Monday, April 30, 2012

Cow unclear on the concept?

When cows escape, some head for the hills, like the famous Yvonne who eluded capture for months in Germany. But like us, not all cows prefer recreation in the great outdoors:  We've seen runaway bovines that went to a shopping mall, a supermarket, and a bar.

Those choices are understandable - if you lived all your life on a farm, you might want to check out those civilized amenties as well. But one has to wonder what was going through the mind of this cow on the loose in Colorado: she decided to visit a McDonalds drive-through.

The owners of Darcy call her "sweet" but also "stubborn," and say that when doesn't get attention in her pen, "she goes elsewhere to find it." Was she unaware of the sort of "attention" usually given to cows at a hamburger place? Or was this some sort of protest attempt?

We'll never know, because as we so often see on this blog, the law doesn't stand up to bad animals. The small son of the family was concerned that Darcy would end up in jail. But there's no law in the Colorado town against cows roaming at large, so her owners didn't even get a ticket, and Darcy will never have a day in court to explain her motives.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Enemies in our midst

It can't be emphasized too often that the most dangerous animals are the ones you don't think you need to worry about. Sure, everyone knows to be afraid of a lion or a rampaging elephant. But the animals you're around every day have much better odds of harming you: remember that our own pets send an average 86,000 people to emergency rooms each year.

And most of us, even in cities, are also surrounded by another cute animal: squirrels. They seem harmless, but readers of this blog know better: we've seen them attack people and cause car accidents. And a couple of recent stories suggest that squirrels are getting more ambitious - and in fact, are possibly expressing their opinions about our environmental crimes:

-City officials in Bialystok, Poland, were discussing which trees to cut down in a local park when a squirrel jumped through the window in their office and staged a violent protest:

"The squirrel jumped onto the table and went berserk, tearing all our papers to shreds.

"If I didn’t know it was impossible, I’d think he'd overheard us planning to cut his trees down," said one official.

-And these rodents are doing damage on a broader scale in one part of southwest Florida where fires are being blamed on squirrels:
Scurrying along high voltage lines, the squirrels play a dangerous game when they touch one line while still on another.
"They create a connection between the two which is called arching and the electricity flows through them and can sometimes set them ablaze."
Because conditions are so dry in the area, brush fires are being sparked, and now some of these are destroying homes.

This may seem different from the first story, but think about it. Extreme weather conditions such as drought are the predicted results of human-caused climate change. And in the last case, the squirrel that caused the fire gave its life to start it: it was found dead nearby.

Was this another demonstration against human environmental damage - this one a suicide protest? We'll be following developments closely.

 Squirrel at the window by Flickr user Rusty Clark, reminding us that they're always watching.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The fox in the henhouse is the least of our problems

Last week, a nine year old English boy came home from the playground and found that a fox had made itself at home in his second floor bedroom. The animal appeared to be in rather poor condition, but it wasn't feeling too bad to be picky, since there was evidence it had tried the master bedroom and found it wanting before settling down.

The mother proclaimed herself "shocked" and reportedly closed the door and called the RSPCA, but being good 21st-century people, somewhere along the line someone had the presence of mind to take the photo above.

This is the second time this year we've reported on a fox sauntering into a house and taking over a human bed. The previous case was a bit more of a shock since the woman of the house was still in the bed at the time.

And that woman got off much more easily than one back in September who awoke and felt something tugging at her hair and then biting her ear. Those of you who are cat owners will understand her initial reaction: "I screamed and swore at the cat at the end of my bed."

But after taking care of the wound and coming back to bed, she realized she'd misplaced the blame: she felt the tugging again and opened her eyes to see a fox.

Cats perhaps deserve more of the blame in a case from January: A fox got into a woman's house in the middle of the night, and when she tried to chase it off because she feared for the safety of her pet cats, it bit the tip off her finger.

Keeping foxes out of one's house is apparently difficult, and even if you manage to do so, you're not safe in public anyway. As we saw last month, a fox mugged a man for a loaf of garlic bread in a supermarket parking lot.

Readers in the US might note that all these stories take place in England, but don't let that fool you. In fact, just this past Saturday police in Stonington, Connecticut shot and killed a fox after it attacked two children and was continuing to act aggressively.

At this point there may be fewer reports in the US, but with all the news coverage at least the British seem to be aware they have a problem. In contrast, Connecticut authorities continue to reassure "healthy foxes pose virtually no danger to humans." Perhaps they're comfortable with the risk of wild animals in their bed, but readers of this blog no doubt have higher standards.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The law stands up to bad dogs

It's reassuring that once in a while there are cases where bad animals are NOT getting away with it. And it's even more gratifying when it's one of the animals that has the most frequent opportunities to trouble us: Dogs.

-In Germany, a woman who tied her dog up while she went shopping returned to find a ticket attached to its collar. As readers of this blog would expect, she denied the dog was at fault:

"I was only away for 20 minutes. They said Tessa had been left in the wrong place and was blocking the pavement. But she was sitting quietly and people had plenty of room to walk around her. She's sweet and tiny and loves attention, she'd never hurt anyone."

