“Ball Dogs” Steal Limelight at Tennis Open

The U.S. Tennis Open is officially underway in Flushing Meadows, New York! Players like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Serena Williams are all competing for the coveted grand slam title. But at a recent tournament, these tennis pros weren’t the only ones chasing balls…

A team of four shelter dogs served as “ball dogs” at the 2016 Brazil Open. Rescued from the streets of Sao Paulo, the dogs (Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle) “dutifully retrieved the balls” during an exhibition match between Roberto Baena of Spain and Gastao Elias of Portugal. They then surrendered the balls to the players and trainers, although sometimes “reluctantly”.

The initiative was no cost saving measure. According to organizer Marli Scaramella, president of the local ABEAC shelter, the event aimed to “educate people about the charity and raise awareness about all the dogs…looking for a home”. As an added bonus, it “show[ed] people that a well-fed and well-treated animal can be very happy”.

Andrea Beckert, who trained the dogs over several months, confirmed the goal. She explained, “These are dogs that were mistreated. We want[ed] to show that abandoned dogs can be adopted and trained”.

Of course, training the pups was no walk in the park. The dogs were often distracted as they learned their commands (“pick the ball,” “let it go,” “stay” and “come”). Also, because they were abused, they scared easily. “We had to make them adapt, feel the environment, the court, the noise of the balls, and the noise of the people”.

But, in the end, the dogs delivered! In fact, they “got more attention than the players themselves”, sparking frequent claps and cheers. Now, the dogs “just need to work on dropping the ball a bit quicker”…

If you would like to adopt a dog, please consider one of our partners: Animal House Shelter, the Austin Humane Society, City Dog Rescue, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the New Hampshire SPCA, and PAWS New England.

From Bark to Bite: FBI Upgrades Animal Cruelty to Top-Tier Felony

1Call it puppy love! Last week, the FBI announced that it will reclassify animal cruelty as a Group A felony, on par with arson, assault, and homicide. This compares to its previous classification as an “other offense” along with a variety of “lesser crimes”. Furthermore, the FBI will now start tracking all forms of animal cruelty (including neglect, abuse, and torture) and publishing the findings in the Uniform Crime Report.

Such changes “will play a vital role in bettering the lives of all animals”. According to Madeline Bernstein, President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Los Angeles, the new classification will bring animal cruelty to the forefront of criminal investigations. It will “help get better sentences, sway juries, and make for better plea bargains” by accused animal abusers. It is also likely to create positive spinoff effects by “giv[ing] animal cruelty laws in all 50 states more clout”.

Additionally, the Humane Society of the United States believes that the new tracking system will allow “law enforcement agencies and other organizations to better understand the volume and nature of these crimes”. This, in turn, will allow for a “better allocation” of resources for prevention and enforcement. For example, police and counselors will be able to work with children who show “early signs of trouble” to prevent further animal abuse.

But these pet-friendly benefits were not the only motives behind the policy changes. A recent study by the Chicago Police Department showed a “startling propensity” for animal abusers to also commit violent crimes against humans. In fact, separate studies revealed that 71-83% of women in domestic violence shelters had partners who abused or killed a pet. Moreover, approximately half of 36 interviewed mass murderers tortured animals in their adolescence. Thus, identifying and counselling animal abusers early may actually spare human victims.

As with any policy changes, however, implementation will take time.The new Group A felony classification will take effect in 2015. The FBI will also spend next year revising manuals, guidelines, and the National Incident Based Reporting System to facilitate animal cruelty tracking. It will start collecting data in January 2016 and releasing annual findings thereafter.

To learn more about animal cruelty, and how you can help, please contact the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.

Flickr photo credit: Katherine