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Tag: perception

Sarah smiles: The plight of the Doberhuahua

First, back in the 1990s, she wrote and recorded songs that left our hearts in shreds.

Then, in the 2000s, she teamed up with the ASPCA to make heartstring-tugging public service announcements about abused and neglected animals — ads expertly aimed at opening and emptying our tear ducts and wallets.

Now, just when she was starting show up a little less often on TV, Sarah McLachlan is back with another heartfelt plea – to save the Doberhuahua.

The Doberhuahua?

Obviously, that would be a mix between a Doberman and a Chihuahua. I’m sure — given our proclivity for tinkering with dogs, and dogs’ proclivity for overcoming any size disparities when it comes to messing with each other – some might really exist.

doberhuahuaIn this case, though, it’s a monstrous, fictional canine hybrid with a giant head and a tiny body, created to sell cars, specifically, the Audi.

Audi enlisted McLachlan to engage in a little self-satire, as can be seen in this teaser for its Super Bowl ad — a plea by the singer to help save the misunderstood animal with “a heart as big as its head.”

It’s not clear how funny the ad itself will be, or whether it will make anyone want to buy an Audi. But seeing McLachlan lighten up is, to me, worth all $4 million or so Audi is spending to air the ad during the Super Bowl.

My guess is, when it comes the images of Audi, the Doberhuahua, and McLachlan, the ad is going to best serve that of McLachlan.

It should be pointed out here that, just as I don’t personally know any Doberhuahuas, I don’t know Sarah McLachlan. I just have this possibly faulty perception of her — based on what I’ve seen and heard, her beautiful and often sad songs, and her plaintive ASPCA ads — that she overflows with angst, carries the world’s problems on her shoulders, goes to bed crying every night, and thinks you should, too.

It’s equally possible that she, in real life, is a laugh-a-minute, happy go lucky kind of gal, and that the image I and others have of her in our heads is totally off the mark and entirely underserved — hammered in by having seen her countless times over the past decade in ads filled with crippled dogs and one-eyed cats.

Speaking out, tongue in cheek, for the the misunderstood “Doberhuahua” shows McLachlan can laugh at herself — an attribute not always evident in singer-songwriters, or animal welfare advocates. Both can get a little sanctimonious, a little heavy-handed with their messages.

As with Dobermans and Chihuahuas, there’s no reason animal welfare and sense of humor can’t unite now and then. But they rarely do.

In both cases, we think the offspring would be more cute than monstrous.

How this ad plays with animal lovers remains to be seen. They can be a pretty sensitive group, and they can be easily offended, as was the case with last year’s Super Bowl ad that highlighted greyhound racing, the one with the French bulldog that outraced them all because he was wearing Skechers.

Will Doberman fans object to the Audi ad, based on how it might stereotype their breed as all befanged and snarly? Will the ad rub pit bull fans the wrong way? Will the fictional plight of the Doberhuahua somehow detract from the very real plight of unwanted and abused dogs? Is it worth getting worked up about a fictionally engineered dog when there’s so much other real and disturbing dog engineering going on?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m just glad to see Sarah smile.

Therapits: Pit bulls as therapy dogs

My favorite part of this news report is not the beginning, which dredges up recent footage about dog attacks to establish the pit bull’s reputation as violent and unpredictable.

It’s not the part where they shatter that stereotype, or at least put a dent in it, it by noting that — gasp! — pit bulls are being used as therapy dogs.

My favorite part is near the end, where a student reading to a pit bull stumbles over a word, and the dog’s owner, Lydia Zaidman — her chin resting on the dog’s back  —  offers some assistance.

“NAYSAYERS,” she says. “Do you want to know what that means?”

“Yeah, what?” the student replies.

“That’s people who say you can’t do something.”

A lot of people would say you can’t trust a pit bull, much less put them to work with children as therapy dogs, but a program  in north Austin’s Gullett Elementary School is going a long way toward proving them wrong, according to TV news report from KXAN in Austin.

