Posts tagged ‘news’

Foiling urban coyotes

This week local KARE 11 reported that a Maltese in St. Louis Park died from injuries related to a coyote attack.

Jerry Stamm of St. Louis Park let his dog, Cici, outside on St. Patrick’s Day evening, then noticed a coyote in his fenceless backyard.

It’s a sad story that keeps getting repeated with different players. Brilliantly adaptive coyotes are becoming increasingly common in urban and suburban areas around the world. They’ve been a problem here in Red Wing for years and now, following trends of human urbanization, large numbers of the wily tricksters are relocating closer to the city.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to live in a place like Minnesota,” Peggy Callahan said, from the Wildlife Science Center.

Callahan says there are more coyotes than black bear in the state — well over 25,000. They extended east of the Mississippi after 1915, spreading to 48 states. Residents in St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and Golden Valley have reported coyote sightings.

How should pet owners respond to the threat of sharing their environment with coyotes? The smartest course of action is to deal with it much like you would face a problem with your dog’s behavior — in a proactive way with smart action instead of reactively in fear.

If coyotes live in your area follow these rules to avoid conflicts.

  • Make sure all pets (cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens) are protected by a sturdy, coyote-proof enclosure when they aren’t under your direct supervision. This includes potty breaks, as Mr. Stamm discovered.
  • Keep dogs and cats up to date on vaccinations. Coyotes can carry diseases that are transmissible to pets.
  • Don’t put out food for deer or other ground-dwelling wildlife near your home. Keep areas under bird feeders clean to discourage rodents that may attract coyotes.
  • Don’t feed your pets outside.
  • Keep garbage, compost and other waste in well secured containers.
  • Keep your dog on a leash on all walks unless he has solid off-leash obedience skills. And even if your dog is brilliantly well trained – it is still important to keep him in your sight.
  • If you see coyotes near your home yell, wave your arms, flash bright lights, bang things together and otherwise act like a dangerously mad threat. Don’t let them feel comfortable near your home.

Men have lived side by side with coyotes since we left the trees. Significant problems with the arrangement are more common now because there are few human-free areas left for coyotes to live in. Reduced hunting pressure from humans, and an increasing number of humans who actively or inadvertently encourage coyotes to acclimate to their presence has also created a near perfect environment to increase conflicts between our species.

Coyotes aren’t evil or malevolent, they’re just smart and opportunistic and you don’t need help from the Acme Corporation to foil them. If you put one tenth as much effort into discouraging coyotes as they do into looking for ways to take advantage of you – you’ll come out ahead in the game.

March 31, 2011 at 10:48 am 7 comments

Leashes kill – again

Flexi-type leads are attractive largely because they lure dog owners into a false idea of freedom. They encourage dog walkers to substitute the easy out of physical attachment for mindful attention and training.

In a sadly overdue step to make dog walkers safer, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that extension leashes will be outlawed on San Jose park trails after a dog walker was recently killed when she became entangled in a long leash (I suspect this was a fully extended Flexi type lead), fell and hit her head.

I’ve said it before and [sigh] I’m sure I’ll feel compelled to say it again – while any kind of leash presents some risk, extension type leashes like the uberpopular Flexi-lead present a terrible hidden danger to dogs and dog owners across America every day.

Throw away the attention substitute leash and put the time needed in to train your dog to come reliably when called, ignore distractions on command and walk politely at your side. Your dog will love the attention and you’ll love the results.

March 29, 2011 at 9:11 am 16 comments

Robo-Scooper!

Today Engadget reports on nifty Japanese technology that may revolutionize poop patrol!

The SWITL robotic hand, designed by Furukawakikou can pick up wet, gooey messes and move them without changing their shape. SWITL was developed to speed up and simplify the handling of soft and/or gooey materials at bakeries.

How does it work? According to Engadget it may be the tool of Satan:

Unfortunately, Furukawa Kikou isn’t providing any details about the science behind SWITL so we’ll just assume that it’s Satan’s work until otherwise informed.

When SWITL was first announced back in June of 2009 Japan Tech Niche reported (italics mine):

The “SWITL” was developed base on a need for automated process for lining up bread dough at the factory which was handled manually before. “SWITL” is technology is patent pending and can apply not only in the food industry but also in wide different filed of applications. The company is planning to develop a new products implementing “SWITL” technology in a near future. Interesting idea indeed, I leave it to your imaginative mind to come up with the SWITL new applications.

Evil or not, cross Roomba with SWITL and dog poop littering yards and parks across the country could be, well, eliminated!

March 28, 2011 at 9:25 am 5 comments

Do I smell a rat (er, mouse) in TSA’s future?

I hope so.

