Like many other rescues and shelters, the Kern County animal shelters in California had to close due to the coronavirus. However, they had over 150 animals still in their care. They couldn’t stand to see so many dogs alone in cages during the quarantine.
So, to help these dogs get out of the shelter, Kern County Animal Services launched a foster drive-thru. They posted a live video on social media as a call for help, encouraging more people to foster dogs during this difficult time. To their surprise, they were soon overwhelmed with kind responses.
“We rely on the public to adopt. When we don’t have that avenue we’re left with no option to get animals out of the shelter. It’s not healthy to have an animal sit in a cage for 30 days,” said Nick Cullen, the director of Kern County Animal Services.
The Drive-Thru Foster Program
To foster one of these dogs, all people have to do is fill out an application and drive to the shelter. The shelter is technically closed to the public, so no one even needs to get out of their car. Foster parents just have to wait in the car while the staff gathers everything they need, including one lucky pup!
The staff expected to get a few kind dog lovers to step forward, but they could never have predicted what happened next. Suddenly, more people than ever were coming forward to foster. In only one day, they found foster homes for 88 animals!
“What we’ve seen from the community is like nothing we’ve seen before,” said Cullen. “We’re floored with the response.”
This event was so successful that they decided to continue it the next day. They hope to find temporary homes for every animal at their shelters. No animal should be left behind during this time of uncertainty.
Are There Still Animals In Need?
Currently, there are still some animals at the shelters, and they keep getting more dogs in with each passing day. So, if you live in the Kern County, California area, consider taking in one of these dogs. You can check their Facebook page for updates about their drive-thru foster program.
The Sad Truth
More and more people are surrendering their dogs during this tough time, so shelters need all the help they can get. There have not been any cases of dogs becoming sick with COVID-19, and there is no evidence of humans catching it from dogs. So, there’s no reason to avoid helping a dog in need.
Even if you don’t live near these shelters, you can check with your local shelters. They all likely need more fosters and more donations. This is a scary time for everyone, but just imagine how the dogs in shelters are feeling right now. It’s heartwarming to see so many people willing to foster these dogs, so thank you to everyone that has helped make a difference.
Many of you are already aware that some pet food companies own and operate their own manufacturing facilities and some of them do not. You may have already learned that some brands of pet foods are made in several different manufacturing plants in different parts of the country. Some of you are familiar with the interchangeable terms co-manufacturer, co-packer, and contract manufacturer, which refer to a company that makes products for a number of other companies.
(Funny fact: Some of us know a ton about these pet food production facilities, and absolutely nothing about the ownership or management of the manufacturing sites where our own food is produced. Take from that what you will.)
We’re often asked: Which of these situations is better? Is a pet food made in a plant that is owned and operated by the same company whose name is on the label better than products made by a co-packer?
The answer, like so many things having to do with pet food, is not so cut and dry; there are definite advantages and disadvantages of either situation. While it’s interesting (and sometimes advantageous) to know where a particular product is made, we wouldn’t base our selection of a product based solely on the information – unless we were aware that a product was made at a facility that had been cited for a number of health violations. In that case, we wouldn’t care who owned or operated the facility; we’d just avoid any products that originated there.
When WDJ was first published in 1998, it was virtually impossible to find out anything about pet food manufacturing sites. It took years of asking companies to share information about their production facilities before we made any inroads. The approach that finally levered this information out of a few makers of high-end dog foods? “You say you have nothing to hide and that your manufacturing facilities are the best – so, prove it!”
A few companies finally decided they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Most of the companies that disclosed information about their manufacturing sites, or went so far as to invite us to tour those facilities, were relatively new to the market – and all of them were competing in the most expensive strata of products that are variously called natural, holistic, and/or super-premium.
When the word got out that we had toured a number of dog-food plants and didn’t print any photos secretly taken with a camera hidden in our coat buttons or publish detailed accounts of our visits, we received more invitations. To date, we’ve toured more than a dozen dry dog-food plants, three canned-food facilities, two human-food plants that manufacture truly – legally! – human-grade dehydrated diets for dogs, and a handful of raw-food and freeze-dried dog-food manufacturing plants. About half of the facilities we’ve seen were co-packers.
