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Tag: trust

Photo bomb: That wasn’t Amelia Earhart, after all; so, doggonit, the mystery lives on

notearhart

Two of the biggest news stories of the week — or at least the two most shouted about by the news media — were new evidence surfacing regarding Trump’s ties to Russia and new evidence surfacing in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting during the campaign with a Russian who promised some dirt on Hillary Clinton were called a “nothing burger” by Trump supporters. But, as the week progressed, it all started looking pretty meaty.

The other so-called investigative breakthrough — “experts” saying they found a photo that shows Earhart and her navigator in the custody of the Japanese on the Marshall Islands after their crash and disappearance in 1937 — turned out to be a totally meatless whopper.

apearhartBy which we don’t mean a lie — just a tremendously lazy mistake. The photo in question, it turns out, originally appeared in a travel book published two years before Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan even began the journey they wouldn’t return from.

The photo was the basis of an hour-long History Channel special Monday — one that was widely promoted in news programs as a possible solution to an 80-year old mystery.

Instead, the whole theory ended up holding about as much as (sorry, Geraldo) Al Capone’s vault.

It’s all just more proof that, when it comes to truth, when it comes to uncovering things, when it comes to unburying treasures, we’re better off putting our faith in dogs. Dogs aren’t concerned with making money, or getting famous, or one-upping, or getting in the last word, or getting interviewed by Matt Lauer.

We talked about the “Earhart photo” in a post earlier this week, but that post pertained more to another, less publicized effort to get to the bottom of the Earhart mystery, and how it had turned to some “bone sniffing dogs” in an attempt to find Earhart’s bones.

Operating on an alternate theory, and not buying the “photographic evidence,” a Pennsylvania-based group called The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) sent four border collies to a site they have been focusing on — a small coral atoll about 400 miles south of Howland Island.

Four dogs alerted to a spot in the area, and excavation ensued, but no bones were found.

They had hoped to find bones and, through DNA testing, link them to Earhart. Some small glimmers of hope remain. Dirt from the site has been sent to a lab though to see if any traces of human DNA remain in it, and there’s a possibility that human DNA could be found in crabs that scavenged on any bones.

nothing burgerThat quest could turn out to be a “nothing burger,” too, but even so it won’t be as embarrassing as the efforts of Les Kinney, the former treasury agent who came across a photo in the National Archives that he and others were highly convinced depicted Earhart and her navigator in Japanese custody.

That led to History Channel documentary, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which aired Sunday and concluded that, based on the photo and other evidence, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan ended up in Japanese custody on the Marshall Islands after they survived a crash landing.

The documentary touted the image as “the key to solving one of history’s all-time greatest mysteries.”

Many a news organization billed the photo that way, too, until Wednesday, when they all started backtracking after learning a Tokyo-based blogger unearthed the same photograph in the archives of Japan’s national library. It had appeared in a book — published in 1935.

Kota Yamano, a military history blogger, ran an online search using the keyword “Jaluit atoll” and a decade-long time frame starting in 1930.

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” he said, along with its source — a travel book published two years before Earhart began the attempted around the world journey in 1937.

The Internet search took all of 30 minutes, he said.

“I was really happy when I saw it, Yamano said. “I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”

Major news media didn’t do that, either, opting to put more effort into hyping the story than doing a little digging of their own.

So thanks to Koto Yamano for letting us know the “Earhart photo” was a “nothing burger.” (Maybe we should have him figure out this whole Russia and Trump thing.)

According to the website knowyourmeme.com — if we are to believe it — the earliest known usage of the term “nothing burger” was by Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons. She used it in reference to actor Farley Granger, whose acting chops she apparently questioned.

When the actor was released from his contract with Samuel Goldwyn’s studio, MGM, in 1953, she wrote “After all, if it hadn’t been for Sam Goldwyn Farley might very well be a nothing burger.”

The concept — though the term wasn’t used — was pretty much the basis of Wendy’s old “Where’s the beef?” advertising campaign, and the phrase itself has enjoyed a revival this year, thanks mainly to politics, and the presidential campaign, and the Internet, where we don’t seem to agree on anything except what cool-sounding phrase we all want to use, be it “game changer” or “nothing burger.”

If the Amelia Earhart mystery ever is solved, I suspect dogs will be part of that resolution, probably DNA, too — but not emails, not quickie documentary makers trying to sell a story, and definitely not politicians.

