News: JoAnna Lou
Finding Rover uses facial-recognition technology to reunite lost dogs
Imagine being able to take a photo of a stray dog and instantly finding the person looking for him--without even leaving the spot where you took the picture.
A new free app called Finding Rover promises to do just that through facial-recognition technology and a growing profile database. John Polimento was inspired to create Finding Rover after a lost dog poster brought back memories of how distressed his family was when their own pup was missing.
John teamed up with software developers at the University of Utah to create an algorithm called Pet Match. The program uses machine learning and computer vision to detect a dog's unique differentiating features, such as eye shape and fur color. Because of their fur, it's much harder to apply facial-recognition technology to canines than humans.
Once you submit a photo of your dog, their profile is added to the database and can be matched with pictures of lost pups. The better the photo, the more accurate the results. John claims that with a good picture, your dog will come up 95 percent of the time out of 100 dogs of the same breed.
The app has features to help capture searchable images, such as a bark noise to get dogs to look at the phone's camera and movable circles to focus the eye and nose data search points. It took me a few tries to get a decent picture!
If you find a lost dog, you can still take a picture at a distance and search for matches, it just won't be as precise. You can also view all missing and found pets in your area by list or map. In just a few weeks Finding Rover has already helped several pups find their way back home.
Finding Rover has great potential to help reunite pups with their families. The app makes it quick and easy to search for potential matches, hopefully encouraging more people to report stray pets. I can see this revolutionizing how animals are found, as long as enough people create profiles for the database to be valuable. Right now there doesn't seem to be much activity in my area.
Believe it or not, a version for cats is in the works and should be available in about six months!
News: Karen B. London
Procedure necessary after ingesting rat poison
Rory the cat can claim that dogs are his best friend, too, or at least that one particular dog is. When Rory was in dire need of a blood transfusion, Macy the Labrador retriever was rushed to the vet to donate and that saved Rory’s life.
Rory the cat had consumed rat poison and his life was at risk. Due to bad luck, Rory had eaten the poison too late in the day on Friday for the lab to be able to determine the type of blood needed to ensure a match. The wrong type of blood could cause Rory to die, but the veterinarian treating Rory found out that there was a chance of saving Rory if he was given a transfusion of canine blood.
Rory’s guardian contacted Macy’s guardian, who is a good friend, and that’s how Macy came to be the life-saving blood donor. The procedure was not without risk. The canine blood could have killed Rory, but he certainly would have died without it. Cat’s antibodies don’t react to canine blood at first exposure, which is why the blood transfusion worked. The transfusion gave Rory enough time to replace the red blood cells he needed to recover. He’s doing well and Macy is just fine, too.
News: JoAnna Lou
Livestock guardian pups protect endangered cats by driving them away
Livestock guardian dogs have long been used to protect farm animals--and even penguins!-- from dangerous predators. In Namibia, Africa, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and Kangals watch over flocks of goats and sheep, but also indirectly help the endangered cheetah. Over 95 percent of Namibia's cheetahs live on livestock farmland due to environmental pressures. Although the big cats are a protected species in this country, farmers are allowed to kill any threat to their animals. In the 1980's alone 10,000 cheetahs (the current total worldwide population) were killed or moved off farms. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) believes that most of the killings were by farmers. In response, CCF started the Livestock Guarding Dogs Program to provide Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and Kangals to protect sheep and goats, while easing the conflict between farmers and cheetahs. The Livestock Guarding Dogs Program has resulted in an 80 to 100 percent decrease in livestock losses and less retaliation against cheetahs. In the last 19 years, around 450 dogs have been placed with farmers. Cheetah numbers hit a low of 2,500 in 1986, but has since reached about 3,000 in Namibia, the largest remaining wild cheetah population in the world. Now there is a waiting list for the dogs and the program has expanded to other countries. Unfortunately cheetahs still face threats on game ranches and cattle farms where the dogs are not suited. The livestock guardian dogs do their job with little violence. They're not trained to chase or attack and instead use barking and posture to scare predators away. Cheetahs are not normally aggressive and will usually quickly retreat from a noisy dog. The Livestock Guarding Dog Program is such a creative way to protect an endangered species. If you'd like to help out, visit the CCF web site to sponsor a dog. The program costs over $40,000 a year to breed and care for the pups.
News: Karen B. London
White House releases official statement
“We don’t support breed-specific legislation.” So begins an official statement from the White House. Breed-specific legislation includes any law or regulation that restricts which dogs people can have based on their breed. The most common breed to be banned is the pit bull. The statement goes on to mention research showing that breed-specific legislation is essentially ineffective at preventing dog bites and injuries, and that it is a waste of the public’s resources. The official statement is presumably a response to an online petition that requests a ban at the federal level on laws that target dogs based on their breed.