But authorities are not taking any nonsense, claiming the dog barked and tried to jump on passers-by. And since the owner contested the ticket and lost, instead of her original 35 euro fine she now owes 58.50.

-And in Hawaii, business is booming for dog trainers after a new anti-barking law was passed. It's now illegal to bark continuously for 10 minutes, or repeatedly for 20 minutes within a half-hour. More complaints are being successfully lodged than under the previous law, which required busy police to time barking for half an hour and then allow the owner to try to shut up the pooch for an hour.

Incessant barking these days adds insult to injury: According to the Wall Street Journal, there's speculation that complaints have risen because with the high unemployment rate, more people are home to be annoyed by their neighbor's dog.

As usual, some still side with the animals, like one local resident who said "To me, barking is good because it notifies you somebody's around who shouldn't be around."

But as in Germany, authorities are not messing around. One couple was cited five times for their two noisy dogs, accumulating fines of $575. They made a deal with the prosecutor to dismiss all but one citation if they submitted to "dog counseling" and remained clean of violations for six months. All is quiet for now, but it's not over, their dog trainer said ominously: "If [they] re-offend within six months then the matter will be revisited."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sharing the blame

Two very different charismatic large animals are veritable poster children for the terrible effects of human activity on the planet. The polar bear is threatened by global climate change because sea ice is a crucial part of their habitat. And collisions with human pleasure boats are a major cause of death for manatees.

But it's only fair to say that sometimes these animals are really not helping themselves, as a couple of recent news items show:

-Bear Suicide by Cop

A Newfoundland man awoke to a commotion early one morning to find a polar bear breaking into his home. He fired two shots to drive it off, but that just sent it off to make trouble elsewhere:
He said the bear beat in doors and broke windows at three other homes, and killed some sheep and ducks at a nearby stable without stopping to eat.

“It seemed like it was killing for the sake of killing. It wasn't hungry.”

At one home, the bear “just broke the windows out of each side of the house and went on,” he said. “It seemed like he was in a bad mood.”

Wildlife officials tracked down the bear and shot it, and honestly, after this violent crime spree, who can blame them? We have a right to defend our own species. And if an animal's survival is already threatened, shouldn't it be a little more careful about provoking armed citizens?

Sea-cow Stupidity

Scientists apparently have never had any idea why the heck so many manatees get hit by boats. It's true that they can't see very well, so that could be part of it. But motorized boats are pretty damn noisy. Are these animals deaf too?

Well, that's not the answer either. A recent study proved that manatees in fact have very sensitive hearing, as shown by a test where they were trained to hit a paddle to get a treat when they heard a sound. In fact they're so sensitive that they refused to participate when the noise was at higher frequencies, as if it annoyed them.

So if they can hear the boats, why don't they get out of the way?

The scientist suggested:
"Manatees might be less aware of these sounds when they are sleeping, eating or performing other activities related to their daily lives that require their full attention," Gaspard said. "There are also a multitude of environmental factors that come into play. Understanding how animals use their various senses is a complex process. Could their sense of touch also be playing a role here? We are working on that question now."

But an alternate theory was proposed on Twitter by my go-to guy for marine animal science, @WhySharksMatter:

Why can't manatees avoid speedboats?... Because they're dumb. They shouldn't die for that, but it's true.
@WhySharksMatter The manatee is nature's D student.

Yes, perhaps boaters should be more careful. But if boats are making a racket that an animal can hear perfectly well and it can't be bothered to move out of the way.... well, it takes two to make a collision, you know?

That design submitted to Threadless in 2007 apparently never made it to a t-shirt. Too far ahead of its time, I guess.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bad animal classics

More new cases of traditional offenses:

-Reptiles on a plane: An Australian cargo pilot was making a solo flight when a snake slid out of the dashboard and along his leg. Australia being a place where a decent proportion of the wildlife can kill you with various venoms, he did not wait for a positive species ID, and quickly made an emergency return the airport.

His level head saved him, unlike the passengers of a flight where a small croc escaped from someone's luggage. In their panic they unbalanced the aircraft and it crashed, killing all but one of them.

-Cats vs Post: Yet another customer had mail service suspended in England because of his vicious cat. Similar to previous cases, (for example here and here) the owner claimed the accusation that his pet was a 'health and safety risk' was "utterly ridiculous," and a neighbor said 'Snowball is a lovely cat and friendly. I can’t imagine her ever attacking anybody.'

But you can't fight the post office, and delivery was only resumed when he built a cat-excluding cage around his letter slot.

-Bears where they shouldn't be: Officials in LA captured a bear that's been wandering a neighborhood for about a month, committing offenses like breaking into a refrigerator and eating frozen meatballs. The bear didn't go down without teaching one resident an important lesson: A man was caught on video nearly walking straight into the bear because he was texting.

