Wednesday, May 31, 2006
More chins than chinatown. It's a sad thing to let yourself go like this.
This is a decent sized female snapping turtle Chris found in the woods while we were walking with the dogs. This turtle had come up an incredibly steep bank -- almost a cliff -- into the forest in order to lay her eggs. The rest of the year she lives in a flooded forest swamp at the base of the cliff. Male snapping turtles are larger than females -- the opposite of most other turtles.
Around here, snapping turles lay their eggs between May 15 and June 15, and the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest.
My best guess is that this fellow weighed about 20 pounds -- they are very dense -- and was maybe 20 years old. This is a common snapping turtle of the type found all across the U.S. The infamous alligator snapping turtle is found farther south -- mostly in the southern end of the Misssippi watershed.
A common snapping turtle can easily get over 30 pounds and 60 pounders are rumored.
To give you an idea of how much the camera can lie, the picture above looks bigger than the turtle really is. In the picture below, Chris is holding the same turtle, which actually looks a little smaller than it actually was.
Sadly, we were still pretty clean a few hours later.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
This 2,000 acre tract really does have groundhogs -- one from a previous walk over these same fields and woods.
Chris and I hit a new location that has yielded five groundhogs for me in the past -- all in short order. Not on this day, however.
We walked a loooong way, and found maybe two-dozen holes, but no one home. All the holes were in the woods, as the grass in the fields was tall enough to hide a Cape Buffalo. Though we fell into 2-3 field holes, locating settes in the tall grass was just not happening for us, while the heat was absolutely withering (well over 85 degrees). We mostly hunted the woods, just to stay in the shade, and I think the groundhogs have abandoned those holes for the fields.
We walked a long way over the course of about five and half hours, of which we were totally lost and bush-whacking in the woods for about two of it. And yes,it was the last two hours.
We were both pretty faded from the heat and the brush and carrying too many tools, but I was definitely more faded than Cris who is younger and in better shape. Next time, when we are on new land, we will leave the *@#% pothole diggers behind!
On the way home, as Chris followed me down the River Road, I passed a small group of bicyclists and, just over their shoulder, a groundhog was sitting up on the shoulder bank of the road.
Was he giving me the finger, and laughing? I swear he was.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America is now selling Deben Mark III locator sets.
This is the new and improved terrier finder and collar set from Deben. The new box is bright orange (harder to lose) has a LED display and varying pitch. A grey box is also made by Deben.
The box is said to be more-or-less water proof, but apparently the collar has to be taped (read farther to find an alternative Deven rig). The box has a 16-foot range in search mode, and can be "stepped down" to 10 feet for a very accurate "locate" mode. The collar is nylon, lightweight and durable.
The receiver is designed to reject interference and so there will be less problems with nearby electric fences and overhead lines. The receiver has magnetic reed switches (no moving parts) which operate the on/off and search/locate switched. New efficient circuitry means improved collar battery life of over 300 hours. The locator box can be used to locate more than one dog underground at a time - simply purchase additional collars.
The price is $195 a set. Click >> To order You do not have to be a JRTCA member to order from the JRTCA, but even if you do not have a Jack Russell Terrier, membership in the JRTCA is a sound investment in the future of American terrier work. To read 10 reasons to join the JRTCA >> click here
An important note: Deben has come out with a NEW long-range terrier finder that is good, in search mode, for 40-feet, and which has both a waterproof box AND a water proof collar. This is the rig I am probably going to get when my old Mark I kits (two boxes, four or five collars) go the way of all things.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Working border collies depend on a performance standard and an open registry.
When pressed about the poor genetic quality of today's "pure bred" dogs, most Kennel Club breeders parrot the Kennel Club apologia: "We only register dogs, we don't breed them."
In fact, the line is pure bunk. The Kennel Club does far more than register dogs -- it sets the rules that guarantee more and more dogs will suffer serious (and often painful) genetic problems.
The problem, in a nutshell, is the closed registry system. With all Kennel Club breeds, the "founding stock" has always been small in number, and often fairly inbred going in, since breed creation is a product of inbreeding and line breeding to "set" the look of a dog. Because a closed registry never adds new blood, it becomes progressively more inbred over time.
Genetic diversity is never increased in the Kennel Club -- it is only reduced. In practice, it is often reduced quite rapidly due to the fact that show-winning males are in great demand to "cover" as many bitches as possible -- the so-called "popular sire effect."
The result, to be clearly seen by simply comparing 10-generation pedigrees for most breeds, is that many dogs have common male ancestors.
After 25 generations, the genetic overlap within all members of a breed may be complete or nearly complete with every member of the breed traced back to the same root stock.
What is wrong with this? Simple: In the world of genetics, most health-related negative characteristics are recessive. This is true because most dominant negative characteristics result in quick mortality or culling. A negative recessive gene, however, remains hidden and only becomes expressed (i.e. self-evident) when both parents carry the negative gene.
