Posts tagged ‘ethics’

It’s Not About Dogs…

I’ve had a nagging suspicion that an increasing number of dog-related laws were being passed across the country.  Apparently (and unfortunately), I’m not crazy.  Last month the HSUS reported that a record number of animal “protection” laws were passed in 2008.  Their website brags that; “The nation’s largest animal protection organization ushered in a whole new era of policies for animals by helping to pass 91 new animal protection laws this year, surpassing the previous record number of 86 new laws enacted in 2007.”

But do we really need more laws?  A post on “The Tyranny of Relativism” I read today at Never Yet Melted got me thinking, once again, on the function of culture in society (it’s an excellent piece BTW - go read it).  As I commented there:

It’s that constellation of fixed values otherwise known as culture that gives us the security and cohesiveness that allows us to recognize and accept those whose values are different from ours.

What the relativists seem to have forgotten (or prefer to overlook) is that the unwritten rules and sanctions of culture are fluid and mutable. Allowances are made. Slights are remembered and often forgiven. But in a governmental or relativist system we are forced to endure rigid, compulsory laws and regulations. We can’t make allowances (that wouldn’t be fair, now – would it?) and transgressions are always punished but then supposed to be forgotten.

Though they may seem to be more rigid and restrictive at first glance; culture and ethics are much more fluid and adaptable than relativism and regulation.

Because they are fluid, mutable and forgiving, cultural mores are a much healthier way to guide general group behavior (i.e. things like excess barking, picking up poop and pet limits) than laws and regulations are.  But if we don’t need  more of them, why are increasing numbers of laws and regulations controlling life with our four-legged friends being promulgated?  A thought-provoking answer comes from a piece written by Michael Brandow in today’s New York Yimes about the city’s poop-scooping law:

I believe that many dog “problems” are symptoms of other concerns that have little or nothing to do with dogs. Like rabies paranoia, these fears tend to be culturally based. Why did a large number of cities suddenly decide to get tough on dog owners after 2001? Just as anti-dog sentiment in the 1970s was a way to express anger over the urban crisis, believe it or not, the new wave of canine waste laws seems to be inspired by the threat of global terrorism. New attitudes on how far we have the right to go in dictating personal behavior, and to monitor compliance with laws, are leading to cleaner surfaces — but at what price? People are taking age-old grudges and dressing them as public safety issues. Suddenly the whole world is on orange alert for sidewalk bombs.

We’ve got all this unresolved stress related to abstract, diffuse, on-going pressures like “is there anything left in my 401K?”  “did they really put melamine in Oreos?” and “will Al Queda bomb shopping malls?”  Add in the fact that we have an enemy that is, for the most part, nameless and faceless – and even the Department of Homeland Securityadmits that the potential health risks of unresolved fear and stress may outweigh the benefits of government terrorist threat alerts.  So, we cope by bitching about what a jerk our neighbor is and vote to pass a law that will make the ignorant b***ard get rid of his stoopid barking, crapping dog.

But do these laws regulating general group behavior really accomplish anything?  Referring specifically to New York’s dog poop law Brandow writes:

You are never going to catch one in a thousand people, not even if you live in a police state. Believing otherwise is only going to give you high blood pressure. Worse, every time you dial 311 and complain, you are giving government yet another opportunity to point a finger at those terrible dog owners. This serves a political purpose, just as it did in the ’70s. It distracts from matters weightier than a few stray piles, and gets government off the hook on the real problems that seem beyond its grasp.

Breed specific legislation, limit laws, mandatory spay-neuter and similar regulations don’t really accomplish much — but, compared to important things like campaign finance reform or balanced budgets these kinds of laws are really easy to write, enact and then – conveniently — forget about.  The legislators and lobbyists who “championed” the laws get their sound-bites. The wack-jobs at HSUS get another notch in their Naugahyde belts and life goes on.  Well, that is, except for dogs and dog owners who are now forced to endure yet another set of rigid, compulsory (and often non-sensical) laws and regulations that complicate our lives without solving any problems.

In the current state of things, dog-related legislation mostly affects law-abiding citizens who license their pets, give them regular veterinary care and engage in other activities that put them in the system’s database.  The irresponsible morons whose untrained, uninnoculated, unrestrained, unlicensed, unsocialized animals bark incessantly, have unwanted litters and attack the mailman fly under the radar until after they’ve committed the offenses these laws are designed to prevent.

