Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bad dogs on the farm

Dog people who own other breeds can get rather fed up with border collies. We don't care that they're best at herding sheep, because really, who wants to herd a bunch of stupid sheep? But these dogs refuse to stop there. They also dominate dog sports like agility to such an unfair extent that in some places, clubs have had to put them in their own class or no one else would get to compete.

Even more annoyingly, they are sometimes cited as the most intelligent breed. In some cases, this is based in part on a willingness to do whatever someone else tells them, which may not be a standard for smarts that everyone agrees on. But there's also a border collie who holds the record for understanding the most English words, responding correctly to the names of over a thousand toys. And yet no one seems to observe that this must also be the record for the most spoiled dog ever, with that number of toys.

And still not satisfied with those accomplishments, these overachievers are compelled to go for even stupid awards like the Guinness record for fastest car window opening by a dog.

So we couldn't be more pleased to note these two stories:

- A Border collie in Somerset, England, can't do his job because he's afraid of sheep. His owner says that Ci "instinctively wants to work the sheep, but is too scared."

"If they run away from him, he will go after them and act like a proper sheepdog, but the moment they turn and face him he runs away.

"Sheep can be quite aggressive if they think they have the upper hand – they stamp their feet and gang up in numbers and act like an army.

"The only way to make it work is for me to get behind them first and shoo them so they run away and then Ci joins in. It just means a lot more work for us to do," she added.

-And at the same time, The Telegraph reports on a sheep-herding dog who puts Ci the border collie to shame: Nancy the chihuahua. Check out the link to see video of the two-and-a-half pound rescue pup showing those sheep who's boss.

Border collie with no modesty about his accomplishments by Flickr user WoofBC.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bad animals down on the farm

Adding to last week's sheep on a roof, it's an epidemic of farm animal misbehavior:

-In England, a lamb interferes with the economy by lying down on the tracks of a steam train that's been successful at attracting tourists to the area. The conductors interrupted their journey with an emergency stop to rescue the "tired and dishevelled looking animal."

-Male pigs are proven by science to be, well, pigs: They're more attracted to sows who've got artificial breast implants.

-Rodents don't only pick on someone their own size down under: In South Australia a plague of mice were trying to eat a farmer's pigs alive. He's resorted to coating the swine in engine oil to make them taste bad.

-Finally, in Ireland, a farmer kept locking his cows inside each night only to find them wandering the next morning. Assuming cattle thieves were responsible, he set up a video camera, only to discover that the cows themselves were to blame: One, called Daisy, had figured out how to unlatch the gate. Watch the video proof:

Photo of the cow co-conspirators on the run from Sky News.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Recurring bad animal briefs

Animals continue to prove that nothing reported on this blog is an isolated incident:

- In our last post we saw crows attacking a police station in Washington State; is it really more than coincidence that bald eagles are doing the same at a post office in Alaska? Because eagles are a protected species, Reuters reports:
There is not much that residents can do about overly bold bald eagles other than to post warning signs, take steps to avoid the fierce birds and wear hats.

- Despite that report on the high cost to British taxpayers of rescuing animals that have gotten themselves into ridiculous positions, a Welsh fire brigade responded to a call to get a sheep down off a roof. A "spokesman," presumably not one of the people who actually had to risk life and limb, downplayed the seriousness of the situation:
"It was certainly an interesting call-out, it's not where you'd expect to find a sheep, really quite funny. It brightened up our weekend, that's for sure."

- And finally, for those of you who are still tempted to rationalize all this bad animal behavior, from another story on Dusty the cat burglar of San Mateo:
"We always try to find meaning in what animals do. But maybe he just does this because it's fun."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Animals vs Law Enforcement: on the attack

Everett, Washington sounds like a nice small city, not the kind of place where the police are constantly confronted by abuse and harrassment from the citizenry. The human citizenry, anyway. But now they've got another species to worry about, as reported by the Everett Herald:
A few days ago, the crows decided they didn't like the cops. They started swooping down on them and dive-bombing them as the officers walked from their cars into the station.

Everett police Lt. Bob Johns recently was flanked by them and "got zinged," he said.

"They're like velociraptors," he said.

The crows don't care much for rank, either -- they've gone for top brass and detectives in particular, police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.

A wildlife expert's advice was to use umbrellas for protection. This may seem like a rather lame defense, but there's a risk to retaliating against these intelligent birds, as they've already demonstrated:

At least one officer has tried using his siren to scare the crows away: They responded by decorating his car with droppings.