When dog populations are relatively heterogeneous (i.e. genetically diverse) the chance that any two negative genes will combine is low. Result: a dog with a very high chance of being healthy.
In a dog population that is very homogeneous (i.e., not genetically diverse), the chance of two negative recessive genes combining rises in direct relationship to the degree of homogeneity.
The result of two negative recessive genes combining is a real health problem -- the kind of problems we are increasingly seeing in Kennel Club dogs: epilepsy, dysplasia, deafness, congenital skin conditions, heart murmurs, cataracts, polyarthritis, progressive renal atrophy, allergies, hypothyroidism, and Cushing's Syndrome, to name a few.
A closed registry with a small gene pool undergoing a further tightening due to sire selection and overuse guarantees inbreeding and a steady increase in the occurrence of negative genetic issues. There is no getting around this.
The graph, appended below, shows the slow but steady rise in the coefficient of inbreeding among shelties. Similar rising graphs could be produced for most AKC breeds.
Coefficient of inbreeding, 1930-1993, for Shelties, showing trend line.
No population of animals is entirely absent negative recessive genes. Every population of animals contains at least two or three -- bits of fatal code that are "hard wired" into the makeup of the animal. A population of animals that appears to be "clean" is simply one that is still diverse enough that negative genes are not yet combining very often. If a small population is inbred long enough, negative genes will begin to express themselves.
The results of inbreeding are not a closely-held secret. Deuteronomy 27:22 reads: "Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of this mother..." Leviticus offers a similar admonition.
Human history too is a guide. Pick up any book about European royalty, and you can read about the idiot King Charles II of Spain, the product of generations of inbreeding by the Hapsburg family. This is a man whose face and chin were so distorted by the "Hapsburg Lip" that he could not eat without assistance. If his picture (appended below) makes you think of a Bulldog, Pekingese, Pug or Boston Terrier, you are not alone.
King Charles II of Spain -- a product of inbreeding in the Hapsburg line.
And yet inbreeding is not an option with the Kennel Club -- it is required. The option of outcrossing a Lakeland Terrier to a Fox Terrier is not possible within the confines of a closed registry, nor is the crossing of a Curly-coated retriever to a Flat-coated Retriever, or a Greyhound to a Saluki.
Along with an increase in the incidence of serious genetic problems within a closed-registry population, you have other problems that may not be clear to an individual pet owner, but which become obvious to those studying canine demographics: increased neo-natal mortality, shortened lifespans, and increased infecundity (dogs that are sterile or barren). All of these characteristics are endemic to deeply inbred populations, and are showing up with increased frequency in the Kennel Club.
In sled dogs, performance is king, and an open registry has proven critical to preserving honest pulling dogs with stamina, good feet, and heart.
How did the Kennel Club come to embrace a closed registry, and why does it maintain this system?
The adoption of a "closed registry" by the Kennel Club is an artifact of its history, while the continuation of this practice is driven by the economics of dog breeding and the political construct of the Kennel Club.
The Kennel Club was created in Victorian England in 1873, at a time when new theories about genetics were being promulgated by learned men who did not yet have a very good idea of what was going on in the natural world.
As noted in American Working Terriers, the "speciation" of domestic breeds of livestock began with the work of Robert Bakewell in the 18th Century, and the control of sires. Bakewell's work helped speed the rise of the Enclosure Movement, which in turn led to large estates, fox hunting, and the rise of terrier work.
Bakewell had no real knowledge of scientific genetics, and his breeding program was largely limited to the control of sires (made easier by enclosures) and the admonition that "like begats like" and that success was to be found by "breeding the best to the best".
The first stud book to document the breeding of animals was the General Stud Book of 1791 which tracked a small pool of racing horses. A stud book for Shorthorn Cattle was produced in 1822.
As more and more farmers followed the tenets of Robert Bakewell, sire selection became increasingly prevalent and inbreeding and line breeding more common. By selecting the best beef and milk producers, and pairing them, rapid improvements in cattle breeds were made.
When Charles Darwin returned from his five-year voyage on the Beagle in 1836, he discovered new breeds of cattle, sheep and pigeons displayed at livestock bench shows.
Over the next 23 years, Darwin ruminated about the aggressive livestock breeding he saw going on around him, and what isolation (enclosure) and selection (the frequent use of popular sires) might mean if some natural version of this phenomenon were driving the diversity of wildlife he had seen on his travels.
In 1859, after more than two decades of thought on the subject, Darwin published The Origin of Species -- the very year the first formal dog show was held in England.
Formal dog shows grew out of the livestock bench shows held by Robert Bakewell and his followers to display their new stock. With dogs, as with farm animals, it was soon discovered that by selecting types of dogs and genetically isolating them in kennels, homes or yards, and then inbreeding and line breeding them, a great deal of variety could be expressed.
