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How MadLyn lost her dog (but not her faith) at Salvation Mountain

When singer-songwriter MadLyn filmed her latest music video she chose Salvation Mountain as the setting — a location that’s near the top of my list when it comes to American places of quirky and unnatural beauty.

And she brought her dog, Lucy, along to serve as the video’s co-star.

Salvation Mountain, built of trash, straw, adobe and and thousands of gallons of vibrantly colored paint, was one man’s tribute to his faith in God, and even though I’m not religious, I was fortunate enough to drop by and meet him twice (the mountain’s creator, not The Creator) when he was alive.

Once, for a magazine story, and once during my Travels with Ace, I spent some time with Leonard Knight — an admittedly reclusive and obsessive sort who let nothing stop him in his quest to fashion a mountain where there was none. Knight died in 2014 at age 82.

Salvation Mountain pops up like a colorful hallucination in the otherwise bleak, almost lunar, desert terrain around Niland, California.

MadLyn went there in July with her director/father and a cinematographer to film a video for her song “Will You Take Me Home” and she did all the things that people do in music videos — prance, skip, sing, twirl, look pensive, wear multiple outfits and toss her curly locks about.

madlynslucyAnd snuggle with Lucy, who is featured throughout the video.

In one scene, MadLyn was to stand in front of the mountain and hold her little dog as a camera-equipped drone zoomed in on them and passed overhead.

Lucy didn’t like that. She jumped out of MadLyn’s arms and took off.

Lucy had gone all day with no leash (she was playing the role of a stray), but when the drone approached for a close-up she “starts freaking out and jumps out of my arms and runs out into the desert,” MadLyn recounted.

As the sun went down, MadLyn, her father and the cinematographer searched for hours, on foot and by car, enlisting the help of Slab City’s other denizens, but Lucy could not be found and was not responding to their calls.

Because the cinematographer needed to get back to his family, they drove back to Los Angeles, a three and a half hour trip.

The next day, a Saturday, MadLyn called animal shelters located near Niland, printed up flyers, checked with the company Lucy’s microchip is registered with and sent out pleas on Facebook.

Then she and her father headed back to Niland to search some more for Lucy.

Sadly, and a bit ironicallly, what had happened in real life was exactly the opposite of what director Fred Fuster had in mind for the video.

While the song’s lyrics seemingly pertain to man-woman love, Fuster (being a father) envisioned a different, more innocent, interpretation of his daughter’s song.

“As director I insisted on having that story line — where this woman who has a hard time finding love meets this dog at Salvation Mountain and I guess falls in love,” he said.

But instead of finding a dog, Madlyn, in real life, lost one.

madlynsFuster’s daughter began performing at age 3. She lost her mother to breast cancer at 13, and after that began to immerse herself completely in songwriting and pop music.

She later took her mother’s name, Madlyn, to honor her.

She has been active in raising money to fight breast cancer. Last year, she released the song, “I Call Her Mom,” with 100 percent of all digital sales going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).

No strangers to loss and dealing with dark times, Fuster and his daughter pulled into Salvation Mountain after nightfall to look for Lucy and seek out people who might have seen her.

They went a gathering spot in Slab City called The Range, where an open mic night was being held, and showed Lucy’s picture around.

One man told Fuster that it was unlikely a small dog like Lucy — given all the hawks and coyotes in the area — was still alive after 24 hours.

That’s when Fuster sat down and began to pray.

When he opened his eyes and looked down, there was Lucy.

After a tearful reunion, Fuster and MadLyn put Lucy in the car and gave her some water. The 18-pound dog drank 24 ounces, MadLyn says.

MadLyn, as you can see in the video at the end of this post, clearly considers what happened a miracle.

“Lucy was missing in the desert of Salvation Mountain for 24 hours completely by herself, and through the grace of God alone, she came back,” she wrote in an email to ohmidog!

She says the video is “dedicated to all shelter and foster animals looking for a loving home.”

I have a feeling Leonard Knight would like this story.

I know I do.

Coming soon: A Street Cat Named Bob

The true story of how a street cat named Bob changed the life of an alcoholic street musician in London came out in book form three years ago .

