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Tag: problems

Struggling to survive in Sochi

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Surely by now you’ve heard about all the inconveniences visiting journalists from the west are facing in Sochi — a town that in its rush to get ready for the Olympics didn’t quite get ready for the Olympics.

As a member of that breed, or at least a former journalist, I can’t help but have empathy for their plight.

They have an important job to do, and how can we expect them to do it when they are facing obstacles like hotel rooms with no Internet,  fallen drapery rods, faulty doorknobs, or tap water so discolored one journalist reported she had to resort to washing her face with Evian?

Life can be so cruel sometimes.

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Sochi’s shortcomings are being blasted all over the Internet — by journalists, by Tweeters, and by tweeting journalists.

Arriving early, and finding the amenities weren’t all they could be, journalists got the ball rolling, bellyaching about conditions and posting their complaints and photos online. Olympics guests picked up the ball, voicing their discontent; and even a few athletes — though they’re less likely than journalists to whine, or so we’d hope — have broadcast the problems they’ve encountered, including one who was forced to punch his way out of the hotel room bathroom he was locked in.

Others arrived to find that their rooms, despite being reserved and paid for, weren’t ready, or weren’t even there, forcing them to wait, bunk with someone else, or seek shelter elsewhere.

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Fortunately, no journalists (to our knowledge) were forced to sleep in stairwells or alleyways.

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Others tweeting their discontent have complained of unappealing food, and menus whose Russian to English translations are sometimes laughably off the mark, which leads us to worry whether journalists are getting the all-important nourishment they need to do their jobs.

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I’m sure there will be much inspiration ahead in the 2014 Olympics, and perhaps even a few things to love about them. For the first few days though, it has been an embarrassment — for Sochi, for Russia, for Putin, and for all those journalists who came across as spoiled Westerners, partly because they are spoiled Westerners, partly because they have the modern-day need to self-broadcast every little bump in the road they encounter.

While most reporters are there to cover the sporting side of it all, and while many have been preoccupied by their lack of creature comforts, some have gotten around to writing about what we think is probably the most shameful Olympic-related story of all. In case you haven’t yet gotten our drift, it’s what the city is doing to stray dogs.

The city of Sochi has hired a pest control company to rid the streets of dogs, another piece in its failed plan to look good for the Olympics. Capturing and killing strays, as if that’s not bad enough, seems all the more cruel when you consider that many of the dogs are homeless because of all the new construction for the Olympics, some of which sent dog-owning families into apartments where dogs aren’t allowed.

Sochi promised it wouldn’t conduct the cull, then it did. The extermination was well underway by the time the media caught on, but eventually it was reported by, among others, the Boston Globe, Radio Free Europe, and, eventually, the New York Times. It took awhile, but the public outrage is, appropriately enough, snowballing now.

When that happens, the silly and tired old question always pops up, ”Does the world care more about dogs than it does humans?” That was pretty much the headline on an op-ed piece in The Guardian about Sochi’s strays this week — silly because  it implies people can’t care, get outraged and fight for both species.

But, to answer it only for myself , yes, I sometimes care more about dogs than humans, depending on the circumstances, depending on the dogs, and the humans, and depending on the hardships at issue. Yes, I care more about a dog being exterminated for no good reason than I do about a TV reporter who has temporarily lost his or her access to hair conditioner.

The inconveniences reporters, guests and athletes might face in Sochi aren’t enough to cast a pall over the entire Olympics.

What’s happening to the dogs is.

(Photos: A dog checks out a trash can across from the Olympic stadium / Twitter; a dog drinks from an icy puddle outside of Sochi / Reuters; dogs and volunteers at a makeshift shelter / The New York Times; dogs napping on the street / Twitter; a starving street dog in Sochi / Getty Images/iStockphoto )

The Ace Files: What to do when your dog won’t let his claws be trimmed

Ace was born and raised a city dog, and however mean one might consider the streets of Baltimore, they (and its sidewalks) always did a good job of keeping his claws filed down to a less than deadly length.

