Another case offers more evidence of self-awareness in dogs

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I recently got into a back-and-forth about greyhound racing under a Huffington Post blog entry. A couple of folks on the pro-racing side talked about the dogs as “athletes” and about how much they are worth in monetary terms. And they claimed the dogs love racing.

I came out of the discussion thinking about how far behind these people are when it comes to understanding animal welfare, animal behavior and cognition. One side of the animal-welfare debate is pushing compassion for animals and pushing for better laws to protect animals from cruelty. The other side is fighting all of that and considers an animal to be nothing more than a physical possession.

The science is in, however. The research and study needs to go on, but the conclusion has been reached. Animals – most notably what we might call the higher-order animals – have self-awareness and a state of consciousness. A recent story out of Massachusetts piles more information on the ever-growing mound of proof that these theories have now advanced deep into the category of FACT.

And this story heaps more evidence into the research:

This pit bull – yes pit bull – pulled his unconscious guardian off a train track and saved her life. Lilly risked her own life and suffered severe injuries. After her leg has been amputated, Lilly is expected to recover.

As reported by My Fox Boston, the train engineer witnessed Lilly pulling Christine Spain off the track, but despite all of his efforts to stop the train in time, he could not avoid hitting the dog.

This is not instinctive behavior on Lilly’s part. What she did took a higher-order thought process, to recognize a danger and act on it to save another being from harm. How can we – as an advanced society – not advance our legal system to offer for animals better protection from cruelty?

How can we allow horse slaughter, knowing they have an advanced level of consciousness? How is it that particular entities in 2012 are fighting against stronger anti-puppy mill laws? How is it that certain entities are trying to hide from public view the cruelty that takes place on too many factory farms?

These people and entities fighting against animal welfare are not only on the wrong side of history, they are on the wrong side of the galaxy when it comes to compassion and science. I am excited and heartened by the fact that in the case of animal welfare, science and compassion have fully joined forces. The mounting scientific evidence clearly supports the animal-welfare movement and its compassionate message.

Can dogs experience disappointment?

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I found an interesting post on a blog called “A City Mom” on the Chicago Now website. Kim Strickland asked the question – “Can a dog understand a broken promise?”

It seems she promised her dog they would go on a morning jog, but circumstances pushed back the outing. Her dog exhibited some unusual behavior, in expressing displeasure with the delay.

Dogs do indeed experience emotions such as this. Recent studies have even suggested there is special and unique mental connection people have with their dogs, quite possibly the result of a shared bit of evolutionary process, over thousands of years of living together as buddy species – if you will.

I’m glad other bloggers and writers are sharing their stories that highlight the human-animal connection.

Report: No-Kill movement facing hurdles in San Angelo, Texas

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An article that came across the Pack New Wire this morning highlights the no-kill shelter movement and in this case the hurdles the system in one municipality is facing to reach this status.

Let’s start by reaffirming my thoughts on the No-Kill Movement. I’ve scanned over the book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution  by Nathan J. Winograd and finally this week I’ve started reading it straight through.

The ultimate goal should be No Kill – for all shelters, animal-welfare groups and rescue organizations. Of course, everyone involves admits that some homeless pets will never make it out of shelters, due to severe health problems or aggressive behavior.

But again, I FULLY support the mission of the movement. Where I tend to get a bit squeamish is this message that pet overpopulation is a myth. I understand the point Winograd is making, but I fear the people at the root cause of the problem will decide it lets them off the hook.

And the people and entities creating homeless pets should never be let off the hook.

Winegrad suggests there are plenty of homes available for homeless pets in the United States. The problem he and others see is that too few families are being reached out to as potential homes. Again, this is probably true. But half of the equation is being left out of the mix.

On one hand, we’re asking these families to take on the responsibility of caring for the dogs and cats dumped out by irresponsible people. This is happening by the what – say the millions of pets each year? So it is very important to suggest the system is broken and we need to do more in shelters to drastically reduce the euthanasia rates. And it is important to try to reach out to more potential homes each year.

But I would like to see an equal emphasis on the root causes of homelessness. We need to shut down the puppy mills and greyhound racetracks and find a way to make sure more dogs and cats are spayed and neuter. We need to reach a point where ONLY quality breeders are selling dogs and cats and where the general population is not allowing their pets to breed puppies and kittens into homelessness.

The article on (Standard-Times) reports about half of San Angelo shelter’s adoptions are through rescue groups. Last year, 6,061 cats and dogs were euthanized at the shelter, down from 7,089 in 2010. That number is still way too high. I think everyone can agree on that.

The article quotes Jenie Wilson, director of Concho Valley PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) – “We may need to look at restructuring some ordinances so there are some consequences to people who breed (their pets) indiscriminately,” Wilson said, adding that the puppies breeders sell often end up in shelters and face euthanasia. “People adopt (from breeders) and realize it’s more than they can handle. That is one of the biggest feeders to the shelter.”

The biggest feeder to the shelter – dogs purchased and puppies breed indiscriminately. Exactly. And don’t let anyone tell you that purebred dogs don’t end up in shelters or with local breed-specific rescue groups all over the country.

