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WebClawer: Alpaca goes surfing; would-be Totos try out for 'Wizard of Oz' musical; PETA wants mothers to breastfeed to help cows; can animals commit suicide?

April 7, 2010 |  7:52 pm

-- Bizarre new trend: Surfing with animals. Okay, we will accept that some dogs seem to actually enjoy the sport -- but what of other species that are seemingly less suited to surfing? Like, say, an alpaca? Peruvian surfer Domingo Pianezzi recently made headlines when he surfed a beach near Lima with an alpaca named Pisco. (Apparently some locals reacted positively to the stunt, but others argued that Pianezzi had acted cruelly by making an alpaca -- a mountain-dwelling species related to camels and llamas -- enter the water.) But this wasn't the first time Pianezzi had surfed with an unusual animal, and he's not the first to have done so. "I've surfed with a dog, a parrot, a hamster and a cat, but when I was at a competition in Australia I saw people surfing with kangaroos and koalas," he told an interviewer. "So I thought that, as a Peruvian, it would be interesting to surf with a unique animal that represents Peru." (Reuters)

-- Musical theater composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and talk show host Graham Norton have teamed up for a BBC reality-TV show in which the pair and a panel of judges will cast the role of Dorothy for an upcoming West End production of "The Wizard of Oz." The show also aims to find a talented animal actor to play another iconic Oz role: Toto. About 400 would-be Totos arrived Tuesday for a rigorous two-day audition in the English county of Warwickshire. Among the tasks they had to complete to be considered for the part: Walking on a leash for about 15 minutes. (Doesn't sound so hard, but dogs who stopped walking, barked or jumped up were immediately eliminated from the competition.) Forty were asked back for the second day of auditions, and the top 10 will appear on the BBC show this Saturday. According to instructions provided to the animals' owners, "the Toto panel are looking for a true star. The winning doggy will have bags of personality and not be afraid to show it off." In other words, a latter-day Skippy. (Telegraph)

-- Can animals commit suicide? It might, on the surface, seem like an odd question, but it's one that's been inciting debate recently, in part because of a new study published in the British journal Endeavour. One prominent animal advocate, Ric O'Barry of the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," has often shared the story of the day he decided it was wrong to keep dolphins in captivity for humans' entertainment. O'Barry trained the dolphins featured in the TV show "Flipper"; one day, he has said, the show's main dolphin star, Kathy, looked him directly in the eye before sinking to the bottom of her tank and purposely stopped breathing. "The [animal entertainment] industry doesn't want people to think dolphins are capable of suicide, but these are self-aware creatures with a brain larger than a human brain," O'Barry told Time Magazine. "If life becomes so unbearable, they just don't take the next breath. It's suicide." (Time)

-- A boxer-pit bull mix named Piggy who gets around with the aid of a doggie wheelchair is inspiring the children she visits through a therapy program at Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah. Piggy, a 6-year-old rescue dog whose rear legs became paralyzed following a hit-and-run auto accident in late 2007, was nearly euthanized when it appeared that she would be unable to recover from her severe injuries. But owner April Hollingsworth was heartened when some of Piggy's reflexes began returning after the accident, and today she is sometimes able to use her rear legs, thanks in part to physical therapy. Hollingsworth and Piggy now make regular visits to the children at Shriners, many of whom struggle with their own disabilities. "I feel she's a gift I have to give," Hollingsworth said of Piggy, whose visits are said to help Shriners' young patients feel more comfortable in the hospital environment. (Salt Lake Tribune)

-- Tyler Weinman, the 19-year-old charged last year with felony animal cruelty and other offenses in relation to a string of cat killings in South Florida, will face additional charges for the deaths of two cats that weren't previously included in a prosecutor's report. In total, Weinman now faces 21 counts of felony animal cruelty, 21 counts of improperly disposing of an animal's body and four counts of burglary in connection with the string of cat killings. Weinman is due back in court May 5. His attorney has issued strong denials of Weinman's alleged involvement in the cat killings and told the Associated Press last year that his client "welcomes his day in court, so that he will be completely vindicated." (NBC News Miami)

-- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, never a group to miss out on a chance for publicity, is at it again. This time, PETA hopes to capitalize on a recent analysis from the journal Pediatrics that suggests hundreds of infant deaths and illnesses could be prevented if more mothers breastfed their babies. PETA says it's negotiating with outdoor advertisers in Lexington, Ky., with the hope of installing a billboard in the city depicting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the baby Jesus alongside the text: "If It Was Good Enough for Jesus ... The Breast Is Best. Dump Dairy. PETA." Why Kentucky? The state has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the U.S. Of course, the billboard's message isn't just about breastfeeding -- its aim is also to draw attention to PETA's assertion that many cows are abused on dairy farms. "Our billboard aims to show Kentucky residents that by fortifying human babies and saving the lives of cows, breast milk is also the blessed milk," writes PETA blogger Logan Scherer. (The PETA Files)

-- Lindsay Barnett

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