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Tag: new york times

The dog that ate Osama Bin Laden

Details are few, and there’s been no government confirmation, but that’s not stopping most major media outlets from reporting that a dog was a member of the assault team that killed Osama Bin Laden Sunday — and even prematurely pronouncing the dog a hero.

“Hero Dog Helped Snare Bin Laden,” read the headline of a story in yesterday’s Sun that called the dog “a fearless four legged hero.”

The Sun, in a report the New York Times seemed to confirm,  said an explosive-sniffing dog was strapped to one of the 79 assault team members lowered down ropes from three Black Hawk helicopters into Bin Laden’s hideout in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“Little is known about what may be the nation’s most courageous dog,” said the New York Times article. “Even its breed is the subject of intense interest, although it was likely a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, according to military sources.”

The rest of the Times story recounts the military’s increasing use of, and growing dependence on, dogs — primarily because of their skill in finding improvised explosive devices. But it sheds no light on the alleged dog’s involvement in the raid.

Slate, meanwhile, in a similarly speculative article, reports that a dog was along on the raid, then notes there has been no confirmation that a dog was involved in the raid:

“The special operations forces do have their own canine training program, but it’s very hush-hush. Furthermore, neither the Pentagon nor the White House is talking about the role the dog played in Sunday’s operation, and they haven’t even confirmed that a dog was involved at all.”

The news media loves a good hero dog story — and I do too, when it’s true — but before we start calling this anonymous military dog a hero we might want to have some facts, like what the dog did, and whether he (or she) was even there.

Seeking Tom Wicker

Every once in a while, if not more often, you just have to follow your hunches.

I had one the other day — the feeling that fate had led me to turn onto an isolated country road in Virginia; that it was meant for me to drive down that road; and that, by doing so, I would end up meeting one of my idols, Tom Wicker, the famous writer.

It all started with a wasp. Heading north to Richmond on State Highway 10, south of Hopewell, I looked into the rearview mirror to check on Ace and noticed there was what appeared to be a wasp on what appeared to be the inside of the back window.

I pulled off on the first side road I came to — Wards Creek Road — and popped my back window open so it could get out. I was getting back into the car when I noticed a sign saying that this particular portion of country road was adopted by Tom and Cookie Wicker.

If they were picking up trash along the road, surely they must live on it, I figured, and just maybe, maybe even probably, it was THE Tom Wicker.

I called my father, who was a friend of Wicker’s long ago. Tom Wicker, both my parents have told me, used to bounce me on his knee when I was a baby. I didn’t really want to be bounced again, but how cool would it be, after all these years, to drop in out of nowhere and say hello?

“Does Tom Wicker live in Virginia?” I asked. He didn’t know. “Is he married to a woman named Cookie?” He wasn’t sure of that, either. Cookie sounded like an author’s wife’s name to me, though. Virginia seemed a likely place for Tom Wicker, born in Hamlet, N.C., to live. Perhaps I was destined to meet Tom Wicker again.

I drove along the road, picked the most impressive looking driveway and turned down it. It led to multiple houses. At the first house, I had stopped when a pick-up truck pulled up. I asked the man inside where Tom Wicker lived. Tom Wicker, I was told, lives at the very end of the long gravel driveway.

The driveway grew ruttier and narrower as I proceeded, but I decided it was worth the possible payoff. This is the sort of place Tom Wicker would live, I reasoned, on a secluded country estate. Writers need their solitude.

At the end of the driveway, there was a modest home, and a mastiff, who started barking. I waited in the car, figuring that Tom Wicker, hearing the noise, would step outside.

And out he came — not Tom Wicker, the writer of numerous books about politics and presidents. Not the author of ”A Time to Die,” about the Attica riots, my personal favorite. Not the Tom Wicker who grilled politicians, hobnobbed with presidents, and whose writing served as inspiration to me. Not the Tom Wicker who bounced me on his knee.

Instead, it was Tom Wicker, the retired nuclear plant worker.

A little wary at first — and who could blame him? – this Tom Wicker listened with curiosity as I explained how I ended up parked in his side yard. He remembered reading Tom Wicker’s columns in the New York Times, but said he was no relation.

As we talked, his dog — Lula was her name — kept her eyes on me. I asked to meet her, knelt down and called her name. Nervously and slowly, she approached, sniffed my hand and let me pet her. Then she spotted Ace, who had climbed up into the driver’s seat and was leaning out the window. She walked over to my car and touched noses with him.

I didn’t go so far as to let Ace out, or even suggest it, as I felt I had intruded enough on Tom and Cookie Wicker — Cookie also having come out into the yard by then.

Lula, two years old, originally belonged to Tom and Cookie Wicker’s daughter but she found two mastiffs too much for her mobile home and gave Lula to her parents.

