

Or maybe even a life-saver, which is how his partner, Officer Jeff Dorn, referred to him while recuperating in a hospital  from two gunshot wounds fired by the same burglary suspect who fatally gunned down Mick.

But according, at least, to an Oregon Court of Appeals decision — issued the very same day Mick died while trying to apprehend the fleeing, gun-firing suspect – Mick, being a dog, was merely “property.”

The court ruling wasn’t about Mick — instead it stemmed from an abuse case — but the timing and juxtaposition of the two stories serve to make a point that society, and lawmakers, and law enforcers, and courts, ought to start heeding.

Dogs aren’t toasters.

Mick joined the Portland Police Bureau K-9 Unit in March. After only a few days on the job, police, he captured three suspects within a 10-hour period. On Wednesday, he was with Dorn, chasing down a fleeing burglary suspect, when he was shot.

“Officer Dorn would like the community to know that ‘Mick saved my life,’ ” Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson said in a press release.

“The dog was doing its job. He was out there protecting our community, and it’s tragic that we lost the dog,” said Portland Police Chief Mike Reese.

dornandmickAfter Mick’s body was recovered, a procession of police cars followed him to a veterinarian’s office, according to a report in Wednesday’s Oregonian, but it was too late.

On the same day Mick died, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a ruling declaring — in line with what all the law books say — that dogs are “property.”

As such, the three-judge panel ruled, dogs can’t be seized and examined without a warrant, even if the purpose is to save a dog’s life.

The legal view of dogs as — above all else — property both degrades and endangers man’s best friend, and can make it difficult for animal-cruelty investigators to provide help to beaten, starved or neglected pets.

Changing that age-old view would require throwing away a lot of law books, and it would require judges to finally start showing half the backbone Mick did.

It’s time to make a legal distinction between inanimate ”property” that has no soul, and “property” (if we must call them that) that does have a soul.

The Court of Appeals Wednesday did the opposite, throwing out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who, based on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the animal without a warrant, was found guilty of starving her dog, the Oregonian reported.

After an informant told the Oregon Humane Society that Amanda L. Newcomb was beating her dog and failing to properly feed it, an animal-cruelty investigator went to Newcomb’s apartment in December 2010 and saw the dog in the yard “in a near emaciated condition.”

Newcomb told the investigator she was out of dog food and that she was going to get some more, but the investigator  determined the dog likely needed medical care and brought the dog to a Humane Society vet for an examination.

That exam, according to the appeals court ruling, constituted unreasonable search and seizure of property — namely, Newcomb’s dog.

While the investigator had probable cause to seize the dog without a warrant, the court said, the “search” — i.e. medical exam — of the dog violated Newcomb’s privacy rights because the authorities hadn’t obtained a warrant.

The ruling effectively overturns her conviction on charges of second-degree animal neglect, and the original judge’s orders for her to serve one year of probation and not possess animals for five years.

It could also serve to hamper animal cruelty investigations across the state.

Maybe worst of all, it confirms the foolish concept that dogs — despite their heroics, despite their loyalty, despite their having character traits that we humans can only envy — are, first and foremost, property, a wrongful designation that legally, if not in reality, seems to trump all else.

NC puppy mill law pronounced dead after senator’s remarks are taped

ncpupmill

Backers of increased restrictions on dog breeders in North Carolina recorded a conversation with a state Senator who opposes the bill at a meeting earlier this month and, as a result, some Republican leaders say there will be no vote on a proposed puppy mill law this year.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, was recorded without his knowledge during a private meeting, and that those who taped him planned to use the recording to “force” senators into passing the bill.

“It is wrong to secretly record private conversations with members of the General Assembly and then threaten to expose those conversations to the media to force legislators to meet specific demands,” Apodaca said. “That is nothing short of political extortion and represents a new low in lobbying for legislative action. To dignify those actions by moving ahead on this issue would set a dangerous precedent while condoning and encouraging these unethical tactics.” 

Janie Withers, the community activist who recorded the Jan. 16 meeting with Rabon, said the recording wasn’t a secret. She said she routinely tapes meetings, and that the tape recorder was sitting in plain view to all, including Rabon.

The bill passed the House last year, and has been pushed by both Gov. Pat McCrory and his wife, Ann.

In the recording, Rabon, using more than a few expletives, criticized the McCrorys for publicly supporting the bill.

Rabon“It was bullied out of committee by the executive branch,” Rabon (pictured at left) says in the tape recording, obtained by WRAL-TV . “The executive branch had absolutely, absolutely no business sticking its nose in the legislature on that sort of issue.”

He said Ann McCrory’s advocacy, including a visit to the House chamber to watch the May 9 vote, was “against all laws. … There is a strong line between opinion and lobbying. When you pick up the phone and you are in a position of power and call individual legislators and offer advice or praise or this or that, you are, under the law, lobbying, and you must be a registered lobbyist in this state to do that.”

Coming across as a bit of an Alpha dog, Rabon makes it clear that he is against the bill, and that it would be unable to pass without his support.

“That bill is not going to pass,” Rabon, a veterinarian, told the group. “Angels in heaven cannot make that bill pass.”

He said he planned to introduce a “stronger” bill that he said would not negatively impact on hunters and livestock owners: “ … When I do it, it will be done at the right time, and it will pass,” he said. “I’m in the top five members in power in the Senate. The best shot you folks have ever had, you’re talking to.”

