L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Cloned dogs being groomed as customs sniffers


South Korean customs officials have announced that the seven dogs they have cloned (six are pictured here,fighting over a rag) are now being trained as sniffers for their customs agency.

The dogs were born after the country's customs service paid a biotechnology company to reproduce a Canadian Labrador retriever, and are already showing an uncanny sniffing ability, according to the AP:

Only about 30% of naturally born sniffer dogs make the grade, but South Korean scientists believe that could rise to 90% using the cloning method....

A spokesman for South Korean customs said the pups have passed the first round of tests for behavioural patterns and genetic qualities and will report for duty in June after completing a second round of training.

The puppies, all named Toppy (Tomorrow's Puppy) are identical to their father as seen here in the video below.

--Tony Barboza   

Photo: EPA

When animals attack

Tiger_3Sometimes it seems animals attack for no reason. Or at least the provocation isn't apparent to the human victims. In December 2006, a tiger mauled a zoo keeper in San Francisco. Last year, a tiger at Tippi Hedren's wildlife sanctuary in Acton attacked a caretaker. The articles appear below.

Alexander, left, a 450-pound Bengal tiger, attacked the caretaker at Hedren's Shambala Preserve.

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

Continue reading »

Showbiz grizzly bear kills trainer-stuntman

Bear_2 A 700-pound grizzly bear attacked and killed a Canyon Country man at a compound near Big Bear Lake that trains wild animals for movies and television work.

Times staff writer Paul Pringle reports:

For unknown reasons, the bear lunged at 39-year-old Stephan Miller, a trainer at Randy Miller's Predators in Action, about 3 p.m. Tuesday and bit him in the neck, said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. Miller was pronunced dead at the scene.

Miller was a trainer at Predators in Action, a business whose website says the bear appeared in the recent Will Ferrell movie "Semi-Pro." The website also says it has "the best-trained grizzly bears in the business today."

Photo: Christina Bush/Associated Press

Man gets almost a year in jail for attacking kitten

A Santa Barbara man will spend nearly a year in jail for banging the head of his roommate’s kitten against a wall, the Associated Press reports.

Nicholas David Thompson pleaded no contest to a felony animal cruelty charge, and was sentenced Monday to 360 days in Santa Barbara County Jail.

Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa also ordered the 21-year-old defendant to attend anger management classes for a year.

Thompson banged the head of the kitten, named Gigi, against a wall, tossed her into the shower and turned on the water. The roommate and his friend managed to rescue the kitten, and Gigi recovered, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kimberly Smith told the Santa Barbara News-Press.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

The grunion are still running


Grunion, those iconic California fish that mate on land, are expected to rush the beaches again tonight. So say the folks at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, who have made a specialty of studying the small, silver-sided fish. The grunion are expected to arrive at Cabrillo Beach about 10:35 p.m.

Their ancient courtship (if you could call it that) ritual begins when females bury themselves in the sand to lay thousands of eggs. The males then wrap themselves around the females to fertilize the eggs. Isn't it romantic?

Grunion "runs" are tied to phases of the moon, and the April 7 run brought thousands of fish to Cabrillo Beach, as well as some researchers in white lab coats. Read all about their scientific efforts in Louis Sahagun's recent story. And be sure to check out Don Kelsen's video.

Reminder: It's illegal to catch grunion in April and May. During fishing season, they may be caught only by hand. Fishing licenses are required for people over 16.

The state Department of Fish and Game offers fascinating grunion facts and a schedule of their expected runs through July.

-- Steve Padilla

Photo: Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times

Earth Day and pets

Earth_day_cat_3 Adopt from a shelter. Spay or neuter your pet. Clean up after Fido. As you might imagine, on this day, Earth Day, we're hearing a great deal about "how to green your pet." The folks at Treehugger want us to consider composting:

American dogs and cats create 10 million tons of waste a year, and no one knows where it’s going, according to Will Brinton, a scientist in Mount Vernon, Maine, and one of the world’s leading authorities on waste reduction and composting.

