The very important reason these tiny robots are taking pictures of cats

San Francisco (CNN Business)At a photo shoot inside a cozy San Francisco coffee shop, models struck playful poses. Some sprawled out on shaggy pillows, limbs unfurling languidly.

Photographers captured their moves, clicking quickly from different directions and vantage points. The photos were sultry, moody, and, occasionally, featured furry paws.
This wasn’t an ordinary photo shoot. The subjects were cats with names like Passion, Shiloh, Buffy, and Blinx, who live at a café called KitTea, where visitors can pay to sip drinks and eat snacks while hanging out with resident and adoptable felines.
    The photographers were engineers from consumer robotics company Anki, who captured these fuzzy critters on a trio of tiny Vector robots set up especially for this task.
    The mission was to take as many pictures as possible to help Vector learn to detect the felines that live in people’s homes.
    Data — like, say, cute cat photos — is crucial to building artificial intelligence. The collection process is becoming increasingly important as we rely on AI to do an ever-increasing number of things, from helping self-driving cars navigate streets to getting virtual assistants like Alexa to respond to voices. That’s because in order for AI to work well, it generally needs to be trained first on a lot of data — and not just any kind of data, but information that reflects the kinds of tasks the AI will be working on.
    But it’s not always easy to gather that data. One might even say the process can be like, well, herding cats.

    The robot

    Vector, which costs $250 and began shipping in October, is a cross between a companion and a pint-sized helper. It can give you a weather update, answer questions, take a picture of you, and play with the small, light-up cube that comes with it. It’s the latest model of robot from Anki, which has sold 2 million robots thus far.
    Vector looks like a tiny black bulldozer with an itty-bitty lift, and brightly colored, slightly askew eyes. The robot — its creators invariably refer to it as a “he” — chitters and chatters, whether or not anyone is playing with it, and sounds like a cross between WALL-E, a guinea pig and a fart.
    Vector relies on data to figure out how to do all kinds of things. That includes using its front-facing camera to recognize people and avoid bumping into objects, or its microphones to listen to human commands that start with the words “Hey Vector” and then respond appropriately.
    One thing Vector can’t do right now is spot pets. Andrew Stein, Anki’s lead computer vision engineer and a cat owner himself, sees this as a problem for a robot that’s meant to engage with the world around it, which in many homes will include cats or dogs.
    “If he’s smart about his environment and responds to a cat differently than a coffee mug sitting on his table, then he knows what a cat is, and that feels different,” Stein said as, nearby, a Vector photographed cats lounging on a rug.
    Anki’s engineers are using artificial intelligence to teach Vector how to do this. A key (and sometimes tricky) part of making this work involves collecting data — in this case, that data includes photos of cats sitting, swiping, scratching and sniffing.
    The company, which is also working on dog detection, hopes to roll out a feature that lets Vector perceive cats and dogs early next year. At first, Stein said, Vector will simply be able to detect a cat or a dog in the home, and the company is considering a range of simple reactions it could have, like taking an image owners can view in an accompanying smartphone app, or somehow interacting with the pet.

    Cool cats

    But getting Vector to notice a cat roving around your living room is not as simple as just showing the robot thousands of pictures of cats from existing online databases. Anki engineers have already used tens of thousands of these pictures to train a neural network — a kind of machine-learning algorithm loosely modeled after the way neurons function in the brain — on basic cat detection.
    But Stein said the images in these databases are quite different from what cats look like from Vector’s viewpoint, which could be high above an animal or right in front of its paws, and most likely indoors.
    “The key is getting data that is representative of what he will actually see when we deploy him into people’s homes,” he said.
    Stein believes these images will “tune” Anki’s neural network, which Vector can then use to better spot detect furry friends.
    The approach makes a lot of sense to Jason Corso, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who studies computer vision and video understanding. If Anki only used existing data sets on the web, or YouTube videos or Flickr photos of cats, its data would have all the biases of how humans typically take photos of their cats, he said.
    For instance, if Corso took a photo of his cat, a tuxedo named Harry Potter, it would be from Corso’s height of about 5’6″. Chances are Vector won’t typically be looking at cats from that high up.
    “Indeed, the robot needs to understand what a cat is from its own perspective,” he said.
    To shoot the photos at KitTea, Anki employees placed Vectors on the floor, on tables and on a skinny wall-mounted catwalk. They pressed a button on Vector’s back, which captured five images in succession. A tiny, front-facing display showed the cat what the robot was shooting.
    Over several hours, the team gathered more than 1,500 photos of the cats at the cafe.
    Anki wants Vector to recognize that an animal is nearby without necessarily seeing the animal’s face, similar to how the robot can currently determine that a person is nearby by just seeing part of their body.
      Eventually, Stein aims to have Vector identifying specific pets rather than just determining that a cat or dog is nearby. Then, perhaps, it could react differently to different animals — which would make sense, since some animals may want to look at it while others may be more skittish or just disinterested.
      This was true of the cats at the cafe. Some stared quizzically at the robot, while a few pawed, pounced on, or shoved it. Many of them didn’t seem to notice the robot at all; they just wanted to snooze on shaggy round pillows or sit in a kitty-sized replica of the Golden Gate Bridge and stare wistfully out the window.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

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      ‘Vanderpump Rules’ Recap: The Annual Birthday Meltdown Betches

      Hi friends! I’m taking over the Vanderpump Rules recap for two weeks while Sgt. Olivia Betchson is out living her best life. I’m so excited to be writing these recaps, but I have to be honest and say that I’m a recent VPR convert. After resisting for many years, I finally binged the show this summer, and realized just what I had been missing. And now I ask anyone who has gone remotely near LA if they’ve been to SUR. It’s cost me a lot of friends, but I do not regret it.