Gov. Pat McCrory and his wife, Ann, have both pushed for the legislation, which is designed to set minimum standards for people who keep at least 10 female dogs primarily to breed and sell the offspring as pets. McCrory urged its passage again on Monday.

“Just because someone uses foolish tactics, there is no reason to stop good legislation which needs to be passed here in North Carolina,” McCrory said.

(Top photo: From a 2012 puppy mill raid in NC, courtesy of Humane Society)

Cellphone video leads to abuse arrest

kiloWhen public officials say they “take something very seriously,” it’s often because they haven’t been taking it very seriously.

Nearly three months ago, authorities in Las Vegas dropped an investigation into a man’s complaint that his neighbor was abusing his dog.

Last week, though, that same dog owner was arrested — thanks to the persistent efforts of the neighbor who, after his earlier complaint led nowhere, went on to videotape the man mistreating his dog and than gave the evidence to officials.

Charged with felony cruelty to animals was Roy Cozart, 30, who beat his pit bull, Kilo, with a rock and the handle of a hammer and threw him against a wall, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson announced Friday in a press release.

“Animal abuse is a serious offense that will not be tolerated,” the district attorney said.  “We take all allegations of abuse very seriously and pursue criminal charges when appropriate.”

But as KTNV pointed out in a news report, the initial complaint against the neighbor came months ago.

While authorities apparently didn’t see the original complaint as that serious, they now say Kilo was abused multiple times between July 15 and Oct. 13.

The difference, this time, was apparently the video.

cozartTaken by the neighbor’s cellphone video on Oct. 8, it allegedly shows Cozart drag Kilo by his neck, swing him around in the air and then hit the dog with a six-inch rock.

Even after that, though, an animal control investigator who later visited Cozart’s home, reported that the dog, though he had cuts and bruises on his face, “appeared happy.”

It wasn’t until a week later that the dog was seized and examined by veterinarians who said they saw signs of abuse. Kilo is now in a foster home and is reported to be doing well, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“We are thankful the D.A. has taken animal cruelty seriously and has brought the appropriate charges against Roy Cozart,” said Gina Greisen, president of Nevada Voters for Animals. “We are confident that policies and procedures addressing serious allegations of cruelty will improve as more animal cruelty cases are prosecuted under Cooney’s law,” she said.

Cooney’s Law was passed by the Nevada State Legislature in 2011 making animal cruelty a felony. It’s named after a 3-year-old beagle from Reno who was killed when her owner cut her stomach open, thinking that a mouse crawled inside the dog. The owner was charged with a misdemeanor under the law in effect at the time.

Now it’s a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

That’s progress, but only if the law is swiftly and strongly enforced.

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

phelan

What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.

It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.

Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.

With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.

In fact, his  biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.

Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.

The same story is playing out in Washington state,  where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.

Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.

But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.

Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.

That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.

Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.

Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine –  can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.

In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.

Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.

In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.

Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.

“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois  who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.

Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.

His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.

And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.

Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.

Nevada anti-breed discrimination law signed


A pit bull who was seized from a notorious dogfighting operation in Virginia, rehabilitated in Utah, and adopted by a couple in Texas helped make the case for a new law in Nevada that prohibits local governments from enacting and enforcing regulations that deem a dog dangerous based solely on its breed.

Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the anti-breed discrimination law this week, and it takes effect Oct. 1, 2013.

Assembly Bill 110, which was sponsored by Assemblyman James Ohrenschall and spearheaded Best Friends Animal Society, also got a push from our friend Mel, the former Michael Vick dog who now lives in Dallas. Richard Hunter, Mel’s new owner, testified before the Nevada Senate to show support.

“Best Friends is proud that Nevada has taken steps to prevent breed discrimination,” said Ledy VanKavage said, senior legislative attorney for Best Friends. “Every American who follows the right safety rules as a responsible dog owner should be allowed to own whatever breed of dog they choose.”

Nevada is the the 14th state to pass a law preventing breed discrimination, Best Friends said.

“Assembly Bill 110 bans breed discriminatory laws from being enacted anywhere in Nevada,” said Assemblyman Ohrenschall.

He added, “I’m confident that this law will benefit dogs, dog owners and animal lovers throughout our great state. It has always been bad public policy to enact ordinances that target a certain breed of dog without considering that individual dog’s actions.  I’m proud of sponsoring this legislation because it will help keep our innocent friends from being killed needlessly and senselessly.”

Best Friends received and rehabilitated most of the dogs seized from the dogfighting operation at Michael Vick’s former estate in Virginia, including Mel, who was believed to have been used as a bait dog.

“Our fundamental goal is to achieve safe and humane communities. We want our communities to be protected against dangerous dogs – and we want abused dogs to be protected from irresponsible owners,” VanKavage said. “Because everyone benefits from a safe society – both people and pets.”

Studies done in countries with breed-discriminatory laws, such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, found that these laws didn’t reduce the number of dog bites or improve public safety. Based on these studies, and concerns about due process and property rights infringement, the American Bar Association, the National Animal Control Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association don’t support breed discrimination, Best Friends said in a press release.

“They support laws that go after the real problem–the behavior of the individual dog and the behavior of the reckless owner.”

Through its national pit bull initiatives, Best Friends Animal Society encourages state and municipal governments to adopt breed-neutral “dangerous dog” laws that focus on the key causes of dog aggression—owners’ failure to spay or neuter, train and socialize dogs regardless of breed, or because they abuse or neglect dogs or force them to live on chains.

(Photo: John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

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