It has not been possible to determine accurately bite rates by breeds, and in the absence of reliable data, perceptions are often skewed towards whatever is reported in the media rather than the actual number of bites. At various times, certain breeds have had serious PR problems, and it changes over the years. Decades ago it was rottweilers and doberman pinschers who seemed to face the most discrimination. Now it’s pit bulls who are most often assumed by many to be dangerous just because of what they look like, and not based on any information about specific individuals and their behavior.
The statement from the White House supports the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that in order to improve public safety, we are better off with a community-based approach to dog bite prevention. The laws about dangerous dogs that deal with individuals who have a history of aggressive behavior are far more sensible than bans on entire breeds of dogs. Dogs vary greatly in their behavior and that variation is substantial within all breeds.
Our society has come a long way in stopping discrimination against people based on appearance, origin and who they are related to. It’s encouraging that we are moving in that direction when it comes to dogs, too. I’m so pleased about this big step towards eliminating discriminatory legislation. What’s your take on it?
Dog's Life: Humane
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wallace the Pit Bull today. Wallace was a former shelter dog who had “issues” and spent a long time in a kennel. Thankfully a shelter volunteer and his wife took a chance on Wallace and adopted the problem dog. They spent a great deal of time working with him and he later became a champion Frisbee dog, winning many competitions and becoming an ambassador for Pit Bulls. A delightful book was written about Wallace’s transformation from unwanted dog to adored champion (Wallace. By Jim Gorant). Wallace passed away at a great old age, comforted by those who loved him, after a long and happy life.
As I walked through the shelter today I was struck, as I always am, by the number of wonderful dogs waiting hopefully behind the chain link. Many of them stare eagerly as I walk by, wagging their tails harder and harder the closer I get. Some are terrified and huddle at the back of the kennel, glancing at me furtively. A few are quite aggressive but most of them respond to a kind word and the offer of a cookie. The only difference between most of these dogs and Wallace is a person. One person willing to do whatever it takes to give that dog the life he or she deserves.
Shelter dogs are not flawed or bad. They just need someone to teach them how to behave and to manage them in such a way that they are set up to win. Most dogs will become a problem if allowed to roam or bark incessantly. I recently had a case involving an adolescent Great Pyrenees who barked day and night in the owner’s backyard until the neighbors complained. On investigating, I learned that the owners liked the dog but didn’t understand a dogs needs. The pup had food, water and shelter but they didn’t ever take him out of the yard. He didn’t come in the house, didn’t go for walks or have any kind of enrichment in his life. This puppy wasn’t a bad dog; he was just desperate for company. The owners surrendered the puppy to the shelter and he was adopted soon after. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful puppy leave with an adoptive family who understood his need for companionship, direction and exercise.
How I wish that every dog had the chance for a life like Wallace had. It wasn’t always easy, but Wallace’s family did whatever it took to help Wallace succeed.
I would love to hear from readers that were able to turn a “problem” dog into a happy pet. Tell me about your dog and how you did it.
When Andrew Sullivan’s Beagle, Dusty, passed away a couple of weeks ago he wrote a very moving piece about her at that time. Now he is writing about how his other Beagle, Eddy, has responded to this loss. Again, in a very touching, observant manner.
“Her demeanor shifted to sadness and quiet. She didn’t just leave her food around to eat at leisure; she stopped eating in the morning altogether. It was almost as tough as getting her to eat in the evening as well. On walks, she trailed behind, moving slowly, tugging at the end of a long leash, as if not really wanting to go anywhere. It happened after about a week – perhaps because that was when it became unmistakable that Dusty wasn’t just away for a bit – but was, in fact, never coming back.”
I certainly believe that dogs can grieve, as well as possessing the full range of emotional expression as we have—it just might be more difficult for us to translate theirs. As another post on Sullivan's The Dish site noted:
"The 17th century English philosopher Anne Conway argued that the differences between humans and other creatures were “finite” differences—differences of degree and intensity. There is no infinite difference between creatures that makes another’s form of life wholly and eternally incomprehensible. Whoever can’t see that something sort of like “justice” functions in the animal world, Conway argued, “must be called completely blind.”
A few years ago when Bark’s “founding” dog, Nellie (a Beagle/Border Collie mix) died, Lenny, our 14-year-old Terrier, went into a tailspin. I feared that he too would soon leave us, dying of a broken heart. Like Sullivan’s dog, he stopped eating and simply wouldn’t respond to my attempts at consoling. It didn’t take me long to realize that Lenny missed having a pack mate and there was little that a human substitute could do. So we quickly decided to get him, and us, another dog. That is when our rescue Pointer, Lola came into our lives, and turned out to be the magic pill for Len—not only did he perk up almost immediately, but he seemed to drop years in a blink. It wasn’t that he liked Lola all that much, but she added a necessary foil for him to maneuver around. He had a new motivation to live and since Lola was more concerned with “environmental matters,” as is the wont of sporting dogs, he got to trail after her in those pursuits. He went on to live another 4 years, and passed away in my arms at 18.
I’m sure that you too have experienced this, not just a dog grieving for the loss of another dog (or other family member), but how a new dog can provide just the right antidote to the “other” dog. Let me know your thoughts.