Now the movie version is coming — in which Bob is played (mostly) by Bob.

James Bowen’s autobiographical book telling the story of his struggle with addiction and of his life on the streets, in homeless shelters and in supported housing sold millions of copies.

Its focus was on the bond he formed with Bob after the cat found his way into Bowen’s room in a subsidized housing complex.

The pair went on become inseparable, winning fans across London.

Luke Treadaway stars as Bowen, a street musician overcoming a troubled childhood.

But in most of the scenes featuring Bob, that’s the real Bob you’ll be seeing.

The film is scheduled for release in early November.

Dog clones: Now made in America

nubia2

Just as the earliest efforts to clone a dog in America didn’t make a huge splash, news-wise, neither did the recent birth — nearly 20 years later — of the first made-in-America canine clone.

ViaGen, a genetic preservation company in Texas, announced at the end of July that the first successful cloning of a dog in America had led to a birth, and that the Jack Russell terrier pup had been delivered to clients.

Chances are you haven’t read about it — because hardly anyone has written about it.

Including me — the guy who wrote that dog cloning book.

I received an email Monday containing the press release announcing the successful cloning. It came from Andrew Lavin, a public relations consultant in New York who handles publicity for ViaGen. It was dated Sept. 12 and included the photos of the clone, named Nubia, that you see here.

When I checked online to see what news coverage the announcement had received, I found almost none — only an “article” in Pet Age magazine (actually a verbatim reprint of the company press release) in July.

When I called ViaGen’s Austin offices to clear up some of my confusion I was told the press release had originally been issued at the end of July, and they didn’t know why the one I received had been re-dated to Sept. 12.

When I asked why the announcement had not received greater news coverage, the person on the phone said only, “It was a soft press release.” She didn’t explain what that meant.

(I can only guess it means a press release sent to a limited few, vague and fuzzy on the details, and accompanied by a “we’re not going to answer any questions” attitude — one that is low-profile enough to not arouse any detractors, such as the many animal welfare organizations that frown on cloning pets, saying it is cruel to animals and exploits bereaved pet owners.)

When I asked ViaGen for more information about the cloning, I was told, “all media requests go through Andy,” meaning Andrew Lavin.

He eventually returned my call and answered my email, explaining that he had “updated” the original press release — and therefore changed the date on it.

He did seek answers to my questions and sent me ViaGen CEO Blake Russell’s responses to them. Russell sidestepped far more than he answered.

nubia1The owners of the clone are not being identified — apparently not even the state or country where they reside.

Their original dog is deceased, but they were able to have her cloned with tissue samples taken by her vet when she was spayed.

Asked where the other dogs that are needed to produce a successful clone came from — dogs in heat from whom egg cells are harvested, and female dogs who serve as surrogates — Russell said ViaGen Pets purchases oocytes from an unnamed provider and that “ViaGen Pets uses a production partner to supply the needed surrogates.”

Presumably, the merging of egg and donor cells and the surgeries necessary were performed at ViaGen labs in Texas.

Texas, by the way, is where the whole crazy idea got started — though it wasn’t pulled off until scientists in South Korea cloned the world’s first dog.

Here’s the condensed version:

Shortly after the birth of the world’s first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, in 1996, the wealthy founder of the University of Phoenix, John Sperling, decided that cloning his girlfriend’s dog, Missy, would make for a lovely gift.

He teamed up with his girlfriend’s son, Lou Hawthorne, to find a learning institution that would be interested in cloning the world’s first dog.

They chose Texas A&M University and funneled millions into the project.

For years, from 1998 to 2002, researchers there tried to clone a dog. They were able to clone the world’s first pig, cat, bull and goat, but dogs, they found, were extra difficult.

Hawthorne had high hopes of turning the cloning of pet dogs into a big business, and it was during this time that he launched Genetic Savings & Clone, a company that, like Viagen, stored the cells of pets whose owners thought they might someday want a clone.

Snuppy

Snuppy

The research project at Texas A&M, eventually, was dropped, but the quest was picked up by Seoul National University in South Korea, which produced the first dog clone, Snuppy, in 2005.

