Dolphins, Aliens, and the Search for Intelligent Life

Dolphins, Aliens, and the Search for Intelligent Life
by Keith Cooper for Astrobiology Magazine
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Aug 30, 2011

Intelligence is manifest in communication just as much as it is in technology and, if intelligence is truly derived from social behavior, then it may be far more prevalent than technology. If intelligence is defined as the ability to learn, then intelligence brings with it culture, which means something that is learned. We see baby dolphins learning from their mothers so, in the crudest sense, we might say that dolphins have culture and intelligence.
How do we define intelligence? SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, clearly equates intelligence with technology (or, more precisely, the building of radio or laser beacons). Some, such as the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, suggested that intelligence wasn’t just the acquisition of technology, but the ability to develop and improve it, integrating it into our society.
By that definition, a dolphin, lacking limbs to create and manipulate complex tools, cannot possibly be described as intelligent. It’s easy to see why such definitions prove popular; we are clearly the smartest creatures on the planet, and the only species with technology. It may be human hubris, or some kind of anthropocentric bias that we find difficult to escape from, but our adherence to this definition narrows the phase space in which we’re willing to search for intelligent life.
Technology is certainly linked to intelligence – you need to be smart to build a computer or an aircraft or a radio telescope – but technology does not define intelligence. It is just a manifestation of it, perhaps one of many.
Astrobiologists see intelligence a little differently. The dictionary defines intelligence as the ability to learn, while others see it as the capacity to reason, to empathize, to solve problems and consider complex ideas, and to interact socially.
If we take these characteristics to be a broad working definition of intelligence, our view of intelligent life in the Universe suddenly looks very different. No longer are we confined to considering only life that has technology.
To be fair to SETI, at this moment in time it cannot search for anything other than beacons – the vast distances across the cosmos coupled with our own baby steps into the Universe mean that we don’t have the capability to search for any other form of intelligent life other than those that can deliberately signal their presence. However, what a wider definition of intelligence tells us is that we are not alone, not even on our own planet Earth.
Professor Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist from the University of Oxford, was one of the first to put forward the theory that the evolution of intelligence is driven by social factors, allowing animals to survive, interact and prosper in large and complex social groupings.
These include notions of reciprocal altruism (I scratch your back, you scratch mine), politics (forming sub-groups and coalitions within the larger group) and understanding the emotions of others (empathy, which in turn relies on theory of mind, the ability to be aware of one’s self and others). Looking at it that way, modern social networking on media such as Facebook may just be a symptom of what helped drive us to become intelligent in the first place, many tens of thousands of years ago.
Here’s the trick – to be social, you must be communicative. Staying quiet is anti-social. Personal interactions require communication, of some form, and the more complex the interaction, the more complex the communication. So if intelligence and social behavior is linked – and many people agree that it is – then the best place to start looking for intelligence is in animals that like to chat with one another. And that brings us to dolphins. Ever since the 1960s, when John Lilly popularized the notion that dolphins may be cleverer than your average animal, dolphin intelligence has courted controversy, tempted us with tantalizing but thin evidence, and remained elusive.
We know they are able to communicate by a variety of means, from whistles and barks to echo location, and researchers working with captive dolphins have discovered that they understand syntax, i.e. the difference between a statement and a question, or past and future tense. As Carl Sagan once famously said, “It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English – up to 50 words used in correct context – no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese.”
“Carl Sagan was right!” says Lori Marino, a biopsychologist from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “We still don’t understand the natural language system of dolphins and whales. We know a little bit more now, and there have been investigators working on this for decades, but we haven’t really cracked the code.”
In that case, how can we be sure they even have a language? Justin Gregg, a researcher at the Dolphin Communication Project in Connecticut, is skeptical. “Most scientists, especially cognitive scientists, don’t think that dolphins have what linguists would define as language,” he says. “They have referential signaling, which a lot of animals do – squirrels and chickens can actually do that, and monkeys – and they have names for each other. But you can’t then say they have a language because human words can do so much more.”
Nevertheless, some scientists continue to fight in the dolphins’ corner. Referential signaling involves tagging things with names, such as having a specific whistle to identify sharks, or fishing boats, or food. “That sounds like a good definition of language to me,” says Laurance Doyle, a scientist at the SETI Institute in California. “Put it this way: the first premise that I think everyone agrees on is that all animals communicate, so once you buy that the next question is, how complex is each communication system?”
It is this question that has prompted Doyle to reappraise what we define as intelligent complex communication, and what types of signals we should be looking for with SETI. He applies a statistical analysis technique called information theory to languages in order to determine their complexity. It turns out that, according to information theory, dolphin communication is highly complex with many similarities with human languages, even if we don’t understand the words they are saying to one another.
Information theory was developed in the 1940s by the mathematician and cryptologist Claude Shannon, mainly to be applied to the then-burgeoning technology of telecommunications. It operates on the knowledge that all information can be broken down into ‘bits’ of data that can be rearranged in myriad ways. George Zipf, a linguist at Harvard, realized that language is just the conveyance of information, and therefore could be broken down too.
Think of all the different sounds human beings make as they speak to each other, the different letters and pronunciations. Some, such as the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ or words such as ‘and’ or ‘the’ will occur far more frequently than ‘q’ or ‘z’ or longer words such as ‘astrobiology’. Plot these on a graph, in order of the most frequently occurring letters or sounds, and the points form a slope with a -1 gradient.
A toddler learning to speak will have a steeper slope – as they experiment with words they use fewer sounds but say them more often. At the most extreme a baby’s babble is completely random, and so any slope will be nearly level with all sounds occurring fairly evenly. It doesn’t matter which human language is put through the information theory test – be it English, Russian, Arabic or Mandarin – the same result follows.