That was a good thing, because, when it comes to a toenail trim, Ace will have no part of it.

Groomers, vets and I have all attempted it, only to receive the clear message from him that — as much as he likes to have his paws played with, as much as he likes to hold hands — bringing any sort of grooming tool near his claws is a declaration of war.

Ace’s claws, for that very reason, have always been too long.

That poses problems, to himself and others. Ace is quick to shake hands, and sometimes does so unsolicited. In Baltimore, when he was working as a therapy dog, I feared he might inadvertenly and with all good intentions rip apart the small children reading to him, and I monitored him accordingly.

They were too long when we pulled out of the city, for a year-long, John Steinbeck-inspired tour of America. But by being constantly on the go, his claws remained at least at a tolerable length during our travels.

They were too long, despite daily walks around the block, after we ended up in Winston-Salem, N.C. and moved into the apartment of my birth.

ursula 053And since becoming a country dog, when we moved to a little house in tiny Bethania, N.C., they’ve only gotten worse — to the point they may now be described as a tad freakish, if not lethal weapons.

Once again, I went out and bought some expensive clippers, having  misplaced several old and never-used ones. But the latest attempt didn’t work either. No brand, no style, no method of claw trimming seems to work on Ace.

He doesn’t snarl, or bite, he just bucks and flails and, at 115 pounds, overpowers anyone attempting to trim his nails. What’s much scarier is the immense stress it seems to cause him. His heartbeat speeds up. He pants and drools and squirms. His eyes get a frightened look. Maybe I just imagine it, but he even starts to exude an odor. The smell of fear?

Once, back in Baltimore, I asked Ace’s vet to trim his nails. Ace resisted. The vet muzzled him and tried again. Ace resisted more. Then the vet called two burly men into the room to usher Ace upstairs.

From below, I heard the ruckus. It sounded like a professional wrestling match was underway, and about two minutes later they brought Ace back down, saying they’d been unable to accomplish the task — despite their muscles and whatever implements of restraint were upstairs.

It was concluded then that the only way to do it would be by sedating him. The idea of that scares me at least as much as how stressed he gets.

For my my most recent effort, I bought the most expensive professional nail clippers I could find. I let them lay around the living room for a week so Ace would get used to them. Then I recruited a friend, and had her feed him treats as I attempted the deed. Despite even that incentive, he balked. By the time it was over, I was almost fully sprawled atop him while whispering sweet nothings into his ear. He bucked me off, and not a single nail got trimmed. (Anybody need some expensive professional nail clippers?)

I described all that to Ace’s most recent veterinarian, here in North Carolina, at his check-up last month.

He suggested we start jogging on sidewalks. Then, seeing my reaction, he suggested I find a young and energetic friend to jog with Ace on sidewalks.

He also suggested a complete blood work-up that, in addition to checking for any health problems, might also help determine how well Ace would handle sedation.

We didn’t take him up on the second offer, deciding to wait until Ace turns 9 for that.

We did consider his  other suggestion — though not to the point of taking up jogging.

Since moving to historic Bethania, and having our own back yard, Ace doesn’t go for a walk every day. Bethania doesn’t have a lot in the way of sidewalks.  Three or four times a week we take a short walk — mostly on the street — to the little post office where I pick up  my mail. Two or three times a week we walk the dirt trail that meanders through Black Walnut Bottoms, behind the visitor center.

Once in a while, Ace will hear a hunter’s gunshot there, prompting him to turn around and head home. Ace also fears loud, cracking noises — anything from a bat hitting a ball to the crackle of the fireplace. His fears, as he grows older, seem to become more pronounced, but then maybe that’s true of all species. Whatever little fears we have turn into big looming nightmarish ones. Probably, there is a drug to help deal with that. But I am increasingly fearful of pharmaceuticals.

Given the lack of options, I decided Ace needed to spend more time pounding the pavement — and at a pace quicker than the slow one at which I prefer to move along.

