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Tag: stress

AHA concludes no animals were harmed in the making of “A Dog’s Purpose”

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As expected, the American Humane Association announced that an investigation into the treatment of a dog on the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” confirmed that — like their seal of approval says — no animals were harmed during the making of the movie.

The AHA said the investigation was conducted by a “respected animal cruelty expert,” who concluded that an edited video given to the website TMZ “mischaracterized” the events on the set.

“The decisions by the individual or individuals who captured and deliberately edited the footage, and then waited longer than 15 months to release the manipulated video only days before the movie’s premiere, raise serious questions about their motives and ethics,” the AHA said in a statement.

hercThe AHA (almost as an aside) did admit that Hercules, the German shepherd performing the stunt in question, showed signs of stress that should have been recognized earlier, and efforts to get the dog into the water should have been “gentler.”

Apparently it has no plans to further pursue that piece of the controversy — the one that initially led one actor and the executive producer to say the dog did not appear to have been handled correctly.

The video that aired on TMZ was actually two videos, shot on different days and spliced together in editing — the result of which was misleading, the AHA says, because it makes it appear the dog, after resisting going in the water and becoming stressed, was made to go back into the water.

“The first video scene was stopped after the dog showed signs of stress. The dog was not forced to swim in the water at any time,” the organization said.

While acknowledging attempts to get the dog in the water might have gone on too long, and been a little heavy handed, the investigation didn’t deem that “harmful” to the dog.

The dog resisted going into the pool after the location where he was to enter it had changed.

As for the second part of the video — showing the dog going under the churning water before someone on the set yells “cut it” — the AHA said:

“Handlers immediately assisted the dog out of the water, at which point he was placed in a warming tent and received an examination that found no signs of stress. Eyewitnesses report that the dog wanted to go back in the water. Still, out of an abundance of caution, American Humane stopped filming of any more scenes with the dog.”

The findings of the investigation come as no surprise, given AHA CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert said last week, in a piece she wrote for Variety, that the video was “misleading” and “edited” and reflected no wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

It seemed an unusual statement for the head of the watchdog group to be making, especially before the investigation was completed. While the video’s release was clearly timed to hurt the movie — or at least bring those who provided it to TMZ a maximum payoff — Ganzert’s piece was clearly timed to help the movie.

Ganzert’s piece focused more on the leaking of the video — 15 months after it was shot and in the week before the movie’s release — than on what it showed. She focused primarily on PETA, which called for a boycott of the film based on the video.

In its statement on the results of the investigation, AHA again spends at least as much time bashing PETA as it does on the handler’s questionable efforts to get the dog into the pool, as shown in the video, or whether the monitors they assigned to the film stopped those efforts soon enough.

“It is disappointing that the public was misled by a manufactured controversy promoted by a radical organization like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with a mission to remove animals from films and other parts of our lives,” Dr. Kwane Stewart, the veterinarian who heads American Humane’s ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ program is quoted as saying in the statement.

“We are the first to address and fight cruelty and abuse, and no such things happened on the set of ‘A Dog Purpose,'” he added.

PETA didn’t leak the video, but it did call for a boycott of the movie after it aired on TMZ, which has not said how much they paid for it, or who provided it.

In a report on the investigation’s findings, TMZ said that the AHA statement “virtually ignores criticism from the movie’s Exec Producer that they were asleep at the wheel.”

Producer Gavin Polone, while bad-mouthing PETA as well, said shortly after the video’s release that its first scene clearly showed an over-stressed dog, and that the AHA monitor on set should have stopped the stunt immediately.

Actor Josh Gad, who supplies the voice of the dogs featured in the movie, also said the video was disturbing and the scene should have been stopped as soon as the dog showed resistance to getting in the water.

(Our earlier reports on “A Dog’s Purpose” can be found here.)

Study finds dogs prefer reggae

A new study by the Scotland SPCA and the University of Glasgow reveals that dogs have a preference for reggae music.

The study concluded that, while each dog has its own musical preferences, reggae and soft rock were the two most favored genres of the five that shelter dogs were exposed to during the tests.

“Overall, the response to different genres was mixed highlighting the possibility that like humans, our canine friends have their own individual music preferences,” said Neil Evans, professor of integrative physiology at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine.

“That being said, reggae music and soft rock showed the highest positive changes in behavior,” he added.

Five types of music were played for the shelter dogs used in the experiment — Motown, pop, classical, soft rock and reggae, according to the BBC.

The dogs’ heart rates showed a decrease in stress levels while listening to soft rock and reggae, and researchers suspect that could have something to do with the tempo and repetitive themes of those genres.

