Friday, June 27, 2008

Lab Clones Sniff Mutant Cells

A South Korean biotech company has unveiled four Labrador retriever puppies it said were cloned from a Japanese dog skilled at sniffing out patients with cancer.

RNL Bio, affiliated with the South Korean lab that produced the world's first cloned canine, said the puppies were born three weeks ago and would be sent to Japan in September for training.

The puppies are clones of a black Labrador retriever named Marine, which is thought to have a well-honed sense for detecting cancer, RNL Bio said.

"Marine has excellent characteristics for cancer sniffing and I hope the cloned dogs have the same characteristics," said Lee Byeong-chun, a Seoul National University professor who headed previous dog-cloning projects.

The university lab was once affiliated with disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who is facing trial for fraud in his human stem cell studies. Independent testing verified his laboratory produced the world's first cloned dog.

Scientists are studying whether dogs may be able to sniff the breath or skin of patients to detect cancer on the theory that cancer cells give off a special odour.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Settlement in Tainted Pet Food Case

A federal judge has approved a $24 million settlement for thousands of owners whose animals were sickened by tainted pet food.

The deal resolves more than 100 lawsuits filed in the United States and Canada since an epidemic of sick pets began last year.

Lawyers said that the country's leading veterinarian organization estimated 1,500 pets died from commercially sold food that contained tainted wheat gluten grown in China. Thousands more became ill.

Pet owners would be reimbursed for documented medical expenses and up to $900 for undocumented costs such as wages lost while caring for the animals and property damage.

The main defendant in the case was Menu Foods, a Canadian manufacturer of about 100 of the contaminated product lines. The defendants previously paid $8 million to settle other claims.

Customers of GreenPets were unaffected by the recall, because only inferior foods were affected.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Home for Life

The Home for Life Sanctuary near Star Prairie, Wisconsin, is the final residence for an eclectic menagerie of dogs, cats, bunnies, birds - even an African desert tortoise - many of which would have faced almost certain death had they not found their way there.

"The animals that come here are out of options," said Lisa LaVerdiere, who founded one of the nation's first home-for-life animal sanctuaries, in Wisconsin's St. Croix Valley, in 1999, and hopes to replicate its success in communities around the country.

"We take them or they're put to sleep," she said.

LaVerdiere has staked an increasingly popular place in the often fractious debate over animal welfare, where advocates argue the ethics and realities of no-kill vs. traditional shelters, and adoption into a home is the overriding goal.

Her nonprofit organization offers what she calls "a third door" for animals that in the past had just two: adoption or euthanasia.

"Our goal is to give these animals a true home, a good quality of life," said LaVerdiere, a lawyer who developed the concept while volunteering with a Twin Cities no-kill shelter in the 1990s.

"When you think that 4 (million) to 6 million animals are euthanized a year, we need to think more expansively about what it means to have a home."

LaVerdiere's third door opens onto a gated compound of new but modest buildings, fenced runs and open wetlands and prairie about an hour and a half northwest of Eau Claire.

Every animal here has a story, many horrifyingly tragic, and yet they appear content, adjusted.

Ben, a shepherd pup, blinded and brain-damaged by a beating, jumps playfully in circles as a photographer shoots his picture. Ashley, a chow mix paralyzed by a stomp to the spine after she'd wandered into a homeowner's yard, tears across the grassy run in what can best be described as a wheeled prosthesis.

Inside one of the three catteries, Kobi hobbles along on the stumps of her legs. The brown tabby had been found in a park, his ears, all four paws and tail severed.

Not all of the animals have been abused. Some, including Chako, an incontinent and partially paralyzed aging husky, were surrendered by loving owners who could no longer care for them. Chako's owner pays a monthly fee, but about 10% of the animals arrive through the Angel Care program that offers care for life in return for a one-time fee.

Goliath, a 30-pound Sulcata African tortoise, was found abandoned.

