Archive for August, 2008

Link Love

Once again — I’m too busy to post.

But I’m not too busy to browse, so here are a few links I’d like to share:

First, hat tip to Jessica at Bioephemera for her post telling us about Forestle. 

Forestle uses the Google search algorithm, but the ad revenues associated with each search go to prevent deforestation (via donations to the Nature Conservancy).

According to the site, the average search saves about 0.1 square meter (0.11 sq. yd) of rainforest – approximately the surface of your computer screen. And Forestle’s browser plugins make altruism about as easy as possible. (Its creators estimate that about 5% of revenues will go to admin costs).

I uploaded their browser plugin today and hope to save a couple of square meters a day!  A special feature of the Forestle search plugin is that you can use indicators to access numerous search functions.  In briefly perusing their indicators I saw that they had somehow missed ‘blogs’!!  So I sent them an email asking if they’d add it.  I was pleasantly surprised to get a response within minutes, thanking me and agreeing to add a blog indicator in the next 24 hours!  Please check them out.  Nice people doing good work.  What’s not to love?

Next check out YesBiscuit’s post on Mother Jones’  “The Chinavore’s Dilemna.” 

…an overview on how the FDA allowed – and keeps allowing – tainted imports from China to enter the US. Pet food, toys, toothpaste, heparin, seafood… and the hits just keep on comin’.

Ye-ah.  Next time you go to the supermarket, check the labels on the frozen fish.  It is nearly impossible to find any that doesn’t come from China.  And items like toys made for children and dogs (especially the ones found in bulk bargain bins) are often not labeled as to country of origin.  Our friends over at PetConnection reported a few days ago that the FDA is opening offices in China. I suspect that this is being done more as a public relations cover than to make significant inroads into product safety and quality in China, but time will tell.

And last but not least — Kudos to Pat the Terrierman for his excellent articleon Mark Derr and Cesar Millan.  Terrierman astutely observed that:

But no matter how nice or over-educated you are, a dog is not a child.This is a particularly uncomfortable and threatening truth for women who have managed to displace their maternal instincts to the family pet. This is a point Millan does not address directly (please, not too much honesty Millan!) but he does suggest women often have a harder time asserting dominance over their “fur babies.” He is right. Why does saying this obvious thing send Mark Derr clucking away like a hen? Anyone who works with dogs has seen the maternal displacement problem in action, and anyone who has seen the “Dog Whisperer” TV show has seen the problem repeated out again and again. The Daisy Fuentes episode was particularly memorable for some reason ….

The simple but harsh truth is that the psycho-demographic watching the National Geographic channel tend to be people with two types of common “dog problems”: They think their dog is their child, and their dog is over-fed and fat.

The dog is, quite simply, being “loved to death.”

Terrierman goes on to say that:

Derr seems to take issue with Cesar Millan’s admonitionthat dogs do best with “exercise, discipline, and affection,” and he seems to disagree with Mr. Millan’s definition of discipline as meaning “rules, boundaries, and limitations.”

Derr is being stupid.No serious dog man would argue with Millan on these points. The only thing you should say after Milan’s statements on these issues is “Of course.” Or perhaps, if you are being a bit chatty, “It is also true for children.”

Sigh.  Yes. 

Since when did any type of coercion – no matter how fair, how mild or how instructive – start being defined as torture?  I have to say that I don’t believe that this is the view taken by most people.  It is onlyin the media, on the internet and among a small – but extremely vocal minority  of dog trainers that any type of correction has become equated with mortal sin.  Sadly, this group seems to have found a way to dominate the media and many publishing houses (most likely with the aid of animal rights groups who would like to end all pet ownership) .

As Terrierman posted in this blog – the man who invented clicker training believed in using corrections:

It may come as a shock to some people to learn that Karen Pryor did not invent clicker training. It was invented by legendary animal trainer Bob Bailey. Bailey was on an animal training list-serv that I was on. Both of us were quiet lurkers, but one day Bailey popped up to set one “pure positive” person right on his ass. Mr. Bailey wanted it known to the list that he himself was not a “clicker trainer.” He used clickers, sure, but he also felt there was a place for mild coercion. He even thought there was a right time and place to “shoot the dog” when dealing with extremely dangerous animals. Not a peep was heard after that.

Bob Bailey is still around.  He’s retired, but still occasionally offers workshops on animal training.