The experiments were conducted at a rehoming center in Dumbarton, and based on its findings the Scottish SPCA says it plans to invest in sounds systems for all its kennels.

“At present both our Glasgow and Edinburgh centers are able to pipe music into their kennels,” said Gilly Mendes Ferreira, education and research manager. In the future every center will be able to offer our four-footed friends a canine-approved playlist, with the view to extending this research to other species in our care.”

Scotland’s animal welfare charity released research in 2015 that showed classical music led dogs to become more relaxed, but that those effects were only short term.

Both that study and the new one were published in the journal Physiology and Behaviour.

(The video above, showing a dog howling along with a Bob Marely song, is unconnected to the study and not presented here as either anecdotal or scientific proof of absolutely anything)

Hercules and the heart of the matter

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As I suspected when the story broke, video of a frightened dog being … let’s say, strongly encouraged, to get into a pool during the filming of a “A Dog’s Purpose” has led to an explosive response from dog lovers on the Internet.

What I didn’t suspect was so many saying we should withhold judgment.

Here’s an example from my own Facebook page — a comment in response to either my ohmidog! post, or a previous comment from a reader who had decided not to see the movie. It urges viewers of the video not to “rush to crucifixion”:

“I also know that there are HOURS of footage to the contrary which this was conveniently edited from, and calculatedly released just prior to the film’s premiere. A PETA plant, I believe. I also personally know several people behind this film. I know how shocked, appalled, stunned, mortified they were. I know they immediately sought answers, spent all of yesterday viewing all TRUE, raw film from this exact scene shoot as well as several prior rehearsals … Closed minds, open mouths, soapboxes, rushing to judgment, social media & MEDIA are DANGEROUS TO GOOD PEOPLE.”

dogspurposePeruse social media and you’ll find, for every 10 people expressing outrage, at least one saying the video was edited (as it clearly was), that there’s a conspiracy afoot (as is likely) and that we shouldn’t have an opinion about what we see on the video until we see it “in context.”

Guess what? I don’t, in this case, need context. Show me hours of footage of Hercules, the German shepherd, being pampered by his handlers and it won’t make a whit of difference.

Even the author of the best-selling book the movie is based on, while admitting mistakes were made, is spinning things as positively as possible.

“…When I was on set, the ethic of everyone was the safety and comfort of the dogs,” W. Bruce Cameron wrote on his Facebook page. “I have since viewed footage taken of the day in question, when I wasn’t there, and it paints an entirely different picture.”

“The dog was not terrified and not thrown in the water — I’ve seen footage of Hercules earlier that day joyfully jumping in the pool,” he added.

Again, it’s the argument that the dog was mostly treated right. That’s good to know, but not the least bit relevant.

The 45 seconds showing the handler nudge, push and lower the dog in the water against his will make it clear he was frightened, resistant and stressed — and that should have been enough to call off the stunt, at the outset.

That eventually they maybe did, for that day, or for that dog, doesn’t change the 45 seconds.

The producer, the director, and one of the stars have all said they found the video disturbing. The American Humane Association agrees, and they’ve placed the representative they assigned to monitor the movie on leave.

And yet the apologists — motivated maybe by their love of the book, or by their hate for PETA, or by their ties to industries that exploit dogs — keep saying it is too early to say anything bad occurred.

That said, what the video shows is only borderline abuse, if it’s abuse at all. Hercules was not physically harmed. In the history of animals in the entertainment industry, far worse things have happened, which is why this IS a story and why vigilance and monitoring are necessary in movie productions involving live animals.

Pursuing criminal charges, or a boycott of the movie (as PETA is calling for), may be over-reactions. I won’t say what the video shows meets the legal definition for animal cruelty.

But stating this is not proper treatment for an animal in a movie? I have no qualms with doing that. And I have no problem pointing out perfectly realistic results could have been achieved with computer graphics.

After Hercules went in and out of the churning water — outboard motors were used to create the effect of river rapids — the video cuts to another scene showing a German shepherd in the water, and going under it, for long enough that someone on the set shouted “cut it” and handlers rushed to his aid.

Some reports suggest that part of the video was taken on a different day, and could have even involved a different dog.

That second part of the video, I’d agree, though it does seem to convey a little bit of alarm on the set, is so short and blurry that it does require some context.

But pointing out flaws in the video, or the questionable motivations of those who provided it to TMZ (probably for a fee), does nothing to excuse the behavior on set — or the movie maker’s bottom line responsibility for it.

Cut through the haze of Internet hubbhub, sparring, intrigue, and guesswork and what we can see in the first part of the video — in or out of context — is enough to remind us that animals in the entertainment industry need to be protected, and that they should never be forced to pursue stunts against their will.