There's no caging here. Animals that can live together do so, in groups of like temperament. Those that can't - take Hal, who loves people but will fight any dog after a lifetime spent as bait for other pit bulls - get their own "townhouses."

Twenty employees, many of whom have studied animal sciences, fix their meals and administer their meds. They make sure the animals are exercised daily - the appearance of a worker with a leash sets off a deafening cacophony of excited barking - and get plenty of affection.

Those with serious health problems receive even more intensive care. Chako and others that get around on wheeled carts are cleaned and wrapped twice a day to keep their sores from getting infected. There are regular vet visits and, for some, physical therapy.

Such intensive care would have been impossible for Anne Gale of New Jersey. She tried caring for Chako herself after he injured his spine in a freak accident, but found his needs too great.

She drove him cross-country to Home for Life crying much of the way - and again this month as she recounted the memory.

"But when I walked onto the grounds of that place, when I met Lisa, I had no doubt in my mind that I'd found the one place on Earth I was going to be comfortable leaving my dog."

Chako doesn't get around much these days. But for many of the animals, the Home for Life door swings outward, too, not for adoptions but for outreach programs LaVerdiere has developed to educate the public about the sanctuary and the larger societal problems that have landed many of the animals there.

As many as 300 volunteers take animals to visit local hospitals, senior centers, domestic abuse shelters and a home for teenage boys who've had felony-level scrapes with the law.

It's moving, LaVerdiere said, to see the impact the dogs have on the troubled boys whose job it is to train them to become therapy dogs.

"One of the things you notice with these kids is how hard their faces are. Within a couple of classes, their eyes soften, they're so much more receptive," she said.

"They'll think twice before they abuse an animal, I guarantee it."

All of this is financed through donations and grants. The Sanctuary's annual budget: about $1 million.

Not everyone supports the home for life philosophy. LaVerdiere's been criticized by adoption-only advocates who question a sanctuary's merits as a "home." But others say it plays an important role, especially as the no-kill movement gains momentum.

"This is where I think Home for Life is ahead of the curve," said Nathan Winograd, founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center and author of the book "Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No-Kill Revolution in America."

"As the no-kill movement becomes dominant, we're going to start to have ethical debates about those animals at the margins. But that doesn't mean we have to wait to save those animals," Winograd said. "If someone is willing to take care of these animals - even if it's not a traditional home - and it's funded with private dollars, what's wrong with that?"

Care for life also means preparing for death at the sanctuary, where the animals' ashes are interred in a memorial garden in the shape of a labyrinth, near the wooded entrance to the grounds. Euthanasia is used, but only when an animal's suffering can no longer be managed with medication, and the decision involves many, including veterinarians and staff.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hilton Hounds

Coming this summer: four-legged guests at participating Hilton Hotels & Resorts will be welcomed into pet-friendly rooms outfitted with William Wegman-designed beds, feeding bowls and goodie baskets loaded with organic treats, stain-removing products and pocket-size waste cleanup bags.

According to Hilton, the new program is designed to cut the hassle for traveling dog and cat owners.

Each hotel's concierge desk will be able to provide guests information about local pet services, which may include walking trails, pet spas and veterinarian appointments. And when Fido or Fifi checks out, the room will get a thorough scrub-down and steam cleaning (hence, pet-friendly room rates will be up to $75 higher than standard hotel rooms, Hilton says). Details at

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pet Exhibition

The Pets in America Exhibit is opening at the Museum of Florida History. The exhibit will open on June 20 and extend through August 10, 2008. Statistics show that two-thirds of all American households own a pet. Few Americans know anything or little about the history of life with animals at home. This exhibit explores pet ownership in America and tells the story of Americans’ changing relationship with their pets.

“We are pleased to bring this exhibit to Tallahassee from the McKissick Museum in South Carolina,” said Secretary Browning. “Pets play a part in many of our lives and the exhibit will help us understand the changing attitudes over the course of time since animals first were accepted as household pets.”

