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Tag: news media

Are we animal lovers just too gullible?

bennett

I would no more stereotype animal lovers than I would pit bulls, and yet I have to ask the question:

Are we an overly gullible lot, more likely to be taken advantage of by greedy and unsavory types?

As a rule, yes. As scammers and schemers have realized, our overflowing empathy and eagerness to help an animal in need often overrule our powers of deductive reasoning, leading us to whip out the checkbook and contribute to some pretty suspicious “causes.”

We are going to use the Grieving Rottweiler as our example here — not to say that the owner of that dog (who is asking dog lovers to help him buy a house so he can rescue more dogs) is a scammer or a schemer, but only because his fundraising drive, as explained by him, is so full of conflicting information, question marks and red flags.

We raised questions about it earlier this week, after Brett Bennett of Seattle posted a video of his Rottweiler, Brutus, appearing to mourn the death of his fellow Rottweiler, Hank. His YouTube post links to an indiegogo page aimed at raising money to buy “a house in the country.”

“Don’t let Hanks passing die in vein (sic )with him,” Bennett asks. Instead, he urges people to give Hank’s death some meaning, and honor the dog’s legacy, by making cash contributions so he can buy a house and some acreage in the country.

The viral video of “Brutus grieving” was nearing 4 million views yesterday.

Between the summary he posted there, his indiegogo page, his Rottweiler rescue website, and what he has posted on his Facebook page (which disappeared the day before yesterday), one has to wonder about what a tangled web he has woven — lie-wise — since he first started trying to raise money through his dogs. (Not to mention how a man who describes himself as homeless can be so active on the Internet.)

That Facebook page included photos of Rottweilers fighting, him recounting a plan to sell his Rottweilers to drug dealers, background information on the dogs that vastly differs from what he has stated elsewhere and this warning to a commenter who questioned his motivations:

“F— off, you tweaker white trash c—.”

Bennett raised over $6000 in January to help him and his dogs find a rental property. Then, a week after Hank died, he started another fundraiser to raise an additional $100,000 to help him purchase a home.

As it turns out, one woman has been raising questions about him for a while — Anne Fromm, who, in an attempt to spread the word about his activities, started this “Social Media Scammer” Facebook page.

It points out some of the many discrepancies in the online accounts Bennett has provided, including in the story of Hank’s death.

“Ask WHY he never took the dog to the vet if it was dying, instead videotaped it, for the tearjerker points and the funds that poured in. Is the dog even dead? Or will he show up miraculously in a few more months when Brett needs more money?”

Fromm points out that Bennett has said the dogs are twins, from the same litter. Yet he has also said one was 2 and one was 4 when he took them in.

Bennett said he awoke to find Hank dead, but he also says, in another account, that he held him in his arms when he was dying.

Mainstream media outlets have carried the video of the “grieving Rottweiler,” and helped catapult it to viral-ness, but none apparently had the time to look into its veracity.

As of yesterday, as far as I could see, only this blogBuzzfeed and Seattle Dog Spot had questioned Bennett’s accounts and actions.

Seattle Dog Spot reported that records from VCA Animal Hospital show Bennett took Hank to be cremated on January 22, but the video of Hank’s death was uploaded on January 20. “What did he do with the body of a 150-pound Rottweiler for 2 days?” the blog asks.

That form also showed an address for the homeless man.

Seattle Dog Spot also reported a text message exchange in which Bennett told someone who was questioning how he spent donated money, “They gave me money and I am using the money to pay off my legal matters and for my everyday bills. I can pretend to spend it on whatever these gullable (sic) people will believe.”

Those are just a few of the disconcerting conflicts in Bennett’s story, all of which anyone with enough time could have found on the Internet.

But, dog lovers being trusting and good-hearted sorts, few did.

Dog lovers tend to believe, and they tend to react, and they tend to want to save, if not the world, at least its dogs — all admirable traits.

Schemers and their schemes, in addition to taking money from them, stand to also take away something even more important — their faith.

Do we need something that protects those so committed to protecting, say a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Lovers?

No, but dog lovers do, unfortunately, need at least a tiny grain of cynicism within, enough to consider the possibility that what on the surface appears to be a worthy cause might not be.

When it comes to fund-raising drives being conducted by individuals, and all we know about those individual comes from what they’ve posted online, we need to exercise due diligence — or at least a little diligence — to separate those who are pretending to care about dogs from those who are seeking only our dollars.

(Photo: Bennett, Hank and Brutus, as pictured on the Rottweiler Twins Animal Rescue website)

One more dead dog, but no more answers, in Arizona’s Green Acre Dog Boarding case

greenacre3

Sometimes really big stories that raise really huge questions that demand really immediate answers have a way of slipping out of the public eye.

Sometimes that’s the fault of lazy news organizations failing to fulfill their watchdog function. Sometimes it’s a result of less than vigilant police investigation. Sometimes it’s the result of behind the scenes orchestrations by the subjects involved.

I’m not sure which is the case with the story of Green Acre Dog Boarding, where 21 dogs died virtually overnight, but 40 years as a newspaper reporter, watching stories surge and ebb, tells me this one seems to be vanishing from the headlines too fast — despite a large and continuing public outcry.

More than two weeks after the 21 dogs died — almost all of them paid guests at the boarding center — the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has filed charges against no one, and has yet to obtain a warrant to further search the property,Fox News in Phoenix reports.

Nor have deputies re-interviewed the people who were supposed to be caring for the dogs, including the couple assigned to watch over them that weekend, Austin and Logan Flake. (Austin Flake is the son of Sen. Jeff Flake. Logan Flake is the daughter of the boarding center’s owners, who were out of town when the dogs died.)

“We do not know where Austin and his wife are, but I am sure that we will make contact soon,” Sheriff Joe Arpaio said last week.

While the sheriff is a dog lover, and while he has promised the investigation will be a meticulous one, some folks sense his office is taking too casual an attitude about the case.

Fox reported that the sheriff’s office has interviewed many of the owners of the dead dogs. But since their first visit to the home two Saturdays ago, they haven’t re-interviewed the owners of the business or the Flakes.

The only new news about the case came over this past weekend, when a dog who was missing from the kennel was found dead on the side of a road, four miles away.

A bicyclist spotted the dog’s body and suspected the German shepherd mix was Valor, the dog who ran away from the Green Acre Dog Boarding in Gilbert.

Valor had apparently been hit by a car, sheriff’s officials said at a press conference Saturday, according to the Arizona Republic.

Arpaio again said the investigation into the 21 heat-related deaths at the kennel is ongoing. ”It takes time to obtain evidence. The facts will come out,” he said.

Some dog owners were told their dogs had “run away” from the kennel when, in reality, they had died from the heat and their bodies were being stored in a shed. Questions have also been raised about why veterinarians weren’t called to the kennel so they could receive proper treatment.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the boarding center, staff told them that one of the boarded dogs had chewed through a wall and through a wire overnight, knocking out power to the air conditioner.

It’s not clear whether that was a lie, but owners and operators of the kennel have told enough other ones that you’d think they would have been interrogated by now.

At a vigil last weekend many of the dog’s owners questioned why it was taking investigators so long to get a search warrant. Most believe the deaths of the dogs — all lodged in the same small room — to be a result of neglect by the kennel operators.

Green Acre is no longer operating as a kennel, according to its listing on Yelp.com.

But angry dog lovers are continuing to post “reviews” on the website.

One satirical comment, from Richard B., reads:

“When I want to mass execute dogs holocaust style green acres dog boarding is #1!!! Not only do they execute all dogs you provide them, they make sure to do it as slow and painful as possible so those dogs really have time to dwell on their eminent demise. I really love the lack of water and supervision that was given as well. Why waste water and time on dogs that are goin to be exterminated anyway? That’d just be foolish. Green acres really has dog mistreatment down to a science. Don’t worry about pesky police punishing anyone for neglect. Green acres has years of proven experience in misdirection and misinformation that’ll have even the most relentless detectives confused and unconcerned.”

Some commenters are also complaining that their negative remarks about Green Acre have been removed from Yelp,  and are asking why.

Cary H. wrote, “Green Acres killed my 3 dogs and 19 others last week. I hope they have shut down. Yelp please don’t delete this truthful post as you have all the others. You could be saving a dogs life by keeping this up!”

“People have a right to know what happened and we very much rely on sites like Yelp to make an educated decision,” one comment read. “And even if, this investigation isn’t fully completed, factual reports should remain up. Personal reviews and ratings is why we come to Yelp! Deleting reviews makes us question Yelps integrity and the reviews posted throughout the site…”

Reporter probes what’s inside dog mouths

You’d think Brian Andrews, as an investigative reporter at CBS News in Miami, would have plenty of legitimate and important issues to pursue — given all the land-raping, government corruption, injustice, drugs and sleaze the state of Florida has to offer.

Instead, he took his investigative skills inside a dog’s mouth. And he discovered there were germs in there.

News flash? Not exactly. We present it here not because it’s breaking news, but because it’s a good example of broken news — the kind of dopey reports that are increasingly common these days as TV news outfits, like newspapers, and websites, opt for quick and easy, crowd-scaring or crowd-pleasing, stories, then do their best to hype, tease and sensationalize them.

To determine whether you should let your dog lick your face, Andrews, a member of the station’s “special projects” team, gathered saliva samples from dogs in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and sent them to a lab to be tested, as part of the station’s continuing series called “How Dirty Is It?”

He was trying to determine if the adage nobody believes in the first place — the one about a dog’s mouth being a pristinely clean place — was really true.

We all know, or should, that there are going to be germs in a dog’s mouth, based simply on the sort of things that go in there. We also know, or should, that there are also plenty of germs in our own.

Upon completion of the doggy saliva tests, Nova Southeastern University microbiologist Dr. Julie Torruellas-Garcia concluded, “There was quite a bit of bacteria that grew from the dogs’ mouths.”

Based on the cultures grown in the lab from the samples, she said, there was “evidence of Nyceria, which is linked to STDs, pneumonia and plaque.”

“While our testing did not reveal the presence of any e-coli or bacteria that could cause a staph infection, Dr. Torruellas-Garcia and her students found globs of other microbes,” the news report said.

“You may want to think twice,” the report reads, “before you and your dog exchange siliva.” (We’re pretty sure they meant saliva.)

After raising fears about mouth to mouth contact with dogs, Andrews, in a complete turnaround, goes on to present a veterinarian who said kissing your dog isn’t all that dangerous. West Palm Beach Veterinarian Ken Simmons said any bacteria in a dog’s mouth doesn’t stay there for long.

“In the end, the testing didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary,” the story reports.

So the point of it all was …?

Yes, the canine mouth, like the human mouth, is a breeding ground for germs. (Perhaps a more interesting story approach would have been if Andrews swabbed inside his own mouth, and compared the germs he might be carrying behind his own well-flossed grill with those of dogs.)

And, yes, dogs can pass on illnesses to us, and vice versa.

But spare us the scare tactics, news guys. Stop wasting our time by telling us the obvious, because, obviously, we already know that. And don’t bad-mouth dogs, no matter how bad their mouths are.

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.