Friday 27 July 2007

Let us not forget

Laika was a Russian space dog which became the first living creature from earth to enter orbit. At one time a stray wandering the streets of Moscow, she was selected from an animal shelter. A good-natured 3 year old mongrel stray of calm disposition from the streets of Moscow, there is much speculation regarding Laika's ancestry. Some reports describe her as a Husky-mix or Samoyed-mix, almost certainly with strains of Spitz and Terrier in her bloodline, and it has even been suggested that one of her parents may have been a Beagle. After undergoing training with two other dogs, she was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 and was launched into space on 3rd November 1957. Although Laika did not survive the trip, the experiment proved that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure weightlessness. It paved the way for human spaceflight and provided scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that she suffered a horrible death both from stress and overheating. Her death was not made public until decades after the event. Her death would have been seen as a failure.
Her pressurized cabin within the spacecraft resembled an elongated ellipsoidal nest. The high walls were covered with soft padded material and there were intricate life support instruments positioned everywhere. Laika was secured in place with a special harness and had access to both water and food (a special high-nutrition gel) during the flight.
According to a NASA document, Laika was actually placed in the satellite on October 31, 1957, three days prior to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (located NorthEast of the Aral Sea). She was carefully groomed...her coat sponged with a weak alcohol solution and then finely combed. Areas of her body where electrodes would be attached were painted with iodine and powdered with a streptocide. It was reported that Laika suffered no extreme ill-effects during the ascent and insertion into orbit since the electrodes recorded relatively normal vital signs under the circumstances, although she did seem somewhat agitated and her pulse rate did rise to three times its resting level. While weightless, she was able to take food and water from the onboard dispenser, bark and move around...although her movements were restricted by the harness she was wearing.
Originally, it was uncertain how long Laika had survived in space, with initial estimates ranging from twenty-four hours to one week and the possible speculation that she had lived for as many as ten days. The method of Laika's death was also unknown initially. One rumor suggested that the last of the food in her dispenser contained a poison which put her to sleep just before her life-support batteries ran down...another that her chamber was eventually filled with gas for painless euthanasia after a few days in orbit...or that she may have expired when her oxygen suppy depleted...or that she succumbed to extreme cold. In 1999, several Russian sources stated that Laika had died after four days in space when the cabin overheated. However, in October of 2002, during a gathering of the World Space Congress in Houston, Texas, it was revealed by Dr. Dimitri Malashenkov of the Institute for Biological Problems in Moscow, that after five to seven hours following the launch of Sputnik-2, no lifesigns were being received from Laika. By the fourth orbit, it was apparent that the little dog had passed away from overheating and stress...undoubtedly an exceedingly painful and distressful death. According to Gyorgi Grechko, a cosmonaut who previously worked as an engineer at the Korolev Design Bureau, it seems likely that when Sputnik-2 bounced off the atmosphere, it failed to separate from the booster rocket and thereby rendered the thermal control system inoperative.
Sputnik-2, which weighed half a ton and was reportedly launched to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, continued to circle the earth for 163 days. Laika is the only creature knowingly sent into space to die. Her death sparked animal rights debates across the planet. In Russia, Laika and all the other creatures that made space flight possible are remembered as heroes.
In November of 1997, a plaque commemorating the contributions of Laika and other animals that were studied in the space program was unveiled at the Institute for Aviation and Space Medicine at Star City, just outside Moscow. The monument itself pays tribute to the fallen Russian cosmonauts, but in a corner is the image of a small mongrel dog...ears standing straight. A year later, one of the former lead scientists who had worked on the Soviet "animals-in-space" program expressed his deep regrets regarding Laika:
"The more time passes, the more I'm sorry....We shouldn't have done it....We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog."

Friday 20 July 2007

Poor dogs

A rising star of American football has been charged with breeding dozens of pitbull terriers for often fatal dogfights in a case that exposes an underworld of cruelty to animals.
Michael Vick, a celebrated quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, is accused of raising dogs at his Bad Newz Kennels in Virginia to take part in fights with purses as high as $26,000 (£13,000).
Eight dogs that underperformed in test bouts were killed “by various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground”, the indictment says.
A raid on one of his properties specifically bought for dogfighting was part of an apparent network of dogfighting kennels. Police searched the property and found 54 pitbulls with chains attached to car axles in the ground.
Also on the property were an electronic treadmill to exercise the dogs, a “break” stick to pry open their jaws during fights and a “rape stand” in which a bitch is strapped for breeding when she is too aggressive
After one fight, it is alleged that the losing female pitbull was executed by wetting her down with water and electrocuting her.
Mr Vick is obviously not a nice person. The animal cruelty indictment is the most dramatic charge against him but he has in been involved in drug and sex cases. But that is not the point. How can anybody treat dogs this way? Dogs entrust their lives in our hands. They depend on us and give us their unconditional trust and love. I do hope maximum penalty and imprisonment is imposed in cases such as this one. Such behaviour is unacceptable, brutal and unforgivable. Furthermore seeing the commotion David Beckman’s arrival in America has caused, how are adolescents or anybody enjoying fooball going to react to this sort of behaviour from this rising star who has become a role model to some?
I read a comment which said: “ Put him in jail and throw away the key.”