In 1800, there were only 15 designated breeds of dogs, but by 1865 that number had grown to more than 50 and over the next 40 years it tripled yet again.
The rapid speciation of dogs that began in 1859 occurred just as Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, was taking Darwin's work and attempting to generalize it to man.
Both Darwin and Galton had noticed how many people in their own family were smart. Along with Charles Darwin and his biologist father, Erasmus Darwin, there was another grandfather who was a member of the Royal Society, and then there was Galton's own father, who was a banker. As for Galton, by the time he was four years old he could write, read any book in the English language, knew basic math (including the times tables), and had a passing hand in the basic rudiments of both Latin and French.
While at Cambridge, Galton noticed that intelligence seemed to run in other families as well. Students that did well at college had parents and sibling that also did well. From this observation Galton postulated that human intelligence was inherited, and he went to great lengths to test his theory, going so far as to invent important new statistical methods such as regression analysis and mathematical correlation.
Galton was an intellectual whirlwind responsible for advances in meteorology, psychology, and statistics (as well as inventing the silent dog whistle), but like all people he was fallible.
Galton's chief failure was that he did not understand that the elements used to create a breed could, if taken too far, lead to the breed's destruction. With an imperfect knowledge of genetics, Galton argued that "What nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly," by a system he called "eugenics".
Galton postulated that if novel organisms, or "sports of nature" could be found, these sports could be enlisted to create a new breed through genetic isolation and inbreeding.
By engaging in a "positive" system of eugenics, superior individuals could be encouraged to breed more, and by engaging in a system of "negative" eugenics, inferior types could be culled from the line.
This was, to put it simply, Darwin' theory of evolution put into hyper-drive. Surely the direction would be forward, and the road forward would be without end?
Galton's theory of improvement-without-end was embraced by the early Kennel Club. The patina of science -- and a short track record of success on the farm -- lent credibility to the idea of a closed registry of "pure" stock.
On the surface, there was no reason to suspect the seeds of destruction were contained in the closed registry system itself. The work of Gregor Mendel was still undiscovered, and even when it was discovered (around 1900) a true understanding of the nature of negative recessive genes was many decades away.
A winning greyhound is never a bad or boring color.
Conformation dog shows, of course, simply speeded up the drive to homogeneity. The goal of the conformation show is conformity -- an entire class of cookie-cutter dogs that look as much alike as possible. This is most easily achieved by breeding champion to champion, culling the nonconforming, and then inbreeding and linebreeding to further distill the "type".
As a direct consequence of conformation shows, and the over-use of championship sires, the genetic bottleneck that began with the creation of every dog breed was further reduced.
In the beginning, it was hard for dog breeders to see what was going on. Breeders occasionally had a few health problems in their kennels, of course, but it was hard to see a pattern with so few animals tracked over a relatively few generations. If hip dysplasia, skin infections and cataracts "popped out," it was "just one of those things" and chalked up to a "bad cross" and bad luck.
The idea that the Kennel Club's closed registry system itself was to blame was a deeper thought than most folks were prepared to consider.
On the farm, things took a different turn. The inbreeding of farm stock began earlier than with dogs, but was no less intense.
Because farm herds are large and often kept by families for generations, farmers were able to "tease out" data indicating drops in production, increases in mortality, declining fecundity, and a steady rise in disease and illness.
Inbreeding, which had initially boosted production, now appeared to be reducing it.
Because farmers had a clear "steak and eggs" axis for evaluation of stock, they were ready and willing to outcross to achieve the best results for their needs and their land. Consumers, after all, do not much care what breed of chicken their eggs come from, or what "champion" bull sired their steak.
Through experimentation, farmers discovered that outcrosses and hybrids of two "pure" types produce as well or better, while remaining more disease resistant, more fecund, and longer-lived than deeply homogeneous stock.
What may appear to be a pure Angus (the most common breed of beef cattle in the world) is likely to have a wide variety of cattle genes coursing through its system. In fact, entire breeds of cattle are now kept solely for their outcross potential. On today's farms the cattle in the field may be Brangus (Brahman-Angus crosses), Braford (Brahmam-Hereford crosses), Beefmasters (a cross of Hereford, Shorthorn and Brahman), or any other combination or mix.
Farmers are not alone in favoring a certain degree of heterogeneity. In top winning race horses, a 5% coefficient of inbreeding is considered high. Though much is made of the stud fees paid for the services of retired winners, most of the offspring of these champion horses are not all that distinguished, and lighting is rarely caught twice in a bottle by the same breeder.