So we took some of the vet’s advice, and reshaped it to fit our lifestyle (OK, my lifestyle). We headed down to the golf course where I work as a bartender a couple of nights a week. (Ace not having appeared in a movie in a while, I took my new camera along, too, to test out its video capabilities.)

I’m thinking of making it a twice-a-week routine. The mile-long trot seemed to make an immediate difference. His claws weren’t really any shorter, but they were much less sharp and pointy.

Ace slept great that night, but then he sleeps great every night, with only occasional scary dreams that makes his paws flutter as he emits little whimpers. I don’t think he’s chasing rabbits in his dreams. More likely, he’s running away from scary monsters that want to clip his nails.

(Ace has appeared in one professionally made movie, and several unprofessional ones. You can see some of the latter here.)

What do marijuana-sniffing dogs and newspaper reporters have in common?

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What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.

It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.

Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.

With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.

In fact, his  biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.

Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.

The same story is playing out in Washington state,  where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.

Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.

But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.

Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.

That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.

Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.

Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine –  can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.

In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.

Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.

In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.

Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.

“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois  who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.

Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.

His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.

And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.

Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.

Westminster Dog Show: An opposing view

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If the following take on Westminster reads like its coming from some PETA hothead that’s because it is.

Then agains, hotheads are sometimes worth listening to.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, and her remarks appeared in the form of a guest column in the Sacramento Bee.

Pollard-Post recounts watching Westminster in her youth, usually with a bad case of strep throat, and with her dog Katie at her side…

“But had I known then that Westminster – and the dog-breeding industry that it props up – share the blame for the mutilation and deaths of millions of dogs each year, I would have changed the channel faster than you can say ‘Sesame Street.’

“Back then, I had no idea that the snub-nosed bulldogs and pugs prancing around the ring may have been gasping for breath the whole time because these breeds’ unnaturally shortened airways make exercise and sometimes even normal breathing difficult. I didn’t know that the “wiener dogs” that made me laugh as their little legs tried to keep up may have eventually suffered from disc disease or other back problems because dachshunds are bred for extremely long spinal columns. I didn’t learn until much later that because of inbreeding and breeding for distorted physical features, approximately one in four purebred dogs suffers from serious congenital disorders such as crippling hip dysplasia, blindness, deafness, heart defects, skin problems and epilepsy.

“I remember feeling shocked when I learned that Doberman pinschers’ ears naturally flop over, and that their ears only stand up because they are cut and bound with tape when the dogs are puppies. And I felt sick to my stomach when I discovered that cocker spaniels have beautiful, long, flowing tails, but American Kennel Club breed standards call for their tails to be amputated down to nubs. The American Veterinary Medical Association says that these procedures ‘are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient’ and they ’cause pain and distress.’

“… Like many people, I hadn’t made the connection that every time someone buys a purebred dog from a breeder or a pet store, a dog in a shelter – a loving animal whose life depends on being adopted – loses his or her chance at a home …

“Dog shows also encourage viewers to go out and buy purebred dogs like the ones they see on TV from breeders or pet stores. This impulse buying robs shelter dogs of homes, and even more dogs end up homeless when overwhelmed people discover that the adorable puppy they bought ruins carpets, needs expensive vaccinations and food and requires their constant attention.

“My own parents succumbed to the lure of purebreds: They purchased Katie from a breeder. Katie was an exceptional dog and my best friend, but it saddens me to think that other loving dogs waiting behind bars in shelters missed out on a good home because we thought we needed a certain breed of puppy.

“Thankfully, some things have changed. After Katie passed away, my parents adopted a lovable mutt from the local shelter. I haven’t had strep throat since I was a teenager. And if the dreaded illness strikes again, you’ll find me cuddling on the couch with my rescued dog, Pete, watching movies – not Westminster.”

New York Times looks at debarking

What do some Westminster show dogs have in common with some drug dealers’ attack dogs?

They’ve been debarked.

