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Tag: ownership

The robot dog: An idea whose time never came and (we hope) never will

wowweerobotics

Can we go ahead and bury the robot dog, once and for all?

It was an inane idea from the get go — thinking that Americans or people from any other reasonable country would want a pet with batteries.

The robot dog is the antithesis of dog — a soul-less collection of moving metal parts that, while it may obey your every command; while it may not pee, poop, drool or shed; while it might even make you laugh; isn’t ever going to lead to any sort of real bond.

cybieIf someone truly loves their robot dog, well, they most likely have become a robot, too, having let technology, and all the ease and superficiality it offers, write a new script for their lives.

I suspect the same is true as well of those who came up with and developed the idea.

A robot dog is to dog what a light bulb is to the sun.

Turn it on, turn it off. You might be seeing a harsh and glaring light, but you are not seeing “the” light. Only dogs can provide that.

It’s not surprising that robot dogs are burning out.

It is surprising that an Australian researcher recently suggested that robotic dogs could begin replacing real dogs as pets in the world’s largest cities in as little as 35 years.

Jean-Loup Rault, writing in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, says burgeoning populations in big cities won’t leave much room for man’s best friend in the future — and he predicts that living, breathing dogs will disappear as digital technologies “revolutionize” the human-animal relationship.

Rault is wrong, and here’s why.

Dog robotTrue, robots are on the rise. We will increasingly rely on them, or something close, to wash our dishes, vacuum our floors and do all those other tasks that take up time we could spend online, or, better yet, actually living life.

But we will never really connect with them — not even sex robots.

Anyone who does, probably should see a psychiatrist or, if they only want to pretend someone is listening to them, a robot psychiatrist.

Even in a world increasingly falling in love with material things, and increasingly falling in love with technology, and increasingly finding its social life on the Internet, the rise and fall of the robot dog shows us that — even when we can predict and control something’s every move, and put it in the closet when we tire of it — a mechanical canine just can’t compete with the real thing.

Dogs — though technology has messed with them (always with bad results) — are the antidote, I think, to technological overload. They are the cure. They keep life real. They lead to real bonds, real emotions, happiness and pain.

Overall, they soothe us, while technology often does the opposite.

Anyone who thinks a robot dog is going to lower their blood pressure, as dogs do, provide eye contact that stirs the soul, or be comforting to play with or pet is caught up in self-delusion.

What is hoped for by companies that make such devices, or provide us with Internet-based fantasies, or come up with ideas like pet rocks and the Tamagotchie, is that we all find self-delusion a happier place to be, and stay there, and spend our money there.

aibo_robot_dogSo I’m glad the obituary has been written for Sony’s “Aibo,” the best known robot dog.

Production ended eight years ago, and the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year.

Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, and by 2006 had only sold 150,000 “units.” according to the New York Times.

Given it was not providing much profit, the company decided to put Aibo down.

Despite that, and the failure of many of the robotic/digital pets that preceded and followed it, Jean-Loup Rault, on the faculty at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne, suspects they have a future.

“Pet ownership in its current form is likely unsustainable in a growing, urbanized population. Digital technologies have quickly revolutionized human communication and social relationships,” he says.

“We are possibly witnessing the dawn of a new era, the digital revolution with likely effects on pet ownership, similar to the industrial revolution which replaced animal power for petrol and electrical engines.”

He points to the popularity, or at least former popularity, of devices like the Tamagotchie, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used by medical professionals, and Aibo, which never really became popular at all. He points to games and apps that allow people to keep fake farm animals. He points to the movie, “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his computer’s operating system.

“Robots can without doubt trigger human emotions,” he concludes, perhaps a little too quickly.

phonedogAnd robotic pets, he says, are just so much easier — especially in “situations where live pets are undesirable (e.g., old or allergic people).”

“The pace of artificial pet development, and underlying research, remains in its infancy with much to be discovered,” he notes. “At present, artificial pets can be described as mediocre substitutes for live counterparts. Yet, quick technological progress is to be expected …”

He concludes with a quote from Nikola Tesla: “Let the future tell the truth.”

I, for one, am not willing to do that. I don’t trust the future one bit, or those who are trying to take us there too quickly — and at the expense of what is pure and real and true.

Much more than the future, I put my trust, and faith, in dog. Real dog.

Trade that tired old dog in for a new pup

You say your old dog isn’t as fun as he used to be? Maybe he’s developing some behavioral issues, or requiring more maintenance. Or maybe his breed is no longer  ”trending.”

Well  now there’s help.

An outfit in Toronto has put together this video, offering what appears to be a trade-in program: You give them your old dog; they give you a brand new pup of the breed of your choice.

“Who says puppy love can’t last forever?” they ask.

Fortunately the outfit behind Puppy Swap is the Toronto Humane Society — and the pitch is a phony one, aimed at bringing light to the fact that each year thousands of dogs are surrendered, abandoned and turned over to shelters by people who weren’t in for the long haul.

Thinly disguised as a real business, the website encourages customers to “make a new best friend again and again with PuppySwap — the world’s first puppy subscription service … The moment your puppy grows up, becomes a bother or gets less likable, simply log back into your account and swap out your old best friend for a brand-new one.”

Subtle irony often goes undetected on the Internet, so some of those who see the video — especially those who don’t watch until the end — might think it’s legit — or even that trading in dogs continuously is a good idea. According to a CNET report, it’s not until a viewer clicks on “sign up” on the website that a screen comes up pointing  out Puppy Swap isn’t real.

As of our visit to the site yesterday, though, it opened with a screen saying, “Puppy Swap is not real. Unfortunately pet abandonment is. Over 180,000 animals enter Canadian shelters each year. 40 percent will never leave … Spread the word, pet ownership is for life.”

The screen comes up again when “sign up” is clicked on. Those who click on “more information” get taken to a page of facts about pet abandonment, where another link directs them to how they can help support the Toronto Humane Society.

Who knows what’s best for Jack?

jack

Dog blogger and broadcaster Steve Friess says he’s not going to spend $5,000 to put his dog though chemotherapy that could extend his life a year or more — and he’s going to try not to feel bad about it.

Even when he says his final goodbye to Jack in what could be less than a month.

In late October, Friess noticed the dog he’d adopted nine years ago was getting lethargic, and that his weight had dropped from his usual 11 pounds to around eight.

A vet diagnosed that Jack had an aggressive form  of lymphoma that was spreading quickly through his body.

Friess did some research, checking with friends, and vets, and friends who were vets: One of the latter urged him to “do the full chemo protocol ASAP!” It could send Jack into remission for nine months, or 12 months, or even longer.

Friess and his partner researched, debated and decided against chemotherapy — not because it would be all that rough on the dog physically (they handle it much better than we do). The main reason, he admits, is the money, which, he also admits, they just doesn’t have.

There will likely be those who second guess Freiss, or maybe try to lay a guilt trip on him: Take out a loan, hit up your friends, get a second (or third) job, launch an online fundraising campaign, let me be the first to donate.

We’ve become a nation of such overflowing compassion for dogs, with such promising new medical technologies, and such handy online fundraising tools at our beck and call, that it’s easy to lose sight that decisions about life and death — both ours and our dogs — are still our own, and that throwing in the towel, for financial reasons, or others, isn’t always a shameful choice.

We suspect Friess will receive some support for his decision, but will hear from many more questioning it. His decision to write about it, as he did in a post for Time.com, is brave, but also an open invitation to second-guessers. In any case, the decision on what’s best for Jack should be (and has been) made by the person who knows him best, and deserves to be respected

Friess, a freelance writer and co-host of The Petcast, said neither his advisers nor his vet seemed to be trying to make him feel guilty about his choice. But, as is the way with guilt trips, we often don’t need a tour guide.  Feelings of shame can start as soon as we ask our vet the question Friess did:

“How much will it cost?”

For Friess, the estimate was a minimum of $5,000 — more than he and his partner had.

“(It) means we have about 30 days. The end will probably come in time for holidays … ”We’ve received a lot of advice, both solicited and unwelcome, through social media. Nobody comes right out to say it, but the disappointment some express at our decision shows that they question our love for Jack. In an era when people spend big on animal clothes, artisanal foods and medical intervention, and when medical science makes it possible to spend $5,000 so Jack dies slightly later than sooner, there is pressure to go as far as we can.”

There’s one more twist. Friess and his partner are trying to adopt a human baby, and they’re working on saving the $15,000 fee for that.

“If that $5,000 could cure the cancer and restore Jack’s full life expectancy, maybe we’d do it,” he wrote. “Maybe. It certainly would be a tougher choice. But to buy a year during which we’d be waiting for his lymph nodes to resume their swell? We could endure the end stages either now or later.”

(Photo of Jack by Steve Friess)

Harley is Reese again: One family’s happy reunion is another family’s sad loss

reese-harley

It’s always nice to read about a happy reunion between a family and their lost dog — except maybe when the dog being reunited is one you thought was your own.

The Miller family of Tyler, Texas, lost their dog Reese, a Maltese, seven years ago. They were visiting family outside of Dallas when the little white dog ran off.

Dinah Miller said she never stopped searching, and hoping Reese would return: ”Every time you hear a bark, you think, that sounds like Reese,” she said. “We drove. We searched. We looked over fences. We peeped everywhere we could without getting shot.”

Last weekend, the Millers learned Reese had been found on a road in Tacoma, Wash., more than 2,000 miles away. The family received a call after a check for a microchip revealed they were the dog’s registered owners.

Reese was flown to Houston, and Dinah Miller reunited with her Monday, KHOU reported.

How Reese had gotten to Tacoma, and where she’d spent the intervening seven years, were mysteries Miller thought would go unanswered — at least until another owner surfaced.

Kelli Davis of Spanaway, Wash., said her family adopted the dog at a shelter in Mesquite, Texas, near Dallas, six years ago, and named him Harley.

Davis and her family later moved from Texas to Washington.