Genetic diversity is similarly valued by breeders of performance dogs such as racing greyhounds, working border collies, sled dogs, and working terriers. All of the working versions of these breeds, or types of dogs, are maintained with open registries. It is not an accident that Kennel Club greyhounds are not found at the track, that Kennel Club terriers are not found in the field, that Kennel Club sled dogs are not found on the Iditarod, or that Kennel Club border collies are not found on working sheep farms.
Ironically, it turns out that maintaining a breed and keeping it more-or-less heterogeneous is neither a contradiction nor a difficulty. The trick is simply to follow Mother Nature and to occasionally do true outcrosses to animals that are entirely outside of the gene pool being crossed into. In the case of cattle and chickens, this is commonly achieved by crossing in an animal of similar size and traits, but with a very different genetic history.
It surprises people to find out that Mother Nature does much the same thing. Most people assume a Mallard duck is a Mallard duck. Aren't all Mallards simply clones of each other?
Well, No. You see, ducks hybridize all the time. What appears to be a Mallard may, in fact, have a little Gadwall crossed into it, or a little Black Duck, or even a bit of Greenwinged duck tucked into its double-helix.
In the duck world, where success is defined in Darwinian terms, there are no closed registries. While animals within a species tend to mate with others of the species in the same area, new blood flies, walks or swims in all the time. In the case of ducks, it may even come from across the ocean -- or from an entirely different duck species.
The same effect occurs when young male fox, lions, and wolves are forced out of their natal territories, causing them to travel great distances to find unoccupied territories. A young male wolf sired in Wyoming may travel as far as Oregon before it "settles down" to rear its own family.
What is true for ducks is true for a lot of animals. Not only will individual animals often travel great distances to find unoccupied territories, they may also cross the species barrier as they do so. A wolf will mate with both a dog AND a coyote, while finches leap across the species barrier at the drop of a hat. A spotted owl will freely mate with a barred owl, while most amazon parrots freely cross breed. A lion can mate with a tiger and produce fertile offspring, and an African elephant can cross breed with an Asian elephant. A muskellunge will cross with a northern pike, and a sunfish will cross with a bluegill. Trout and salmon species readily hybridize. Many species of hawks and falcons will also cross the species line, while a buffalo will cross with a cow. Just last week a hunter in Alaska shot an animal that turned out to be a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly.
The point here is not that trans-species outcrosses are common, but that even between distinct species Mother Nature often runs her train "loose on the tracks," and a considerable amount of genetic wobble is allowed.
Mother Nature allows outcrosses because she values heterogeneous genes, while she punishes homogeneous genes by "culling" animals through a process of dwindling survivorship (neonatal mortality), shortened lifespans, and infecundity.
The facts outlined here are not closely held information and are supported by sound science. Why then has the Kennel Club not changed its policy?
The short answer is economics.
The Kennel Club is a huge money-making bureaucracy dependent upon selling people on the "exclusivity" of a closed registry and a scrap of paper that says a dog is a "pure breed". So long as people are willing to buy Kennel Club registered dogs that have predictably higher chances of serious physical impairments than cross-bred dogs, the Kennel Club (and Kennel Club breeders) have little motivation to change the way they do business.
Let me hasten to say that the Kennel Club is not filled with evil people intent on doing harm to dogs. It is, in fact, filled with regular people who are different from the rest of the world only in the degree (and the way) they seek ego-gratification and are status-seeking.
This last point is import: the Kennel Club is not primarily about dogs. Dogs do not care about ribbons, pedigrees, titles, and points. These are human obsessions. The reason a human will drive several hundred miles and stand around all day waiting for 10 minutes in the ring is not because of the dog, but because the human needs that ribbon, that title, and that little bit of extra status that comes from a win.
Each to his own, but let us be honest about what dog shows are about -- they are about ribbons for people. The dogs themselves could not give a damn.
It is unfair to fault individual breeders and breed clubs for the failures of the Kennel Club, as these smaller units are powerless to change the larger whole.
Breed clubs are small and largely impotent by design. Because the Kennel Club does not require breeders, pet owners, or even show ring ribbon-chasers to join a breed club as a condition of registration, these entities remain small, underfunded, and unrepresentative.
Breed clubs, like dog shows themselves, are also steeped in internecine politics and dominated by big breeders and people who over-value "conformation."
It is only by conforming to the AKC system for decades that anyone can hope to move up in the AKC hierarchy -- a situation that guarantees intellectual and bureaucratic inbreeding.
In the end, the AKC is a closed registry in every sense of that word. It continues to embrace the failed genetic theories of Victorian England because it is incapable of serious reform within the Club itself.
Is there a bright light anywhere? Yes and no.
Back in 1922, Sewell Wright, a famous early geneticist, devised a method of calculating a coefficient of inbreeding (COI). Under Wright's system, inbreeding coefficients ranging from 0% to 100% defined the percentage of a dog's genes that might be homozygous (note that this is a probability equation).