August 28, 2008 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

Wild Wolves Return to Germany

Until recently, the European gray wolf was thought to be extinct in most central European countries, but Deutsche Welle World reports that:

The mournful howling of wolves is echoing these days through the forested woodlands of eastern Germany for the first time in centuries.

According to experts, one reason for the return of the cunning canine is that all its natural enemies have disappeared.

Odd.  I was under the impression that the primary natural enemy of the wolf was humans – and last I heard there were about 82 million people in Germany…

Regardless, I’m pleased to hear that, in recent weeks, wolves have been sighted in forests between Berlin and Hamburg — Germany’s two most populous cities. And it sounds like conditions in this part of Europe may support further increases in populations.  Again from Deutsche Welle World:

“It is only a matter of time before wolves spread all across northern Germany in their move ever-westward,” said Josef Reichholf, a biology professor at the University of Munich.

“Northern Germany is the perfect habitat for the wolf,” Reichholf said. “Aside from two large cities, Berlin and Hamburg, the region is sparsely settled. There are vast areas of woodlands, lakes and dark forests.”

Northern Germany will be a turning point for the wolf population, he said.

“This is the region where we shall see whether the wolf spreads further westward and, if so, in what numbers,” he added.

The populations of other wild creatures including foxes, weasels, otters, raccoons and moose-elk are also on the rise in Germany.  According to Reicholf:

Many of the smaller mammals, such as raccoons and foxes are encroaching on urban areas, and are bringing wolves in their wake. Reichholf said it is not the food that humans eat which interests foxes so much as the animal companions of humans — rats, mice, pigeons — and also the plentiful and often overflowing garbage that humans generate. Raccoons thrive on human garbage.

This does not mean that wolves will be moving into cities, however. He pointed out that wolves are shy creatures who avoid humans whenever possible.

Based on what I read in this article, the Germans seem to have a pragmatic approach to increasing wildlife populations.  The head of the state hunting association was quoted as saying:

“Wolves are certainly welcome here as they enrich the local wildlife assortment,” he said. “Of course, if they become a pest, hunters will have to go after them to keep their population number in check as we do with red foxes.”

It’s refreshing to hear a story where human hunters are considered to be part of the natural ecosystem, and viewed as a healthy way to control animal populations (now let’s just hope they do it correctly by culling inferior animals instead of hunting for trophies…)  According to the story, many Germans also appreciate the benefits of wild predators:

They decimate not only mice but also other small mammals and snakes and other egg thieves,” said Torsten Reinwald of the German Hunting Association.

“We actually get appeals from residents to kill more foxes, because they are eliminating too many predators in some nature wildlife preserves,” Reinwald said.

Health experts say the large canines are helpful in eliminating road kill and other cadavers which can pollute rivers and ponds.

Many of the wolves live in areas humans avoid.  These include a region called the Spreewald (a former Russian military training area littered with corroded bombs and landmines) and an active military training area in Saxony.  Ironically, these seem to be the safest places for them.

As populations increase, the goverment provides advice to those who raise livestock (primarily sheep) on how to limit losses to predation.  Farmers who lose stock are compensated by the government.

European Grey Wolves
click on image to donate
to the WWF wolf fund

August 27, 2008 at 2:35 am 3 comments

New Canine Performance Venue?

This just in from Cellular News UK:

A Finn, two Estonians – and a dog took prizes in the ninth annual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships held this year in the Estonian town of Narva. This was the first time the contest was held outside Finland. The Estonians dominated the results, with Timmo Lilium winning the men’s category with a throw of 85 meters and Valeria Kadorova taking the women’s category with a throw of 41 meters.

A twelve year old from Finland, Riku Kankkunen won the children’s category with a throw of 55 meters.

In the freestyle category – a dog named Cara took the top prize after spitting out a phone a distance of 30 centimeters, in a category where only style matters. Cara got full points from the judges.

The results of the tournament are posted here on the group’s website.  They’ve also published a history of cellphone throwing – in English (sort of) – where it explains the spirit and genesis of the sport:

Mobile phone is an essential part of us that connects us to nearly anywhere in the world but when you most need it the battery runs out or your sweetheart doesn’t answer or some one doesn’t return your call. Hope, anticipation, passion and frustration concentrates on mobile phone.