What is remarkable is that putting dolphin whistles through the information theory blender renders exactly the same result: a -1 slope, with a steeper slope for younger dolphins still being taught how to communicate by their mothers, and a horizontal slope for baby dolphins babbling. This tells us that dolphins have structure to how they communicate.
Meanwhile, another feature of information theory, called Shannon entropy, can tell us how complex that communication is.
Doyle makes the analogy to marching soldiers. Imagine one hundred soldiers on parade, walking in all different directions across a field. Then they are called to attention, and form ten neat rows of ten. Prior to the call to attention, when they are marching randomly, they have maximum entropy, maximum disorder, maximum complexity. Once they are lined up structure is imposed on them; their entropy decreases as does their complexity when coupled with a corresponding increase in structure.
Language is the same. Write down one hundred words on one hundred pieces of paper and throw them into the air and they can be arranged in myriad ways. Impose rules on them, such as sentence structure, and your choices automatically narrow. It is a bit like playing hangman; you have a five-letter word where the first letter is ‘q’, so the rule structure of English necessitates that the second letter is ‘u’.
From thereon there is a limited number of letters that can follow ‘qu’ and so you may have ‘que’ or ‘qui’ or ‘qua’ and you can predict that the word is ‘quest’ or ‘quick’ or ‘quack’. Shannon entropy is defined as this application of order over data and the resulting predictability of that order.
“It turns out that humans go up to about ninth order Shannon entropy,” says Doyle. “What that means is, if you are missing more than nine words then there is no longer a conditional relationship between them – they become random and pretty much any word will do.” In other words, there are conditional probabilities, imposed by the rule structures of human languages, up to nine words away.
Doyle has analyzed many forms of communication with information theory, from the chemical signals of plants to the rapid-fire radio transmissions of air traffic control. How do dolphins fare? “They have a conditional probability between signals that goes up to fourth order and probably higher, although we need more data,” says Doyle.
The problem with studying dolphin communication is being able to study them for any great length of time out in the wild, which requires patience and money. This is where Denise Herzing comes in. She is based at the Wild Dolphin Project in Florida, and has spent much of her time working with the same pod of wild dolphins for the past 27 years, documenting the complexity of their communication, acoustic signals and behavior over that time period.
“We know them individually, we know their personalities, we know their communication signals and we already do things together that seem to be of interest [to them],” she says. “What we’re now trying to do is develop an interface that takes advantage of those small windows where we have their attention and they want to interact with us.”
This interface, developed with the assistance of artificial intelligence specialist Thad Starner at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and marine cognitive scientists Adam Pack of the University of Hawaii and Fabienne Delfour at the University of Paris, is known as CHAT, the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry device. It’s a smart phone-sized gizmo that can I.D a dolphin whistle in real time. It’s worn around the neck of a diver and connected up to a pair of hydrophones and a one-handed keyboard called a ‘twiddler’.
By agreeing with the dolphins on a common artificial language, neatly side-stepping the problem of translation, it is hoped that CHAT will enable humans and dolphins to talk in real time. For instance, dolphins will be able to request toys such as a ball or a hoop from humans, and vice versa. Although it won’t be the most meaningful conversation in the world, it will be conversation and that in itself will be revolutionary.
Still at the prototype stage, Herzing sees CHAT as an extension of all the work done in communication studies with captive dolphins over the past few decades.
“To have high-powered, real-time computer technology to help us recognize specific signals that the animals make could empower us to bridge that gap and allow humans into their acoustic world,” she says. The plan is to test the device this year, before getting it out into the wild in 2012.
How complex dolphin communication really is remains to be seen. We must be careful not to anthropomorphize. We know their communication has nuances that are incredibly complex, but so do other species of animal, from bees to plants. Do dolphins have language with the scope and breadth to converse about anything like we can with human language, or is it more basic? Justin Gregg would argue the latter case.
“Essentially they do behave in complex and interesting ways, but there are no great mysteries in what they do that can only be answered with language,” he says.
Herzing and Doyle are more optimistic. “Dolphins have exquisite sound and they have a lot of places they could potentially encode information – we just haven’t looked adequately yet,” says Herzing. She has worked with Lori Marino and the SETI Institute’s Douglas Vakoch on how we can recognize intelligence other than human intelligence.
Meanwhile, Doyle has suggested that SETI should search for signals with information content that has a -1 slope. We may find that an alien signal displays complexity up to ten, fifteen, of twentieth order Shannon entropy. What would such a language be like?
To explain, Doyle highlights the example of Koko, a captive gorilla that has learned sign language and can understand concepts like “tomorrow” or “yesterday”. But combine time tenses, and Koko doesn’t understand.
“If you say to her, ‘by this time tomorrow I’ll have finished eating’, Koko doesn’t understand the two time jumps, that at some point in the future there will be a point in the past,” says Doyle. “Now imagine an alien comes with more complex abilities.
They may say, ‘I will have to be have been there’. Now there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but humans can’t handle three time jumps or more. An alien could just think in a more complex way.” So instead of double entendres, they might have triple or quadruple entendres.
What all this tells us is that intelligence is manifest in communication just as much as it is in technology and, if intelligence is truly derived from social behavior, then it may be far more prevalent than technology. If intelligence is defined as the ability to learn, then intelligence brings with it culture, which means something that is learned. We see baby dolphins learning from their mothers so, in the crudest sense, we might say that dolphins have culture and intelligence. a
By escaping the assumption that intelligence must equal technology, we see that there are many other intelligences on Earth – ask Lori Marino, and she’ll tell you that even the simplest multi-cellular life could be considered intelligent to a degree, thanks to its nervous system.
But it also poses a problem for SETI – if the Universe is full of intelligent, social, communicative but non-technological dolphins and the like, then there will be no radio beacons to transmit signals. The Universe could be full of life, of intelligence, and we would never know it.