The equation was neat and discrete, as such things went, but incredibly complex and cumbersome in practice. Without mathematical training, an enormous stack of pedigrees, and at least a week's worth of hand calculation, a 10-generation coefficient of inbreeding was impossible to calculate. As a result, Wright's coefficient of inbreeding (COI) was not much used.
The good news is that in the modern era, thanks to the advent of the personal computer and the internet, it is now much easier to build a 10- or 20-generation pedigree using list-servs, email, and ready-made software.
Sadly, few breeders seem willing to do even this work -- and even fewer are willing to do what is right. Breeders hell-bent to make it in the show world continue to inbreed their dogs and consumers continue to buy their cast-offs, completely ignoring the fact that 25 percent of the time they are buying a heath care liability -- one that may cost them many thousands of dollars in veterinary care in a just a few years time.
On the positive side, more and more breeders are testing their dogs for hip dysplasia (OFA), eye problems (CERF), and deafness (BAER). Unfortunately, testing and culling alone are not a curative for genetic problems. In fact, culling large numbers of dogs from a gene pool only serves to further reduce the size of the gene pool. So long as you are operating within a closed registry, the engine of disaster is still on the tracks ... and only increasing its speed.
Within the Kennel Club, two breeds of dogs stand at polar opposites when coefficients of inbreeding are examined, and both of them are terriers [Marsha Eggleston, report on "Genetic Diversity" to the AKC's DNA Committee, 2002].
The Bull Terrier may be the most inbred of Kennel Club breeds, having first entered the Club with relatively few individual members and having, since then, been split into two color phases (colored and white) and two sizes (miniature and standard).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the "Parson" Russell Terrier. The "Parson" is a new entry to the Kennel Club and has benefited greatly from the large and diverse gene pool (and open-registry) of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) from which most of the AKC dogs were only recently drawn.
The JRTCA remains the largest Jack Russell terrier club in the world.
The genetic diversity of the JRTCA is not an accident -- it is mandated. Under JRTCA rules, a dog cannot be registered if it has a Coefficient of Inbreeding of 16% or greater.
This is not a particularly low coefficient;
Out-crosses to non-Russells are quite rare in the JRTCA, but such outcrosses are technically possible -- a genetic parachute individual breeders can use if needs arise -- or if a particular cross may be salient in order to increase the working traits (size, nose, voice, gameness, tractability) in a particular line. The progeny of such an outcross may or may not be registered with the JRTCA, depending on the look of the dog.
Some controversy has arisen over whether the Parson Russell Terrier and the JRTCA dogs are, in fact, the same animal with different names. While some folks continue to quibble over the status of individual dogs that may have been dual-registered at the time of the split a few years back, there can be little doubt that there are now two distinct breeds. Not only are there two registries (one of which is closed and locked), but there are also two breed standards which only partly overlap. With the absence of small dogs, and an "ideal" AKC dog listed as 14" tall, the average Kennel Club animal is quickly getting larger, and as a consequence it is quickly losing utility in the field.
In closing, it is worth recounting where "race improvement," through eugenics, took Darwin and the rest of the world.
It seems Charles Darwin was interested in maintaining the 'genetic superiority' of his own bloodline and so he married his first cousin. From this marriage, Darwin produced ten children.
Of Darwin's four daughters, one girl, Mary, died shortly after birth; another girl, Anne, died at the age of ten years from Scarlet Fever; while his eldest daughter, Henrietta, had a serious and prolonged breakdown at age fifteen.
Of Darwin's six sons, three suffered such frequent illness that Darwin considered them semi-invalids, while his last son, Charles Jr., was born mentally retarded and died nineteen months after birth.
Of Darwin's adult children, neither William Darwin, Elizabeth Darwin, Leonard Darwin or Henrietta Darwin had children of their own -- a startling high incidence of infecundity.
Of the three children that grew up reasonably unafflicted physically and mentally, Leonard Darwin went on to serve as chairman of the Eugenics Society (serving from 1911 to 1928) where he used the value of his father's name to lecture the world about "good breeding."
He too married his first cousin.
It was the Eugenics Society, under Leonard Darwin, that popularized the "Great Idea" of improving man through selective breeding and encouraged a program of state-sponsored negative eugenics.
Model laws, popularized by the Eugenics Society, advocated the mandatory sterilization of the retarded and the feeble-minded. Within a few decades, Europe was rounding up of entire classes of "mongrel" people of "low breeding" and shipping them off to be disposed of in the ovens.
Through it all, the Kennel Club has held fast, never wavering from its closed registry system, and never doubting the value of an aggressive system of eugenics centered on looks and appearance alone.
Never mind that science, data, or experience has shown that a closed registry serves neither human utility nor canine health.
Never mind the dog.
The dog, after all, has never been what what the Kennel Club has been all about. it is more than for first cousins (6.25%).