VALUE OF AWARENESS
Our conclusion about “which is better, self-made, or co-packed?” after seeing all these manufacturing facilities? It depends! The largest self-owned and self-managed facilities tend to have the best quality control and consistent products; they also tend to use less-expensive ingredients and highly conventional formulas. Some of the nicest-looking and -smelling ingredients we’ve seen have been getting cooked up at co-packing facilities – some of which were small, old, and not nearly as clean as the bigger plants we’ve seen.
As so many things having to do with pet food are concerned, it’s incumbent on you to find out what sort of manufacturing facility makes your dog’s food – call the company and ask! – and to take responsibility for your choice. (It’s informative even if the company won’t say where its products are made, if you get our drift.) At the very least, if you know where your dog’s food is made, and a recall of that brand is announced, you will be a step ahead in knowing whether or not you should stop feeding the food.
Dogs and cats are often thought of as enemies. The media pits these two common companions against each other, but that’s not always the reality. In fact, dogs and cats can actually become best friends in many situations!
When Lisa Olsen-Plummer adopted Bo the Beagle puppy, she wasn’t sure how he’d act around her two cats, Jasper and Juniper. However, she was soon surprised to find that Bo and Jasper had a special bond that would soon inspire the internet.
Introducing Bo to Jasper
Bo was very young, but also very timid when he first arrived at his new home. He wasn’t sure what to make of his new surroundings. However, Jasper and Juniper were even more skeptical about their new sibling.
It took some time for the cats to get used to Bo. Olsen-Plummer assumed they would just live peacefully together, but she never expected that one of the cats would grow attached to the puppy. Especially not Jasper, who was the more skeptical of the two cats.
At first, Jasper just watched Bo from a distance. He kept an eye on him as if he was contemplating whether or not the little dog could be trusted. Then, one day, he suddenly realized that Bo was a good dog. So, he came up and put his paw around Bo, as if to give him a hug. Since that moment, the two have been inseparable. However, Juniper still prefers to keep her distance.
Their Viral Video
Olsen-Plummer knew that Bo and Jasper’s friendship was special after she recorded a heartwarming video of them. In the video, Jasper is sitting on the back of the couch, looking out the window. Bo sees him and jumps up beside him.
Bo lands right next to Jasper, and he puts his paw around him right away. He likely remembered Jasper “hugging” him when he was younger, so he wanted to return the favor. Then, the two of them sit like that for the rest of the video, peacefully birdwatching together.
“They were enjoying the sunny day watching the birds,” said Olsen-Plummer. “I was super excited to catch this beautiful bonding moment of two animals showing love for one another.”
Since then, Bo and Jasper have spent plenty of heartwarming moments together. They even have their own Instagram page where Olsen-Plummer posts more adorable pictures and videos of Bo and his cat siblings.
If you thought that cats and dogs couldn’t be friends, then this video will definitely change your mind. Bo and Jasper truly are the cutest companions ever.
A deaf Terrier Mix named Noelle was a bit bummed out when her dog dad had to leave her to head off to his army training mission. Though her fur dad set her up in a home with close friends while he was away, Noelle certainly counted down the minutes until she would see her favorite human again.
The family that watched Noelle while her fur dad was away is so involved in animal care, that they volunteer regularly at their local PetSmart adoption center. During Noelle’s stay with the family, she was able to tag along on each adoption event and see off her fellow canine friends as they set off to their forever homes.
Going to adoption events became so normal for Noelle that she did not suspect a thing as she tagged along on yet another PetSmart adventure. What Noelle didn’t know, however, was that a huge surprise was coming her way.
Noelle laid patiently in her crate as she always did during these events, and watched as each of the eager pups walked away with their new families. It’s almost as if Noelle laid there daydreaming about the fur dad that was so far away, and waiting for the day they would be reunited again.
As Noelle sat there in a silent daydream, the grand surprise began to come together. Her fur parent finished his army training a few days prior, and was about to walk up to the PetSmart event to greet his favorite girl!
