Senator Rand Paul Destroyed Pet Food Safety

More cases reported of dogs caught in traps at Island Lake State Park in Brighton


More people have come forward about their dogs being caught in traps at Island Lake State Recreation Area in Green Oak Township.

Green Oak Township resident Mark Timney reported an incident to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources involving his female German short hair pointerdog being caught in a trap there on Oct. 25. His dog was not on a leash, he said.

“When I reported it to the DNR hotline, the officer informed me that yet another dog discovered (but was not caught in) the trap earlier that morning. So it appears this is not a one-off incident. That area of the park is used daily by many people who train their dogs off the leash,” Timney said.

Timney also provided a photo of the trap, located about 50 feet outside of the Spring Hill mining operation near McCabe Road, which shows a chain-linked and clamp-like mechanism.


Dogs caught in traps at Island Lake park in Brighton

“Fortunately, I was able to release her,” Timney said.

He said he came back two days after the incident and the trap was gone.

“I’ve been walking my dog there for years and never encountered a trap,” said Timney, who said he continues to take his dog to the park.

The Green Oak Township Fire Department was called to an incident on Oct. 18 to get a trap open to release a dog caught in it, the department confirmed on Tuesday.

Brighton resident Jamie Tobbe said her dogs got caught in a trap in the park on Oct. 29 and although they were not hurt, were frightened after the incident.

RELATED: Dogs caught in traps at Island Lake state park

Andrew Haapala, unit manager of Island Lake State Recreation Area, could not be reached for comment.

At the time of the incident involving Tobbe’s dogs, Haapala said the traps were put there legally and that trapping is legal on state-owned land.

In order to place a trap on state land, it must be marked with the name of the trapper and a Michigan Department of Natural Resources identification number.

How Accurate Is Alpha’s Theory of Dog Domestication?

The ‘boy and his dog’ tale is a piece of prehistoric fiction, but scientists are uncovering the true origins of our incredible relationship with dogs

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(Flickr/Sonja Pauen)

Long ago, before your four-legged best friend learned to fetch tennis balls or watch football from the couch, his ancestors were purely wild animals in competition—sometimes violent—with our own. So how did this relationship change? How did dogs go from being our bitter rivals to our snuggly, fluffy pooch pals?

The new drama Alpha answers that question with a Hollywood “tail” of the very first human/dog partnership.

Europe is a cold and dangerous place 20,000 years ago when the film’s hero, a young hunter named Keda, is injured and left for dead. Fighting to survive, he forgoes killing an injured wolf and instead befriends the animal, forging an unlikely partnership that—according to the film—launches our long and intimate bond with dogs.

Just how many nuggets of fact might be sprinkled throughout this prehistoric fiction?

We’ll never know the gritty details of how humans and dogs first began to come together. But beyond the theater the true story is slowly taking shape, as scientists explore the real origins of our oldest domestic relationship and learn how both species have changed along canines’ evolutionary journey from wolves to dogs.

When and where were dogs domesticated?

Pugs and poodles may not look the part, but if you trace their lineages far enough back in time all dogs are descended from wolves. Gray wolves and dogs diverged from an extinct wolf species some 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. There’s general scientific agreement on that point, and also with evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare’s characterization of what happened next. ’The domestication of dogs was one of the most extraordinary events in human history,” Hare says.

But controversies abound concerning where a long-feared animal first became our closest domestic partner. Genetic studies have pinpointed everywhere from southern China to Mongolia to Europe.

Scientists cannot agree on the timing, either. Last summer, research reported in Nature Communications pushed likely dates for domestication further back into the past, suggesting that dogs were domesticated just once at least 20,000 but likely closer to 40,000 years ago. Evolutionary ecologist Krishna R. Veeramah, of Stony Brook University, and colleagues sampled DNA from two Neolithic German dog fossils, 7,000 and 4,700 years old respectively. Tracing genetic mutation rates in these genomes yielded the new date estimates.

“We found that our ancient dogs from the same time period were very similar to modern European dogs, including the majority of breed dogs people keep as pets,” explained Dr. Veeramah in a release accompanying the study. This suggests, he adds, “that there was likely only a single domestication event for the dogs observed in the fossil record from the Stone Age and that we also see and live with today.”

End of story? Not even close.

In fact, at least one study has suggested that dogs could have been domesticated more than once. Researchers analyzed mitochondrial DNA sequences from remains of 59 European dogs (aged 3,000 to 14,000 years), and the full genome of a 4,800-year-old dog that was buried beneath the prehistoric mound monument at Newgrange, Ireland.

Comparing these genomes with many wolves and modern dog breeds suggested that dogs were domesticated in Asia, at least 14,000 years ago, and their lineages split some 14,000 to 6,400 years ago into East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs ,

But because dog fossils apparently older than these dates have been found in Europe, the authors theorize that wolves may have been domesticated twice, though the European branch didn’t survive to contribute much to today’s dogs. Greger Larson, director of the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network at Oxford University, suggests that the presence of older fossils in both Europe and Asia, and the lack of dogs older than 8,000 years in between those regions, supports such a scenario.

“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right,′ Larson said in a statement accompanying the study.

The many interbreedings of dogs and wolves also muddy the genetic waters, of course. Such events happen to the present day—even when the dogs in question are supposed to be stopping the wolves from eating livestock.