(Photos: At top, the photo some investigators said included Earhart, after her plane crashed, as it appeared in Umi no seimeisen : Waga nannyou no sugata, a photo book in Japan’s national library published in 1935; below, the actual Earhart in an Associated Press photo; at bottom, an actual nothing burger)

Will Bear come in from the wild?

After at least five years as a stray, avoiding human contact, surviving in a vacant field and regularly outsmarting animal control officers, a Texas dog named Bear may finally be heading for a home.

And good thing, because construction is expected to begin soon on the field he has called home, which is slated to become a housing development.

Bear is something of a legend in Hutto, a town of about 15,000 people, northeast of Austin. He’s a dog owned by no one, though many residents appreciate him from afar.

But in the past few years, one woman has gotten closer to him than most. Irma Mendoza and her son started bringing him food a couple of years ago, and also built him a dog house on the land.

Now, she is working to find him a home.

“It all started a couple of years ago when my mom found Bear by the block where we live,” said Alfonso Salinas, Irma’s son. ” …After that she just started to feed him and try to take care of him,” he told Fox 7 in Austin

Every day Irma comes to the field to give Bear food. She also gives him his annual medications.

“This dog is pretty much a family member,” Salinas said.

Bear has been seen roaming the neighborhood since 2010. Some think he was left behind when his owners moved.

Over the years, others in the community have pitched in to make sure Bear is taken care of.

“He is a survivor that’s for sure. He’s smart, he stays out of the way, stays out of the street, avoids people, and everybody has grown fond of him,” said Richard Rodriguez, who lives in the neighborhood. “He’s got his own Facebook page so that speaks something to how people like him.”

bearHutto Animal Control officer Wayne Cunningham — one of many who have tried to capture Bear — says Irma is the first person to get close to the dog.

“No one can get close to him but Irma so we haven’t been able to catch him. He’s gotten wise to our dog traps, he recognizes the animal control truck so he’s very leery about new people,” Cunningham said.

Mendoza is now working with Cunningham to help find Bear a permanent place to stay — with a friend who has spent years helping her care for him.

“He deserves to be in a loving home,” said Niroshini Glass. “He would be so spoiled. He would get anything and everything he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted it. He would be very, very spoiled.”

All this hinges on Bear’s cooperation, of course, but with the progress that Irma has made, the willingness of Glass to provide a home, and the field destined to soon become a construction zone, the time appears ripe to take Bear out of the wild.

Once he is caught, he will be taken to the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter to be evaluated before adoption.

A GoFundMe campaign has started to raise money to help pay Bear’s vet costs, and ongoing care.

Dogs are better at filtering out useless info

While both human children and dogs learn from copying adult humans, dogs are better at spotting the bullshit.

So says (though not in those words) a new study from Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center.

Imitation, in addition to being the sincerest form of flattery, is how we — be we a puppy or a baby — learn. But young humans tend to be more trusting, following adult advice exactly. Dogs are more likely to see a shorter route to accomplishing the goal and opt for it, filtering out unnecessary steps that are just a waste of time.

(Might this explain why dogs don’t watch television all that much, or get on the Internet?)

In the experiment, researchers presented over 40 breeds of dogs with treats hidden inside puzzles.

They showed the dogs the steps necessary to solving the puzzle, but in doing so they included many unnecessary steps.

When the dogs’ turn came to solve the puzzle, they skipped the irrelevant steps that had nothing to do with getting to the treats, showing that dogs are able, or at least more able than human children, to separate bad advice from good advice.

Researchers contrasted their study results with those from a similar study at Yale that examined children, and they found humans relied more on imitation than the dogs. The children, after watching an adult solve the puzzle, tended to duplicate every step — even the unnecessary ones.

The study is similar to one about a decade ago that compared chimpanzees with human puzzle solvers. Chimpanzees, while prone to imitation, were slightly better at discerning the unnecessary steps and avoiding them than humans.

“So this tells us something really important about how humans learn relative to other animals,” said Yale Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos, one of the study’s authors. “We’re really trusting of the information that we get from other individuals – even more trusting than dogs are.”

“And what this means is we have to be really careful about the kinds of information we present ourselves with,” she added. “We’re not going to have the right filter for bad information, so we should stick to looking at information that’s going to be positive, information that’s going to be good.”