Of course, Noelle didn’t hear her dad coming, but once she locked eyes with him, she immediately knew her dreams had come true! Her fur dad was home, and she was ready to run into his arms and give him all the puppy kisses he had missed during his time away.
The second her crate door was opened, she jumped into her fur dad’s arms and smothered him with love. Her cries of excitement were unmistakable, and it was clear just how much this pair missed each other.
Their heartfelt reunion was so adorable that every passing shopper couldn’t help but stand and watch. The bond that these two share is one of a kind, and we are so happy that they are finally reunited! We have no doubt that Noelle is currently snuggled up with her dog dad, just soaking up every second of love she missed out on during his time away.
Unfamiliar things are usually very scary for dogs, especially when it comes to loud sounds. Thunderstorms are a common fear for dogs because to them, booming noises coming from the sky are just not okay!
During a thunderstorm, most dogs find a place to hide, trying to find the safest place possible. However, sometimes all they need to calm their fears is some love. One smart toddler knows exactly how to comfort his best friend during a storm, and their bond soon became viral.
For many dogs, thunderstorms cause panic or anxiety, which is difficult to deal with alone. So, when a toddler saw his Golden Retriever friend cowering during a thunderstorm, he knew he had to help. While most adults might not have rushed to the rescue, this sweet toddler knew it was the right thing to do.
A Touching Scene
Someone in the house spotted the toddler comforting the scared pup and quickly caught it on camera. They filmed it for about a minute. However, it’s so adorable that we all wish the video could be longer.
The dog appears to be cowering beside the washer and dryer, but the toddler is right there with him. Throughout the entire video, the toddler sits right beside the dog. He gently pets the dog to help him relax. It actually seems to help the pup calm down a bit. The toddler seems to be mumbling encouraging things too, but it just sounds like gibberish to everyone else.
“This little guy comforting his buddy during a thunderstorm is the best thing you’ll see today,” wrote @akkitwtsi, the Twitter user that posted the video.
Now, this heartwarming video has gone viral! It has been shared over and over again, and people just can’t stop saying ‘aww!’ This video pointed out that kids and dogs truly are the sweetest beings on this planet. The dog likely comforts the toddler on a regular basis, so the little kid was just returning the favor.
How the World Responded
Luckily, the comments section was just as positive and heartwarming as the video itself:
“So glad I saw this. Helps cheer me up after all the fear and uncertainty in this world right now,” commented Twitter user @redbeard_1960.
“Sometimes we adults need lessons from the children,” commented @blu_audrey23.
“Now that’s love,” commented @Millswaith.
Most people think that heroes wear capes. However, this video proved that true heroes wear diapers. Hopefully, this child will only become kinder and more loving as he grows up. After all, his viral video has helped remind us that dogs need comfort, especially during moments that are scary and unfamiliar to them.
There’s nothing modern about human beings anthropomorphising animals in stories; some of our earliest spiritual practice is called “animism,” and it’s common for traditional cultures to assume full agency for plants, stones, and rivers as well as the animals who share their worlds.
Coyote, Anansi, Anubis, kitsune – countless personified beings in ancient narratives and depictions – invert, transgress, and transcend lines between human and animal. Both art and story frequently move between depicting such beings as animals with plausible animal motives and as animal-influenced anthropomorphic figures. Sometimes Coyote appears to be a wild canid on the hunt, sometimes a god, sometimes a bipedal trickster with a bushy tail and a penchant for scatological jokes.
Classical fables attributed to Aesop featured animals conversing across species, displaying both individual character traits and stereotypes of virtue and weakness personified in a species – crafty foxes, greedy monkeys, foolish asses. These morality tales with animal and “animal” characters persisted from antiquity to the modern age.
All these entities coexist comfortably with real animals in the minds of humans who are intimately familiar with the natures of the animals with whom they interact daily and depend upon for life and livelihood. No hunter-gatherer can countenance a big-eyed quadrupedal spotted human toddler called Bambi. A horse-crazy girl can become an equestrian and read Black Beauty without once believing that Ginger and Beauty are actually discussing the bearing rein out in the paddock.
Excerpt from Jack London’s 1903 novel, The Call of the Wild
He had a way of taking Buck’s head roughly between his hands, and resting his own head upon Buck’s, of shaking him back and forth, the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names. Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy. And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would reverently exclaim, “God! You can all but speak!”
HOW COMPUTER-GENERATED IMAGERY GOES WRONG
But what happens when human beings become increasingly alienated from the natural world and the animals who share it with us, while passively absorbing imagery about them that is a lie?
How likely are we technologically tethered humans to absorb and integrate false information about animal consciousness, lives, emotions, and behavior? False information can prevent us from understanding the ways that nonhuman animals differ from us, and even the genuine (rather than idealized or projected) ways that we are alike. False information also can congeal into unexamined bedrock beliefs that resist science, common sense, and even the testimony of our own eyes – and it’s all the more powerful because it was absorbed unconsciously in the course of being entertained by a visually robust and sentimental story.
Given the great imbalance between the time and attention that most of us devote to the natural world around us and what is usurped by screens, it seems reasonable to be concerned about screen visuals interfering with our integration of animal reality. In concrete terms, the fear is that the screen dogs prevent us from understanding and having reasonable expectations of real dogs.
Every trainer carps about Lassie expectations and Marley ownership. We roll our eyes at middle-aged people who fear Rottweilers because they first saw them as devil-dogs in The Omen. Breed stewards howl when the trailer for some blockbuster reveals one of theirs in a fantasy-scripted role – anticipating a run on Dalmatians or Huskies or Malinois purchased and discarded by fatuous fantasists. What is new is the apparent realism that is more visually powerful, and potentially makes a stronger and more persistent unconscious impression, than what the chronic viewer experiences through interactions with flesh-and-blood dogs.
Straightforward fantasy that crosses a clear threshold doesn’t seem to be a large problem, for the very reason that Aesop has not been. Relatively few people beyond the age of reason think that pigs and sheepdogs and ducks chat in English via CGI-rendered mouth movement.
Humans respond poorly to inanimate things that pretend to be human and almost-but-don’t-quite succeed.
If a robot or CGI-rendered character is only vaguely human-contoured, that’s generally okay. C3PO and Shrek do not startle and distress us; “RealDolls” and Princess Fiona do, and “The Conducter” in The Polar Express definitely does. Motion-capture of actor Andy Serkis to bring life to the degraded creature Gollum, with his spindly limbs and hypertrophied eyes, works in a fantasy context. A Tom Hanks-shaped computer Tom Hanks, not so much.
The space in which a fake human is both too human and not human enough has been named “the uncanny valley.” 1 Its contours vary somewhat between individuals, and possibly between cultures and generations, but every person seems to have a set point where we respond, “Oh, h*** no!”
Humans have good emotional detectors for things we perceive as willful imposters, and our instinct is to reject them as up to no good. The perfectly proportioned android or image may be given away by slightly incorrect movements, or textures, or in the final case, the eyes. It’s hard to get the windows of the soul right when there’s definitely no soul there.
At least one scientific study found that we also reject imposter animals of familiar species.2
Which is why my guarded excitement at hearing that the actor who is my sexual orientation would be starring in a big-budget movie adaptation of a classic canine-centric adventure novel flipped to a visceral, “Aaaaagh! Harrison Ford, how could you?!” the moment I viewed The Call of the Wild movie trailer.
How do the moviemakers not see how wrong the CGI-altered Buck is?
20th Century Studios issued an official synopsis, including this astounding claim:
“As a live-action/animation hybrid, The Call of the Wild employs cutting-edge visual effects and animation technology in order to render the animals in the film as fully photorealistic and emotionally authentic characters” [emphasis ours].
Some of the wrongness that dog-savvy individuals can articulate about the fake, imposter Buck and the other very wrong CGI animals has to do with what we can see about movement – the gait that flows and slinks in a way that no quadruped does, and the over-long, apparently telescoping neck. The fur is CGI fur, painstakingly rendered, precisely incorrect. However, a casual sampling of acquaintances suggests that people who do not live highly animal-centric lives do not perceive these deficiencies.
But mostly, it is pretender-Buck’s eyes.