      As a reminder, last week James Kennedy got fired from SUR yet again, Jax, Brittany, and their limited knowledge of business-ownership tried to start a beer cheese company, and Stassi and Ariana planned their first-ever joint birthday party where definitely nothing will go wrong and zero lives will be torn apart. Let’s begin!

      We kick off the episode at Vanderpump Dogs aka my actual Heaven, where Lisa is enjoying a delicious dog biscuit with her tea. Rich people are weird, y’all. Our crew has all shown up to take pictures with their dogs to post on Instagram, which will somehow stop the torture of dogs in another country. A noble cause, and also how very smart of Lisa. All she had to do was whisper the words “more Instagram followers” in a dark corner of Villa Rosa and her staffers came running to support her.

      Jax is telling everyone that James got fired, while barely managing to contain his glee. Dude, didn’t I just see you get fired last season? Talk about the ‘roided up pot calling the alcoholic kettle black, no?

      Kristen upon hearing this news:

      Then, “Official Vanderpump Rules Cast Member” Raquel (What? That’s what it says on her IG) and James walk in. Man, this guy has no shame. I am literally a walking ball of shame at all times for like, saying hi a weird way, and these people will just saunter into the place of business of the woman who recently fired their *ss. It takes balls, I’ll give him that.

      Lisa calls James over to talk and tells him that she’s going to tell his mommy he has a drinking problem. That statement made me feel like I want to throw up, and she’s not even tattling on me. I’m so nervous.

      Ariana and Stassi sit down to talk about their birthday party, and call James over to disinvite him from it. Yet again, he claims that Katie is the one who got him fired! I cannot even find the words to say how pissed off this makes me! As my therapist would say, you are responsible for you, James, so stop acting like a b*tch baby. Okay, that last part is my own personal embellishment. After what is essentially the Red Wedding of West Hollywood, James decides to spare himself any more humiliation and leaves.

      Next, we move on to Lala and Brittany getting a butt facial. Damn. I don’t even have enough money to get an actual facial, let alone one on my butt. In fact, I think I have exactly enough money for a pinky toe facial. Do they offer those? Side note: I do have to say that while Lala’s makeup is still bonkers and I hate it, I’m really feeling the brown hair on her.

      Anddddd I immediately take that compliment back and remember why I often wish Lala would would disappear back to whatever plastic surgery clinic she crawled out of. Her “man” is, “an *ss man. A vagina man. A tit man. He’s just a man.”


      Seriously though, why does she speak like this?

      Stassi has Beau over for date night and they drink Aperol spritzes and eat meats and cheeses and talk about Italy. Okay wait, this might be my actual Heaven. No, I take it back. Put this date inside Vanderpump Dogs and now you have it!

      Okay, this whole situation with Scheana and Adam is making me incredibly uncomfortable. Is she sexually harassing him? Is he interested in her at all? Is he stringing her along so that he can be on this show and make mad money promoting Flat Tummy Tea on Instagram for the rest of his life? WHO CAN SAY.

      Cut to TomTom. Lisa is meeting James’ mom at an actual construction site. How lovely. It’s basically like, “Your son is an alcoholic and I fired him. Sorry you just sat on a nail. Will you be a dear and get me a cup of tea?”

      Kidding! What actually happens is Lisa tells Jackie that she fired James because he has displayed a pattern of mistreating and demeaning women. Jackie tells Lisa that she’s all for  “the movement of women,” unless her son is the one treating women like sh*t, and then that’s totally fine. She then tells Lisa she was a bad mom and begs her to give James his Tuesday night gig back. No! I am shocked!! A woman who produced a misogynistic, alcoholic, reality star was a bad mom?! Say it isn’t so! I won’t believe it!

      Tom and Tom head over to Lisa’s house to be her man servants, and they find her in the backyard clutching a tiny bird like she’s Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Fly away little bird! Fly away before you end up in her pocket!

      While there, Lisa asks Sandoval to look out for James, which I’m sure will work out for everyone involved. I know they say you can’t see an ego, but I swear I just saw Sandoval’s inflate ten times when Lisa asked for his help. I’m basically like one of those apps that will tell you how large your gestating baby is, except for with egos.  “Congratulations, Tom Sandoval! Your ego is now officially the size of a cantaloupe. Soon you will reach watermelon status!”

      Lisa gave Schwartzie ONE JOB and he used that opportunity to prove he doesn’t know how to count. Schwartz is lucky he is so loveable, because I’m pretty sure without that quality he would be playing video games in his mom’s basement right now. Hey Lisa, I can count and I’m willing to change my name to Tom! Wanna go in on a bar?

      What do you guys think of this makeup right now? I know Stassi thinks they are beautiful ice queens, but to me they look like that guy in Union Square that’s painted silver and dressed like a robot and calls me a f*cking b*tch when I don’t throw money in his hat.