The thousands produced since then — most often for bereaved pet owners seeking a duplicate of the dog they lost — have all been made in South Korean laboratories.

At one point, two Korean companies were producing dog clones for customers, and one American company was selling dog cloning, too.

Bio Arts, a company Hawthorne started in hopes of cloning dogs on its own, ended up teaming up with one of the Korean companies, Sooam, led by former Seoul National University scientist Hwang Woo Suk, to provide clones to American customers.

Among the first of those shipped back to the U.S. was a clone of Missy, which he presented to his mother, Sperling’s girlfriend.

She noted the puppy was ill-behaved, and said she didn’t want it.

SONY DSC

Surgery at Sooam

Hawthorne later pulled out of the partnership with Sooam, citing, among other reasons, his concerns that accepted animal welfare protocols — or at least those accepted by most Western countries — weren’t being followed by the South Koreans.

“A cloned dog contributes to the happiness of a family but I do not think it is possible to do it without a huge amount of suffering to hundreds of others,” Hawthorne told The Mirror, which was reporting on the first dog cloning for a customer in the UK.

In an interview with the Mirror, Hawthorne referred to the vast numbers of dogs that it took — up to 80, he said — to clone just one. And he confirmed that, as my book reported, Korean cloning researchers borrowed dogs from dog farms — farms where dogs are raised for their meat — for the process.

Today, only one of the Korean companies is still in operation.

https://www.amazon.com/Dog-Inc-Uncanny-Inside-Cloning/dp/1583333916Another Korean company that paved the way for cloning pet dogs — and provided the first clones to an American customer — pulled out of cloning pet dogs in 2011, not long after the publication of my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

ViaGen’s successful cloning of a dog lessens the likelihood of dog cloning fading away; instead it brings the process to American shores, and offers it at a much reduced price — $50,000 instead of the initial $150,000 the Korean companies charged.

ViaGen Pets says it is now the only American company offering pet cloning services — and says they are doing so “in full compliance with all U.S. regulatory standards and humane pet care practices.”

The are no federal laws against cloning dogs, or for that matter, humans, in the United States.

ViaGen,a long-time cloner of livestock, produced its first cloned cats for customers last year and it has been banking the cells of pets for more than a decade.

The company says the birth of Nubia will likely increase demand for cloning and genetic preservation of companion pet DNA.

screencapture-viagenpets-1473861354711

President Blake Russell said the company has already genetically preserved almost 1,000 pets and that there is a waiting list for the cloning procedure.

“The potential to have an identical twin to something that was very important and special in your life is an unprecedented opportunity and has brought a lot of joy to pet owners,” Russell says in the press release.

In addition to the cost of cloning, ViaGen charges a $1,600 fee and $150 a year to store tissue samples from pets whose owners may someday want to clone them.

The cloning procedure involves injecting cells harvested from the original dog into egg cells harvested from female dogs, a jolt of electricity to help them merge, and implanting the resulting embryo into a surrogate mother dog who carries the pup to birth.

ViaGen says a cloned puppy or kitten is “simply a genetic twin born at a later date, and should share many of the original’s attributes, including intelligence, temperament and appearance.”

The South Korean company guarantees only that the appearance will be identical, or nearly identical — but they often achieve that by producing multiple clones.

Many of dog cloning’s customers have come from the U.S. and the U.K. — and up to now they have been turning to Sooam Biotech to clone their dogs.

Most animal welfare organizations oppose the practice, pointing to the number of other dogs it takes to produce a clone, the intrusive procedures, the creation of surplus clones, and the sometimes nightmarish results. They also say pet cloning companies are exploiting the grief of bereaved pet owners.

There has been little outcry from them about the fact that dog cloning is now being done in America. Then again, it’s a development of which many people — possibly having missed that “soft” press release — aren’t aware.

In any case, it appears an American-born idea has finally — for better or worse — come to fruition in America.

