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Tag: protection

Protecting animals just got a lot harder

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For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.

APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.

The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.

lolitakillerwhaleAnimal welfare organizations say the removal of the information will allow animal abuse to go unchecked.

“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.

The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.

In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”

Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.

Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.

The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.

beagle-5The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.

“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”

The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.

The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.

“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”

monkeyThe searchable database allowed anyone to check government regulation of how animals are treated at about 9,000 zoos, circuses, research laboratories, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.

“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.

“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”

“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”

The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.

HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.

The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.

In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.

“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.

“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the statement added.

rabbitYesterday, the USDA released another statement, saying the change had nothing to do with the new administration:

“In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”

Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.

Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:

“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”

Beware of “Beware of dog” signs

beware

There’s nothing funny about home security.

Well, maybe a couple of things.

There are some “Beware of the dog” type signs that are pretty funny in themselves, such as the one above.

And there are some that aren’t funny until you see the dog the sign is warning you about. Like this one (keep scrolling):

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The photos here are part of a collection posted by Shareably.net.

The “Beware of dog” sign is the poor man’s version of home protection.

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Sometimes there is no actual dog behind the warning, which I’m pretty sure is sometimes also the case with those “This home protected by (security company name here)” signs.

I was going to make up a fake one for Ace Home Security, named after my previous dog, Ace. Ace Home Security, in reality, would consist of that sole sign and a very large dog who, in reality, would greet intruders with wagging tail and slobbery kisses. In other words it would be entirely wireless.

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Those ads for home security systems and companies often make me laugh, too — especially when they feature comical drawings in which the burglars wear eye masks and are dressed in striped prison garb.

Do they wear that so they’ll be ready, fashion-wise, when they get arrested and sent to prison?

Such security systems are pretty fancy nowadays, and some even confront intruders with a verbal warning, as in “CPI Security! Identify yourself!”

Identify yourself?

What do they expect the burglar to say in response to that?

“I’m Tom Delaney, from Shreveport, Louisiana. I’m 25 years old, and have been burgling for, oh, about six years now. I’m married to my lovely wife, Cindy, and we have three wonderful kids, Tom Jr., Doug and Melissa. My hobbies include Tai Chi and stamp collecting.”

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“Beware of Dog” signs have some advantages over home security systems. You don’t have to remember a password, or put up with false alarms, and they are far cheaper. On top of that, you don’t have to feed them, or groom them, or clean up after them, or take them to the vet.

Still, we must point out, those who just get the sign and not the dog are missing out.

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(Photos: Shareably.net)

It’s all good, American Humane CEO says

Suddenly, it seems, that video of a dog being coerced into a pool during the filming of “A Dog’s Purpose” is not so “disturbing” at all.

When the video was first leaked, by TMZ, even the makers of the movie — all avoiding any responsibility for what might have happened — all said at least some aspects of it appeared disturbing.

But in the week leading up to the film’s release, the reassurances that nothing bad happened have poured out — from the author of the popular book of the same name, from the star of the movie, Dennis Quaid, from its producer, even from Ellen Degeneres.

And now even the CEO of the non-profit organization that is supposedly “investigating” the incident(s) seems to be saying — before the investigation is even concluded — that nothing inappropriate happened.

Dr. Robin Ganzert, CEO of the American Humane Association — the agency that monitors the safety of animals in movie productions — said in a piece written for Variety that the leaked video was “misleading” and “edited” and reflects no wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

“The beautiful story opens at the box office this weekend mired in controversy stemming from the release of an edited video manipulated in an effort to mischaracterize the behind-the-scenes treatment of the film’s four-legged stars,” she wrote.

The film’s official release date is today.

The viral video has provoked a call for a boycott of the movie by PETA, and some conflicting feelings even among dog lovers — both those who insist the German shepherd, named Hercules, is being mistreated, and those who say the edited video is not to be trusted.

The video shows the dog being nudged and coerced to get into a churning pool of water. He had performed the stunt gladly in rehearsals, but the location of where he was entering the pool had been changed on the day of filming.