Fawn Rescue

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and on

Fawn Rescue.avi On the Morning of May 18th 2011 my wife noticed a deer in our yard that … mehr On the Morning of May 18th 2011 my wife noticed a deer in our yard that appeared to be franticly looking for something in the rocks that form a wall on property line in Brush Prairie WA. When we first went out with our neighbors, we didn’t see anything but the deer wouldn’t leave our yard. We went back to our house and watched after a few minutes the deer came back.

We went out to the area the deer was concentrating on and could hear a baby fawn crying in the rocks. We moved some of the rocks and smaller boulders and saw baby fawn’s face in the rocks. He had apparently fallen in our crawled in through one of the gaps and was now trapped. The larger boulders were too heavy to move and we didn’t want to have the rocks cave in on the baby deer.
We finally called our Clark County Fire District 3. The B Shift team came out and they were able to move the larger rocks out of the way with the Jaws of Life enough to be able to reach in a pull the baby fawn out and reunited it with its momma. The fawn was probably stuck in their most of the night quickly went on to nurse off its momma. One of our neighbors took some video clips of the fire department’s rescue. I edited the clips into this short clip. After sharing it with some friend they thought that it was just too cute not to share with more people so my neighbor agreed to let me upload the final clip.

Salt of Earth and our Responsibility

Salt of the Earth

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”
– Isak Dinesen

Amagansett is a tiny village in the Hamptons which I
pass through when bicycling from East Hampton to Montauk.
The native American Montauketts gave Amagansett its name
which in their language translates as “place of good water”.