Thursday, May 25, 2006
It's bad enough we insult the Irish with the bowlegged "Irish Jack Russell terrier," but do we have to knob this great country by naming the world's ugliest and stupidest dog the "American Hairless Terrier"?
In truth, we did the same thing with cheese and named the crappiest stuff that ever come out of a machine (I know it never saw a cow!) "American Cheese."
Our pride and joy is pictured above. That look says it all: "Just shoot me now!"
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
On Tuesday the face was looking pretty good from this side!
On Sunday, after a day in the field, Mountain ended up with a badly slit nose pad, right at the tip. This was just a regular groundhog in the pipe that did the work -- nothing spectacular -- but he got the dog pretty good, as will occassionally happen.
There is a place to slip in a shovel, and I probably should have done it sooner, despite the fact that the groundhog had another three feet of room behind it.
This was a very aggressive groundhog, and sometimes you have to allow for diversity of temperament in the field. Slip in the shovel, sink another hole if need be, tail and dispatch was the order of the day. I should have done it sooner. A couple of weeks out of the field is not what I had in mind with Mountain.
Live and learn.
On the way home I stopped by an emergency vet with the idea of getting a stitch or two in Mountain's nose pad as it was flapping. What could it cost?
Well, more than an hour later the vet comes out with a bill for me to "approve" before the work is done -- they wanted over $1,000.
To hell with that!
I was reminded, once again, why I do almost all my own veterinary work.
I took the dog home, used VetBond to close the gash, loaded her up on Cephalexen, and cut away the protrududing flap of skin on the tip of her nose. A little proviodine, more ceph, and more time, and she is (two days later) on the fast road to fine.
For the record, the vet refused to simply put in a stitch or two, which I would have gladly paid for. She wanted a huge workup for anesthesia, shots (despite the fact my dog was current on everything), blood tests, pain medication, etc. When I said "no deal, just give me my dog back," she accused me of -- wait for it -- trying to blackmail her! I said (quite calmly considering) "Lady, all I want is my dog back. I asked you to put in a stitch in the nose pad, and you want to charge me for tags, antibiotics, blood work, anesthesia, pain medication, and the rest. What this dog needs is a simple stitch or two. Will you do what I ask -- and that alone?"
She then explained how great her veterinary clinic was -- "state of the art" -- and that I was paying for Sunday services and all of their fabulous equipment and experience. She said she would not do what I asked, as "the dog needed much more." I just looked at her and said, very evenly (a bad sign if you know me): "Lady all I wanted when I came in here was two stitches. Now all I want is my dog back."
That's the end of the story.
No humans were harmed, and to tell you the truth the dog seems pretty ecstatic to spend time in my study on the "big bed" by the desk with me -- and all by herself!
I am assured by others with more experience with nose pad rips that the color will come back to the tip of her nose.
I think if I had someone with me in the field, we could have glued up the nose right there next to the hole, but holding the squirming dog, her nose, the glue, and the sliced nose flap -- all at once -- was impossible.
Sometimes you really do need another set of hands.
Same dog, same day, Side B. The very tip of the nose is damaged, but it will come back ... and at no expense.
A shot straight from the top -- a small side rip was closed with VetBond. Only the very tip is really damaged.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
When out digging the dogs, it is not uncommon to find a sette under a thick break of multiflora rose, with perhaps a few broken strands of barbed wire snaking along the ground right next to the hole.
In that little picture is a story.
Multiflora rose originated in Japan and was imported to Europe around 1862 to serve as a root stock for "rambling" roses.
Rambling roses became a craze with the creation of "Turners Crimson Rambler" in 1893, and this craze lasted for about 30 years until the modern, repeat blooming, large-flowered climbing roses were created.
The first multiflora roses to "go native" in the U.S. were rambling roses that originate during the rose craze of the very early 20th Century. In truth, these feral roses were not much of a problem.
The problem started in the 1930s and extended into the early 1960s as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various State highway departments promoted multiflora rose as a "cure-all" for many public and farm landscaping problems.
In truth, multiflora rose did seem to be a good solution for a lot of difficult areas. Multiflora was cheap, easy to propogate from cuttings, and was rampant with vigor. Long, arching and pliable canes with thorns were perfect for shielding car lights from oncoming traffic, discouraging humans from entering fields or crossing roadways, and keeping cattle out of riparian areas.
Rose roots seemed to thrive in a large variety of soils, tolerated both drought and wet reasonably well, and they did a commendable job of stablizing creek banks and slowing erosion on slopes. Rose hips were also eaten by a wide variety of song birds and animals, providing a needed food source in winter.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its various state analogues vigorously promoted multiflora rose as a low-cost alternative to barbed wire. Barbed wire had made its way East several generations earlier after first being established in the West.
