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Pop goes the dog treat

No longer do those of us who like to watch our dogs catch treats in mid-air have to go to all the effort of tossing them.

New from Purina, Beggin’ Party Poppers have hit the market — bacon and cheese-flavored treats that come in a canister with a lid that resembles a pig face.

Push in the pig’s nose, place a treat inside and, in a matter of seconds, the treat will be popped into the air for your dog to catch.

Sure, it may be easier to just toss the treat yourself, not to mention more of a bonding experience with your dog. But why bother with that when, for $18.97, you can let the canister launch a dog treat skyward for you?

poppersThat’s the price listed for the product — treats and canister — on Amazon. A refill bag of treats, meanwhile — and we hope this is a mistake — is listed at $26.86 on Amazon. Other online sources have the refills in the $6-7 range. You can learn more at www.pighead.com.

It seems, at first glance, an over-priced little gimmick, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it evolve, perhaps into an app that allows you to shoot your dog a treat while sitting in your workplace cubicle, or a self-loading version that shoots out a treat every hour for dogs left home alone.

Imagine that. Your dog, if he’s anything like mine, would spend 59 minutes of each hour staring at the machine, one minute of each chasing, catching and eating the treat. Dogs would begin to worship the treat machine even more than they do us. They’d sleep next to the treat machine. They’d bark at anyone who threatened the treat machine. They’d follow the treat machine — once a moving version, like those robo-vacuum cleaners, was perfected — everywhere it went.

And we’d have nothing to do but lay alone in our cold beds and look at our arms, grown flabby after we stopped tossing treats ourselves.

Yes, we’re stretching to make a point, but, propelled by technology, the pet industry does seem to be going in that direction — coming out with products that make it easier than ever for us to pamper our dogs while ignoring them.

Purina’s treat-launching pig is a harmless novelty, kind of fun, and it still requires a human’s involvement to work.

But with automatic feeders already a reality, automatic treat dispensers can’t be too far behind. Once automatic ball tossers and automatic ear scratchers hit the market, we dog-owning humans could find ourselves out of a job.

It’s nice for our dogs to stay occupied, but we shouldn’t turn too much of that job over to machines and robots.

That will only make our dogs, and us, more robot-like.

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.

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)

Laboratory use of dogs on the upswing

Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.

James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.

Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

Ivan Pavlov

Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.

While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.

Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.

This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.

No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.

Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.

Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said.  “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.

The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.

Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”

Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.

“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.

Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.

Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.

“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.

Seeking preference, envisioning acclaim

Inspired, in part, by a roll of toilet paper — one sold under the name “envision” — I set out from Baton Rouge thinking big, and with thoughts of breaking out of my self-imposed budget limits.

Too many Motel 6′s can begin to erode one’s self-esteem. I envisioned something better — if only for one night.

And when I found a La Quinta in Jackson, Mississippi – one that’s not among those in the pet-friendly chain to have raised its per-night prices into the $60′s, $70′s, even $80′s– I checked in, paying not the $40 rate I’d gotten when I made the reservation, but $45 (because I’d made it for the wrong night.)

For $10 more, I got shampoo. I got an in-room coffee maker. I got a complimentary breakfast. I got clean carpeting, a slightly less polyester bedpsread, slightly fluffier towels, a big TV, with batteries in the remote, a more restful sleep and an improved outlook.

And I got some upgraded toilet paper, as well. Instead of “envision” by Georgia-Pacific, the La Quinta was stocked with “preference” by Georgia-Pacific, which I can only presume (“presume” might be a good toilet paper name) is the next level up of “green” toilet paper.

I envision the day when my finances are such that I can always use “preference,” even though I don’t really prefer “preference.” In truth, I noticed no difference. Then again I don’t pay too much attention — despite my latest blogs — to toilet paper. Generally, at that time, I’m too busy envisioning other things.

Such as whether there’s another level of Georgia-Pacific toilet paper — with an even higher status than ”preference.” I checked online, but I couldn’t find any. But I did learn that Georgia-Pacific’s jumbo-sized, public restroom toilet paper rolls are sold under the name “Acclaim,” which used to be the name of a model of Plymouth.

The Plymouth Acclaim — despite its name —  bit the dust in 1995 after only six years on the market. I’m guessing the executives at Georgia-Pacific (and what brand of TP, I wonder, is used in the executive washrooms there?) took note and snapped up the name for their giant toilet paper roll, feeling it was deserving of such.

Doggie market goes even more pupscale

Just when you thought the pet gear market couldn’t get any more precious, Martha Stewart and Crate & Barrell have launched new lines of upscale doggie products to further spoil our pooches.

Crate & Barrel is offering “a colorful pet gear line, which includes toys, beds, collars, leashes and more — all under $70,” according to PeoplePets.

It reports: “While we love the patterned cotton bones and catnip-filled mice, our pets are drooling over the dishwasher-safe porcelain bowls ($6.95-$14.95) adorned with conversation bubbles that say “Woof,” “Ruff” and “Meow.” Porcelain treat jars ($14.95-$19.95) are another charming accent for your kitchen. Dog jars feature a black-and-white fire hydrant motif and a bone-shaped handle, while the cat ones have fish and mice graphics and a fish-shaped handle.”

The new line is available in stores and on the Crate & Barrel website.

Martha, meanwhile — shown above during the taping of a commercial — has teamed up with PetSmart to premiere her Martha Stewart Pets line, which includes bowls, feeders, tote bags, toys, collars, leashes, beds and grooming accessories, all “designed with dogs and their owners in mind.”

Poop III: Transport your dog’s poop in style

With all the trouble dog poop seems to cause society (see Poop I and Poop II), it’s good to know that free enterprise is on the case.

From across the pond comes the Dicky Bag, an airtight, zip-able neoprene pouch designed to tote your nasty sack of dog poop to the nearest garbage receptacle in a clean and odor- free manner.

The Dicky Bag was created by a husband and wife team that left the rat race in London and moved to Cornwall to find a better life.

Barry Davies was an advertising account director, his wife a theatrical agent and operator of a dance and theater school. One of the first things they did after leaving the city was get a dog, leading them to quickly learn that ” along with all the good things a dog can bring to a family they also bring a lot of crap (and I mean that literally),” they say on their website.

“As responsible owners we always pick up our dog’s poo but are often then left with the problem of what to do with it then. There’s never a bin when you need one.”

The Davies, decided to create a hands-free, odor-free poop tote. Living in Newquay, a surfing hot spot, and home to many wetsuit shops, they took their idea to a neoprene factory — neoprene being lightweight, semi rigid and capable of forming an airtight seal.

After some refinements to the prototype, they’ve introduced the Dicky Bag, which has an airtight storage area for full bags, a dispensing area for clean bags and room to store a spare roll of clean bags.

They call their product “the No. 1 answer to dog’s No. 2′s.”

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