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Tag: toys

Candidates your dog can chew on


As you sit breathlessly riveted to your TV screen for the Republican National Convention (now underway) and the Democratic National Convention (July 25-28) what’s your dog supposed to do for fun?

You could get him or her a presidential candidate to chew on.

A Vermont-based company is offering chew-worthy likenesses of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and, though he’s out of the running, Bernie Sanders.

donaldThe canvas-covered, fiber-filled toys, designed by Sarah-Lee Terrat and Anne Lika of Fuzzu for Pets & You, come in three sizes: nine inches tall for cats, 17 inches for dogs, and a 27-inch jumbo size for cuddling, punching, berating or whatever else you might want a stuffed presidential candidate for.

They run $19.99 each.

And of course they squeak — they’re presidential candidates.

The cat-sized toys contain catnip, aimed at making your feline even more attracted to the candidate.

The Hillary doll wears a red pantsuit and pearls and campaign buttons reading “Pro-whatever” and “Anti-whatever.” On her back is a facsimile of a light switch to turn her smile on and off.

The Trump doll has a sourpuss look on its face, and hair that is swooped back, topped with golden plush. A pamphlet in his pocket is titled “Great Wall Building for Idiots.” On his back is a button that reads, “Push to inflate head.”

The Bernie doll, put on the market before he withdrew, has a button on the back that reads, “Push to activate the revolution.”

hillaryI can’t vouch for how safe any of the chew toys are — both the Trump and Sanders dolls look like they could cause hairballs, as both come equipped with fuzzy shocks of “hair” — but the company does have experience making dog toys.

According to Sevendaysvt.com, the Likas operated a pet toy company called Fat Cat for more than a decade before selling it in 2007.

They launched the new company recently with help from a Kickstarter campaign.

Anne Likas said she missed the dog toy business, and was happy to get back into it. “We love the humor around our toys,” she added, noting that other pet toys “don’t get edgy.”

(Photos: Fuzzutoys.com)

The short, sad lives of dog toys


Poor things, they never had a chance.

Even the so-called “indestructable” ones would end up torn and in tatters — victims of the enthusiastic canines to whom they were gifted.

Rope LionVirginia dog photographer Hannele Lahti — after seeing how quickly her dogs went through dog toys — decided to document the not-at-all-surprising phenomenon.

The project began out of frustration, Lahti, of Manassas, says.

“Every cute (expensive) toy I brought home for my dogs ended in a mangled mess destined for the landfill,” Lahti wrote in a photo essay for The Washington Post. “I decided to photograph the toys in their pristine shape, then again months later, observing this savage demolition with the scrutiny of an anthropologist.”

She started taking before and after photos of toys she bought her own dogs, Boston terriers.

Friendly Octopus“I started the project in late 2013 after noticing how grotesque a green stuffed snake had become. I photographed the chewed-up snake, but felt in order to really understand how disgusting it was, the viewer had to see how cute it was in the beginning”

Other dogs were later recruited into the project and presented with new toys to have their way with.

“It’s funny — it seems all of the dogs have their own objectives when playing with the toys, she said in an interview the American Society of Media Photographers.

lahti2“One of my dogs, Annie, will suck on a toy for hours as if it’s a pacifier. Murray, my senior, removes the eyes before he de-stuffs it. A Newfoundland buried his for a few weeks while another snuggled with it for a month before systemically tearing it to shreds. Two of the others ripped theirs apart immediately then had no more interest in them.

“I have not analyzed what any of this means about their personalities but it was interesting to see how different their methods were.”

You can see more of the mangled toys on Lahti’s website

(Photos by Hannele Lahti, from the Washington Post)

Another fun thing to do with your dog that won’t require your actual presence


Here’s another special report from your favorite worry wart.

No sooner do I bemoan one high-tech invention for dog owners than another comes rolling along, equally worth fretting about.

This one is a 3-inch remotely controlled orange ball, with a high-def camera inside, that you can watch and listen to on your cell phone.

Its makers boast it will “usher in the future of human-pet interaction.”

Let’s hope not.

It’s called PlayDate, now in the Indygogoing stage, and like many other contraptions hitting the market, it’s designed to make all the time your dog spends alone more bearable for him, and more entertaining and guilt-free for you.

The problem I have with that, as I’ve stated before, is how it lets dog owners shrug off the responsibility of dog ownership and diminishes the bond between dog and owner.

What I fret about is that the “future of human-pet interactions” could be long-distance, computer-assisted, virtual and heartless — exactly opposite of what dogs need, and exactly opposite of the reasons for having a dog in the first place.

A Manhattan inventor has come up with what the New York Post called “the next big thing for man’s best friend.”

Company co-founder Kevin Li says he got the idea for PlayDate after adopting his Rhodesian ridgeback-Lab mix, Hulk, three years ago.

“Looking at his sad face every time I left for work, I realized he … needed more time with his best friend.”

So Li (and we hope he worked from home at least a little bit) invented a ball for Hulk to play with — one he could control remotely, issue commands through, observe his dog through, and make squeak.

An adjunct computer-science professor at Columbia, Li described the $249 gadget as “Fitbit meets iPhone localization.”

He has already raised more than $200,000 on Indiegogo and has sold out of pre-orders.

With the rechargable ball, a pet owner can watch and listen to their pet, take photos, and record video, all from their iOS or Android device.

A stabilized camera inside provides real-time HD images. And a clear, replaceable outer shell protects the inner workings while allowing the camera — slobber aside — to see out clearly.

There are just three simple steps, its makers say: Download the free app, connect to wi-fi and “usher in the future of human-pet interaction.”

Sorry, but talk like that scares me, as do a few other things.

The shell of the ball is made of a strong, chew-resistant polycarbonate, designed to withstand rambunctious play, according to its makers.

I hope that has been well tested, because I’d prefer not to think about what swallowing a little camera and a lithium polymer battery might do to a dog (or cat).

In the world of pet products, many a toy marketed as indestructible has proved otherwise.

Even PlayDate’s makers are saying that part might take some fine tuning:

“As we put PlayDate’s smart ball in front of more dogs and cats, we may discover the need to make aspects of its design more robust; any pet owner will tell you there’s no such thing as an indestructible toy. We have purposefully designed features like the replaceable outer shell with this in mind. Additional design changes may be required as we perform more testing.”

And what, I wonder, will be the effect of communicating with — and issuing orders to — your dog via an orange ball? Seeing an orange ball wandering around the house on its own, and hearing a disembodied voice come from it would, at the very least, be confusing, I’d think.

I’m all for keeping a dog active, engaged and feeling loved when the owner is away. But it’s a mistake to assume that technology can make up for failing to give your dog adequate attention.

And — needless to say — one shouldn’t get a dog in the first place if one is unwilling or unable to give him or her their time.

Face-time, I mean, with no cameras, or wi-fi, or remote controls involved.

Before we usher human-pet interaction “into the future,” it might be wise to question whether we really need to take that trip.

Didn’t we pretty much have it down just fine already — most of us, anyway?

(Photo: from PlayDate’s website)

The one toy Luca has not destroyed


Maybe it’s no coincidence that the one toy an Alaskan Malamute named Luca hasn’t destroyed is the one that looks a lot like her — or at least what she used to look like.

The photo above was taken of Luca with the toy when she was 8 weeks old.

Here’s Luca and the toy now:


Luca is now one and a half years old. She’s owned by Karissa Lerch, of Durham, who got the stuffed animal when she was in college.

She told Buzzfeed she really wanted a puppy then, but decided at the time a stuffed animal would be more affordable.

“A few years later when I was able to finally get my own dog I passed the stuffed animal down to her and she has kept it by her side at all times ever since.”

Lerch posted the images and others on imgur this week, and they received more than 1.2 million views in two days.