Unlike western wire, which was typically strung from post to post, easten wire was often strung from existing trees around the edges of woods, creeks and fields. In time, these the trees grew and absorbed the wire into their trunk. Imbedded wire was difficult to remove and made the trees worthless as timber since wire and nails wrecked commerical saw blades and had the potential of turning a chainsaw into a lethal weapon.
Like so many good ideas, the promotion of multiflora rose has unintended consequences. A mature multiflora rose bush can put out half a million seeds a year, and these seeds are easily spread by birds and can live in the soil for 10 years or more.
Farmers found that getting rid of a rose hedge required riping it out with a bulldozer and then plowing and mowing the areas multiple times a year for several years in order to destroy the existing root and seed stock in the soil.
The good news with multiflora rose is that has truly been a boon to wildlife. Rose hips are consumed by robins, grouse, cedar wax wings, pheasants, wild turkeys, fox, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, possums, coyotes, black bears, beavers, rabbits and raccoons. Thick rose breaks provide shelter for deer and bear, as well as groundhogs, possums, fox, rabbits, and raccoons. Rose hedges along stream banks have worked to keep cattle and horses out of riparian areas, resulting in less erosion, cleaner water, and excellent denning sites for raccoons.
Next time you find yourself digging a hole in the middle of a multiflora rose bush with broken barbed wire snaking along the ground, remember that these stabbing obstacles are, in a very real sense, a significant player in the vigorous return of wildlife we see in in the Eastern U.S. today. Though they may be the enemy of the moment, they are the long-term friends of terrier work.
Friday, May 19, 2006
May 18, 2006 LOS ANGELES (AP) - A dog survived a plunge from an oceanside cliff and his owner had to be rescued when he got stuck searching for the animal. Pepe, a Jack Russell terrier, darted over the cliff's edge in the upscale Pacific Palisades area while chasing a squirrel on Tuesday.
He landed next to Pacific Coast Highway, where he narrowly avoided being struck by a big rig.
Motorist Jenny-Lyn Marais stopped and coaxed the dog into her Range Rover.
"I leaned across and opened the door and whistled for him to come," said Marais, who works in a Santa Monica dental lab. "He was so gentle and so grateful. He jumped right over on my lap and started licking me."
Meanwhile, Pepe's owner Brandon McMillan drove down to the base of the cliff and began climbing back up in search of his pet, but got stuck about 15 feet from the top when the ground began to give way.
Firefighters rescued McMillan, and a man who had been on the beach below told him that someone had stopped to pick up a dog.
Marais had dropped Pepe off at veterinary hospital. By chance, a friend of McMillan's who is an animal rescue volunteer stopped at the hospital to distribute a flyer about Pepe.
A few phone calls later, man and beast were reunited.
"If this dog has nine lives, he used two yesterday," McMillan, an animal trainer, said Wednesday. "One was falling off the cliff and the other was landing on Pacific Coast Highway and living to tell the tale. He did both."
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I came across a few puppy peddler ads on the internet that should astound those who dig and work their dogs in Ireland.
You are being seriously slandered, my friends!
For example, we have the "Irish Jack Russell Terriers." Irish Jacks, the puppy peddlers, tell us, are better than regular Jack Russells, because the Irish Jacks "...are not bred for their hunting abilities [and so] make better pets." Beautiful! See >> www.irishjacks.com/aboutbreed.asp for more nonsense.
I note that there are very few pictures of adult "Irish Jack Russells" on these puppy peddler sites. Apparently the bow-legged and barrel-chested adults (a function of a genetic defect called achondroplasia) makes for an adult dog that is a little less pleasing to look at. It is certainly an odd-looking dog, and one that cannot work well in the field due to its expanded chest.
The "Irish Jack Rusell" people are selling their dogs under several names and now they are promoting a dachshund cross as (wait for it!) a "hunt terrier". They have even created "The Hunt Terrier Club of America" at http://www.huntterrier.org/ Ironically, this web site appears to come out the Southwest U.S -- an area of the country where almost no one hunts their terriers at all. The say they hope to get their bow-legged dachshund crosses registered with the AKC. Say no more! The very definition of success for a working dog!
A quick search turns up more puffery about "hunt terriers" from the "English Jack Russell Terrier Association" web site at http://www.ejrtca.com/huntterrier.html where they prattle on about a dog "famous around Limmerick".
Limmerick eh? Well of course, I remember the limmerick:
Of course, the "Irish Jack" puppy peddlers are offering no less of a load than you find with most dog registries with their nonworking dogs and their also-invented histories.
If anyone can find a honest history of a single breed of dog registered by the Ameican Kennel Club, you are doing a better job than me!
A rose by any other name ... and the same can be said for puppy peddlers.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Tailing a small groundhog on a Spring day.
Chris J. and I met up near Buckeystown and worked a little of an 1,800 tract up there. This is great land loaded with dens. Chris had a new shovel, which seemed to work well, and I had two old dogs which did OK as far as it went.
