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A modern day Dr. Frankenstein?

A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.

We suggest they start with their own.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.

If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.

We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.

canaveroCanavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.

Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.

Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”

What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?

We’d say none.

Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.

He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.

He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.

Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.

His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.

In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.

South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.

It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.

In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.

Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?

Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.

But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.

U.S. ambassador to South Korea receives outpouring of respect, love … and dog meat


It may not have been the most diplomatic of gifts,  but one of  Mark Lippert’s well-wishers had only good intentions when he delivered a package of dog meat for the hospitalized U.S. ambassador.

Lippert, who is recovering from an attack by a knife-wielding anti-U.S. activist, is a dog lover who regularly walks his basset hound, Grigsby, near his residence in Seoul.

The gift, delivered to Seoul’s Severance Hospital Friday morning by an elderly man, didn’t make it to Lippert’s room. Hospital rules prohibit any outside food being delivered to patients.

The gift giver said the package contained dog meat and seaweed soup, according to an official who didn’t want to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, according to the Associated Press.

Some South Koreans believe dog meat promotes health, heals wounds and can help patients recover from surgery.

The Thursday attack left Lippert with deep gashes on his face and arm and damaged tendons and nerves. The hospital plans to remove the 80 stiches on Lippert’s face on Monday and Tuesday and release him on Wednesday.

The suspect in the attack, Kim Ki-jong, 55, could face charges including attempted murder, assaulting a foreign envoy, obstruction, and violating a controversial law that bans praise or assistance for North Korea.

(Photo: South Korean conservative activists hold portraits of Lippert during a rally for his quick recovery; by Ahn Young-Joon / Associated Press)

An artful remembrance of Soviet space dogs


Landing on the moon may have been a giant step for mankind, but, before man deemed it safe enough to venture into outer space, four-legged creatures paved the way.

spacedogs1The first earth creature to reach outer space was a Soviet dog named Laika, who died during the 1957 Sputnik 2 mission.

And, while the race to space heated up, with the U.S. opting to use mice and monkeys to test the effects of zero gravity, dogs continued to be the hand-picked pioneers of choice for the Soviets.

They  — Mishka, Belka, Strelka and more — were literally picked off the streets of Moscow as strays, trained and sent into space both before and after 1961, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

The contribution of those dogs — both to the Soviet space program and, through that, to Soviet popular culture — is artfully depicted in  “Soviet Space Dogs,” a new book by  Olesya Turkina, a research fellow at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.

spacedogs“The Soviet public couldn’t get enough of photographs of their beloved dogs, in rockets, oxygen masks and space helmets,” a New York Times review of the book notes. “But even in that citadel of communism, quick-buck artists made money off Laika, Belka and Strelka, putting the dogs’ heroic images on anything that couldn’t move, including candy bars, postcards, stamps, pins and the inevitable commemorative plates.”

As the author of the book writes, “These dogs are the characters in a fairy tale that was created in the U.S.S.R.: They are the martyrs and saints of communism.” (You can sample the book here.)

Laika, who led the way, didn’t survive her space mission, dying from the heat. Other cosmonaut dogs died as well, and most of those who lived spent the rest of their lives in laboratories, suffering ill effects from space travel.

“The lucky ones lived out their days in the laboratory, where devoted attendants would chew bits of (hard-to-find) sausage before feeding it to the dogs who had lost their teeth in the battle to colonize space,” Turkina writes.


But they’d become revered in Soviet society, and served as symbols of patriotic sacrifice.

After Belka and Strelka returned alive from a day in orbit in 1960, they joined Laika as celebrities, appearing on radio and television. Their portraits were featured in newspapers, on stamps and in magazines, Turkina writes. One could smoke Laika cigarettes, or buy a Belka and Strelka storybook for their children.

“Soviet Space Dogs, while full of images, is a book for all ages — fascinating for its insights into early space travel, but also for what it says about popular culture and patriotism, and the mutts who, through no choice of their own, were catapulted first into space, then into lasting fame.

(Photos from “Soviet Space Dogs”)

Taliban show off captured military dog

The military dog captured by the Taliban — and shown off by his captors on a video posted on the Internet — was apparently attached to a British special forces unit.

While the Taliban identified their captive as a U.S. dog, military sources who asked not to be identified say the bomb-sniffing dog was British, and that it disappeared after a deadly firefight in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province on Dec. 23, according to the Washington Post.

Officials  at the Pentagon said it is the first time they recall a military dog being taken captive.

The British Defense Ministry has not confirmed the nationality of the dog.

In the video, the dog, believed to a Belgian Malinois, stands amid a group of heavily armed men, appearing confused at times, tentatively wagging its tail at others.

“Allah gave victory to the mujahideen!” one of the fighters says in the video, adding, in apparent reference to U.S. forces, “Down with them, down with their spies!”

