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Tag: opposition

“Dog Wars” disappears, comes back

Has “Dog Wars” bitten the dust?

ABC4 in Salt Lake City says so. So does Best Friends, and All Things Digital.

But those reports were apparently based solely  on the dogfighting game app temporarily disappearing from the Android Marketplace, Google’s online store.

Like a bad case of hemorrhoids, it’s back.

Unconfirmed reports say the app was temporarily removed from Google’s online market over concerns about copyright infringement — as opposed to the formidable and still growing opposition being voiced about it by dog lovers and animal welfare organizations.

Developed by Kage Games, the free app allows players to train and fight pit bulls, accumulating money and “cred.”

It has been roundly criticized by, among others, the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, numerous state and local humane societies, actress Alicia Silverstone and football quarterback Michael Vick, who served 21 months in prison for operating a dogfighting ring.

The creators of Dog Wars, in response to criticism, have added some explanation to the Android Marketplace page on which the app is offered.

“We’ve heard thoughts from many dog and animal lovers about our app and first we, as dog owners and dog lovers ourselves, would like to thank you for your thoughts and for the work many of you do on behalf of our canine friends. We DO NOT CONDONE violence towards animals or humans, and we are confident in humankind’s ability to distinguish between a rudimentary game and the consequences of real life.

“We are confident this game will be a net benefit to dogs as it has been in our operating agreement from the start of this project that a portion of the proceeds go to animal rescue organizations. Further, this is a satire about the ridiculousness of dogfighting and we believe in the power of a modern media tool to educate and raise awareness of the real horrors.

“There are hundreds of games on the Google Android market as well as any other popular game platform which, if acted out in real life, would be illegal. What makes the Google Android platform special is it gives the freedom and responsibility to the individual users to decide what to put on their phones as opposed to the phone carriers and app stores making value judgments on our behalf … Please remember that censorship is a very slippery slope.”

Laboratory use of dogs on the upswing

Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.

James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.

Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

Ivan Pavlov

Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.

While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.

Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.

This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.

No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.

Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.

Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said.  “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.

The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.

Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”

Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.

“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.

Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.

Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.

“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.