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Pet Rescue Saga: How I single-handedly saved hundreds of pets from being crushed

petrescuesaga

I rescued dozens, possibly hundreds, of pets from certain death the other night.

But before you call me a hero, or saint, you should know I only did it on Facebook, and only in a video game.

Pet Rescue Saga is the popular new puzzle game, downloaded more than 150 million times and playable on Facebook and through apps. It’s free, at first,  but then, like a drug dealer who has handed out samples to get new clients hooked, it starts charging you to play more, or play more effectively, or to reach greater highs.

The game comes from King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, which is similar and reportedly equally addictive.

When invitations to play Pet Rescue Saga first started showing up on my Facebook page, I wrongly assumed — given most of my Facebook friends are die-hard, do-gooding animal lovers — that it was a game that somehow was related to, or benefited, animal welfare causes.

It’s not, and it doesn’t.

There might be some unintentional similarities to the real world of animal rescue, such as walls being put up in front of you, and things piling up faster than you can handle them. But “Pet Rescue Saga” isn’t about rescuing pets in the animal welfare sense of the word. It’s mainly about busting blocks, and then more blocks, and then more blocks, by clicking on them to ensure that the “adorable” little pets atop them don’t get squished.

Given video games have a reputation for catering to our basest instincts — chopping off heads, running people over in cars and the like –  I had hopes, especially when Facebook friends kept inviting me to play, that this one might actually be about a noble pursuit, or might even be educational.

No such luck. What it teaches us about pet rescue is that we can save animals by matching two or more blocks of the same color.

Still, I ended up spending an hour playing it on Facebook, which annoyingly notified me to “share” every time I passed some friend’s record, before it got to the point where further play would require an investment of money. (That — having to fork up some money — generally prevents and/or cures any addictions to which I might fall victim.)

There are hundreds of levels of the game, and the higher you go (or the more you spend) the more tools you get to “save pets” – like sizzling rockets, hammers and exploding bombs.

In playing it, one becomes so focused on the blocks that he forgets about the animals. The endangered animals really seem a well-contrived afterthought, as if the gamemakers thought putting pets in need of rescue atop the stacks of blocks — as opposed to pots of gold or damsels in distress – might give it some relevance, or, pet rescue being a popular cause, add to its popularity.

“Wait! Don’t forget about the animals! ” says a review of the game on gamezebo.com. “Some levels of Pet Rescue Saga have dogs, pigs, and pigeons trapped on stacks of blocks, or wedged in columns. When you successfully clear away blocks, said animals drop safely to the ground. However, since many levels of Pet Rescue Saga scroll vertically, the animals on tall columns are in constant danger of getting squished on the top of the screen. Nothing ruins your day like the anguished squeal of a piglet.”

Squishing aside, it’s nice to see a game that’s seemingly about rescuing and saving, as opposed to killing and maiming.

It would be much nicer to see a game that was really about rescuing and saving animals, or that really taught compassion, or at least tried to.

I’m not necessarily saying the makers and marketers of the game are trying to capitalize on tender-hearted pet lovers, or that they mislead people to think the game might have some legitimate connection to the actual world of animal rescue.

But, after playing the game, I did start receiving emails from the gamemaker — far too many emails — with subject lines like: “Pets in danger. Help them now!” Clicking on the link in the email took me directly to the game’s Facebook app.

I don’t keep up much anymore with the latest developments in video games. So I don’t know if phony altruism is the latest video game trend: Bust up the blocks and find a cure for cancer. Bust up the blocks to feed the starving children.

Maybe there are some truly altruistic video games out there. The Game Show Network came close to that last month when it introduced Pet Pals Slots, a limited-edition game on Facebook. It earmarked a portion of money made from gameplay in November — up to $30,000 — to go to Best Friends Animal Society, providing food, medical care and shelter for animals at the organization’s Utah sanctuary. In other words, while playing a mostly mindless game, those who played Pet Pals Slots, at least in a way, were saving pets.

Video games, with exceptions, are rarely educational, and I don’t really expect them to serve as our moral compass. (More often they seem aimed at sending that compass haywire.)

