The false promise of pet cloning

I didn’t know it had gotten so easy to clone your dog, but apparently it’s becoming quite common.

Companies such as ViaGen now do it all the time, apparently for people who want to “resurrect” a beloved dog — or, less altruistically, champion race horses.

It’s not always successful. A large number of cloned pregnancies result in miscarriages, and some of the animals who do progress as far as live birth do not thrive and eventually die.

But some clonings are successful in terms of the cloned version being healthy. But many owners of cloned pets report that the living copies of the pet they sought to replace are not as much like the original as they had hoped.

I get why someone might want to try to re-create the relationship they had with a pet who died.

But I also can’t get past the nagging feeling that doing so, when there are so many shelter animals in need of good homes, seems less than ideal in today’s world.

And if you aren’t going to get an exact copy in terms of appearance and behavior, the whole enterprise is a bit of a waste of money.

PBS’s NOVA has a newly released short video about the topic below.

The squirrels have gone from just mocking my dog to mocking me, too

My dog (Otto the Rescue Pittie) barks at squirrels and the squirrels sit just out of his reach in my backyard trees, chittering and mocking him. Which makes him bark even more wildly.

To keep him from barking, I usually go out and grab low-hanging branches and shake them vigorously, chasing the squirrel off. No squirrel. No barking. Happy neighbors.

But it’s reached the point where the squirrels are onto my game and now they just sit there with whatever nut they have in their mouth, looking at me, chittering and not moving.

The squirrels have won, finally. As they always do eventually.

Unsanctioned and deadly horse racing is flourishing in parts of the U.S., often with cartel drug money

This article by Gus Garcia-Roberts is a horror show, detailing illegal horse racing in Georgia and elsewhere, with horses dying from drugs, shock devices and being pushed past their physical limits. One of these “bush tracks,” Rancho El Centenario, operates mostly with impunity:

For years, there have been hints that the horsemen of Rancho El Centenario are utilizing practices that would incur serious discipline at a regulated track. For instance: After deputies pulled over a horseman on his way to the track in 2019, a police report shows, they discovered boxes of amphetamine and anabolic steroids in the back of his Mazda.

Other times it’s more than a hint. On a visit to the races last month, during which journalists for The Post witnessed horses being injected before races, they also observed the day’s winningest jockey wearing a shock device of the sort banned in mainstream racing.

And though betting on horses is illegal in Georgia, apparent bookies ambled along the track, calling out bets before races and distributing the winnings from stacks of cash afterward.

Unbeknown to English and his Mexican cowboy clientele, however, there has been since last year a third party to the culture clash: animal rights activists.

Over eight visits to Rancho El Centenario between June 2021 and April 2022, undercover investigators for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals collected hidden-camera footage of all of this conduct and more: gambling, injections, shock devices, repeated whipping and horses dying on the track.

The group’s investigators collected syringes following injections around the track and had them tested at the horse racing laboratory at University of California, Davis, another of the nine facilities accredited by Kentucky’s Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC). Some of them tested positive for cocaine, methamphetamine and methylphenidate, according to a letter that PETA’s lawyers sent this week, along with 17 pages of supporting materials, to the Lamar County Sheriff Sheriff’s Office and the local district attorney’s office.

In the letter, PETA general counsel Jared Goodman alleged “systemic and repeated animal abuse, including whipping, electric-shocking, and drugging horses to push them past their natural limits, leading several horses to break down and be killed on the track, as well as extensive commercial gambling on every race.” He called for a criminal investigation of the ranch’s activities and some of its horsemen.

Add to this the fact that horses are dying from fatal diseases that are endemic in Mexico and, subsequently, spreading to horses in America.

Angela Pelzel-McCluskey’s first encounter with the bush circuit came in the form of a bony 7-year-old quarter horse brought to a veterinarian in Ocala, Fla., in 2008.

Pelzel-McCluskey is an equine epidemiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with keeping disease from spreading through the American horse industry. The horse in Ocala, lethargic and refusing to eat or drink, tested positive for piroplasmosis, an infectious blood disease rare in the U.S. but endemic in Mexico that typically dooms its carriers to euthanasia or lifelong isolation.

Investigators traced the infection and found a cluster of 20 other quarter horses with the disease — all of them participants in unsanctioned racing, according to a study Pelzel-McCluskey co-authored.