It’s hardly — despite the report’s exclamation points —  the first time pit bulls have served as therapy dogs. Across the country, pit bulls — even one of Michael Vick’s former dogs — have been certified as therapy dogs. The therapy dog group Ace and I work with, Karma Dogs, recently qualified its first pit bull member. Zaidman, who’s president of ” Love-A-Bull ,” a nonprofit group that sticks up for the pit bull, has been taking her pit bull Mocha to the school for two years now.

What is unusual is that Zaidman’s therapy dog organization, called the  Pit Crew,  trains only pit bulls for therapy work. It’s believed to be the only program in the nation that does so.

Working with professional dog trainer Julie Eskoff, Zaidman recently concluded a training program designed to certify pit bulls for use in schools. The training program started with nine animals. Seven graduated, but two were soon sent home — not an unusual dropout rate for therapy dog qualification.

“They love people; they’re extremely tolerant of people.” Zaidman said of pit bulls. “Of course, each individual one has to be temperament tested and each one is an individual like any other dog. But in general, they temperament test very high. They really love people; they like to be around people and so they do really well.”

“They are the number one most abused dog in this country,” Zaidman told KXAN. “Abuse is going to lead to a problem, no question. Unfortunately, there are a lot of irresponsible owners out there and that’s going to lead to a problem, but they have to use everything from amphetamines to abuse to get them to fight. So the idea that they are meant to fight is a falsity.

“Unfortunately, there’s a cycle right now,” she added. “There’s a media image, just like there was for Dobermans in the 80s or German shepherds in the 70s and it’s a cycle that just keeps happening. The more misinformation that gets out there, the more people that are attracted to the wrong dog. What we’re trying to do is put a positive image out there so that the wrong people don’t continue to be attracted to the dog.

“It’s like any other prejudice. You know, you have to educate yourself as to the facts. Unfortunately, too many people read things on the Internet and they don’t bother to find out what the truth is, you know, bother to actually meet one.”

Zaidman seems not only to have her facts right, and a well-articulated message (she’s a lawyer, after all), but she’s proving it daily through deeds.

If only people like Baltimore’s Mickey, and all the other naysayers, would listen. 

BARCS to be part of pit bull project

Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) is one of five shelters that will take part in a pilot program aimed at reducing euthanasia of pit bulls, encouraging responsible ownership and improving the perception of the breed.

A $240,000 grant from PetSmart Charities will fund the programs, coordinated by Best Friends Animal Society.

The grant was announced last week in Las Vegas at Best Friends’ annual  No More Homeless Pets Conference.

The “Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls Project” will create partnerships between Best Friends and shelters in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Baltimore, Md., Washington, D.C., Carlsbad, Calif. and Tampa, Fla.

All will be based on the partnership between Best Friends and Salt Lake County Animal Services that began in July 2009. It resulted in a 10 percent drop in euthanasia of pit bull-type dogs in its first year, and led to twice as many being adopted as the previous year.

The Salt Lake program, which will serve as a model for the new pilot projects, offers community education and free or low-cost training and spaying and neutering — all aimed at keeping pets in the family and reduce the numbers being abandoned.

The program uses volunteers, called the “Pit Crew,” to showcases dogs for adoption through outreach events, photos and descriptions online and also fosters dogs whose time is up in the shelter. There also is emphasis on creating frequent media opportunities to portray pit bull-type dogs in a positive light–to counter the image of the breed often presented in the news.

Funds provided by PetSmart Charities and additional funds from Best Friends will be used to pay for a shelter coordinator in each city, support marketing and public relations in those markets, and pay for a Best Friends program manager to oversee implementation and reporting in the five shelters.