Most of our pets’ poop either winds up in a landfill purgatory, where it’s embalmed practically forever in plastic bags, or sits on the ground until the next rainstorm washes it into the sewer where it can drift on down to rivers and beaches. You can compost the poop—just don’t use it with your vegetable garden, because the compost doesn’t heat up enough to kill pathogens such as E. coli., which could contaminate your homegrown produce and land up in your (very unhappy) belly.

If you have room in your backyard, you can bury an old garbage bin (note: far away from your vegetable garden) to use as a pet-waste composter. Or check out the Doggie Dooley. The makers of the Doggy Dooley also sell an enzymatic “Super Digester Concentrate” for your backyard pet septic system.

Animal Planet has a few thoughts about wildlife and Earth Day.

How do you "green" your pet? Let us know.

-- Alice Short

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Tails wag as dog, sheep reunite with family

That saga of the dog and the sheep strolling near a freeway off-ramp last week has come to a happy end, according to the Daily News.

The two were affectionate and inseparable - with the sheep following the dog everywhere, including into the car of their rescuer - and news of their unlikely friendship attracted dozens of visitors every day to the West Valley Animal Shelter. On Saturday, a mother and daughter from Granada Hills heard about the media reports from a neighbor and came forward to claim the pair, producing photos that satisfied shelter officials.

Apparently, the animals escaped when someone accidentally left a gate open.

-- Alice Short

Breeding plan proposed for delta smelt


The delta smelt, a tiny endangered fish causing big headaches for California's water kingpins, could soon get help.

A Central Valley lawmaker wants the state to build a hatchery to boost the smelt's flagging population.

Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has proposed a Delta Smelt Preservation and Restoration Act with the primary goal of building at least one hatchery by 2011 to breed the fish.

Smelt, pictured here as seen through a microscope, have been a victim of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta's flagging ecological health and the voracious pull of giant aqueduct pumps that send delta water to the south.

This year, water exports could be trimmed by 30% because of a federal court ruling intended to protect the endangered fish.

Florez's act would authorize the state Department of Fish and Game to work with the University of California and state Department of Water Resources.

Construction costs would be picked up by large water users.

-- Eric Bailey

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A room with a view


Silver, a male Masai giraffe at the San Diego Zoo, is taken Monday to a new habitat at the zoo's Elephant Mesa. Silver and five other giraffes were out of public view for several months as their new area was prepared. Their old exhibit will be destroyed to make way for a new 7-acre multi-species habitat, Elephant Odyssey, that will include elephants, jaguars, lions, tree sloths, tapirs, pronghorns, California condors and more.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo

Bratton: Pets should be crated at the airport

Pets_on_planes Citing repeated close calls between pets and 20 or so dogs that patrol LAX for bombs, drugs and other contraband, the city of Los Angeles is considering requiring pet owners to crate their animals at the airport.

In a report to the city's police commission, Chief William Bratton said unrestrained domestic pets routinely "lash out" at trained dogs that patrol LAX for the LAPD, the federal Transportation Security Administration and the airport's separate police force.

In answer to Bratton's concerns, the City Council is considering a law that would penalize pet owners who don't crate their animals -- $25 for the first conviction, $45 for a second conviction within a year and $65 for the third offense.

Bratton wrote that he was concerned bomb-sniffing dogs might instinctively attack aggressive domestic pets, or their owners, and that terrorists could take advantage of possible conflict between the animals.

"If the public is not required to kennel their canines, it is not inconceivable that an individual attempting to avoid detection may place an animal near to the contraband or explosive in an attempt to have the detection canine handlers, seeking to minimize conflict, avoid sweeping the area," Bratton wrote.

The number of canines working at the airport has jumped threefold in the seven years since 9/11, as local and federal agencies deployed them to sniff unattended luggage and other items for traces of explosives or other substances.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee reviewed a recommendation that the city fine pet owners if they don't crate their pets at LAX on Monday and referred it to the Trade, Commerce & Tourism Committee for further discussion.

What do you think....should animals at the airport be crated?

-- Jennifer Oldham

Photo: Ric Feld / Associated Press