Piroplasmosis typically spreads via ticks. In this case, though, investigators found the disease’s vector was unlicensed handlers using contaminated needles and other equipment to inject or blood-dope the horses. A year later in Missouri, another dying horse brought to a veterinary hospital led to a similar story, with investigators discovering a cluster of eight quarter horses connected to the same trainer who raced them on unsanctioned tracks.

Those cases led Pelzel-McCluskey to become the USDA’s sole expert on unsanctioned racing. She has watched with alarm, she said, as the phenomenon has steadily grown — and as the diseases she tracks have spread.

It’s a heart-breaking, infuriating article.

As is the video below, provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

I know. PETA can be its own worst enemy with some of its leaders’ more extreme views. But most of its work is laudable, including this investigation trying to expose the barbaric practices of this sport.

Warning: the video below is hard to watch.

You can read the rest of the article here.

I’ll bet this is the first time “special forces” and “mini golden doodle” have been used together in a headline

I love how the guy who submitted this video managed to work that he is a member of Special Forces (“Thank you for your service!”) into it.

Because, as we all know, any father who was not Special Forces would have tossed the dog to the bear and then run away helplessly.

Should cats be allowed to run free outdoors?

The New York Times has an interesting piece up by Maria Cramer that asks the question: Is it OK to let your pet cats roam free in your neighborhood?

You’ve seen them out there — well-fed cats, sometimes with collars on, stalking the streets like they own them or collapsing on a warm sidewalk to loll in the sun.

Cat lovers find them charming. Wildlife conservationists and bird lovers see furry killers and blame them for a decline in the bird population and the deaths of untold numbers of voles, chipmunks and other small animals.

How you feel about outdoor cats may also depend on where you are in the world. In the United States, about 81 percent of domestic cats are kept inside, according to a 2021 demographic study of pet cats. But elsewhere, it can be far more common to let them roam. In Denmark, only 17 percent of cats are strictly indoor pets, according to the same study. In Turkey, it is so common for feral cats to walk freely in and out of cafes, restaurants and markets that a documentary was made about the phenomenon. In Poland, they’ve recently been called an “invasive alien species.”

And in Britain, where the 2021 study said that 74 percent of cat owners let their felines roam outside, many cat charities advise pet owners on the best ways to keep cats safe outdoors. The idea might be shocking to their American counterparts, which often refuse to adopt cats to people who want to keep their pets outside.

“We’ve always done it that way,” said Nicky Trevorrow, a cat behaviorist at Cats Protection in Britain, which encourages owners to bring cats in at night and feed them high-quality diets to deter predatory behavior.

The subhed of the article: “To some, letting cats roam is unthinkable. To others, so is keeping them inside.”

If I had a cat, it would depend largely on the cat. Some cats are indoor cats ill-suited to the dangers of running free. Other cats will stand at the door and wail until they are let out.

Let’s not forget there are people out there who feel strongly that keeping pets is in itself an act of cruelty and no animal should be “forced” to live a domestic life.

I disagree, but they are out there ready to add their fervor to any debate about domesticated animals.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

PetSmart sued over alleged form of servitude it requires if you train as part of its “Grooming Academy”

PetSmart uses the term “Grooming Academy” to describe its grooming service employee training program, which makes it sound a lot more glamourous and pedagogical than it is. In reality, it’s just a run-of-the-mill training program like employers everywhere provide to employees as a normal business operating expense.

Except PetSmart then expects employees to stay at the company a minimum amount of time or pay thousands of dollars.

Now it’s being sued in California.

BreAnn Scally, who previously worked for PetSmart as a pet groomer, filed a class action lawsuit in California on Thursday alleging that the company forces its trainees to sign oppressive contracts that unfairly burden workers with debt.

“[PetSmart] is engaged in a scheme to trap trainee pet groomers in their low-wage jobs by levying thousands of dollars in abusive and unenforceable debts against them,” legal organization Towards Justice said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, PetSmart promises potential employees and would-be pet groomers “free, paid training where they will receive exclusive instruction from a dedicated teacher in a classroom setting as well as a supervised, hands-on grooming experience.”

The reality of that training — which PetSmart reportedly calls its “Grooming Academy” — is allegedly nowhere near as rosy as PetSmart would make it seem.

“Prospective groomers quickly find themselves grooming dogs for paying customers and may have to struggle for attention from overextended trainers or salon managers,” the complaint says. “Despite its academic-sounding name, Grooming Academy does not provide employees with a recognized degree or credentialing. And once groomers complete Grooming Academy, they are thrust into a demanding and sometimes dangerous job, often working for barely above minimum wage.”

