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Tag: u.s.

An artful remembrance of Soviet space dogs

spacedogs3

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.

laikacigs

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.

Iraq seeing influx of dogs, but not as pets

iraqdogIraq, a country not very welcoming to dogs, will be welcoming more than 1,000 of them in the next five years — all trained to sniff bombs and assigned to the Iraqi police force.

“Iraqis are not fully comfortable with dogs yet,” says Brig. Gen. Mohammad Mesheb Hajea, who is in charge of the Interior Ministry’s fledgling K-9 unit. “But the people are coming to love them, because they realize what they can do to keep us safe.”

Twenty-five dogs and their human handlers graduated earlier this month from Baghdad Police College’s newly created K-9 course, USA Today reports. And 120 more bomb-sniffing German shepherds, Malinois and Labradors are scheduled to be incorporated into Iraq’s police force by the end of this year.

As in many Muslim countries, Iraqis generally see dogs as unclean animals who shouldn’t be allowed in the home.

But authorities says Iraqis are recognizing the contribution canines can make.

“There is no better investment to countering the threats of bombs and explosives,” said Col. Randy Twitchell, chief U.S. military adviser to the Baghdad Police College. “The Iraqi security forces are recognizing how useful a role that dogs can play in securing the country.”

The U.S. military is paying for the dogs – $12,000 each.

The American advice to bulk up the K-9 units was initially met with resistance.

The vast majority of bomb-sniffing dogs now being used at Iraq’s airports are owned by foreign contractors. Those contractors will be phased out and replaced by Iraqi government-owned dogs and their police handlers, Hajea said.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Olympian adopts dog he met on Today Show

Little did Today Show producers know when they came up with the idea of having members of the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. bobsled team usher some adoptable dogs on stage that a love connection would result.

As part of its weekly “From Bow to Wow” segment, the Today Show asked Steve Holcomb and his bobsled team — who won the USA’s first gold in the event since 1948 — to walk four adoptable dogs onto the set.

Apparently Holcomb and one of the dogs, a 2-year-old, female golden retriever named Bailey, bonded during their short time together.

“I may take her home myself,” Holcomb said after ushering Bailey onto the set during the segment — jokingly, it seemed, at the time.

This week, the Today Show announced the Holcomb has adopted the dog, who had been at Animal Care and Control of NYC for about a month. The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals flew Bailey to Denver.

Here’s the Today Show update, and the happy reunion: