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Tag: news

Dognition: Louie’s deemed a “socialite”


Didja hear the one about the blonde Fox News anchorwoman who took her golden retriever to get an IQ test?

While that has all the ingredients for a pretty good joke, it’s actually the basis of a pretty informative news report, in which Fox 8′s Katie Nordeen brought her dog Louie to Duke University scientist Brian Hare to find out just exactly what type of dog genius he — Louie, not Dr. Hare — is.

Hare, co-author of “The Genius of Dogs,” is the founder of Dognition, a research firm that puts dogs through a series of science-based games designed to assess their personality type — information that Hare says can help dog owners better understand their dogs.

Users of the service (it costs $39) don’t get to bring their dog to Hare, as Nordeen did, but get a “toolkit” and instructions on how to conduct the experiments in their own homes.

The experiments measure five dimensions: cunning, empathy, communication, reasoning and memory, and by virtue of the results, dogs are judged to be one of nine types –  Ace, Maverick, Charmer, Socialite, Protodog, Renaissance Dog, Expert, Stargazer, or Einstein.

Customers, after submitting their test results, receive a full report explaining their dog’s type, and how the conclusion was reached.

Louie, for example, was found to be a socialite.  (You can read Dognition’s full report on Louie here.)

“… Gracefully interacting and communicating with others requires talent. In Louie’s case, she takes this talent to a whole new level – it is definitely her genius. Although Louie is not as adept at independent problem-solving skills as other dogs, don’t jump to any conclusions about her intelligence. Louie relies on a very specific strategy – using you and other humans in her pack to get what she wants.”

(Yes, they got Louie’s sex wrong in the report, but they are personality experts, not gender experts.)

Cutsomers also have the option of becoming members of Dognition (for an additional $60 for a year, or $5 a month), entitling them to receive tailored training tips and activities and get a discount for testing additional dogs.

Hare says Dognition, established last year, is proving popular, with thousands of users from around the world.

“Everybody wants to understand what’s going on inside of a dog’s head. It has not been hard to get people excited about this.”

After visiting Dognition’s lab in Durham for the FOX8 report,  Nordeen continued conducting the experiments at home over the next two weeks. Once submitting her findings, the results were delivered, by email, almost instantly.

Hare says the purpose of Dognition is to enrich people’s relationships with their dogs, but it, like his book, is also aimed at showing the public how truly brilliant dogs are.

“Dogs were thought to be totally unremarkable. There were really no interesting things they could do relative to say dolphins or bonobos, so people were focusing on these other animals,” he said. “But at our feet, literally, were geniuses that had been undiscovered … What makes dogs such geniuses is that, relative to other species, they’re really skilled, really flexible, in understanding what it is we want and what we’re trying to tell them.”

The Dognition tests, in their at-home version, may not be the hardest of science, and their results may not be irrefutable. But given the firm’s stated goals, given the not entirely exorbitant price tag, and given that they’re fun and result in people spending more time with their dogs, I think they have a place in the spectrum of doggie evaluation services.

If people are willing to pay more than $100 to determine what breeds are in their dogs, through DNA testing, $39 doesn’t seem like too much to pay to assess that dog’s personality — and may even provide more telling clues into what makes them tick.

I haven’t run my dog Ace through the online Dognition drill yet, in part because I think his genius is too vast to be measured and could forever skew Dognition’s data base, in part because I already know he’s a charmer, with shades of socialite and Einstein. But Nordeen’s report answered a lot of questions I had about the service, and one of these days, I’ll give it a try.

We’ll close with some bloopers, courtesy of Fox 8, that occured while Nordeen and Louie were taping a promo for the piece — none of which, I’m sure, had anything to do with them being blond:

Clearing the name of Pep the prison dog

pepFolklore has it that Pep, a black Lab that belonged to a Pennsylvania governor, was sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1920s to serve a life sentence for killing the governor’s wife’s cat.

Folklore, as is often the case, has it wrong.

Pep apparently was guilty of nothing more than chewing up sofa cushions, and, once it was decided he lacked the proper decorum to live at the governor’s mansion, he was sent to the prison in Philadelphia by Gov. Gifford Pinchot.

That was done not so much as punishment, but to provide him a home and see if he could aid in the rehabilitation of inmates, according to the governor’s papers.

Apparently a newspaper reporter came up with the tall tale of the dog sentenced to prison for cat murder, and a mugshot taken of Pep at the prison supplied some credence to the story.

Despite attempts to set the record straight, the myth lingers to this day.

According to EasternState.org, a non-profit group that now runs a haunted house at the abandoned prison, Pep “The Cat-Murdering Dog” was admitted to Eastern State Penitentiary on August 12, 1924.

“Prison folklore tells us that Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot used his executive powers to sentence Pep to life without parole for killing his wife’s cherished cat,” the website says, adding that prison records, including Pep being assigned his own inmate number (C-2559), support the story.

It notes that the governor had a different version of what happened — namely that he sent Pep to Eastern to act as a mascot for the prisoners. The governor, it says, was a friend of the warden, Herbert “Hard-Boiled” Smith.

A more thorough account of how Pep landed in prison can be found on the website Suite101.com.

Pep, that story explains, was a gift to Gov. Pinchot during his first gubernatorial term (1923–1927), from the nephew of his wife, Cornelia Bryce Pinchot. The nephew bred Labrador retrievers. But the gift turned out to be a destructive one. Pep developed a habit of chewing on the cushions of the front porch sofa.

“… Pinchot decided that Pep had to go, but for the sake of family harmony he did not want to end the dog’s life,” the Suite101 account says. “Fortunately, an official trip gave him the idea for a convenient way of getting the dog out of his home. On a visit to Maine, Pinchot had seen dogs that were used as therapy to help inmates. So when the governor got back to Pennsylvania he decided to give the troublesome Pep to Eastern State Penitentiary as a pet.”

At the time, some inmates kept pigeons and mice as pets, but not dogs. The only dogs at the prison were guard dogs, there to ensure prisoners stayed inside and in line.

But the inmates quickly developed a fondness for Pep, and apparently vice versa. Pep lived among the inmates at Eastern State for about a decade until he was transferred to newly constructed state prison called Graterford.

Two years after he was sent to Eastern, in 1926, Cornelia Bryce-Pinchot issued a statement to the New York Times in an attempt to clear Pep’s name.

Governor Pinchot’s son also maintained that there was no murder involved.

“A newspaper reporter with a sense of humor and disregard for the truth wrote that Pep had been sentenced to prison for life for killing Mrs. Pinchot’s favorite cat,” the Suite 101 article says.

The son said his father got “absolutely thousands of letters” about Pep and this sentence, according to papers at Grey Towers National Historic Site, Governor Pinchot’s home in Milford. The made-up account, along with the mugshot, was frequently reprinted in tabloids at the time.

As some have noted, Pep — innocent as he might have been — looks pretty guilty in the mugshot.

But then again, don’t we all?

(Image: Artist rendering of Pep, based on an archival photo / Easternstate.org)

The talk of Talkeetna: DOG BITES MAYOR!

stubbs

When dog bites man, the old saying goes, that’s not news.

When dog bites mayor, that’s news.

And when the mayor is a cat, that’s even bigger news, right?

Stubbs, honorary mayor of lovely Talkeetna, Alaska, for the past 15 years, was badly injured over the weekend by one of the small town’s many wandering dogs.

Stubbs is in bad shape, with a punctured lung, a fractured sternum and a 5-inch gash on his side, CNN reports.

Doctors took out a chest tube Tuesday, and Stubbs was breathing on his own for the first time since the  attack.

Stubbs was found years ago in a box full of kittens left in front of Nagley’s General Store. The manager of the store, Lauri Stec, decided to keep him, and named him Stubbs because he had no tail.

Soon afterward, he ran as a write-in candidate for the position of mayor. Talkeetna being a historical district, the position is mostly an honorary one .

Even though dogs outnumber the 800 people in Talkeetna, and often can be seen running loose, the town’s canines always seemed to respect Stubbs, locals say.