In that post she noted that the stuffed animal is the only toy Luca hasn’t shredded up in minutes.

(Photos: Karissa Lerch, via Imgur)

A “loyal” robot dog is headed to the market


There is really only one reason we duly report on the latest robot dogs hitting the market, or headed that way: To show how sadly lacking in intelligence our own species is.

To think that technology — even WiFi-equipped technology — can replace a living, breathing dog is, after all, folly.

Nevertheless, the robot dogs keep coming as toy makers continue their futile effort to duplicate dog.

Expected to hit the market late next year is a dog called CHiP, which stands for Canine Home Intelligent Pet.

CHiP will be the first robot dog that’s able to show something resembling loyalty.

Even with that though, we don’t predict much of a future for CHiP. Still being fine tuned by a company called WowWee, CHiP will likely go the way of all robot dogs, from Sony’s AIBO to iCybee — into the garbage.

How CHiP differs from earlier versions of robot dogs — and there have been a few — is basically this. It has sensors that allow it to locate its ball and its bed and you, and it is equipped with Bluetooth, allowing you to connect with it from a band worn on your wrist.

This means it can do a cheap and phony imitation of one thing that up to now only real dogs could do: Get excited when you walk through the front door (assuming you program it to do so).

How sad a little life does the grown-up person who would do that have?

You get out of your car, pause at the front doorstep, tap your futuristic wrist band a few times, and presto, Chip will be waiting for you with tail a-wagging the second you unlock the door.

The $199 black-and-white robot pup, which won’t hit the marketplace until sometime next year, is said to have more smarts than its predecessors.

The head alone has an array of carefully hidden infrared sensors that give it a 360-degree view, which it uses to find its special ball and charging bed. Yes, it can perform a variaton of fetch. Yes,it can put itself to sleep at night and wake up all recharged and ready to go. Yes, it can even be “trained”.

With its Bluetooth and special “Smart Band,” Mashable.com reports, owners can, rather than displaying real love by petting their dog, send their dog “likes,” reinforcing those behaviors they want to make a regular part of the dog’s repertoire.

Mashable says CHiP looks like a cute, big-headed puppy (we disagree). We think, with it wheels, and shiny white plastic coat, and 360-degree sight line, it more resembles a freakish hybrid between dog and army tank, between Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” and a “Star Wars” storm trooper.

“It does seem alive,” Mashable reports, adding that the robot dog’s tricks include sitting, squatting, shimmying, dancing around and making dog sounds.

We can think of only one proper home for such a dog — with the kind of person who wants none of the responsibility of dog ownership, prefers superficial relationships and probably shouldn’t have a real dog in the first place.

What Ace got for Christmas: A BarkBox

barkbox 022

Not since a cooler full of Omaha steaks showed up on our doorstep last Christmas has Ace been so excited about a box.

He gets highly curious about any package that to the house — be it a suitcase or paper bag — but when I brought a BarkBox inside with the rest of the mail, just before Christmas, he went bonkers, and he seemed to know it was intended for him.

It was a gift from his dachshund friends, Frank and Bogey, and their owner Faren, and while I fully intended to enforce the do-not-open-until-Christmas rule … well, it didn’t work out that way.

Given how much most of us spoil our dogs, BarkBox was a pretty smart idea — intended to get us, and our dogs, hooked on receiving a monthly box of treats, toys and goodies.

barkbox 052It’s similar in concept to those wine-of-the-month, cheese-of-the-month, you-name-it-of-the-month clubs you can subscribe to online.

Then you start receiving a monthly sampling of items you might or might not like.

Dogs being far less picky, BarkBox might be an even smarter idea.

It was started by three New Yorkers — Henrik Werdelin, Matt Meeker and Carly Strife, who were trying to come up with a way dog owners (or dog parents, to use the term they prefer) could delight their dogs on a regular basis.