Israel21C recently reported on new technology that might someday replace invasive pat-downs and body scans TSA treats us to at the airport:

Israeli startup Bioexplorers has developed a new and unique way to sniff out terrorists – literally. After years of research, company CEO Eran Lumbroso tells ISRAEL21c, Bioexplorers has hit upon a foolproof, non-invasive and easy method to detect contraband in purses, luggage and even cargo – using mice.

Like dogs, mice have an excellent sense of smell and they’re relatively easy to train. As much as it pains to me admit it, mice offer some advantages. Their small size means they’re cheaper and easier to keep than dogs are, and because they don’t need human handlers, mice also won’t be sensitive to their prejudices.

The proposed system will combine low tech mice with high-tech training and screening equipment. The target to be screened will move through a passageway equipped with fans that extract the air surrounding the target and deliver it to chambers containing several mice. Each mouse is trained to respond to a single odor. When a mouse detects the target odor it moves into a second chamber and sets off an alarm.

Bioexplorers’ system is interesting because not only could it allow for less invasive screening than existing measures but, as an improvement over existing canine detection methods, it could also give screeners the ability to determine exactly which odorants have been detected.

Initial tests are promising.

[Bioexplorers] has conducted several tests at sites in Israel to ensure that the sensors work in real situations, including at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Mall. More than 1,000 people passed through a Bioexplorers sensor – some having been given “suspicious” objects and substances to hold – and the mice made the right call every time, says Lumbroso.

The company says they can train mice in just two weeks using a patented Skinnerian computer program. Mice will be expected to work four hour shifts with eight hour rest periods and each mouse’s career is anticipated to last about two years.

It’s an interesting idea and there may be additional uses for the tiny detectors. Bioexplorers’ representatives say they’re also working on systems designed for medical use.

They may be able to detect drugs and explosives at minute concentrations, but the mouse’s nose may be too refined for use in the wine industry. The io9 forums report that researchers at Japan’s Hiroshima University conducted an experiment in 2008 to see if they could teach mice to tell different kinds of wine apart. The experiment was successful so the group decided to take the idea a step further and see if they could teach mice to tell different brands of red wine apart.

The results were interesting.

Only two of the ten mice tested displayed the ability to consistently tell the red wines apart. Six others performed on a what appeared to be a purely random basis.

But the final pair of connoisseur mice could not be persuaded to respond the target wine. These mice were consistently drawn to a specific non-reward wine indicating that they preferred the smell of this wine to the food rewards offered by the alternate choice.

I’m not terribly surprised to hear that well-fed laboratory mice will sometimes prefer an alluring scent over certain food rewards. Smell plays a huge part in the social and intellectual life of a mouse. A good smell, or an interesting one, may provide the kind of intellectual stimulation that could be more lacking in a laboratory mouse’s life than food is.

And while mice may replace dogs in situations where a static location like an airport or freight terminal needs to be screened for a wide array of compounds, I suspect that dogs will continue to be the detector of choice in field situations for some time to come.

March 4, 2011 at 9:33 pm 7 comments

I want a dog license

Dog licenses have been required in the United States since settlements were large enough to breed conflicts between neighbors. 

In his book “Pre-1900 Dog License Tags,” William J. Bone, D.V.M. wrote that dog licensing was first addressed in the U.S. during the 1700′s when several states passed laws desinged to control dogs and collect taxes to reimburse livestock owners for dog depredation. Dog licensing was first instituted in England at about the same time.

Of course dog catchers and dog pounds followed right on the heels of dog licenses, (though the first animal protection societies weren’t created until about a century later) and licensing provided revenue that helped support dog catching.

Back in the day, dog licenses cost money but they also sometimes offered certain priveleges and protections. According to Diane Bandy in Indiana Dog License History:

A dog who was licensed in Indiana, had certain privileges of running at large and escaping a death sentence imposed by officials. A dog who ran at large, licensed and not bothering livestock was also protected legally. If someone shot a licensed, non provoking dog, they could be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined anywhere from $5-$50 along with liabilities to the owner for injury or death.

Sadly, the idea of combining certain priveleges (running politely at large) with specified responsibilities  (staying out of trouble and wearing a tag that identifies you) did not gain much popularity. Over time, dog licenses became little more than a way to collect revenue and keep track of canine populations. And because license laws are notoriously difficult to enforce, scofflaws became the norm rather than the exception.

So much so that the national dog licensing system in Great Britain was abolished in 1987. According to a House of Commons Research Paper published in January of 1998:

The national dog licensing system, which was abolished in 1987, did nothing to contain the problems caused by irresponsible dog ownership since it had long ceased to command any public respect. Less than 50% of owners bothered to register. As a result, there is no evidence that the number of strays is higher since the abolition of dog licensing.