But on Saturday night Stubbs was walking around town when an unleashed dog ran across the street and bit him.

“Right now is a crucial time cause he’s heavily sedated on pain meds. He’s in a lot of pain,” Stec said.

The dog, described only as a big one, is still at large.

Dying Vietnam War vet gets his last wish — one more visit with Mr. Cutie

A dying Vietnam veteran was granted his last wish — one final visit with his dog, Mr. Cutie.

John Simpson, who is living at a hospice and who doctors say has only days to live, saw his dog last Saturday, when a neighbor caring for the Chihuahua brought him by for a visit.

His hopes for one more visit were dashed when, the next day, Mr. Cutie escaped by digging a hole under a fence.

“I really think he was looking for John,” neighbor Ann Marie Gemmel told MyFoxTampaBay.com.

Simpson, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012, said in an interview after Mr. Cutie went missing that the dog was his  “spark of life,” and what he was living for.

“When you’re growing up you’re asked, ‘If you could have one wish, what would you wish for?’ Back in those days, I used to say, ‘As many wishes as I could wish for.’ Now my only wish would be for my dog to come home,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Cutie was found by Missy Figueroa, who didn’t know Simpson. She took photos of the dog and posted them on the website FidoFinder.com.

A Fox 13 viewer who had seen the TV news report on Simpson’s missing dog saw the post and called the TV station, which passed the information along to Figueroa.

Unsure whether it was Simpson’s dog, Figueroa brought the Chihuahua to the hospice.

The reaction of dog and owner upon their reunion confirmed it was Mr. Cutie she had found.

“Seeing this person that I don’t even know, you know, so excited to see his dog, it just makes me happy that I actually got to be here for that and just make him happy,” Figueroa said.

Said Simpson, “I’m about to cry …”

“No comment” would have sufficed: TV reporter bitten while seeking interview


A woman who didn’t want to tell a TV news team “how she felt” about her daughter being shot threw a rock at them, shook a baseball bat at them, and then sent her dogs after reporter Abbey Niezgoda of ABC 6 News in Rhode Island.

The crew was on assignment in Providence, seeking to interview the mother of a teenage girl who was shot at a graduation party over the weekend.

Instead of politely declining to speak on-camera, Melissa Lawrence hurled a rock at ABC6 photographer Marc Jackson, then went inside for a baseball bat. Seconds later, she told her dogs to attack.

As Lawrence shouted commands, the dogs chased Niezgoda into a backyard a few houses away.

Niezgoda was a treated for a bite on her forearm.

Melissa Lawrence was charged with two counts of felony assault with a dangerous weapon.

Lawrence’s daughter, who was shot in the lower back, has since been released from the hospital.

Columnist’s best friend?


In the old days, when a newspaper columnist started writing about his dog, it meant — at least in the eyes of your more crusty and jaundiced types — he or she had run out of things to write about.

Of course, it (usually) wasn’t true then. And it’s even less true now.

Newspapers, as they did with the Internet, have belatedly realized that dog stories are important, that dog stories draw readers, and that dog stories are actually human stories, in disguise. They’ve finally begun to catch on to dog’s new place on the social ladder, and the wonders within them, and the serious issues surrounding them, and that they are far more than just cute.

None of which probably mattered to Steve Lopez when he decided last week to tell the story of his family’s new rescue … rescue-me-again … rescue-me-one-more time … dog.

Who is also pretty cute.

Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, decided with his wife that their daughter, at age 9, was ready for a dog. Their search took them to Tailwaggers, a pet store in Hollywood, where adoption fairs are hosted by Dogs Without Borders. Though dogless for many years, Lopez knew rescuing a mutt — as opposed to purchasing a purebred — was the preferred route these days.

Canine ownership has gotten a lot more complicated than it was when he was a kid, noted Lopez, who definitely has a crusty side.

“First of all, unless you want a rescue dog, you face the withering judgment of do-gooders who have devoted their lives to saving pups from the boneyard,” he wrote. “…I live in Silver Lake, not far from a sprawling dog park. And if an abandoned infant were spotted on the curb of that busy corner, across the street from a dog with a thorn in its paw, I guarantee you dozens of people with porkpie hats and tattooed peace signs would rush to the aid of the dog instead of the child.”