How did dogs become man’s best friend?

Perhaps more intriguing then exactly when or where dogs became domesticated is the question of how. Was it really the result of a solitary hunter befriending an injured wolf? That theory hasn’t enjoyed much scientific support.

One similar theory argues that early humans somehow captured wolf pups, kept them as pets, and gradually domesticated them. This could have happened around the same time as the rise of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. The oldest fossils generally agreed to be domestic dogs date to about 14,000 years, but several disputed fossils more than twice that age may also be dogs or at least their no longer entirely wolf ancestors.

Since more recent genetic studies suggest that the date of domestication occurred far earlier, a different theory has gained the support of many scientists. “Survival of the friendliest” suggests that wolves largely domesticated themselves among hunter-gatherer people.

“That the first domesticated animal was a large carnivore, who would have been a competitor for food—anyone who has spent time with wild wolves would see how unlikely it was that we somehow tamed them in a way that led to domestication,” says Brian Hare, director of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center.

But, Hare notes, the physical changes that appeared in dogs over time, including splotchy coats, curly tails, and floppy ears, follow a pattern of a process known as self-domestication. It’s what happens when the friendliest animals of a species somehow gain an advantage. Friendliness somehow drives these physical changes, which can begin to appear as visible byproducts of this selection in only a few generations.

“Evidence for this comes from another process of domestication, one involving the famous case of domesticated foxes in Russia. This experiment bred foxes who were comfortable getting close to humans, but researchers learned that these comfortable foxes were also good at picking up on human social cues,” explains Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University. The selection of social foxes also had the unintended consequence of making them look increasingly adorable—like dogs.

Hare adds that most wolves would have been fearful and aggressive towards humans—because that’s the way most wolves behave. But some would have been friendlier, which may have given them access to human hunter-gatherer foodstuffs..

“These wolves would have had an advantage over other wolves, and the strong selection pressure on friendliness had a whole lot of byproducts, like the physical differences we see in dogs,” he says. “This is self-domestication. We did not domesticate dogs. Dogs domesticated themselves.”

A study last year provided some possible genetic support for this theory. Evolutionary biologist Bridgette von Holdt, of Princeton University, and colleagues suggest that hypersocial behavior may have linked our two species and zero in on a few genes that may drive that behavior.

“Generally speaking, dogs display a higher level of motivation than wolves to seek out prolonged interactions with humans. This is the behavior I’m interested in,” she says.

Von Holdt’s research shows that the social dogs she tested have disruption to a genomic region that remains intact in more aloof wolves. Interestingly, in humans genetic variation in the same stretch of DNA causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a condition characterized by exceptionally trusting and friendly behaviors. Mice also become more social if changes occur to these genes, previous studies have discovered.

The results suggest that random variations to these genes, with others yet unknown, may have played a role in causing some dogs to first cozy up with humans.

“We were able to identify one of the many molecular features that likely shape behavior,” she adds.

How have dogs changed since becoming our best friends?

Though the origins of the dog/human partnership remain unknown, it’s becoming increasingly clear that each species has changed during our long years together. The physical differences between a basset hound and wolf are obvious, but dogs have also changed in ways that are more than skin (or fur) deep.

One recent study shows how by bonding with us and learning to work together with humans, dogs may have actually become worse at working together as a species. Their pack lifestyle and mentality appear to be reduced and is far less prevalent even in wild dogs than it is in wolves.

But, Yale’s Laurie Santos says, dogs may have compensated in other interesting ways. They’ve learned to use humans to solve problems.

“Several researchers have presented dogs and wolves with an impossible problem (e.g., a puzzle box that can’t be opened or a pulling tool that stops working) and have asked how these different species react,” Santos explains. “Researchers have found that wolves try lots of different trial and error tactics to solve the problem— they get at it physically. But at the first sign of trouble, dogs do something different. They look back to their human companion for help. This work hints that dogs may have lost some of their physical problem-solving abilities in favor of more social strategies, ones that rely on the unique sort of cooperation domesticated dogs have with humans. This also matches the work showing that dogs are especially good at using human social cues.”

The relationship has become so close that even our brains are in sync. Witness a study showing that dogs hijack the human brain’s maternal bonding system. When humans and dogs gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, each of their brains secretes oxytocin, a hormone linked to maternal bonding and trust. Other mammal relationships, including those between mom and child, or between mates, feature oxytocin,bonding, but the human/dog example is the only case in which it has been observed at work between two different species.

The intimacy of this relationship means that, by studying dogs, we may also learn much about human cognition.

“Overall. the story of dog cognitive evolution seems to be one about cognitive capacities shaped for a close cooperative relationship with humans, Santos says. “Because dogs were shaped to pick up on human cues, our lab uses dogs as a comparison group to test what’s unique about human social learning.” For example, a recent Yale study found that while dogs and children react to the same social cues, dogs were actually better at determining which actions were strictly necessary to solve a problem, like retrieving food from a container, and ignoring extraneous “bad advice.” Human kids tended to mimic all of their elders’ actions, suggesting that their learning had a different goal than their canine companions’.

We may never know the exact story of how the first dogs and humans joined forces, but dogs have undoubtedly helped us in countless ways over the years. Still, only now may we be realizing that by studying them, they can help us to better understand ourselves.