The joys of the sport: 

“Mobile Phone Throwing, the only sport where you can pay back all the frustrations and disappointments caused by these modern equipments”

And points out the practical nature of the Finns:

“Local recycling center was a partner and they collected all the toxic waste and people could also buy a new mobile phone at the Championships.”

So, if I can train my dogs to throw cellphones – who’ll pony up the airfare to send us to Punkaharju, Finnland next August?

August 27, 2008 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

The Canine Moral Compass

A study recently published in New Scientist may change the way some view our dogs’ cognitive abilities.

Historically most scientists have believed that those of us who think our dogs are emotional, rational beings were being foolishly anthropomorphic.  That dismissive view has been challenged by recent studies that provide evidence that 10,000 years of co-evolution at our side has had a remarkable effect on our dogs cognitive abilities.

According to the Telegraph:

Although still controversial, recent research is beginning to support the view that an owner is perfectly correct when they pat their pet and coo “who’s a clever boy then?”

Because of the way owners have selected smarter and more empathic dogs down the generations, these pets now appear to have a limited “theory of mind”, the capacity that enables us to understand the desires, motivations and intentions of others, New Scientist reports today.

Studies from institutions in Hungary, Austria, Japan and the United Kingdom presented at the first Canine Science Forum in Budapest, Hungary presented different lines of evidence that dogs have an innate sense of right versus wrong, that they understand the idea of equity and that they have the ability to understand the desires, motivations and intentions of others.

Besides being interesting science — this research brings two important ideas to my mind.  Ideas not mentioned in any of the articles on the studies that I read.

The first is that, if we consider that our dogs have an understanding of right versus wrong, we must realize that a dog’s ideas about right and wrong are not necessarily (and in fact, are not likely) the same as our own.  Many of our human expectations for dogs spring from an unnatural modern human cultural ideal, not from the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer one we and our dogs originally emerged from. 

Next we must realize that because ideas about right and wrong are, to a large degree, cultural, it is our responsibility to instill the right kinds of cultural values in our dogs through training.  Sadly, far too many people today refuse to accept the responsibility of teaching their dogs right from wrong.  And when we forsake that responsiblity, it is our dogs who suffer the consequences.


In an interesting tangent, I just finished reading Power and Innocence  by Rollo May.  May believed that we are so obsessed with the idea of the misuse of power that the word itself has gained a strong negative connotation. Power is too often and too strongly correlated with coercive force.  Ironically, much more often it is powerlessness that leads to the impotence and apathy that foster aggression.  “Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self-image, and to demonstrate that they too are significant.” 

According to May, recognizing and acknowledging our sense of power leads to a sense of responsibility, if on the other hand, we deny our power, we have no need to accept responsibility. And one of the most important places in our lives where we need to responsibly exercise power and authority is in raising our children and our pets. 

As children and puppies grow, they sometimes seek out conflict or opposition in order to practice self-assertion.  This is a natural thing.  It’s part of growing up.  But if in their seeking, they do not find fair and measurable boundaries – if we do not exert our power and authority over them – they will feel lost. 

The sense of being lost arises because this seeking for boundaries is how we (human and canine) develop our moral compasses — the implicit and unspoken rules that define the boundaries of our lives together.

This mapping out of boundaries takes time.  Anyone who’s raised a child understands this.  We spend thousands of hours of time with our children patiently explaining the whys and whos and whats and wherefores of life. So why then, do so many of us expect our dogs to spring forth from their dam’s womb not only understanding complete sentences in English, but also being pre-programmed with an innate understanding of the rules and rites and oddities of our day to day lives?

Back in June I attended a workshop put on by Kayce Cover.  The thing that struck me most about her work is how strongly it resembles the instructional interactions between a parent and child.  She demonstrated targeting skills by naming and touching different body parts.  She taught motor commands partly by encouraging copy cat behavior while naming actions. It was like watching a gifted, charming and somewhat odd preschool teacher work with dogs and horses instead of toddlers.  Brilliant.

So why is it that, in a time when many of us refer to our dogs as ‘kids’, that we do not make this kind of effort in explaining the world to them?  Have we become so terrified of our own power that we cannot accept the sobering responsibility of simply being able to say no?

August 26, 2008 at 3:04 am 1 comment

Is it the Dogzzzzzz Fault?

