"Hotel for Dogs": Movie Review

One Day, 3,000 Adoptions from Pet Shelters, No Fees
USA Today

They're pulling out all the stops next week — including giving pets to some adopters at no charge — in a nationwide effort to boost the number of shelter animals that find new homes.

Three hundred shelters across the USA are holding Change a Pet's Life Day on Jan. 24, aimed at focusing attention on shelters and rescue groups and enticing potential adopters. Fees for the first 10 adoptions at each participating shelter will be paid for by Topeka-based Hill's Pet Nutrition, which organized the event.

Adoption fees generally range anywhere from $25 to $300, depending on the shelter, species, pet's age and whether it's purebred.

"Eight million pets a year enter shelters," says Janet Donlin of Hill's. And many experts believe that with the sour economy, intake numbers are increasing while adoptions are holding steady or decreasing. "We are hoping that people who have been thinking about adding a pet to their family will take this opportunity to do so."

The 300 shelters are promoting the event on their websites, on Craigslist and in their local media. On a national level, longtime animal lover Kyra Sedgwick, star of The Closer, is carrying the Change a Pet's Life banner during appearances the next few days. "I hope people will at least consider the possibility of getting a shelter pet," says Sedgwick, whose family has a rescued cat and dog.

In addition to reimbursing shelters for the 3,000 pets the adopters won't have to pay for, Hill's is providing free Science Diet pet food and a training/information DVD to all adopters and launching a toll-free number to answer new-pet-owner questions.

The notion of essentially giving away animals to adopters is a controversial one in shelter circles. There are concerns that people who don't pay for pets put less value on the animals; plus, adoption fees are vital income to cover sterilizations and vaccinations, as well as to tend to sometimes significant health problems.

Also, especially in this economy, there's worry that people who cannot afford to take on more expense will be moved by the notion of saving an animal if it doesn't require any money upfront, and they will not be able to keep the pet long-term or pay for medical care.

"The shelters will be using their normal screening processes" on Jan. 24, Donlin says, to filter out inappropriate adopters, and the emphasis won't be on getting as many animals as possible out the door but on making solid adoption matches. "And we're underwriting the cost of the first 10 adoptions" to ensure the effort does not create a financial hardship on participating shelters.

The hope is that all the attention will not only mobilize people who have been considering getting a pet, but also prompt people who have not been inclined to visit a shelter to do so. "There are great animals in shelters," Donlin says, and "this is part of a broader effort to make sure people know that."

Kim Janzen of the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita says her shelter has held free adoption days regularly in which sponsors pay the fees. Some people who adopt a shelter animal may be less than financially stable, she acknowledges, "but I want those people to get their pet here. … If they get it here, we know it's healthy and spayed or neutered and vaccinated."

The Wichita shelter, which has a 52% euthanasia rate (down from nearly 80% in 2003), usually would adopt out about 40 pets on a winter Saturday, Janzen says. But on Change a Pet's Life Day, she's hoping for at least 80.

James Bias of the SPCA of Texas in Dallas, another participating shelter, which adopts out 9,000 animals a year, says "nine out of 10 people don't find the perfect match the first time they visit us." He expects Jan. 24 to be no different. "Our shelter is full of really sweet, healthy, well-behaved animals," and he hopes the event will prompt new visitors who eventually, if not next week, will return to find a pet.

The list of the 300 participating shelters can be found here.

Strange Things That Dogs Eat
by Teri Webster, Pet Examiner

A carton of eggs -- including the carton -- has got to be the strangest thing a dog has ever eaten.

At least that's what I thought when a friend told me she turned her back for a few moments one day and her black lab, Indiana, decided to grab himself a high protein snack from the kitchen counter.

When she realized Indiana had eaten an entire carton of eggs, she rushed him to a nearby emergency veterinarian clinic.

Fortunately, Indiana was fine.

But the same could not be said for the staff at the emergency clinic.

The eggs gave Indiana gas so bad that everyone in the building was gagging.

What dog hasn't eaten something strange on impulse?

