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Is this why “The Blue Boy” is blue?

The_Blue_Boy“The Blue Boy,” artist Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous work, featured a dog at one point in its evolution, and come September you’ll have a chance to see its ghostly image in person.

At some point in its creation, “The Blue Boy” lost his dog. Gainsborough painted over the fluffy white dog in the painting’s lower right hand corner, covering it with a pile of rocks.

Not until 1994, when an X-ray revealed the dog sitting by his master’s feet, did that become known to the world.

The painting’s ongoing restoration at The Huntington Library in California is now becoming an exhibit in itself, featuring a look at the painting’s history, mysteries, and artistic virtues, the revelations X-rays have provided over the years and explanations of the techniques being used to restore the work.

Project Blue Boy will open Sept. 22 at the Huntington, where the original painting has resided since 1921.

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Of course, the boy’s blueness had nothing to do with any feelings of melancholy; instead the painting depicts a young man who appears confident, proud of his station in life and maybe a little bit defiant, as if prepared to defend himself against any teasing about his frilly blue outfit and plumed hat.

The painting isn’t as vibrant as it once once, and that’s why the museum has undertaken the restoration project.

“Earlier conservation treatments have involved adding new layers of varnish as temporary solutions to keep it on view as much as possible,” said senior paintings conservator and “Project Blue Boy” co-curator Christina O’Connell.

“The original colors now appear hazy and dull and many of the details are obscured,” she added.

In addition to contributing to restoration research, the project will likely uncover new information of interest to art historians. O’Connell is using a Haag-Streit surgical microscope to closely examine the painting. To gather material information, she is employing imaging techniques including digital x-radiography, infrared reflectography, ultraviolet fluorescence, and x-ray fluorescence.

The restoration project has also uncovered an An L-shaped tear more than 11-inches long, which is believed to have dated back to the 19th century when the painting was in the collection of the Duke of Westminster.

The painting was sold in 1921 to railroad tycoon Henry Edwards Huntington, leading to an outcry among the English, who were horrified that “The Blue Boy” should leave his homeland. The sales price is believed to have been about $700,000, or about $9.3 million today, which made it the second most expensive painting in the world, behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child.

In 1939, an X-ray was taken of the painting that revealed the canvas had once been an incomplete painting of an older man. The dog didn’t appear in that X-Ray.

Many believe the painting pictured ironmonger Jonathan Buttall, the first owner of the painting, but the true identity of the model remains a mystery.

No one knows why Gainsborough decided to rid the painting of the dog, either.

O’Connell will continue her examination and analysis of “The Blue Boy,” and her efforts to restore it.

Visitors to the Huntington will be able to observe her at work in the Thornton Portrait Gallery on Thursdays, Fridays and select Sundays from Sept. 22 through January 2019, PasadenaNow.com reported.

The painting will get a final treatment and reframing after that and will be rehung in its former location in the Huntington’s portrait gallery in early 2020.

(Photos: At top, the original painting (ca. 1770), lower, the painting under digital x-radiography; courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens)

Guggenheim, citing threats, pulls controversial pit bull piece from exhibit

The Guggenheim Museum in New York has pulled from an upcoming exhibit an “artwork” that features, on video, four pairs of pit bulls on treadmills charging at each other.

Real dogs are used in the piece, titled “Dogs Cannot Touch Each Other,” but it is a video version of a performance staged live when it first appeared in Beijing in 2003.

It and two other works condemned by animal welfare activists will no longer be part of the exhibit when it opens Oct. 6.

The charging pit bull piece — a seven minute long video — is by artists Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, a husband and wife team (let’s hope they treat each other with a little more kindness) who, in the original exhibit, lined up four pairs of pit bulls, face to face, on eight treadmills.

The dogs charge towards each other, but never get more than a few inches away. Still, they keep at it, panting and drooling and becoming more and more stressed out and frustrated.

The Guggenheim initially responded to animal welfare concerns by saying it had no intention of removing the work from the exhibit.

But, just four days later, museum officials reconsidered.

guggenheim-gallery-exterior-lightAccording to a report from NPR, the Guggenheim will pull the pieces from its upcoming exhibit, “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.”

The museum blamed “explicit and repeated threats of violence,” but provided no details.

An online petition demanding the museum remove the works garnered more than 600,000 signatures since it was posted five days ago, and protesters gathered outside the museum on Saturday, holding signs that say “suffering animals is not art.”

Even after that, the Guggenheim defended the pit bull video, calling it on Thursday “an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control. We recognize that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”

But on Monday the museum relented under the pressure and said it was pulling that work and two others, citing threats of violence and concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and the artists.

“Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary,” the museum said in a statement. “As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art. Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.”

In another of the to-be-removed pieces, artist Xu Bing tattooed meaningless characters all over the bodies of two pigs, a boar and a sow, who were put on display, mating, in a museum exhibit in Beijing in 1994. The Guggenheim was to feature the video of that “performance” as well.

Also removed was a work featuring live animals — reptiles, amphibians, insects — that are trapped in a glass enclosure and proceed to eat and kill each other for the viewing pleasure of attendees.

Japanese robot dog can tell you if your feet are stinky

It’s one thing — one seemingly very strange thing — to build a robot whose only job is to tell us if our feet stink.

But to make it in the form of a fluffy little white dog? That’s a pretty odious, and odorous, task to assign to the species, even a robot member of the species, and it’s degrading to robot dogs everywhere — many of which perform far more important duties, like sitting, and laying down, and barking and fetching a ball.

This new odor-detecting technology comes from Japan, which leads the world in producing robot dogs.

