Category Archives: aging animals

Aging Heroes of 9/11: Search and Rescue Dogs

The UK’s Daily Mail last week ran a feature with photos of search and rescue dogs sniffed through the rubble of the Twin Towers a decade ago. Of more than 100, only about a dozen survive, and most are well into their teens. Click through to the original article for a full portrait gallery.

Moxie, 13

Tara, 16

The Puppy Protection Act Offers (Slim) Hope to (Some) Abused Pups reports today on bills recently introduced in both houses of Congress. The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act (S 3424 and HR 5434) would “amend the Animal Welfare Act to provide further protection for puppies.”

The bills, from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), were introduced at the end of May and tail a Department of Agriculture inspector general report regarding federal investigations of breeders.

The IG report, released May 25, says large breeders who sell animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA, PL 89-544) online are exempt from inspection and licensing requirements “due to a loophole in AWA.” The IG says there are “an increasing number” of these unlicensed, unmonitored breeders.

The bills would require licensing and inspection of dog breeders that sell more than 50 dogs per year to the public (including online) and would also outline additional exercise requirements for dogs at facilities – such as having sufficient, clean space and proper flooring.

According to a press release, Durbin said he would work administratively with the USDA to fix problems at its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, and then introduce addition legislation if needed.

Supporting humane treatment of puppies would seem like a political no-brainer, right? As Liliana Segura pointed out on Twitter earlier today, what could be better in the upcoming midterm elections than “to be able to say ‘our opponents HATE puppies'”? Mainstream groups like the Humane Society have been pushing for legislation action on puppy mills for years, to little avail. (Click here to see video of a Humane Society raid on a massive puppy mill in Tennessee, and here to read some gruesome details from the USDA’s report on puppy mills.) Yet the bills are not exactly barreling their way through Congress; both are waiting for attention from agricultural subcommittees, and after two months, the Senate bill has only seven co-sponsors.

In addition, when it comes to animals routinely used in cosmetic testing, and animals (including puppies and dogs) treated cruelly in drug testing and medical research, the federal government has pretty much sat on its hands–or worse. To take one particularly galling example, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine last year exposed an effort on the part of the National Institutes of Health to sell young constituents on the idea of animal experimentation. As Stephanie Ernst wrote on

[T]he NIH promotes, on its Web site, a children’s coloring book that gives a skewed view of animal experiments. The coloring book implies that researchers are trying to cure animals that are already sick—rather than purposely infecting them with diseases—and ignores the fact that animals suffer and die in the process. The coloring book, entitled The Lucky Puppy, was produced by an industry trade group, the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research, whose members have a financial interest in the continuation of animal research…

The book erroneously portrays the lives of animals in laboratories as pleasant and carefree. Published scientific research and numerous undercover investigations clearly demonstrate that animals in laboratories suffer pain and distress from experimental procedures and routine laboratory practices. The coloring book also makes misleading claims about the benefits of animal experiments, implying that research findings from experiments on animals are directly applicable to both the animals used in research and to humans.

The federal government is also actively engaged in protecting animal testing and experimentation against animal rights activists. Anyone who chooses to take action against an animal testing facility is not, as one would expect, subject to charges of breaking-and-entering or vandalism. Instead, they are branded terrorists under the notorious Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act; for actions in which no human being were harmed, they can end up serving long sentences in a federal supermax Communications Management Unit.  (See the blog Green Is the New Red for the best information on AETA.)


Obama’s Record on Animals

I know from comments and emails that a lot of Unsilent Generation’s readers care about animals, so I’m passing on this report card from the Humane Society of the United States on Obama’s first year in office. After noting that “This administration is far better than the last one on animal protection issues,” HSUS highlights some positive and negative developments in the last year.

