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Tuesday Wag May 25

Oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico is wreaking havoc on wildlife in the wetlands on the coast. From whales to shrimp to tropical birds, in all, 400 species of animals are at risk. So far officials have reported only a relative few deaths directly attributed to the environmental catastrophe, saying many animals may have died in the sea but they also said to expect those numbers to increase.

Oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico is wreaking havoc on wildlife in the wetlands  on the coast. From whales to shrimp to tropical birds, in all, 400 species of animals are at risk. So far officials have reported only a relative few deaths directly attributed to the environmental catastrophe, saying many animals may have died in the sea but they also said to expect those numbers to increase.

The oil particularly threatens vulnerable species like sea turtles. All sea turtle species found in U.S. coastal waters are threatened or endangered. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas cleaned a baby endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle (see below video) with a toothbrush after the animal was found floating in the oil slick. Since the spill, more than 186 dead sea turtles have been found along Gulf coastlines. Though they had no obvious signs of oil contamination, tests are in progress. We were sorry to hear the huge outpouring of gifts of hair (animal and human) to be used in booms to help sop up the oil wasn't working and has been abandoned - at least for now.

Add Safeway and Sara Lee to the growing list of food sales and production companies that are going "cage free." Downers Grove, Ill.-based food and beverage manufacturer Sara Lee has joined the national movement away from using eggs from caged hens by beginning a new cage-free egg purchasing program, according to the Humane Society of the United States, which is engaged in a national campaign to free caged hens used in egg production. Most laying hens are crammed into battery cages, the same dimensions as a single sheet of paper, in which they spend their lives. Last week, Pleasanton, Calif.-based grocery giant Safeway said it will significantly increase its sales of cage-free eggs—from 6 percent to 12 percent—over the next two years.

The Pennsylvania state Senate was supposed to vote Monday on a bill banning the use of gas chambers to euthanize animals in shelters (five still do use this method), but once again the bill (SB 672) was placed on the calendar only to be bumped. We have not heard any details about why. A number of state legislatures, including most recently in Georgia, have passed bills banning 24/7 dog chaining. With just over a month to go before the summer recess, there appears to be no movement on a long-stalled anti-tethering bill in either chamber of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Lawmakers may be free this summer, but animal welfare advocates say unless something is done thousands of Pennsylvania dogs will continue to be chained to stakes in the hot sun.

Live nest cams are recording a lot of exciting springtime activity in various parts of the state. Here are a few to check in on: In Philadelphia, you can watch a red-tail hawk family nesting on a ledge at the Franklin Institute. In Harrisburg, you can watch a pair of peregrine falcons tend their brood atop the Rachel Carson Department of Environmental Protection building, and also in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has mounted cam inside a bluebird box where at last count four of five eggs had hatched.

Talk about senseless and cruel crimes, a thief made off with a wheelchair and a pet dog belonging to a disabled man in Philadelphia. The man parked his wheelchair outside a convenience store while he went in to get a sandwich. His dog, a shih tzu named Bengie, was in a carrying case. When he returned the chair and the dog were gone. Witnesses say the thief tried to sell the dog but then disappeared with it. Police are looking for any leads in the case.

Former Lehigh County kennel owner Derbe Eckhart was sent to jail last week after being convicted of animal cruelty. Now it appears the dog warden who failed to find anything wrong with Eckhart's kennel in the four years prior to the raid that led to the cruelty charges, wants to return to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement. Rick Martrich, who was a regional supervisor before being reassigned to the Bureau of Weights and Measures and ultimately fired, has filed a grievance appealing his dismissal. A Department of Agriculture spokesman said he could not discuss " an ongoing grievance issue."

Martrich was the subject of an investigation by the state Inspector General prompted by his questionable handling of inspections at several large commercial kennels including Limestone Kennel in Chester County (scene of a July 2008 Pennsylvania SPCA raid and later closed) and Eckhart's Almost Heaven kennel.

Between 2003 and August 2007 Eckhart received all passing inspections despite numerous complaints from outside rescue organizations saying the dogs they obtained from Eckhart were sick with diseases or suffered from trauma wounds. He was not cited for any violations until the day of the Pennsylvania SPCA raided Eckhart's kennel in October 2008 and found dozens of sick and injured dogs along with hundreds of other animals - horses cats, guinea pigs, birds and monkeys, living in squalor.

We end on a happy note. Sarge, the pit bull, went from bait dog to therapy dog in what some might consider record time. Sarge was rescued in 2008 from a dog fighting case in South Philly at the age of 14 (!) and just last weekend received an award presented by Mayor Nutter for his work as a therapy dog and humane educator.

On Saturday Sarge was recognized by the Animal Farm Foundation and Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia for his work helping seniors and youngsters and dispelling myths about pit bulls. Also on hand was the farm foundation's mascot Hector, a pit bull who was rescued from Michael Vick's dogfighting operation and, like Sarge, is now a certified therapy dog. Read the stories on Sarge's blog: