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Tag: pet

LAX dogs provide different kind of security

pups

From an Irish wolfhound named Finn to a Rottweiler named Maggie Mae, 29 dogs of various breeds are providing a different kind of security for travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.

The dogs have been comforting frazzled travelers for a year now, through a program called PUP, or Pets Unstressing Passengers.

finnFinn started last November, the day after a gunman opened fire at Terminal 3 and left a Transportation Security Administration officer dead, according to the Los Angeles Times

“I think after the shooting, Finn attracted attention because he represented something comforting,” owner Brian Valente said in an airport statement. “As passengers asked questions about Finn and started to pet him, I could see their bodies relax and their demeanors change.”

The one-year anniversary of the program was marked yesterday at a meeting of the L.A. Board  of Airport Commissioners.

The dogs all wear bright red vests, and mingle with passengers in post-security-screening areas. The program is aimed at reducing the anxiety of travelers by letting them pet and play with the dogs.

The dogs are registered with Therapy Dogs, a national organization that supports pets that visit places such as hospitals, nursing homes and other special needs centers.

To see more of the dogs, click here.

(Photos: Los Angeles World Airports)

Sheriff helps family get a new pet after their dog was killed during high-speed chase

ryanandchiliA 3-year-old  boy got a new dog this week, days after watching his first dog get struck and killed by a car fleeing sheriff’s deputies in Oklahoma City.

The boy and his family picked out the new pet, a Chihuahua mix named Chili, after Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel paid the adoption fees.

“You can never replace a pet, but I felt it was necessary that I do something to bring a smile to Ryan’s face,” Whetsel told KFOR.

“I have three dogs and I understand how much they mean to my family, so I just wanted to make sure Ryan had a four-legged friend to play with.”

Ryan was outside with his mother, Sarah Barrow, when a car being chased by deputies sped down the road — just as their 2-year-old Chow and Rottweiler mix, Red, was crossing it.

Red was struck by the speeding vehicle and died about 10 minutes later, and the incident was captured by a TV news crew that was in the neighborhood reporting another story — about crime problems in the area:

Deputies later arrested two suspects they said were in the car  and charged them in connection with three stolen vehicles.

Ryan had nightmares after that, his mother told the Oklahoman, and hadn’t slept for two days when Sheriff Whetsel called, offering to help the family get a new dog,

“When I found out that the bad guy had hit this dog, I just felt compelled to reach out and help them replace the dog for that little boy,” the sheriff said.

Barrow took him up on the offer, and the family went to Edmond Animal Welfare.

Though his parents were thinking of finding another big dog, Ryan seemed most drawn to a small one, Chili, who shelter staff named after the restaurant in whose parking lot he was found.

(Photo: Sarah Barrow and her son Ryan Underwood hold their new dog, Chili; by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman)

Pet Rescue Saga: How I single-handedly saved hundreds of pets from being crushed

petrescuesaga

I rescued dozens, possibly hundreds, of pets from certain death the other night.

But before you call me a hero, or saint, you should know I only did it on Facebook, and only in a video game.

Pet Rescue Saga is the popular new puzzle game, downloaded more than 150 million times and playable on Facebook and through apps. It’s free, at first,  but then, like a drug dealer who has handed out samples to get new clients hooked, it starts charging you to play more, or play more effectively, or to reach greater highs.

The game comes from King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, which is similar and reportedly equally addictive.

When invitations to play Pet Rescue Saga first started showing up on my Facebook page, I wrongly assumed — given most of my Facebook friends are die-hard, do-gooding animal lovers — that it was a game that somehow was related to, or benefited, animal welfare causes.

It’s not, and it doesn’t.

There might be some unintentional similarities to the real world of animal rescue, such as walls being put up in front of you, and things piling up faster than you can handle them. But “Pet Rescue Saga” isn’t about rescuing pets in the animal welfare sense of the word. It’s mainly about busting blocks, and then more blocks, and then more blocks, by clicking on them to ensure that the “adorable” little pets atop them don’t get squished.

