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Tag: news media

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.

The truth about the tsunami dog duo

Truth, always elusive, is even tougher to get a handle on in the chaotic aftermath of a tsunami — and that’s one reason the fate of the two dogs pictured in the now famous video of one stranded dog loyally watching over another remains obscure.

Despite reports from CNN, UK Telegraph, NPR, PETA and others that the dogs were rescued — all based solely on Facebook posts by Kenn Sakurai, the owner of a dog food supply company in Japan — their fates remain unclear and uncomfirmed.

The best account we can find is one prepared by Global Animal, an online animal magazine that, unlike most major media,  interviewed Sakurai, who is being described, without documentation, as both a savior or a charlatan in Internet posts 

Global Animal reports that Sakurai told them the two dogs were rescued by friends of his who are off-road bikers and that the dogs are being treated by an undisclosed veterinarian.

Sakurai posted on Facebook last week that the dogs had been saved — and on that page he also sought donations to continue what he described as his work rescuing animals left homeless by the tsunami.

Sakurai lists his occupation as president of Butch Japan, Inc., a dog food company. Oddly, for a self described animal lover, his Facebook page lists Michael Vick among his “favorite athletes.”

Sakurai has reportedly deleted all negative comments from the page — as well as those that questioned his involvement in rescuing the dogs.

Sakurai’s page says he was born in Tokyo, raised in Tokyo and the UK and went to school in Tokyo and New York City. He says he was involved with the development of Tokyo Disneyland and that he now is the importer of ”the safest dog and cat food on the planet.”

After the tsunami, he set up a paypal account so that people could donate to his effort, but, in his later posts on his Facebook page, he says he plans to donate that money to established shelters.

Still, many remain troubled that he has presented no photographic evidence that the two dogs are safe.

Global Animal reports: “Mr. Sakurai says he promised the bikers that he wouldn’t reveal the location of the veterinarian because they don’t want animal rescue organizations to take the dogs for their own fundraising purposes. This is why no pictures are being made available, claims Mr. Sakurai.”

In an editorial written by Arthur Jeon, co-founder of the online magazine, Sakurai is quoted as saying he would try and send the organization photos. But, the magazine said, “we are not hopeful that credible evidence will materialize.”

“Our best guess is that some difficult truth may be hidden here, and that either one or both dogs have died, possibly on the trip or shortly after. Or, that this is a story that got out of hand, perhaps being used to raise money by Mr. Sakurai himself, though he is not associated with any animal rescue organization that’s mobilized in the devastated areas.”

Global Animal provided readers interested in donating money to the animal rescue effort in Japan with a list of legitimate and long-standing animal rescue organizations.

The editorial concludes: “It’s human nature to yearn for a happy ending, to be able to move these dogs’ misery off our mental list of anguish and to find heroes in a horrible reality. It also makes for ‘good copy’ by mainstream news organizations who hit it for its feel-good elements, then move on. However, the web and Facebook are not good places to collect facts for substantiated reporting; these reputable news organizations know better.

“Ultimately, the two dogs … deserve the truth. As do we. If Mr. Sakurai responds with verifiable truth that the dogs are alive and well, nobody will be happier than the hardcore animal lovers and readers of Global Animal.”

Attacking dogs weren’t pit bulls, after all

 

After its news reports blamed two pit bulls for the mauling Saturday of a 7-year-old girl, ABC2 News in Baltimore took steps to correct the error.

But take a look at the news report (above) and see if you agree with me – that they only compounded it in this story touted as “the real truth about dangerous dogs.”

Rather than clear the name of pit bulls, they besmirch that of American bulldogs, lumping them in with pit bulls and saying they share the same “aggressive” traits and legendary jaw power – or “muscles of mastication” as one vet calls it.

“They have muscles of mastication. They have muscles in their jaws that are so strong they have 500 pounds of pressure. They can snap a broom just like that,” Dr. Kim Hammond, of Falls Road Animal Hospital, says in the report. “They’re a predator if you’re lower on the food chain and they’re good at their job, and they’re going to win.”