“As with any dog that is spayed or neutered, properly trained, socialized and treated with love and kindness, pit bull-type dogs can be well adjusted, happily balanced, and affectionate members of the family,” says Jamie Healy, Shelter Partners for Pit Bulls manager. “It’s the person on the other end of the leash who decides how their dog interacts with others and who sometimes put these dogs at the wrong side of the law.”

Best Friends Animal Society works to help pit bulls through its national campaign, Pit Bulls: Saving America’s Dog, which helps dogs who are battling everything from a sensationalized reputation to legislation designed to bring about their extinction.

“Move over vegetables, here comes Fonzie”

Yesterday we brought you slow-motion dogs. Today we’ll take a look at no-motion dogs — those whose owners like to keep them around, even after death.

As the first episode of “The Marriage Ref”  showed, the practice is seen by some, perhaps most, as horrific, while still others consider it a fitting tribute to their pet.

The new show, a Jerry Seinfeld creation that premiered this week, included a segment on a marital spat over a husband’s decision — over his wife’s objections — to “stuff” his deceased Boston Terrier, Fonzie.

The show’s resident fact checker reported that only about 1,000 people a year have their pets “stuffed,” and its panel of “experts,” which included Seinfeld, Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin, all sided with the wife in the dispute, concluding that the practice was bizarre and Fonzie shouldn’t be displayed, shrine-like, in the couple’s home.

With that, the husband agreed to move Fonzie to the attic, which is where a lot of “stuffed” animals end up.

The show didn’t get into the specifics of how Fonzie was preserved after death, instead just using the misnomer “stuffed.” But apparently he was freeze-dried, an increasingly common technique being used by taxidermists and others — and at a rate that I think probably exceeds that reported by the “fact-checker,”  NBC News reporter Natalie Morales.

I did some research into the practice in connection with my forthcoming book about dog cloning, looking back at the days when “stuffed” animals really were stuffed, the more modern form of “mounting” or stretching their pelts over a plastic form, and the more modern yet version, freeze-drying.

As part of my research, I interviewed Chris Calagan in West Virginia, owner of Perpetual Pet, which has been freeze drying pets since 2002, when he and his wife started with their own cat, Naomi.

Posing the pet and removing the moisture in his freeze drying machine is a process that can take months, depending on the pet’s size, Calagan explained to me.

“We don’t put a hole in it. It’s just through osmosis, very gradual, like drying an orange,” he said. “The moisture comes out through the peeling.”

Freeze drying is the latest variation of a practice that goes back to Victorian times, and one to which many have turned over the years.

Stubby, a pit bull who was the most decorated dog of World War I, was stuffed after his death and displayed at the Smithsonian.

When cowboy star Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger, died in 1965 at age 33, the Rogers family had him mounted, his skin stretched over a plastic mold, posed proudly in the position of a horse at its liveliest – reared up on its hind legs. Trigger became the main draw at the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans Museum. The Rogers also had Dale Evans’ horse, Buttermilk, and their German shepherd, Bullet, mounted to become museum pieces. Rogers, before his death in 1998, joked about having his own body “stuffed” and placed atop his rearing horse, but he never actually pursued that.

ScrubsMore recently, the mounted pet returned to popular culture in the television show “Scrubs,” in which a lifeless dog named Rowdy had a recurring role.

To some, it’s far to creepy a thing to ever consider. Others pursue it precisely because it is so quirky. But the majority of pet owners do it because of a sincere wish to keep a beloved dog around — in a state they can view and touch.

As with cloning, those who have done it might face a certain amount of ridicule, but, more often than not, they don’t care what anybody else thinks. In fact, they’d probably have two words for those who judge them: Stuff it.

What a difference 20 years makes

The July 1987 Sports Illustrated cover, above, went a long way toward creating the negative stereotype the pit bull has lived under for the past two decades.

This month’s cover, below, and the story that goes along with it, goes a long way toward showing how wrong that stereotype is.

It took 21 years, but I guess we can consider their mistake — blaming the breed, as opposed to what humans have done to it — corrected.