We need better and more cooperation between municipal shelters and local rescue groups. We need more low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter programs. We need improved legislation to shut down puppy mills and greyhound racing.

It’s not just about the shelter operations and it’s not just about spay/neuter and it’s not just about the irresponsible people who create homeless pets. The solution is multifaceted and unfortunately the change for the better won’t happen overnight.

But now is the time to make it start happening.

Time for the national media to disown horse racing

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I’m watching the TODAY show this morning and the Kentucky Derby is being heavily promoted, as this network and others do every year at this time.

A reporter visited a breeding farm where a handler bragged about how many mares one of the champion stallions breeds with on a regular basis. I didn’t expect a discussion about the underbelly of horse racing and I didn’t expect a discussion of how many ex-racing horses end up dying a horrible death in slaughterhouses each year. How many of the ponies that one horse sires will end up dying, in pursuit of champion racers?

NBC televises the race so I guess they would never consider reporting facts such as this in the lead up to the event. That’s a really sad fact. Profit drives the coverage and hides the inconvenient information behind the cameras.

The International Fund for Horses estimates 65,000 horses, including racehorses, workhorses, wild horses and family horses, are slaughtered each year in the United States. For me, this shows an incredible lack of personal responsibility among the individuals responsible for each of these 65,000 animals.

Whether it’s a racehorse, workhorse or family pet, there is a level of responsibility that comes with them. If these people wanted to relinquish this responsibility prior to the point of the animals’ natural deaths, they had one compassionate option – adopt the horses out to someone else.

Otherwise, they should maintain responsibility for the horses until they pass away from old age or illness. For those in racing – with horses or greyhounds – who can’t assume this lifetime of responsibility, I suggest they get out of the “business.”

In reality, horse and greyhound racing need to be shut down. From the injuries to the deaths to the suffering – the history and the evidence is too extreme.

But the media should take on some of the responsibility and stop promoting horse racing as a legitimate “sport.” As I always note, it would only be a sport if the horses rode on the backs of the jockeys.


Video: Racing greyhounds off the track are bathed and checked for ticks

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This video shows racing greyhounds being rescued and transported by LIGHT (Long Island Greyhound Transport). It is interesting to hear and the see the process unfold – most notably the fact that the dogs are in need specifically of being checked for ticks.

And the lead rescue person talks a lot about their lives in cages.

But wait … the pro-racing crowd always claims dogs in racing receive better care than dogs receive in families across the nation. If that were true, there would be no need to check them for ticks and we would not read stories about ticks crawling up the kennel walls at Tucson Greyhound Park.

Two articles expose greyhound racing

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Two interesting articles from the last couple of weeks offer further indictments of greyhound racing.

On the website, the headline read “An in-depth look at the changing industry of Greyhound Racing” on April 26.

Johnny O’Donnell, a racing trainer at Southland Gaming and Racing, is referenced as saying racing dogs are kept in kennels 18 to 20 hours each day. That’s an interesting admission, since other defenders of dog racing routinely try to spin the numbers on the time the dogs spend trapped in their cages each day.

This is probably the most interesting and downright twisted paragraph in the article – “O’Donnell’s reasoned that the kennel time was due to the opinion that greyhounds are very sensitive to outside environments and that long periods outside could be detrimental for the dogs’ health. He added that with so many dogs each needing time outside, there is a need to limit that time for each dog so that they can all have a turn.

If it wasn’t so sad, it might be funny. This is so incredibly out of touch. Actually, being trapped inside a small cage for 20 hours each day is far more detrimental to the dogs’ health.

But then he flips and flops to suggest – no – actually it’s the fact that with so many dogs, they don’t have time to let them all outside for longer periods of time. Oddly enough, this second statement is incredibly truthful. The dogs don’t get the time they need outside of their cages because the handlers don’t have the time to do it.

The news out of the Tucson Greyhound Park is very troubling. reports female racing greyhounds are being routinely injected with steroids. Tucson Weekly exposed the fact that the dogs are being taken off site for the injections because the Tucson Dog Protection Act in South Tucson prohibits injection of female dogs with steroids within town limits.

The article notes this practice is believed “to cause genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems.” Despite this, a veterinarian has been routinely injecting the dogs at nearby Tucson Iron and Metal. The article also reports the veterinarian’s “license was placed on probation for a failure to maintain adequate medical records.”

The news out of greyhound racing only continues to get worse.

Living with the Rescue Pack

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I’ve been thinking of late about the oddities my wife and I experience on an almost daily basis, living with our band of rescued dogs. The current dynamics within the family pack have changed quite a bit over the last couple to three years.

We’ve lost several seniors over that span, who lived to a range of 14 to around 16 years of age. One was the ruler of the canine roost. I didn’t realize how much Zulu, a lab-mix, had managed the others and maintained a sense of stability – until she wasn’t around.

Now, we have a younger median age and a much more – lets say active – household.

Petey is among the youthful, more recent additions to the family. What were we thinking.

As I was putting together this post, I needed a photo of Petey, who is probably about 1.5 years old. I grabbed the smart phone and called him over to the desk. Unfortunately, the camera’s shutter wasn’t fast enough or smart enough to catch an image that was not blurred by his constantly-moving motor.

