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Tag: security

Do we really need a “war” against dog poop?

In the annals of Gotham’s crimefighting superheroes, Abby Weissman might not go down as one of the all-time greatest.

But at least he will be noted for capturing a dog pooping on camera and, far more important, that doggie’s caretaker not picking it up.

Faster than a speeding bullet, he posted it on Facebook:

 

In the post, Weissman fires a first blow in his quest for justice, and calls upon others to join in fighting the scourge of canine caretakers who don’t pick up after their charges — by submitting photos and videos of scofflaws caught in the act to his block association’s Facebook page.

Weissman is president of the South Oxford Street Block Association in New York’s Fort Greene neighborhood.

The association started a “Dog Walkers Hall of Shame” campaign July 30, after his home security camera captured a dog walker, busy with her cell phone, walking away from the mess the dog had just deposited on the sidewalk in front of his house.

Weissman hopes a little public humiliation will be more effective than the seldom enforced “pooper scooper” law, and its $250 fines.

Since 2013, 63 “pooper scooper” violations have been issued in Brooklyn, DNAInfo reports. An officer must witness the incident to issue a summons, according to the Department of Sanitation.

Weissman, like any good superhero, seemed to take a great deal of pride in catching the scofflaw, at least on video. “We always wanted a photo or video or someone actually letting their dog shit and purposefully leaving it there. Here it is, thanks to Dropcam.”

I’m all for owners taking responsibility for what their dogs drop, and all for laws enforcing that. And I’m fine with fines.

I’m just not so sure we have to view it all in terms of a “war,” and I question whether all the high tech weapons being seized upon — like hidden cameras, and sending dog poop to laboratories to see if its DNA can be matched to a particular dog — are a bit of an over-reaction, better used on terrorists than people who don’t pick up dog poop.

I have a problem with public “shaming,” too — whether it’s being used on deadbeat dads, the customers of prostitutes, or those who fail to pick up dog waste. It reminds me of those stocks and pillories we used to punish wrongdoers in colonial times. I’d like to think we’ve become a little more civilized since then. And I’d like to think we’re smart enough to realize people who engage in shameful behavior often don’t have a huge sense of shame in the first place.

Most of all I’m puzzled about how we let something with such a simple solution become so huge, and gobble up so much time, money and technology. How much is being wasted sending dog waste through the mail for analysis in laboratories? How many hours did Weissman spend watching video to pinpoint the culprit who pooped in front of his house?

Sometimes I think our species is prone to escalating anything that can possibly escalated.

Perhaps a psychologist could explain that to me.

In the meantime, can’t we all just pick it up?

Bomb-sniffing dogs coming to Ohio campuses

osu

I’m all for dogs on college campuses, and all for campus security.

But news that the governor of Ohio wants every campus in the state to have its own bomb-sniffing dog troubles me — mostly for what it says about our times.

Youngstown State University was presented a bomb-sniffing dog Monday as part of a pilot program that officials eventually hope to expand throughout the state’s public universities, the Associated Press reported.

Bomb sniffing dogs were to be presented at Ohio State University yesterday and at Bowling Green State University today.

Kent State University already has one, and wants to get another.

Ohio’s public safety director, John Born, says it’s all part of Gov. John Kasich’s plans to strengthen school safety for students — from preschool to college age.

Born says the dogs can respond to threats and conduct security sweeps for large-scale events, such as athletic games or visits by dignitaries.

It costs more than $12,700 to buy each animal and pay for initial training and equipment. Ohio Homeland Security is covering the costs with federal grant money.

The universities provide the officers who become the dogs’ full-time handlers.

“There’s just not enough explosives dogs in the state for the need depending on where you are, so this is hopefully the beginning of a more comprehensive effort,” Born said.

Participating universities have to agree that the dogs will be available if there is an off-campus need, such as a threat at a high school.

(Photo: Ohio State University police officer Joanna Shaul and her canine, courtesy of Ohio State University)

LAX dogs provide different kind of security

pups

From an Irish wolfhound named Finn to a Rottweiler named Maggie Mae, 29 dogs of various breeds are providing a different kind of security for travelers at Los Angeles International Airport.