That, I suggest, should be step one in sorting through this episode — seeing the underlying concern, not obfuscating it — whether you were a party to it, or just watching from the outside.

Step two? The movie’s makers need to accept responsibility, and none seem to have gotten anywhere close to doing that.

Instead, they almost all seem to be saying “I was disturbed by video. I didn’t see it when it happened. I wasn’t there. Mistakes were made. I would have stopped it. Why was the video just now leaked?”

Movie fans, dog lovers, and most of all Hercules, deserve something better than that.

(Photo: Amblin Entertainment)

What it means when your dog pees on you

dsc05666Christmas was kind to me this year. I got some gift cards, some underwear, some cookies, a hummingbird feeder and a drill.

And from my dog, I got peed on.

This was actually the day after Christmas. Out for the afternoon walk, we saw some neighbors and their dogs, all of whom we’d met before, approaching.

With Jinjja being the new guy on the block the other dogs were pretty excited to see him.

So three of my neighbor’s poodles, and the giant schnauzer down the street swarmed around him, barking and sniffing.

That was when Jinjja — either because he was stressed out or wanted to show all those other dogs that I belonged to him — lifted his leg and enjoyed a nice long pee on my pants leg.

I didn’t notice until the neighbor shouted, “Hey he’s peeing on you,” which was about the same time my leg started getting warm.

dsc05447I’ve been on the lookout for strange behaviors in the dog I’ve had about a month now. He was rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, so I expected to face some unique behavior, in addition to all the other new dog issues.

Other than his initial skittishness and getting accustomed to new surroundings and what seemed, to him, novel things like television, there haven’t been that many.

Other than one small pee the first night home, his record is spotless, and so are my carpets.

But this one surfaced over the weekend — first when I, against my better judgment, brought him over to a party at my neighbor’s house. The one with the five dogs.

He’d met a couple of them by then, and they all greeted him in a friendly manner. But it wasn’t long before Jinjja decided he should leave a mark, or 20, on this new home he was visiting.

He’d been well drained before we entered, but peed by the door anyway. Then about five more times he started to lift his leg, but stopped when I yelled at him. When all five dogs went out on the back patio, Jinjja went into a peeing frenzy, dashing from spot to spot and, if not actually peeing, going through the motions.

He’d also peed a week earlier in the exam room at the vet’s office — despite having peed repeatedly outside before entering.

Whether it’s stress, or turf-marking, I can’t say for sure.

My kindest interpretation, though, is that he was passing on information to the other dogs — for in one good squirt of urine a dog reveals much of himself, to other dogs at least.

It’s like, “sure you can smell my butt, but that is ephemeral, a quickly passing pleasure.” By peeing in the home of five dogs, though, he could have figured, “I’ll just leave this and you can get to know me better after I leave.”

dsc05464That’s the generous view, and one that’s hard to see when you’ve just been peed on.

The more immediate reaction is more like, “Dammit, you peed on me!”

(I’m sure I’ll laugh about it later. My neighbors laughed about it right away.)

Many experts will tell you a dog who pees is marking his territory, and when he pees on a person, there may be some dominance issues involved.

With Jinjja, I think the bigger issue is insecurity, and that he is still figuring out his place in the social order. (Happily, it is no longer as meat.)

I’m, in a way, doing the same thing, being new to the townhome neighborhood. On my street there are 20 homes, and 26 dogs. I am pretty sure the dogs outnumber the people. Part of the reason I moved here was because it seemed so dog friendly, and because I thought it would be a good place for my previous dog, Ace, and myself, to enjoy our golden years.

He died before I made the move, and six months later, I met Jinjja.

The neighbors have welcomed Jinjja with open arms. My neighbor Trish with the five dogs was even smiling as she mopped us his pee from her entryway Friday night — in the middle of her retirement party.

I’m glad I’m on a street of dog lovers. I’m glad to be among all those dogs. I’m glad Jinjja is now one of them.

I’m not so glad about being peed on, or the prospect that whenever Jinjja visits someone’s house, he will feel the need to christen it.

Oh well, something to work in the New Year.

Stress can turn dogs prematurely gray

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Young dogs who are especially anxious and impulsive can grow gray hair on their muzzles prematurely — just like humans, a new study says.

Scientists involved in the study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, said they had long suspected stress led to premature gray around the muzzle in dogs, even though little research exists on the topic.

SONY DSC“Based on my years of experience observing and working with dogs, I’ve long had a suspicion that dogs with higher levels of anxiety and impulsiveness also show increased muzzle grayness,” said Camille King, a Denver area veterinarian who led the study.