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Restaurant owner admits to hunting dogs with crossbow after being chased down by “vigilante”

A restaurant owner in Hubei’s Yichang city who hunted and killed neighborhood dogs for use in his signature dish was caught by police on Wednesday after being chased down by one vengeful pet owner.

On Wednesday morning, police in Yichang received a call from one man who said that his dog had been killed and that he was currently in a vehicle pursuing the culprit. When police arrived in the area, they found a black car abandoned on the sidewalk with one wheel missing and a severely dented back bumper.

Later in the day, shocking video began circulating on Chinese social media showing how the car came to be there at the end of a dramatic car chase with an SUV bumping the vehicle from behind, sending it spinning onto the sidewalk. The vigilante told police that afterward the driver had quickly fled the scene. Officers inspected the car, finding its trunk and back seat lined with eight dog carcasses, many of which were later identified to have been pets of local residents.

The driver did not get far and turned himself into police a short time later. According to the Chutian Metropolis Daily, he admitted that he was the owner of a small local restaurant which was known for its dog hot pot. In order to provide this specialty for his customers, the man went out hunting for dogs early in the morning with a crossbow. His wife came along with him to collect the carcasses after he shot them.

Police are currently investigating the case. It’s not clear if the man will face any repercussions for his actions, China has infamously loose laws when it comes to the protection of domestic animals.

This incident comes shortly after Alex Pall of The Chainsmokers, an American EDM duo, ignited outrage online after implying that he would not bring his dog to China for fear that it would be eatenin a promotional interview with a Chinese reporter in China. Pall later issued a half-apology for his comments while also pointing towards a petition to stop the infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival, where thousands of canines are slaughtered each summer for food in southern China.

[Images via Chutian Metropolis Daily]

As Snow Disappears, A Family of Dogsled Racers in Wisconsin Can’t Agree Why

A father and daughter have been running sled dogs for more than 25 years. It’s easier for them to talk dogs than politics, weather than climate.

A version of this story and video were published by The New Yorker.

As dog musher Mel Omernick slipped nylon harnesses over her Alaskan huskies’ lithe bodies, the dogs were already straining with forward momentum. Pogo pressed her paws into the ground below, the sound of her yelps joining with those of the three other dogs that Mel and her husband, Keith, were hooking up to their tuglines. The cries melded with the barking of a hundred other dogs at the Redpaws Dirty Dog Dryland Derby in northern Wisconsin.

It was the first weekend of November, and race participants had come from all over Wisconsin and neighboring states, and as far away as New Hampshire and Quebec, to run their dogs. All year, they had fed and watered and trained and cleaned up after their teams, awaiting the moment they could let their dogs loose across the starting line.

Now the race weekend had finally arrived, though it had gotten off to a rocky start. Once again, the weather was to blame.

Gleason, Wisconsin, locator map

Northern Wisconsin is still a frigid place come winter. But as the state has warmed, the certainty of snow gradually vanished, leaving the traditional winter dogsledding races frequently cancelled for lack of good powder. Organizers responded by adapting the sport itself, from dogsledding to “dryland” racing.

The Dirty Dog Derby was the first of its kind in the area, started in 2006 to extend the racing season into spring and fall so that mushers like Mel and Keith could have more chances to compete, and dogs like Pogo more chances to run. Swapping out sleds, dogs instead pull mushers on unmotorized rigs or a cart with four to 10 dogs or modified bicycles (bikejoring) pulled by two dogs: in some cases, a single musher simply lashes herself by bungee cord to a single dog and runs behind him in an event called canicross. Dryland variations tend to be shorter events, sprints of a few miles instead of the hundreds of miles of the iconic long-distance sled races often associated with the sport.

With snow becoming less reliable, many sled dog racers have turned to dryland racing, with rigs on wheels replacing traditional sleds. Credit: Meera Subramanian

With snow becoming less reliable, many dogsled racers have turned to dryland racing, with rigs on wheels replacing traditional sleds. Credit: Meera Subramanian

In the weeks before their race, the Dirty Dog organizers had been worried they’d have to cancel it if the warm weather they were experiencing into late October—still hitting 70 on some days—continued. Since dogs can’t sweat—the only means they have to release heat from their bodies is through their tongues and the pads of their paws—mushers won’t run their dogs if there’s a risk they’ll get “fried” by overheating.

But by the time the derby arrived on Nov. 4, race organizers were pining for a little heat. The race grounds—and the carefully groomed trails—were blanketed in nearly three inches of snow. The day’s races were cancelled. Mushers kept their spirits up but weren’t finding much humor in the irony: a dryland race, the sport’s creative solution to a paucity of snowfall, cancelled because of snow. Some mushers loaded up their trailers with their pent-up dogs and made their way back home, while others—usually those who had traveled greater distances—hung around, eating chili from the Dirty Dog Diner set up in the open-air lodge and taking shifts by the fireplace as they waited to see if the weather would change.

By the second day, the snow had melted just enough to turn the trails into a muddy, but navigable, quagmire. When the organizers announced early Sunday morning that the race was on, the grounds erupted in excitement and movement. Mel and Keith headed to their truck to get the team hooked up, and soon the dogs were pulling on their lines, amped to do what they seemed born to do: run.

