Dog’s changed behavior could point to human health issue

Dear Dr. Fox • I just read about the grandfather whose husky rescue, in the family home, began to bark at him after being in the household three months. Although I suspect you are correct with a PTSD diagnosis, I wonder if something could have changed in the gentleman’s health. Our Labrador retriever became very worried just before my husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Hank is an elderly dog now, but eight years ago, he was an exuberant, rowdy clown. For the period shortly before my husband’s diagnosis, however, Hank was subdued, depressed, restless and worried. He did not bark at my husband, as the dog in your column did. He seemed to be looking to us for assurance.

My husband did survive, and is now eight years past cancer surgery and doing well. — N.J.S., Applegate, Ore.

Dear N.J.S. • Your letter is very much appreciated. In my opinion, any behavioral change in a dog toward one family member, whose attitude and relationship with the dog have not changed, calls for close attention.

A first step would be to have a veterinarian rule out any underlying medical problem in the dog. Then have the person the dog seems so concerned about consult with a physician. Dogs have a highly evolved sense of smell, and some can detect early changes in body chemistry and scent, which can be associated with a variety of health problems.

News item: Hunters say dog chew trend invites antler thefts

The growing popularity of antlers as chew snacks for dogs has fueled a brisk market, but has also led to reported thievery. Police don’t have precise figures, but hunters in Anchorage, Alaska, say they suspect criminals are swiping souvenirs for resale to pet owners seeking the nutritious product. — Alaska Public Media, Jan. 4

This news item reminds me to advise dog owners not to give such hard materials to their dogs to chew on, because the harder the material, the more likely a dog will crack or fracture a tooth. This is a painful and costly consequence. Avoid all the smoked and otherwise treated animal parts in pet stores that could be loaded with potentially harmful bacteria. Only buy dog chews that do not feel rock-hard and that are clearly manufactured in the U.S., such as rawhide strips, freeze-dried chicken strips for small dogs and PetzLife’s Complete Treats.

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Flat in War of the Worlds author's former Marylebone home for sale

A Marylebone apartment is for sale at the address where novelists HG Wells and Arnold Bennett lived in the Thirties.

The four-bedroom home is in Chiltern Court, which features two English Heritage brown plaques to mark its literary past.

Priced £2.35 million with Kay & Co, the flat has a roomy kitchen, two reception rooms, bathroom and a guest cloakroom. The building also comes with 24-hour concierge.

The War of the Worlds author Wells lived and worked at the property from 1930-36.

Bennett, billed as the JK Rowling of his day, lived at Chiltern Court from 1930 until his death in 1931.


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Austrian Gasser wins women’s snowboard Big Air, USA’s Anderson second

Feb. 22 (UPI) — Austrian snowboarder Anna Gasser won the women’s Big Air gold medal Thursday in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.

Gasser collected a best score of 185.00 points from her second and third runs, 89.00 and 96.00 points respectively.

“I’m feeling amazing,” Gasser said following her victory.

“It’s been such a good day, everyone was doing so well. I was like, ‘I really have to step up my game’, and I’m so thankful I landed the trick I had in mind and that it was enough to win the gold today,” she said.

Gasser became the second Austrian athlete to win a gold medal in snowboard, after Julia Dujmovits won in the women’s parallel slalom in 2014.

Jamie Anderson of the United States, slopestyle gold medalist in Pyeongchang, was placed second with 177.25 points. She was the first woman to win two snowboard medals at a single Winter Games.

“My second medal feels awesome. I was just so happy to come here and do what I wanted to do,” said Anderson.

Zoi Sadowski Synnott pocketed the bronze in 157.50.

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Bjoergen now most decorated Winter Olympian, U.S. makes history in skiing

Feb. 22 (UPI) — Norway’s cross-country skiing legend Marit Bjoergen broke the all-time record for most Winter Olympic medals as she took a bronze Wednesday from the women’s team sprint free event at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The 37-year-old and Maiken Caspersen Falla finished in 15 minutes and 59.44 seconds, 2.97 seconds more than that of American duo of Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall, who won the U.S. first ever Olympic cross country gold.

The 14th medal put Bjoergen ahead of fellow countryman and biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.

“It’s hard to understand, actually,” Bjoergen said of her achievement as the most decorated Winter Olympian.

“When you’re still an athlete you just have focus on other races. I think I’ll need to have time to myself and look behind me and look how I’ve been able to do this. It’s still hard to understand it when I’m standing here,” she said.

“If someone told me (in 2002) I would be standing here, that I would still be skiing here, I would have thought it was not possible. But I am here and still fighting for medals. Of course I am proud of myself,” she added.

Randall won her first Olympic medal in her 18th event, setting a new record for most events before claiming a medal.

Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla and Stina Nilsson took the silver, finishing 19 hundredths of a second adrift.

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‘A very scary movie’: how China snatched Gui Minhai on the 11.10 train to Beijing

The 11.10am to Beijing left on time, gliding out of Shanghai’s cavernous high-speed rail terminal and darting north through the cheerless suburban sprawl.

On board the sleek, white bullet train sat an unlikely trio of Europeans, one of whom held the key to a real-life political thriller so frightening and tangled it has left all those trying to decipher it both gripped and unnerved.

Only two of the trio would make it to their final destination.

As the G126 hurtled towards the Chinese capital on 20 January, at speeds of up to 350km an hour, the latest dramatic chapter in a surreal two-year saga was about to unfold.

For one of the passengers was Gui Minhai, a portly Swedish publisher once famed for his scandalous tomes about the leaders of the world’s second largest economy.

Just over two years earlier, in October 2015, Gui had vanished from his holiday home in Thailand, one of five Hong Kong booksellers snatched in still-unexplained circumstances during what many suspect was a political witch-hunt to silence or punish those who dared defame the Communist party’s great and good.

Now, the 53-year-old publisher – who had only recently emerged from Chinese custody and was travelling with Sweden’s consul general in Shanghai, Lisette Lindahl, and another Swedish diplomat – was about to disappear again.

At just after 3pm, the train pulled into Jinan West station in Shandong province, about 400km shy of its destination. The doors slid open and a gaggle of plainclothes agents pushed into the carriage. As they lifted the bookseller from his seat, an English-speaking female officer announced a police operation was underway.

map locator of Jinan West station in Shandong province

“They had no uniforms and no credentials,” said one source with knowledge of the day’s events. “They simply took him.”

Within seconds Gui Minhai was gone.

“Perhaps something like this was planned all along and there was no way of stopping it,” Gui’s daughter, Angela, reflects a fortnight later, as she considers the latest misfortune to befall her father.

‘China doesn’t mind how ridiculous it makes itself look’

Magnus Fiskesjö, who first met the bookseller in 1980s Beijing and has been a friend since, said he was stumped by Gui’s increasingly mysterious tale.

“It’s a very scary movie,” the Cornell University academic sighed. “It’s astounding, astounding … I find myself speculating quite wildly as to why they would do this.”

Fiskesjö is not alone.

China’s official explanation – made public on 9 February after the bookseller was paraded before a group of Beijing-friendly reporters at a facility in east China – is that Gui is suspected of leaking state secrets to “overseas groups” and trying to skip the country as part of a Swedish plot. (Supporters say Gui had been travelling to the Swedish embassy for a medical examination amid fears he was suffering from a rare neurological disease).

“I fell for it,” the bookseller claimed in a video activists rejected as a forced confession.

Gui Minhai delivers what supporters say is his staged confession

Gui Minhai delivers what supporters say is his staged confession Photograph: SCMP

Few, perhaps not even within China’s corridors of power, believe that implausible narrative though.

“The thing that is so surprising is the failure of the Chinese government to put out a coherent explanation that does not subject them to ridicule,” says Jerome Cohen, a New York University expert in Chinese law and human rights.

“It seems the People’s Republic of China doesn’t mind how ridiculous it makes itself look. It’s like a second-rate comedy show – only the joke is on Gui.”

A new wave of oppression

The absence of hard facts or credible Chinese justifications has spawned a cottage industry of dark hypotheses and conspiracy theories about what has happened to Gui and, crucially, why.

From his desk in Ithaca, New York, where he tracks the ever more serpentine case, Fiskesjö reels off his theses – not one of them, he concedes, provable.

Had Gui been snatched by rogue agents or fallen victim to a botched handover between poorly coordinated security forces? Was he a pawn in a game of geopolitical chess that a newly assertive Beijing was using to humiliate and intimidate Sweden and the west?

Or was Gui simply another victim of an aggressive crackdown on dissent that followed Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012?

“We’ve seen a new wave of oppression and repression and unfortunately Gui Minhai’s case fits into that,” Fiskesjö says.