Basically, it’s been a good year for polar bears (if you don’t count climate change) and a bad one for wolves (even without Sarah Palin). On most other points, it’s a mixed bag. But HSUS rightly focuses on one area where the U.S. government not only ignores animal cruelty, but subsidizes it:

This year, USDA has doled out hundreds of millions of tax dollars in subsidies to the factory farming industry, buying up pork, meat from spent hens, and milk, but requiring nothing of these industries yet in terms of reforms that would improve animal welfare and public health. These industries operate in a deregulated environment when it comes to animal welfare, and they essentially do as they please. The passage of Proposition 2 in California and similar initiatives in Arizona and Florida demonstrated that the American public wants to see an end to these intensive confinement practices, and the Administration should help push that along, rather than continue to prop up inhumane, environmentally destructive, and dangerous confinement systems.

The Farm Sanctuary, a rescue, education, and advocacy group for farm animals, notes Obama’s recent decision to ban the slaughter of “downed” cattle–animals too weak or injured to walk, who experience additional cruelty on their way to their deaths. The group currently has a “Petition for the Pigs” urging the president to do the same for pigs and other livestock. 

Keep in mind that these are pretty modest demands, which address only the most extreme brutal practices.  Anyone who takes a slightly more radical approach is subject to the wrath of federal law enforcement, acting on legislation that broadly defines animal rights activism as “eco-terrorism.” Will Potter’s excellent blog Green Is the New Red tracks the latest outrages and absurdities (including infiltrating vegan potlucks) that are committed under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, passed in 2006 largely at the behest of animal-related industries.

There’s no sign that anything has changed on this front since Obama came into office. Far right web sites may be alive with promises of armed insurrection and threats against the life of the president , but according to the FBI, it’s still the animal rights crowd that we really have to worry about when it comes to domestic terrorism.

Old Dogs, New Gifts

Clyde, age 8

Readers of Unsilent Generation know that I have a soft spot for old dogs, including but not limited to my own 15-year-old, Jenny. Every old dog deserves a safe home, a warm spot to lie in, and plenty of love and attention–in other words, pretty much the same things that old people need. But old dogs who end up homeless have an even harder time than other dogs, since they are often passed over for adoption; in some shelters, they are euthanized as soon as they arrive unless someone intervenes. 

Dina, age 7

 While there are hundreds of animal welfare organizations and rescue groups around the country, only a handful of groups have devoted themselves specifically to the needs of older dogs. As far as I can tell, all of them are staffed entirely by volunteers and survive on a shoestring, depending on small donations from ordinary people. If you love old dogs, too, you might want to keep this in mind if you’re planning on making some charitable contributions before the end of the year. 

MacGregor, age 13

One group is the Sanctuary for Senior Dogs in Ohio, which rescues old dogs from shelters, finds adoptive homes, and keeps the ones they can’t place. They also train therapy dogs that visit old people. Last year a friend gave me their annual calendar, called Graying Muzzles: A Celebration of Old Dogs, with a canine geezer for every month of the year. These make great holiday gifts and support the Sanctuary’s work. (You can also enter your old dog in their photo contest for next year.) Or you can sponsor one of their permanent residents, like the ones pictured in this post, or just make a donation


Other old dogs around the country who need adoption or foster homes, and organizations that rescue and support aging dogs, can be found at the Senior Dogs Project, which serves as a kind of information clearinghouse on old dogs. 

“Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.” –Pearl S. Buck 

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” –Mahatma Gandhi 

Old Dogs Smarter Than Young Children (and Politicians)


OK, actually this story is actually about all dogs, not just old dogs. But it was too good not to pass on to my readers, so I made the stretch to put it in my Old Dogs Series.

The web site LiveScience reports on recent findings by Stanley Coren, a Canadian academic who has conducted extensive research into canine intelligence.  Coren says that the average dog compares favorably with a human two-year old in language abilities. Smart breeds rate even better: They can understand about 250 words, similar to a 2.5-year-old human. (Border Collies like my own old dog scored highest, as usual.) Dogs fare even better in math, showing abilities similar to a four-year-old, according to Coren. And in terms of emotional development, they rate more like human teens (which may or may not be a compliment, depending on what you think of teenagers).