      Brittany pulls Jax aside during the makeup session to tell him that Lala told her while they were getting their butt facials that Tom and Ariana don’t think Jax really changed. It was a very revealing moment. Get it? Because their butts were out. Sorry, I hate me too. Jax says that they’re just trying to tear him down because he’s doing better in life than them. Yes, that’s definitely it. A guy opening a bar named after him with Lisa Vanderpump is most definitely jealous of a nearly 40-year-old serial cheater who can’t make a drink more difficult than a glass of rosé. You hit the nail on the head, Jax.

      Cut to James’ apartment, where Lisa shows up on his doorstep. He must have had warning she was coming, right? I don’t believe for one second his apartment is always that clean, I say as I stare at my exploded suitcase from Christmas break. Lisa speaks for all of us when she tells James that when he drinks he is a “rude, aggressive little prick.” PREACH, GIRL! You should see his Twitter, Lisa.

      Party time. Is Schwartz dressed as Peter Pan? Personally I can think of no fictional character more perfect for Schwartz to be dressed as, and I’m ashamed I haven’t thought to call him Peter earlier. Oh wait, they’re saying he’s an elf on bath salts. Whatever. Tomato, tomahto, am I right?

      WTF is on Sandoval’s head?!?!?!? This guy is more extra than anyone I ever met. And his contacts! Stop. Stassi actually does a butt shot this year (the cause of last year’s meltdown), and I’m feeling like this episode is very butt-centric. What part of the body will we focus on next week? I’m waiting with bated breath.

      Lol of course Lala is dressed all in black. You always need a devil at a party with people dressed like ice angels. Official Vanderpump Rules Cast Member Raquel shows up, and Kristen immediately smells blood and starts circling her in the water.

      Jax pulls over Tom of House Sandoval, Queen in the North and confronts him about the earlier sh*t talking he and Ariana did. I have no idea what is said in this conversation, because I’m pretty sure I just figured out that Tom’s eyes are the monsters in Bird Box. They are freaking me OUT.  Jax is lucky he escaped with his life. I think they hug it out and everything is fine, but I can’t be sure because I had to blindfold myself.

      Official Vanderpump Rules Cast Member Raquel comes over and immediately starts problems. She’s praising James for not drinking since Pride, which happened about a minute ago. Bravo! Do they give out a chip for that, or just a pat on the back? Stassi starts getting heated and now I think we all know where this is going.

      Shockingly, we are all spared a meltdown, despite the fact that practically everyone in this scene is double fisting.

      Oh boy. I spoke too soon. At 1:49 AM Stassi decides it’s time to go to bed, and Beau is still at the party. Stassi immediately turns from ice angel into that woman that texted her ex 159,000 times and told him she’d make sushi out of his kidneys. Wait, was that actually Stassi? When she gets no answer, Stassi smashes her phone, and along with it all her hopes and dreams of a healthy relationship.

      And that’s all! Tune in next week to see if Beau escapes with his balls!

      Images: Bravo; Giphy (4)

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      South Korea turning away from dog meat trade

      Seoul, South Korea (CNN)Tori, a five-year-old black mongrel with an expressive, happy face, has enjoyed a rags-to-riches change of fortune.

      Tori was taken in by the newly elected President Moon Jae-in. Adopting a dog had been one of Moon’s campaign promises, aimed at raising awareness of abandoned dogs and animal rights.
      The dog now enjoys the manicured gardens of the Presidential Blue House where he’s since been joined by two Korean hunting dogs, a gift to Moon from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
        Tori’s story is emblematic of a shift in attitudes across South Korean society as dogs go from the dinner table to treasured companions.

        Changing industry

        For decades, South Korea has faced criticism over its treatment of animals and the country’s ongoing custom of consuming dog meat.
        International animal rights groups have worked to rescue dogs from farms in South Korea and relocate them overseas, including in the US, UK and Canada. According to Humane Society International (HSI), nearly 1,600 dogs have been rescued from 13 farms in South Korea since 2015, the year the organization began the campaign.
        The number of South Koreans who eat dog meat has been declining in recent years, while the number of households keeping dogs as pets has increased exponentially. South Korean animal rights activistshave been at the forefront of shutting down the dog meat trade.
        In Seoul, official statistics show the number of restaurants serving dog fell by 40% between 2005 and 2014, due mainly to reduced demand. Two bills have been proposed at the National Assembly to exclude dogs from the livestock category so they cannot be raised for meat, and to ban the feeding of dogs on food waste, a practice that is common on dog farms. If these bills pass, the already shrinking dog meat industry may nearly collapse.
        Last month, authorities in Seongnam, a satellite city of Seoul, shut down Taepyeong, the country’s largest dog slaughterhouse, where hundreds of thousands of dogs were killed each year by electrocution before being sold for meat, according to HSI.
        “This really feels like a landmark moment in the demise of the dog meat industry in South Korea and sends a clear message that the dog meat industry is increasingly unwelcome in Korean society,” said HSI’s Nara Kim at the scene of the closure.
        Kim is one of a group of activists working with dog farmers who want to move away from the industry, providing them with financial support.
        “We have worked with 13 farmers and all of them came to us and asked for help because they admit that this industry is dying,” Kim said.