This just in from the LA Times:

Pet lovers are going to hate this, but a new study in the journal Respiratory Research found a link between snoring in adulthood and being exposed to a dog as a newborn. It is, the authors say, the first study to examine early childhood environmental exposures and later snoring.

Before dog owners with babies get too upset, remember that the study is from a branch of science called epidemiology. Such observational studies can be grist for future research, but they often turn out to be flat out wrong, as a story by Andreas Von Bubnoff explained last year in the Los Angeles Times.

In fairness, a pet dog is not the only culprit when it comes to noisy sleeping habits in later life. Being hospitalized before age 2 for a respiratory infection and having chronic ear infections as a child were also linked to future snoring.

But relax, Fido. Swedish researchers also found that coming from a large family is another risk for future snoring, and no one is suggesting taking extra siblings to the pound.

We-ell….  I don’t know about that.  Given the option, I may have elected to send one or two of my siblings off to the pound.  And, given the fact that other studieshave shown that being raised in a household with a dog may strengthen one’s immune system, I think I’d elect to be a happy, healthy — snoring — dog lover.

[I had hoped to insert a photo here of my husband napping on the couch with a dog sprawled on top of him.  We’ve got several photos like this, I’m sure I’ve got them with at least three different dogs.  But, in the mess of this remodeling project, I can’t find them.  So – imagine a cute photo here of sweet fellow, zonked out horizontally on a large couch with a 30-130 pound dog stretched out asleep on top of him.]

Mark was raised with dogs and here he is, 40 some years later – snoring away with a canine companion (who is quite possibly sawing logs as well).  Maybe there IS something to that study….

August 26, 2008 at 1:44 am 2 comments

Largest Shelter in Minnesota has Disturbingly High Kill Rate

From CityPages a disturbing report that Minnesotas largest animal shelter killed over 14,000 animals last year – a number representing almost 40% of those they took in.  According to CityPages:

LAST YEAR, the Animal Humane Society, the largest animal welfare organization in Minnesota, accepted 36,378 living creatures into its shelters—and killed 14,610 of them.

AHS euthanizes about 40 percent of the animals it takes in. The vast majority of the dead animals—94 percent—are dogs and cats. They are brought to AHS for any number of reasons. They are found abandoned on the side of the road or roaming feral in empty fields. Their owners are relocating to a place where pets aren’t allowed. Family dynamics have changed—a new baby was born, there was a divorce—and the animal had to go. Lassie was too expensive to care for, and Puffball couldn’t be housebroken. Irresponsible owners and pet breeders ended up with litters of unwanted puppies and kittens.

AHS accepts every animal brought to its facility.  Some owners bring animals there specifically to have them euthanized.  Still — it’s difficult for me to believe that 14,610 cats and dogs were either surrendered for euthanasia or were too ill or aggressive to be adopted out.  Shelter management states that their open door policy puts them in a position where a high kill rate is unavoidable but:

Critics, however, say that’s not true. While sympathetic to AHS’s situation, many animal welfare groups in the Twin Cities say AHS’s euthanasia rate is just too high. They say AHS does not invest enough in animal health care and training, which would put more animals on the adoption floor, and that it is too focused on self-preservation and fundraising to attack the biggest cause of homeless pets: animal overpopulation.


AHS’s policies have created a schism in the animal welfare community. Proponents of the so-called no-kill approach contend that the shelter should take much more aggressive steps to prevent animal deaths. In the Twin Cities, former AHS volunteers and employees now staff many of the no-kill rescue groups. Several say they left AHS because of the excessive killing, and each has stories about animals they would have saved.

For the last year, volunteers at AHS have formed discussion groups at each of AHS’s five locations, insisting on reform, says one volunteer who wishes to remain anonymous.

“If we don’t say anything, the animals suffer. If we do, we’ll be let go and they’ll suffer more. We took our ideas all the way to senior management and they blew us off. They said, ‘Great. We’ll look into it,’ and we never heard from them again.”

Nathan Winograd is a no-kill advocate and the author of “Redemption The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No-Kill Revolution in America.”  On his NoKillBlog, Winograd writes about the problems many shelters have in collaborating with other rescue groups:

Collaboration does not work because lack of collaboration is not why animals are being killed. Because it never was about getting along or not getting along. Often, it isn’t even about the money. It’s about the No Kill Equation model and those whose job it is to implement the model, but refuse to do so. It is about the shelter directors. Because at the end of the day, what we are suffering from, what is truly killing animals in U.S. shelters is an overpopulation of shelter directors content with the status quo and mired in the failed philosophies of the past.