If a PetSmart employee who has gone through the groomer training decides it isn’t the job for them, the complaint alleges, they are not free to leave.

“PetSmart requires that all employees who enroll in Grooming Academy sign a Training Repayment Agreement Provision (‘TRAP’),” the complaint says. “The TRAP requires PetSmart groomers to take on $5,000 of debt to PetSmart in exchange for Grooming Academy training. PetSmart forgives that debt only if the worker stays at their job for two years after they begin training, no matter how little they are paid or how poorly they are treated.”

That debt still holds even if an employee is fired or laid off, the complaint says.

This is crazy, but it’s a growing movement in corporate America to transfer the cost of training employees back onto employees themselves.

PetSmart doesn’t pay enough money to its hourly workers to expect that kind of loyalty.

Employees taking their on-the-job training to another job where it can benefit them more is a practice as old as employment itself.

If you don’t want them to do that, pay more money and provide better working conditions. It’s really that simple.

You can read the rest of Marisa Sarnoff’s Law & Crime article at this link.

The NY Times “ethicist” tackles questions of how much we should spend on elderly pets’ health

Man, I’ll bet they get tons of email about this.

The question comes from a retired women of modest means who wants to know how much she should ethically spend on her dog who may be nearing the end of his life.

The answer was nuanced, but leans toward the “animals are not people” end of things:

What you owe your dog is a life worth living by the standards that are appropriate to a canine existence, attentive to what matters to a dog. So you shouldn’t organize treatments that will simply extend a period of suffering, even if you can afford to do so without jeopardizing your own quality of life. Some people, hoping against hope, subject their animals to excruciating courses of radiation and chemotherapy in an effort to buy a few more months of companionship. They ought to do what human beings are capable of doing but often fail to do: reflect on their actions. They should think about whom they’re really helping, about whether this costly form of care amounts to cruelty.

If your dog is entering a final decline, marked by debility and suffering, and, out of concern for his welfare, you choose euthanasia, you will not be letting him down. He has no expectations to disappoint. There are no promises you have made to him. His loss will matter a great deal to you. Don’t make the experience worse by thinking that you have done him wrong.

You can read the rest here.

I think about this a lot.

My dog (Otto, the rescue pittie) is only around eight years old. He seems healthy, but I spend a lot on high-end pet health insurance because I live in fear of him getting sick or injured and me either not having enough money to treat him, or having to go into deep debt to do so.

I’ve even pondered whether, if I am not sure that I will have the money to treat illnesses that accompany old age, I should try to find a good well-to-do family while he is still young who will not have to possibly choose between getting him the best health care or letting him suffer for lack of funds.

But I can’t possibly put him (or me) through that kind of separation. We are both so devoted to one another. And he only eats special food I make for him fresh because I don’t trust commercial pet food suppliers. He will not eat dry or wet dog food.

How could I possibly find anyone who will love him and take care of him the way I do?

So it’s a chance I will have to take.

Otto the rescue pittie.

Using dead spiders as “necrobiotic” grabbers

Weird, but cool:

In what may well be a case of bio-inspired robotics gone too far, the researchers are exploring how the dead arachnids can double as a robotic gripper using hydraulic pressure. Turns out spiders use blood pressure to move their legs. When they die, their hearts stop beating, causing them to lose that hydraulic pressure. This is why they curl up into a ball when they die.

Turns out pairing them with a syringe full of air makes for a handy off-the-shelf robotic gripper.

“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously untapped types of actuation and materials,” Assistant Professor or Engineering Daniel Preston says in a release. “The spider falls into this line of inquiry. It’s something that hasn’t been used before but has a lot of potential.”

Video below.

Massive effort begins to find home for 4,000 beagles saved from filthy research breeding facility

How do you find homes for 4,000 beagles? The Humane Society of the United States is finding out:

The first group of the roughly 4,000 beagles in the custody of a research facility in Virginia have been brought to their new, temporary homes.

More than a dozen beagles arrived at the facility of the Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Virginia on Thursday. It was the first of many deliveries as hundreds of rescue groups across the country are mobilizing in the coming weeks to rehome the beagles.

The Humane Society of the United States is spearheading the effort to transfer these dogs from their current home at the Envigo facility in Cumberland, Va., to shelters. The organization has just a few weeks to get this done.

Earlier this year the Envigo facility, which bred these beagles for pharmaceutical research and testing, was found to be in violation of several federal regulations. A federal judge ordered the dogs to be released within 60 days.

You can read the rest of the news story here.

You can find out how you can help HSUS with this gargantuan effort here.