He clearly resists getting in, and struggles to get out during the first 45 seconds of the video. Another piece of video was edited onto that, showing the dog, on a different day, swimming in the pool before going underwater, at which point someone yells “cut it” and the dog is helped out of the pool.

To restate our take on all this: That second snippet of video is too short, out of context and blurry to draw any conclusions from. The first 45 seconds, in our view, shows a dog being pushed more than a dog performing a stunt in a movie should be pushed. The stunt was called off that day, but not soon enough.

Is that a crime? No. Should it result in the movie being boycotted? We vote no, but that’s up to you. Should there be repercussions — say a warning, or a fine? Probably, but the agency that would impose that appears to have already made up its mind.

Should the makers of the movie, somewhere along the line, admit to an iota of responsibility for what was a small mistake on the set of the movie they were making? Should they make some amends, maybe offering a percentage of opening week receipts to dog-related charities (likely not PETA)?

Well, that would be classy — a whole lot classier than circling the wagons, denying responsibility, and launching a public relations effort to rescue, not a dog, but their movie.

Yesterday, Dennis Quaid defended the movie on The Today Show, and then did the same on Ellen.

Meanwhile, in her piece for Variety, Ganzert acknowledged that the dog “appeared to show signs of resistance” to getting in the water. The rest of the piece is a defense of the movie, a diatribe against PETA and more questioning of why the video was leaked a year and a half after it was taken.

But what about those 45 seconds?

“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) swiftly called for a boycott of the film, and has since continued to exploit — and further sensationalize — the controversy as an opportunity to argue that the animal actors who enchant and educate audiences don’t belong on the Silver Screen,” Ganzert continued.

But what about those 45 seconds?

“A full spectrum of rigorous safety measures was in place to protect the dog throughout this particular scene,” she added. “In addition to one of American Humane’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives, five individuals –including scuba divers and animal handlers — were present on the set at the time to ensure the safety of the dog.”

But what about those 45 seconds?

Here is what I would like to hear from the AHA — were the methods used trying to get Hercules in the water during those 45 seconds acceptable to them? Was the level of stress the dog was allowed to reach acceptable? Should a dog be allowed to get stressed at all during the filming of a movie stunt?

AHA suspended the monitor it had assigned to the film pending the results of the “third-party” investigation it says has been launched.

But with the publication of his Variety article, it’s pretty clear what Ganzert and the AHA want that “ongoing” investigation to find.

Dog’s can’t talk. Dogs don’t have a union. If the American Humane Association has appointed itself as their guardian in Hollywood — and is soliciting our donations to carry out that mission — we’d like to think it is objective, vigilant and doesn’t give a hot damn about the profit margins of movie makers.

In that respect, Ganzert’s article, on the eve of the movie’s release, is not too reassuring.

As for the movie’s makers, we’d like to think that your production treated dogs in a manner as sweet as your movie’s message and that, if you didn’t, even in small way that has been blown out of proportion, you are at least a little bit sorry it.

NY law will require educational institutions to find homes for dogs used in research

Dogs used in scientific research would need to be considered for adoption before they can be routinely euthanized under legislation passed this week in New York.

The measure — focused on beagles because they are most commonly bred for research use — has been sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law, WGRZ reports.

The Research Animal Retirement Act — also referred to as the “Beagle Freedom Bill” — would require all educational institutions that use dogs or cats in research to establish adoption programs.

The law would mandate that a veterinarian determine whether a beagle or other animal that is no longer useful to researchers is medically suitable for adoption. If approved for adoption, the animal would then be shipped to a shelter or given to an interested owner.

Similar laws have been passed in Nevada, California, Minnesota, and Connecticut.

“This bill, once it is signed into law, will mean that research animals will have a chance at a second life,” said one sponsor of the legislation, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan.

“All animals, being freed of their testing responsibilities, should be afforded the opportunity of a loving, forever home to live the remainder of their days,” said another, Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Suffolk County.