The exhibit includes more than 200 objects and photographs related to pet keeping. These items were gathered from public and private collections across the country. Although this exhibit has a national appeal, there is a Florida component created by the Museum of Florida History staff that contains a large selection of photographs of Floridians with their pets, including some of governors and other well-known people.

Citrus labels with animal themes, artifacts with pet images, animal figurines and carvings, and various toys make up some of the Florida collection. Relevant topics in the exhibit include famous Florida animals like Flipper and the cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West, vacationing with pets, and tourist attractions where animals are the stars such as Monkey Jungle and Gatorland.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chickens, We Have a Problem...

Chickens have come to roost in Houston. "They are treated as pets, and then some," admits chicken-owner, Kathryn Pait. "They are spoiled rotten."

Pait, a Woodland Heights resident, is one of a growing number of Houstonians who are spreading the eco-gospel of urban chicken ownership. They describe chickens as a fun and feathery part of an environmental, self-reliant lifestyle: the eggs produce food, the manure makes wonderful fertilizer and helps in composting, and the birds provide pest control and companionship.

"I went from going out all the time and enjoying the night life of Houston to sitting out by the compost pile and watching my chickens," Pait says.

Yes, it is legal to keep chickens in Houston, if you follow the rules.

The coop must be at least 100 feet from the nearest neighbor's house. The chickens must be enclosed by a fence; they cannot run around loose. And 30 chickens is the limit, unless you have an unusually large lot.

Yet even as the new converts build coops for their Ameraucanas or Rhode Island Reds, other Houstonians are finding that chicken-ownership is under siege. Conflicts over chickens seem to be growing in Houston, even as more residents are proclaiming the multiple benefits of backyard flocks.

"It is a culture clash with a lot of people who are used to a more rural lifestyle," says Vincent Medley, an operations manager of the city's Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care.

"People who are moving in are clashing with the older residents," says Kent Robertson, chief of BARC. "The noise is definitely the thing that gets them busted."

Poultry enforcement in Houston is strictly complaint-driven.

Last year, BARC logged more than 800 complaints about chickens — almost triple the number of complaints from a decade ago.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Arranged Marriages for Indian Dogs

The Lady and the Tramp was all about a sudden romance between a well-brought up female dog and a not-so-refined roadside Romeo canine. Which is somewhat alien to the Indian ethos where romantic pairings are often arranged

The setting up of a dotcom for the mating of canines by an Indian entrepreneur could thus be regarded as a blending of Indian tradition with western technology. It is a known fact that before Independence, rulers in some Indian princely states even performed marriage ceremonies for their dogs.

The 19th century writer Thomas Love Peacock may have stated that “Marriage is at best a dangerous experiment” but the dotcom entrepreneur has left little to chance. Prospective clients have to submit photographs of their dogs and details like age, temperament, and dietary habits. The rationale being that dogs of a similar disposition will get along better together. That a pooch which prefers a quiet evening, perhaps a tad boringly, in front of the TV may not get along with a partying dog who likes to paint the town red.

Which is where the catch is! Walt Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp has shown that, like in human nature, opposites attract in the case of canines. In 21st-century India, daughters of marriageable age have the option of telling their parents that they would prefer someone different instead of continuing with more of the same.

Dogs, however, can only bark their disapproval of the mate their owner has chosen for them and a not-so-savvy pet-keeper may never understand that canine Cleopatra finds top-dog Caesar a bore and would much rather step out with someone less pompous!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Vacuum Cleaner 2.0

On average, dogs don't like robots.

To keep the peace at his California home, Keith Hearn had to scold his new robotic vacuum cleaner. The trouble started when Mr. Hearn first turned on his Roomba automatic cleaner. When the device started scooting around the floor, Mr. Hearn's dog, Argos, attacked it.

Seeking help, Mr. Hearn found an online forum dedicated to the hundred-dollar Roomba buzzing with similar stories of pet assailants. Owners were offering advice. Among the most popular: Chastise the vacuum in front of the dog.

And so, with Argos looking on, Mr. Hearn shook his finger at his gadget and sternly called it "a bad Roomba." Argos appeared to be mollified. "After that, he never tried nipping at it again," says Mr. Hearn.

Sympathetic owners sometimes just retire their new purchases. In other cases, the pets take matters into their own paws. Peter Haney, a university administrator in Lethbridge, Alberta, twice found his Roomba in pieces after letting it clean while his flat-coated retrievers, Macleod and Tima, had the run of the house. "No one is talking," he says.

Craig Capizzi, who runs from his Staten Island, N.Y., home, says his Yorkshire terrier, Candie, ignores his Roomba but is scared of his new Pleo, a dinosaur-like robot made by Ugobe Inc. "She's terrified of it. She bites it," he says. "That dog really believes it's another animal and, apparently, a frightening animal." He's getting rid of the Pleo, he says.

Robot manufacturers vary in their approach to making pet-friendly products."It comes up constantly," says Nancy Dussault Smith, a spokeswoman for iRobot Corp., in Bedford, Mass., which makes the Roomba. "Dogs, cats, all animals, they have their own personalities, so they all react differently to the robots."

By the way, Roomba's are NOT dog-proof....

Friday, June 06, 2008

Plaque Off!

Does your pet's teeth have plaque on them? Most do! It's not easy to keep a pet's teeth clean, and they aren't usually fond of sitting still while you get our the toothbrush. What's a pet owner to do?


Plaque off is a sea-weed based product (yes, seaweed; really), the naturally cause plaque and other gunk that accumulates on pets' teeth to fall out. Hard to believe, but true.

It doesn't work overnight; you usually see improvement after about two weeks or so. But you will see shiny fangs on Fang soon after that!

As important as our teeth are to us, your pet's teeth are even MORE important to your pet; after all, Fido can't get dentures. Don't wait until your dog's teeth are in danger; start using PlaqueOff today.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Domestic Animals healing Domestic Abuse

When Rose Terry finally resolved to leave her abusive boyfriend, she knew she'd have to live in a shelter for a few weeks before she could start life anew. She had no reservations about that.

But she anguished over Byron, the cat who had seen her through the awful times. None of her friends could take the female feline (the family was first told she was male, hence the name), and she couldn't bear the thought of placing her in an animal shelter until she got back on her feet. "I was desperate, weeping," Terry says. "She's my family."

When Terry learned one Las Vegas domestic violence safe haven, Shade Tree Shelter, had just built a pet-boarding facility on its grounds for residents' animals, "I was in such relief." Terry packed up her suitcase and her cat just before Christmas and checked in. "It's just so good to get to visit with Byron every day," says Terry, 55, who has a new job and nearly enough savings to lease an apartment and start over. "It helped so much that I didn't have to worry about her."

Domestic abuse shelters have long recognized that abused families, often kept so isolated that pets are their only friends, won't leave the abuser because they know animals left behind may be harmed as a power play or retaliation. So shelters have worked with animal-welfare groups that provide temporary pet care to ensure that everyone gets out of the situation.

Today, the emerging alternative is for domestic abuse shelters to provide on-site pet boarding. So far, fewer than a half-dozen such shelters exist, says Allie Phillips, director of public policy for the non-profit American Humane Association. But the numbers are certain to increase, as efforts are afoot on two fronts.

American Humane has just compiled and distributed a how-to guide, and Phillips' goal is that by year's end, at least 15 shelters will offer or will soon offer on-site pet boarding. Doorways for Women and Families Safehouse in Arlington, Va., will be the first to use American Humane's Pets and Women's Shelters (PAWS) Program start-up guide — officials there are in final planning to provide pet housing later this year — but Phillips has been contacted by others seeking advice.

"Shelters are overworked and underfunded, and the last thing they feel they can do is add more to their plates, even though they might be inclined toward having on-site pet care. My goal was to simplify everything, answer all the questions, debunk all the myths and walk them through the process, from how to raise money to fund it … to how to keep the people and animals safe," says Phillips, a former prosecuting attorney who was presented with hundreds of domestic violence cases and spent nearly a year putting together the guide.

Having a blueprint that reduces to minutes or hours the animal-care planning discussions that heretofore would probably have taken weeks "removes a lot of the obstacles" that have prevented many shelters from launching such a program, Phillips says.

'Enormous' need for service, comfort

Concurrent efforts are in the offing from Staci Columbo, a Las Vegas marketing executive who launched Noah's Animal House, the pet facility at Shade Tree. She's developing her own guide "to take to other communities" this year. Her goal: "at least six across the country in five years." The need, she says, "is enormous."

Noah's, which accommodates up to 15 cats and 18 dogs, has drawn so many pet-owning families since its opening in October that it is full most of the time. Expansion plans already are being discussed.

Some abuse victims are satisfied with placing their pets temporarily in an animal shelter. But there are downsides: Sometimes the shelter is full, and some animals don't adapt well to that environment. And often, the already-stressed families are further troubled by their pets' absence, and they're not allowed to visit the animal for fear the abuser might track them there, putting people and animals at risk.

"When a person is in the midst of nothing familiar, the comfort a pet can provide is enormous," Phillips says.

"We had the experience with several women who would arrive with a garbage bag full of possessions and a pet in tow and refuse to check in when they learned that we would find a safe place for the animal, but it couldn't stay here with them," Columbo says. "We've known of women who lived in their cars so they could keep their pets with them and women who stayed in a shelter but kept their pet in the car parked on the street, and, of course, women who wouldn't leave their abuser because of concern for the safety of their animals. Each situation like this tore your heart out."

Benefits vs. concerns

Still, many say there are good reasons for not housing pets in domestic violence shelters — concerns about allergies, noise and bites; debates about whether pets on the grounds may put everyone at risk by attracting the spurned partner; and worries that a pet's presence may prevent a victim from focusing on addressing her own issues.

Marci Sanders, director of the Shelter for Abused Women & Children in Naples, Fla., says her staff had to consider all those questions when contemplating providing on-site care for residents' pets. But they moved ahead five years ago, "and the benefits so outweigh the negatives," she says. It costs less than $1,000 a year to care for about 100 pets annually in crates in an out-of-the-way room. And although "we've had a dog that dug holes in the yard, and one that barked for a while," she says, "in the big picture that is nothing."

Phillips hopes that within 10 years, "these kinds of arrangements will be commonplace." She placed a petition seeking support of on-site pet facilities at domestic abuse shelters online Feb. 23 at; it has attracted more than 18,000 comments.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Circus Dogs and Cats!

Dogs were Gregory Popovich's first baby sitters, his first friends. Born into a circus family - his parents were jugglers and dog trainers - Popovich learned early on that the bond between people and animals is strong. So after years of performing as a juggler with the Moscow and Ringling Brothers circuses, Popovich said it only seemed natural to get the four-legged members of his family in on the act.

For the past 10 years, The World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theater has delighted audiences with physical comedy, juggling and the antics of Popovich's trained dogs and "cooperative" house cats.

"You can't 'train' a cat to do anything it doesn't want to do," joked Popovich.

In Russia, shelters for animals don't exist, he said. So it was wonderful to come to the United States and see programs that aid pets in need. All of the animals from the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, which includes 16 cats, 12 dogs, six white rats, six white doves and "five well-trained Russians" are adopted from animal shelters, he added.

The tricks the animals perform aren't dangerous or extreme, Popovich said. Their part in the show is more about funny skits than jumping through flaming hoops. In choosing his performers, Popovich looks for "personality" above all else.

"I try to build on the animal's natural habits," he said. "I want to make (performing) fun for them."

While it saddens Popovich to think about any animal as being unwanted, he said it's important to support organizations that focus on preventing pet overpopulation and work to find every animal a good home.

"My pets all got a second chance," Popovich said. "Other animals should have that, too."