Amagansett has beautiful beaches with virtually no parking
for cars, but is incredibly accessible to bicycles. Each time
I go there in the summer, I pack up my backpack with goggles for
a swim in the ocean, suntan lotion, a towel, and a frozen glass
bottle containing peach or mango puree. By the time the sweat
pours off of me from the hot sun, the fruit puree has melted
and provides for a satisfying drink. Second to biking, there
are few things that are as wonderful as laying on the beach,
watching waves hit the shore, and separating and counting
colorful grains of sand held in my outstretched hand.

Amagansett is a well guarded secret to people in the know.
Amagansett’s full-time or sometime residents include Alec Baldwin,
Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Kathleen Turner, and Lauren Bacall.
And my friends, Natalie and Steven, the salt of the earth.

I met Natalie and Steven at a local Farmers Market. They were
offering their artisanal sea salt which is 100 percent pure
and entirely made by hand from seawater harvested from
the waters in their back yard, a living sea we call the Atlantic.

They first filter and then evaporate the water and their
process results in this magnificent sea salt which fills
me with memories of the past 40 years of summer trips to
America’s most beautiful beaches. In the winter, many
people place a discarded nautalus seashell to their ear
and listen to the sound of the ocean. Me? I taste a few
grains of salt from my bottle of sea salt, and in doing
so, taste the same substance which adds the exact level
of salinity as is contained in the life-giving liquid
in my arteries and veins.

An interesting aside…for as long as I can remember, there
has been a debate regarding an athlete’s need to replenish
salt lost in sweat while competing in endurance events.

One day, I might be positive that an athlete does not need
salt pills. The next day, I am positive that he does. I’ve
flip-flopped on this issue forever and a day, but recently,
while volunteering in the transition tent at the Ford Ironman
Triathlon in Lake Placid, New York, I was very much surprised
to see how many elite athletes were popping salt pills
before going out on their 112 mile bike rides or 26 mile
marathon runs. After the race, I watched one man who did not
take salt pill supplements, and he under-hydrated his body.
The man had to be given eight pints of liquid by I.V. in the
medical tent. (His wife is the manager of a local Bergen
County, NJ running store.)

So, I plan to take salt pills in the future when
participating in such endurance events. My salt will come
directly from the ocean. I will grind the salt and put
it into vegan capsules. I have no doubt that this
Hampton salt will help me swim, bike, and run faster…
or so I have convinced myself. Any edge I can get
is a plus. Am I self-delusional to believe that this
sea salt is better than any other salt, or tastier?
I don’t know the answer to that, but ask me again
after I win my first triathlon next summer.

From Natalie and Steven’s website:

“Our process is entirely natural, requiring only the sun,
the wind, a strong back, and patience. By carefully balancing
solar evaporation and exposure to the wind, our Amagansett
Sea Salt forms slowly over time into large crystals with a
mild, sweet flavor and a distinctive “crunch” that will
enhance any food.

“We do not wash or bleach our salt. The seawater we collect
is not boiled. Our salt is not oven or kiln dried. We use
no drying or anti-caking agents. Except for select and
all-natural herbs and citrus peels used to craft our seasoned
sea salt blends, we add nothing to the clean ocean water.
That’s correct, nothing. As a result, our natural and unrefined
sea salt retains the nutritious trace minerals naturally
occurring in seawater.”

“The ocean is a mighty harmonist.”
– William Wordsworth

“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth
when it is quite clearly Ocean.”
– Arthur C. Clarke

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back
to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch –
we are going back from whence we came.”
– John F. Kennedy

Robert Cohen

Einstein und die gerettete Spinne

Auszug aus einem Aufsatz von Ingolf Bossenz:

Einstein und die gerettete Spinne
Eine gottlose Welt muss noch lange keine wertlose Welt sein – ein etwas anderer Blick auf das Phänomen des Religiösen

Von Ingolf Bossenz


»Es ist gewiss«, erklärte Einstein, »dass eine mit religiösem Gefühl verwandte Überzeugung von der Vernunft bzw. Begreiflichkeit der Welt aller feineren wissenschaftlichen Arbeit zugrunde liegt. Jene mit tiefem Gefühl verbundene Überzeugung von einer überlegenen Vernunft, die sich in der erfahrbaren Welt offenbart, bildet meinen Gottesbegriff: Man kann ihn also in der üblichen Ausdrucksweise als ‘pantheistisch’ bezeichnen.« Einstein nannte das »kosmische Religiosität« – eine Religiosität, »die keine Dogmen und keinen Gott kennt, der nach dem Bild des Menschen gedacht wäre«. Es könne daher »auch keine Kirche geben, deren hauptsächlicher Lehrinhalt sich auf die kosmische Religiosität gründet.
Der englische Biologe Julian Huxley (1887 – 1975), ein ausgewiesener Atheist, war der Ansicht, Religion lasse sich am besten verstehen »als angewandte spirituelle Ökologie«, die ein umfassendes Leitsystem schaffen müsse: für die Beziehungen der Menschheit zur umgebenden Natur, des individuellen Ichs zu den Kräften seines Innenlebens und des Einzelnen zu den Anderen und zur Gesellschaft. Eine ständige Aufgabe bleibe dabei die »Heiligung des Lebens«.