News: JoAnna Lou
New research works on communication between working pups and their handlers
Most days I feel like I have a good idea of what my dogs are thinking (and it usually involves food and tennis balls!). After living with an animal for so long, you develop ways of communicating, even if you don't speak the same language. But there are also many times when I wish my dogs could tell me exactly what they want or how they're feeling, and vice versa.
What animal lover didn't watch the Pixar animated film, Up, and wish they had one of those collars that allowed the dogs to converse with the humans? It may seem like something out of science fiction, but it's exactly the kind of technology that a team at Georgia Tech is trying to develop.
The project, led by Dr. Melody Jackson, is called FIDO for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations, The team is trying to develop wearable technology to make it easier for assistance and military dogs to communicate with their handlers.
Dr. Jackson is a director at Georgia Tech's BrainLab, as well as an assistance puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. She has been trying to understand brain signals through sensors to use the information to build computer interfaces for people with disabilities. Dr. Jackson came up with the idea to combine wearable technology with working pups while collaborating with Thad Starner, a member of her team who worked on Google Glass, the infamous “computer glasses.".
In their prototype, the dog would wear a vest with sensors that interpret behavior and send communication signals to people. For the past several months, Dr. Jackson's team has been testing the sensors, which are linked to both natural and trained behaviors that would allow the dogs to have a larger and more specific vocabulary. The next step will be to connect these sensored behaviors with something meaningful, such as spoken words.
The goal is to help working dogs communicate more effectively. For instance, military dogs who previously could only give a general bomb warning could tell their handlers what type of bomb they're detecting. A seeing eye dog would not only be able to alert their handler to an obstacle ahead, but communicate what needs to be done to get past the obstacle.
The team believes that the possibilities are endless. What do you wish your dog could tell you?
I just spent $400 for an ultrasound on my rescue Shepherd mix, whom we’ve had for five of his six years. Last year, we had baseline lab tests run and discovered that he had slightly elevated liver enzymes. This year, when the tests were rerun, they showed higher enzyme levels and mild chronic liver and renal failure.
The vet and I narrowed the cause down to one culprit: the chicken jerky treats we fed him every day. Although the treats are labeled “Made in America,” they are actually made in China and lab-tested in America. The vet said to immediately stop giving him these treats; he also said they’ve seen a large increase in medical issues (up to and including death) due to these made-in-China treats.
I would like stores to stop carrying all food products made in China, although I know this isn’t possible. But at the very least, because companies seem to hide the place of manufacture in very small print, warnings should be printed on packages that explain the risks of feeding these treats to our pets.
Had we not had a wellness-panel run, our beloved dog would have succumbed to liver and renal failure. I now wonder if the same product didn’t contribute to the deaths of our last two rescue dogs.
Petfinder.com, which was actually owned by Discovery, was just purchased by Nestle Purina. What this means to this important online pet adoption service is anyone's guess. Hopefully, Purina will put more of its vast resources into improving its functionality, something that I had noticed needed some "fixing up" for quite some time. I have heard from a few rescue groups that the process to get "accepted" by Petfinder can be a very long process. Perhaps this might speed it up, which would be a good thing. But it will also be interestng to see how Petfinder's source of "metadata" might be used by this new parent company. What do you think of this?
News: JoAnna Lou
Effective Jan. 1, pet stores will be on the hook for sick animals
Last weekend, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation making Illinois the 21st state to have a "puppy lemon law." The original bill was sparked, in part, by a distemper outbreak that resulted in the deaths of several puppies in at least two Chicago area pet stores last year. Supporters hope that the law will encourage pet stores to maintain a higher standard of health and protect people who inadvertently buy sick animals. A secondary goal is to make selling puppy mill pets a less desirable business model, encouraging stores to stop selling animals. Illinois' law, which takes effect January 1st, will allow people to receive reimbursement for veterinary costs up to 21 days after purchase if the animal was sick at the time of sale and one year after purchase if a genetic condition is discovered. If a pet dies within 21 days, the store must provide a full refund of the purchase price. The law also requires pet stores to report disease outbreaks to the state Department of Agriculture and inform customers who purchased a dog or cat within two weeks of the outbreak. I think Illinois' new law, and other states' "puppy lemon laws" are a step in the right direction, however, the penalties are too limited to force pet stores or puppy mills to care about the health of their animals. Most states only cover veterinary costs up to the price of the pet (typically under $3,000, and we all know vet care can easily exceed that number). It's also common to allow stores to replace a sick animal with a healthy one. This doesn't make a lot of sense since no one wants to return a pet that they've already become attached to and no one would want to get another pet from a store with sick animals. This just highlights the struggle in dealing with stores that view animals as merchandise. I was happy to see Illinois' one year policy on genetic conditions. They are the only state with such a provision. Since many puppy mill dogs end up with genetic illnesses (though many develop after one year of age), I hope more states will follow suit.
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