They are not the eyes of a dog who can almost speak – not the eyes that anyone fortunate to have earned the regard of a discerning canine knows; the eyes of an alien species choosing to connect and converse; eyes that appraise and assess; that love a dog’s love, judge a dog’s judgment, and measure a dog’s reckoning. Instead, they are the eyes of a cartoon human who is thinking human thoughts, experiencing human experiences, living a projected caricature of a human life inside a digitally rendered fur suit.
For the filmmakers, “emotionally authentic” apparently means “a stylized contortion of emotions as experienced by humans and wrought through human facial muscles overlaid on a dog-shaped skull.”
Buck, a flesh-and-blood Saint Bernard-mix that Karen buys online for her kids, will not raise his eyebrows expressively like a cut-rate human actor. He will not telescope his neck to express mild surprise or theatrically grimace with effort. When his pupils dilate dramatically, that’s neither love nor astonishment, but possibly a prelude to employing his large, emphatically nonhuman teeth to defend his rawhide from little Jayden. Buck the $5,000 hybrid mail-order hero will remain 100% real dog – so much so that he may well find himself behind shelter kennel bars before age 1.
ONE THAT GOT IT RIGHT
This is why I was relieved to see publicity for the new feature produced by Disney – Disney! – that dramatizes a true adventure story and stars real dogs doing real dog things.
Ericson Core, the director of Togo, told ET Online:
“Look, in moments of peril or places where you really need to use CGI dogs, of course. But when it’s used as a default, I don’t think it’s as powerful, frankly … And some of what is natural and human is rough edges. It’s real animals. They’re not always looking at you, they’re not always in exactly the right place, but their heart is there. And we tried very hard in this particular film to ground in the truth. I hope that we made a great movie in all the wonderful Disney traditions of telling a wonderfully beautiful, inspiring story, but did it in a very grounded, truthful way, which will help it resonate for a long time.”
If audiences accept fake Buck as “emotionally authentic” – if the actions and expressions that are actually possible for an animal to perform no longer limit cinematic fantasy, and profoundly animal-ignorant filmmakers are freed from natural limits going forward – consumers of that fiction can anticipate a process of being insidiously conditioned to accept non-animal expression and communication as normal and “real” in a way that supersedes their limited and distracted and often repercussion-free experiences with the living animals.
Of limited consequence when the convincing fake critter is a Bengal tiger, which few moviegoers are likely to encounter in uncontrolled circumstances.
But of great significance when the counterfeited animal is the one that shares their homes, tries her damnedest to communicate, yearns to connect in a genuine way, forgives until she can no longer, and cannot but be emotionally authentic. The more inscrutable her valid dog-ness becomes to the humans who control her life, the more tenuous her position – and the more opportunities those humans miss to expand their own repertoire of emotion and sensation and experience through the generous friendship of a complete and alien being.
Heather Houlahan lives with her husband and other creatures on a small farm near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has been a search-and-rescue dog handler and trainer for 29 years and is the proprietor of First Friend Dog Training. Houlahan both breeds the occasional litter of working English Shepherds and is behavior coordinator and a foster human for National English Shepherd Rescue. She blogs at cynography.blogspot.com.
Whisky the Border Collie from Norway understands a wide vocabulary. Many dog parents think that their dogs really do understand them, but in Whisky’s case, it’s actually been proved!
Without any specific training, Whisky is able to remember the names of each of her toys, and she has a lot of them! Nearly 100, to be exact! In addition, a recent study proved that not only could she name her own toys, but she also was able to categorize new toys based on her previous knowledge. Dogs just never cease to amaze us!
How Did Whisky Learn This?
According to Whisky’s dad, Helge Svela, Whisky hasn’t done any special training. Whisky took a basic training class as a puppy, but nothing beyond that. After all, Svela is not a dog trainer. Whisky learned just from playing with him.
Most dogs with this skill have gone through training sessions to learn words and names. Chaser the Border Collie was another extremely smart dog that knew the names of over 1,000 different objects. However, he went through intensive training to learn those skills while Whisky just picked up on it naturally!
