News: Guest Posts
Law & Order: Canine Unit?
New DNA database to aid dog-fighting investigations

On the heels of Charles Siebert’s eye-opening examination of the links between animal cruelty and other types of violence (“The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome,” New York Times, 6/7/10), the University of California, Davis, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have announced the creation of the nation’s first criminal dog-fighting DNA database. Known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the database is designed to support criminal investigations and prosecutions in dog-fighting cases. As Siebert pointed out, the conviction of Michael Vick on dog-fighting charges in 2007 and the growing awareness of links between dog fighting and domestic violence and other crimes has made dog fighting a higher law enforcement priority. I’m thrilled to see advanced technology and new energy brought to this terrible practice.


How will it work? The Canine CODIS contains DNA profiles from dogs seized during dog-fighting investigations and from unidentified samples collected at suspected dog-fighting venues. DNA analysis and matching will help law enforcement identify relationships between dogs and establish connections between breeders, trainers and dog-fight operators. Blood collected from dog fighting sites also will be searched against the Canine CODIS database to identify the source. Am I the only one seeing a new Law & Order franchise here?   The Humane Society of Missouri is also a partner in creating the database, supplying 400 original and initial samples of DNA collected from dogs seized in July 2009 during the nation’s largest dog-fighting raid, as well as the Louisiana SPCA. The database will be maintained at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.


News: Guest Posts
Ick, Ugh, Eeek!
Is it really fun to celebrate ugly dogs?

The World’s Ugliest Dog Contest (Dog Lover’s Festival, Sonoma-Marin Fair, Petaluma, Calif., June 25) brings out the buzz kill in me. Sweet, unsuspecting pups “celebrated” for tufted hair, bucked or missing teeth, disproportionate bodies, wrinkles and bumps, baldness and protruding tongues—many of these exaggerations introduced by breeders in the first place and sometimes creating very real health challenges. It just feels like stories of “pig parties” (where frat members compete to bring the ugliest date to a party) or the flipside of beauty contests, which I don’t much like either.

  This is not to say that many of the other events at the Dog Lover’s Festival—such as tips for adopting a dog from the Sonoma Humane Society, Paws for Reading’s kids reading to dogs, and a Nose Work demonstration (see our story on K9 Nose Work)—aren’t worthy offerings.


News: Guest Posts
Must Read
Connecting animal cruelty to other forms of violence

Bark contributor Charles Siebert explores how we are taking animal abuse more seriously than ever before—with tougher legislation, law enforcement, veterinary forensics and explorations into the neuroscience of empathy. “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome” (New York Times Magazine, 6/13/10) is a tough read in parts, with graphic examples (be prepared), but hopefully signals a turning point in this previously underreported and inadequately addressed violence.


View the accompanying slideshow of abused and/or neglected Pit Bulls in New York shelters.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Promoting Adoption
New group represents N.Y. dogs to find their forever home

Homeless pups in New York now have their own public relations representation thanks to Bruised Not Broken. The new organization, started by Brooke Slater and her husband, leverages technology and social media to promote bully breeds looking for their forever homes. 

The inspiration for Bruised Not Broken came from their own rescue dog, Luca, who Brooke and her husband adopted from a local shelter two years ago. Luca is an all white, deaf Pit Bull who opened their eyes to the potential of bully breed dogs and the fact that so many are not as lucky as Luca.

Brooke and her husband decided that they had to do something and quickly identified a need for better promotion for homeless dogs. For instance, the only representation a shelter pup might get is often a single low-resolution photo, usually taken at intake when they are most likely to look emaciated and scared. 

Bruised Not Broken gives dogs a proper media campaign that gives them a better shot at being adopted. High-resolution photo shoots and You Tube videos capture each dog's unique personality. These photos and videos are then shared with dog lovers on their website, Facebook page and on Twitter.

Bruised Not Broken works with multiple New York City rescue groups and foster homes, primarily working with Pit Bulls who, at one point or another, have been scheduled for euthanasia.

There are so many dogs, especially pit bulls, stuck in New York Shelters. Technology can help, but many shelters don't have the resources to take advantage of social media to its highest potential. Bruised Not Broken may be the first of its kind to focus exclusively on publicity and will hopefully be a trail blazer for how rescue pets are represented. 

If you're interested in helping out, visit the Bruised Not Broken website to donate money, fill out an adoption application, or to help spread the word.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
PSPCA sees dog fighting cases triple post-Vick

In a previous blog post, Lisa Wogan contemplated the effect of Michael Vick’s reality television show and the perception of his crime.

The show, which debuted in February, follows Vick’s comeback from his dog fighting conviction and subsequent 21 month prison sentence. While the show highlights the repercussions of dog fighting, and Vick comes across as genuinely remorseful, many wonder if the newfound attention may be having a negative effect. 

Despite the fact that Vick served almost 2 years in prison, lost endorsement deals and was forced to declare bankruptcy, he seems to have been rewarded with more attention and fame than ever before. Vick has since signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, landed a reality show and was even awarded the Ed Block Courage Award by his new teammates, given to players who “exemplify commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage.”