The The Beagle Freedom Project — whose work is featured in the video above — has mounted campaigns in several more states to get the law passed.

The New York law requires publicly-funded higher education research facilities to take reasonable steps to provide for the adoption of dogs and cats when they are no longer being used for scientific research.

While federal laws regulate animal research, they do not protect dogs and cats from being euthanized when their services are no longer needed.

Some research facilities, however, have instituted their own adoption programs.

“These dogs and cats deserve to live normal lives as companion animals once their time in the laboratory ends,” said Brian Shapiro, New York state director for The Humane Society of the United States.

“People who have adopted former research dogs and cats can attest to the resilience and affection of these animals once they are given the chance to flourish in a home environment,” he said.

Does your dog need protective body armor?

coyotevest

It may make your dog look like he’s a mix of punk rocker and porcupine, but otherwise we won’t poke too much fun at this protective vest, aimed at keeping dogs — especially smaller ones — safe from coyotes and other predators.

It was designed and is being marketed by a San Diego couple that lost their dog to a coyote. They started the business last year.

“Our goal is to help prevent others from experiencing the heartbreak we suffered when our beloved Buffy was killed,” Paul and Pam Mott say on the website for the Coyote Vest.

The basic vest goes for $70. It is made of Kevlar and has a spiked collar area.

coyotewhiskersFor another $20, you can get additional hard plastic spikes running down the sides of the vest. For another $20 you can get the attachable nylon, quill-like “whiskers,” designed to poke the face and eyes of any attacking predator.

And for $60 more, you can add on the “CoyoteZapper,” allowing you to use a remote device to send an electrical jolt to any creature that might be trying to run off with your small dog in its mouth.

“​The CoyoteZapper utilizes a dog training collar capable of delivering a painful shock. But instead of shocking your dog in the neck, it shocks the coyote in the mouth,” the website says.

While marketed as coyote protection, the website points out that the vest, and zapper strips, can also protect your dog from dog park bullies — or even another larger dog at home that may not be treating the smaller one with proper respect.

“…Zapper Strips are attached to either side of the CoyoteVest in such a way that it is practically impossible for a larger dog to pick up your small dog without his mouth touching both of them at the same time. If you push the button on the remote to activate the shock module the voltage will be directed though the Zapper Strips directly into the mouth of the attacker. The shock is harmless, but painful enough to make the attacker let go.”

We’ve never been fans of zapping dogs with electricity, for whatever purpose, and using them as conductors thereof is a little problematic, too — though we’ll admit to briefly wondering whether similar protective wear might be effective in keeping school bullies at bay. (In reality, the outfit would likely only lead to more teasing.)

Effective as the Coyote Vest might be in saving a small dog from a coyote or hawk, we’re not sure — for similar reasons — whether the protective vest, or at least its attachments, belong in a dog park. It could end up drawing attention from curious dogs, including a few who might mistake your little one for a chew toy.

The Motts say the fully equipped vests do draw attention, at least from humans.

When they took their dogs Cody, Scooter and Sparky (yes, Sparky!) to the 2015 Carmel Poodle Day Parade dressed in their vests “everybody thought they were the most adorable ‘punk rock’ costumes created just for fun. They really are a lot cooler looking than we expected.”

(Photos: Coyotevest.com)

Correction: Dogs can wear 4-legged pants

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Last week we scoffed at the whole Internet debate over dog pants — mainly over the idea that they should be debated at all, but also over the gone-viral graphic that showed a dog wearing pants that covered all four legs.

dogpantsThe latter, we concluded, was a ridiculous idea, for there is no way those pants (see left) would ever stay up, no matter how tightly their belt was cinched.

We should have done more research.

If there’s one thing we should have learned in eight years of dog-blogging, it’s that if there is any conceivable product for dogs that can be marketed to dog owners, no matter how ridiculous, it’s probably on the market.

Not that we’re calling these four-legged pants ridiculous.

????????????????????????????????????????????????Muddy Mutts allow a dog to walk or run through mud puddles without getting his legs or underside splattered

They go for $65 for extra extra small sizes, up to $95 for extra large.

They are held in place by suspender-like straps that loop over the dog’s back.

And, as for the issue that is at the forefront of most people’s minds when they consider dogs wearing pants, these do not cover up those areas that need to remain uncovered.

“Muddy Mutts are designed to allow both male and female dogs to do their ‘business,’” the website says.

Muddy Mutts were designed by a professional dog groomer in rural Ontario, Canada, who was looking for a way to keep dogs from getting so muddy when they go for walks.

They’ve undergone a couple of redesigns since first hitting the market in 2013.

So, not to reignite the whole dog pants debate or anything, but I’ve got to admit these four-legged pants make more sense than two-legged pants on a dog, which after all are doing only half the job — assuming the job is to protect the dog or keep him dry.

If your purpose for putting pants on a dog is only to make him look more human, our position remains the same:

Find a new hobby.

(Photos from Muddy Mutts; graphic from Facebook)

Oddball: How a dog saved the little penguins

Take a vulnerable colony of tiny penguins, throw in some villainous foxes intent on killing them all, and top it off with a heroic dog who comes to the rescue, and you’ve got a plot line that might make Walt Disney himself jump out of his grave (or freezer if you believe that tall tale).

This tale is based on a true one, though — how the little penguins of Middle Island, off the coast of Australia, saw their population drop from more than 800 to less than five before a local farmer suggested a dog on the island could keep the foxes away.

It may be a feelgood movie now — and how could it not be given it features penguins (everybody’s favorite animal) and dogs (everybody’s favorite animal) — but the story, when first widely publicized, was a nightmarish one.

Little-PenguinIn October of 2004, 180 penguins were found dead on the island, just off the coast of Victoria.

The penguins had already all but disappeared from Australia’s mainland by then. Once common along Australia’s southern coast, the flightless birds began diminishing in number after red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century.

Before long, the only surviving little penguins– once known as fairly penguins — were to be found on islands.

In the late 1990’s, tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make small and uninhabited Middle Island accessible from the shore, and the foxes took advantage of the island’s easy prey — even when those seeking to preserve the penguins experimented with various solutions, including building shelters for the birds on the island.

The 2004 incident, labeled a “massacre” by the local press, led to some serious consideration of a solution that had been proposed by a local chicken farmer.

The farmer, who goes by the name Swampy Marsh, had offered to send one of his Maremma dogs to the island to protect the birds.

Named for the region northwest of Rome where they originated, the dogs were bred to live among livestock. While vigilant and territorial, they are generally amiable toward people they know and the animals they are trained to protect.

In 2006, the first Maremma, named Oddball, was sent to the island. Since then Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox, according to a New York Times article last month.

Oddball is retired now, and six other dogs have taken over patrolling the island, including the most recent two, Eudy and Tula.

The dogs operate in the penguin’s breeding season, usually from October to March, during which they spend five or six days a week on the island.

Even when the dogs are not there, their lingering scent of them is enough to keep the foxes away — even though the penguins have quite a scent of their own.

“Penguins don’t smell particularly nice,” Peter Abbott, manager of tourism services for the Warrnambool City Council, told the Times. “They look cute and cuddly, but they smell like dead fish.” The dogs are taught to defend the penguins as they commonly do with other kind of livestock.

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Local groups managing the project recently raised more than $18,000 online to buy and train two new Maremma pups, and the new movie has given their efforts a boost.

The movie focuses on Oddball, portraying her as a mischievous sort who spent most of her time trying to stay one step ahead of the local dogcatcher. Then she is given a mission — protecting the penguins — redeeming herself and saving the colony.

The real Oddball is 14 now, and spends most of her time under Marsh’s house — not to avoid celebrity seekers, but because she likes it there.

“She comes out when she wants to,” Marsh said.

(Photos: Penguin photo from animalspot.net; Photo of Peter Abbott with Eudy and Tula on Middle Island by Rob Gunstone / Queensland Country Life)