Some of them make it a hobby.

Take Lulu the bulldog, for example.

Lulu ate 15 baby pacifiers, earning herself the title of most unusual claim in December from Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI).

She beat out 75,000 other "contestants," including a dog that ate several wigs and another dog that ate a packaged fire log.

Lulu had surgery to remove the pacifiers and came through it fine, the St. Louis Riverfront Times reported.

Of course, it is a serious matter when a pet swallows a strange object, as it can puncture his intestine or cause a blockage. If you ever suspect your pet has swallowed something he shouldn't have, a trip to the vet is in order.

Intestinal obstructions are considered an emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.

Some pets have had surgery after eating bras, pens, pins, socks, fishing hooks, coins, balloons and rocks.

Large chunks of rawhide chew bones can also cause intestinal blockages if they are swallowed.

Bow-ow! Dogs Swallow Pins, Pens

So that's what happened to the socks.

A Chelsea veterinarian has compiled a Top 10 list of items pets swallow the most. And yes, socks are No. 1.

They were followed by underwear, panty hose - and rocks.

"It tends to be things that smell like the owners," said Dr. Jennifer Mlekoday at the West Chelsea Veterinary on W. 26th St. "They start playing with them and then they wind up swallowing them."

In addition to solving a riddle that has perplexed mankind for as long as mankind has worn socks, Mlekoday has also given new legs to the "dog ate my homework" excuse - although she has not removed any from an ailing pooch.

"They will eat paper products if they find them in the garbage and they have food drippings on them," she said.

Chew toys were sixth on the list. "I once removed a rubber duck from a dog," the vet said.

X-rays have also turned up truly scary items like needles and razor blades, the kind of hazards city critters encounter daily on the streets.

"They'll also go after discarded wrappers, popsicle sticks and even half-eaten fried chicken meals," she said. "It just goes to show that pet owners need to pay attention to what your dog is exposed to."

One of the biggest hazards to pooches is something that can be bought at any pet store - rawhide and marrow bones.

Mlekoday said that if not digested properly, they can obstruct or cause damage to the intestinal tract.

"While some objects can pass naturally, others have a tendency to become compacted or lodged in pets' gastrointestinal tracts, resulting in pain, vomiting or internal injury," she said. "In those cases, surgery may be necessary."

Pachyderm and Pooch: a Special Pair of Friends

Tarra always liked dogs. When a dog named Bella expressed a desire to bond, Tarra reciprocated by petting her -- with her trunk. Tarra happens to be an Asian elephant who lives at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. The pachyderm's best friend is a Chow-mix.

"Elephants are social and so are dogs. Who are we to decide who should be best friends?" says Carol Buckley, the sanctuary's executive director.

Indeed, Tarra and Bella's bond illustrates the kind of intense and unconditional emotional attachment legendary in both elephants and dogs.

Eighteen African and Asian elephants live at the 2,700-acre sanctuary, along with 21 stray dogs and 18 cats. The facility is the nation's largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically to meet the needs of endangered elephants. The non-profit is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The sanctuary is designed for old, sick and needy elephants retired from zoos and circuses.

Cats and dogs are free to roam the property but most keep their distance from the pachyderms. And who can blame them? The elephants agree, Buckley says, that they generally find the barking dogs pesky.

That's decidedly not the case with Tarra and Bella. Staff noticed how tight the two had become, spending days together roaming the sanctuary. At night, they slept side-by-side, often with Tarra's foot touching Bella. Imagine cozying up to an 8-foot-tall, 8,700-pound pachyderm who seems to have a need to pet dogs pretty much identical to a human's!

Calling this odd couple best friends may still have been a stretch -- at least for outsiders to fathom -- until the day Bella was discovered lying motionless in a field. Elephants can be pretty protective of their friends, but Buckley says Tarra seemed almost relieved when a staff member carried the dog away for veterinary care. It turned out the dog had injured her spine jumping or simply twisted the wrong way. It took her three weeks to recover at the sanctuary office.

Each day, Tarra stood vigil just outside the office. With all that space to roam, this elephant wasn't going anywhere; she simply wanted to see her best friend. When Bella was well enough, she was brought outside. Tarra reached out to her with her trunk, likely reassuring herself and Bella. Every day, a staff member would bring the dog to the anxiously waiting elephant. Finally, one day, Bella was well enough to wander freely with her pal once again. Off they went, Tarra zig-zagging under the elephant's legs and barking. Tarra trumpeted.

Just as cats and dogs who live together seem to learn each other's verbal and non-verbal cues, Buckley suspects this pair have done the same. Sometimes, Bella even seems to feel she needs to protect her friend -- although no one's sure from what -- and will "defend" Tarra from strangers.

Knowing the back story helps explain why this Felix and Oscar have paired up.

Tarra, now 35, changed Carol Buckley's life. The elephant was only about a year old and living in the back of a truck in Southern California as a living, breathing exhibit for a tire store. Eventually, Buckley talked the owner into letting her bring Tarra home with her. Now, at least, the elephant had a half-acre to roam. In 1976, determined to give Tarra a better life, Buckley bought her for $25,000. After 15 years on the road, appearing in various circuses, the team began to work advising zoos on keeping elephants and doing what's best for them. Development of The Elephant Sanctuary began in 1995 as an extension of what Buckley is sure is best for captive elephants in need.

From the time Tarra was very young she was exposed to dogs because Buckley always had pet dogs.

Bella's story began like that of many dogs at The Elephant Sanctuary. She was found on the property as a stray in 2004, 'guarding' large construction equipment workers had been using. Clearly, for reasons no one will ever understand, Bella likes large objects.

"This all now begins to at least make some sense when you analyze it," say Buckley. "Tarra is still relatively young (for an elephant) and is very active. Some of the elephants (at the sanctuary) can't keep up with her. But maybe it's not best to analyze what they have, but instead to honor it. There really doesn't need to be an explanation."

Instead of eating the hay at the barn, Tarra lets her friend Bella use it as a bed. Other elephants are likely chagrined at this sad state of affairs.

Unfortunately, at some point Tarra will feel what we all do when our pets pass away. And clearly, she'll feel the loss. For those who don't believe animals have souls or feelings - consider the choices these two have made.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he can be heard Sundays on WGN Radio, 8 to 10 p.m. CST (www.wgnradio.com to listen live), and hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

Cops: Freeport Man Suspected of Being Serial Fish Thief

A serial fish thief who officials say reached into a tank, picked up a shark with his bare hands and smuggled it out of a store in his jacket has been arrested, Nassau police said.

Elbert Starks, 30, of Pearsall Avenue in Freeport, is also charged with stealing a cashier's wallet at one pet store and using the credit card inside it at another store to buy a green moray eel, police said.

Starks, who was arrested Wednesday morning, kept the stolen fish in a "personal home aquarium" - a 250-gallon tank, police said.

Starks took the $350 nurse shark Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. while in Total Aquarium on Rockaway Avenue in Lynbrook, police said, and drove the animal to his home in Freeport, where he placed it in the tank.

He stole the credit card Jan. 2 at 4 p.m. from Pet Barn on Franklin Avenue in Franklin Square after seeing the cashier's wallet on the counter, police said. He used the card more than three hours later to pay $300 for the eel at Parrots of the World on Sunrise Highway in Rockville Centre, police said.

The following day, the store notified authorities that the credit card had been stolen. Detectives linked the description of the stolen credit card suspect to the description of the stolen shark suspect, said police spokesman Anthony Repalone at a news conference at police headquarters in Mineola.

Starks was arrested Wednesday at his job in Brooklyn.

"The fish are being temporarily cared for at Parrots of the World," a police spokeswoman said.

Repalone said Starks had other exotic fish in the tank but could produce receipts demonstrating they were purchased lawfully.

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Mutt of a Movie, 'Hotel for Dogs' is Doggone Cute
by Andrew Jefchak - The Grand Rapids Press

Whether or not you own a dog, you'll probably find "Hotel for Dogs" silly, and that's what was intended. The miracles in this film have nothing in common with those in "Lassie Come Home," "The Incredible Journey" or any other nature-based adventure in animal heroism.

Instead, they're concocted through special effects, animatronics, well-edited strips of celluloid from the cutting-room floor and, of course, well-trained dogs. The result may not move you to rush out for a new pet at the animal shelter, but you're likely to be entertained.

Rated: PG for brief mild thematic elements, language, some crude humor

Cast: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon, Kyla Pratt

Director: Thor Freudenthal

Run time: 100 minutes

The back story is thrown into the film piece by piece, adapted from a children's book by Lois Duncan. Andi (Emma Roberts) is a 16-year-old orphan who gets by in life through thievery, joined by her 11-year-old brother, Bruce (Jake T. Austin) and Friday, a resourceful little mutt with curly white fur and an enormous appetite. Whenever they get caught by police, their innocence is pleaded by Bernie (Don Cheadle), a kindly social worker who clearly loves them.

Presumably because of the kids' penchant for larceny, Bernie has shuffled them through five sets of foster parents in a little more than three years.

Their current guardians are a couple of surly, foul-mouthed musicians played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon.

Since the latter pair seem to despise kids and dogs, you may wonder why they would have offered to take the kids in the first place.

Resist wondering, however, for the script offers far stranger challenges.

When Friday is picked up by the Animal Control goon squad, he quickly escapes and finds his way to a condemned building, once the Hotel Francis Duke.

With Andi and Bruce in pursuit, Friday discovers the place already is inhabited by a few dogs.

Ignoring their foster parents except as sources for needed equipment and food, the kids soon begin to rejuvenate the old place.

When a pet store employee named Dave (Johnny Simmons) takes a shine to Andi, he and co-worker Heather (Kyla Pratt) get involved.

Before long, they expand the clientele by stealing dogs of all sizes and breeds from the local pound. Conveniently, Bruce is a budding genius of an engineer.

Clearly, the most important of his inventions are the complicated setups by which the dogs eliminate waste in a relatively sanitary manner. Fortunately, director Thor Freudenthal doesn't dwell too long on the complications.

Because the animals almost always are photographed at their best, the operative sound inside the theater will be "awww," as in how cute they are.

"Hotel for Dogs" is that kind of entertainment.

E-mail the author of this story: yourlife@grpress.com

Pet Cemetery Controversy
by: Jaime Meyers - WHPTV.com - CBS21

Controversy at the Lebanon County Humane Society. Plans to renovate the cemetery have outraged some pet owners.

Owners were shocked when they visited their pets graves and found them pushed to the side, in a heap, some of them even broken. "You just feel like they were thrown away." Roger Hensil and his wife discovered the gravestones when they made a trip to visit the graves of their dog and three cats. He says, "they were our babies, we liked to go out to visit the graves. It was kind of like being with them again, it's gone now."

The Lebanon County Humane Society says the cemetery grounds had become too hard to maintain, so they're turning it in to a memorial park for all the animals. Some of the board members moved the grave markers in an organized manor, but then an excavator used heavy equipment to move them to their current location. Tracy Stevens, President of the Board of Directors says, "We haven't had a chance to get back there and get some equipment and rearrange the stones in an orderly fashion as we had them the first time."

The Humane Society tried to notify the pet owners through a newsletter and in the newspaper, but says it couldn't notify everyone. Stevens says, "Records get lost with some businesses and unfortunately there were some managers in the past who didn't feel there was a need, and threw some things out."

But Hensil says, "she said records were messed up in the early 90's. All our pets were buried after that so they should have had a record."

Stevens says in addition to a memorial park, the shelter will use the space as an area where potential adopters can get to know the pets they are interested in, and the board members apologize for any hurt they caused.

Owners who have pets in the cemetery can claim their gravestones if they'd like. Hensil says despite the heartache, he doesn't want people to take it out on the animals by stopping donations to the Humane Society.