But Fiskesjö and others are haunted by another possibility: that Gui had either published or picked up some toxic nugget of information that had enraged one of China’s top leaders and made the bookseller the target of a vicious and unstoppable campaign of retribution.

“Sometimes [in China] powerful bosses can just say something and have it happen,” Fiskesjö says. “I wouldn’t exclude that possibility.”

“My best guess,” speculated another source, “is that he either has – or the Chinese think he has – information which would be harmful to the reputation of someone in the leadership.”

One thing seems certain, says Fiskesjö. At some point after Gui’s detention a high-level decision was taken: “‘No, we cannot let him go … we have to silence him.’ Why that would be?” the academic mused. “I don’t understand.”

Gui’s 23-year-old daughter has also been trying to decode his predicament since they last spoke, on the eve of his detention. She has another theory.

From October 2015, when the publisher disappeared from his beachfront holiday home, until his partial release in October 2017, virtually nothing is known about Gui’s plight, beyond that he was held for a time in the eastern port city of Ningbo.

The scene at Gui Minhai’s Thai apartment after he ‘disappeared’ – as seen by The Guardian when it visited.

The scene at Gui Minhai’s Thai apartment after he ‘disappeared’ – as seen by The Guardian when it visited. Photograph: Oliver Holmes for the Guardian

Gui’s daughter suspects the “state secrets” he supposedly possesses actually relate to his own story, specifically his illegal rendition and subsequent mistreatment in Chinese custody.

During regular Skype conversations, permitted after he was placed under surveillance in a Ningbo flat in October last year, she said her father repeatedly hinted at such abuse. “For obvious reasons he wasn’t able to speak very freely about it … So, I had to do a lot of guessing. But it is quite clear to me that he has been tortured.”

Cohen, who has spent decades studying China’s human rights landscape, finds the theory convincing.

“What secrets would this man have, other than what he learned through his own kidnapping and his own mistreatment once he got back to China?” he says.

“This fellow, if he wanted to tell the truth about being kidnapped from Thailand, could be a real embarrassment to China … I think they don’t want him to talk … you get certain people they are afraid ever to let loose.”

The west pushes back

Gui’s detention has caused a serious diplomatic rupture, as well as a personal tragedy, pitting an increasingly feisty China against Sweden and other European Union nations who fear their citizens could be next.

“The handling of the case, including the forced TV confessions, is more reminiscent of Cultural Revolution tactics than rule of law,” complains one Beijing-based western diplomat. “The bullying of a smaller country like Sweden … will not help to improve China’s image abroad.”

After initially struggling to explain Gui’s capture, Beijing has gone on the offensive, accusing Stockholm of “grossly” meddling and warning its protests could harm ties.

Western governments have pushed back, with Sweden condemning China’s “brutal intervention” and EU and US officials also demanding Gui’s release. But some believe Stockholm, and the wider international community, are not doing enough.

“Beijing acts towards human beings as a reckless tyrant – and increasingly as a bully to other countries,” the Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, warned in an editorial criticising Stockholm’s “cowardly and wrong” response. Europe needed to fight back “when China bares its fangs”.

Gui Minhai, right, next to his university friend Bei Ling in 2008.

Gui Minhai, right, next to his university friend Bei Ling in 2008. Photograph: Bei Ling/Independent Chinese PEN Center

‘A jovial, funny guy’

The latest twist in Gui Minhai’s extraordinary publishing career would have been unthinkable when it began in 1980s Beijing.

Gui, then in his early 20s, was a budding poet whose verses appeared in the samizdat-style pamphlets that circulated during what was a rare period of political and intellectual freedom that ended abruptly with 1989’s Tiananmen massacre.

“He was always this jovial, funny guy,” recalls Fiskesjö, then the Swedish embassy’s cultural attaché.

Gui made his name – and fortune – with lewd tomes on the intrigues of Chinese leaders. But Fiskesjö says he was also a serious mind, who spent years studying Scandinavia after swapping Beijing for Gothenburg in 1988.

Gui’s PhD, completed in 1991, the year before he became a Swedish citizen, was called Feudalism in Chinese Marxist Historiography. Then came works on the Swedish East India Company and Norse mythology. “It’s a fascinating introduction for Chinese readers about Odin and Thor and all of those figures,” Fiskesjö says of the latter. “He definitely wasn’t confined to this … political gossip genre.”