According to this article in today’s Star Tribune, thirteen years later some cities in Minnesota are following suit:

Are city dog licenses going the way of VCRs and film cameras? In an age when dogs sport name tags and personalized collars and have microchips injected between their shoulder blades, Golden Valley Police Chief Stacy Altonen thinks the answer is “yes.”

Next month the Golden Valley City Council is expected to drop a requirement that residents license their dogs, joining Plymouth, Minnetonka, Brooklyn Center, New Brighton, Falcon Heights and Northfield in the no-license category.

Altonen said the city is simply dropping an ordinance that wasn’t effective and that cost the city in staff time. Only about 600 dogs — a fraction of the canines residing in Golden Valley — were licensed each year.

A significant lack of compliance combined with the difficulty of enforcing license laws mean that dog licenses are becoming a net drain on finances in many areas. Advocates of licensing point out that license tags can provide a way to return lost pets to their owners but Altonen is quoted as saying that:

“In 17 years here, I can count on one hand the dogs we returned because of city tags. We return more dogs with microchips … or because people call right away when they lose their dogs so when we find them we know who lost them.”

Dog owners have historically been required to do little more than pay a fee and show proof of vaccination to license their pets. In exchange they’re received a shiny tag and a spot in the city database. Given the pathetic number of people who comply with license laws, most of us obviously see little value in that.

Why don’t dog licenses allow dog owners to do anything with their dogs?

A driver’s license gives you access to public roads. A concealed carry permit gives you the right to carry a handgun. But – someone who wants to drive a car or carry a concealed weapon has to pass a test to demonstrate at least a basic level of competence to earn that license.

Before you get your hackles up, I’ll say that I think that dropping the generic dog license requirement is a good thing. I don’t need a license to own a car, just to drive one on public roads. And I think that if municipalities want to institute revenue-generating programs that truly serve dog owners they need to reconsider what a dog license represents.

According to Merriam-Webster a license is:

1. the approval by someone in authority for the doing of something
2. the granting of power to perform various acts or duties
3. the right to act or move freely

Note that in all three cases a license is defined as granting the holder permission to do something. The problem with dog licenses is that they don’t function as “licenses” at all, they’re just an annual tax on dog ownership.

Dog licensing has become a way to collect revenue; a convenient tool to track data on pet ownership; and in some areas, a hammer to try to force compliance with vaccination, spay-neuter, breed-specific and other dog-related legislation. Since most people don’t license their dogs, I would assume that (despite what many try to tell us) these are not things most dog owers put a high value on. 

I don’t think I should need a license to own a dog. But I’d like to have the option of getting a dog license that functioned a lot like a driver’s license. To get it I’d take a written test to demonstrate basic knowledge of dog safety and dog-related laws and then my dog and I would take a skills test to demonstrate our ability to navigate the community in a safe and sane manner. If I demonstrated my ability and willingness to accept specific responsibilities and passed the test, I’d get a license that gave my dog and I certain privileges (such as on and off leash access to specified areas) that unlicensed dog owners do not have.

I want a dog license – but I want it to be license that says my dog and I have demonstrated that we’ve earned the right to hold it.

October 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm 21 comments

More than a mouthful

Today’s StarTribune reports on a Twin Cities dog who’s definitely got a grip.

Rose is a border collie / lab mix who was adopted from a local shelter and then given to Ed Watson.

Like many high-energy mutts, this five-year-old Labrador retriever/border collie mix loves a good game of Frisbee. Unlike the rest, she can catch and hold onto up to seven tossed discs — thrown separately — without dropping a one.

Rose’s unique talent was born of her obsession to hold on to her favorite toys. Watson noticed that the dog not only wanted to hold on to a Frisbee she had but that she could catch another without dropping it.

“She doesn’t like to let go when she’s got a lot of them,” Watson said, recalling that the first time she was able to keep her jaws clamped around seven Frisbees, she refused to drop them for a re-throw and hopped into the car with all seven still in her mouth. “I like to think she knew what she’d accomplished.”

Watson isn’t an experienced trainer of dogs – Rose is his first. But he works as a personal trainer so I suspect that he’s got a lot of personal focus and that he’s found that some his coaching skills work well on dogs. So well that Rose will appear in the 2011 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

Go to this link for an excellent set of photos featuring Rose at work.

October 3, 2010 at 6:46 pm Leave a comment

Detection work goes to the dogs

Dogs have helped men search for prey for thousands of years. Today their marvelously sensitive noses help us search for an astonishingly wide variety of things. In traditional search and detection methods dogs sniff the environment directly to search for prey, escaped felons, lost persons, explosives, contraband and rare plant and animal species. But now filter-search odor detection methods, also referred to as Remote Explosive Scent Tracing or REST, bring minefields to dogs instead of taking dogs to minefields.