Take Care of Pets in Cold Weather
Megan Trotter - Herald-Citizen Staff

PUTNAM COUNTY -- The weather forecast calls for low temperatures this week, and although dogs and cats have fur coats, the Putnam County Animal Shelter would like to remind pet owners to take special steps to prevent their furry friends from the cold.

The ideal situation would be to bring all pets indoors at night. However, that may be impossible for some families. In that case, pet owners should be sure their dogs and cats have shelter and plenty of access to food and clean water.

Pets should be provided with some sort of enclosed shelter with blankets, cedar chips or some other comfortable material that will hold heat.

Pet owners might even want to look into having a heat lamp installed inside their dog houses.

Putnam County Animal Shelter Director Catherine Lee also suggests putting a little more in the food bowl or increasing the number of times pets are fed during the winter.

"During the cold weather animals tend to eat more to keep their body warm," Lee said.

According to Lee, this extra nutrition will help pets insulate themselves against the cold.

Lee also encourages pet owners to check on any outdoor water bowls to be sure they have not frozen over.

"During the cold weather, of course the water is going to freeze," Lee said.

For more information, contact the animal shelter at (931) 526-3647.

Barking Mad Attire
By MIKE STROBEL - Toronto Sun

This freeze is deeply embarrassing for brass monkeys and little dogs.

A young lady friend of ours brought over her hairy Chihuahua the other day.

The poor pooch was dressed to kill the chill in a blanket coat and frilly hat with reindeer antlers.

Ever see a hairy Chihuahua blush?

It looked up at me with damp, pleading eyes as if to say, "Pleez, meester, take me home to Tijuana."

I tell this to Kevin "Macho Man" Hann on our city desk. He rolls his eyes.

His family foisted a Maltese named Tia on him, and soon the wee bitch was decked out in a pink sweater that says "Princess."

At Halloween, Tia was a bumble bee. At Christmas, Ms Claus. On Robert Burns Day, she will look fetching in plaid.

"I refuse to take her for walks," says Kevin, glumly. "I just open the door, and hope she doesn't come back."

I don't think God meant dogs to dress like dolls.

The Humane Society and SPCA this week sent out cold-weather bulletins. Tips included wiping salt off your dog's paws and dissuading your cat from warming itself on your car engine.

Also, "consider slipping your short-coated dog or puppy into a comfortable sweater or coat."

Which is fine. We drag lapdogs out of such balmy locales as Mexico and Malta, so we can't expect them to handle cold like a real Canadian dog. A snug blankie might save their life.

But must we make them look like Liberace or Amy Winehouse?

Where the hell are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? Forget the chickens, PETA, there's outrage on our city's sidewalks. I bet if you threw a sealskin coat on your Dachshund, PETA would break down your door.

Meantime, you can buy a hoodie for your pooch or a houndstooth sweater with matching scarf. A raincoat, parka, sweatsuit, canvas shoes, pink mesh boots, beachwear, safari dress, bow ties, football jersey, polo shirt, corset (for crying out loud), a school girl outfit (grrrrr), tennis wear, tie-dye visors, overalls, a tank top. Plus other getups, headgear and footwear to rival the racks at WalMart.

Walk Queen St. in the Beach sometime, you'll see.

I don't know why a dog needs pajamas, but they come in myriad styles.

Or you can make your puny pug look like, say, Yoda or a watermelon.

Or you can dress Sparky, your Jack Russell, as a cat. With ears and tail, even. Shame, shame. Be prepared for heavy therapy bills.

And another thing. I spent yesterday combing catalogues of dog outerwear. And I found not one coat or sweater that covers the bits a dog least wants to freeze off.

Especially dogs slung low to the snow. Get my drift?

"You mean their pee-pees?" says Natalie Fong. She is a young hotshot pet clothing designer who owns Poochtini on Yonge St.

Yes. Shouldn't that be covered?

"Then how do you expect them to use a fire hydrant?"

