For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.
APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.
The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.
“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.
“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.
The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.
In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”
Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.
Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.
The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.
The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.
“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”
The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.
The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.
“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”
Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.
“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.
“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”
“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”
The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.
HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.
The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.
In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.
“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.
“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the statement added.
“In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”
Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.
Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:
“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”
Posted by John Woestendiek February 8th, 2017 under Muttsblog.
Tags: access, administration, agriculture department, animal welfare, animals, aphis, best friends, blocked, breeders, circus, compliance, database, dogs, federal, government, hsus, humane society of the united states, information, investigations, laboratories, monitoring, peta, pets, privacy, protecting, protection, puppy mills, purged, removed, research, searchable, team, transition, transparency, Trump, usda, web page, website, zoos
Getting your Huntsvilles confused is one thing, but one website really screwed the pooch when they published a story about a good Samaritan who helped reunite a homeless man and his dog.
In September, in Huntsville, TEXAS, Wilma Price was driving through a Walmart parking lot when she saw a homeless man holding a sign that said, “Dog in pound. Need help.”
Price, who runs a rescue called Mr. K’s Pet Shelter, stopped to find out his story. She learned the homeless man, named Patrick, had been arrested and jailed for trespassing, and that, because of that, his dog ended up in the animal shelter.
She took Patrick to the shelter, and paid the $120 necessary for him to get his dog — named Franklin — back.
Dozens of other websites reprinted or rewrote it — most of them doing a decent job of passing along the facts.
Then there was the Alabama Observer.
It reported that the story took place in Huntsville, Alabama, that the dog’s name was Wilbur, that the homeless man’s name was Mark Spencer, and that the good Samaritan’s name was Elizabeth Masterson.
The story had no links to actual news sources, and little attribution.
It wasn’t the only website to get the facts askew, but it was the only one that appeared to be making up entirely new names for everyone involved. At least three other websites published versions of the story with those erroneous names.
One wonders what might be the motivation for substituting illegitimate names into a legitimate story.
Might the exact same story have happened with different people at a Walmart in Huntsville, Alabama? Clearly not. Might the website be trying to cover its rear, legally? Maybe. Might there be something more nefarious going on, such as diverting donations intended for Patrick (whose last name isn’t Spencer) to some guy named Mark Spencer? We hope not. Might a computer program be doing the website’s writing? Highly possible.
Apparently, a bogus Go Fund Me campaign to raise funds for Patrick was launched by someone neither Wilma nor Patrick knew, and, using photos from Wilma’s Facebook page, it raised $3,000 before the page was removed from Go Fund Me.
That’s $3,000 Patrick and Franklin didn’t get. Wilma Price, meanwhile, started a campaign for him too, and it has raised more than $15,000 for Patrick on GoFundMe.
Price said Patrick has been helping her organization with rescue efforts since the two met, and her Facebook page documents their adventures together.
Snopes.com looked into the story and couldn’t figure out how or why the Alabama Observer version had new names inserted into it.
There is no contact information on the Alabama Observer’s web site, and no description of who operates it. Snopes reported it appears to accept stories submitted by users, as opposed to having its own reporters or freelancers.
We think there’s a good possibility it’s one of those websites that runs news stories through computer programs that rewrite them (with mixed results, or should I say “stirred outcomes?”).
How else could you explain the opening of this recent Alabama Observer story about clown sightings in Ohio?
“The developing rash of reported dangers including clown-faced villains has law authorization offices crosswise over Ohio and somewhere else attempting to recognize true blue dangers while cautioning deceptions are no giggling matter.”
(Photos courtesy of Wilma Price)
Posted by John Woestendiek November 2nd, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alabama, alabama observer, animals, arrest, dog, dogs, errors, facts, franklin, fraud, go fund me, gofundme, good samaritan, homeless man, huntsville, impounded, mr. k's pet shelter, news, news media, patrick, pets, publishing, rescue, rescue groups, reunite, reunited, reunites, rewriting, shelter, texas, truth, website, wilma price
If we can trust the source of this study — and sleazy as the source may be, we probably should — dog owners are less likely to cheat on their partners.
IllicitEncounters.com, a dating website in the UK for married people, has found that of all the pet owners using its service to start an affair, dog owners are the least represented.
The website surveyed members, finding only about 10 percent of them own dogs — a far smaller portion than in the UK’s overall population.
“There has already been a plethora of scientific studies that claim that owning a dog, or dogs, makes you happier and healthier, and now you can add loyalty to that list,” said website spokesperson Christian Grant.
Grant noted that, in a way, pet owners seem to reflect the personality of their pets, at least when it comes to dogs and cats.
Dogs are generally viewed as loyal, he said, while “a cat’s loyalty is a little more unclear. Often lazy, they’ve been known to drift to whomever is offering them more food, so it’s of little surprise to see that lack of loyalty reflected in our study.”
Fidelity is rarer among cat owners, if the study is to be believed. They make up 25 per cent of the website’s membership.
According to The Telegraph, the website surveyed 700 members of its members.