And of course they’re not obligated to share the wealth they make with any deserving causes they borrow their themes from.

But how cool would it be to see — in addition to less squishing — more of that?

Man runs over estranged wife’s Chihuahua

A California casino manager was charged with animal cruelty after police reviewed a surveillance video they say shows him purposefully running over his estranged wife’s Chihuahua with his car.

Michael David Parker, 45, was arrested Jan. 3, a day after police found the remains of a dog inside a bag in an alley in Hawthorne.

The police investigation led to the surveillance tapes, which authorities say show Parker opening the trunk of his car, in which the dog was apparently being held, getting back in his car and running the dog over.

cowcowKTLA in Los Angeles, which aired the less gruesome portions of the video this week, reported that Parker’s estranged wife, Olga, believes her husband killed “Cow Cow” in retaliation for not giving him money from their retirement fund.

“If someone would do that to a dog… what would he do to my kids?” she told KTLA.

The couple’s divorce settlement is reportedly still pending, and they have three children, aged 6, 12 and 15.

According to the Daily Breeze, Parker is the facilities director of the Hustler Casino in Gardena. He posted $20,000 bail and faces a March 25 arraignment. Parker told detectives it was an accident, and he didn’t see the dog.

parkerPolice say the video indicates otherwise. “You can see him swerving toward the dog,” Hawthorne police Lt. Scott Swain said. “Parker backs his vehicle up, and then appears to accelerate rapidly, steering directly toward the dog. Cow Cow is run completely over.”

The couple’s two dogs, Cow Cow and Lucky, lived in their vacant house in San Pedro, and Olga Parker stopped by every day to feed them. Lucky is missing, she says.

I love you just the way you are

You can call me Fuddy Duddy. You can call me Party Pooper. This Halloween, like every Halloween, I find myself put off by the effort, and money, we Americans put into dressing up our dogs for the occasion.

In trying to figure out why I feel that way, I can pin down four reasons.

One is the annoyance, and safety risk, elaborate costumes can cause for dogs. Two is that our dogs, though they might register their displeasure, don’t get to vote on being dressed up solely for the amusement of ourselves. Three is we’re tinkering, if only for a night, with something that’s already perfect. Dogs don’t need costumes any more than Mona Lisa needs a makeover.

And four is the pipedreamy thought that the $300 million we spend on costumes for pets every year could do a lot of good if it could somehow be funneled to some worthy dog-related cause.

A not-overly-elaborate costume, worn by a dog for a few minutes, doesn’t bother me. But we tend to take things to extremes when we get into decorating mode — resulting in using dyes to make them look like other animals, or, as in the case above, TV characters.

“Creative dog groomer” Catherine Opson appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Tuesday night, showcasing five of her designs — a dog  transformed into a koi pond, one dyed to resemble a leopard, one zombie, one depicting nearly the entire cast of Sesame Street, and another depicting characters from the Simpsons.

Her work is impressive, and a small part of me thinks it’s kinda cool. She uses safe dyes, and the dogs, at least while on air, didn’t seem too humiliated (though they were mostly poodles).

But the larger part of me (and I’m not referring to my stomach) can’t help but feel a little troubled by what seems our increasing tendency to, more and more elaborately, decorate our dogs.

Every October, the news media, websites and blogs go nuts when it comes to costumed dogs, promulgating more of the activity. (ohmidog! is proud to be the only dog blog in the galaxy that has made it, until now, all the way to Halloween without doing so.)

If there is any creature that is entertaining and endearing enough just as it is, it is a dog. If there’s any creature that doesn’t need a makeover, it’s a dog. If there’s any creature we should be able to accept, savor and celebrate just as it is, it’s a dog.

Donations pour in for Barbara and Bowser

The Oklahoma tornado victim whose missing dog emerged from the rubble in the middle of a TV news interview may get another prayer answered.

Barbara Garcia’s Scottish terrier, Bowser, was spotted under a pile debris by the news team interviewing her after she lost her home in Moore.