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Rabies in China

You might find this reply to jmb's comment of interest. Rabies is on the rise in China with 2 000 people dying of the disease each year. Recently, a county in south western China has killed 50 000 dogs after 3 people died of rabies.

Good news from China

This photograph was sent to me from China. Living proof that not all Chinese strays are rabied !

Thursday 12 July 2007

Designer food.

American food safety regulators have been allowed into China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States. Workers in Zangqiu, a heavily polluted northern city openly admit that melamine, a cheap substance which looks like protein in tests is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein. Melamine is at the centre of a recall of 60 million packages of pet food, after the chemical was found in wheat gluten linked last month to the deaths of at least 16 pets in the United States.
The manager of an animal feed factory admitted: “If you add it in small quantities, it won’t hurt pets .” He further added casually: “Pets are not like pigs or chickens.” He explained that they can afford to eat less protein because “they don’t need to grow fast ".
In recent years China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their colour and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim. Oil extracted from human corpses in the manufacture of instant noodles, dye in salted duck eggs to make the yolks unusually red, a sign of high quality. Counterfeit and substandard goods, from fake liquor and medicines to face creams, toothpaste and so on.
Things are getting better though. Yesterday Zeng Xiaoya, formerly the man responsible for ensuring the safety of China’s foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals was executed. This was done either by shooting or by lethal injection. Probably the latter which is used in high-profile cases. So a word of caution, when buying pet food, please use known brands.

Sunday 8 July 2007

Bloodhound/Saint Hubert hound

The Bloodhound or Saint Hubert hound finds its origins in Belgium. Saint Hubert is a historic town of 6 000 habitants in the Belgian Ardennes. It is famous for its hound but also for its patron saint.The legend of St. Hubert and the crucifix-bearing deer emerged probably in the 12th -13th century. There is no historical record on Hubert's youth but the tradition says he was born around 656 as the son of the Duke of Guyenne with Merovingian royal blood. He is said to have been a relative of Charles Martel. He married Floribanne, King Dagobert's daughter, and became famous as a pagan jet-setter.Hubert enjoyed hunting in the forest of Ardenne. On a Holy Friday, in a very isolated part of the forest, he spotted a white deer bigger and nicer than usual with a crucifix between its antlers and heard a voice asking him to repent, which caused his conversion to the Christian religion. The place where Hubert met the deer was a matter of controversy but it was likely to be in a chapel close to the former St Hubert abbey ( now the Sts Peter and Paul’s basilica ). St. Hubert, celebrated on 3rd November, is the patron saint of hunters, furriers and trappers. He is also invoked against rabies. The medieval tradition says that Hubert was given a stole by the Blessed Virgin and that placing a thread of the stole on a small incision made in the forehead skin would cure rabies. The Saint-Hubert hound was bred by the monks of the St. Hubert's abbey. The dog was introduced under the name of Bloodhound in England by William the Conqueror in the XIth century. The Saint-Hubert was initially used for hunting big game, such as boars but because of its ability to follow a scent hours or even days old over long distances combined with a tenaciously strong tracking instinct, it is now used by authorities to track escaped prisoners or missing persons.

Tuesday 3 July 2007

A consequence of terrorism

Air Canada announced yesterday that as of July 15, it will no longer accept pets as checked luggage for domestic flights and, pending approval from the Canadian Transportation Agency, for U.S. and international ones as well. However, pets can still travel through its cargo division.The policy change comes as a result of record load factors – about 80 per cent – in the past three years and a need for more space for luggage, a spokesman said. "The security requirements around the liquid and gel ban have led to an increase in checked bags we have to carry," he said. "When you have an animal in the hold, that restricts the amount of luggage you can put in a plane because you've got to leave room around the animal's cage for air and ventilation. It comes down to carrying bags for the vast majority of our customers or carrying pets for a small number of our passengers." This restriction is in force with all major carriers, it would appear. An interesting statistic: before this policy change, Air Canada charged $105 per animal for a one-way domestic flight and $245 for an international flight. A price estimate given yesterday for a medium-sized dog to fly one-way as cargo from Toronto to Vancouver was quoted at $202. Apparently animal transportation is a booming business.We can only hope that the cargo planes are properly equipped to carry pets so as not to harm them during waiting time on the tarmac. Temperatures vary from very hot in the summer to extremely cold in the winter especially in North America. In Europe we tend not to worry about air travel with our pets too much as distances are not so huge. The other day we traveled from Calais to Dover with Belle on P&O and were charged 25 € for a single passage whereas our fare was 100 € for the car and its 4 passengers. Exorbitant really just for checking the Pet Passport and reading the microchip. Plus the dog has to stay in the car during the crossing. I agree it is a booming industry. Without the likes of Amelia Earhart, all this would be irrelevant and we should have a special thought for her. She disappeared on 2nd July exactly 70 years ago over the Atlantic in an attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world.