Apparently, even while juggling spouses and paramours these cheaters had time to take the survey. (We’ll assume they didn’t cheat on it.)
Of those member surveyed about 16 percent said they owned fish, 13 per cent hamsters or gerbils, 11 per cent rabbits and 11 per cent reptiles.
But the biggest disparity between the spouse cheaters — or at least hopeful spouse cheaters — and the general population was how few had dogs in their homes.
“Man’s best friend is the UK’s most popular pet, and has been for a very long time, but not among this particular community it seems,” Grant said.
The website claims it has had more than 1 million users since 2003, and it issues the following disclaimer on its opening page:
“WARNING: NOT EVERYONE IS SUITED TO HAVING AN AFFAIR. THEY ARE NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO WORKING ON OR ENDING A MARRIAGE. NOT ALL AFFAIRS HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT ON A MARRIAGE, SOME CAN BE VERY DAMAGING. ALWAYS CONSIDER OTHER PEOPLE AND IF YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE AN AFFAIR, PLEASE SELECT YOUR PARTNER WISELY.”
Posted by John Woestendiek September 7th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: affairs, animals, cat owners, cats, cheat, cheating, dog owners, dogs, fidelity, illicit encounters, infidelity, loyal, loyalty, members, owners, partners, personality, pets, sex, spouses, survey, types, uk, website
If you notice ohmidog! has a slightly different look as of today, it’s because I’ve purged the site of advertising.
Except for a brief period when I first fired this website up, eight years ago, advertising has never brought in enough money to cover expenses.
That was the plan, but I never invested much effort in it. And what little effort I did put into it — much like my efforts at “search engine optimization” — was not an enjoyable use of time.
Life is too short to spend it wooing Google.
So, as of today, ohmidog! — while still planning to dazzle you daily, and remain your most trusted source of dog news — takes another step away from being a business, and another step closer to being a hobby.
That said, we are forever grateful to those advertisers that have been with us from the start and helped get us off the ground. We’re hoping the fact that we haven’t charged you for four years makes up for the abrupt break up.
I’ve come to the realization that I’m not a businessman; I’m more of a storyteller. And while the two can mix, I’m not good at mixing them.
Of course, I will still advertise myself (as any self-respecting blogger must) and tout from time to time the words I string together.
Those mentions — and who knows what else — will now move to the right side rail. (The ad for Bark magazine, as I sometimes write for them, falls under that category.)
All those shelters, humane societies, rescue organizations, animal advocates and doggy do-gooders that do what they do for something other than profit are now on the left side rail.
(There’s room for more. If your group would like its logo to appear there, write us at email@example.com.)
There is, of course no charge for that and, as promised long ago, there will continue to be no charge to read our daily posts, no registration required, no annoying pop-ups, no hidden links and no advertising disguised as editorial content.
If you’d like to donate to ohmidog’s continuing operation, I won’t stop you. But I won’t twist your arm, either, and I promise we won’t have a week-long fundraising drive — at least not yet.
To those of you who visit ohmidog! daily – as you are supposed to – we apologize for our recent interruption in services.
We were moving our corporate headquarters, and not a single person on our staff – from the president (me) to our director of tech support (me) to our janitor (me) – was able to get our Internet hooked up.
So in addition to not bringing you a dispatch on the 4th of July (which is a holiday after all), we failed to publish on the 5th, 6th, and 7th.
When it comes to moving, the best laid plans can get, well, mislaid.
The way it was supposed to work, after closing on the new condo a week ago Wednesday, was for some needed new flooring to be installed Thursday, and for the movers to move me in on Friday.
The carpet layers didn’t show up though, and after calling Empire (that number, in case the jingle has managed to escape your head, is 800-538-2300) I learned they weren’t going to arrive until about the same time the movers were supposed to on Friday.
I was able to reschedule the move for Sunday, which meant I had to reschedule my visit from the cable/Internet technician for Wednesday.
On top of all that, there were 48 visits to Home Depot — OK, maybe it was only three — to buy things that were the wrong size, and then return them, and then buy new things, and then return them.
The new place shortens my commute from about 12 paces to about four, and brings an end to a search that lasted so long my dog died in the process.
Ironic, because it was in large part for Ace, and his ever-stiffening hind legs, that I began seeking an affordable condo or townhome, where he and I could spend our old fartage – a place all on one floor, with no steps for him (or me) to climb to get in and out, with a little green space (mowed by others) to romp, in the event we felt up to romping. Above all, a dog friendly place.
When Ace died, I thought about calling off the search, but I’d realized by then that by owning, as opposed to renting, I could save money in the long run – assuming there is going to be long run.
I assumed Ace was going to have one, but he – an ultra large dog — died before age 12, of heart failure. His ashes sit about three feet from me, in my new little office – but some of them will be doing some traveling soon, because Ace loved to travel, and he had some favorite places.
Some of them will go back to Bethania, where we lived for three years, to be spread along the trail at Black Walnut Bottoms. Some may be going to the beach later this month. Some I think I’ll keep.