Fiskesjö remembers, too, the hope-infused verses of a gifted poet.

In one 1986 composition, Longing for Greece, Gui writes:

I will hitch a ride with a small fish,
And go to Greece.
To visit the cities that breathe through gills,
Cities carved out with a kitchen knife.
History rises above the horizon,
Rising, oval.
An inward olive,
Held in in my mouth.
Cannot be spoken.

Gui’s daughter, who lives in Britain and recently earned a master’s degree from the University of Warwick, says her father continued to compose and memorise poems – often focusing on his Swedish identity – while in custody. Before his latest detention, “he was in the process of writing them down and was hoping to publish them”.

That, though, was before he boarded the 11.10am to Beijing and before he was marched off, once again, towards a televised confession and an uncertain future.

Angela Gui, who’s father Gui Minhai disappeared on October 17, 2015.

Angela Gui, whose father Gui Minhai disappeared on 17 October, 2015. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In one of their final Skype chats, Angela Gui recalls joking and “talking shit” with her genial father, as was their norm.

“He hadn’t at all lost his personality,” she said. “And he also said, ‘You know what I think … defines me, and what has defined me through this entire experience, is that I’ll always be an optimist.’

“He said he thought everything was going to be OK – in some way – and he had to keep working and he had to keep doing what he wanted to do and in some way things were going to be OK.”

Just over 24 hours after their last online encounter, on 19 January 2018, Gui was gone.

When he reappeared before the cameras three weeks later the bookseller delivered what some read as a farewell.

“My message to my family is that I hope that [they] will live a good life,” Gui said. “Don’t worry about me. I will solve my own problems.”

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‘Unimaginable carnage’ as Ghouta blockade enters second week

There was a time in Ghouta, amid the planes, bombs and hunger, when ways to ease the suffering remained within reach. Even as the siege closed in, residents in the suburb near Damascus had access to smuggled food and medicine, and a drip-feed of weapons and money kept the militants among them in the fight.

That came to a halt late last year. First, the supply lines of food slowed. Then, in January, a Jordan-based, US-run, military room that had provided weapons to two militant groups was shuttered. Regular cash transfers stopped being sent to rebel groups inside Syria. Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which had backed the militants after the popular uprising in 2011, had grown tired of the cause to oust Bashar al-Assad. And the Trump administration no longer wanted to underwrite their efforts.

The blockade of Ghouta, where a Russian and Syrian air blitz entered a second week on Wednesday, is now the most crippling in Syria, and the estimated 350,000 to 400,000 people below the bombs is the most desperate population group in the devastated country.

As regime forces prepare for a final ground push, those inside Ghouta say they have been abandoned to their fate by regional powers who had encouraged them to revolt in the heady early days, but moved on when their early gains turned to grind, then losses.

“They didn’t have the stamina for this,” said Afif Ahmed, a merchant from Douma inside Ghouta, who has huddled with his family in the ruins of his shop since Sunday. “Iran and Russia do. At least they don’t abandon their friends.”

Far from Ghouta, in northern Syria, Turkey, another of the opposition’s main backers, has also reframed its involvement, from fulsomely backing anti-Assad militants earlier in the war, to using the same anti-Assad proxy force it helped raise to instead turn their guns on Kurds along its border.

An opposition momentum, driven by foreign patrons, has now reversed across the country. Syria remains a proxy war, but it is the foreign backers of the regime, Iran and Russia, who now have progress on their side, licensed by an international community which locals in Ghouta say is indifferent to their suffering.

“They used to tell us ‘have faith, tyranny will not win’,” said a former rebel, Adnan Shamli, who fled Ghouta in June last year. “It was the Arab states that we met with in Jordan mainly. There were lots of people with promises. To this day I regret leaving and not staying in my home to die with my friends.”

Civilian targets across the enclave on the outskirts of Damascus are being systematically targeted by jets and helicopters, and the death toll in the past three days alone is close to 250 – among them large numbers of women, children and elderly. Without the weapons to combat them, or numbers to counter attack, the two main opposition groups – the Islamically-conservative Jeysh al-Islam, which was backed by Saudi Arabia, and Falaq al-Rahman, a patron of Qatar, say they can do nothing to stop the assault.