Its name is Hana-chan, and the six-inch long robot dog from Next Technology has a built-in odor detection sensor in its nose that assesses just how malodorous you feet may be, according to Japan Times.

JAPAN-TECHNOLOGY-ROBOT-OFFBEATIf your feet are slightly smelly, Hana-chan will bark. If they are truly pungent, Hana-chan will faint and fall over on its side.

But not before spraying a little air freshener on your toes.

Hana is the Japanese word for nose and Chan is a common girl’s nickname.

Next Technology plans to start selling the robot dog in early 2018 — at about $900 each.

Now, as absurd as Hana-chan might seem, the product makes more sense when you consider the cultural context.

Traditional Japanese remove their shoes before entering a home — both their own and those of others.

Traditional Japanese are also respectful, and not as likely as, say, an American friend — or wife — to blurt out, “Jesus! Your feet stink.”

Next Technology says it created the robot in response to a request from a man who suspected he had a foot odor issue.

“He told us his daughter had said his feet were smelly . . . But he didn’t want to know how bad the odor was because he would feel hurt,” a company representative said. “That’s why we developed this cute robot.”

With the robot dog, people can avoid the embarrassment of being told their feet stink, or perhaps the even greater embarrassment of not being told and offending everyone in the room.

(Photo: Next Technology)

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.”

Petco clears shelves of Chinese jerky treats

jerky

Petco says it has pulled all Chinese-made dog and cat treats from store shelves, fulfilling a promise the chain made to customers last May.

“We know some pet parents are wary of dog and cat treats made in China, especially chicken jerky products, and we’ve heard their concerns,”  Jim Myers, Petco’s chief executive, said Monday — a good seven years after complaints first surfaced about chicken treats made in China sickening and killing dogs.

The FDA has been investigating the treats since 2007, but has yet to yet to establish a definite link to the deaths and sicknesses.

Thousands of pets have fallen ill — hundreds fatally — leading to 5,000 complaints of pet illnesses suspected to have been caused by chicken, duck, and vegetable jerky treats made in China.

Despite  steadily rising concerns, American companies continued to market the treats (under the names Waggin’ Tail and Milo’s Kitchen, among others), and the country’s largest pets stores, including Petco and PetSmart,  continued to sell them.

Petco,which has not sold China-made dog and cat foods for several years, announced last May that it would clear store shelves of the jerky treats. (We’re still not clear on why doing so would take seven months.)

PetSmart, which, like Petco, operates more than 1,300 stores nationally, has pledged to remove all Chinese-made pet treats from its stores by spring, according to the Washington Post.

Nestle Purina and Del Monte, which own the brands such Waggin’ Tail and Milo’s Kitchen, stopped selling chicken jerky dog treats made in China back in 2012, calling the shift precautionary.

The Petco announcement  applies only to treats made with jerky and rawhide, according to Lily Gluzberg, a spokesperson for the company.

The FDA has been unable to tie the illnesses specifically to Chinese-made pet foods, despite testing more than a thousand samples and  inspecting factories in China. But it continues to investigate.

Obie 4 and Obie after: Dachshund down to 35 pounds after excess skin removed

Like that light at the end of the tunnel, there’s now some light underneath Obie, the overfed dachshund.

And that’s even more the case after surgery yesterday to remove 2-1/2 pounds of loose skin from the dog who once tipped the scales at 77 pounds.

Obie was recovering at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic of Tualatin, in Oregon, after surgery to remove the excess skin that remained after he lost 40 pounds in 8 months.

Obie’s caretaker, Nora Vanatta, says the surgery went well and that she hopes to bring him home today, according to KGW in Portland.

Obie weighed 77 pounds when he was given up by his former owners in Puyallup, Washington, last year and assigned to a foster home by a rescue organization.

Oregon Dachshund Rescue placed Obie — that’s him to the left in his beefier days — in Vanatta’s care. But after his girth garnered national attention the organization asked for the dog back, claiming Vanatta — by publicizing his crash diet and seeking contributions to his care — was exploiting him.

When Vanatta refused to turn him over, they filed a lawsuit, accusing her of using the “sensationalistic promotional value of his unusual obesity” and “earning money off of his public exhibition on national and regional television shows,” while not taking care of his condition.

A settlement in the case was reached in January, allowing Vanatta to keep the dog.

Before the Tuesday surgery, Obie was down to 37 pounds and four ounces. 

“We haven’t weighed him since the surgery, but he lost 2 1/2 pounds of skin” Vanatta said. “So he should be around 35 pounds now. I figure his healthy weight is between 28 and 30 pounds.”

For now, he’s resting comfortably at the veterinary clinic (left), from which he’s expected to be released today — a few pounds lighter and his skin much tigher.

Vets will evaluate Obie to determine if more surgery is needed after he loses the last five pounds, a goal Vanatta hopes will be achieved late this summer.

Obie’s fight with obesity can be followed on the Facebook page Vanatta created on his behalf.

(Photos: KGW)

Nearly 200 pets seized from Arizona home

Pinal County Animal Care and Control officers seized 152 cats and 19 dogs from a home in Hidden Valley, Arizona, this week.

Seven officers arrived at the home to remove the animals, which took about eight hours. “It was shocking,” said Animal Care and Control Director Ruth Stalter. “This is the largest rescue from hoarding-type conditions in the history of Animal Care and Control.”

Six years ago, ABC15 reported, 98 animals were removed from the same home.

The animals that were removed will receive veterinary check-ups and put up for adoption. Residents interested in adopting animals can call the Citizen Contact Center at (520) 509-3555 or visit the shelter at 1150 S Eleven Mile Corner Road near the Pinal County Fairgrounds.