She said Harley recently escaped after her 2-year-old daughter unlatched the front door.

“We were running down the street trying to find him and she was crying, ‘My Harley ran away,’” said Davis. “Every day we have gone out and printed fliers and walked around the neighborhood several times a day calling his name.”

“Harley is my daughter’s best friend. That’s her little buddy. They do everything together,” she said.

Davis said Harley was listed as an owner surrender by the Texas shelter he was adopted from. When she called that shelter to find out if they had ever checked the dog for a microchip she was told that information wasn’t available. The shelter said it purges its records after five years.

“I don’t know what to do. We just lost a part of our family,” said Davis.

Miller, meanwhile, says she sympathizes with the family in Washington, but she’s keeping Reese.

(Photos: At left, “Reese” reunites with Dinah Miller and her family; at right, “Harley” when she was a member of the  Davis family) 

Alanis Morissette and ex-housekeeper fight over dog named — aptly enough — Circus

Alanis Morissette says her housekeeper took her Chihuahua mix.

The housekeeper says the singer no longer wanted the dog and asked her and her fiancé — seen in this video explaining their side of the story — to take him.

Morissette and her husband, Mario Treadway, have filed a lawsuit, seeking $25,000 and the return of the dog.

Maria Garcia, the housekeeper, and her husband Patrick Murch, a dog walker, responded with this video, claiming Morissette told them the dog was “too annoying” to keep, and arguing the dog — given he was given to them and given they have cared for him for the past year — should be theirs to keep.

alanisMorissette and Treadway say they found Circus roaming the streets in 2011, took him to an animal shelter and, when no one came to retrieve him, adopted him and brought him home.

They say they asked Murch and Garcia to care for the dog while Morissette was on tour, for most of 2012.

Garcia house sat for the couple during the tour. When Morissette returned in early 2013, Garcia says she was asked to take the dog home with her because his behavior had become, in Morissette’s view, ”annoying and insufferable.”

Since March of 2013, Circus has lived exclusively with Murch and Garcia.

Garcia says Morissette was allergic to Circus, and that the dog was food aggressive and was relieving himself inside the singer’s house.

“Mario and Alanis were both frustrated with Circus’ behavior and said he was disruptive to their family, posed a risk to their other dogs and their child…”

In a blog called Help Circus Stay!, they add, “They gave him to us a year ago and he’s been with living with us since, happily, healthily and loved by his little family. Now they are trying to rip our family apart!”

Morissette and Treadway fired Garcia in January of this year, and filed the lawsuit seeking the return of Circus a couple of months later.

After the housekeeper and dog walker posted the video last month, Morissette and Treadway further complained that, by doing so, they have made the dog a target for dognappers, TMZ reports.

Treadway filed additional legal documents in which he said Circus “is not merely a piece of property. He is living and breathing.” Each day he is separated from the dog, he said, “[my] heart suffers more and more.”

Darling won’t you ease my worried mind


Layla — a dog most appropriately named for this particular story — has become the subject of a custody battle in Pittsburgh.

A pit bull mix, she served as an unofficial helper to her owner, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. But when he moved to a new apartment, Layla, lacking documentation as a service dog, wasn’t allowed to live there.

Tim McGill began working to get Layla certified, and in the meantime asked some friends to look after his 3-year-old dog.

Now McGill has gotten the certification, but he can’t get his dog back.

McGill served in the Army in South Korea and Iraq and left the service with a brain injury, anxiety and flashbacks, KDKA in Pittsburgh reports.

A doctor recommended a dog, and — though Layla wasn’t a certified service dog — having her by his side helped, said McGill, a tattoo artist.

McGill says he moved to a Lawrenceville apartment to go to the Art Institute, but that, without any documentation that Layla was a service dog, she wasn’t permitted to live there.

So he asked a friend, Laura Stratemier, to watch over Layla until he could get her certified. In exchange, he offered to repay her with free tattoos for both her and her husband.

Stratemier admits she was only supposed to have Layla for two weeks, but said that as time went by — six months worth of it — she realized the dog was better off with her.

By the time the certification papers for the dog came through McGill, Stratemier was unwilling to give Layla back.

KDKA reports that local animal control officials are looking into the dispute.

Iran looks at making dog-owning a crime

Lawmakers in Iran have proposed a bill to criminalize dog ownership.

Traditionally frowned upon and grudgingly tolerated by Islamic leaders, having a dog would become a crime if the bill is passed by Parliament, punishable by fines and confiscation of dogs.

According to a Time magazine report, backers of the bill warn that dogs pose health hazards, and their increasing popularity as pets is “a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West.”

Those caught walking and keeping ”impure and dangerous animals” would have their dogs confiscated and face fines of $100 to $500.

What would become of confiscated dogs isn’t spelled out.

Dog ownership has become more popular in Iran with the rise of an urban middle class, and Time reports that “these days, lap dogs rival designer sunglasses as the upper-middle-class Iranian’s accessory of choice.”

A senior Iranian cleric last year decreed dogs are “unclean” and issued a fatwa ordering they not be kept as pets.