Increased respect for and adherence to (gasp!) mainstream cultural mores would greatly reduce problems caused by things like noise and dog poop.  The very un-sexy options of education and increased enforcement of existing laws could significantly mitigate issues related to animal suffering, but these kinds of actions don’t generally lead to newspaper and TV interviews.  Unfortunately, increased enforcement results in media reports that arrests have gone up — which will, of course, be spun by the press to say that problems have gotten worse.  And no politician wants to be associated with that kind of publicity.

So instead of dealing with our pet-related problems within a flexible, forgiving system of common-sense cultural mores – we regulate them in a completely rigid legal system.  The politicians win. The lobbyists win.  And dogs lose.

January 10, 2009 at 3:47 am 6 comments

A Mechanism for Culture and Morals in Dogs?

Last month’s breaking story that researchers had demonstrated that dogs detect and respond to incentive inequities may have been big news to some on the interwebs, but the idea that dogs make moral judgements wasn’t news to most dog lovers.

Moral judgements can be defined as evaluations of the actions or character of another made with respect to applicable cultural values. Moral reasoning is the set of conscious, intentional, narrative mental processes that most philosophers and scientsts have have historically believed were used to transform available information into moral judgements.

This rationalist approach says that we arrive at moral judgements primarily through a process of deliberation and reason. Moral emotions like sympathy and indignation affect the process but have supporting rather than controlling roles. In the rationalist model we methodically weigh issues of harm, justice and fairness in our minds before making moral judgements.

But… if moral reasoning is a purely (or even mostly) explicit, cognitive process based on mental narrative we shouldn’t expect to find it in dogs, apes, bees or mole rats – should we?

molerats

In philosophy the conflict between reason and emotion was originally seen as that between the divine and the animal. Our deeply rooted prejudice that reason and narrative must rule over emotion and perception predates Cartesian dualism and Rousseau’s noble savage. And, to some extent, it continues to exist because  reason and narrative are a whole lot easier to study than emotion and intuition are.

If we toss some of those deep-seated rationalist prejudices aside and consider the idea that implicit, intuitive, emotional processes may play a much greater role in our moral judgement making than generally accepted — it might help us explain how dogs and mole rats could have the capacity to make moral judgements.

The social intuitionist model introduced by Jonathan Haidt in 2001 proposes that we employ subconscious perceptual and intuitive processes to make moral judgements, then create our rationalizations for these judgements after we’ve made them.

What?  Haidt is saying we don’t use logical and reason to evaluate the moral quandaries we find ourselves embroiled in until after we’ve made judgements? Yup. That’s exactly what he’s saying.  And if he’s right, when we make the smug assumption that our moral positions are based on logic, facts and reason (and that the positions of those who disagree with us are based on little more than mindless ideology and self-interest) –  we are, at least – half right!

Is there really any meat to the social intuitionist model? Well one bit of evidence supporting the model is studies that have shown that our emotional and affective reactions to moral issues are far better predictors of our judgement than our rational evaluation of the potential harm or good associated with those issues.  But, you’re saying – if we really do make moral judgements in a largely intuitive way, why does it feel like we’re making them in a logical way? Well, maybe because the mental efforts we engage in in creating those post hoc rationalizations feel like introspection.  They are, after all, similar processes. Cognitively speaking, searching for the memory of a narrative, judgemental process isn’t much different from looking for the plausible arguments we can use to defend our judgements. Add to that the fact that these processes occur so quickly in our minds that they’re hard to consciously differentiate and the fact that they are, of course,  correlatively linked and it becomes very difficult to say whether the rational chicken or the intuitive egg came first.

So — what are the mental mechanics behind the social intuitionist model? Dual process models state that two different cognitive processes function together when we make judgements and solve problems. Implicit processes occur quickly, effortlessly, unconsciously and automatically (they are the basis of intuition and perception).  Explicit, rational processes are slower, require more effort and are, at least in some ways, accessible to our conscious mind. These two sets of processes  operate in parallel - but they can sometimes come to different conclusions. The implicit processes evolved before the rational ones did, they arise earlier in ontogeny, they’re triggered sooner in decision-making activities and (except in psychopaths) they have a more powerful and lasting hold on our minds when the two processes conflict.  And — conveniently for us, they’re also believed to govern most of what goes on in animal minds.

So now we’ve made the link back to animal minds. Historically, most scientists and philosophers have believed that animals weren’t capable of making moral judgements or having a code of ethics. These ideas were supported by the rationalist view that moral judgements were based on reason and narrative. The social intuitionist model, on the other hand paw, provides a plausible mechanism for morality to occur in animals.

But why would animals need to be able to make moral judgements?

Haidt proposes that a sense of morality is evolutionarily adaptive for intensely social species. Remember, moral judgements are evaluations of the actions or character of others made with respect to applicable cultural values. When you’re a social species, it’s good highly adaptive to have mental processes that allow you not just to tell friends from enemies, but also to be able to differentiate between cheaters and those who cooperate with you. And while dogs, apes and mole rats may not be capable of creating the kind of culture that includes opera or ice hockey, their societies do have sets of rules and mores that govern behavior. These prescriptive rules (which cover things like reciprocity in food sharing, reconciliation, consolation, conflict intervention, and mediation) are  those that individual members learn to respect through active reinforcement by the group at large. And they are an important part of the cultural basis of social morality in humans too.

So, take a group of animals that live in a social setting. Give them a set of rules that not only govern interactions but also, conveniently, provide a basis for making value judgements about others. Add the implicit, intuitive, emotional processes that may form the basis for creating moral judgements — and you’ve got the parts you need for simple culture and moral systems to evolve.

Now the idea that dogs are capable of recognizing and responding to incentive inequities (i.e., fairness) makes perfect sense.

While dogs and mole rats may have simple moral systems, it’s important to keep in mind that these moral systems must be very different from ours. Not only are they based on different cultural value systems but they’re also operating on different cognitive and perceptive hardware.  While your dog may be able to make and understand simple moral judgements, unlike you, he as absolutely no desire (and probably little or no ability) to rationalize or justify his moral judgements.

The social intuitionist model might help explain why dogs and other animals seem to live in the moment.  An event happens, they process it quickly and intuitively, react accordingly and then just get on with their lives. They’re not bothered by that annoying (and sometimes pointlessly socially complicating) process of   rationalization and justification.  The model might also help dog trainers like me explain to pet owners why FiFi craps on their pillow through stress and displacement, not to exact revenge for some past slight.

January 3, 2009 at 6:30 pm 6 comments

Moral Hygiene

Ritual washing and purification ceremonies are a feature of many religions — but now research shows that those rites may put us in a less forgiving frame of mind.  A study published earlier this month in the journal Psychological Science  indicates that washing with soap and water can make people view questionable activities as less acceptable and reasonable than they would if they had not washed.  The study also indicated that being exposed to disgusting stimuli can make us judge situations less harshly than we ordinarily would.  This appears to indicate that people rely more on emotion and intuition than deliberate reasoning when we make decisions regarding what is right and what is wrong.

From The Economist:

Dr Schnall’s study was inspired by some previous work of her own. She had found that when feelings of disgust are instilled in them beforehand, people make decisions which are more ethical than would otherwise be expected. She speculates that the reason for this is that feeling morally unclean (ie, disgusted) leads to feelings of moral wrongness and thus triggers increased ethical behaviour by instilling a desire to right the wrong. However, as the cleanliness and purification rituals found in many religions suggest, physical cleanliness, too, is linked to moral behaviour, so she decided to investigate this as well.

[...]

The researchers report that those who were given the “clean” words or who washed themselves rated the acts they were asked to consider as ethically more acceptable than the control groups did.

I found it interesting that all the reports I read interpreted the results of this study to mean that washing our hands causes us to make less moral judgements. Hey — wait, what happened to the idea that qualities like understanding and forgiveness are moral values? Are we only moral and ethical when we judge others’ behavior harshly?  Oddly (especially in this age of political correctness), the researchers and the press both seem to be inferring this.

And maybe I’m weird, but I thought that the most interesting aspect of the study was evidence that we don’t make moral judgements in a rational way. That our sense of physical cleanliness directly affects how easily we become outraged.  Seriously – doesn’t this make some things a little clearer? 

Things like making a judgement that killing dogs solely because they resemble a certain rather broad physical type that has acquired a reputition for viciousness through human abuse and ignorance?  [Dirty, icky people own those kinds of dogs -- and they do vile things with them - off with their heads!]

Things like feeling justified in demanding that all licensed dogs be spayed and neutered before sexual maturity because some irresponsible people (people who usually don’t license their dogs anyway) have unplanned litters and abandon unwanted dogs?  [Eww, dog sex.  Disgusting.  Have you seen how that dog licks himself -- off with his balls!]