Primat der Natur statt Primat Gottes – mit dieser Formel ließe sich eine solche spirituelle Ökologie beschreiben. Für den ehemaligen katholischen Priester und Theologieprofessor Hubertus Mynarek kommt allein aus einer solchen Weltsicht die Hoffnung auf Heil. Heil nicht durch eine über der Natur waltende göttliche Kraft, sondern durch den Ausstieg aus der christlichen »Heilsgeschichte der Naturvergessenheit«. Angesichts der ökologischen Weltkrise sei eine neue, eine ökologische Religion nötig, »die das Verhältnis des Menschen zur Gesamtnatur und zum Kosmos in den Mittelpunkt stellt, die sich an das ‘große Haus des Universums’ rück-bindet (von: religare), die die großen Ordnungen und Gesetze des äußeren Universums wie des inneren, nämlich der Psyche, erkennen, erfühlen, bewundern und verantwortungsvoll praktizieren will«.

Die Werte einer solchen Religion sind weder abstrakt noch müssen sie gleich einer Monstranz durch ehrfürchtig versammelte Massen getragen werden.

Inge Keller, die große und großartige Schauspielerin, erzählte mir einmal im Interview: »Vor einigen Jahren hatte ich ein seltsames Erlebnis. An der Tür von meinem Haus auf Hiddensee sitzt eine riesengroße Fliege. Und ich schlag’ sie tot. Und ich höre ein leises Stöhnen. Ganz leise. Es ist die Wahrheit. Seitdem schlage ich keine Fliegen mehr tot. Oder Spinnen. Heute morgen saß wieder eine in meiner Badewanne: Unermüdlich versuchte sie, die glatte Wand zu bezwingen, rutschte ab, versuchte es wieder. Kann man so eine Quälerei lange ansehen? Also nehme ich vorsichtig ein Handtuch und setze sie in den Garten, wo sie befreit losläuft. Das ist ein solches Glück für mich, dass mich das auf den ganzen Tag froh einstimmt.«

Inge Keller wird dieses Handeln kaum als Ausdruck ökologischer oder anderweitiger Religiosität reflektieren. Und doch zeigt sich darin genau jene »Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben«, die Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) als »Frömmigkeit in ihrer elementarsten und tiefsten Fassung« sah: »Wenn ich ein Insekt aus dem Tümpel rette, so hat sich Leben an Leben hingegeben und die Selbstentzweiung des Lebens ist aufgehoben.«
Nichts anderes meint Mynarek, wenn er schreibt, »dass auch die globalsten und präzisesten psychologischen, anthropologischen, soziologischen, politologischen und ökologischen Analysen der gegenwärtigen Menschheitskrise durch die Ratio keine tiefgreifende Besserung herbeiführen können, wenn kein neues Lebensgefühl, kein neues Verständnis der Natur, keine neue Ehrfurcht vor ihr und ihren atemberaubenden Werten und Eigengesetzlichkeiten entsteht«. Auch für Karl Marx war die »vollendete Wesenseinheit der Menschen mit der Natur« ein notwendig anzustrebendes Ziel der gesellschaftlichen Entwicklung.

»Vollendete Wesenseinheit der Menschen mit der Natur« dürfte wohl ein nicht minder schwieriges Ziel sein wie der Kommunismus. Und ohne wahrhaft religiösen Enthusiasmus kaum in Angriff zu nehmen. Der Weg als Ziel. Mit vielen kleinen, oft banal erscheinenden Schritten. Wie diesem: Am Nachmittag des 24. Dezember versammeln sich in jedem Jahr vor dem Berliner Dom am Lustgarten Mitglieder des Vereins Tierversuchsgegner Berlin und Brandenburg bei einer Mahnwache und – so die Ankündigung – »gedenken aller durch Menschenhand geschundenen Tiere«. Man könnte die Aktion »lebensfremd« nennen, denn die Weihnachtsbraten der Hunderte von Kirchgängern sind am »Heiligen Abend« längst ausgenommen und zerteilt oder schmurgeln bereits in der Pfanne. Wie alle Jahre wieder. Und auch das wird wohl ein frommer Wunsch bleiben: Dass die Solidarität auch mit Tieren nicht mehr als »extreme« Forderung, sondern als notwendiger, als existenzieller Wert betrachtet wird.