The surgical procedure, which critics label outdated and inhumane, has been around for decades, but continues to fall out of favor, especially among younger veterinarians and animal-rights advocates, the New York Times reported this week.

There are no reliable figures on how many dogs have had their vocal cords cut, but veterinarians and other animal experts say that dogs with no bark can  be found in private homes, on the show-dog circuit, and even on the turf of drug dealers, who are said to prefer their attack dogs silent.

David Frei, the longtime co-host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, acknowledged that some show dogs have  the operation. “There is no question we have some debarked dogs among our entries,” he said.

Many veterinarians refuse to do the surgery on ethical grounds, and some states have banned it, except for therapeutic reasons, including New Jersey. Similar legislation is pending in Massachusetts.

In the surgery, vets anesthetize the dog before cutting its vocal cords, either through the mouth or through an incision in the larynx. Dogs generally recover quickly, veterinarians say, and while they usually can still make sounds, their barks become muffled and raspy.

But Dr. Gary W. Ellison, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, said the procedure can lead to complications, such as excess scar tissue building up in the throat of dogs, making it difficult to breathe.

Ellison said the procedure is no longer taught at the University of Florida’s veterinary school.

Banfield, the Pet Hospital, with more than 750 veterinary practices across the country, formally banned the surgery last summer.

“Debarking is not a medically necessary procedure,” said Jeffrey S. Klausner, the hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer. “We think it’s not humane to the dogs to put them through the surgery and the pain. We just do not think that it should be performed.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that the surgery only be done “after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.”

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed” gets first U.S. airing

“Pedigree Dogs Exposed, ” the controversial BBC documentary that shed some much needed light on purebred breeding practices and the horrors they have produced, will get its first airing in the U.S. tonight (Dec. 10).

Probably the single most important piece of dog reporting in the past decade, the documentary led to the BBC dropping its coverage of Crufts, the UK’s equivalent of the Westminster Dog Show.

The documentary looks at how many breeds have had their physical appearance so exaggerated they’re unrecognizable from a century ago, and it examines some of the breed-specific health problems that have resulted from breeders emphasizing looks over health when breeding dogs for shows.

The show, which led to some changes in Kennel Club and breeder policies and practices,  airs at 8 p.m. tonight on BBC America.

The documentary revealed that dogs suffering from genetic illness are not prevented from competing in dog shows and have gone on to win “best in breed”, despite their poor health. It says physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s breed standards in the U.K., such as short faces, wrinkling, screw-tails and dwarfism, have led to inherent health problems.

This excerpt from the program shows a prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when a dog’s skull is too small for its brain.

The documentary looks at other problems that have resulted from mating dogs who are close relatives, all for the purposes of accentuating certain physical features deemed desirable by the dog show crowd — boxers suffering from epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs who are unable to mate or give birth unassisted because their heads are so big.

While picked up here and there by the U.S. media, the story of shaping purebred dogs to fit arbitrary human standards of beauty — despite the health ramifications – remains best told by the BBC documentary. By all means, watch it.

Are our economic worries affecting our pets?

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If your dog has been showing some uncharacteristic behavior problems of late, blame the economy.

According to Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance, some 3.35 million cat and dog owners have reported behavioral problems in their pets over the past 12 months, and “it is no coincidence that this comes at a time when many people are wrought with stress and anxiety” over the economy.

The study found that millions of troubled pets have caused damage to furniture, while others have suffered moodiness, aggression and loss of appetite.

Joanne Mallon, Sainsbury’s Pet Insurance manager, said this could all be due to the stress owners are under during the current economic climate.

“Cats and dogs can be very sensitive to their owner’s feelings and behavior, so changes in mood such as irritability, distress or remoteness could be sensed and leave the animals themselves agitated or depressed,” she said.

The findings come after the Sainsbury’s Bank revealed earlier this year that some 270,000 cat and dog owners have refused their sick pet veterinary treatment in the past because they could not afford it.

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