Oh, gawd, that reminds me of when I was a kid and stuck my tongue on cold metal. Y'owser, bowser!

And I guess it might get messy. "I can't think of a way around it," says Natalie. "My logic is, if you warm the rest of the body, and minimize exposure to (the part in question), you decrease the risk of it freezing."

Still, I think you should work on it. Say, what's hot in canine couture this season?

"Faux fur. Fleece-lined jackets. And camouflage is still in style."

Hmmm. Same for humans.

I just don't think it's humane to put silly frills on dogs. "Didn't your mom ever dress you in a shirt you didn't like?"

Yep. And come to think of it, she used to stick fake antlers on me at Christmas. Maybe that's why my leg gets twitchy when I see a fire hydrant.

Dog Booted Off Bus

Mississauga transit is looking into a passenger's complaint she was ordered off the bus by the driver for bringing her unmuzzled Shih Tzu on board.

Debra Pallister, 51, said she was heading home on the 23 Lakeshore Rd W. bus when the driver demanded she and her 12-pound pup, Teka, get off during rush-hour traffic yesterday.

"She wouldn't start the bus until I got off," said Pallister, who had just picked up her dog from the veterinarian minutes before.

"I turned around to everyone and apologized and some people stood up for me and clapped and said it was fine, but the driver wanted to make her point," she said.

According to Pallister, the driver refused to move the 4:05 p.m. bus for more than 20 minutes until a superintendent and enforcement officer arrived to remove the passenger. "She even got her manager on the speaker to tell me to get off," Pallister added.

"I was so embarassed and I don't usually complain about these things, but I felt I had to stand up for myself. It was so cold outside yesterday and I didn't want my dog to be exposed because she just had surgery."

Pallister left the bus after the two men came on wearing rubber gloves. "I didn't know what they were going to do with me so I voluntarily got off."

She wrapped Teka in a blanket and put her back in a carrier bag she bought from a pet store the previous day and walked in the snow to a friend's shop nearby.

"I had Teka in that bag because she's too small for a muzzle. The carrier bag was triple her size," said the Port Credit woman, who never had trouble before.

"I felt so belittled because I had to get off," she said.

Mississauga Transit director Geoff Marinoff said any dog would have to be on a leash and muzzle or in a cage -- a bylaw that has been in place since October 2003.

"It's unfortunate (Pallister) had paid her fare before, but the incident is under investigation and after it's complete we'll respond to Ms. Pallister."

Documentary Shows the Plight of Mexico's Street Dogs
Lindsay Barnett - The Los Angeles Times

While animal activists in the U.S. argue over how best to deal with America's pet overpopulation problem, their counterparts in Mexico are fighting far more rampant pet overpopulation. What's worse is that homeless dogs are often electrocuted, rather than euthanized by injection as is the norm in American shelters.

A recent documentary called "Companions to None (Companeros de Nadie)," the first film by director Bill Buchanan, addresses the issue and its underlying causes. Our colleague Deborah Bonello at the La Plaza blog reported on its release last month:

The hourlong film is an unflinching commentary on the overpopulation of stray dogs in Mexico, who even outnumber us humans in some regions. Macho culture, argues Buchanan, goes some way to explaining why Mexicans are so reluctant to sterilize their male dogs. There is a common belief in Mexico, according to his narrative, that sterilizing a male dog will make the dog "gay."

A recent discovery near Mexico City hammers home the importance of the issues addressed in "Companions to None," as Bonello explains in a follow-up post:

Animal-rights activists in the state of Mexico -- which borders Mexico City -- are up in arms following the electrocution of more than 200 dogs found near a dump last week.

The News reports that although several shelters offered to adopt or administer lethal injections to the animals, which were picked up when the dump was shut down, city veterinarians went ahead and put them down through electrocution after insisting that the animals were too dangerous to adopt.

A rescue group called Save a Mexican Mutt (SAMM) offers a hands-on way to help the street dogs of Mexico: adopting them. You can follow the progress of SAMM's rescued dogs on the group's blog.

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