The SPCA of Pennsylvania’s director of law enforcement, George Bengal, worries that Vick may have made dog fighting “cool” and made Pit Bulls a status symbol. Since Vick joined the Eagles, his organization’s dog fighting cases have tripled. 

The spike could be a result of Vick’s addition to Philadelphia’s pro football team, but I certainly hope it’s actually a reflection of an increase in awareness and reporting of dog fighting. 

Vick’s reality show certainly doesn’t portray his crime in a positive light, but I can see how the attention could sensationalize dog fighting.

What’s your take?

News: Guest Posts
Crackdown Needed
Report slams fed over puppy mills

A new government report blasts the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to crack down on reckless dog breeders. 

  Far too often, inspectors charged with carrying out the Animal Welfare Act fall short of documenting cruel treatment of dogs kept in breeding kennels, overlook chronic violators and even when they write them up, they stop short of fining them, the USDA’s inspector general found.   More than half of the kennels cited for violations between 2006 and 2008 continued to break the law. One especially egregious example was a breeder from Oklahoma with 219 adult dogs, who was cited for 29 violations during three inspections—and a year and half later was found with five dead dogs on his property and other dogs so starved they had begun eating one another. “Despite those conditions (the inspector) did not immediately confiscate the surviving dogs and, as a result, 22 additional dogs died before the breeder’s license was finally revoked,” the report said.   Sprinkled throughout the 69-page report are some of the worst photos I’ve seen, including one of a live dog’s leg stripped down to the bone; another of a deep pool of eye-stinging urine and feces festering below an occupied cage and a shot of an enormous cluster of ticks feeding on one small dog’s face.   The report found four major flaws with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) handling of commercial dog-breeding inspections:    
  • Spotty and ineffective enforcement; some of the breeders violated the law as many as a dozen times.
  • A lack of proper documentation by inspectors. Thirty percent of them failed to correctly report violations, and the failures caused nearly half of all administrative hearings involving problem breeders to be compromised due to lack of evidence.
  • Inspectors reduced punishments arbitrarily, allowing breeders to continue reckless practices.
  • A large loophole in the Animal Welfare Act exempts breeders who sell dogs over the Internet from the minimal guidelines required by law. 
  Here’s a link to the report. Its findings underscore the scandalous conditions I write about in Saving Gracie: How one dog escaped the shadowy world of American puppy mills.   Inspector general reports have chronicled abuses in commercial dog-breeding before, and still they persist. What will it take to turn the tide?   Two lawmakers, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator David Vitter (R-La.) today called for immediate changes at APHIS and promised to work with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reform the system.   “This report raises serious concerns about APHIS’s ability to enforce the law, ensure the welfare of animals, and crack down on the most negligent and irresponsible dog breeders,” Durbin said. “While USDA has already begun to make administrative changes, more needs to be done.”   Durbin introduced legislation on Tuesday, May25, to close the Internet loophole puppy mills are currently exploiting. The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act would require all breeders selling more than 50 dogs a year to be licensed and to undergo inspections to ensure the dogs are receiving proper care. USDA played a role in developing the legislation, according to Durbin’s office. Senator Vitter is the bill’s lead cosponsor.


News: Guest Posts
Thumbs Down on Store-bought Dogs
New poll finds Americans prefer shelters to stores

Good news for shelter dogs and cats: More than half of pet owners to respond to an Associated Press-Petside.com poll said “they would get their next dog or cat from a shelter, nearly seven times the number who said they would buy their next pet from a store.” About a quarter said they would seek out a breeder for their next pet.

  The telephone poll conducted April 7-12, 2010, with 1,112 pet owners nationwide revealed that shelters are seen by many as a better option for healthy pets and as a necessary response to overpopulation and euthanasia. I was most surprised—and heartened—by the finding that “…more than four in 10 said they thought store pets could have hidden medical or psychological problems. That’s significantly more than those who expressed the same concerns about pets from animal shelters or breeders.”   Interestingly, people under 30 were more likely to buy a pet from a store than older respondents, which signals to me that education efforts about pet stores and puppy mills needs to zero in on a younger audience.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Legality of Helping Chained Dogs
Court case dropped against dog advocate

Tamira Ci Thayne is the founder and CEO of Dogs Deserve Better, which appeared in a previous blog called Have a Heart For Chained Dogs Week. The goal of this organization is to stop the constant chaining of dogs. They educate people about why constantly chaining dogs is inhumane and about the dangers of this practice.

  Thayne has taken more direct action to help some of these unfortunate dogs, which has led to legal trouble. She was first arrested for taking a chained dog to the vet and refusing to return him. The dog had been chained for 13 years and left lying on the ground and unable to stand for three days when Thayne intervened.   This week, Thayne was appealing a trespassing charge in Pennsylvania for going onto someone’s property and providing the dogs chained there with food, straw, and water. These dogs were underweight and dealing with temperatures of -11 with the wind chill. Because Krystal Cann, the prosecution’s witness and owner of the property where the dogs were chained did not show up, the prosecution ended its criminal case against Thayne. Without this witness, they had little hope of proving their case. Cann’s dogs remain chained up.   Thayne is working to get legislation in Pennsylvania that will limit the amount of time that dogs can be chained up. This will make it easier to help dogs without breaking the law.    


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Stopping Breed Stereotypes
Petition persuades Mafia Wars to remove Pit Bull “weapons”

If you’re on Facebook, most likely you either love or hate the popular game, Mafia Wars. I happen to fall on the dislike side, but I can tell from my Facebook News Feed that many of my friends play the game quite frequently! And they’re not alone--over 7 million people play Mafia Wars every day.

Recently, the game announced the addition of animals as a new type of weapon, which included Pit Bulls. This was obviously disturbing to anyone fighting against Pit Bull stereotypes. It was also surprising coming from Mafia Wars creator, Zynga, who also created YoVille, a game where virtual adoptions of dogs and cats have raised over $125,000 for the San Francisco SPCA. Zynga even allows employees to bring their pets to work, many who have rescue Pit Bulls.

Earlier this month, Zynga announced it would remove Pit Bulls from Mafia Wars after receiving a Change.org petition signed by over 500 community members. The appeal urged the company to stop perpetuating negative pit bull stereotypes.

Personally I don’t see the appeal of Mafia Wars, but I commend Zynga for being responsive to feedback and for ultimately pulling Pit Bulls from the game. The depiction of the breed in the game was downright offensive. Given that only a small fraction of the millions of Mafia Wars users complained, I think Zynga demonstrated sensitivity once the issue was brought to their attention.

And the next time you pass on signing a petition, assuming it won’t make a difference, think twice about the power of your signature!

News: Guest Posts
A Stray in Haiti
Winning over the men and women of Operation United Response

Over the past few months, my cousin has been emailing me personal reports from Haiti written by Technical Sergeant Bradley Sharp of the 24th Air Expeditionary Group/Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, USAF. TSgt. Sharp was sent to Haiti as part of Operation United Response from the 446 Air Wing/Joint-Base Lewis McChord, Wash. He has been helping with the relief effort at the airport in Haiti since Feb. 15, 2010. His email letters to friends and family in the United States are honest and raw, often tough to read, other times darkly funny. I’ve followed coverage in the newspapers, but lately reporting feels remote. TSgt. Sharp reminds me things are still very, very bad and with heavy rains and hurricane season on the way—things will probably get worse before they get better. It is a sad but necessary reminder.

  Some of the lighter moments in TSgt. Sharp’s recent emails feature a sweet 30-pound stray. When I asked him if I could share his emails with our readers, he agreed and sent along some photos and updates.   March 29: A small sick dog came into camp and hid just outside of our reach. She was cute and a lot of the guys wanted to keep her. You could see the sores and cuts on her. After a few days and a lot of coaxing she decided to give us a try. We got in trouble for having her and they were going to put her down. Well, we are tough and we fight and cuss but we get a misty when you want to shoot our dog. We contacted the Army vet and they came down and fixed her up. So she is ours for the time being. [TSgt. Sharp has clarified that this is not technically true as personnel are not allowed to keep pets.]   Her name is Maggie—they wanted Molly but I would not allow it [the sergeant’s wife is named Mollie]—but she has a nickname, which is Balls [or Ballzee]. Why did they nickname her Balls? Well, she has decided that the rear rotors on the helicopters need to DIE, and she jumps in the air and tries to bite them. She will never do it but it is a ballsy thing to do so she got a proper military nickname. We are looking into how to get her back to the U.S. We have no less then 11 people who want to take her home. (I’m number nine on the list.)   April 9: The dog is getting spoiled now. They had ham for dinner the other day but she was so full she did not want it. She still roams freely and has begun to bark at thieves that sometimes try to sneak into camp at night. Needless to say, she is loved by all. I asked her if she wanted to be in The Bark and she seemed to say yes... I’m not 100 percent sure because she barks in French Creole.   April 13: Our camp’s first lady, Maggie decided that she needed to greet the First Lady of the United States today. She came up as I was putting the parking stops on Mrs. Obama’s plane. The Secret Service was concerned about the language barrier so it was decided that she should be tackled by one of our airmen, Jared Lacovara moments before the First Lady came off the plane. Maggie was shocked at the lack of planning on the military’s part in not allowing her to meet Mrs. Obama.   April 27: They decided to have a comedy show tonight and the main star was Maggie (photo, top right). Carole Montgomery and Leighann Lord managed to put Maggie in jokes no less then five times. After translation, Maggie was seen laughing and wagging her butt off. She watched the entire show with about 300 soldiers and airmen. She seemed a bit unimpressed with the Dolphins Cheerleaders... possibly she felt she is our biggest cheerleader and resented the competition.   Lastly, TSgt. Seth Zora (32APS/911AW Pittsburgh) wanted me share with you that the dog has gotten more care packages then most anyone. “Ballzee is our little slice of home. She puts a smile on my face with a simple game of just fetch. She truly makes me miss my two dogs at home.”   [See photos on Molly today here]