“There’s a difference between a dog owner and a dog parent,” Werdelin told New York magazine. “Dog parents are people who really love their dogs. Unfortunately, there aren’t many places they can go to find new ways to delight their dog. BarkBox is full of those things.”

The items change monthly, and subscribers can choose one-month ($29), three-month ($24  per month), or six-month ($19 a month) plans. The company donates a portion of profits to animal shelters.

According to the BarkBox website, plans automatically renew, unless you cancel.

(I’ve never liked that kind of marketing — not since, as a teenager, I ended up in debt and with a bunch of albums I didn’t want thanks to a record-of-the-month club that refused to stop sending them until I informed them in writing that I had died.)

The genius of BarkBox is that — unlike humans who get an unrequested Perry Como album — dogs aren’t likely to turn their noses up at anything included in their packages.

Ace loved everything his contained — four types of treats and a floppy turkey toy made of cotton, jute and rope.

Once he got hold of a beef bladder chew from Barkworthies, there was no letting go — though I did put the rest of the treats aside for later.

barkbox 068

It was a lovely and thoughtful gift, and hopefully a one-time one. I’d hate to think the gift giver might, through automatic renewal, be sending Ace a monthly box of treats for the rest of her life, or worse yet, that I might be held accountable for covering that expense.

If that happens, they can expect to be paid off with lightly-used Olivia Newton-John albums.

Toying with your affections: Cute, cuddly, and cheaper than real dog clones

It’s a cute and cuddly little idea.

So why does it give me horror-show-like chills?

I was thumbing through the latest issue of The Bark magazine —  print version — when I came to a page devoted to spotlighting new products, including “Cuddle Clones, one of a kind plush animals made to look just like your dog! Capture the essence of your dog in this adorable product…”

Having written a book on dog cloning — the kind that takes place in a laboratory, with pet owners paying $100,000 or more to get genetic duplicates of their dogs — Cuddle Clones struck me as far less expensive, less intrusive and much more innocent way to have your pet re-created. Yet  the concept was still mildly troubling. Leave it to me to find the ominous in something as harmless as a plush toy.

And then to write about it, as if, behind the toy, there is some deeper meaning to be unearthed.

I think, as with real cloning, there may be — in regards to what it says about the essence of dog, and the essence of us.

For starters, you’re not going to recapture the essence of your dog in a stuffed animal, or by stuffing him, or by cloning him.

I’d even go so far to say that, even the most expert of breeders, even if they do manage to ensure many of the same traits are passed from one generation to the next, can’t recapture “essence” — a fuzzy term that, in this case, may be most synonymous with “personality” or “soul.”

One can breed for looks and traits, but the essence of your dog — what makes him him — is uncapturable. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that what makes him him is all that he has experienced, including, and perhaps in largest part, you.

With cloning — real cloning — I arrived at the point where I viewed it as a selfish pursuit, most popular among wealthy and stubborn people who refuse to to accept that the rules of nature apply to them and their dogs. And I wondered whether, as much as having a dog re-created from a single cell might seem an homage to the original, it’s really an insult, like telling your dog, “You’re instantly replaceable; I can quite easily, if I pay enough, have another you fashioned in a laboratory.”

In reality, the clone, while a living, breathing genetic duplicate, is not the original dog. Though some customers believe otherwise, the original dog’s soul does not occupy it anymore than it would a freeze-dried version of his corpse — another alternative for those who insist on keeping a physical, though unmoving, version of their dog around the house.

Cuddle Clones, being toys, are far less creepy — and if it weren’t for the name I’d probably have no problem with the product.  A plush toy that roughly replicates your living or dead pet is not all that nefarious. And the plush toy company, unlike the real cloning companies, hasn’t directed its marketing strictly at bereaved, or soon-to-be-bereaved pet owners.

That does come up, however, in the “Top 10” reasons the company gives for buying a Cuddle Clone. (Expect to pay $300, or, for a life-sized version, as much as $850, depending on weight.)

Those reasons, according to the Cuddle Clones website, include:

 “Your pet is so cute or unique looking that you must clone him or her immediately.”

“Your pet has passed away and you miss hugging him or her.”

“Your daughter can’t bear to leave her best friend behind when she leaves for college or the military.”

“You lost the pet custody battle in a breakup.”

“You’ve wanted to scientifically clone your pet for some time now but can’t quite afford the $50,000 price tag.”

“Cuddle Clones can go places real pets can’t go (work, vacation, the grocery store, nursing home).”

Cuddle Clones aren’t going to wag their tails (at least not yet), or greet you at the front door. For that you’d require a real clone, though we’d advise against it, even if you do have more money than you know what to do with.

Those are manufactured in South Korea, and the price has dropped from the $150,000 the earliest customers were charged to around $100,000.

(How dog cloning came to be, how it was marketed, and the experiences of the first pet owning customers are detailed in my book, “DOG, INC.: How a Collection of Visionaries, Rebels, Eccentrics and Their Pets Launched the Commerical Dog Cloning Industry.”)

Only one South Korean lab is still offering cloning to pet owners, and it’s working on broadening its customer base — mostly American — by holding a contest in England that will reward a discounted cloning to the person who has the most “special and inspiring” reason for cloning their dog. Contestants are invited to submit essays, photos and videos, and the winner will get a 70 percent discount on the $100,000 price.

It’s sponsored by Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is headed by Hwang Woo Suk, the former Seoul National University veterinarian who headed the team that produced the world’s first cloned dog, Snuppy. Hwang also claimed to have cloned a line of human embryos, but he was fired after those claims turned out to be fraudulent.

After starting his own lab, Hwang teamed up with an American company that held an online auction for six dog clonings and an essay contest in which a free cloning was awarded to a man who said his former police dog found the last survivor of 9-11.

As dog cloning hit the marketplace — actually doing so before dog had even been cloned — some of those who would become the first recipients of clones were chosen at least in part because of their heartwarming stories, which served to put a warmer, fuzzier face on the cold science of cloning.

Small stuffed dogs, all identical, were handed out as a promotional tool by one of the labs. Customers shared their stories, sometimes in exchange for a discount, and marveled at how much their clones resembled the originals.  Then there were the best ambassadors of all — the puppies. Whatever fears and concerns surrounded cloning — from animal welfare issues, to where it will all lead, to the utter lack of government regulation, especially in South Korea — images of nursing and frolicking puppies had a way of pushing them aside.

Cuddle Clones — even just the marriage of those two words — could similarly, if unintentionally, serve to make real cloning more palatable to a public that may not know that dog cloning isn’t cute at all.

It involves the use of numerous dogs for egg harvesting. After the cells of the donor dog are merged with those and — with help from an electric jolt — begin dividing, more dogs yet are needed to serve as surrogates. More than 1,000 egg cells were harvested to clone the first dog. While the process has grown far more efficient, multiple attempts are still required to ensure an exact lookalike is born — into a world where dogs are routinely put down because of overpopulation.

The American company selling clonings — all carried out by Sooam — later shut down for reasons that included concerns about whether proper animal welfare protocols were being followed in the South Korean labs. RNL Bio, the company that cloned the first dog for a customer, has stepped away from dog cloning, citing negative public opinion as one factor.

But canine clones are still being churned out at Sooam, and the price — once $150,000 a shot — is continuing to drop, meaning more people will be able to afford a laboratory-produced replica of their dog.

For those who can’t, there are Cuddle Clones — soft and huggable plushies, filled with synthetic fabrics, that seem to send the message that clones are adorable.

And clones may be just that  — both the real ones and the stuffed ones.

Dog cloning, though, when it comes to the process, is not so pretty, not so heartwarming, and not so cuddly.

You  might even say — though it would be too late — that it’s nothing to toy with.

(Photos: Top three photos courtesy of Cuddle Clones, bottom two photos, of dogs being cloned at Sooam, by John Woestendiek)