Things like believing it’s right to limit all households to a specific number of dogs just because some people are bothered by morons who keep loud, obnoxious, untrained beasts in unsanitary or unsafe conditions?  [Revolting, nasty yard full of dog poop and filthy dogs who bark all day.  Sleazebag owner that I wish would move away -- off with his property rights!]

Maybe the people who are convinced that we need more of those kinds of laws need to wash a bit more — and judge a bit less.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Decision

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conclusion

In fact, an earlier study (published in  Science in 2006) which also studied links between morality and hygiene, found that people commonly felt an urge to wash themselves after committing, or remembering  they had committed, acts that they felt were immoral.  The “MacBeth Effect” was manifested through increased attention on hygiene-related words and ideas, an enhanced desire to have and use cleaning products, and a craving for antiseptic wipes (seriously, I could not make this stuff up).  The researchers noted that the study indicated that “physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behavior and reduces threats to one’s moral self-image.”

Interesting.  So – while on the one hand (pun intended) we are more likely to judge other’s actions less harshly after washing ourselves – we also feel an urge to cleanse ourselves after commiting or thinking of an act we think of as wrong or immoral.  Does this imply that we subconsciously feel that judging others is wrong?  And that we should engage in ritual purification before making moral judgements instead of afterward?

And maybe that people who think we need to live in a harshly judgemental, politically correct world are exposed to too many fithy and disgusting experiences in their own lives?

December 18, 2008 at 2:15 am 2 comments

And They Weren’t Even Drunk…

When we took a recent trip with the dogs to Texas to attend a seminar, we stayed in an Austin area hotel for five days.  While we were there, I was shocked to see that the rudest, dirtiest, most obnoxious guests there were adult men and women travelling with their children.  Some of the children seemed embarrassed by their parents behavior – I don’t blame them.  During our visit, several high school baseball teams were also staying at the hotel.  The players were, without exception, quiet and considerate neighbors.

I was surprised by this.  I grew up in a small, rural, Midwestern town in the 1960′s.  Manners were drilled into me.  Though I’ve moved around a lot, I’ve spent most of my life living in the upper Midwest where common courtesy is an integral part of culture.  I expect adult people to behave well.

So much for expectations.

I received a post on an on-line dog email list the other day that described nightmarish problems at a hotel that hosted a large agility trial.  The names of the club, the hotel and other identifying information have been removed to protect the club as it pursues the offenders. Since they are seeking to deal with this on their own, I’ll not tarnish their name publicly.

I wish I did have the names, postal addresses, home phone numbers and email addresses of the morons who did this offending parties.  I’d be more than happy to post those for public ridicule. 

Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

After a fantastic 4 day trial that the club felt was an absolute success, we received notification late last week that, due to the actions of some of our competitors over the trial weekend, the *hotel* in *city*
will no longer accept dogs during our club’s agility trials. The incomprehensible actions of some of the competitors staying there, as cited by the hotel, include:

1. Dogs swimming in the pool even after the owners were asked to remove all dogs from the pool. This resulted in the hotel having to close to pool for re-treatment and cleaning at considerable cost.

2. Dogs being allowed in the breakfast area even after owners were asked to please remove all dogs.

3. The carpeting in several rooms being ruined and having to be professionally cleaned after finding puddles of dog urine and feces after our competitors left, again at considerable cost.

There were other complaints cited by the hotel as well, but the club realizes it cannot answer for individual guest rudeness to hotel employees.

As a trial secretary, this repulses me. But, more over, as a competitor and frequent traveler myself, this angers me. With hotel prices continually on the rise and $100 non-refundable dog deposits becoming more and more frequent, I find it quite objectionable that anyone in conjunction with an agility event should behave in this manner. This is an extremely poor reflection on a sport that we all love and sets every single competitor and trial-giving club in a bad light. It’s embarrassing and those who committed these acts are the types of competitor that this sport does not need.

This situation is beyond embarrassing.  It is criminal.  Literally.  Also from the letter:

Other clubs in the past have let these infractions drop. *Club* is not willing to do so. The club will work closely with the AKC, the *hotel* their team of legal experts and, if necessary, local authorities to insure those responsible for the infractions are punished to the full extent available to us. We will take any measures necessary to identify the individuals responsible. You should all be aware that the hotel industry holds the person who signed for the room responsible for any damage to the room. We will soon be receiving information from the *hotel* detailing which rooms had to be professionally cleaned and the names of the individuals under whose name the room was booked. It should also be noted that very well placed video cameras may give some indication and identification of those persons involved in the swimming pool and breakfast area incidents.

