Category Archives: Blog

Dog does CPR

Not really, but he looks adorable pouncing on his handler’s chest: Madrid police taught Poncho to simulate CPR, which he performs very nicely when they take him on school visits. The kids won’t learn anything useful from Poncho’s method–other than how NOT to do CPR–but they’ll definitely be entertained.

SF Chronicle debuts pet obituaries

There are many ways to memorialize your pet, but if you want a formal obituary printed in the newspaper and also viewable online, the San Francisco Chronicle now offers Pets Remembered. The cost of this tribute ranges from $175–500, depending on the number of words and the size of the photo you submit.

While you’re at it, dog museums

Well, why not? It’s all for the love of dogs, and if you want to feel some of that love, here are your current options:

  • The American Kennel Club recently opened the Museum of the Dog in St. Louis, MO. It proclaims itself “home to the world’s finest collection of art devoted to the dog.” Who can argue with that, and why would you? Dogs are welcome and admitted for free.
  • North Adams, Massachusetts has a new Museum of the Dog, which celebrates the best friend of us all. Be sure to include it along with your next visit to Mass MOCA.
  • The Dackelmuseum, in Passau, Germany, is dedicated exclusively to dachshunds. Exhibits consist entirely of dachshund kitsch. Dogs–presumably of any breed–are welcome.
  • Another specialty museum is Barryland, Musée et Chiens du Saint-Bernard. Barryland displays actual dogs that visitors can watch and pet. It’s located in Matigny, Switzerland, at the Great St. Bernard Pass in the Pennine Alps, where St. Bernards, recognized for their skill and courage in avalanche rescues, have greeted travelers since the late 17th century.
  • If you’re more interested in dog accessories than dogs, there’s a Dog Collar Museum included within the larger Leeds Castle Museum, near Maidstone, England, north of London . It’s described as “fascinating collection of canine neckwear” that dates back to the 15th century. With an admission price of nearly $38 it had better be.

My pet cockroach–not!

Cockroaches are filthy and annoying and should all be stepped on, right? That remains true even if, as it appears, it’s not their fault they’re disgusting. It’s just that their genes are extremely efficiently wired for survival. Not that you’ll think any more kindly of them the next time you discover them crawling around in decayed vegetable matter in your refrigerator or in the darkest, dirtiest corners of whatever space you inhabit just because you know they can’t help it.

In order to better understand cockroaches and their undeniable success on the planet, Chinese scientists sequenced their DNA. Fun fact: Periplaneta americana, the American cockroach, has more than 20,000 genes, making its genetic code as large as ours.

There are several genetic keys that account for the roach’s extraordinary survival. One is an expanded set of genes to help it sense food smells, particularly the rotten stuff it enjoys most. It also has detoxification genes that keep routine dirt and food toxins from killing it, and still more genes that bolster its immune system against nasty germs in the habitats it prefers. And as if that weren’t enough to ensure that there will still be cockroaches skittering around after the sun is an exploded cinder, their impressive reproduction rate gives them another boost: a female can produce 300–400 offspring in a lifetime.

It is generally assumed that cockroaches will survive a nuclear holocaust. In fact, there’s a good chance they will because their resistance to radiation is about six to 15 times that of humans. Although fruit flies have a higher resistance and will probably be around after even the cockroaches are toast. We may never know.

Adventure cats

If “adventure cats” sounds like an oxymoron to you, stop reading now. This is for cats that want to go places and the people who want to take them. Frankly, traveling with cats is something I associate only with driving to the vet while listening to the plaintive yowls of my freaked-out cat. But a Wall Street Journal article (The New Camping Checklist: Tent, Power Bars, Cat) informed me that there are cats that like to be out and about and owners with the patience to train them to leashes and even life jackets. Further research turned up the website (“Living Nine Lives to the Fullest”), with tips for training and traveling and many, many stories of human-cat adventures. Cats go biking, sailing, camping, tubing, hiking, kayaking and mountain climbing–and, if you’re willing, take you along.

Dogs of Chernobyl

The Soviet government treated its citizens appallingly badly after the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, but farm animals and pets fared even worse. Many animals were shot because people were not allowed to bring them when households were very belatedly evacuated from the area, but many more were abandoned. The story of the descendants of the dogs that survived is a poignant one. There are around 300 strays in the 2600 square km control zone. They are subject to harsh Ukrainian winters and attacks by predators, like wolves, that have moved into the zone. Guides at the site provide some care and food for dogs that congregate at the zone’s checkpoints; they also name the dogs and tell their stories. Also, a US nonprofit that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, the  Clean Futures Fund, operates three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. In addition to treating injured dogs and vaccinating them, Clean Futures neuters the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

Dog’s approval for unemployment benefits reversed

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency reversed its approval of a weekly unemployment benefit of $360  for a German shepherd named Ryder after learning that Ryder had not been laid off from his job at a restaurant chain but was in fact a dog. Ryder’s owner Michael Haddock said he wasn’t sure what Ryder would do with the money, but that it should be interesting. “I knew he was clever, but he surprised me on this one,” Haddock said.

The agency found out fairly quickly that a man named Michael Ryder, who had worked for a chain of upscale seafood restaurants, had filed a police report that claimed possible identity theft. How the theft of Michael Ryder’s identity resulted in a letter received by Ryder the dog approving him for 20 weeks of unemployment benefits at $360 per week is a mystery that remains to be untangled.

When Haddock, was asked what he thought would be a suitable restaurant job for Ryder, he said he’d be a very good greeter or host.

Learn to speak conversational dog

Have you ever wanted to have a heart to heart with your dog or just wondered what the pooch is barking about? Soon, maybe, thanks to the miracle of algorithms, you could be having that conversation. And when you do, you can thank Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University, who has made a lifelong  study of prairie dog communication. In order to understand their complex vocalizations, which vary to warn other prairie dogs of different types of predators, Slobodchikoff developed an algorithm that can translate prairie dog chirps into English. Now his company Zoolingua is developing technology that will translate not only sounds but also facial expressions and body movements of all sorts of animals. This is interesting and we wish Slobodchikoff the best. We also recall a Japanese cat translator that popped up on the market around Christmas time a few years ago. It comes with the Brooklyn Bridge as a bonus.

While you’re waiting for the Zoolingua device to be available on Amazon, one non-pet translator that’s already in operation is artist Nina Katchadourian’s talking popcorn. Custom software translates the sounds of corn popping based on the “language,” or patterns, of Morse Code. A computer-generated voice provides a simultaneous spoken translation. The only shortcoming is that you can’t talk back to the popcorn; you can only listen to what it has to say.


Good news for world peace and social and economic justice–Axiom Zen has introduced CryptoKitties. These are not particularly cute cats (they look like cartoon squirrels with exophthalmic eyes and inadequate tails) made of code that let you invest your imaginary bitcoins in digital collectibles. Sort of like monetizing intangible Tamagotchis with a currency backed by the full faith and credit of the internet. Be the first in your ethertown to collect the whole set, and watch your portfolio grow.