        Rising popularity

        According to a survey by Gallup Korea in June 2018, about 70% of South Koreans said they would not eat dog meat in future — up from 44% in 2015.
        South Koreans’ changing perception of dogs can be attributed to multiple factors, but several experts stressed the need for companionship in an increasingly competitive and atomized society.
        “Increasing single-household numbers and a relatively high level of stress experienced from interacting with people in South Korea might have contributed to this change,” said Suh Eun-kook, a professor of psychology at Seoul’s Yonsei University.
        “People judge people but dogs don’t judge people. Instead, dogs give us unconditional satisfaction. This unconditional love from dogs seems to have contributed to a growing popularity of keeping dogs as pets.”
        One in four South Korean adults now keeps a pet, and the average owner spends about $90 every month on them, according to research by the KB Financial Group.
        As pet ownership has grown, businesses offering goods and services such as insurance, day care centers and grooming shops have proliferated.
        According to NongHyup, the National Agriculture Cooperative Federation, South Korea’s pet industry was worth $1.14 billion in 2013, but quickly increased to $3.4 billion by 2017. It is expected to reach $5.4 billion by 2020.

        Doggie day care

        On the streets of Seoul today, it’s not hard to spot pampered pooches dressed in the latest fashion. Department stores carry organic pet food, dog beds featuring Egyptian cotton and strollers imported from France.
        Every month, Ahn Da-som takes her small brown poodle, Angum, to a doggie spa located in relentlessly trendy Cheongdam-dong, part of Seoul’s Gangnam district.
        “She’s really like a member of my family so I want her to look very good all the time. I want her to be clean all the time because she’s just like me,” Ahn said.
        The spa includes a day care hotel, grooming salon, cafe and an events space that can host birthday parties. The whole building has a top-of-the-line ventilation system to keep interiors free of Seoul’s pervasive air pollution.
        When CNN visited, Angum was booked for a teddy bear haircut. She started with a relaxing bath, before beginning a three-hour grooming session with regular breaks for pampering and de-stressing. The session costs around $100.
        “It used to be the young generation who were interested in having dogs as pets — but now it feels it’s not only for the younger generation,” said Ahn, 29. “The change has been dramatic.”
        At the day care center downstairs, four trainers were looking after two dozen mostly small dogs. In densely populated Seoul, where most people live in high-rise apartments, taking dogs for outings to parks or elsewhere can require advance planning or a car journey. Day care centers provide a place for dogs to socialize and get their daily exercise.
        “I like the spa here the most… here my dog gets good massages and gets to play with other puppy friends,” said Lee Soo-ah, who takes her bichon frise to the center four times a week.
          After her bath and grooming session, Angum emerges a new dog. She then poses for a beauty shot wearing a red bow, seated on a white furry carpet in front of a photo wall decorated in a Christmas theme.
          While not all dogs get such luxurious treatment, the transformation of their status in South Korea seems clear. While some dog farmers are clinging onto the trade as part of of the country’s culinary tradition, today a dog is much more likely to appear in a family’s photo album than on their dinner table.

          Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

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          Seeing Eye Dog Sneakily Guides Mom Into His Favorite Pet Store At The Mall

          Four years ago, Danielle Sykora was assigned her service dog, Thai. Since then, he’s helped a lot with her visual impairment — and making her laugh.

          You see, Thai has needs, too. And sometimes, those needs have to come before Sykora’s, especially regarding toys and treats from his favorite place in the mall.

          On weekends, Sykora and Thai travel from Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where she is currently a student, to her home in New Jersey. During these visits, Sykora and her sister, Michele, enjoy shopping at the mall. On one outing, Sykora was joined by her dad, who made an interesting (and hilarious) observation about Thai. The pup seemed to like visiting one store in particular — a pet supply store called Cool Dog Gear.

          “The first time my sister ever went to this mall, she was with my dad and Thai just veered right into the store without her knowing,” Michele told The Dodo. “The second time we went back there, I wanted to witness it for myself, so we walked in the direction of the pet store and of course he walked right in there again!”

          That time, she had her phone ready and recorded the pup’s sneaky move. Like I said, Thai has needs.

          But Sykora’s family all agree that because he’s such a good boy, he deserves to spoil himself. “Thai and Danielle have a relationship only a person with a service dog could ever understand. He is her eyes. He goes with her absolutely everywhere,” Michele said. “Even when Thai isn’t working and we are home, if she leaves the room he will get up and follow her everywhere.”

          “The foundation my sister got him from, the Guide Dog Foundation, selects dogs for you based off their personality,” Michele added. “Thankfully, they stuck her with Thai because not only is he her service dog, but he is definitely our family’s entertainment as well.”

          Read more: http://www.viralnova.com

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          The government shutdown and overflowing toilets force Joshua Tree National Park to close

          (CNN)California’s Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday becomes the latest casualty of the federal government’s partial shutdown, with campgrounds closing due to health and safety concerns over near-capacity pit toilets.