I urge anyone who stayed at the *hotel* who has knowledge of or who was involved in any of the above incidents to contact me immediately.  Full disclosure on the part of those involved, or who think they may have been involved, will bear considerable weight when deciding how to best handle those found to be in violation. All of those who were not involved and who come forward with any helpful information will remain anonymous. Should it be found that you were involved and did not step forward, I can assure you that the club will impose the maximum penalty allowed by both AKC and local authorities. Enough is enough. Just as we must play by the rules on the course, we must also adhere to the rules elsewhere during events.

Enough is indeed enough.  Not only do we have to deal with AR activists working tirelessly with media hacks and politicians to take away our rights as dog owners - irresponsible dog owners - out of greed, laziness, selfishness and lame ignorance feed the frenzy by flaunting their disrespect for society in a very public way.

It sounds like the commotion at the trial hotel was a lot like what you’d expect to see if a group of drunken frat boys or rugby players had stayed there – but these weren’t drunken kids, they were a group consisting mostly of sober, adult women with jobs and families.

I had recently begun to wonder if the emphasis of fun and frenzy over anything else in some agility circles would lead to problems in the sport.  This situation certainly points to a need for competitors to learn more than a few things about responsibility, ethics and plain old-fashioned manners.  If this kind of behavior becomes the norm – all breeds of dogs could eventually end up being banned.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that an out-of-control, barking, reactive dog who races around in a mindless frenzy is not a dog who is having a good time.  I mean seriously, would you watch an over-tired toddler amped up on Mountain Dew and Cakesters run amok through the mall and remark how sweet and happy he looks?  I think not.  Yet people often look at a dog behaving in a similar way and gush about what fun he’s having.

A barking, leaping dog dog amped up on adrenaline is a lot like a poorly-behaved toddler throwing a tantrum.  He doesn’t enjoy the behavior any more than the people around him do – he just hasn’t developed the self-control to deal with the situation he’s in yet – and he needs help from his human companion to learn it.  Think about it, do you see Olympic athletes amp themselves up into a frenzy before they compete?

Agility is fun.  It should be fun.  But fun should never trump responsibility.  I hope that the disrespectful people involved in this situation are caught and prosecuted and/or sued and that it serves as a warning to those who consider behaving this way in the future.

July 23, 2008 at 4:45 pm 3 comments

and into the fire…

Two weeks ago we reported on a terrible situation in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas.  The local mayor, having few financial (and even fewer intellectual) resources, decided that setting dogs from the city shelter “free” in a nearby National Forest was a good way to get rid of them manage the problem.

We wrote then – and still believe – that this was a criminal act.  Apparently Circuit Court Judge David Henry agrees.  According to KARK News Mayor James Valley will be charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty. 

According to Arkansas Code 5-62-101, “a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if, except as authorized by law, he or she knowingly abandons any animal; subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment; subjects any animal in his or her custody to cruel neglect; or kills or injures any animal belonging to another without legal privilege or consent of the owner.”  Based on this information, it seems pretty straightforward that the mayor’s actions were, well – actionable.

As for the mayor, despite an earlier display of bravado, he’s decided to get out of the animal abuse control business for now.  According to NWAnews.com

After being informed of the law, Valley said, his plan is now to leave the stray dogs to fend for themselves in the city until he figures out another plan.

Now he’s throwing his hands up and getting out of the animal control business altogether, at least for now.  “For now we’re not going to pick them up until we can figure somewhere to keep them. Our animal control officer, we’ll find some other stuff for him to do. He can work on potholes and clean alleys and ditches,” Valley said Thursday.

Despite finally making one sane decision in this matter (to stop picking stray dogs up until the city has an appropriate place to shelter them), the mayor is hardly contrite.  According to WTOP news  he is quoted as saying “I look forward to my day in court.” 

So do we.

WTOP also reports that:

Valley also could face federal charges because it is against the law to leave animals, livestock or abandoned personal property on public land. The U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock is examining the case.

Sounds like another slam dunk.  The misdemeanor charges will likely involve little more than a slap on the wrist but federal charges could be a much more significant problem for the mayor. 

At least we can hope….

June 29, 2008 at 1:18 am 1 comment

Malign Neglect?