Or, as easily duped as our species is, we could just let dogs give us the advice.

Who’s the fool: Why do we humans persist in our efforts to trick the dog?

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Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.

How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?

For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.

Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.

My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.

With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.

Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.

The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.

When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)

The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.

But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?

Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.

Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.

Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.

“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.

Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.

Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?

Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.

More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.

The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.

Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.

Ohmidog! I want that rug

indogwetrust

(An update to this story can be found at the bottom of this page.)

A Florida sheriff’s office sees it as an embarrassing mistake.

I see it as a collector’s item, and I want it.

After installing some official rugs with the county’s official seal on their official lobby floors, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office noticed a printing mistake on one of them. Instead of saying “In God We Trust,” it said “In Dog We Trust.”

After a deputy noticed the error Wednesday, the rug was rolled up and stored, according to WFTS in Tampa Bay — but not before the station got some pictures. The large green rugs with the black and yellow Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office logo cost about $500.

The Sheriff’s Office said the manufacturer of the rugs, American Floor Mats, has taken responsibility for the error and will replace the one with the error.

Headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, the company calls itself “a premier supplier of floor mats and matting. With over 25 years of floor mat experience, our customers rely on our vast knowledge and expertise …”

As for what becomes of the “In Dog We Trust” version, I’d love to have it, but I have some other ideas, too.

fullrugs

Put it back on the floor. There’s nothing wrong with trusting in dog, and God would understand.

Wouldn’t He?

At the very least, give it a home in the department’s 12-man K-9 unit.

Given the rugs look pretty lush and comfortable, Pinellas County Animal Services might find one of them useful — either as decor or dog bedding.

Or, it could be auctioned online. Who knows, they might be valuable — like those rare coins with mistakes on them.

Then again, American Floor Mats might want it back, so their boo-boo doesn’t live on.

The best solution? Dog only knows.

Update: An online auction it is: Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says that the rug in question will be sold to raise money for a nonprofit rescue group called Canine Estates.

(It’s the rescue from which he adopted a 13-year-old Maltese last year.)

As of Friday afternoon, bids had gone over $2,600 for the rug.

Gualtieri says his office has been getting calls from all over the world from people saying, “‘Oh my God, don’t throw it away.”

“We’re so excited,” Canine Estates’ founder Jayne Sidwell told The Huffington Post. “We need the funding so bad.”

The auction closes at 4 p.m. next Wednesday, Jan. 21. Bids are being accepted at OnlineAuction.com.

Another update: The rug sold for at auction for $9,650. Details here.

(Photos: WFTS)

Please help my sick, dying, fat, abused dog

obiethen

It’s no secret that a sad dog story, properly promoted on social media, can bring in some pretty huge donations — for an animal shelter, a rescue organization, or an individual.

Whether your dog needs life-saving surgery, or even an intense diet regimen, you don’t have to be a nonprofit organization to ask the public for help — and you shouldn’t have to be.

But with the rise of social media, and online fundraising tools like GoFundMe, IndieGogo, and all those other I-would-like- some-of-your-money-please websites, there are likely more bucks than ever before being donated directly to individual dogs in need.

With all that unmonitored money pouring in, what ensures that it’s going to the rightful place — namely, helping the dog in question? What ensures any surplus won’t end up going to the dog owner’s kitchen remodel? What’s to guarantee that the sad dog story is even true in the first place?

In a word, nothing.

Just as the Internet has made us all published journalists, photographers and autobiographers, it has given us an easy route to becoming professional fund-raisers.

What gets lost in that transition is knowing who we can trust.

We can only cross our fingers and hope that those engaging in outright fraud get caught, that those soliciting funds to help a dog don’t get too greedy, and that money sent in by good-hearted people seeking to help a dog actually goes to helping a dog.

It’s a fuzzy area — legally and morally. What accounting, if any, does a private citizen raising money to help a dog owe those who contribute?

In Oregon, at least, the answer seems to be some, at least in the view of the state  Attorney General’s Office.

Since January, the office’s charitable activities section has been looking into how Nora Vanatta spent, and is spending, all the money sent in to help Obie — the 77-pound dachshund she adopted and whose weight loss program became a much-followed story.

obienowVanatta, a veterinary technician who lives in Portland, never purported to be affiliated with a nonprofit, but she did seek and accept thousands of dollars from people around the world who were inspired by Obie’s story.