Whisky’s toy collection used to consist of 59 toys, but it recently grew to 91! Every toy has a unique name so Whisky can distinguish each of her toys. Some toys are named after what they are, such as “colorful rope” and “small frisbee”. However, some of the plush toys even have human names since “elephant” and “duck” were already taken.
Svela likes to play a game with Whisky where he lays out a bunch of her toys. Then, he’ll tell her to fetch a certain one by name, and she’ll go grab that specific toy. She gets it right almost every time!
Whisky actually loves playing this game. In fact, she will just keep asking to play over and over again, so Svela takes her outside to give her a break after a while. He never expected that the smart pup would learn so much in such a short amount of time, but Whisky constantly impresses him.
Testing Whisky’s Skills
Whisky’s skills were tested by two researchers: Dr. Claudia Fugazza and Dr. Ádám Miklósi. In the first rounds of research, Whisky was able to successfully identify 54 of her 59 toys. So, that’s when they decided to add more toys into the mix.
Fugazza then decided to test if Whisky could identify new toys that were similar categories to her old toys such as balls and ropes. They laid out the new toys, and Svela would tell her a category of toy to grab. At first, Whisky was about 39% successful with the new toys.
Then, they let her play with the new toys before the next test. They wanted her to get to know these toys ahead of time to see if that made a difference. Sure enough, Whisky was right about 55% of the time after she played with the toys first. This proved that she could categorize certain types of toys including balls, ropes, rings, and frisbees.
Whisky loved playing this game, especially since it meant she got new toys! Fugazza believes that this study suggests that dogs have the ability to think in categories. Animals learn from humans even outside of training sessions. So, your dog is likely thinking in more ways than you’d expect.
Whisky will continue to learn new things, and of course, have fun in the process. Fetching toys is her favorite game, and it will never get old. She is lucky to have such a kind family that is always willing to play with her and help her learn.
Humans have trained dogs to use their amazing noses to identify all kinds of things – explosives, illegal drugs, bedbugs, cancer, even ancient burial sites. But did you know that dogs can help police sniff out evidence against child pornographers?
It’s true! In 2015, after a lengthy investigation, the home of Subway franchise spokesman Jared Fogle was raided by FBI agents with the help of a black Labrador Retriever named Bear. At Fogle’s home, Bear indicated three finds by sitting in front of their locations, then pointing with his nose to each scent source. One of Bear’s finds was an incriminating thumb drive missed by human searchers containing evidence that helped send Fogle to jail.
For the record, electronic-storage detection dogs (ESD K9s) have no knowledge of the content stored on the devices they seek. They are often called porn-sniffing dogs because those who treasure illicit images usually save them on electronic-storage devices that are small and easy to hide.
A RELATIVELY NEW DOG JOB
In 2011 Jack Hubball, Ph.D., a chemist at the Connecticut Scientific Sciences Forensic Laboratory, discovered that electronic storage devices carry unique scents in their circuit board components, such as triphenylphosphine oxide (TPPO), which dogs can detect. Armed with that chemical key, Connecticut State Police began training Thoreau and Selma, dogs who were too active to complete their training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York.
The officers started with large amounts of the chemical and gradually reduced its quantity, placing devices containing the odor in different boxes and eventually in different rooms. After five weeks of odor detection training and six weeks of training with his new handler, Thoreau, a yellow Lab, was given to the Rhode Island State Police. On his first official search, he discovered a thumb drive containing child pornography in a tin box inside a cabinet.
Selma, a black Lab, worked with the Connecticut State Police Computer Crimes Unit, where she uncovered devices in recycling bins, vents, and radiators while working on child pornography, homicide, parolee compliance, and computer hacking cases.
With those successes, an entirely new type of law-enforcement career for dogs was established.
STANDOUT DETECTIVE DOG
Bear, the dog who helped make the case against Jared Fogle, started life as a pet dog in a family who loved him – but who couldn’t prevent him from jumping on counter tops and eating everything he could reach. When he was 2 years old (the age at which many out-of-control dogs are surrendered to shelters), his owners offered him to Todd Jordan, an Indiana firefighter who trained dogs for arson investigations.