The dogs have been comforting frazzled travelers for a year now, through a program called PUP, or Pets Unstressing Passengers.

finnFinn started last November, the day after a gunman opened fire at Terminal 3 and left a Transportation Security Administration officer dead, according to the Los Angeles Times

“I think after the shooting, Finn attracted attention because he represented something comforting,” owner Brian Valente said in an airport statement. “As passengers asked questions about Finn and started to pet him, I could see their bodies relax and their demeanors change.”

The one-year anniversary of the program was marked yesterday at a meeting of the L.A. Board  of Airport Commissioners.

The dogs all wear bright red vests, and mingle with passengers in post-security-screening areas. The program is aimed at reducing the anxiety of travelers by letting them pet and play with the dogs.

The dogs are registered with Therapy Dogs, a national organization that supports pets that visit places such as hospitals, nursing homes and other special needs centers.

To see more of the dogs, click here.

(Photos: Los Angeles World Airports)

“60 Minutes” on bomb-sniffing dogs

60 Minutes looked at bomb-sniffing dogs in a report that, especially given last night’s other featured stories — on the Marathon bombing and the 9/11 Memorial — brought home not just how many lives they’ve saved in the military overseas, but how many more they might save here.

Reporter Lara Logan focused on the dogs of war, and the trainers that describe their canines as nearly infallible when it comes to detecting bombs.

But they’re not so infallible when explosive devices are planted after the dogs have made their sweeps, as apparently was the case at the Boston Marathon.

“Would an average police dog have found these bombs at the Boston Marathon …?” she asked trainer Mike Ritland.

“…Based on what I do know, yes,” Ritland said. “If dogs went through the areas where they were placed– you know, your average, certified police bomb dog should have found them. My thoughts are if these guys (the suspects) are paying close attention to these dogs, they’re waiting. And when the dogs leave, they bring it in, they hand– they infiltrate, essentially, they drop it right where it’s busy, and very soon after, it detonates.”

As the “60 Minutes” piece pointed out, since 9/11 dogs have been used more than ever because nothing is more effective in finding hidden bombs. Dogs in the employ of the military and FBI have sniffed out bombs, captured enemies, and one assisted Navy SEAL Team 6 when it took down Osama bin Laden. Much more of what they do, given the often secretive nature of their work, never becomes known.

“The best of them serve with U.S. Special Operations and they’re in a league of their own,” Logan noted. “It’s nearly impossible to get anyone to talk about them publicly because much of what they do is classified, but we were able to talk to the people who train them for this story. We took the opportunity to ask about what might have happened in Boston while getting a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of America’s most elite dogs.”

(One member of the “60 Minutes” team — in a segment not shown on the air but featured on 60minutesovertime.com – even volunteered to be chased down by a military dog in training in Texas. Producer Reuben Heyman-Kantor, in the video above, tried to outrun the dog, but was brought down quickly.)

In her interview with former Navy SEAL Ritland, who now finds and trains dogs for Special Operations and top tier units in the FBI, Logan asked, ”What can these dogs do on the streets of America?”

“The very same thing that they do for our boys overseas in that they detect explosives– they are a fantastic deterrent– they use their nose to find, you know, people as well,” Ritland said.

“Everybody knows that dogs can smell better than humans but what they don’t realize is that if you and I walk into the kitchen and there’s a pot of beef stew on the counter, you and I smell beef stew. A dog smells potatoes, carrots, beef, onion, celery, gravy, flour. They smell each and every individual component of everything that’s in that beef stew. And they can separate everyone one of those. You can’t hide anything from them. It won’t work because you can’t fool a dog’s nose.”

Ritland now trains dogs on his 20-acre ranch in rural Cooper, Texas, runs the Warrior Dog Foundation for retired war dogs, and is the author of “Trident K9 Warriors: My Tale From the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines.”

Ritland says its important — amid these days of budget cuts — to remember what lifesavers the dogs can be, both in wars and at home.

In Afghanistan, according to the report, 42 dogs have been killed in action. They’ve become so effective that the enemy is singling them out. A Taliban commander told “60 Minutes” that on his last operation they were ordered to open fire on the American dogs first, and deal with the soldiers next.

Logan visited what she said was one of only three breeders in the U.S. who produce dogs — almost always the Belgian Malinois — for top tier military units.

She also interviewed Green Beret Chris Corbin who, along with his dog Ax, almost died on their final mission in Afghanistan.

Corbin said he missed a signal from the dog while searching for mines. Ax was alerting to Corbin’s foot, but Corbin realized it too late. He lost both his lower legs. Ax was not wounded. Both returned to duty.

Ax was at Corbin’s side during the interview, and rarely took his eyes off his former partner as he described their first reunion after the blast.

“I just said something simple. ‘Hey, where’s my boy at?’ and he stopped. He froze. He looked around. And he went into a panic until he found me and he jumped on my legs. Painful. Just– I was just happy to see him. I didn’t care how much it hurt.”

Bella the boxer to the rescue

Joseph Thomas was pushing his 4-year-old daughter Jada on her swingset when two gunmen entered their back yard in Bradenton, Florida, and demanded money.

Bella, their boxer, and the other family dog, ran toward the men, who fired several errant shots before they ran off.

“If someone offered me a million dollars for her right now,” Thomas said of Bella, “I wouldn’t take it.”

My life in a box

It occured to me, when I heaved open the heavy metal door to the storage unit that has held most of my possessions for the past eight months — unveiling disarray, peppered with mouse poop – that what was revealed wasn’t just a metaphor for my life.

It was my life — up to now — in a box.

Virtually all my worldly possessions, except my dog — and, though he’s worldly, I don’t really possess him — are in there.

Cash value? Not much. Emotional value? Depends on which box you open. Overall importance? Given the fact that I didn’t miss any of it in eight months, next to nothing.

But when I moved out of my house in Baltimore to hit the road with my dog last May, I packed it all, and hauled it all, and stacked it all and secured it all with big strong lock.

Because, for me to be truly liberated, all my stuff had to be incarcerated.

We in the free world are slaves to our stuff. We are slaves to our jobs, which allow us to get more stuff. We are slaves to our mortgages, and utility bills, and the Internet and other technology we grow to depend on. Most of all, we are slaves to health insurance.

That, maybe more than anything — especially for those 40 and above — is why we stay in jobs we hate. Sometimes we hate them so much it makes us physically sick — especially when our workload quadruples so that stockholders can get a second yacht. But that’s OK because we have health insurance.

I gave up my regular job — with a salary and health insurance — more than two years ago at the age of 55. It was scary then. It’s scary now.

Unable to afford both health insurance and housing, I’ve opted to go with an alternative health plan whose protocol will be followed in the event of serious illness. It’s known as CIACAD (Crawl Into A Corner And Die.)

For my dental plan, I’ve chosen LTARAFO (Let Them All Rot And Fall Out).

For vision — it being more important than to me than life or chewing — I’ll likely pay my own way, as opposed to going with SAGAMG (Shutup And Get A Magnifying Glass).

I need to check into all these health insurance reforms, but my guess is whatever Obama-care benefits might apply to me probably, with my luck, are scheduled to kick in the day after I die.

But this post isn’t about death. It’s about life, and how we choose to live it — and how that, for most of us, is in a really big box, divided up into smaller boxes, some with plumbing and appliances, and all, of course, filled with stuff.

All my stuff, when it wasn’t scattered from room to room, fit nicely into a one-car-garage-sized storage compartment.

I started off loading it in a very organized manner, but running out of time, sped up to the point that much of it isn’t organized at all. Some boxes are labeled; others are mysteries. There are many boxes that say books, but there are only four or five books I need right now, and going through 20 boxes to find them – all of course trapped back at the very rear of the unit — would be a real time absorber.

So how is my storage unit a metaphor for my life?

First, it’s in disarray. I’m guessing an x-ray of my brain would look a lot like the inside of my storage unit. My stuff is not organized, not immediately locatable. My stuff is in limbo. My stuff, like me, has no idea where it will be a year from now.