Those remarks – inaccurate and irresponsible as they might be in reference to pit bulls or American bulldogs – were apparently being made about pit bulls, which he also compared to “a loaded gun.”

My guess is that ABC2 sent a reporter out to do the knee-jerk, misconception-spreading, how dangerous-pit-bulls-are story, then learned it was two American bulldogs that were actually involved in the attack on Amanda Mitchell, who remains hospitalized with severe facial injuries.

For the sake of expediency, it appears, the report portrays pit bulls and Ameridcan bulldogs as peas in a pod, which wouldn’t be so bad if the pod wasn’t 99 percent wrongful stereotype and 1 percent fact.

Mitchell was playing outside when the dogs escaped from a neighbor’s yard in Dundalk Saturday. Both dogs were later seized by Baltimore County Animal Control and, with the consent of their owner, euthanized.

On Monday, the Baltimore County Health Department issued a correction – identifying the dogs involved as American bulldogs – and, after more than a few complaints from vigilant Internet commenters, ABC2 corrected the story, pointing out that police had provided the misinformation.

In all fairness, the breed of the dogs was also misreported by other media outlets, including the Baltimore Sun.

Even though most news outlets have corrected their reports, the misinformation remains – not just in the public consciousness, but on Google, where search result summaries of news reports since corrected still describe the dogs as pit bulls.

Tragic as it is, the story goes a long way in helping to understand how pit bulls have gotten, and continue to get, a bad rap – based largely on police mistakenly identifying dogs, “experts” who may not know what they’re talking about and the news media’s dutiful reporting of such misinformation.

What gets lost amid all the assumptions and jumping to conclusions is this: Any breed or type of dog has members who can turn violent or aggressive – be it pit bull, bulldog or Chihuahua.

Letter draws attention to neglect case

Caswell County Courthouse

Rural Caswell County is prosecuting its first suspect under North Carolina’s tougher animal cruelty statute, known as Susie’s Law, but the case — in which three dogs starved to death while chained – is drawing little media attention.

Jimmy Lee Spears was charged with three felony animal cruelty counts, accusing him of willfully killing the dogs by “intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance” — namely, food and water.

All three dogs were found dead, chained and huddled together in the same doghouse.

But neither state nor local news media have reported on the case, according to a Feb. 22 letter to the editor of the Caswell Messenger, written by Karen Schneider, a board member of the animal shelter in Yanceyville.

“My husband and I found out about this case only because of our board member involvement with the animal shelter (APS) in Yanceyville. The three dead emaciated dogs were brought to the shelter by animal control on January 24th,” she wrote.

While praising the new law, which makes willful cruely to animals a felony, Schneider points out in her letter that tougher penalties won’t have much deterrent effect if such cases are not publicized.

“…There is something crucial missing in the handling of the Spears case and that is, no one seems to know about it … There have been no reports in the newspapers covering the details … This is a first test case of Susie’s Law for our county. Little benefit will result if it tiptoes quietly through the court system,” she added.

An Internet search reveals no news reports on the case, only Schneider’s letter and Facebook postings.

While no article on the case has appeared to date in the weekly Messenger, more than 50 residents have posted comments on Schneider’s letter.

Pawlitico? Website starts DC dogs series

The website Politico — apparently having finally realized how boring politicians are — has launched a series of videos profiling the pets of Washington’s movers and shakers.

The series of tributes kicked off yesterday with a look at Cali, a grey dachshund who is a fixture in the office of California Rep. Ken Calvert. Her owner is Rebecca Rudman, the congressman’s communications director.

The 3-year-old dachshund can often be seen running the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Politico reports that “Rudman threw a tennis ball along the corridor outside Calvert’s office, as Cali ran for it wildly and dutifully brought it back.”

OK, so it’s not exactly hard-hitting reporting. Still, it’s nice to see some inside-the-beltway dogs other than Bo getting some attention.

Euthanizing first, asking questions later

Ohio executed an innocent dog.

Carolyn Baker, 63, of Cleveland Heights, died of a heart attack in Feburary — not from being mauled by the family Rottweiler, the News-Messenger reported today.

Baker was found dead at her back steps, wearing only a thin polyester nightgown and boots, with bite marks on her arms and shoulder. That, apparently, was enough for the police, and subsequently the press, to indict Zeus, the family’s 9-year-old, 140-pound Rottweiler.

“Cleveland Heights Woman Dies Afer Being Attacked by Rottweiler,” one headline read. “POLICE: Woman Mauled to Death by Dog,” shouted another. “Woman Found Mauled to Death by Pet Rottweiler,” concluded a third.

As ohmidog! reported in February,  police and, in turn, the news media, may have jumped the gun — perhaps a little too eager to place blame on a dog because of his breed, which is, of course, nothing new.

Zeus was seized by authorities and impounded, despite the family’s contention that the dog was actually trying to rescue the woman, and that any bite marks were a result of him trying to drag her back to the house.

It took almost six months, but now Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller says there were few dog bites on Baker, that she died of a heart attack and hypothermia, and that her injuries indicated “the dog was trying to help her.”

Had the results come in sooner, Zeus might still be around.

The Cleveland Municipal Court ordered him destroyed in April.

Five clones of Trakr meet the media

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Five German shepherds cloned from the cells of an award-winning search and rescue dog were unveiled today at a press conference in Beverly Hills.

With a poster of his original police dog, Trakr, behind him, cop-turned-actor James Symington choked up in his remarks as he stood behind a podium adorned with an American and a Korean flag.

The retired Halifax, Nova Scotia, police officer took possession of the five dogs this weekend — his prize for winning the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” an essay contest sponsored by BioArts International, a California biotech company that is cloning dogs in conjunction with a Korean scientist.dsc04608-copy

Symington said that if the puppies have the same abilities as Trakr — and he’s seen some signs they might — he intends to put them to work as search and rescue dogs.

Symington and Trakr took part in the rescue operation after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Symington says Trakr located the last survivor pulled from the rubble of Ground Zero.

Originally, Symington was to receive a single clone of the dog.

“We were going to do one, maybe two,” said BioArts CEO Lou Hawthorne. “But we decided collectively that the world would be a better place with more Trakrs.”

Hawthorne says Symington hopes to train all five dogs in search and rescue and work with them as a team, responding to crisis areas around the world.

Trakr died in April at the age of 16.

BioArts auctioned off five other dog clonings last summer to bidders in an online auction. Hawthorne said two of those cloned dogs have been delivered, and that a third will be delivered soon. The fourth has been born, and the fifth cloning has resulted in a pregnancy.

The cloning was done at  the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea and was led by Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, who produced the world’s first canine clone in 2005.  The first Takr clone was born on Dec. 8 of  last year and the last arrived April 4.

Getting tripped up by facts, and dogs

 You can’t consume media these days without tripping over this story — roughly 240 Americans wind up in emergency rooms every day for sprains, fractures or other injuries from a fall caused by a dog or cat.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said dogs and cats account for about 1 percent of the 8 million fall-related injuries that end up being treated in emergency rooms each year.

Yes, 1 percent. Why, then is it such a big story? I’ll tell you why. Partly because newspapers are becoming less likely to do their own work these days. They want to fill their newsholes as cheaply as they possibly can — so they rewrite, or use wire stories, which are often already rewrites. And bloggers? They’re even worse, rewriting the rewritten rewrites.

Just as a sentence gets screwed up the more times it’s repeated from one person to the next, so can news, or alleged news.

Here’s what Reuters reported: ”Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said dogs and cats account for 88 percent of all fall-related injuries in emergency departments.”

Some simple math: 87,000 falls a year is not 88 percent of 8 million.

What the CDC did report was that 88 percent of reported pet-caused falls were caused by dogs, but that’s entirely different from saying 88 percent of all falls were caused by pets.

If 88 percent of all falls leading to hospitalization were caused by pets, that would be a big story. One percent? That’s barely a story at all. Yet it’s everywhere.

Words, math, dogs –they’re all easy to trip over. But before we start portraying pets as a health hazard — and at this point I would ask how many of those falls were caused by dumb humans, as opposed to dumb animals — we might want to take steps to get the facts right and put them in perspective.

(Photo courtesy of ihasahotdog.com)