And in fact, when you go after crows, you're at risk of very personal revenge. A study published last year showed that crows can recognize and remember the faces of individual humans who've threatened them - and they don't keep it to themselves.

To test specific recognition of faces rather than gait, clothing or other characteristics, researchers wore a realistic mask when trapping and banding crows, an experience that the birds - to put it mildly - don't care for. Then, volunteers visited the trapping sites, some wearing that mask and some wearing other control masks the birds had not seen before. The crows' reactions clearly distinguised the different faces.

“The birds were really raucous, screaming persistently,” said one volunteer who wore the trapper's mask, “and it was clear they weren’t upset about something in general. They were upset with me.”

The crows had long memories - three years later they still remembered and reacted strongly to their enemy. And they taught their neighbors and even their children about him: crows too young to have been born at the time of the trapping knew who the bad guy was.

"Crows hold a grudge, and they are big gossips," says professor David Craig. "They spread the information around. If you're bad to one crow, many more may hear about it."

Photo of helpful warning by the inappropriately named Flickr user pleasantcrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beware of beavers

Readers of this blog know that none of us are safe from animals. But some incidents surprise even the experts. In a case called "truly bizarre," three people are being treated for rabies after being bitten in a Philadelphia park - by a beaver.

"Our furbearer biologist, when he heard about this, he was just literally blown away," said one official. (We assume that this is the biologist that studies other furbearing mammals, not that he is fur-bearing himself.)

You probably know to be cautious of wild raccoons, which are the most commonly reported rabid animal in the state, followed by skunks, cats, bats and foxes. But especially if you are a city-dweller, you've probably never given a thought to being afraid of beavers. And with fairly good reason - till now:

"Beavers have never been known to transmit rabies to anything, including other beavers," a game department spokesman told LiveScience. "It's unusual that it was beavers, it was unusual that there were two incidences so closely together and it was truly bizarre it was in Philadelphia."

These two incidents follow on another case in the suburbs in April where someone was bitten in the leg by a rabid beaver. And we can't reassure ourselves that maybe it was the same animal - that one was killed in the incident. So there's not just one.

Officials have recommended that people "avoid the Pennypack Creek waterfront area between Bustleton Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard in northeast Philadelphia." Seems a bit specific to me. Philadelphia has plenty of nice museums and other indoor attractions to take advantage of. Why take chances?

Statue of five foot tall extinct beaver photographed by Flickr user Travis S. I guess we can be thankful at least they're not that big anymore.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dog finally put in her place

More and more, animals are getting swelled heads about their place in the world. We've seen them getting influential jobs and political appointments and even one that caused a scandal by receiving communion at a church in Canada.

Today we note the passing of one of these animals: a maltese named Trouble. When millionaire Leona Helmsley died in 2007, she left $12 million for the purpose of keeping this dog in the luxury she was accustomed to.

A judge later reduced the amount to two million, but it was still plenty to allow Trouble to retire in style at one of Helmsley's Florida hotels. The dog's caretaker conceded that he could get by on $100,000 a year: $8,000 for grooming, $1,200 for food and the rest for his fee and a full-time bodyguard, made necessary because Trouble allegedly was the target of death and kidnapping threats.

Trouble was apparently treated better than Helmsley's human family. According to the New York Daily News:

Trouble accompanied Helmsley via private jet to her homes in Arizona and Florida, her 21-room Connecticut mansion Dunnellen Hall, and Helmsley's duplex penthouse with swimming pool at the Park Lane Hotel on Central Park South.

Helmsley, who cut two grandchildren out of her will and evicted her son's widow after his death, was often seen cuddling the canine, which was always impeccably dressed.

But even a dog who outlives her owner and out-inherits the human relatives must eventually meet the fate that awaits us all: It was belatedly reported last week that Trouble died in December.

And Trouble is being kept in her place, finally, at the end. Helmsley wanted the dog buried with her. But a spokesman for the cemetery where she was laid to rest has the last word: "You cannot bury pets in a cemetery."

Another little ex-dog by Flickr user mymoustache.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Animals don't need violent video games

Some people still cling to the illusion that animals are less violent than humans, that they only kill because they need to eat.

It's hard to use this excuse for the snow leopard in Pakistan who recently killed 68 goats in a single night, far more than it could consume. Not only is this animal wasteful at best, it clearly doesn't know which side its goat is buttered on, because now the slaughter is causing disputes between the farmers that own the goats and conservationists. That is, conservationists who want to protect the snow leopard. Way to help the people who are trying to save your furry butt, huh?

There are also plenty of animals that kill other animals that they don't eat even a little bit of. We've seen before that dolphins, hiding behind their inexplicably charming reputations, kill both the young of harbor porpoises, and baby dolphins as well. A recent study suggests that the culprits are young males taking out their sexual frustration. Even the researcher, presumably well acquainted with the truth about dolphins, was appalled by their behavior:
In one particularly violent attack, three dolphins corralled their victim before seven others joined them to ram the porpoise to death. Cotter found most shocking the fact that two dolphins remained behind to play with the carcass before pushing it towards his boat. "It was almost like they said: 'We're done playing with it, here you go'."

But we can be thankful that there are at least a few children who won't grow up with illusions about the peaceful nature of our fellow creatures, thanks to one lion at a zoo in England:

Kids see a lion eat cuddly zoo animal

The cute binturong - also called a bearcat - was one of a pair to climb a tree before dropping into the big cat den at Chessington World of Adventure.

Jason Harcombe, visiting with his two-year-old son Oscar, said: "The poor animal didn't stand a chance. The lions jumped on it straight away and killed it.

"The lioness brought the body up to the glass and then she and her mate just ripped it apart in front of us."

Now there's an animal who is really trying to help me do my job here on this blog.

Lion caught in the act in photo from the Daily Mail.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Animals and law enforcement, the continuing saga

Last week we saw a major police response to a stuffed tiger in England, and perhaps you thought this was a unique event. Hardly, as any animal control officer will tell you. They are constantly called to respond to "emergencies" involving snakes that turn out to be garden hoses, dying animals that are really plastic bags, and, like the fuzzy feline in the English case, animals that turn out to be stuffed, plastic, or statues.

In fact, this past week it happened again,this time in the US. A resident of a Kansas City suburb called police to report a sighting of an alligator. Lacking a helicopter with heat-sensing equipment, this time responding officers actually shot the critter twice before realizing something was up.

You may think this is all good for a laugh, but don't forget it's your tax dollars at work. And in fact, in Great Britain, one watchdog organization has totalled up the cost of responses to such calls - most of which turn out to involve real animals - and the figure is sobering: 3.5 million pounds in the last three years for rescues involving 2,400 cats, 2,180 dogs, 1,700 horses, 2,090 birds (including 1,244 seagulls, 159 pigeons, 57 swans and 12 parrots), 26 foxes, 19 squirrels, seven ferrets, seven badgers, ten hamsters, 15 snakes, 11 fish and seven dolphins. One fire brigade in Wales even rescued a snail whose plight was distressing an elderly lady.

You may think seagulls and snails should be left to fend for themselves, but because your foolish fellow citizens don't, safety personnel have no choice but to devote their resources to these rescues, as one official explained:
"If we don't rescue that animal somebody else will or will try to. I've seen people have their arms trapped in drains trying to rescue ducklings and we've actually had to dig the road up to get the person out."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No kind of animal is safe

As a reader of this blog, you presumably know better than to let your children have pets. But you probably think there's no harm in letting them indulge in a few furry stuffed toys.

You'd be wrong. Not only do stuffed animals encourage the unrealistically positive view of animals that we strive to stamp out here. But they can cause major problems of their own, as police in Hampshire, England discovered last week, when a citizen called to report a white tiger loose in a local field.

Officials responded in force, appropriately for such a dangerous animal, with a police helicopter and trained staff from the local Marwell Zoo, and evacuated a nearby golf course. The animal was fairly immobile, but that did not initially raise their suspicions. And you can't blame them, given how lazy most cats are, especially in the middle of the day. In fact we've noted before that tigers sleep nearly sixteen hours per day.

But then the helicopter's thermal imaging equipment detected no body heat and the animal didn't react to being buffeted by the winds generated by the helicopter. Finally, the downdraft caused the creature to roll over, revealing that it was a large stuffed toy.

Watch live footage of the culprit and a video interview with the chief inspector of the local police at The Telegraph. He seems like the kind of level headed guy you could trust to respond to a real animal emergency, and now he's had a practice drill. If I was a real tiger, I'd take my troublemaking elsewhere.