Vanatta initially fostered Obie, after reading about him on the Facebook page of Oregon Dachshund Rescue.

After Obie’s story went viral, the rescue sought to get the dog back, and filed a lawsuit. The case was later settled, and Vanatta was awarded permanent custody. (Obie is down to 22 pounds.)

Meanwhile, money — Vanatta won’t say how much — continued to come in, $15,000 of which Vanatta says was spent on lawyers she hired to fight the custody battle. Some of it went to pay for $80 bags of specialty food Obie required, and a $1,500 skin-reduction surgery.

Since January, Vanatta has been answering questions from the Attorney General’s office, which began looking into the matter after receiving complaints about how she was spending the funds, and is now in the process of working out an agreement with her.

“They wanted everything – copies of every penny in, every penny out,” she told the Oregonian.

The Attorney General’s office won’t identify the source of the complaint, and it says no wrongdoing was found in how Vanatta has spent the funds so far. (Apparently, nobody in that office full of lawyers had any problem with all the money that went to lawyers.)

But the office does disagree with how she plans to spend the rest. (Obie’s PayPal account was closed last year.)

Vanatta says the office objects to her using the money to help individual  dogs with medical needs, which is maybe a little ironic given the money was raised to help an individual dog with medical needs. The Attorney General’s office frowned upon her giving $2,000 to a family she met at the Tualatin veterinary clinic where she works to help them pay for their dog’s back surgery. Instead, the office wants her to give the money away to established nonprofits, and wants to set a deadline.

The case raises lots of interesting questions, and some disturbing ones.

We’re all for the attorney general keeping an eye on such fundraising drives; slightly less for that office dictating what good causes should receive the remainder of the money, and when.

We agree with Vanatta’s reasoning on that: “I strongly believe you do not have to be a nonprofit to do good,” she said.

What bothers us most, though, next  to Obie’s previous owners letting him get so morbidly obese, is how much of the money donated has gone to lawyers — $15,000 on the custody case, another $11,800 for lawyers to represent Vanatta in the attorney general’s investigation.

Obie may be becoming a slimmer dog, thanks in part to donations from the public, but, as always, lawyers — gobbling up the bulk of the donations — just keep getting fatter.

Learning to love your lover’s dog

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What do you do when the woman you’re falling in love with has a dog that, seemingly, can’t stand you?

Beef jerky, trust and patience are key, but it also helps to be Jon Katz.

The author of numerous dog books recounted in Parade last week how he came to marry Maria — an artist who was using one of his barns as a studio — and how that required much woooing of her Rottweiler-shepherd mix, Frieda.

Katz was still married when he met Maria and cut a deal with her allowing her to use a barn as a studio in exchange for helping with his animals (a herd of sheep, four donkeys, four chickens, three dogs, and two cats) at his farm in upstate New York. Both later saw their marriages end, and they began developing a friendship — or at least to the extent Frieda would permit.

Frieda was fiercely protective of Maria and, Katz writes, “whenever I approached the barn, Frieda would fling herself against the door in a frenzy, barking ferociously.”

Frieda had been dumped, pregnant, along the New York State Thruway by a man who had been using her as a guard dog. She lived in the wild before she was captured and brought to a shelter. That’s where Maria met her and adopted her, Katz says:

“They were the perfect pair, the human-canine version of Thelma and Louise, united in their devotion to each other and in their great distrust of men.”

As Katz and Maria made the transition from friends to something more, Frieda continued to act out in the presence of Katz and his dogs. At night, Frieda stayed in the  barn. Even though it was heated, it was not a desirable arrangement.

“I was falling in love with Maria,” Katz writes, “and I hoped she would agree to marry me one day, but I knew I had to work things out with Frieda first.

Katz says he bought $500 worth of beef jerky, and began a morning ritual, tossing a piece to Frieda every day. He started getting a little closer to the dog on each visit and, after months, Frieda let him put a leash on her and walk her. “My goal was to get her into the house by Christmas, as a surprise for Maria, evidence of my commitment and good faith.”

Katz and Maria and their animals are one big happy family now, and you can read all about it when The Second-Chance Dog: A Love Story, comes out next month.

To learn more about Katz and his other books, visit his website, bedlamfarm.com.

(Top photo: Maria and Frieda and author Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm; by George Forss)