Instead of training Bear to detect fire accelerants, though, Jordan chose to help friends on the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, who were frustrated at not being able to find thumb drives and microSD cards when searching the homes of child pornographers. Inspired by the electronic-storage device detection dogs Thoreau and Selma, Jordan focused on developing Bear’s ability to detect tiny digital storage devices – th ekind that might be hidden in wall cracks, clothing, ceiling tiles, radios, closets, books, boxes, furniture, dirty laundry, or garbage.
Most search and rescue (SAR) dogs are rewarded with toys that satisfy their prey drive, but food was Bear’s favorite reward, and he was highly motivated. Jordan started training Bear in his own garage, hiding USB drives for Bear to find, and eventually began working with task force agents. Soon Bear and Jordan began accompanying detectives on warrant searches, where Bear found thumb drives missed by human searchers.
A few months after Bear’s successful search at Fogle’s home, he helped police gather evidence that led to the arrest of Marvin Sharp, a USA Gymnastics coach charged with possessing child pornography; Bear found microSD cards hidden inside Sharp’s gun safe.
In 2015, Seattle Police Department Detective Ian Polhemus, an eight-year member of the ICAC task force, went to Indiana to learn how to work with ESD K9s. Jordan matched Detective Polhemus with Bear, and not long after, sent Bear to live and work with Polhemus in Seattle. The new partners began sniffing out electronic evidence of crimes almost immediately. In one case, investigators completed their search of a suspect’s home and then Polhemus brought in Bear for another search. In just a few minutes, Bear located five devices, some of which contained child exploitation material, that the initial search team had missed.
Bear trains every day, Detective Polhemus explained in a 2018 KIRO Seattle radio interview. “Because he’s a food-reward dog, he’s highly motivated. So what that means is the only time he eats is when he’s working,” says Polhemus. Bear is fed three cups of food throughout the day, whether he’s working on a case or practicing.
“I’ve got three training boxes with holes in them and only one of them has a device in it that he should indicate on,” Polhemus says. “When he gets to the box that has a device in it, Bear is a passive indicator, which means he’ll sit. I’ll give him a supplemental command and then he’ll shove his nose in the hole and his tail will wag and he’ll sit there and hold his nose in the hole until I reward him with food.”
Illinois State Attorney Michael Nerheim became interested in ESD K9s when he learned about Bear’s success. “We were seeing a trend here where child pornographers, rather than downloading evidence onto a computer, would download evidence onto a removable device and then hide that device in their house,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2018.
Subsequently, today, there are at least two ESDs trained by Todd Jordan working in Illinois. These dogs, named Browser and Cache, now work for the Lake and Will County attorney’s offices, respectively. Child exploitation cases are their main tasks, but the dogs can help with any crime that involves computers or computer records.
“Browser has assisted on dozens of search warrants,” says his handler, Carol Gudbrandsen, a cybercrimes analyst. “He routinely performs searches in the jails and has been performing sweeps with the Lake County Probation Department when they do home visits on their sex offenders. Browser and I also do presentations in the schools in Lake County, speaking on internet safety and cyberbullying to students, staff, and parents. When I bring Browser into these situations, he instantly grabs the attention of our audience, and our presentations have become even more effective.”
To date, Todd Jordan has trained 30 ESDs and nearly two dozen accelerant-detection dogs at his business, Jordan Detection K9. Jordan adapts his training methods for dogs who are ball- or toy-driven, but his primary focus is passive-response (indicating by sitting quietly), food-reward training.
“Our canines are hand-picked, based on their willingness to please and their willingness to work,” he explains at his company’s website, electronicdetectionk9.com. “Most are second-career dogs. We also work closely with several Labrador rescues in order to give good dogs a chance at a fulfilling life.
“We select dogs with high energy and hunt drives. Many of the dogs have failed guide-dog or service-dog school because they may chase after small animals or bark at other animals or other people while working. Although those are instances where a canine would not be good for a person with special needs, they are still great for what we do.”
Some trainers of law-enforcement dogs use only toys and play as training reinforcers, and worry that using food for rewards opens the way for an abuse of the system, so to speak: that someone could use food to distract a law-enforcement sniffing dog. The human partners of dogs like Thoreau, Selma, Bear, Browser, and Cache beg to differ.