Dogsledding, Without the Sleds

Today, dogsledding is undergoing a transformation. Or threat, depending on your viewpoint.

The first hit came with the advent of snowmobiles in the 1960s, when dogsledding began slipping away as the standard form of transportation for many of the world’s northernmost inhabitants. Instead it became recreational, one of those activities that meld sport, hobby and lifestyle into one expensive, obsessive pastime.

Jan Bootz-Dittmar has been racing dogsleds for four decades and has several sponsors. She took up dryland racing, too, but finds the loss of reliably snowy winters frustrating. Credit: Meera Subramanian/InsideClimate News

Champion sprint musher Jan Bootz-Dittmar has been racing dogsleds for four decades and has several sponsors. She took up dryland racing, but finds the loss of reliably snowy winters frustrating. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Now the ideal image of dogs, humans and a sled careening silently across snow is facing a new challenge as the climate warms and the weather weirds. The Iditarod, a thousand-mile race across Alaska that is the most famous of sled dog races, had to be rerouted two of the last three years as its organizers chased snow-covered terrain. In Wisconsin, since 2001, about one-third of the sled races failed to happen, primarily because of lack of snow.

“I definitely see a trend where things are not like they used to be,” said Jan Bootz-Dittmar, a champion sprint musher on snow and dry land who’s been running dogs for 40 years. Last year, insufficient snowfall caused half of the snow races in Wisconsin to be cancelled.

“That affects me,” she said in the cafe as she munched on potato chips in lieu of lunch, “and it pisses me off.”

The Accidental Life

Mel races drylands, but skijoring is what she loves most: the quiet “shwooosh shwooosh” of her skis gliding through a snow-silenced world but for the sound of her dog’s movement.

She lives in Lincoln County, in north-central Wisconsin, and we were talking in the kitchen of the home she and Keith share, a long green metal building divided into a utilitarian shop and a capacious, wood-ceilinged living space with a wall of windows looking out upon a stand of trees. Her parents’ home lies just beyond. Mel, 40, sees both of her parents nearly daily, but when it comes to dogsledding, she’s closer to her father, Ron Behm, who is approaching 70. The kennel of Alaskan huskies and hounds that was once Ron’s is now cared for by Mel and Keith, and they all train the dogs together.

The length of the frost-free season has increased by as much as three weeks in some parts of Wisconsin since 1971, the state's assistant climatologist said. Credit: Meera Subramanian

The frequency of winter freezes that plunged the thermometer below average has been declining in Wisconsin since the 1980s, and the sport has had to change with the climate. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Father and daughter have been running sled dogs for more than 25 years, since they entered the sport by an accident of canine lust. Mel was still in junior high when the neighbor’s Malamute wandered over and found their Labrador mix, which was Ron’s hunting dog. One lone pup was the result, and they kept him and named him Tiny. He was no bird dog, but Mel and her three siblings kept him running all the time. When the neighbor’s dog got loose again the next year and a litter of four was born, the Behm kids had a team. The family was friends with Jan Bootz-Dittmar, who gave them some harnesses to try out.

Mel and her two younger brothers hooked up Tiny and the team to their red Radio Flyer wagon, and the boys would take turns riding while Mel, who was a gymnast at the time and wanted the exercise, darted in front, leading the dog. As the dogs grew, they swapped out the wagon with an old lawn mower, engine removed. Mel’s older sister Ginnie, daunted by the speed, would cheer them on, snapping photographs. Ron mowed a path through the grass so the children could holler “gee!” for right and “haw!” for left as the dogs learned commands.

Mel’s brother Adam was the first to enter a formal dogsledding race, with Ron joining him a few years later. By the time she was in college, Mel had quit gymnastics and started racing, too. Mel’s mother, Gail, stitched harnesses and kept the mushers supplied with baked goods and the fresh perch she caught while ice fishing, her preferred sport.

Dynamics of Differing

Despite all this family togetherness, there was one crucial split in the Behm household: politics.

At first, Mel told me, she was a Republican because her father was. “I didn’t pay attention to politics,” she said. But that changed when she became an emergency room nurse. Working 12-hour shifts with people in crisis, she suddenly realized that “some of the decisions that politicians were making were affecting my patients.”

She also saw how not just politics but also science affected them, from the medicines she could offer them to how their bodies responded. She saw science in her sport, too, where the principles of genetics were used to breed dogs for speed, endurance and tougher paws.

The family's kennel has 19 dogs, a mix of Alaskan huskies and hounds trained by Mel Omernick; her husband, Keith; and her father, Ron Behm. Credit: Meera Subramanian

The length of the frost-free season has increased by as much as three weeks in some parts of Wisconsin since 1971, the state’s assistant climatologist said. Credit: Meera Subramanian

“I love science,” she said, “and I believe in evolution.” Evolution was one of the science-based subjects she’d argued with her dad about most fiercely when she was in college. “I feel like we’re an example of it, and our sled dogs are too. So, it’s logical. It just makes sense … our planet is changing.”

These were not conversations Mel and Ron had easily, or often. Usually they just avoided politics—and science—altogether, focusing on the thing that bound them, their love of dogs and dogsledding, their family life.

Credit: Meera Subramanian

The world of dog mushers draws racers and trainers from across the political spectrum, and there’s a hesitation to talk about potentially divisive issues, such as climate change. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Within the contained world of dog mushers, there’s a similar hesitation to talk about potentially divisive issues. The entire political spectrum finds representation at the Dirty Dog Dryland Derby, from the young women showing up in a Prius with two dogs tucked in back, to the Trump supporter in a trailer emblazoned with “To the victor the spoils.” But as with Mel and her father, conversations among the mushers veer away from the political, to the point that many mushers don’t even know each other’s leanings or affiliations. Better to talk dogs than politics, and weather before climate. Even Ron, once I pressed him, was adamant that he was a “constitutionalist,” not a Republican. That was a distinction even his own daughter didn’t know.

Just a Blade of Grass

The second weekend in November, a second dryland derby was scheduled. Ron was slated to be a race marshal for that one, known as the Willow Springs Round Barn Fall Rally, and Keith was scheduled to compete; Mel planned to swing by after an all-night ER shift. But the skies stayed heavy most of the week, and, looking at the forecast of more snow, organizers cancelled the race by Tuesday night.

With his weekend freed up, Ron was willing to continue a conversation we’d started earlier in the week about what was happening to the climate and the sport he and his daughter both loved. Instead of race marshaling, he joined me at Mel’s house, laying down his coyote fur cap upon the kitchen table as Mel fixed coffee after her 12-hour shift.

While Mel sees the climate changing around her, her father, Ron Behm, is skeptical of any human role and leans on counter-arguments that have scientists have considered but dismissed as a major drivers of change. Credit: Meera Subramanian

While Mel Omernick sees the climate changing around her, her father, Ron Behm, is skeptical of any human role in climate change and leans on counter-arguments that scientists say aren’t major drivers of the changes. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Sitting side by side, Mel and Ron are two generations delighted in the world. Ron is still fit from his 30 years as a mail carrier, from which he retired in 2012; he now devotes himself to the Wisconsin Trailblazers race dog club, the Lions and a one-acre market garden that he tends with his wife. His white beard is trimmed, and Mel’s blonde hair is cut in a bob that falls in soft curls. They both default to easy smiles, even when their viewpoints clash.

Which they do, when it comes to climate change.

Finding Middle Ground

Mel feels that the winters of her youth are gone. Where was ice skating at Thanksgiving, like she remembers from her grandma’s when she was a kid?

“It always seemed harsh in the winter,” she said. But Ron had an explanation that had nothing to do with climate change. A trick of perception, he said as Mel listened respectfully, since in those days there was none of the high-tech clothing and efficient snow plows of today. He likened it to other mythic stories about one’s childhood, à la walking to school, uphill, both ways. “Probably that was a part of it,” Mel responded, nodding thoughtfully, both of them disagreeing in a way that was unfailingly polite.

There are 19 dogs out in the kennel, but six are allowed in the house, and they periodically came up to Mel and Ron, who stroked their heads. One dog took a brief interest in Ron’s coyote-skin hat—it’s roadkill, Ron told me—before venturing off again.

“One thing about weather,” Ron said, “we can all comment about it, but we can’t change it.” He sees climate changes as cyclical, pointing to the fact that long before humans were contributing any sort of emissions to the atmosphere, the state had “gone through three major warming trends, and also, three major freezing trends.” He mentioned the nearby Ice Age Trail that marks the edge of the last glaciation, 10,000 years ago.

The length of the frost-free season has increased by as much as three weeks in some parts of Wisconsin since 1971, the state's assistant climatologist said. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Dogsledding in Wisconsin has been changing for other reasons as well, including the cost of the sport and loss of sponsorship. Credit: Meera Subramanian

But even as he referred to deep time and geological history, Ron expressed his strong skepticism of science. He trusts the Old Farmer’s Almanac before the weather report. Weather is cyclical, he insisted, listing off a catalog of counter-arguments to climate science that I’ve heard around the country, including from many of the Dirty Dog mushers. The current warming can be attributed to volcanoes, they’ve told me. And sunspots. And solar winds. And the media doesn’t report these things. None acknowledged that climate scientists account for these variables in their studies and readily accept the planet’s natural climate fluctuations.

What the planet has not seen is as rapid a rise in temperatures, predicted to become warmer than they’ve been for millions of years, long before humans settled into their spaces and their sports.

“I still don’t believe that man has been given the ability, no matter how proud they think of themselves, to completely control something that they’re only on its surface for a very short time,” Ron told me.  “We’re here, a blade-of-grass scenario,” meaning that there might be seven billion of us, but we simply cannot have the impact that climate scientists are saying we have.

But while Mel politely agreed with her father that her recollection of colder winters in the past might be a trick of the mind, the truth is, data backs up her belief that Wisconsin winters are objectively milder than they used to be.

Credit: Meera SubramanianMel Omernick enjoys bikejoring with her race dogs when there isn't enough snow to ski with them. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Mel Omernick enjoys bikejoring with her race dogs when there isn’t enough snow to ski with them. She also works as an emergency room nurse, where she sees how politics and science affect all of our lives. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Starting in the 1980s, the frequency of winter freezes that plunged the thermometer below average was declining. By the mid-1990s, when Ron and his kids were running with the Radio Flyer and Tiny’s team, the cold autumnal spikes had nearly vanished. Ed Hopkins, Wisconsin’s assistant state climatologist, told me that winters continue to be highly variable, with lots of snow some years and bare ground others, but he recently tallied up the length of the frost-free season since 1971 and found that in some parts of the state, it’s increased by as much as three weeks.