Given video games have a reputation for catering to our basest instincts — chopping off heads, running people over in cars and the like –  I had hopes, especially when Facebook friends kept inviting me to play, that this one might actually be about a noble pursuit, or might even be educational.

No such luck. What it teaches us about pet rescue is that we can save animals by matching two or more blocks of the same color.

Still, I ended up spending an hour playing it on Facebook, which annoyingly notified me to “share” every time I passed some friend’s record, before it got to the point where further play would require an investment of money. (That — having to fork up some money — generally prevents and/or cures any addictions to which I might fall victim.)

There are hundreds of levels of the game, and the higher you go (or the more you spend) the more tools you get to “save pets” – like sizzling rockets, hammers and exploding bombs.

In playing it, one becomes so focused on the blocks that he forgets about the animals. The endangered animals really seem a well-contrived afterthought, as if the gamemakers thought putting pets in need of rescue atop the stacks of blocks — as opposed to pots of gold or damsels in distress – might give it some relevance, or, pet rescue being a popular cause, add to its popularity.

“Wait! Don’t forget about the animals! ” says a review of the game on gamezebo.com. “Some levels of Pet Rescue Saga have dogs, pigs, and pigeons trapped on stacks of blocks, or wedged in columns. When you successfully clear away blocks, said animals drop safely to the ground. However, since many levels of Pet Rescue Saga scroll vertically, the animals on tall columns are in constant danger of getting squished on the top of the screen. Nothing ruins your day like the anguished squeal of a piglet.”

Squishing aside, it’s nice to see a game that’s seemingly about rescuing and saving, as opposed to killing and maiming.

It would be much nicer to see a game that was really about rescuing and saving animals, or that really taught compassion, or at least tried to.

I’m not necessarily saying the makers and marketers of the game are trying to capitalize on tender-hearted pet lovers, or that they mislead people to think the game might have some legitimate connection to the actual world of animal rescue.

But, after playing the game, I did start receiving emails from the gamemaker — far too many emails — with subject lines like: “Pets in danger. Help them now!” Clicking on the link in the email took me directly to the game’s Facebook app.

I don’t keep up much anymore with the latest developments in video games. So I don’t know if phony altruism is the latest video game trend: Bust up the blocks and find a cure for cancer. Bust up the blocks to feed the starving children.

Maybe there are some truly altruistic video games out there. The Game Show Network came close to that last month when it introduced Pet Pals Slots, a limited-edition game on Facebook. It earmarked a portion of money made from gameplay in November — up to $30,000 — to go to Best Friends Animal Society, providing food, medical care and shelter for animals at the organization’s Utah sanctuary. In other words, while playing a mostly mindless game, those who played Pet Pals Slots, at least in a way, were saving pets.

Video games, with exceptions, are rarely educational, and I don’t really expect them to serve as our moral compass. (More often they seem aimed at sending that compass haywire.)

And of course they’re not obligated to share the wealth they make with any deserving causes they borrow their themes from.

But how cool would it be to see — in addition to less squishing — more of that?

What Ace got for Christmas: A BarkBox

barkbox 022

Not since a cooler full of Omaha steaks showed up on our doorstep last Christmas has Ace been so excited about a box.

He gets highly curious about any package that to the house — be it a suitcase or paper bag — but when I brought a BarkBox inside with the rest of the mail, just before Christmas, he went bonkers, and he seemed to know it was intended for him.

It was a gift from his dachshund friends, Frank and Bogey, and their owner Faren, and while I fully intended to enforce the do-not-open-until-Christmas rule … well, it didn’t work out that way.

Given how much most of us spoil our dogs, BarkBox was a pretty smart idea — intended to get us, and our dogs, hooked on receiving a monthly box of treats, toys and goodies.

barkbox 052It’s similar in concept to those wine-of-the-month, cheese-of-the-month, you-name-it-of-the-month clubs you can subscribe to online.

Then you start receiving a monthly sampling of items you might or might not like.

Dogs being far less picky, BarkBox might be an even smarter idea.

It was started by three New Yorkers — Henrik Werdelin, Matt Meeker and Carly Strife, who were trying to come up with a way dog owners (or dog parents, to use the term they prefer) could delight their dogs on a regular basis.

“There’s a difference between a dog owner and a dog parent,” Werdelin told New York magazine. “Dog parents are people who really love their dogs. Unfortunately, there aren’t many places they can go to find new ways to delight their dog. BarkBox is full of those things.”

The items change monthly, and subscribers can choose one-month ($29), three-month ($24  per month), or six-month ($19 a month) plans. The company donates a portion of profits to animal shelters.

According to the BarkBox website, plans automatically renew, unless you cancel.

(I’ve never liked that kind of marketing — not since, as a teenager, I ended up in debt and with a bunch of albums I didn’t want thanks to a record-of-the-month club that refused to stop sending them until I informed them in writing that I had died.)

The genius of BarkBox is that — unlike humans who get an unrequested Perry Como album — dogs aren’t likely to turn their noses up at anything included in their packages.

Ace loved everything his contained — four types of treats and a floppy turkey toy made of cotton, jute and rope.

Once he got hold of a beef bladder chew from Barkworthies, there was no letting go — though I did put the rest of the treats aside for later.

barkbox 068

It was a lovely and thoughtful gift, and hopefully a one-time one. I’d hate to think the gift giver might, through automatic renewal, be sending Ace a monthly box of treats for the rest of her life, or worse yet, that I might be held accountable for covering that expense.

If that happens, they can expect to be paid off with lightly-used Olivia Newton-John albums.

Chicago’s oldest pet store goes humane


Chicago’s oldest pet store has decided to stop selling dogs purchased from breeders.

Sonja Raymond, whose family has been operating Collar & Leash since 1956, says the shop will deal only in adoptable dogs from shelters and rescues, according to CBS in Chicago

Raymond said she’d been considering the switch for five years – after noticing animals coming into the store with genetic defects and incurable illnesses, despite the assurances she received from her suppliers that the pups didn’t come from puppy mills.

“You know I had gone on the word of my distributors that I get my dogs from — that ‘Oh yeah these people are reputable, I’ve known them for years,” she said. “Within the past year I have found out they lied.”

Also pushing Collar & Leash to make the switch was the The Puppy Mill Project, a Chicago-based non-profit organization created to raise awareness about cruelty in puppy mills.

“We’d been in touch with the Puppy Mill Project Founder, Cari Meyers, for a long time, and realize it’s time we take this jump with them to help make a statement to put an end to puppy mills,” Raymond said.

“We will no longer buy and sell cats and dogs from mills and are proud to align ourselves with The Puppy Mill Project,” she said.

“It’s my biggest hope that as they become humane, other Chicago pet stores selling dogs and cats will follow in their footsteps, said Puppy Mill Project founder Meyers.

The store will hold a grand re-opening weekend Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7.

Spending on pets nearing $50 billion mark

Americans may be cutting corners to cope with the crappy economy, but spending on pets appears healthy as ever, at least according the the American Pet Products Association’s latest report and poll.

Pet ownership is at an all-time high of 72.9 million households — about two of every three households, according to survey results released Monday.

The total number of pets — including 78 million dogs and 86.4 million cats– represents a 2.1 percent increase over last year, according to UPI.

The APPA’s annual report showed Americans spent more than $48 billion on their pets in 2010, an increase of of 6.2 percent over 2009, and it anticipates spending could top $50 billion in 2011.

The biggest surge in spending is expected to be in the area of veterinary care, with the APPA estimating $14 billion will be spent by pet owners in 2011.

More than 15 percent of dog owners, in fact, said their animal’s medical treatment would take priority over their own, according to a Reuters report on the poll.

Spending on treats, toys and accessories was up a reported 30 percent, from $56 million to $73 million. And the cost of buying a dog has also spiked from $121 to $364 due to the increased price of pure breeds.

“The pet industry continues to see unprecedented growth,” said APPA President Bob Vetere. “The survey reveals pet owners are willing to spend money on their pets despite a downturn in the economy.”

(Photo: Money sculpture by Justine Smith. To see more of her art visit justinesmith.net)

Bully for them: Dogs to be tops again in UK

Dogs, who lost their ranking as the number one pet (not counting fish) in the United Kingdom in 1994, are now poised to take over the top spot again (not counting fish).

Cats displaced dogs as the nation’s favorite pet – or favourite, if you live there – for the first time in 1994, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).

Now, a study by the association predicts dogs will be number one again, possibly as early as this year.

“Rovertaken,” read the headline in the Sun. “It’s raining more dog than cat,” said the Daily Mail.

The study says the number of dogs in Britain is at an all-time high having risen from 5 million in 1970 to 8.3 million today. Cats have fallen from a 2004 peak of 9.6 million to 8.6 million.

Figures from the Kennel Club reveal ‘handbag dog’ breeds have increased sixfold and the number of Chihuahuas have tripled since 2001.

While more households have dogs than cats — both in the U.S. and Britain — there are more cats overall in both countries, given the number of households where mutliple cats reside. As of 2007, census figures showed 82 million cats and 72 million dogs in the U.S.

How much is that dog book in the window?

Four of my favorite things — dogs, books, bargains and good causes — will come together this weekend at The Book Escape in Federal Hill.

The Baltimore bookstore will feature not only me, signing my new book, but a storewide used book sale. Ace will be there, and your dog is welcome, too. (The Book Escape, located at 805 Light St., is dog-friendly.)

And to top it all off, we’ll be donating 20 percent of the store’s Saturday sales of “DOG, INC.” to the Franky Fund, which helps provide care for sick and injured animals at Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter.

The signing will be Saturday (Feb. 5) from 1 to 3 p.m.

The Book Escape has made “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” its featured selection for the month — giving it prominent display not just on its website, but in its storefront window.

Ace and I, temporarily living in a friend’s empty house as we continue, for now, our roaming ways, are located right around the corner. So we pass the window often, sometimes pausing as I point out to him my book … look … right there … in front of Tom Wolfe’s. It fails to impress him.

In addition to the signing, The Book Escape will be holding a big sale this weekend, according to owner Andrew Stonebarger.

All used books will be 50 percent off for “book pass” members, and 25 percent off for everyone else. Book passes cost $50, but those who buy them get $50 in store credit at regular prices, on top of reduced prices everytime they present the card.

Stonebarger says that means a person who bought two copies of “DOG, INC.” –  one for themself and one for a present, he suggested (and who am I to argue with that idea?) – would “get a free book pass and get big discounts for the whole year.”

In light of this week’s disturbing revelation of another pet set on fire in Baltimore — a cat named Mittens who, thanks to the Franky Fund, is recovering — we (meaning The Book Escape and me) will be donating 20 percent of each sale of “DOG, INC.” on Saturday to the special BARCS fund.

It’s not the first time I’ve worked with BARCS (where Ace came from), or raised money for the fund, which I’m a fan of because it gives a chance to abused and neglected dogs and cats that, because of serious injuries, might otherwise not have one. In addition to passing along all profits last spring from my photo exhibit, ”Hey,That’s My Dog,” I’ve done a couple of stints as Santa Claus, for ”pet photos with Santa” fundraisers.

Saturday’s book signing seemed a good opportunity to raise a little more for the Franky Fund — without having to dress up in a funny suit, freeze, or swallow wisps of polyester beard hair.

Ace and I hope to see you there.

Kinda kamping: Things were AOK at KOA

Seeking shelter in Saugerties, Ace and I opted for a KOA campground, just down the road from my grandparent’s old house.

This time though, rather than pitch the tent, we upgraded to a “Kozy Kabin,” which, while it didn’t require kopious amounts of kash, was priced slightly over our limit at $50-plus a night, plus a dog fee.

But it was pretty much perfect for our needs — those being something close to warmth, something soft to sleep on and a place for Ace to romp.

We opted for a one-room cabin and were assigned to K-8, which was right next door to K-9. The cabins don’t have plumbing, but they do have electricity, allowing me to recharge all the various devices I’m toting. The bathroom and showers were just 50 yards down a path. And we directly across from the fenced in dog park, which, while not huge, was filled with agility equipment.

And best of all we had not just a grill, but a fire pit, and a picnic table and a front porch swing — sturdy enough to hold us both.

Ace immediately chose the lower bunk, though he spent some time on the big bed too.

The Saugerties Woodstock KOA was highly pet friendly; and its owners have two dogs of their own — a bulldog and a lab mix — who live there with them.

When they took over the campground, six years ago, only one cabin was open to dogs, but they’ve since changed the rules and now allow dogs in all of them. Squirrels and humans, they noted, have been responsible for much more damage than dogs have.

KOA’s pet policy permits dogs at all campgrounds, but not all of them allow dogs in the cabins.

KOA’s website advises that guests “check with the campground about its specific pet policies. Some don’t allow pets in Kamping Kabins, for example, or may have limited pet units. Others don’t accept particular breeds that insurance providers have identified as having a history of aggression.”

Upon arriving, I unpacked my camping gear and set up housekeeping, pulling out my remaining foodstuff to see what might be for dinner.

I opted for a can of green beans, combined with can of mushroom soup, topped with crumbled up crackers.

On night two, I cracked open my can of Spam, which made Ace perk up and led to a visit from the dog next door, named Micro, who was staying with his owner in a restored 1960 Airstream trailer.

The owner, an artist named Tim, gave me a tour of his house on wheels, which he rebuilt himself.

Some KOA campgrounds are now offering guests the option to spend the night in Airstreams. The shiny silver trailers are being rented overnight at KOA’s in Santa Cruz, California; Bar Harbor, Maine; Key West, Florida; and Las Vegas.

We might have to give one a try.

Our cabin served us well, though, its space heater keeping us cozy at night. We built lots of campfires, made lots of coffee and made full use of the porch swing.

When the time came to move on, I decided that, rather than putting my sleeping bag and pillows back on rooftop carrier, I’d use them instead to cushion Ace’s ride a little more. He seemed to appreciate the fluffier ride, and it spared me the hassle of getting things out of and back into the rooftop carrier.

Even after buying a new carrier, I’ve noticed its contents are still getting wet. And that’s the last thing we want — now that we’re in a kolder klimate.

Homeless man wants his dog back

William C. Leonard Jr., who lives underneath a bridge in Jersey City, wants Franklin back.

Jersey City animal control picked the dog up last month after finding it tied to a post. The beagle-basset mix was taken to the Liberty Humane Society, and later adopted by new owners.

Leonard, 49, a former county and city worker, said Franklin was given to him by a homeless friend, along with a bag of dog food and the dog’s veterinary records. “I fell in love with him,” Leonard said, describing Franklin as his “friend” and “baby.”

The dog was taken away on Aug. 6 after neighbors noticed he had been tied to a pole next door to the EZ-Market Liquor Store, said Joseph Frank, the city’s animal control officer.

But Leonard turned up at the animal shelter the following day, demanding the dog be returned. Leonard said he provided the dog’s veterinary records as proof of ownership, but was not given the dog because he is homeless, NJcom reports.

“I’ve got all my faculties about me. I’m not an idiot. I’m just homeless,” said Leonard. “I want my dog back.” 

The dog was adopted by new owners on Aug. 18.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea tried to help Leonard. “He shouldn’t be punished because he happens to be homeless,” O’Dea said. “Obviously he was able to care for the dog for a substantial amount of time before (Animal Control) got involved.”

Liberty Humane Society Director Nikki Dawson — appointed after the incident — said the shelter did not release the dog to Leonard because he is homeless, but that the shelter has since changed that policy.

“I would have returned the dog and from now on, if someone has proof of ownership, the animal will be returned to them,” Dawson said.  She said it’s possible that Leonard and Franklin could be reunited — if the new owner gives up the pet.

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