          Unlike some previous government shutdowns, in which national parks closed entirely, gates have remained opened under the Trump administration, though parks are severely understaffed.
          Joshua Tree, which covers more than 792,000 acres of national park from Palm Springs north to the town of Joshua Tree, will remain open during the shutdown. But its popular campgrounds will close at noon Wednesday, according to the National Park Service.
            “The park is being forced to take this action for health and safety concerns as vault toilets reach capacity,” the park service said. “In addition to human waste in public areas, driving off-road and other infractions that damage the resource are becoming a problem.”
            Signs at Joshua Tree informed campers this week that the grounds would close “for the safety of visitors and park resources” due to a “lapse in federal appropriations.”
            Handwritten signs urged visitors: “Pack out your trash. There are no trash services at this time.”
            “It’s impacted (our lives) for fun, but it’s impacted people’s livelihoods and people’s jobs, and it’s disappointing because, you know, is a wall really that important?” visiting Texan Lori Neblett said, referring to President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to back off a demand for $5 billion for his long-promised border wall. The figure remains a nonstarter for Democrats, leaving Congress at an impasse that triggered the partial shutdown.
            “I think that we don’t need the wall,” Neblett said. “Maybe a little more border security but not a wall. We could use people coming from Mexico to help, you know, with jobs, and they help fuel the economy as well.”

            People can enter ‘at the visitor’s sole risk’

            The shutdown has also prevented the park service from making staff available to “provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response,” the department said.
            “Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk,” the park service said this week.
            Trash collection has stopped, along with road and walkway maintenance.
            Rattlesnake Canyon will close to reduce the number of potential search-and-rescue events for rangers already spread thin because of the shutdown, the park service said.
            The shutdown has also left a stinking mess at Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in eastern California.
            Yosemite, the nation’s third most-visited national park, remains open but various campgrounds, as well as snow play areas, are “closed due to human waste issues and lack of staffing,” according to its website.
            On the Yosemite Twitter account, officials said Sunday a “lack of the restrooms and resulting impacts from human waste” forced campgrounds to close.
            “People entering closed areas are being cited,” the tweet said.
            The visitor center and museum at Yosemite have closed, and emergency response times may increase during the shutdown, officials said.

            Communities and wildlife also harmed

            The shutdown not only hurts the parks but also surrounding communities that rely on an estimated $18 million a day from tourism, said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association.
            “It’s really a big deal for Joshua Tree,” she said of the campground closings. “This is a very popular season for people that come there.”
            Staff shortages have created a sense of “lawlessness” in the parks, Brengel said.
            “People are bringing in dogs and drones, and there are instances where people aren’t following the rules, and it is not good for the wildlife and the environment,” she said.
            Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith, in a statement, thanked the “local businesses, volunteer groups, and tribal members” who have stepped up to collect trash and maintain grounds during the shutdown.
            “This is a reflection on their efforts and the park is very fortunate to have a community that exhibits the kind of care and concern witnessed over the last week,” he said.
            But volunteer efforts can’t supplant the work of the park service, said David Lamfrom, director of the California Desert and National Wildlife Programs of the National Parks Conservation Association.
              “People are walking off trails, bringing their dogs,” he said. “People are trampling and destroying the things they want to preserve without knowing it. … People are camping where they want or showing up really early or late at certain watering holes so animals like bighorn sheep won’t come down to drink.”
              Key parts of the federal government have been impacted since December 22 by the shutdown, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, State and Housing and Urban Development.

              Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

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              Shelter Takes In Dog Found With Heartbreaking Note Saying Owner Couldn’t Feed Her

              An animal shelter in Wilmington, Delaware, has welcomed a sweet, skinny dog found wandering the property with a heartbreaking letter.

              “Please take care of Sky,” reads the handwritten note, seen in a photo posted to Facebook by the Delaware Humane Association on Thursday. “She is 6 years old and friendly. I couldn’t take care of her. I became homeless and couldn’t feed her. She is not sick, just hungry. Very friendly. Please find her a home please.”

              Stephanie Gomez/Delaware Humane Association
              Sky and the note found inside a bag she was wearing while wandering the property of the Delaware Humane Association.

              The note was inside a bag that Sky was wearing when shelter workers found her.

              “She really is super sweet, but quite shy at times,” Delaware Humane development and marketing director Greg Munson told HuffPost in an email. He added that Sky has been “very interested” in other dogs she’s encountered.

              Director of animal care Kerry Flanagan Bruni told Delaware Online that despite being underweight and having fleas, Sky is “doing great” and awaiting lab results testing for possible parasites.

              The shelter urged people in its Facebook post to avoid negative comments about the person who left Sky at the shelter, noting, “We can’t imagine this was easy for her former owner.”

              Stephanie Gomez/Delaware Humane Association
              Sky has been described as sweet and friendly, but sometimes shy.

              Munson told HuffPost that the shelter doesn’t have any idea at this point who the owner might have been, though it put some “feelers” out at local homeless shelters.

              He added that if the owner had spoken with shelter staff, it’s possible they would have been able to help, noting the organization has a program in place geared at helping people keep their pets.

              The shelter said in a Facebook post on Saturday that if staff hears from the owner, they “would be willing to work with them to reunite them, but it would depend on the situation and the owner’s circumstances.”

              Sky is now on a five-day hold at the shelter, required by law for animals that show up as strays or with no clear owner. DHA also reported her as “found” to Delaware Animal Services on the off-chance she was a stolen dog. 

              After the hold period is up on Monday, Sky will be taken in by a foster family. The shelter is accepting adoption applications for Sky, but Munson noted that she’ll have to “gain about 20 pounds” before she can be spayed and officially adopted. That said, the shelter has numerous other animals up for adoption, including several cats that have been in the organization’s care for more than a year.

              Luckily for Sky, it sounds like she’ll have no trouble ultimately finding a home.

              “There’s a lot of interest for sure,” Munson said.

              Stephanie Gomez/Delaware Humane Association
              Good luck, Sky!

              Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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              Scientists Call For Ban On Cancer-Risk Nitrates In Processed Meats Like Bacon

              On World Bacon Day, December 30, a panel of leading scientists and politicians called for tough government action to pull nitrates from bacon and other processed meats, citing “a growing consensus of scientific opinion” that cooking and eating nitrate-cured meat produces a carcinogen known as nitrosamine.

              “The meat industry must act fast, act now – or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco,” said Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who helped lead the initiative, according to Sky News

              Also led by Professor Chris Elliott of the Queen’s University Belfast Institute for Global Food Safety, the call for action was also backed by a number of nutritionists, food scientists, cancer NGOs, and prominent politicians involved in public health, the environment, and food safety in the UK.

              Their push comes three years after the World Health Organization evaluated evidence on the links between nitrates in bacon and other processed meats with cancer. They concluded that processed meats should be categorized under “Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans” alongside other unsavory characters like alcohol, tobacco, asbestos, and soot.

              Nitrite-free bacon is available in most supermarkets, however, the preservative chemicals are found in most bacon products and many other forms of processed meat such as sausages, ham, hot dogs, salami, etc.

              It’s worth considering that less than 5 percent of the nitrates we consume day-to-day comes from food additives. Dietary nitrate can also be found in various leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, as well as drinking water. Nevertheless, the experts are now arguing that we need to reassess whether its worth actively adding this potentially dangerous preservative agent to our dinner plate.

              “The vast majority of bacon on sale today still contains these dangerous carcinogens,” said Dr Malhotra.

              “Not only this, reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s stance in the 1990s, some of those in the business of making and regulating food continue to claim that health risks from nitrite-cured meat are negligible. The evidence says otherwise.”

              Bear in mind, they are not added to food for any sinister reason. On top of enhancing flavor, nitrates are used to fight off botulism, an especially nasty form of food poisoning caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Therefore, big producers are arguing that the anti-bacterial properties of nitrate cannot be ignored while assessing the many risks and factors involved in the debate on food safety.

              “The industry is constantly looking at the levels of nitrites and nitrates, but reductions have to be balanced against the food safety issues and minimizing waste,” a spokesperson for the British Meat Processors Association told BBC News.

              Read more: http://www.iflscience.com

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              Declassified Government Report Reveals Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Otters But Why?

              A declassified Cold War-era report compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) doesn’t detail the use of “truth serum” on terror suspects or blueprints for an orgasm-inducing mind control weapon, (even though those are both very real things). Rather, the 15-page report, obviously written by typewriter, characterizes everything you never needed to know about the river otter.

              The report was unveiled first by The Black Vault, a crowd-funded project specializing in the declassification of government records surrounding the decades-long MKUltra project through Freedom of Information Act requests. Between 1953 through the Cold War, the illegal human experimentation program infamously tested LSD on people without their consent and pushed the boundaries of research into pseudoscience and mind control. (Most recently, newly released documents outlined the testing of remote-controlled dogs, that is, real dogs implanted with electrical stimulation apparatus.) 

              Why did the government agency target mammals? Well, we’re not totally sure. But it’s not the first time the US government put together seemingly useless reports for who-knows-why. 

              First reported by Newsweek, the publication points out that the report reads like a child’s report on their favorite animal. We checked: it does.

              The land otter, which encompasses a number of species, is not to be confused with its larger cousin, the sea otter (Enhydra lutris). Found “all over the world and in various forms,” these fish-loving fiends grow as “large as small seals.” The report mainly refers to the North American river otter, which was classified as Lutra canadensis when the report was written. However, today it is known as Lontra canadensis

              Okay, so to be fair river otters are pretty badass creatures. As the report reads, their territory typically ranges over 80 kilometers (50 miles) and they “can climb stairs, ladder[s], and other objects easily” with the “ability to slide down inclines with ease,” not to mention they can swim more than 16 kilometers (10 miles) per hour, diving up to 18 meters (60 feet) and being able to stay submerged for up to six minutes. Plus, they float on their backs.

              Lutra, the otter, is a compact, powerful, intelligent animal capable of negotiating land, water, and obstacles with great facility” and capable of surviving in “hostile environments such as under ice, in hot water, in raging seas, and even in urban environments,” reads the the aptly named “A Dossier on Lutra (The Otter).” Sure sounds like a criminal of wartime efforts.

              Found within the report’s 15 pages are tenderly written pointers on how to bottle-feed baby otters with “the same formula used for human babies.” For those taking care of an adult otter, a subtle reminder is written to never take away its food – “particularly that which he has just caught, or suffer severe mauling.”

              Then again, you could just cozy up with one of the 11-kilogram (25-pound) critters by tickling them around the ribs (“it’s a good way to distract stubborn ones”).

              Never does the report cite a specific intended use for the semi-aquatic mammal, but it may have been used to provide background information priming the CIA for projects that might involve captive otters, noting the “basic cost of animal ($75 to $250) as is maintenance.” They are also notably clever, having developed the abilities to “open zipper, climb ladder, chew through zinc sheet, turn on tap water, carry stones and marbles,” among other exciting and government-worthy traits.