Der Roadkill-Bestatter Eine Reportage von Sonja Beeker

Der Roadkill-Bestatter Eine Reportage von Sonja Beeker

Gray Scott Walsh ist der Roadkill-Bestatter. (Sonja Beeker)
In den Wäldern Neuenglands kommt so manches Wildtier unter die Räder, um dann vom Straßendienst entsorgt zu werden. Manche aber erhalten ein ordentliches Begräbnis: Wenn Gray Scott Walsh sie am Straßenrand entdeckt, kann er nicht einfach an den Unfallopfern vorbeifahren.

Was sich in den Wäldern von Neuengland an wilden Tieren so tummelt, bekommen viele nur in Form von so genanntem “Roadkills” zu Gesicht, nämlich an- oder gar plattgefahren am Straßenrand. In der Regel werden die Kadaver nach einiger Zeit vom Straßendienst abgeholt und verbrannt oder kompostiert.

Begräbnis für tierische Autoopfer

Gray Scott Walsh bei der Arbeit. (Sonja Beeker)Nicht selten aber kommt Gray Scott Walsh dem Straßendienst zuvor. Anders als andere “Roadkill”-Sammler ist er weder am Fleisch noch am Geweih fürs Wohnzimmer interessiert. Sieht er am Straßenrand ein totes oder sterbendes Tier, dann hält er an, hält einen Moment inne, packt es ein und gibt ihm in seinem Garten ein würdiges Begräbnis.

Puppy Mill Euthanizes 1,200 Dogs After Virus Outbreak

Puppy Mill Euthanizes 1,200 Dogs After Virus Outbreak
by Sharon S.
December 23, 2010

An estimated 1,200 dogs at a Kansas puppy mill were euthanized after an outbreak of distemper in several Wyoming pet shops was traced to the commercial breeding facility.

The Kansas Livestock Commission began investigating the Beaver Creek Kennels after twenty-four puppies at pet stores in Cheyenne and Casper, Wyoming came down with the highly contagious distemper virus.

The common link between the sick puppies was their purchase from the commercial kennel that is owned by breeder Jeff Fortin.

The outbreak of the often-fatal disease is the largest one Wyoming officials have ever seen. The University of Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory is working hard to figure out the exact strain of the virus and the best way to medically treat the sick puppies.

But news of the epidemic brought about a different outcome for the approximately 1,200 dogs that were exposed to the disease at Beaver Creek Kennels.

There was no one at a laboratory working feverishly to help them.

Instead, the Kansas Animal Health Department came to the puppy mill and euthanized all of the dogs through intravenous injection.

Both the Livestock Commission and Animal Health Department described the decision to destroy 1,200 innocent lives as “agonizing.” The dogs were buried on a nearby farm.

The saddest part of this story is the distemper outbreak at the puppy mill was no surprise to officials. Jeff Fortin’s kennel had been in trouble since 2006 when he was fined $8,795 for violations about recordkeeping and “failure to adequately treat animals with health problems.”

The dogs at Beaver Creek Kennels were put under quarantine on two other occasions by the Animal Health Department for confirmed cases of distemper and Fortin was temporarily suspended from selling puppies.

Each time Fortin’s dogs were placed under quarantine, he fell further behind financially. He ran out of money to pay the staff that took care of the dogs.

Livestock Commissioner Bill Brown said, “It became an economic situation, and consequently became a health, safety and welfare issue for the puppies. The owner couldn’t feed his dogs, his help left, and health, safety and welfare became an even bigger issue.”

Animal shelters in the area refused to rescue the dogs because of the threat of the disease. So the decision was ultimately made to euthanize all of them.

The lives of the remaining puppies at the pet shops are in the hands of the veterinary laboratory in Wyoming.

And if you are wondering about the future for Jeff Fortin – under a consent agreement between the Kansas Animal Health Department, Fortin is eligible to be back in business in six months if he meets the requirements.

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