This was the best I could come up with and only because he paused very briefly when something caught his eye out the window. Petey is probably a red bone hound/basset mix and he’s become quite the neighborhood celebrity.

He had heartworms when he came to us – through an area municipal shelter. His previous people obviously failed to give him heartworm preventative. He’s on his last week or so of having to stay clam during the treatment period.

As is the case with children in families some of ours get along like best buddies. But there are a couple that don’t enjoy each others company so much. Petey and Tillie (a basset/yellow lab mix) really enjoy each other.

Over the weekend the pair was playing on a large bed in my office/playroom. At one point, I turned around at my desk to find Petey and Tillie laying down, face-to-face on the bed and literally smooching. They were nose-to-nose (touching) and licking each other in what could best be described as a French kiss.

I didn’t really know what to make of that. Most of the stories I’ll tell here going forward won’t be quite so provocative. At least I hope so anyway.

On a semi-regular basis on the PM Blog, I’ll offer some reality-show insight into our lives – with only a few tidbits of video. I’m not a fan of those fake-ish TV reality shows. I just made up that phrase “fake-ish” – but it correctly describes them.

We’ll call our series – “Living with the Rescue Pack.”


Follow-up: Austin Police issue apology for shooting family dog and release more details

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Before I get into this story more, I want to say that I’m not one to routinely or callously criticize law enforcement officers. I have a high degree of respect for anyone who puts their life on the line to protect innocent people – from law enforcement to firefighters to the brave men and women who serve the nation in our military.

But that being said, this level of service and bravery should not serve as a shield from being exposed for any wrongdoing.

The case in Austin, Texas where the police officer shot a family dog should serve as a call to better train officers across the country in dog behavior. Cases such as the one in Austin have happened enough now – as reported today by the Huffington Post – that it should spark some better training.

The Huff Post piece linked to a Daily Beast article from 2009 that reported dog attacks on US Postal workers have become rare. Why? – Because mail carriers are offered training on how to distract dogs and are “shown a two-hour video and given instruction on how to recognize and read a dog’s body language, how to differentiate between aggressive charging and playful bounding, and how to tell a truly dangerous dog from a merely territorial one.”

The Beast also noted that between 2000 and 2002, the Indianapolis police shot 44 dogs, as reported by the Indianapolis Star.

ABC News filed this video report, which includes interviews with the dog’s guardian in Austin and dash-cam video and audio from the incident in Austin. From the audio, it seems clear to me that the officer is one who should be trained the way postal workers are trained.

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I’ve been approached on numerous occasions by aggressive dogs and in none of these instances, barring one occurrence I recall when I was a small child, did the dogs bite me. And never did I have anything I could use to protect myself, other than my wits.



Romney and Obama? – We need an animal-welfare candidate

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On one side, Mitt and Ann Romney continue to defend the act of riding their dog on top of their car – and with their statements of late are only making the news worse. And on the other side, we have President Obama opening up the Atlantic seaboard to oil and gas exploration.

While I feel the country is slowly but surely becoming more compassionate to animals and I hope – more environmentally aware, there is still a long way to go. And much of the lag seems to be with elected officials at the federal and state levels.

Let’s start with President Obama, who has proposed opening up a huge zone along the east coast to oil and gas exploration.

He is quoted in an NPR article as saying –

There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision. But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

Huuh? What? So move us away from fossil fuels by opening up more of the ocean floor to get more fossil fuels. Sorry Mr. President; you have always seemed to be on the logical side, but you jumped off the oil rig on this one. Maybe some people will come forward to spin this around in some way. But really, it doesn’t make sense.

And what really doesn’t make sense is opening up more areas to deep-water drilling, fresh off the worst man-made environmental disaster in US history – the BP Gulf Oil Gusher. Have Obama and the Republicans forgotten how bad the equipment proved to be and how bad the oversight was and how long it took to cap the gushing well?

This is important stuff. People died on that oil rig. Untold number of animals suffered to an extreme degree and untold numbers died. The Gulf of Mexico is still being negatively impacted, from the wetlands to the Gulf floor. So in response, we’re going to drill more in deep water?

Clearly, the technology and the level of oversight is far from being where it should be. I am a native of the North Carolina coast and until the age of 5 lived across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t want to see this area spoiled by a spill.

It’s like a county determining that an intersection is the most dangerous, most heavily traveled in the area. So in response, officials decide to divert more traffic to the intersection, without even determining a better road design.

NPR also reports the conservation group Oceana is calling the President’s decision a “wholesale assault” on the oceans.

And then we have the Romneys, who keep trying to defend riding Shamus on the roof of their car on a 12-hour drive to Canada. A Petside post notes Ann Romney is now comparing Shamus’ ride on the roof to riding a roller coaster.

Really? Maybe more like throwing up and being in severe distress from riding on a roller coaster. Oh, that’s what she means. Or no?

The couple still doesn’t seem to understand the severity of this act. They don’t understand why it is illegal to do this. And instead of stepping to the microphone to admit what they did was wrong, they to continue to make light of the story.

We need more candidates and elected officials who are supporters of animal welfare – at every level.