“Well, I thought that God had just answered one prayer, to let me be OK,” Garcia said after freeing her dog. “But he answered both of them.”

Now, those touched by the scene, which went viral on the Internet, have donated enough money to make a new home a possibility.

A fund set up to help her get back on her feet and under a new roof was approaching $40,000 as of Monday night, just $10,000 short of its $50,000 goal.

“We’re still looking for a corporate sponsor who will match funds donated, so we can make the dream of building a new home for Barbara and Bowser a reality. Not only did Barbara lose her home, her daughter did as well,” said Erin DeRuggiero who’s spearheading the fund drive.

According to CBS News, the clip of Bowser emerging from the rubble has been viewed more than 3 million times.

“All of the other things … you know, one by one they can be replaced. A lot of it wasn’t even important, but I couldn’t replace him,” Garcia said in an interview.

Garcia didn’t have homeowner’s insurance.

“I was really just compelled, personally, to do something,” said DeRuggiero. In the first five days of the fundraiser, more than $35,000 was raised.

“Before the CBS piece aired, I didn’t know Barbara Garcia personally, but was incredibly moved by her story and of her reunion with her sweet dog,” DeRuggiero wrote on the Gofundme page. “… My goal is to ease her recovery, raise enough money to help her start to rebuild or relocate her life, and above all else, to show her that ‘life in the big city’ also means helping one another, even from 1500 miles away.”

Garcia says she’s overwhelmed by the support: “I didn’t know I was that important. Really, truly, I didn’t. I just thank everybody,” Garcia said in a follow-up interview with CBS News.

The “Build Barbara Garcia a Home” fundraising page can be found here.

Where did donations to Charlie go?


David Gizzarelli took in more than $17,000 in donations from big-hearted dog lovers in what he described as an attempt to save his dog Charlie, who was deemed dangerous after attacking a National Park Service horse.

But his attorney says Gizzarelli is unable to help out with the $9,000-plus tab for veterinary care, feeding and shelter that Charlie, an American Staffordshire terrier, has received since last August, when he was taken into the custody of animal control in San Francisco.

Apparently the $17,000 that was donated was spent on attorney fees, paying for the horse’s vet bills and “other living expenses.” That’s what Gizzarelli’s new attorney says, adding that his client can’t afford to help pay the bill and is currently sleeping in his car.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins ordered Gizzarelli to pay  anyway — specifically, half of the costs for boarding and treating Charlie since the incident.

Gizzarelli is still raising money to “help save Charlie” — via a Facebook page and his Help Save Charlie website — even though he has relinquished ownership of the dog, who is now in foster care and will likely end up in an adoptive home or sanctuary.

Until his court appearance, he had not provided any accounting of where the donated money went, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Charlie has been in the custody of Animal Care and Control in San Francisco since August, when he was  deemed “vicious and dangerous” by the police department. The cost for housing  him and providing veterinary care for an earlier injury totaled $9,808 as of Monday’s hearing.

Gizzarelli, in an earlier settlement, agreed to give up custody of Charlie and attend a hearing to discuss payment for Charlie’s care.

But he kept selling “Help Save Charlie” merchandise and collecting donations even after that. And while Charlie could probably still use help — he hasn’t been deemed adoptable yet — it appears little if any of the donated money has gone for the dog.

Questions during Monday’s hearing revolved around the amount of legal fees Gizzarelli paid to two attorneys, and $3,000 his attorney said was spent on ”food,  transportation and housing” — apparently for the human, not the dog.

Gizzarelli’s attorney, Orestes Cross, said his client has no money. “My client is on social welfare, living on $422 a month and sleeping out of  his car,”  told the judge during the hearing. “He fought the fight because he cares about his dog.”

Rebecca Katz, director of Animal Care and Control, says some donors to Charlie are likely upset. “I don’t believe those who contributed expected that money to go toward personal expenses,” she said. Since the settlement, Charlie has been in foster care. According to Katz, he needs several more months of training before he can be considered for adoption or placed in a sanctuary.

Gizzarelli faced federal assault charges after the attack on the police horse, but according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office those have been dropped.