“I had prior canine handling experience with ball- and toy-driven dogs, and had no experience with food-driven canines,” says Special Agent Owen Peña at the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. “Todd made a believer out of me for the advantages of using a food-driven canine for this type of work and breaking me of my old toy/ball-driven habits. With the canine being food-driven, I feel there is a better bond and connection that I and my family have with our canine, Joey. Now Joey is part of my family and he just happens to have a job.”
Like other electronic-storage detection dogs, Joey works with just one handler, food is an integral part of his daily practice, and he is well fed in the process. Because the dogs eat only when they find a device, their handlers run trainings every day to keep their skills sharp.
Do they actually offer false indications just so they can steal food? In 2016 Special Agent Jeffrey Calandra of the FBI’s Newark, N.J., Field Office started working with Iris, a black Lab, in cases involving organized crime, drug gangs, and cybercrimes including child pornography. In one search, FBI agents were confident that there was nothing left to find in a room with a desk, but Iris alerted to something in its top drawer. Calandra opened the drawer and didn’t see any evidence. When he said, “Show me,” Iris pushed her nose onto a pad of sticky notes.
Calandra assumed that Iris was faking her response so she could steal food, but when he pulled her away from the desk drawer, she pulled back. This time she picked up the pad of sticky notes with her mouth and flipped it over, causing a microSD card to fall out.
“She was correct and I was wrong,” said Calandra. “Either the individual was concealing it, or it got stuck in the pad and you just couldn’t see it. That’s why the dogs are so good.” False positives are not usually a problem, he added, explaining that he’s more concerned about the dog missing something, though he says that hasn’t happened yet.
At the Connecticut State Police Forensic Laboratory, Jack Hubbell hopes to identify the lowest detectable scent levels of TPPO, measuring not only part-per-million levels but part-per-billion levels. The dogs’ noses are that impressive, he says, and they consistently out-perform any odor-detecting devices invented by humans.
As far as the dogs are concerned, finding evidence that helps police and the ICAC task force is a series of fun games and all in a day’s work.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the writers who put dogs into their movies and TV shows. Well, provided they’re not just props in a horror movie (you know what I mean.) ABC’s Modern Family featured a French Bulldog named Stella, but just like anyone else on the show that dog was just an actor named Beatrice.
A skilled animal actor, Beatrice booked tons of gigs. Some of her other appearances include roles on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Workaholics, and ads for Dunkin’ Donuts. Xbox, and Chase bank. Good Dog Animals “represents” Beatrice, along with many other hard-working animal actors (mainly rescues.)
Sadly, even famous actors are not immortal. 10-year-old Beatrice still appears in the series’ final episode. Shortly after filming wrapped, she passed away. She played the Pritchett family’s dog from the show’s 4th season up through the end.
Good Dog Animals took to twitter to express their sorrow at Beatrice’s passing.
“With deepest regrets that we have to inform you all that we lost our beloved Beatrice. Our hearts are broken and we are devastated. It was way to soon, but we are happy in knowing how many lives she affected. She will always be our brightest star!”
A Pleasure To Work With
According to her real parents Guin and Steve Solomon, one of the show’s human stars, Ed O’Neil, absolutely adored having Stella on set. His character Jay dotes on the dog excessively, and that’s true in real life too. The Solomons described their special relationship in an interview:
“Ed O’Neill is in love with her! It’s very easy working with him because he brings Beatrice treats like popcorn and always looks out for her – like we’ll be doing scenes in the backyard by the pool and in between takes he’ll say, ‘Would you please get Beatrice an umbrella, she’s in the sun!’”
Stella’s energy and playful attitude thrilled everyone on the Modern Family set.
“Of course the crew loves to play with her when she’s out and about because she’s so fun and clowny. She really is one of the family!”
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell on the show, also shared a sweet farewell to his late co-star on Twitter.
“Rest in peace sweet Beatrice. We love you so much.”
You can catch Beatrice’s final TV performance when the Modern Family series finale airs April.
Beatrice: you were a true talent and your legacy lives on with binge-watchers everywhere. Rest in peace sweet girl!