Author Temple Grandin also took part in the study, according to a press release from Northern Illinois University, King’s alma mater.

To investigate, the researchers traveled to dog parks and veterinary clinics in Colorado, giving questionnaires to the owners of 400 dogs, CBS reported.

The owners answered 42 questions about their dogs’ behavior, age and health, while the researchers took photos of each dog.

The researchers excluded dogs with light-colored fur. They focused just on dogs between ages 1 and 4, as older dogs could have gray fur simply from aging, the researchers said.

To gauge anxiety levels, the researchers asked about whether the dog destroyed things when left alone, had hair loss during vet exams or when entering new places, or cringed or cowered around groups of people.

To rate impulsivity, the researchers asked if the dogs jumped on people, whether they could be calmed, if they had difficulty focusing, and if they continued to be hyperactive after exercising.

Female dogs tended to have higher levels of grayness than male dogs did, the researchers found, and dogs that showed fearfulness toward loud noises and unfamiliar animals and people also tended to have increased grayness, they said.

In contrast, they said, grayness had nothing to do with the dog’s size, whether it was fixed and whether it had any medical problems.

(Photos by John Woestendiek)

The nose knows but the ears tell

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Many of us may be most familiar with infrared thermography from its least valuable (I’d argue) use — ghost hunting.

It serves many far more sophisticated purposes, though, than providing fodder for those shaky-camera paranormal TV shows — from assessing medical conditions to military reconnaissance, from finding missing children to sensing mood changes in humans.

And, no big surprise, dogs.

In the latest post on Dog Spies, her blog on Scientific American, Julie Hecht recounted a recent study at the Animal Behavior, Cognition and Welfare Research Group at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Researchers found, through infrared thermography, that the ear temperature of dogs decreased (turning blue on the camera) when they were isolated, and warmed backed up (turning red) when they reunited with people.

It’s similar to findings in studies of human stress levels — except in humans it’s the nose, instead of the ears, that is the most common giveaway.

As Hecht explained, infrared thermography picks up changes in surface temperature. When frightened, stressed or placed in unfamiliar surroundings, blood rushes away from your extremities, in dogs and humans. They get cooler as your core gets warmer and ready to react to whatever threat may be ahead.

The tip of a scared person’s nose gets cooler in such situations, just as rat paws and tails have been shown to do in experiments. In rabbits and sheep, the ears are the most obvious indicator.

Stefanie Riemer and colleagues placed dogs for brief periods in an isolated and novel environment. As the researchers expected, thermographic images of the dogs in isolation showed their ear temperature increasing, then rising when they were reunited with people.

The study appears in the current issue of Physiology & Behavior.

Six dogs were included in the study, and several were found to be unsuitable for study because their fur was too dense to get a good reading.

It seems like a technology that could be put to good use when it comes to studying dogs, and in learning more about those with behavioral issues and what triggers them.

That seems to me a better pursuit than chasing ghosts who aren’t really bothering anybody. Non-invasive, physically, as it is, even infrared photography has the potential for being cruel.

In a study in Italy two years ago, 20 bank tellers who had been robbed at gunpoint were shown a series of faces — happy, neutral, angry, etc. On the fifth face, the researchers exposed them to a loud and unexpected blast, and recorded, thermographically, how the blood left the noses and face.

Half of the tellers had already been diagnosed with PTSD.

Whether the researchers ended up giving PTSD to the other half is not addressed in the study.

(Photo: S. Riemer / Physiology & Behavior)

Two hearts beating as one? Study suggests, with dogs and owners, it’s almost true

Even though this may be more marketing than science, we can’t help but like the results of this experiment in Australia.

Researchers, in an experiment funded by Pedigree, found that not only do our heart rates lower when we and our pets are together (as everybody knows by now), but they begin to mirror one another.

True, only three dogs and owners were involved in the study. True, the main interest of the company that sponsored it is to sell dog food. And true, what’s new about their findings — how closely the heart rates align — is probably of more poetic than practical use.

But still … It’s good to have a little science (if it can be called that) confirm our feelings of being in sync with our dogs.

In the experiment, three Australian dog owners separated, and then reunited with their pet in a staged but homey setting to see what kind of effect they had on each other’s heart rate.

Both dogs and owners were equipped with heart monitors.

“There was a really strong coherence in the heart rate pattern of both the owner and dog. Upon being reunited within the first minute, each heart rhythm became almost directly aligned and we saw a reduction straight away,” Mia Cobb, canine scientist and demonstration co-conductor told The Huffington Post Australia.

“This project is a really good illustration of what most owners experience every night when they come home from work and are reunited with their companion,” she added.