(Photo: Help Save Charlie Facebook page)

Techno-whipped? I pity the fool

In our eighth month of bouncing about this expansive and expensive country, Ace and I seemed headed for our most frugal stretch yet – thanks mainly to lucking out and finding some free housing upon our return to Baltimore.

For the first time, in our continuing effort to see America while spending less than what we were while sedentary and housed – about $1,500 for rent, food and utilities – we were looking at a three digit number instead of four.

Now, thanks to my stupidity, and with an assist from Verizon, we’ve blown it, and somebody has some explaining to do.

Before we left on our journey, I canceled my home Internet service (through Verizon) and signed up for wireless mobile broadband (through a different part of Verizon), allowing us to get online no matter where we were for $59 a month – the package they suggested for a heavy user.

It worked pretty great. There were only two or three locations in our 22,000 miles of travels, where service was non-existent or spotty.

I was so pleased, I even eventually sent Verizon the payment they were seeking from me for home Internet service for the month following the date I moved out of my house. It was basically a choice between paying the money I didn’t really owe, being regularly harassed by the credit agency to which they turned the matter over, or spending far too much time on the phone, holding and then some, to try and straighten it out.

All was going smoothly with my wireless mobile broadband — or so I thought until last week, when Verizon informed me that for the past two months I’d gone over monthly limit, and that I owed them more than $400. Read more »

Spending big in the frugal state of Maine

Rolling into Maine, about the same time fall decided to, we’ve decided to lay low in Portland a few days, dry out from our camping experience and perform a little maintenance — on the new website, the car, the dog and myself — before we head into the remote, northernmost reaches of Maine.

Among those things needing to be dealt with: broken eyeglasses, dirty laundry, a shaggy and unkempt appearance (me, not Ace), and a seriously moldy smell in the car. In addition to all the wet stuff that had been riding in the back of the car for two days — I halfway expected to look back there and see Ace amid a field of mushrooms – there was still more wet stuff atop my car in my leaky rooftop carrier.

So we pulled into (you guessed it) a Motel 6 and got to work on our top priorities — for Ace, scoping out possible sources of treats; for me, doing something about the small lake that had formed inside the black plastic rooftop bag.

I decided a new rooftop carrier would be a good investment, because without it, Ace would be riding amid a mountain of camping gear, luggage and other miscellany. I hoped to get a carrier with a hard shell — one that would be easy to get stuff in and out of, and one I wouldn’t have to tie down with ropes and bungee cords.

I left Ace in the room and headed to the Sears auto center at the Maine Mall. While they had the hard-shelled carriers, they didn’t have the hardware necessary to attach it to my luggage rack, so I ended up with another soft one.

Since I was already there, I decided to get the oil change I’ve been postponing, and asked them to check my tires.

After a quick bite in the mall’s food court, I went into the Pro Vision Center, asking them to accomplish what I could not –  at least not without wearing my glasses, which one can’t do when they’re trying to reinsert that little screw that secures the temple to the front of the frames. They did it in two minutes, and charged me nothing, an act for which, by the end of the day, I would be even more thankful.

Sears called to tell me my car needed some realignment, and that my brake pads were wearing thin (which explains that squeak I’d been hearing.) I opted to have the back ones replaced and let the front ones live out what little life they have left.

That meant I had more time to kill, so I stopped for a quick and drastic (at my request) haircut, and — because the temperatures are dipping up this way and I brought no winter clothes along — bought a jacket at J.C. Penney. I opted for a black microfiber bomber jacket, though I plan no actual bombing in the near future and I have no idea what microfiber actually is.

From there, I picked up Ace so he could tag along for my next chores: doing the laundry, emptying and removing my old carrier and throwing everything that was wet into dryers – shoes, pillows, sleeping bag and tarps included. Despite my efforts, my workboots and a pair of sandals still had  strange fungi growing on them, so I disposed of them, along with the old and holey black plastic carrier and the massive amounts of dog hair left after I gave Ace a good Furminating.