There are some treasures in there. A baseball with Willie Mays’ autograph; photos of my son arriving from Korea; the goofy white cap I had to wear at my first job, selling burgers; my Pulitzer Prize (it’s just a sheet of paper); yellowed newspaper stories written nearly 35-plus years ago.

There are four or five boxes of strictly sentimental value. They contain memories. But I don’t remember where they are.

The stuff I need — certain books, forks, long underwear — are all buried somewhere at the back of the unit. The stuff I have no use for right now – my bicycle, golf clubs, tennis rackets — are all right at the front.

Part of me thinks it would be nice to have a place of my own, where I could unpack my stuff and organize it and live amongst it. Part of me thinks that would again make me a slave to my stuff, and all those previously mentioned other things that tie us down.

Here is what I am wondering — after the eight months Ace and I lived in a boat, trailer, tent, my car, cheap motel rooms, and the homes of friends and strangers as we traversed the U.S.:

Is what’s stuffed in that big metal box my life? Or, is my life over there, down that road winding into the horizon?

Do we treasure our past and present to the point that we shortchange our future? Is it possible, for those eking out an existence — as opposed to rolling in money — to have both security and adventure? Is it possible to properly nourish relationships with friends and family — in more than a superficial Facebook kind of way — without living right where they live?

In a way, it should be less complicated for me, having no “partner,” except for my big fuzzy one; having not just an empty nest, but no nest at all.

I should be able to figure this out.

If you’re wondering who that woman is in the back of the storage unit, that’s my beer sign lady — a cardboard cut-out, who, like much of my furniture, I rescued from a Dumpster. I picked her up last winter, but, in the months that followed, found her a bit one-dimensional and not at all good at conversation.

When I moved my stuff into storage, I assigned her the task of watching over it all.

She did a lousy job.

Somehow, all my (mostly) neatly stacked boxes started leaning, and teetering, and falling. She did nothing, and apparently wasn’t much help in scaring visiting mice away.

I think, when I finally do locate myself, I will get rid of her.

The bigger decision, though, is where I belong — warmly ensconced in a home of my own, or among the realm of vagabonds, like those RV nomads who kept their wanderlust in check until retirement kicked in and have been happily rolling along ever since?

When the road calls again, and I’m sure it will, will I answer?

The road to financial insecurity

I found 1975 again — right where I left it.

For this story, you need to go back to the year you entered the real world, the working world, the man-up (or woman-up), you’re-on-your-own-now world.

For me, it was at age 21 — like many I was able to forestall my entry into it with college — but, during my senior year, I started looking for a job in journalism. After more rejection than I care to remember, I finally got an offer — to be a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

There was a three-month probationary period and, self confidence never having been my strong suit, I decided – here in what appeared to me, as an easterner, a lonely and alien land of dust and cacti — to live somewhere I wouldn’t have to sign a year-long lease.

That’s how I ended up at the Howdy Manor.

It was old even then, as were all the other little motels that lined Benson Highway — a once major thoroughfare that, when the Interstate came, saw its clientele turn from tourists to transients.

The 1940s and 1950s vintage motels, with rare exception, had lost their charm – places like the Eagle’s Nest, on whose sign pigeons now  squat.

The Howdy Manor wasn’t nearly as hospitable as its name sounded, but it had a kitchenette, and it was close to the newspaper, and the price was right, given my $160 a week starting salary — $5 a night, if you signed up for a full week.

At first, it was a depressing little place, full of people I didn’t think I wanted to meet. And given my shift, I didn’t. I worked 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., spending most of that time at the Tucson Police Department, waiting for crimes to occur. (Now there’s no waiting). The captain was Linda Ronstadt’s brother, and the desk sergeant was a big man with a mustache man who always greeted me the same way when I came in: “How’s your hammer hangin’?”

I was always a little intimidated by the question, and try as I might to come up with an appropriate answer — “Oh, it’s hangin’,” or “quite well, thank you” — I never did.