I had a private training session today with a small designer breed dog.  He was a teenager, originally purchased as a baby puppy by a busy family as a gift for their tweenage children.  The novelty of this new puppy wore off early and the poor little fellow was quickly consigned to a life of being shuttled back and forth between crate and tie out.  Fortunately for the pup, after a few months his owners tired of even this effort and they gave him up.

His new owner quickly realized that the little dog had potential and that she’d need help bringing it out.  When they arrived all you saw of this young dog was a wild bouncing mouth – endlessly leaping up and latching (albeit gently) onto ANYTHING within reach.  It seemed the only reactions he knew were to jump up or mouth.

The truly wonderful thing about this little dog was how quickly and easily he was willing to change that behavior provided with little more than touch and treats to guide him.  You would not have guessed it by observing his behavior when he arrived, but he is a very bright and biddable little fellow.  And to bring out this potential, all we really needed to do was stay calm and make sense to him. 

In one hour the little dog went from rude leaping mouthiness to cheerfully and agreeably sitting, lying down and doing simple tricks. 

 beg

Benign neglect is defined as:

Doing nothing about a problem, in the hope that it will not be serious or will be solved by others; or as

An attitude or policy of ignoring an often delicate or undesirable situation that one is held to be responsible for dealing with

The word benign is defined as:

Not dangerous to health; not recurrent or progressive (especially of a tumor);

Neutral or harmless in its effect or influence; or

Pleasant and beneficial in nature or influence.

So…how is it that when someone gets a dog, doesn’t exercise it, doesn’t train it and – in fact – refuses to take any sort of proactive part in the animal’s life whatsoever (which almost inevitably results in the dog being endlessly confined to a kennel or tie out — or worse yet, in its death….)  …that we refer to this as “benign neglect”?

There’s absolutely nothing pleasant, beneficial, harmless or frankly – even neutral about it.

IMO, “malign neglect” is a far better term.  Malign is defined as:

Of an evil nature or character, evil in influence; injurious;

A  clinical term that means to be severe and become progressively worse; or

Having or showing malice or ill will; malevolent.

Its also a transitive verb that refers to the act of criticizing somebody spitefully. 

That would be me.  Criticizing people who treat their dogs like this – and doing it spitefully

June 24, 2008 at 4:42 am 2 comments

Out of the Frying Pan…

People living in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas are upset – they say their community has gone to the dogs – and the mayor is to blame!

From USA Today:

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Unable and unwilling to keep abandoned dogs in a dilapidated shelter, the city of Helena-West Helena is taking strays to a national forest and leaving them on the side of the road.

“They are better off free,” Mayor James Valley said Thursday. “Pardon the pun, but it was just something that was dogging us. So it would be easier for us until we get a facility and have a plan that we just not be in the animal shelter business.”

Excuse me, the major actually admitted that he believes that abandoning dogs by the side of the road in a rural area is a viable solution to shelter overcrowding?  Is this solution about what’s good for the dogs or is it really about a simple and inexpensive solution for the city?

Fortunately, not everyone in Arkansas agrees with the mayor:

But the St. Francis National Forest isn’t in the animal shelter business, either.  “In the code, it is illegal to release animals, livestock or abandoned personal property on national forest land,” spokeswoman Tracy Farley said.

Uh, yeah.  And probably illegal too.  Don’t they have animal cruelty laws in Helena-West Helena?

Valley said the city’s animal shelter was so run down that a regional humane society worker cut its locks last winter and released all the dogs. The city then temporarily moved its shelter to four uncovered pens at the city sanitation department.

After people complained the animals were still not properly cared for, the mayor decided the animals would be better off in the forest. The city street director on Wednesday took about 10 dogs to the forest after feeding and watering them. About three dogs were kept to be put down by a veterinarian, Valley said.

So, mayor apparently feels that a history of negligence on the part of the city absolves them of the need to properly maintain animals in their care.  And – there’s more:

“We have a leash law that we’ve been trying to work our way into enforcing. It’s been so lax,” the mayor said. “People are not buying leashes or tags for the animals. We could literally pick up every other dog in the city.”

{shaking my head in complete and utter consternation…} 
Wait – the city couldn’t maintain the shelter they had, they are so ill-prepared to care for the dogs now in custody that they’re illegally setting them ‘free’ in the woods — and now they want to increase the number of dogs they’re abusing confiscating?

Eyewitnessnews reports interviewed local resident Shirley Blair.  Blair lives near the forest where the dogs were released.  She thinks the plan is crazy too.