When I tallied what I spent — $10 lunch, $15 at the laundromat, $20 (counting tip) for haircut, $40 for a jacket, $10 for batteries at Radio Shack and a whopping, but not unfair $473 at the Sears auto center — it added up to almost $600. Ouch.

And this just when we were completing the most frugal month yet of our travels.

In month four, we, for the first time, were headed for spending less than $1,000 for our food, gas and lodging combined — thanks mainly to staying still in Baltimore for a bit, and freeloading off friends both there and in Philadelphia.

September saw us spend only seven nights in motels, two at a campground, one in a car, 10 in the homes of friends and 10 on the boat of a friend. All tolled, we spent only $400 on shelter, only $240 on gas and about $300 on food. (Knowing we were saving money elsewhere, we treated ourselves to some nicer dinners than usual.)

Perhaps I need some lessons in frugality from the people of Maine, who, according to the stereotype anyway, have adjusted to living in a state where incomes fall far behind the rest of New England. The state’s farmers and fishermen are accustomed to an up and down economy, and know how to make ends meet during the downs.

This afternoon, while walking Ace behind the Motel 6, I noticed a group of four young people. One jumped into the Dumpster and tossed cans and glass and plastic bottles up to his cohorts.

They left with a full sack.

Frugality, they say, is a tradition here — though one can be both frugal and generous.

Take Gordon, who is temporarily living down on the first floor. He’s been a Motel 6-ite for more than two weeks.

He seems to limit his luxury purchases to treats for the dogs he meets at the motel and his daily cigar, which he steps outside to smoke, disposing of his stogies in an ashtray on the side of the building.

He spends much of the day sitting in the small lobby, handing out treats and making friends with the dogs who pass by. He plans to stay a couple of more weeks before going to visit some family in northern Maine.

If he ever needs to figure out exactly how many days he has been in this Motel 6, I know how he can do it. Just step outside and count the stogies.

Candle blowin’ time: My birthday wish list

For my birthday, which is today, I was thinking of writing up a wish list — all the things Ace and I need to continue, for the next three months, our travels across America.

At the top would be use of a state of the art motorhome — not one of those gas-greedy, road-hogging behemoths, but something a bit more compact and economical, where I won’t constantly be worrying about how quickly my wallet is draining or whether I’m in my own lane.

After that, I’d ask for a continuation of the cooler weather that has finally shown up, reasonable gas prices, an end to any and all weight limits and “fees” charged for bringing a dog along anywhere, health insurance (for me and my dog), world peace, and that Ace and I manage to continue to avoid life’s potholes. Cash, of course, is always nice, too.

Yes, as our financial situation grows bleaker, sending us back to the 401K to continue our journey– assuming there’s still something left of the 401K — I could work up quite a wish list.

But wish lists are a waste of time — they lead one to get so focused on what they’d like to get that they fail to appreciate what they have gotten. They tend to itemize the material things, while leaving out the more important ones. In my case, in the last three months, what I’ve gotten has been a lot. With the possible exception of when I got my first dog — that’s him and me in the picture — I’ve probably never been happier.

I think I was about 10 when it was taken — apparently in the days before focus had been invented. You’ll just have to trust me when I say we were a good looking team. I’m not sure what happened to the snappy red blazer, but Tippy — a gift for my 5th birthday – died, as all dogs do.

Since then, another 45 years passed — as have about a dozen more dogs. There were jobs, and wives, high points and low ones, honors and criticism, thrills and disappointments, challenges and victories, all of which led to where I am today. Specifically, that’s in the house of a friend in Baltimore, who has gone to the beach and offered me lodging in exchange for feeding her cat, named Kitty, who so far has just hidden underneath a chair making noises like a constipated aardvark.

Or at least what I’d imagine a constipated aardvark would sound like.

Where I am, in the broader sense, is: 57 years old, unemployed, without a home (mostly on purpose) and halfway through what I hope to be a six month journey, weaving back and forth across America. With, of course, my dog.

Right now, I am actually in several states: Maryland, Flux, Uncertainty, and, perhaps the most scenic of all, Disarray. I am attempting to make some sense of the jumble of paperwork, books, shoes, clothing and garbage that inside of my car; and fighting off the nagging insecurity of not having a real home, a real job, a real bank account. I am tired of Motel 6′s, fast food and tailgaters.

Yet, for some reason, as Ace and I simultaneously ponder the wisdom of, and rest up for, the next leg of the journey, I am more thankful than ever for all I have — my dog, family, friends and the last three months being at the top of that list.

Ace has truly dazzled me with his ability to adapt to new situations (though we’ll see how he does later this week when we attempt to spend a few nights aboard a not very large and difficult-to-climb aboard boat). He has adjusted with ease to everything so far — new accomodations, new dogs, long drives, curly fries,  hot weather, canned food. Being with each other pretty much around the clock, we’ve become even closer, more co-dependent than before, which may or may not be an entirely good thing.

Family and friends have opened their homes to us as we’ve hopscotched the country — and so, on occasion, have complete strangers. We’ve met authors, and Michael Vick dogs, we’ve “couchsurfed,” visited ex-wives and ex-cats, spent time at shelters, rescues and sanctuaries that are doing wonderful things, and had some fantastic encounters with everything from space aliens to strippers.

I’ve learned that people are good, dogs are even better, and America — mired as it may temporarily be by the bad economy — remains, like the old song says, beautiful … and by that I mean both its landscape and the people who occupy it. I am lucky to have seen so much of it and met so many of them — the latter, more often than not, being made possibly by my amazing one-of-a-kind dog.

So, to heck with the wishes;  it is a happy birthday; we are going to push on; and the cat under the chair, as I wished, has stopped making noises.

Really, the only thing Ace and I need to continue our journey across America is each other.

On the other hand, if someone insists on providing us with an RV, we will accept.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America)

Students’ hard work foiled by thief

Students at Woodlands High School in Conroe, Texas raised $9,000 to help purchase a land-mine sniffing dog — only to see the money snatched by a thief.

Teacher Susan Hollier  said about 2,000 people from across the community attended a Woodlands High School walk and fundraising festival on Saturday.

Two student clubs — Interact and the Council on International Affairs — started working on the project in February, with hopes of raising $20,000 to pay for the purchase and training of a Belgian Malinois. The dogs are sent around the world to detect mines so communities in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam can use the land again.

Part of the money raised was also going to pay for a Woodlands High student to travel to Bosnia to see the dogs in action. The clubs’ project dog was going to visit the high school in May.

Around noon Saturday, though, a suspect grabbed a box of donated money from a student and ran, according to the Houston Chronicle. Hollier said all but $253 was stolen.

“It’s really just heartbreaking, especially when this one dog would save up to 10,000 lives in its five to seven years of service,” said Shelby Howard, 18, president of Interact. “It’s really hard to see all our hard work just taken from us in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to believe someone would go to that level.”

What are the clubs going to do about it? Start all over again, Shelby said. “We’re definitely not going to just let it go. This is a worthy cause.”

Is New York dog being held for ransom?

 

Sugar has been missing more than five days now, and it’s looking more like her Brooklyn family’s initial suspicions are correct — that the French bulldog, basset hound mix is being held for ransom.

Drucie Belman’s dog ran off into the snow in Prospect Park Wednesday. About five hours later, a stranger called the number listed on the dog’s collar, and seemed to be demanding payment.

When the stranger asked how much she would give him for the dog, Belman offered $50. The caller hung up, and his callback number was blocked. Another call came yesterday morning. “Good luck with your dog,” was all they said.

“It looks like someone has Sugar and they’re just trying to get money from us,” said Albert Belman.

The family rescued Sugar from a shelter in Hong Kong before moving to Brooklyn, and she had never seen snow before. When a snow day off from school was declared Wednesday, Belman and her two sons — 10-year-old Henry and 7-year-old Leo — took Sugar to the park.

The boys say the dog was so excited by the sight of snow that she pulled free and took off. The Belmans gace chase, then followed her tracks in the snow, but couldn’t find her.

Sugar was wearing tags and has a microchip.

Here they found they had turned from the bar, you can not increase the number of ways.