“The carnage has been like nothing you could imagine,” said Wael Rahman, a spokesman for Falaq al-Rahman. “Qatar has given us no reason for why it stopped the funding. And we hope they’ll resume their support as Qatar and Turkey have been big supporters throughout the revolution.”

Bodycam footage shows children being rescued from rubble in eastern Ghouta, Syria – video

Doctors inside Ghouta say up to 12 medical facilities have been bombed – most of them severely damaged – in the past three days alone. The violence has been described as the worst in Syria at any point in the past three years, belying claims that the war is winding down, or that internally displaced civilians and refugees who have fled Syria’s borders should consider returning.

“Blatant war crimes have been an everyday feature of the conduct of the war in Syria,” said Susannah Sirkin, the director for international policy at Physicians For Human Rights. “There is absolutely no doubt that the Syrian and Russian governments meant to harm the civilian population in eastern Ghouta, in direct defiance of international humanitarian norms.

“As long as the nations of the world with the responsibility to protect fail to act to stop this violence, we will see these crimes against humanity repeated again and again: first in Aleppo, now in eastern Ghouta, soon in Idlib and Hama.”

The UN and other aid organisations have been denied access to Ghouta since late last year and have resorted to increasingly loud – and so far futile – calls for Syrian officials to again allow aid in. The organisation says children have been among the heaviest hit by the blockade, with 11.9% of children under five acutely malnourished.

Although some food is available in the enclave, what can be smuggled in is often beyond the means of families whose incomes have crashed since 2013. “We don’t have money for food or heating,” said Maha Yassin, a mother-of-four from east Ghouta. “No-one does. The only mercy from our God this year is that the winter has not been severe.

“Last night when the planes came again I wished they would take us all,” she said. “What comes next will be worse than yesterday. And yesterday we couldn’t endure.”

Those who remain in Ghouta are preparing for the inevitable: a ground invasion by forces loyal to the regime that will push them from their enclave and into a pool of more than six million already displaced and desperate people. “The game plan is to bomb them into submission, just like Aleppo,” said a Lebanese political leader, citing Lebanon’s disassociation policy in the Syrian conflict as a reason for shielding his name. “No one will help them and the international community is immune to the carnage. These poor people cannot go to Jordan, the ruins of Deraa, or Quneitra,” he said, referring to two towns in southern Syria, “or maybe the long slow march to Idlib”.

Quick guide

What is happening in eastern Ghouta?

Eastern Ghouta is a rebel-held enclave that borders the city of Damascus. Once a breadbasket of the Syrian capital, since 2013 it has been under a siege that has tightened severely over the last year. In 2013 the area was targeted in a chemical attack by the Syrian regime that killed more than a thousand civilians and nearly prompted a US intervention in the war.

The enclave is controlled by a mix of rebel groups dominated by the Islamist leaning Jaysh al-Islam, though the day-to-day affairs of the towns in the area are run by local civilian councils.

The situation is catastrophic for the 400,000 civilians who still live in eastern Ghouta. Prices for basic foodstuffs have skyrocketed and medical supplies are mostly absent because of the siege. Treating the injured is especially difficult because of the repeated bombing of hospitals and clinics. 

An estimated 700 civilians have been killed in the area in the last three months alone, not including those killed over the last week of escalation.

The first aid convoy to the region in months arrived a week ago but did not do much to alleviate the suffering. 

Where Syria’s newest refugees will be forced to go is now being discussed by an international community that has found no answers to slow the disintegration of Syria, and has scrambled without result to slow the savagery in Ghouta.

A Beirut-based western diplomat said: “There isn’t a contingency plan for them. There will need to be humanitarian corridor of some sort, but how that would work is unclear. I can’t see how they could be forced to go to Idlib with millions of displaced. What would the route be for starters? This will inevitably be discussed at the UNSC, but of course the UN can’t endorse forced movement of people.”

Idlib is now home to an estimated 2.6 million people, around half of them displaced from elsewhere in the country. It has been used as a dumping ground for opposition communities that have surrendered to regime forces after prolonged blockades elsewhere in Syria. Islamic fundamentalists hold sway across much of Idlib province and among those transferred from other parts of the country, there are growing fears that their new communities will be the next targeted.

“We can all see the trap,” said Alaa al-Zrour who moved from Zabadani, near Damascus, during a surrender deal last year. “We look at Ghouta with horror and sympathy, but with anger as well. No one will care when they do the same to us.”

Additional reporting: Salem Rizk

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