In the wee hours of the morning, I’d get back to Howdy Manor, lock my door, turn on the TV — I’m pretty sure it was black and white — and heat up something on the stove to eat while I watched Perry Mason reruns, until falling asleep. Around noon, I would wake up, eat, shower and it would be time for work again.

My stay at the Howdy Manor — I can’t remember now if it was for only one month or all three, before I moved into a modern, boring apartment – came during one of only two two-year periods in my life that I didn’t have a dog. I probably could have used one. I was, except for work, leading the insular life I’m prone to slip into.

That, though maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, was why I got into journalism — to force myself into the world, to force myself to meet people, to force myself to learn new things. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, despite the fact that the industry’s hammer hasn’t been hanging to well for more than a decade now.

The point is, the time came, there at the Howdy Manor, that I got tired of being in my room, that I ventured out and met its other denizens — or at least those who weren’t bigger recluses than me. And I found them — just as I found the people I’d encounter on the job, which took me, in siren-chasing pursuit, to neighborhoods of every ilk – fascinating.

That is probably when, rather than ignoring and evading oddballs, I started seeking them. That’s when I began to realize that the common man isn’t really common at all, and I’d much rather rub elbows with him than schmoozers in suits.

So, as another leg of my six-month journey with my dog across America came to a close, I decided I needed to visit the Howdy Manor, or at least where it once stood, before my planned month-long layover in Phoenix. 

To my surprise, when I looked it up on the Internet, it seemed to still exist — mostly in newspaper crime reports, some of which provided the address.

But when I hit Benson Highway earlier this week, I couldn’t find the Howdy Manor, or the address. Eventually, I realized the relevant portion of the highway, rather than having disappeared, is still there; it’s just a matter of making a couple of turns after it seemingly comes to a stop. I found the proper block and drove slowly down it — passing the Lariat, the Western, the Bucking Bronc and several other motels and trailer parks with cowboy names. But not, as far as I could see, the Howdy Manor.

The block looked a little more faded, a little more battered – but pretty much otherwise exactly as it did when I left it. It could still be 1975 there.

I was headed back up the block when I spotted my former home. One side of its sign is blown out, so it’s visible only to the westbound traveler.

Today’s Howdy Manor appears even more down at the heels than it was when I — fearful and uncertain, young and naive — became a resident. It’s a little more worn and torn, and the plywood cowboy who I recall stood waving his hat in welcome is gone now, replaced by a sandwich board sign, supported by cinderblocks.

I pulled over, and was immediately approached by a young woman who asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I answered, I’m just looking. I used to live here. Thirty-five years ago. It was five dollars a night.”

It’s now $99 a week, she pointed out, and $20 a night. That’s what her brother pays. She pointed me in direction of manager, and I knocked on the door.

A girl with blue hair and multiple face piercings opened it, and called her mother. When she came to the door, I told her I used to live there, 35 years ago, and that it was only $5 a night. She was unmoved and unimpressed.

“Do you want a room?”

“No,” I answered, “but could you give me the name of the owner? I’d like to talk to him”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“To learn more about the history of the place,” I answered.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“So I can write about it.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I’m a writer.”

Our conversation seemed to be going in circles, so I thanked her, excused myself and got back in the car, leaving a trail of dust in my wake as I pulled out.

Back on Benson Highway, I thought back to the old days, and compared them to my current ones. Back then, I managed to make it through my probationary period, to learn the ropes, and to fall in love with the desert and Tucson. After three years there, I spent 30 more in a newspaper career that wasn’t entirely undistinguished.

When I left the business, I wrote a book, and continued to write my own website, making about enough in the latter pursuit to afford the modern-day Howdy Manor, if I paid by the week.

In some ways, I’m even more insecure than I was when I moved into my motel room with a kitchenette in Tucson 35 years ago. I have no real job, no health insurance, no boss, no salary — not even a salaryette.

But, two years after departing the newspaper industry, I continue — stupidly, maybe — doing the thing I love and know how to do: seek out stories and write them. I continue to occupy, like some kind of squatter, my former occupation.

Why?

Because I’m a writer, dammit.

And that, good sir, is how my hammer hangs.