True, I could have Googled Tom Wicker beforehand, and learned that he lives in Vermont and New York, that he’s not married to a Cookie.

But, I’ve decided, one should not stop mid-whim and Google. One should not let Google spoil an adventure, even if that adventure is based on a misconception. We don’t want the world to become a place where Google – useful as it is — does all our seeking and searching for us, where we get so used to turning first to the computer that we fail to explore and savor the real world.

Had I done that, I wouldn’t have met Tom or Cookie or Lula.

Besides, Tom and Cookie Wicker gave me a parting gift — two tomatoes from their garden.

They were red, ripe, juicy — and real.

Should you feel guilty about your purebred?

petaprotestAfter PETA’s protest at Westminster, The New York Times posed a timely and interesting question yesterday: Should the buyers and owners of purebred dogs feel guilty — given the number of dogs euthanized in shelters and the abuses that continue in purebred breeding?

Then they bounced that question off four experts on dogs and their place in society.

The responses are well worth reading in their entirety, but here’s the overly condensed version:

Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society:

The only truly guilt-free purebred dog is one acquired from a shelter or breed rescue group … What’s an exploitive breeder? Any breeder that can’t provide a loving, in-home environment for a pregnant bitch, and a safe home environment surrounded by loving people for new born puppies, is exploitive. Anyone who breeds as a business rather than for the love of the breed is exploitive.

Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of ”The Intelligence of Dogs,” “How Dogs Think” and more:

Nearly 40 percent of dogs do not make it through their first year with their first owner, and instead are returned to their breeder, given to a shelter, euthanized or abandoned, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Humane Society … The advantage of purebred dogs is that they provide us with some level of predictability.

Mark Derr, author of “A Dog’s History of America” and “Dog’s Best Friend”:

This need to find “unspoiled” or rare breeds is tied not only to a desire for the next “hot” dog but also recognition that purebred dogs for all their beauty or uniqueness often have multiple genetic problems that are as much a result of the way they are bred as are their appearance and talents … But with purebred dogs accounting for 25 percent of those in shelters and countless more with dedicated breed rescue groups, virtue would appear to lie in giving a dog a home.

Ted Kerasote, author of “Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog”:

Dividing the world into those who should feel guilty for owning a pedigreed pooch and those who can feel self-righteous for rescuing a mutt does little to solve the two major challenges domestic dogs face today: careless breeding and an antiquated shelter system … Assigning blame to one or the other won’t do much to bring more genetic diversity into the world of purebred dogs or help shelters operate in more diverse and life-saving ways. Nor does instigating guilt give the slightest nod toward the magic that happens when a person and a dog, purebred or not, fall in love.

New York Times looks at debarking

What do some Westminster show dogs have in common with some drug dealers’ attack dogs?

They’ve been debarked.

The surgical procedure, which critics label outdated and inhumane, has been around for decades, but continues to fall out of favor, especially among younger veterinarians and animal-rights advocates, the New York Times reported this week.

There are no reliable figures on how many dogs have had their vocal cords cut, but veterinarians and other animal experts say that dogs with no bark can  be found in private homes, on the show-dog circuit, and even on the turf of drug dealers, who are said to prefer their attack dogs silent.

David Frei, the longtime co-host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, acknowledged that some show dogs have  the operation. “There is no question we have some debarked dogs among our entries,” he said.

Many veterinarians refuse to do the surgery on ethical grounds, and some states have banned it, except for therapeutic reasons, including New Jersey. Similar legislation is pending in Massachusetts.

In the surgery, vets anesthetize the dog before cutting its vocal cords, either through the mouth or through an incision in the larynx. Dogs generally recover quickly, veterinarians say, and while they usually can still make sounds, their barks become muffled and raspy.

But Dr. Gary W. Ellison, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, said the procedure can lead to complications, such as excess scar tissue building up in the throat of dogs, making it difficult to breathe.

Ellison said the procedure is no longer taught at the University of Florida’s veterinary school.

Banfield, the Pet Hospital, with more than 750 veterinary practices across the country, formally banned the surgery last summer.

“Debarking is not a medically necessary procedure,” said Jeffrey S. Klausner, the hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer. “We think it’s not humane to the dogs to put them through the surgery and the pain. We just do not think that it should be performed.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that the surgery only be done “after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.”

Wherefore art thou: Huneck’s tardy obituary

Nearly a month after the death of famed dog artist Stephen Huneck, the New York Times has seen fit to print his obituary.

stephen-studio-01The internationally known artist, woodcarver and furniture maker, and creator of the Dog Chapel, a hand-built church in Vermont, fatally shot himself on Jan. 7 in Littleton, N.H.

According to his wife, Gwen, he had been despondent over having had to lay off most of the employees of his art business that week.

While Huneck once had a national network of six galleries, only the one at his residence on Dog Mountain remains.