In REST air samples are collected from minefields using vacuum pumps equipped with special filters. After the air samples pass through them the filters are protected so that they retain odorant molecules while they’re transported to a secure location for testing. Samples are collected under strict quality assurance and quality control protocols similar to those used in environmental investigation and monitoring programs.

While sample collection can be tedious and time-consuming, REST methods provide a relatively fast way to identify areas that are free of mines and they allow dogs and handlers to work away from the danger of mines. Detailed mine location methods then only need to be used in areas where evidence of mines has been detected.

This week CNN reported that similar methods are now being used to outwit rhino poachers in Africa. They report that:

… there are times when it is not practical to use dogs on the ground, as the tarmac at border posts gets too hot for them during the day, or if there could be a danger to the animal.

Now researchers at the South African company Mechem are adapting their Explosive and Drug Detection System to the fight against poachers.

[...]

Inspector T.C.Oosthuizen, of the South African Police Service, said: “When we work at Komatipoort for instance, the tarmac is so hot, it starts melting so you can’t get a dog to work from 12 o’clock in the afternoon.

“And the smugglers, they know about it, so then they know you can’t bring a dog to the border posts because the dog of course will burn.

“With this machine you take the samples, and give it to the dog in a controlled environment, an air-conditioned facility. It’s cool for the dog so the dog can work longer and more.”

Hot pavement may not be as dangerous as a minefield but if authorities can provide dogs and handlers with a safe and comfortable work environment they can work more hours and, we hope, identify more contraband.

Detailed information on REST and other mine detection methods was published in the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining’s (GICHD) Mine Detection Dogs: Training, Operations and Odour Detection in June of 2003. GICHD states that REST isn’t used to locate mines directly. It’s used to identify areas that don’t contain traces of explosives or other target scents so that detailed searches for mines don’t need to be conducted there. They’re sometimes referred to as “reduction methods” because they reduce the size of the area where dangerous and time-consuming mine locating work must be done.

Composite air samples are systematically collected across the minefield. Each sample contains the molecules that remain in a filter after the air passed through it when the sample was collected. The area over which each sample was collected is carefully recorded and this allows the perimeter of areas where scent was and was not detected to be identified.

REST methods allow a relatively small number of searchers and dogs to screen large areas quickly. GHCID reports that in mine work as much as 95% of target areas can be declared safe (or mine free) after REST screening. If similar results are obtained when searching for rhino horn, this means that detailed searches for horn only need to be conducted in a small percentage of vehicles and cargo passing through checkpoint areas.

REST methods are most efficient when the target is a rare and unusual odorant because if it is common or widespread all the sample filters would contain odorant and no areas can be eliminated. Rhino horn is rare and unusual, so the method applies well to these searches.

Because dogs don’t perform scent work perfectly, when clearing mine fields two or more dogs are used to check each composite sample. The samples are transported to a central location where they’re attached to stands that make it easy for the dogs to sniff them. The dogs are trained to sniff each filter and indicate a positive find by sitting or lying down next to filters where they smell traces of the target odorant. Once a dog has sniffed all of the filters individually, they’re moved to different locations in the stands and the same dog sniffs each one again. After each sample has been sniffed twice by the same dog, one or more additional dogs repeat the process with the same filters (or duplicate filters). If a filter is examined by each dog twice without any positive indications the area it was collected from is identified as being clear of the target odorant.

This kind of detailed duplicate analysis is probably not as important when searching for contraband instead of explosives. Even if each sample is checked twice by a single dog, authorities should be able to clear traffic through checkpoints much more quickly than they can with direct detection methods. And, as CNN notes, dogs can also search traffic at times and in places where it would not otherwise be safe for them to do so.

Rhinos are critically endangered and poaching is dramatically on the rise because of demand from Asian markets where horn goes for as much as $30,000 a pound. Just this week LiveScience reported that:

“Within South Africa’s national parks — not counting private land there, where poaching was rare — there were 10 rhinos poached in 2007,” said Matthew Lewis, senior program officer for African species conservation for the World Wildlife Fund. “Thus far in 2010 alone, more than 200 rhinos were poached within South Africa, with a lot of those poached outside national parks, so that’s a more than 2,000 percent increase in just three years’ time.”

Because the market has become so lucrative, organized groups of poachers now use high-tech equipment like helicopters, night-vision scopes, silencers and chemical immobilization to avoid detection and arrest.

I hope that REST helps authorities arrest more poachers in this deadly, and rapidly escalating, cat and mouse game before it’s too late…

September 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

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