 And indeed, it appears that AHS is mired in that past.  Again from CityPages:

CRITICS OF AHS’S high kill rates say the organization has been reluctant to adopt new trends in animal welfare that have dramatically reduced euthanasia in other states. Several open-door shelters nationwide—starting in 1994 in San Francisco and most recently in Tompkins County, New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Reno, Nevada—have been able to reach save rates for dogs and cats in the high 80 and low 90 percentiles, using the no-kill model put forth by Nathan Winograd, author of Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America. Winograd’s formula for success includes increased community involvement, close partnerships between welfare agencies, and specific programs such as high-volume, low-cost spaying and neutering and a controversial trap, neuter, and release (TNR) effort targeting feral cats.

It is the responsibility of every animal welfare organization to use all the tools available to save animals, says Winograd, who refers to shelters with high kill rates as “assembly lines of death.” We are a nation obsessed with pets, the former criminal defense attorney and shelter director argues. Every year Americans spend $40 billion on their pets and millions more donating to animal welfare charities. Yet “the reality is that 70 percent of cats and 40 to 50 percent of dogs nationwide end up in landfills instead of in the loving home of a family,” he says . “It doesn’t make sense.”

No, it doesn’t make sense.  I understand that shelters have limited capacity, overstressed and overworked staff, limited budgets and — as a trainer who works with problem dogs — I understand the importance of temperament testing and training.  But with a kill rate of 40% I have to wonder why AHS seems to be out looking for “puppy mills” to close down and seize the animals from and why they aren’t working more cooperatively with other local rescue groups.  And, according to the CityPages article, AHS is not interested in collaboration:

AHS detractors also complain that the organization doesn’t cooperate with other agencies to reduce the need for euthanasia. Many times, Salter says, she watched AHS turn down offers from other rescue groups willing to take animals scheduled to be put down. So far this year, AHS has placed only 43 dogs and four cats with other rescue groups, despite euthanasia rates in the thousands. “If they couldn’t place them, why not allow other willing groups to place them?” Salter asks.

In 2006, 14 animal welfare groups, including the Twin Cities’ municipal animal control facilities and Animal Ark, joined together to reduce kill rates and overpopulation by allowing rescue groups to take in animals scheduled for euthanasia at open-door shelters. AHS refused to join.

Do you live in the Twin Cities area?  If you do, and you support the no-kill philosophy, we suggest you do careful research before you provide financial or volunteer support to a shelter group.  I know that I’d prefer my hard-earned dollars go to a dedicated no-kill group like the Animal Ark than to a high kill facility like AHS.

August 20, 2008 at 6:44 pm 7 comments

Is PeTa Running For the Border?

The US Sportsman’s Alliance issued a press release today stating, in part:

Continuing their various marketing pitches, PETA is looking to actually approaching the U.S. government with a request to rent billboard advertising space on the border fence currently being built along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The billboards are already designed in English and Spanish, saying: “If the Border Patrol Doesn’t Get You, the Chicken and Burgers Will- Go Vegan.” The art on the signs would depict “fit and trim” Mexicans vs. obese Americans eating fast food.

As ponderously as the US Goverment and its border patrol may react at times – its nearly not as slow moving (or unfortunately so silent) a killer as coronary artery disease or hypertension.  Does PeTA really think that the biggest threat posed to our neighbors south of the border is the potential for a high cholesterol, high sodium, high-fructose corn syrup fast food diet?  And do they really think that people who are desperate enough to come here illegally care?

As Luisa of the excellent LassieGetHelp blog said so eloquently:

Because when you are an illiterate Mayan Indian from Guatemala and you have risked your life to escape the desperate poverty, the political corruption and the human rights atrocities in Central America and are finally within reach of the only hope of a better life that you will ever, ever have, the one thing guaranteed to make you want to turn around and walk all the way home is the prospect of being forced to subsist on Happy Meals for the rest of your life, since there are apparently no fruits, vegetables, beans or tortillas in the entire U. S. of A.


August 20, 2008 at 12:17 am 3 comments

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