“The social life of dogs is much more complex, much more like human teenagers at that stage, interested in who is moving up in the pack and who is sleeping with who and that sort of thing,” Coren told LiveScience….

Dogs also show some basic emotions, such as happiness, anger and disgust. But more complex emotions, such as guilt, are not in a dog’s toolbox. (What humans once thought was guilt was found to be doggy fear, Coren noted.)

And while dogs know whether they’re being treated fairly, they don’t grasp the concept of equity. Coren recalls a study in which dogs get a treat for “giving a paw.”

When one dog gets a treat and the other doesn’t, the unrewarded dog stops performing the trick and avoids making eye contact with the trainer. But if one dog, say, gets rewarded with a juicy steak while the other snags a measly piece of bread, on average the dogs don’t care about the inequality of the treats.

If that’s the criteria, I’d say humans are just a dumb as dogs on this particular subject. Why else would so many working-class and middle-class people vote against tax hikes for the rich? Why else would they oppose health care reform so that the insurance and drug companies can keep up their profits? 

So does this mean that in addition to being just as smart as toddlers, dogs are just as smart as Republicans–and some Democrats, too? (Again, you may or may not think this is a compliment–I know what I think.)

My dog Jenny: Smarter than Max Baucus?

My dog Jenny: Smarter than Max Baucus?

A Tribute to Old Dogs


After seeing my previous posts about old dogs, a friend alerted me to a book released last year called Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs, with text by the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten and wonderful photographs by Michael Williamson. Click on the book cover to watch a slide show:


An excerpt from Weingarten’s text, about his own old dog Harry, appeared in the Post when the book was published. It helps explain, I think, why old dogs can be especially precious to older people, as we face our own aging and mortality. Makes you think that it might not be a bad thing, after all, to die like a dog. 

It’s no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant, even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you, even if you are a genocidal maniac. Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him….

But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.

Kafka wrote that the meaning of life is that it ends. He meant that our lives are shaped and shaded by the existential terror of knowing that all is finite….Among animals, only humans are said to be self-aware enough to comprehend the passage of time and the grim truth of mortality. How then, to explain old Harry at the edge of that park, gray and lame, just days from the end, experiencing what can only be called wistfulness and nostalgia? I have lived with eight dogs, watched six of them grow old and infirm with grace and dignity, and die with what seemed to be acceptance. I have seen old dogs grieve at the loss of their friends. I have come to believe that as they age, dogs comprehend the passage of time, and, if not the inevitability of death, certainly the relentlessness of the onset of their frailties. They understand that what’s gone is gone.

What dogs do not have is an abstract sense of fear, or a feeling of injustice or entitlement. They do not see themselves, as we do, as tragic heroes, battling ceaselessly against the merciless onslaught of time. Unlike us, old dogs lack the audacity to mythologize their lives. You’ve got to love them for that.





Fudge. Photographs copyright 2008 by Michael Williamson from Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten.

Fudge. Photographs copyright Michael Williamson from Old Dogs Are the Best Dogs.

Old Dogs 2: Indy


imageIndy is a 15-year-old Brooklyn mutt who can be sweet, canny, or fierce, depending upon what the situation demands. She belongs to Leonora Wiener, and lives across the street from Prospect Park, where dogs rule every day from 9 pm to 9 am.

Unlike a lot of city dogs, Indy is never alone, because she also has a second home,  where she hangs out with Isaac and Raina Doughty. A couple of years ago, when she was eleven, Raina wrote a poem about Indy that won first place in a contest sponsored by the New York Humane Society. It captures how zealously Indy defends both her homes.

Indy, hey, Indy, its 4:00
the mailman’s coming down the block

crouch, dash, jump
you land on the purple chair
and every single hair
is standing on your back
you are now ready to attack
the mailbox opens, the mailbox creaks
your jaws open, you try to speak

you say,this  is my house, my place,
I’m as vicious as a shark

but all that comes out is bark, bark, bark!