               A screengrab from the 15-page government report, “The Dossier of Lutra (the otter)”, details the proper design for a specially constructed otter harness so that they can be handled in an urban environment and identified as pets (so they don’t get hunted). The Black Vault/CIA

              [H/T: Newsweek

              Read more: http://www.iflscience.com

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              2018’s best on-screen animal goes to…

              Please imagine all awards to be presented by Hollywoo's own Mr. Peanutbutter.
              Image: bob al-greene / mashable

              Beware of spoilers: minor, animal-centric plot points are sprinkled throughout this article. 

              Right up there with quality lighting, charming animal actors are a top-tier cinematic staple. 

              From Judy Garland’s Toto to Melanie Griffith’s IRL pet lion, Hollywood has been historically fascinated by the furry friends who make our human stories come to life. 2018 continued that industry tradition with an array of talented performers who made audiences laugh, cry, and occasionally meow during dozens of this year’s best films and shows.

              Using professional stage names whenever possible, here are the top 10 animal performers of 2018, all responsible for stealing the scene and our hearts. 

              10. Hot Dog the English Sheepdog in Riverdale 

              Riverdale‘s goodest boy debate may rage on (#TeamVegas all the way), but you’ve got to hand it to Jughead Jones’ pal Hot Dog. That pup went through a lot for the Southside Serpents this year.

              Season 3 of Riverdale saw the kidnapping of Hot Dog by rival gang, The Ghoulies (gasp!) Episode 1 captured the harrowing journey surrounding his rescue with Hot Dog naturally featured quite heavily. Unfortunately, co-star Cole Sprouse may prevent Hot Dog from returning to Riverdale‘s spotlight.

              “We got this dog and this dog was the worst actor I have ever worked with,” Sprouse said in an interview with Seth Meyers. “It barks the whole time, it didn’t hit its mark, it broke fourth wall consistently, it was just no good.” 

              Poor, sweet, maligned Hot Dog. Your fans will not forget you.

              Most award-winning moment: Chained to a stake on The Ghoulies’ lawn, Hot Dog channeled a deep-seeded, pain-fueled need for belly rubs only previously attempted on-screen by Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe. Breathtaking. 

              9. Freddie Mercury’s cats in Bohemian Rhapsody 

              2018’s Freddie Mercury biopic wasn’t good for much, but it did resurface a fun, feline fact about the late rock icon. This dude loved cats. Really, really loved cats. 

              To wit: the song “Delilah”—off of Queen’s 1991 album Innuendo—is about Mercury’s tabby of the same name. If singing about your cat’s pee on a global stage (yup) doesn’t say love, then I don’t know what love is. 

              Most award-winning moment: Not swatting at Rami Malek’s mustache during every take. It is a temptation only consummate professionals can withstand. 

              8. Kelly the Yorkie in The Meg 

              Image: warner bros. / The meg

              Kelly the Yorkie portrays Pippin the Dog in The Meg, a creature whose surprising survival has spurred an onslaught of debate and theory from viewers.

              More than just a pretty face, Kelly channels Pippin with a surprising level of gravitas. The reunion with her owners towards the end of the film is a spectacularly layered and nuanced take on the craft of acting. Only a cold-blooded, prehistoric killing machine (trapped deep in the Marianas trench by a thermocline cloud of hydrogen sulfide) could escape those tear-jerking moments unmoved. 

              Most award-winning moment: Yes, you guessed correctly. Kelly the Yorkie did in fact perform all of her own stunts. Brava, madame!

              7. Uncredited pelican in Homecoming

              Image: prime video

              Put simply, what a bird.

              If you witnessed the barrage of Homecoming advertisements plastered all over the place, both IRL and online, this autumn, then you are already familiar with this avian artist. (His stunningly handsome visage was heavily featured for many of the series’ promotional materials.)

              Performing alongside Academy Award winner Julia Roberts in her small-screen debut, this uncredited pelican wasn’t awarded much screen time, but he did steal a number of critical scenes in the mysterious, tense drama. 

              Most award-winning moment: Making the most of his one line, our feathered friend repeatedly delivered his loud squawk with a range rivaling Seinfeld’s infamous “These pretzels are makin’ me thirsty.” A remarkable, revolutionary feat.

              6. That one kitten in The Haunting of Hill House

              Image: Steve Dietl / Netflix

              Such heavy work from an actor so very young.

              This uncredited little kitten is just beginning to gain industry attention, but his iconic and nightmare-inducing performance in that cockroach scene from The Haunting of Hill House carries the knowing severity of an artist twice his age. 

              Most award-winning moment: Every scene with this kitten is so enormously disturbing,this reporter still cannot tell how much of it was CGI. Fingers crossed for… all of it? Please?

              5. Bradley Cooper’s dog Charlie in A Star is Born

              Image: warner bros. / a star is born

              Indeed, a star was born. 

              The cinematic masterpiece that is A Star is Born took theaters by storm this past year—and will likely raise the same enthusiasm at the 91st Academy Awards in February 2019. Unfortunately, most of the movie’s well-deserved acting praise will go to its human stars, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. 

              Let us then take this time to honor Charlie, Bradley Cooper’s on and off-screen dog, responsible for 2018’s biggest heart-wrench. A reserved, but unquestionably precious performance, this Goldendoodle is showing us what rescue dogs are made of.

              Most award-winning moment: If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what moment this is. If you haven’t seen the movie, see the movie. Charlie’s work must speak for itself.