Absolutely, there will be a new dog. Soon. Give me time. Meanwhile, there are tons of dogs in my new neighborhood I can get my fix from, including five in the unit next door.
When selecting my carpet, I made a point of choosing a color that looked like it would hide most any color of dog hair. I opted for “oyster.”
So far, I’ve encountered only one downside to the new place. There’s a tree that overhangs my little back patio, and it drops thousands — and this time I’m not exaggerating — of little purple berries every day.
To the left, that’s about half a day’s worth. The berries fall on my head. The berries fall in my coffee. If you can identify them, let me know. I may have swallowed one or two, so I’m hoping they are not poisonous.
They get tracked into the house, and purple may be the one color that my oyster carpets can’t disguise.
My patio is also surrounded by bamboo, and I know I will have to regularly wield my machete to keep it from encroaching too far, but it does add some major serenity to my surroundings, especially when the wind rustles through it.
Those are trivial details, though, and I’m sure, between our janitor (me) and our assistant director of trivial details (me), we’ll figure something out.
So that’s the reason behind the absence, and I apologize for not providing a better explanation in advance — both here on ohmidog! and on my Facebook page, where I announced last week I was moving, but didn’t say where.
That kind of Internet teasing — popular as it is among websites — tends to drive people crazy, but I didn’t intend it that way. I try not to resort to cheap gimmicks like that.
Our return to daily-ness will resume next week, after I accomplish a little more decorating, and make a few more visits — assuming our director of procurement (me) approves — to Home Depot.
There is one other small life-changing development that began to take shape this week.
But I’ve got berries to sweep, so, not to be a tease or anything, I’ll have to wait and tell you about that next week.
Posted by John Woestendiek July 8th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, ashes, berries, bethania, dog, dogs, facebook, falling, internet, move, moving, moving day, north carolina, ohmidog!, pets, purple, townhome, website, winston-salem
There’s a new taxi service for dogs in the nation’s capital.
Launched earlier this month, Rapid Paws will transport your pooch (or cat) wherever he or she needs to go — be it vet, groomer, day care, airport, or even to another state.
The on-demand limousine service for animals has a fleet of two climate controlled, high-roofed vans, and they’re even equipped with cams should you want to check in and take a look as your dog gets from here to there.
Customers can schedule a a door-to-door pickup and local delivery to anywhere in Washington and its burbs, and they can do that by phone, via the Rapid Paws website, or through a smartphone app.
While the service may sound over the top, owner Paul Ozner says it’s filling a need.
“It’s an excessive service for some, in terms of basic necessities. But some of the people in this area, they’re time-constrained, and they do have pets. So what are you going to do? You have to treat them right,” he told the Washington Post.
So far, he said, most clients are middle aged professionals too busy to take off work to run their pet to the vet, or disabled, ill or elderly pet owners seeking a little help.
Rapid Paws has teamed up with one real estate company to transport the dogs or cats of people who are relocating.
Ozner said he and his partners came up with the idea based on their experience with a company that delivered meals to schools and the elderly.
Fares typically run from $25 to $60, depending on the length of the trip.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 18th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, app, cats, day care, dc, dogs, groomers, limousine, maryland, pet, pets, rapid paws, services, shipping, taxi, transport, transportation, vet, veterinarian, virginia, washington, website
I have not yet come to fully understand these feelings I have for Trivago Man.
I’m a heterosexual male, yet I will admit I find him quite appealing.
Perhaps it’s that his face has more character than the average shill pushing a product on TV. Perhaps it’s how he always looks at least a little disheveled, rumpled even, and less than smoothly shaved.
Maybe it’s because he’s sooooo laid back. Or because you just know that — behind his charming smile, tight shirt and beltless jeans — there lies a very sensitive side.
That side is played up a little more in this commercial for Trivago, the travel arrangement website based in Dusseldorf, Germany, that seems to be running its ads on every channel in America.
Wouldn’t you just know it, Trivago man has to have a dog.
And not a big dog. Trivago man doesn’t need a gigantic vehicle or large dog to prove his masculinity. A Chihuahua is sufficient for him.
He’s a non-threatening sort, not supremely arrogant, not overly slick, not particularly young. He seems to be in, or just past, mid-life crisis age, but has kept, I’d guess, a calm and even keel through all that has thrown at him.
He’s just not your typical shiny TV guy. He appears as if he skipped going to make-up before coming into the studio, as if he may even have missed showering yesterday.
As one blogger wrote about him, “He’s so real you can practically smell the tobacco on the tips of his fingers.”
Maybe what’s so appealing about Trivago man is that he — even though he’s an advertising character — is so real.
Only one thing could have made him more real — a dog.
So it really should come as no big surprise that Trivago man got Lucky.
(You can find more of our “Woof in Advertising” posts here.)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: advertising, animals, chihuahua, dog, dogs, dogs in advertising, lucky, marketing, media, pets, pitchman, spokesman, television, travel, trivago, trivago dude, trivago man, website, woof in advertising