The tardy Times obit offered little new information about Huneck’s life or his suicide, except for this bit of irony: His death has led to a renewed demand for his work, enabling Ms. Huneck to hire back most of the employees let go last month.

Residents mourn two deaths on West 86th St.

nycdogs

There was a gem of a story in the New York Times last week — about  two elderly but popular neighborhood dogs who died within a day of each other.

Both lived in an apartment building on West 86th Street. Harry died Friday evening, his friend Bix died on Saturday.

“The fact that they were not human, but were instead a pair of 14-year-old dogs, seems only to have magnified the bereavement in their building, where they had lived longer than most tenants; on their block, where Harry held court at sidewalk cafes and was known as the Mayor of 86th Street; and deep into Central Park, where Bix had been the ringleader of a 9 a.m. play group since 1997,” the article reported.

Harry was a purebred Shar-Pei. Bix, named for the jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke,was a mix of Akita, Saint Bernard and German shepherd.

His 84-year-old owner, the documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, said he never knew any of his neighbors until Bix moved in, serving as an icebreaker and conversation-starter.

“Over the years, because of him, my circle of friends changed, I met people I never would have met; I came to see my whole life depending on this dog I hadn’t wanted at all,” said Pennebaker. “I’d expected having to walk him in the rain in the middle of the night. But I never expected to lose him. If ever you put a dog down, some of you goes with him.”

Rafael Curbelo, the building’s doorman, who kept a stash of treats behind his desk in the lobby, cried upon hearing the  news. “Harry was my best friend here,” he said.

As has become the tradition in the dog-friendly building, two dog death announcements were posted in the elevator. Within hours, both had been inscribed with expressions of sympathy from tenants.

The art, and heart, of the dog park

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There’s a beautiful story in today’s New York Times that should resonate with dog park frequenters everywhere.

We wrack our brains to remember the names of dogs we’ve met before, then wrack them even harder to try and remember the name of the owner, and once in a while we stumble, calling the owner by the dog’s name, or vice versa.

Dick Sebastian resolved he would not make those kind of mistakes at the small-dog run in New York City’s Washington Square Park after he became a regular there a few years ago, along with his wife Susie, and his dog, Kitty.

After a visit, Sebastian, 71 and a retired surgeon, would return home, draw illustrations of the dog’s he had met and label them with their names. Later, he started bringing his chart with him to the dog run, where new dog owners started asking if he’d include their dogs on his ever-expanding artwork.

That led to Sebastian attempting less cartoony, more serious portraiture, sketching some of the dogs he had come to know. He started with a pug named Sidney, and in less than a year, he had drawn and presented, as gifts, 50 dog portraits to their owners.

The dog park crowd appreciated Sebastian’s efforts. Said one, “The fact that someone would care enough that he’d want to draw what’s unique about your dog for you …”

Sebastian was appreciated as well for his kindness, and his interest not just in other people’s dogs, but the people themselves.

He’d become a fixture, but now he’s leaving.  Sebastian and his wife plan to move back to their native Ohio this month, so that Sebastian, who has Parkinson’s disease, can get easy access to care at a retirement home.

Times reporter Susan Dominus writes:

“New York is full of ad-hoc communities based on proximity and built up around mutual affection — walk into any watering hole at 7:30 p.m. — but they often have a live-and-let-live looseness to them. While parental oversight can stifle, en loco parentis oversight can be a rare, welcome comfort in the circles of urban life,”

 ”For passionate dog people, the folks at the Washington Square Park dog run are also, it turns out, passionate people people, and there have been myriad parties scheduled in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Sebastian before they depart.”

It’s not the first time I’ve said it, and I’m not the first one to say it, but dogs — if they don’t just automatically make us better humans — certainly manage to open up the opportunities for us to be.

Dick Sebastian, it seems, recognized that — most artfully.

(Artwork: The small dogs of Washington Square Park, by Dick Sebastian)

Smarty pants … and drools … and sheds

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It’s official: We humans, according to the New York Times, have underestimated the intelligence of dogs (which, of course, was exactly their plan.)

“…(O)ver the last several years a growing body of evidence, culled from small scientific studies of dogs’ abilities to do things like detect cancer or seizures, solve complex problems … and learn language suggests that they may know more than we thought they did,” the article in Sunday’s “Week in Review” section noted. 

“Their apparent ability to tune in to the needs of psychiatric patients, turning on lights for trauma victims afraid of the dark, reminding their owners to take medication and interrupting behaviors like suicide attempts and self-mutilation, for example, has lately attracted the attention of researchers.”

While we humans still don’t understand exactly how they do it, dogs have proven they can detect not just our behavioral changes, not just pending seizures and diabetic attacks, but several types of cancer. (We, on the other hand, must rely on expensive doctors, intrusive tests and tight-fisted insurance companies to get our diseases diagnosed.)

In 2004, German researchers reported that a border collie named Rico could recognize  200 objects by name and remembered them all a month later. (I’m guessing that Rico’s vocabulary list was kept on one of those thingamajigs that have a clip to hold the papers in place.)

Dogs, with their incredible sensory powers, can recognize things in the distance. (We rely on the New York Times, sometimes mistakenly, to tell us what’s staring us in the face.) Dogs pretty much have us humans  pegged. (Most of us don’t begin to understand them.) At least now though, we’re trying a little harder.

“I believe that so much research has come out lately suggesting that we may have underestimated certain aspects of the mental ability of dogs that even the most hardened cynic has to think twice before rejecting the possibilities,” said Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and an author of several dog books.

Dr. Coren’s work on intelligence, along with other research suggesting that the canine brain processes information something like the way people do, has drawn criticism from those arguing that dogs are merely mimicking, or manipulating people into believing that they in fact grasped human concepts.

Clive D. L. Wynne, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida who specializes in canine cognition, argues that it is dogs’ deep sensitivity to the humans around them, their obedience under rigorous training, and their desire to please that can explain most of these capabilities, the Times article notes.

“I take the view that dogs have their own unique way of thinking,” Dr. Wynne said. “…We shouldn’t kid ourselves that dogs are viewing the world the way we do.”

Thank God, and dog, for that.

Hailing Cesar: Times looks at Millan’s empire

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With “The Dog Whisperer” starting its sixth season, his new magazine hitting the stands last month and his fourth book going on sale, the New York Times Saturday took a long and mostly complimentary look at Cesar Millan and the empire he has built since crossing the border illegally 20 years ago.

Proclaiming him a “cultural icon”  the article recounts how the once-penniless native of Culiacán, Mexico (he became a U.S. citizen this year), became a dog trainer to the stars, then the world.

One of his first clients was Jada Pinkett (before she added the Smith) who in the early 1990′s was 20 and starring in a television sitcom. Millan helped Pinkett take control of her four Rottweilers, and they went on to become friends. When Millan told her he wanted to be on TV, the article says, she told him he wasn’t ready, and needed to study English.

Pinkett and Will Smith started recommending Mr. Millan to friends in the entertainment industry, starting with director Michael Bay, who needed help controlling his 230-pound mastiff, Mason. He’d later go to the aid of  Oprah Winfrey, former Disney chief Michael D. Eisner and director Ridley Scott, among others.

In addition to books, a magazine and a television show, Millan and his wife, Ilusion, runs Cesar Millan Inc., a constellation of businesses that coordinates Millan’s speaking engagements and executive leadership seminars;, and puts out a line of products including DVD’s, collars, organic dog food, fortified water, shampoos and toys. His website, cesarmillaninc.com, grosses annual sales in the mid-seven figures, according to a company spokesman.

The Times article devotes only one paragraph — tssst! – to the debate over Millan’s macho leader of the pack techniques:

Not everyone agrees with Mr. Millan’s methods. “Positivist” trainers like Ian Dunbar reject the idea that a submissive dog is a happy dog. Mr. Dunbar advocates treating dogs as companions, not followers. While Mr. Millan uses his hand like a mother dog uses her mouth — to nudge dogs to behave — Mr. Dunbar shuns physical corrections and relies instead on treats and rewards.

Despite any controversy, Millan’s fame and empire are only expected to grow.  This summer, the National Geographic Channel struck a deal with Fox to syndicate “Dog Whisperer” next fall.

(Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic Channel)

New York City’s last working 9/11 dog dies

tazTaz — the last New York City police dog called into service after 9/11 that was still on the job — has died.

The German shepherd, almost 2 years old when he  joined other K-9s searching for survivors and cadavers at the World Trade Center, died of cardiac arrest last Sunday, the police department said.

The New York Times noted his passing yesterday.

Taz, who would have been 10 years old on Oct. 31, served in the Canine Emergency Service Unit, where his duties consisted of searching for evidence, suspects and missing persons.

Dogs, the Times article notes, have served the New York Police Department since 1908, when, in what was a novel idea at the time,  five dogs were promoted to be full-fledged members of the department.

The article also notes that a Times article back then noted “the possibility that the dog unit could be laughed out of official existence.”

The department currently has around 40 dogs, mostly German shepherds and bloodhounds.

During the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack, an average of eight dogs were on duty at a time, working 12-hour shifts every day, according to the Police Department.

In a statement, Taz’s handler, Officer Scott Ryan said, “His passing is not just a loss to me, my family and fellow K-9 officers, but to the city that Taz and his K-9 comrades so proudly and courageously served.”

Officer Ryan added, “I will ride with my partner Taz for the last time, as I head to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery to bring his ashes home.”