“I think it’s ridiculous.  We’re not pleased with the decision to turn them loose out here.”  Shirley Blair says just one day after the dogs were released, six of them showed up in her yard growling.  “We headed to the mailbox and he (grandson, Parker) ran towards the house crying.  One of them looked ill on the driveway, bleeding, bacteria, we don’t need that here.”

And… it gets better (or is that worse…?)  From WREG Memphis:

The national offices of the Humane Society Of America and PETA are stepping into this situation according to Gloria Higginbotham of the Humane Society Of The Delta.

These poor dogs may end up going from the frying pan into the fire.  If the dogs the mayor so moronically magnanimously ‘set free’ are unlucky enough to be captured and turned over to PETA – they will likely all be killed.  PETA’s own records state that the group killed more than 90% of the animals they took in in 2007.

But hey, that’s better than letting them be unlicensed and off leash.

June 15, 2008 at 8:00 pm 3 comments

Augmented Animals

Today we can modify the appearance of our canine companions by docking their tails, cropping their ears, chalking them, tattooing them, giving them dental implants and pumping them up with neuticles. 

As controversial these methods may be, they may represent just the first step in the re-molding of the canine species.

Artist James Auger wonders if evolution might not be improved with the help of technology.  His controversial and sometimes unsettling new book, “Augmented Animals” is an exploration in how technological enhancements might be used to help animals survive in modern environments or just to lead more comfortable lives.

One of Auger’s projects is an LED light that can translate tail wagging into English.  The device would fit on a dog’s tail and flash text messages as the tail waves through the air.  Auger reportedly plans to have a working product ready to display by September of this year. 

augmented8_f.jpg

It’s an interesting idea – but based on the bit of information provided on Auger’s and MOMA’s websites, the device appears to simply be based on the speed that a dog’s tail wags. Current research and common sense tell us that a dog uses much more than just the rate of wagging to provide information.  The height of the tail and the degree to which left or right wagging predominates also provide information – as do an entire constellation of other postures associated with the wag. 

Auger has also designed an augmented dog hackle.  He wrote that, “The natural ability to raise the hair along the length of his back when confronted with dangerous situations has been lost in many domestic breeds.  This proposal suggests automated hackles.  Either heart rate variation monitoring registers change in the dog’s autonomous nervous system activity automatically activate the mechanism or the dog’s owner sensing confrontation in the park activates the mechanism by remote control.”  He adds that he has tested this device at a park and stated it worked to scare other dogs away.

augmentedhackle.jpg

Huh? This fellow may be a technological guru and a talented artiste, but methinks he’s no expert on dogs.  First, heart rate is not a good predictor of arousal in dogs.  Again, we must note that emotional reactions are part of a constellation of physiological and sensory mechanisms in living beings.  One can not simply choose one, simple to measure, physiological parameter and arbitrarily use it to measure emotion.  Second, dogs don’t raise their hackles to scare other dogs off.  Hackles are raised as part of arousal reactions.  Dogs can be aroused in many situations that don’t involve fear or the need to drive intruders away.

Auger has also proposed development of a canine respirator to protect dogs from “unpleasant” odors.  O-Kay.  But I want to know who defines what “unpleasant” is.  Dogs adore the smells of feces, trash and rotting dead things.  We don’t need to protect them from that.  I sincerely hope that Auger’s doggy respirator is designed to filter out the distasteful odors of such things as Chanel No. 22 (one of my favorites), Febreeze, potpourri and baths.  I do think that dog’s might find that useful.

So, do these items this simply represent an artistic statement?  Were they designed to make us think about the state of animals in an urban world?

Auger states that “I’m serious about the ideas behind these products, I think the fact that some of them could be realized means that as concepts they tread the scary line between fact and fiction and therefore are taken a little more seriously.”

Seriously?  Please.  Considering the time, money and effort that would have to go into anything even remotely resembling mass production of this junk, the money and time involved would provide a much more dramatic and meaningful result if they were simply applied to measures like resource conservation and education. 

Sorry Mr. Artiste, but technology is NOT the answer to all of the world’s problems.  I know that it’s dirty and it’s ugly and it doesn’t provide much in the way of publicity, but simply using less and appreciating it more has the potential to make a much bigger and more long-lasting positive impact on the world than designing and making more stuff.

I’m not the only one who thinks that fitting animals with expensive, invasive experimental gadgets is unethical.  Jeffery R. Harrow, author of “The Harrow Technology Report” doesn’t like the idea either.

“Any time we mess with nature’s evolutionary process we run the very real risk of changing things for the worse since we have very limited scope in determining the longer term results,” Harrow says. “With the possible exception of endangered species and probably not even those because our modifications would by definition change the species, we must be exceedingly careful or we might change our biosphere in ways later generations might abhor.”

March 10, 2008 at 5:14 am 3 comments

Where’s the Beef?

It’s the classic shell game…

Back on February 7, 2008 we posted on the Humane Society of the United States’ (H$U$) undercover investigation of the Hallmark Meat Packing Facility.  We noted that H$U$ waited four months to make the video tape of the abused cattle public and wondered if they might have ulterior motives. 

Looks like we aren’t the only ones who were suspicious.

, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office told the Riverside (California) Press-Enterprise that it had never asked the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to withhold the undercover slaughterhouse video from the public or from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This refutes sworn Congressional testimony offered on Tuesday by HSUS Public Health Director Dr. Michael Greger.

The article states:

The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a food-issues watchdog group, said today that HSUS’s decision to withhold its video from federal authorities and the public increased the possible public-health risk from potentially contaminated beef used in federal school lunch programs. This morning CCF asked the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to review Dr. Greger’s testimony and investigate whether he committed perjury.

During a hearing before the Subcommittee, Dr. Greger was asked directly why HSUS delayed sharing the video, (shot in October and November of 2007), with the U.S. Department of Agriculture until the end of January of 2008.  Greger reportedly answered that “We gave this evidence over to the local District Attorney’s office, the San Bernardino County District Attorney, and they asked us not to publicly release this information, to hold off so they could carry out their own criminal investigation into the animal cruelty that was witnessed. We complied with that request.”

When further pressed on the question by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Greger stated that “They told us to wait on any kind of public release of this information … They asked us to hold on to the information while they completed their investigation.”

The Centre Daily Times also reports that:

“San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ploghaus, the lead investigator on the case, said she never made such a request. On Wednesday, Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle backed off Greger’s statement, saying he was uncertain if the prosecutors specifically asked to keep the footage out of public view.”

Just what exactly was HSUS uncertain about?  If the group had evidence in October 2007 that potentially unsafe meat was entering the U.S. food chain (including the federal school lunch program), why did the animal rights group sit on this highly inflammatory footage for over three months?

According to the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) Director of Research David Martosko. “HSUS was clearly more interested in maximizing the political impact of its slaughterhouse video than in protecting ordinary people. And lying to Congress to cover up its apathy toward public health is truly despicable.

When the San Bernardino County Assistant District Attorney Dennis Christy was contacted by CCF, he stated:

I can say unequivocally that we never suggested in any way – in fact, we encouraged the HSUS to cooperate with, provide information to the U.S. Department of Agriculture … [and] we had some difficulty in preparing criminal charges, because of delays in setting up any interview with the Humane Society investigator at which USDA officers would be present.

Christy further added that his office’s criminal investigation had been hampered, in part, by HSUS’s desire to keep the USDA out of the loop: “We had some difficulty in preparing criminal charges, because of delays in setting up any interview with the Humane Society investigator at which USDA officers would be present.

Because of HSUS’s preference for sensationalism over protecting the public’s health, millions of Americans (including countless children) may have been exposed to meat that wasn’t fit for human consumption.

Apparently human children aren’t the sort of animals HSUS is interested in protecting.

March 6, 2008 at 12:13 am 6 comments

Well — This Explains it

If you are foolish enough to read too much of what is currently published about animal psychology, animal rights, operant conditioning, dominance hierarchies, raw food diets, titers versus vaccines, the use of corrections in dog training, breed specific legislation, theories of mind, aromatherapy, early spay/neuter, evolution and whether or not your dog really will resent you for putting that silly costume on him at Halloween — you’re probably at least a little bit confused by the rabidly opinionated and utterly contradictory information you’ve found.

I’m one of those morons who reads too much.  And having spent far too much of my life absorbed with books, laboratory data and computer modeling – I decided to allay a bit of my own confusion by (what else) doing a bit of research on the net. 

Eureka!  I’ve found the explanation.  The flow chart below was recently featured on The Lounge of the Lab Lemming.  And it explains everything.

pseudoscientificmethod.gif

And, if you insist on getting serious about being able to read an article, study or paper critically – check out A Magical Journey Through the Land of Logical Fallacies  (here’s part 2) and this short, but insightul article on Ethics and Peer Review at nature.com

February 27, 2008 at 3:13 am 2 comments

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