Let this be a warning to keep those phones in your pocket when you're on the move, because you never know when you'll come face to face with a bad animal.

Cat waiting for the postman by Flickr user nonasuch.

Monday, April 9, 2012

More stuffed animals messing with our minds

Last week we saw several cases where emergency responders were called out to subdue a large wild animal that turned out to be a life-size stuffed toy. Normally I would not revisit this topic so soon, but two recent events suggest that that post may leave some with the wrong impression.

In Nottinghamshire, England, police were called when a passerby saw a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel asleep in the back of a car in what counted for England as extreme heat (according to The Sun, "temperatures soared to 18°C (64°F).")

This is indeed a potentially dangerous situation, and no one should ever leave a dog in a hot car. Unless, of course, as in this case, it's a stuffed toy.

And in Scotland, a woman called the SPCA when she found a five foot long snake in her attic. "I'd brought gloves and a pillow case to enable us to handle and contain the snake safely, but as soon as we spotted it we realised the equipment wouldn't be necessary," said an officer. In fact, it was a snake-print stuffed draft blocker of the sort that you lay along the bottom of a door in cold weather.

The Scottish officers were sympathetic - "It did look very snake-like and was folded over into a box," one said - and had a sense of humor about the situation: They've given the "snake" a name and a home in their office.

The Nottinghamshire police, however, remained prickly about the situation and blamed the owner of the car, saying “Officers believed a dog could be suffering. This is a perfect example of why drivers need to think about what they leave on view.” No doubt they are cranky because they now have to reimburse the owner for the damage to the car.

The lesson here is obvious: it's not just imitation megafauna that can cause this kind of problem. Much smaller stuffed creatures can be just as problematic.

So again: We've got enough trouble dealing with the bad behavior of real animals. So let's all try to just look a bit more closely before calling in the troops.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Animal Excursions News Briefs

A selection of recent cases of animals on the loose in interesting ways:

-In Ireland, an elephant made a break from a circus and went on an outing to a local shopping center - well, its parking lot, anyway - reportedly because she didn't want to take a bath. (See video here.)

-In Italy, a dog decided to go on a visit to its owner's girlfriend:
The female pooch walked herself to the train station in the town's center, waited on the appropriate track at the right time, then boarded the regional line towards the home town of her owner's girlfriend, seated in the car she habitually took with her human companion.

Nice try, but she didn't make it. As we've seen happen before, when train staff saw the dog disembark alone she was apprehended and taken to an animal shelter.

-And another case of a classic type: In Russia, someone unwisely left three dogs in a car with the engine running. The dogs got the car into gear and drove down the road till they crashed into another vehicle. That driver ran off to get police, who returned to find the dogs had made their getaway. Fortunately they were located nearby and apprehended before they could do more damage.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Wasted efforts

This blog strives to demonstrate that you need to be careful around animals. But it actually is possible to take this caution too far. Some people are apparently so poised to spring into action at the least hint of trouble that they see bad animals where there are none.

I don't mean they see bad animals where there are good animals, assuming such a thing exists. I mean cases like this one:

Police in Germany raced to the scene after a jogger rang the emergency line in Braunschweig in a panic, saying she had spotted a tiger on her early morning run... Police officers immediately responded and discovered the animal standing motionless on the bridge.

On closer inspection, the officers were struck by the friendly demeanour of the smallish beast measuring about 80 by 80 centimeters (31.5 inches). "They succeeded in taming the predator and took him back to the police station. It wasn't a difficult task because the tiger was a stuffed toy."

While this blog takes the position that any animal can behave badly, we mean any live animal. Apparently regular reminders of this are necessary. We've actually covered two previous examples of police being called out in response to a stuffed tiger, in England and in Texas, and in another case in Germany a man called police to report that he went out to his car and found a tiger sleeping in front of it.

We've also seen police shoot an alligator before realizing it was a statue, and as you know if you've read the book, animal control officers are regularly called out to "rescue" not only fake animals, but inanimate objects that not even animal-shaped, mistaken by kind-hearted ninnies for creatures in distress.

Some who make these erroneous reports even claim a certain level of expertise. In another case of a large stuffed feline, in Germany, a man called police insisting that he saw the corpse of a leopard floating in a lake in a city park: "He assured us that he knew what he was talking about, that he was a trained hunter and even had relevant 'African experience'," said a police statement. "He said he had even gone back home to get his binoculars to make sure he hadn't made a mistake."

These incidents may seem harmless, but there are too many real bad animals around for us to waste resources on false alarms. Of course I don't recommend anyone sticking around, possibly in harm's way, to make specific species identifications. But I think it's safe to say that if you don't live in tiger habitat, you should consider the odds, and perhaps take a moment to make sure you are looking at a living, breathing creature before calling out the authorities.

And a final note: There's another category of people who bear some of the blame for these incidents: the irresponsible owners who let these imitation animals loose in the wild. So please, if you own such large stuffed creatures, dispose of them responsibly.