At the adoption fair, his family became enchanted with a 3-year-old Corgi mixed named Hannah, who was described as “a very timid, shy and fearful little girl ” in need of “a home where she can blossom!”

(As Lopez, author of “The Soloist” and other books, may have noticed, those involved in the world of rescuing and rehoming dogs tend to use a lot of exclamation points!)

They then began the adoption process, which, he noted, required many forms: “As I recall, applying for a mortgage wasn’t quite as involved. And many of the agencies insist on a home inspection, as well as a donation fee of up to $450.”

They took Hannah home for a trial period, as a foster. There, unlike at the fair, she refused to walk on a leash.

To get her to go to the bathroom, Lopez says he carried the dog, who they renamed Ginger, to the bottom of the driveway. Given she didn’t move when he put her down, and to build some trust, he said, Lopez unhooked the leash.

Ginger took off.

Lopez ran to his car and began the search.

“My daughter had waited five years for this pup, and I’d lost her in five minutes.”

His wife called the adoption agency to report the escape and got a scolding for letting the dog off her leash. “I must admit, they had told us rescue dogs can be runners, and that we shouldn’t let them off the leash,” Lopez wrote. “On the other hand, if you’re going to call yourself Dogs Without Borders … what message are you sending?”

They searched all day, put up fliers, and posted Ginger on Craigslist as a missing dog. The next day, they found her on a neighbor’s patio and took her home.

The next day, a Monday, Lopez returned from work to learn Ginger had jerked away while being walked and disappeared again, this time dragging her leash. Reasoning that maybe Ginger didn’t want to be there, he and his wife agreed that — once they found her again — they might want to return her.

“Maybe she’d been abused, but it seemed unlikely she’d ever be the warm and cuddly family pet we wanted our daughter to have.”

On Tuesday morning, Lopez was awaked by a scratching sound on the front door. When he opened it, Ginger walked in, her leash still attached. That sight, it seems, cut right through the columnist’s crusty parts.

“We’re keeping this dog,” he said.

I’d be willing to bet they do, and that someday — when there’s nothing else to write about, or even when there is — we’ll be reading about her again.

(Photo of Ginger by Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)

NBC report questions AKC inspections

The American Kennel Club is doing a much better job of protecting bad breeders than it is protecting dogs.

That’s the gist of this investigative report that aired yesterday on NBC’s  “Today” show

The accusations aren’t exactly new, and weren’t exactly uncovered by NBC, but it’s good to see the issue getting some national attention.

The AKC, investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen notes, calls itself ”the dog’s champion …

“But critics say there’s an ugly reality you don’t see: Some AKC breeders raising diseased dogs, malnourished, living in their own filth. It’s so disturbing that now two of the country’s largest animal welfare groups, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society, are condemning the AKC.”

The report included an interview with one dog owner, who purchased a Great Dane from a kennel  only weeks after that kennel was inspected by the AKC and found in compliance. The puppy turned out to have intestinal parasites, an upper respiratory infection and a congenital eye defect.

“Law enforcement went into the kennel just two months later, and rescued dozens of dogs,” Rossen reported.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, is featured heavily in the report, and makes the point that the AKC should be working with animal welfare groups to protect dogs instead of protecting bad breeders and fighting laws that would crack down on them.

AKC Director of Communications Lisa Peterson, also interviewed for the report, says she would give the AKC an “A” for its inspection program.

But when the reporter asked how many breeders are producing AKC-registered dogs, she said, “That’s a great question. We don’t know.” And when asked what percentage of AKC registered breeders end up getting inspected, she wouldn’t offer a ball park figure.

“We do thousands of inspections annually,” Peterson said. “We’ve done 55,000 inspections since the year 2000.”

“But what percentage of breeders actually get inspected?”

“… I don’t have that figure,” Peterson said. “I’m sorry.”

Peterson said there are nine AKC inspectors in the U.S. Asked “Do you think that’s an adequate number?” she said, ”That’s the number that we have.”

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