And Now, a Word from …

Dogsledding in Wisconsin has been changing for the past two decades for reasons aside from weather: the cost of dog food, the difficulty of finding long trail systems unimpeded by development or liability-averse landowners, the cost of fuel for the trucks to haul large teams. And one additional, significant change: the loss of sponsorship. It was sponsorship that had been keeping the races afloat, but sponsors started falling away as early as the late 1990s—often for weather-related reasons.

Dryland races involve plenty of mud, as Jan Bootz-Dittmar is evidence of after a race. Credit: Meera Subramanian/InsideClimate News

Dryland races involve plenty of mud, as Jan Bootz-Dittmar is evidence of after a race. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Ron spoke of one sponsor, the North Star Mohican Casino Resort over in Bowler, Wisconsin, that sponsored a dogsled race with a huge purse. “Then someone says … we can make more money with a polka band,” he said. “Bowler started to bring in live entertainment at the casino, instead of doing the race.”

How infinitely appealing an indoor, climate-controlled event must be for a sponsor. The complete opposite of the iffy one-day mudfest that ended up being the Dirty Dog Derby this year.

“This is a weather sport,” Ron said. “Your sponsors are expecting this much viewing of their product name, and if the weather is not conducive to that, you don’t get the viewership.”

“So if it’s too cold, too windy, rainy,” Mel continued, their conversation fluidly moving between them, “there are no spectators.”

The prizes for the long-distance snow sled races can still be substantial—the Iditarod winner takes home $75,000—but as the purses have shrunk, sprint mushers are lucky if they win enough for gas money home.

Credit: Meera Subramanian

Traditional racing sleds hang on a shop wall near the kennels. Credit: Meera Subramanian

The move from dogsledding to dryland racing to casino polkas is enough to make you wonder if we’re doomed to become an indoor nation, seeking collective escape from an unpredictable world.

Many sports are suffering from the extremes in weather. Just as the sled dogs have their window where they can comfortably and safely compete, so do we two-legged athletes. It’s difficult to play tennis when it’s so hot your sneakers are melting on the court or you start hallucinating that you’ve seen Snoopy, as happened at the Australian Open a couple of years back. A study by the University of Waterloo’s Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change found that, unless carbon use plummets soon, a third of past Winter Olympics cities will be unable to host the event in the future because they won’t get cold enough. Winter recreation sports are estimated to be a $12 billion industry in the country.

Even snowless races still draw young dog sled racers excited for the thrill of the sport. Credit: Meera Subramanian/InsideClimate News

Even snowless tracks still draw young dogsled racers excited by the thrill of the sport. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Loss of sponsorship and other factors are contributing to the decline in snow mushing in Wisconsin, but the greatest factor seems to be climate change. How long can the sport survive when the specter of uncertain weather is added to all the others? What is the fate of this sport—a healthy, life-affirming sport that people play instead of watch, that involves working in concert with animals instead of against them? Did the founders of the Iditarod think about the double meaning of their tag line, the “Last Great Race on Earth”?

When there isn't enough snow for a sled but too much for a dryland racing cart, Mel and Keith Omernick runs the dogs with an ATV, its motor running. Credit: Meera Subramanian

When there isn’t enough snow for a sled but too much for a dryland cart, Mel and Keith Omernick take the dogs out with an ATV. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Mel and Ron and I had talked enough. There were dogs outside, eager in waiting. Ron donned his coyote fur hat, its tail draped between his shoulder blades as the rest of it blended with the color and cut of his beard. Mel slipped on her Carhartt jacket and we headed out to the kennel where Keith had been setting out the lines to run the dogs with an ATV. It was too snowy for a cart and not snowy enough for a sled, so a motor would have to suffice. The dogs were rowdy with expectation, fervent to bound through the whitened forest, past Ron and Gail’s garden, so recently put to bed, past the neat lines of the neighbor’s fields, crisp in sepia tones.

“I love to watch them run, and run with them,” Mel had said expectantly before we headed out. “To have them pull me and to be part of that team. And we’re out there in nature, whether it’s a beautiful sunny day, 20 below, raining, icing. We’re appreciating what the planet has given us, and God’s blessings that we’re healthy enough to do this.”

She was proving what her father had told me earlier about dog racing. “Nostalgia,” Ron had said, “is a big part of this sport.”

Top photo: Mel Omernick races dogsleds in Wisconsin, but lately the winter races have shiftrf to dirt tracks as the winter snow becomes less reliable. Credit: Meera Subramanian

Man Who Shot Two Dogs Ordered to Take Hunter Safety

A Dane County judge ordered an Evansville man who was charged with shooting two dogs to complete a hunter safety program.

35-year-old Kurt Rausch said he mistook the two dogs for coyotes, which he was hunting at night. The judge imposed and stayed a six-month jail sentence that Rausch will not have to serve if he completes the hunter safety program. Additionally, Rausch must pay a $2,500 fine.

According to reports, the judge said the case was “emotionally charged” and touched on the stupidity of night hunting. She noted she received about four-dozen letters regarding this case, more than any other case she has provided over.