The dog wears a black protective vest, which was oufitted with what the Taliban said were sophisticated electronic devices.

The video was posted on the Internet Feb. 5 via a Twitter account often used to disseminate Taliban propaganda.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the dog was captured after a firefight between coalition forces and Taliban fighters in the Alin Nigar district of Afghanistan’s Laghman province in late December.

“The mujahideen valorously put tough resistance against the troops for hours,” he said. “The dog was of high significance to the Americans.”

U.S. Special Operations troops often use the Belgian Malinois, some of which have been trained to parachute and rappel with their handlers.

A Belgian Malinois was among the members of the special forces team that found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

Bully for them: Dogs to be tops again in UK

Dogs, who lost their ranking as the number one pet (not counting fish) in the United Kingdom in 1994, are now poised to take over the top spot again (not counting fish).

Cats displaced dogs as the nation’s favorite pet — or favourite, if you live there — for the first time in 1994, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).

Now, a study by the association predicts dogs will be number one again, possibly as early as this year.

“Rovertaken,” read the headline in the Sun. “It’s raining more dog than cat,” said the Daily Mail.

The study says the number of dogs in Britain is at an all-time high having risen from 5 million in 1970 to 8.3 million today. Cats have fallen from a 2004 peak of 9.6 million to 8.6 million.

Figures from the Kennel Club reveal ‘handbag dog’ breeds have increased sixfold and the number of Chihuahuas have tripled since 2001.

While more households have dogs than cats — both in the U.S. and Britain — there are more cats overall in both countries, given the number of households where mutliple cats reside. As of 2007, census figures showed 82 million cats and 72 million dogs in the U.S.

Labs still tops; beagles, bulldogs rising

For the 20th year in a row, the Labrador retriever is America’s top dog.

While America’s three most popular dog breeds remained the same — Lab, German shepherd and Yorkshire terrier — the American Kennel Club’s annual list of most oft-registered purebreds had some surprises.

The beagle overtook the golden retriever for the No. 4 spot.

And the bulldog, who has been steadily rising up in rank, took 6th place away from the boxer.

“Not since the early 20th Century has the bulldog enjoyed such sustained popularity,” said AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson. “‘Bob’ was the first AKC registered bulldog in 1886, and today the breed enjoys its highest ranking in 100 years at number 6.”

The AKC numbers are based on the numbers of purebreds registered with the organization.

Baltimore’s top five breeds reflected the national averages, except for the presence of the Rottweiler at No. 5.

Chihuahuas, ranked 13th nationally, were the sixth most popular breed for Baltimore.

Some other national highlights from the AKC’s count:

  • The French bulldog made the largest leap in the past decade, jumping 50 places from 71st to 21st. Other breeds with the biggest increase in rankings over the last decade include the Havanese (from 86th to 31st) and the Cavalier King Charles spaniel (from 54th to 23rd).
  • Closing the gap this year, a couple of breeds that had been on the decline over the past decade made double digit increases over the past year — Keeshonden (from 102nd to 87th) and Anatolian shepherd dogs (from 115th to 109th).
  • Three new breeds entered AKC’s registry in 2010, and the larger the breed, the higher they appeared in the rankings. The Leonberger, the largest of the new breeds, was ranked 33rd; the Cane Corso ranked 51st; and the smallest of the new breeds, the Icelandic sheepdog, came in at 82nd.

Hachiko-inspired movie sidesteps big screen

The modern-day, Richard Gere-infused retelling of the story of a loyal Japanese dog named Hachiko won’t be showing in theaters in the U.S.

Instead the movie, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” will make its American debut on Sunday on the Hallmark Channel, the New York Times reports.

The movie, which has already sold more than $45 million in tickets during its release in Asian, European and South American markets, is a contemporary retelling of the story of Hachiko, an Akita who, when his human companion, a college professor, died suddenly at work, continued for two years to return to the train station to wait for him.

Gere plays the professor and is also the movie’s producer. It was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who also directed the Swedish coming-of-age film “My Life as a Dog.”

“Hachi” was shot primarily in Rhode Island, using three Akitas to play the different stages of the dog’s life.

“Hachi,” the Times reports, was not eagerly received by Sony Pictures Entertainment, the studio which controlled its distribution. Sony opted not to release it in American theaters.

“You think of all the people who really love their animals, love their dogs, love their cats, would embrace this specific movie,” Gere said. “But Sony just had no imagination for it. It was really bizarre.”

Hallstrom said the studio’s strategy was “a mistake of being overly worried about the size of the movie as opposed to the emotional impact of it.”

The Hallmark Channel, which broadcasts about 22 original movies a year, stepped in and bought it, and will premiere the film Sunday night.