              4. Zeus the Husky from Dogs

              Image: netflix

              Okay, so this dog isn’t technically an actor, but his prominence in the 2018 entertainment landscape cannot go unrecognized.

              Zeus the Husky was one of Netflix’s many canine subjects for the docuseries Dogs. While each of the six episodes was touching, Zeus and his owner Ayham’s battle to reconnect over international borders in Episode 2 was uniquely impactful. 

              Highlighting the humanitarian crisis resulting from long-standing conflict in Syria, “Bravo, Zeus” is as important as it is heartwarming. Naturally, Zeus excels as the story’s star.

              Most award-winning moment: Nothing beats a dog video chatting with his owner. Absolutely nothing.

              3. Salem the cat from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 

              Image: Diyah Pera / Netflix

              Revitalizing a role previously held by the voice of Norbert from Angry Beavers, Salem the cat shined throughout Season 1 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The highly-anticipated Netflix series required the feline artist lounge composedly, run after stuff, and you know transform into a demon. Clearly: the part of a lifetime.

              But it wasn’t all kibble and yarn on-set. In an interview with Seth Meyers, Sabrina star Kiernan Shipka revealed that while filming she discovered her previously unknown cat allergy, a major obstacle for the two entertainers’ working relationship. (Although we continue to seek comment from his representation, we do not yet have word on how Salem took the news.)

              Most award-winning moment: Salem’s most dazzling Season 1 performance occurred off-screen at the series’ world-premiere event in Hollywood. Alongside his Sabrina co-stars, Salem pranced down the red carpet, occasionally stopping to pose for photos. Of course, he wore black.

              2. Towne the cat from Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

              Image: fox searchlight

              It is a rare cat that can get the highly-praised Melissa McCarthy to claim she was “out-acted.”

              Towne portrays the real-life pet of author and forger Lee Israel, named Jersey, in Can You Ever Forgive Me? The dramatic biopic of Lee’s life required a well-trained companion join McCarthy in a number of scenes. Towne subsequently delivered in spades.

              Director Marielle Heller went so far as to describe Towne as “the Marlon Brando of cats.” A higher endorsement simply cannot be conceived. 

              Most award-winning moment: Once you have observed the bond between Towne and McCarthy, it’s difficult to pick just one of their encounters as a favorite. However, in the context of the film’s events, their last exchange is uniquely moving.

              And the Milk-Bone goes to…

              1. Olivia the Westie from Widows, Game Night, and Insatiable

              Image: warner bros.

              I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: no one had a better year than Olivia the dog

              Appearing alongside industry icons like Viola Davis and Jason Bateman, Olivia cleaned up on the pooch castings for 2018—and then exceeded expectations on every front. 

              For her ensemble piece: a small, but poignant role in Netflix’s Insatiable. Showing off her comedic chops: a hilarious (and gory) character study for Warner Bros’ Game Night. Finally, making her dramatic debut: a gripping, harrowing, and starring role in Steve McQueen’s Widows.  

              Creating a body of work worth barking about, Olivia used 2018 to answer an age old question. Finally, heading into the new year, we know who is a good dog. 

              Most award-winning moment: The stand-off between Olivia and Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry in Widows is startlingly upsetting. Thank goodness they made up.  

              Honorable mentions: Paddington and Pooh

              Image: studio canal / disney

              IRL animals will always trump animated ones, but you’ve got to admit—this was one great year for fictional bears

              Paddington 2 hit theaters in early January, giving audiences a compassionate lesson on empathy and understanding. Christopher Robin brought Winnie the Pooh back to the big screen in August, reiterating just how immensely adorable this little no-pants bear can be. 

              Let’s hope for some more unbearably delightful performances in the new year… perhaps with a few of these real-life bears looking for a break centerstage. 

              Read more: http://mashable.com/

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              Camp Fire survivor finds dog waiting at their burned down house

              A business that was destroyed by the Camp Fire continues to smolder on November 9, 2018 in Paradise, California.
              Image: justin sullivan / Getty Images

              When Andrea Gaylord was forced to evacuate the devastating Camp Fire in Northern California in November, she couldn’t get back home to take her dog Madison with her to safety as the fires spread.

              The evacuation order was lifted nearly a month after it was instated in Paradise, California, and Gaylord was beside herself to see Madison waiting for her as she pulled up to her burned down property, Gaylord told the ABC 10 news.

              Madison miraculously survived the Camp Fire that tore through Northern California throughout November, killing 85 people, displacing thousands, and leaving many, including Gaylord, homeless.

              The animal rescue group K9 Paw Print Rescue tried to find Madison, an Anatolian shepherd mix, but were unsuccessful for weeks, only able to glimpse him from a distance a couple of times, according to a Facebook comment posted by rescuer Shayla Sullivan. Although they couldn’t get a hold of Madison, K9 Paw Print Rescue did manage to find Madison’s brother Miguel, who had found his way to a nearby city.

              Sullivan noted that although she never got close to Madison, she would leave food and water out for the dog, and even put a piece of clothing that smelled like Gaylord on the property for Madison to smell.

              Gaylord, of course, was overwhelmed to see Madison waiting there, protecting what was left of their home, and happy to see him reunited with his brother Miguel.

              “You could never ask for better animals,” Gaylord told ABC 10.

              h/t The Washington Post

              Read more: http://mashable.com/

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