Deanna Clark, the owner of the two dogs that were shot by Rausch and also a veterinarian in Lake Mills, said she was training the dogs around 6 p.m. that night in January 2016 for skijoring, a sport where dogs pull a cross-country skier. Both dogs were wearing reflective vests but were running loose. Rausch had set up a coyote call on public land and shot both dogs as they emerged from the underbrush.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey told the court Raush violated the cardinal rule of hunting and safety: know your target and what’s behind it. The dogs lived and despite the considerable vet bills, Clark told the court she didn’t want restitution or Rausch to be punished. Instead, she wants the Legislature to end hunting at night on public lands.

Inside the grim scene of a Korean dog meat farm, just miles from the Winter Olympics


WONJU, South Korea – A short drive from the burning Olympic torch and the excited throng of Winter Games spectators, there was no cheering outside the place where hundreds of dogs are packed in cages until they are killed for their meat.

In the rural region of Wonju, down a winding country lane, sits a farm that provides dog meat to some of the thousands of South Korean restaurants where patrons order things such as dog salad, dog ribs, dog stew and dog hot pot.

The grim surroundings of the farm pains the senses. The first thing to be noticed is the sound, pitiful whines and yelps of about 300 animals being kept in filthy cages until their execution.

Step closer and the stench fills the nostrils, a sickening waft that spreads over two long rows of cramped cages.

Some of the dogs do not survive long enough to be slaughtered. Lying discarded on the mud floor by the plastic awning, the carcass of a dead Tosa – a rare breed that originated in Japan. Also in the cages were Jindos, St. Bernards and golden Labradors.

Most were emaciated. Many had gaps in their fur where huge sores grew on their bodies. The cages are elevated, set up so dog feces drops through gaps in the wire bottom, collecting in huge piles beneath.

More: Olympics shine spotlight on dog meat trade in South Korea

USA TODAY video journalist Sandy Hooper and myself filmed the gruesome scene for 15 minutes on Saturday morning, using GoPros and iPhones. When we approached the front of the property in an attempt to speak to the owners, a man screamed in Korean: “Turn it off, otherwise I’m going to throw it down!”

The Winter Olympics is supposed to be one giant commercial for South Korea and its winter tourism industry, but no public relations effort can cast a favorable light on the Korean dog meat industry. Pyeongchang organizing officials were aware enough of the likely international reaction to Korean dog meat eating practices that they paid nearby restaurants to take down signs advertising the product’s availability and pleaded with them to take it off the menu – at least during the Olympics.

It didn’t work. Two miles from Jinbu station, the main hub serving the primary mountain cluster of the Games, a trio of restaurants openly served dog products. They had amended their frontage signs to remove the word “bosintang” (dog meat stew) and promote goat meat instead, but that was only outside.

Walk inside and glance up at the giant white board and the first four menu items, in English and Korean, are derived from man’s best friend. An elderly Korean man removed his shoes, entered the room, ordered the stew and sat down at a row of tables on the floor. Soon, he was served the thick brown concoction and began slurping down the soup until it was all gone.

In Korean culture, dog meat is said to have mythical properties that boost restorative powers and increase virility. Fearing a backlash from traditionalists, the Korean government won’t amend the law, despite president Moon Jae-In having adopted a dog saved from the meat industry.

Pyeongchang organizers wish government officials would take action.

“We are aware of the international concern around the consumption of dog meat in Korea,” an organizing committee statement read. “This is a matter which the government should address. We hope that this issue will not impact on the delivery or reputation of the Games and the province and we will support the work of the province and government on this topic as needed. Also, dog meat will not be served at any Games venue.”

Eating dog meat is a custom here and it is hard to dispute that. In the United States millions of animals of countless varieties are slaughtered each year for meat. To some, the plight of Korean dogs is scarcely any different to that of American chicken, cows or pigs. To others, there is something vastly different about a dog, given its relationship to humans.

Activists in Korea don’t like the use of dogs for meat but mainly focus their protest efforts on the methods of killing the animals and their conditions in captivity.

“If the Korean people stop eating dog meat there will not be the market for it,” Kim Jun-Won, president of the Dasom animal rights organization said, fighting back tears when shown photographs of our footage as we returned to our vehicle. “But this is wrong and it breaks my heart. The people who keep animals this way and kill them? They are the devil.”

Demand is decreasing, with dog meat meals not particularly popular with younger members of Korean society. As well as the one described above, USA TODAY Sports visited two other farms in the area that showed signs of being operational recently. Both were closed, with the dried feces and even bones of deceased dogs still visible.

“The problem is that while smaller facilities close due to lack of business, larger, better organized ones are popping up,” Kiana Kang, director of programs and special projects of American non-profit rescue organization Animal Hope and Wellness said. “This is the two Koreas. There is the beauty and the culture, and then there is this.”

Korean dog farmers claim their sole intention is to try to make a living and insist the animals are the same as livestock.

A group of Winter Olympic athletes, including Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis took part in a recent public service announcement in a bid to raise awareness about the Korean dog meat trade. Duhamel already owns a rescue Korean dog.

The United States and Canada are leaders in trying to rescue Korean dogs and provide them with a new life. In a recent USA TODAY Sports interview, Californian couple Lana Chung Peck and her husband Kevin Peck described how many of the animals they foster and rehabilitate through the Save Korean Dogs organization have significant issues.