(Photos of Nubia courtesy of ViaGen Pets; photos of Snuppy and a cloning underway at Sooam by John Woestendiek)

Garmin takes heat for dog-zapping device

Garmin, a company that makes devices that tell us how to get from here to there, has unveiled its latest gadget aimed at “teaching” your dog good behavior — by shocking him when he misbehaves.

The Delta Smart is a small, smartphone-compatible gadget that fits over a dog’s collar, enabling an owner, through an app, to keep track of their dog’s activity levels, and how much barking they are doing while we’re away.

It’s not the first Garmin product for dogs, and not the first to include a shock feature — but it is the first to spark such widespread protest and an online petition asking the company to remove the feature.

The product promises to “reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors” and make your dog a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

It gives dogs warnings by beeping, vibrating or by applying what the company likes to call “static” or “stimulation” — which is a nice way of saying a jolt of electricity.

deltasmartThere are 10 levels at which a dog can be zapped, either by an owner who is present, or remotely.

As the petition points out, it’s not the right way to train a dog:

“For example, a woman wants her dog Bowser to learn to not jump on the couch. Bowser trots into the family room, jumps up on the couch, and climbs into her daughter’s lap — at which point the electric shock hits him. She has now put her child in serious danger.

“Bowser will not associate the act of jumping up on the couch with the pain; he will associate her child with the pain and could very well become aggressive toward her.”

Like all the makers of shock collars, Garmin says the jolt does not hurt the dog.

“What is missing from this argument is the fact that aversive methods only work if they scare and/or hurt the dog. If the zap doesn’t bother the dog, then the dog will not learn. Electric shock collars do hurt and scare dogs. If they didn’t, no one would use them,” says the author of the petition, dog trainer and freelance writer Tracy Krulik.

barklimiter

Garmin’s Bark Limiter

We haven’t seen the CEO of the company try one out (but then again maybe he or she hasn’t misbehaved). To the company’s credit the new device has put some cushioning over the two metal probes that, in earlier versions, stuck into the dog’s neck.

The Delta Smart is basically a combination of a FitBit-like device and the company’s “Bark Limiter,” which has been on the market for a while.

In the ad above, various dogs are shown, each labeled for the kind of bad behavior they engaged in — barking too much at the mailman, shredding the blinds, stealing food off the kitchen counter, knocking over the trash can, chewing up the slippers.

The “dog activity trainer and remote monitor” can correct all those problems — even when you’re not home, the ad says.

It can monitor barking and activity levels while you’re away, and it comes with tags that can be placed on items and in areas you don’t want the dog near that activate warning tones when the dog approaches.

In other words, it is a control freak’s dream — and it’s only $150.

After the video was posted on Facebook, it had nearly 2,800 comments, most of them condemning the product as cruel, and the wrong way to train a dog, according to the Washington Post

On YouTube, the company has disabled public comments on the video — and if you try to leave one, you receive an electrical shock. (OK, we made that last part up.)

You’ve got to wonder, though, technology being what it is, if the day will come when we get shocked for making wrong turns or for not taking enough steps during the day, for failing to do our sit ups or eat our vegetables — and if someday, by a family vote, we can equip a bratty nephew or an annoying uncle with such a device.

For his own good, of course, and just to make him a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

Memorial service planned for 14 dogs who died at Saskatchewan boarding facility

kaliA memorial service will be held in Canada Saturday for the owners, families and friends of 14 dogs who died at a Saskatchewan kennel with a faulty heating system.

Until then, outraged owners and an outraged community will try to work through their anger — much of which is being expressed on the Facebook page of the Playful Paws Pet Centre in Saskatoon.

“You better lawyer up,” one irate owner warned. “The fact you knew that overheating occurs and have no temperature monitoring, what the **** is wrong with you. You better get a lawyer because I will make it my personal mission to shut your negligent business down. Absolutely unforgivable my dog dies under your watch. By Christ I will never forgive you.”

The kennel’s post about the deaths has drawn close to 600 comments — some from families of the victims, nearly all expressing outrage.

Despite having knowledge of a faulty heater, the kennel — which boasts of providing 24-hour supervision — left the dogs unattended in an upstairs kennel room overnight Friday.

Though a mild evening, the heater pumped hot air into the room all night and the dogs all died of suspected heat-related causes.

playful-pawsIn a statement on its Facebook page, Playful Paws said “staff and management … are devastated to acknowledge the loss of life of 14 dogs on early Saturday morning. We are incredibly saddened by this travesty of life and cannot express enough our sympathy to the families of these dogs…

“A mechanical failure on one of our roof top heating units caused it to continuously push heat into one of our upstairs kennel rooms, to the point that the dogs being kept there passed away.

ellaandkali“We love our dogs and each of our team is trying to personally cope with this terrible loss. Having said that we understand that our pain is small compared to the loss that is being experienced by our dog’s owners. Our sincerest of sympathy goes out to all of these individuals and the family and friends who loved these dogs.”

A former employee of the kennel said management was well aware of ventilation problems and other health issues.

“A proper kennel exchanges its air four to six times an hour. They did not have any type of fresh air exchange for the entire building,” dog trainer Fred Glawischnighe told CBC.

ardie-autism-service-dogAmong the 14 dogs being cared for at the kennel was an autism service dog named Ardie who belonging to 6-year-old Easton Irwin, who waited three years to get him.

Kelsey Friesen said she was informed on Saturday that her four-year-old daughter’s dog, a catahoula mix named Kali, was one of the 14 dogs that perished.

“It’s her best friend and now we have to tell her that her dog is not coming home,” she told CBC News.

Acadia McKague’s Funeral Centre will be holding a public memorial for the families Saturday.

(Photos provided by families)

Oink in Advertising: The Chase pig

As those who regularly tune in for our “Woof in Advertising” features know, there’s no animal — with the possible exception of the scantily clad human female — that advertisers turn to more often to sell their products than the dog.

It’s because of the special connection we have with the species, because of the qualities they have come to represent (like loyalty and trustworthiness to name two), and because they are, generally speaking, the cutest things ever.

oinkPercy James, the miniature pig featured in this ad for Chase bank, may give dogs a run for the money in that last category.

Sure, pigs are associated with fatness, laziness and sloth (not traits your average bank would want to equate itself with), but those are the big farm versions that often become ham, pork chops and bacon. Not to mention wallets.

The miniature pig, while maybe not a whole different animal, symbolizes, well, we’re not sure what, but in this ad it represents independence, maybe mixed with a little streak of rebelliousness.

In the ad, a confident looking retired couple (we can only assume they have a nice nest egg) are taking their unique pet “Percy James” for a walk in the park.

“You live life your way,” a narrator says. “We can help you retire your way, too. Financial guidance while you’re mastering life. Chase … so you can.”

The song? It’s “Boombastic,” by Shaggy.

(Click on this link for more Woof in Advertising posts.)

Another “Day,” another dollar

kinglouieYesterday was National Pet Memorial Day, billed as a time to remember our departed dogs and cats.

I’m not big on “national days,” especially those sponsored by businesses that make money off their themes every day of the year.

Therefore I am not celebrating.

Four months after Ace’s death, every day is still pet memorial day — and I don’t need the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (sponsor of the day) to remind, prod, poke or even console me.

Most of us don’t.

Most of us manage, with friends, and family and time, to work through the loss of a pet without the aid of a special day or a professional organization that, well-intentioned as it might be, still wants to sell us something.

We come up with ways to cope — some of them scary and misguided, some of them touching, like this one.

A Las Vegas couple is paying tribute to their recently deceased Yorkie by emblazoning his image on a pair of billboards in town.

“You will be missed,” the billboard honoring King Louie Siegel reads. “Thanks for all the great memories.”

King Louie was born Dec. 20, 2008, and died Aug. 31, 2016, according to KSNV

Judith Perez, King Louie’s owner, said the dog was put down by the vet. He was suffering from brain inflammation and fluid on his spine, which was taking away his ability to walk.

She said the idea for the billboard was proposed by her fiance, Steve Siegel, and she went along with it, eventually coming to like the idea.

Whatever works, I say — as long as it’s not hurting or exploiting others.

(Photo: Twitter)