Chung Peck said her dogs cannot initially walk properly on grass or firm ground, because most of their lives had previously been spent in the cages, scrambling to get firm footing on the hard thin metal.

Meanwhile, at the Games, the first medals were being doled out. The plight of Korea’s dogs isn’t going to be the major narrative of the Games, the events themselves and the lingering political turmoil dominate the headlines.

But it is here, happening not far from the Olympics, and it’s tough to stomach.

Dog Meat Still on the Menu at South Korea Olympics

A handful of South Korean restaurants near the venues of the Winter Olympics are defying a government push to take dog meat off menus for the duration of the games, Channel News Asia reported.

The opening ceremony takes place on Friday in Pyeongchang county, with athletes from over 90 countries and tens of thousands of tourists from  South Korea and abroad expected to flock to the region. In a bid to avoid controversy over the culinary customs of eating dog meat, local authorities have tried to curb the serving of canine delicacies by offering nearby restaurants subsidies to temporarily alter their menus.

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But only a small minority appear to have taken up the government on the offer, Pyeongchang County government official Lee Yong-bae told AFP.

“We’ve faced a lot of complaints from restaurant operators that we are threatening their livelihood,” he said. Of the 12 dog meat restaurants in the county, only two have complied, Lee said on Thursday. According to him, a handful entertained agreeing to scrap dog meat from the menu but have already seen a drop in sales.


Puppies are seen in a cage at a dog meat market in Yulin, in China’s southern Guangxi region on June 21, 2017. China’s most notorious dog meat festival opened in Yulin on June 21, 2017, with butchers hacking slabs of canines and cooks frying the flesh following rumours that authorities would impose a ban this year. STR/AFP/Getty Images

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“Some of them initially shifted to selling pork or things instead of dog meat only to find their sales plunging sharply,” he said. “They then switched back to dog meat.”

Signage advertizing dog meat dishes has nonetheless become less prominent, as the restaurants are seeking to avoid giving “a bad impression to foreigners” during the Games, he added.

The custom of treating dogs as livestock and using them for sustenance is increasingly becoming a taboo in South Korea, with the country’s government branding them a “detestable” kind of meat. There are, however, no explicit legal punishments for the cooking of dog meat and a minority of South Koreans still do so.

Last year, authorities closed Moran market in Seongnam, the largest dog meat venue, which sold over  80,000 dogs a year. It accounted for about a third of South Korea’s dog meat consumption, according to local media estimates.

This article was first written by Newsweek

Meigs County man charged in operating ‘bearbaiting’ event

Clinton J. Bailey. (Photo/Meigs County Sheriff)

MEIGS COUNTY — A Meigs County man has been charged after the sheriff said he was suspected to have been operating a “bearbaiting” event.

Clinton J. Bailey, 51, is charged with 16 counts in connection with the event, three of which are unclassified felonies for animal fighting.

He also has two fourth-degree misdemeanor charges for animal fighting, two misdemeanor charges for falsification and nine dangerous animal misdemeanor charges.

He was arraigned on Jan. 24 and released on a personal recognizance bond, according to Meigs County Common Pleas Court online court records. His next appearance will be Feb. 26.

In November, the Ohio Department of Agriculture Enforcement Division executed a search warrant on Bush Road in Long Bottom, according to the Meigs County Sheriff. Bailey owned a bear and possessed a Dangerous Wild Animal Permit.

At that location, Bailey is alleged to have been operating a “bearbaiting” event whereby several hunting dogs were released inside an enclosure, attacking the bear. Officers received information Bailey was charging admission of $20 per dog to participate.

In addition to Bailey, and his juvenile son, seven males, two females and eight children were present at the event with the majority of participants being from West Virginia.

At least one child was observed inside an unapproved enclosure while dogs were attacking the loose bear. Two of the males had handguns.

Bearbaiting is defined under Animal Fights, Section 959.15 of the Ohio Revised Code.

Assistance was provided by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Drone Team, who obtained significant video footage of the illegal activity as well as the Washington County and Jackson County Sheriff’s Offices who provided tactical assistance.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio State Highway Patrol provided significant assistance as well.

The bear was seized pursuant to the warrant by DWA program personnel.

Dog shoots owner to death in freak hunting accident

A Russian hunter was shot dead by his own dog when the excited pooch hopped up on his lap and tapped his shotgun — which discharged into his gut.

The freak accident struck while Sergei Terekhov, 64, and his brother were hunting rabbits in the remote Saratov region, according to reports Monday.

Terekhov’s double-barrelled shotgun was resting on his knee when his Estonian Hound bounded towards him and bumped the weapon with his paw, causing it to go off, according to the local news site Region 64 and other outlets.

“The weapon rested on his knee, with the butt facing down and the barrel pointing towards his stomach,” investigator Alexander Galanin told the site.

The investigative committee later told Newsweek Terekhov was holding the Soviet Toz-3, which discharged after the pooch darted from a car and hopped up onto him.

Terekhov’s brother called an ambulance but he died on the way to a hospital.

Terekhov was experienced hunter with a license, Galanin said. “Everything was in order. It was an accident.”

Terekhov’s was a sportsman who loved hunting rabbits and other game, the UK Telegraph reported.

Investigators had found no sign of foul play on Monday.