Sailor retired a little early in the day with a split lip and a hematoma due to a missed puncture wound on her neck from the week before. We cleared out the hematoma and glued back the lip, and crated her for the remainder of the day.
Mountain worked a second groundhog which we bolted after a nice dig, and she lost a very small third one underground. We would have dug a fourth groundhog, but we had to leave it to tend to Sailor. There's always next weekend!
Mountain enters a pipe at the base of a rotting tree.
A groundhog ready for release.
Hog released back into pipe -- "see you again when you grow up!"
Mountain and an old Conibear trap, other wise ready to spring except it was locked up with rust.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
That's a #220 Conibear Trap in the picture above -- we pulled it out of a groundhog sette we were digging on last weekend.
I do not think this trap is legal on land in Maryland. The trap was set to go off, but the trap itself was rusted up tight, as it had been lost or abandoned some years back.
Conibear traps were first designed by Frank Conibear in the 1950s in Canada, and were the first substantive improvement in traps since the leghold trap was invented in 1823.
The development of this type of trap was paid for by an animal rights group and the trap was designed to kill very fast. This sure-kill trap design was subsequently approved by the International Humane Society.
Ironically, because this type of trap kills dogs and cats almost instantly, and is very difficuly to release even if you are standing right there when it fires off, this trap is a very serious threat to cats and dogs which might otherwise be unharmed if entangled in a modern leghold trap or a snare. Once again, the Animal Rights crowd does more harm than good.
In my opinion, a conibear should only be used in a water set on muskrat (#110 conibear) or beaver (#330 conibear).
For information on how to get a dog out of a conibear trap, see >> http://www.terrierman.com/traprelease.htm
Monday, May 08, 2006
I can get you this truck cheap! A gag shot at Nick's. This truck wil never run again -- nice hood ornaments though!
The Sable Station Wagon, a veteran of many miles and quite a few hunts, has gone to the great Auto Dealer in the sky -- traded in for a newer vehicle for the son who is now sporting a black Mazda Protege with about 38,000 miles on it. A good deal for him.
About two months ago I switched over to a new-to-me silver 2005 Ford Explorer which came with about 35,000 miles on it, and it seems capable of doing the job. In any case, I fear mud and ice a little less -- a low-to-the-ground front-drive vehicle on farms has always bee a dodgey thing, and I am glad to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle that should go for another 100,000 miles or more. The Explorer is not quite as gas-guzzling as the Expedition which my 105-pound wife insists on driving to pick up groceries.
With the kid's cars, we are now a four-car family -- a true nightmare for gas and insurance.
As a general rule, it's a very poor environmental practice to drive cars across or down stream beds. For some reason, however, when any car manufacturer wants to sell an SUV or a Quad Bike, they take a picture like this of the vehicle wrecking a pristine stream bed. No wonder fishing streams on the East Coast produce so little!
Friday, May 05, 2006
On the one hand, you have the dog fighters and wanna-be dog fighters. These numbskulls range from preening fakes and short-tooled fools to sick sadists. Any way you cut it, they are a sad case with even sadder dogs.
Then you have a few romantics -- those with rich fantasy lives who imagine their cherry-eyed genetic wrecks with undershot jaws are descended from the iron-tough catch dogs of the 18th Century. They glory in leading around over-large dogs with massive heads, bowed legs, and dysplastic hips. Most of these dogs could not catch a cold, much less a pig running flat out in Texas Hill Country.
And then you have the Kennel Club enthusiasts, and their "American Staffordshire Terriers," "Bull Terriers," "Staffordshire Bull Terriers," and English Bulldogs.
Kennel Club owners of these dogs will tell you they have worked hard to breed all aggression and prey drive out of their charges. And no doubt many have. What a comical thing that is, of course -- a bit like an auto club bragging that their sport cars have no engines.
The only thing is .... it's not always true. "Bad breeding" and "poor socialization" are often blamed when dogs descended from pit and catch dogs attack small children, but ... could it be .... perhaps ... that a small bit of genetic code remains unbraided as well? It is certainly in the realm of possibility, is it not?
In fact, molosser breeds can make fine pets in the right hands, but many of these dogs demand much more time, energy, and commitment than their young owners realize.
A large dog in the hands of a young man with shifting interests and an unstable housing situation (i.e. most young men) is a recipie that too often leads to dead dogs at the County shelter.
There has always been a ready market for intimidating dogs, and it seems a new breed of "ancient bulldog" is created every few years. Pick up any dog magazine and there they are advertised in the back, all of them with massive bully heads: the "Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog" and the "Olde English Bulldogge" and the "American Bulldog," sandwiched between the English, Neopolitan, and Bull Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Dogue de Bordeaux, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileriro and, of course, the English Bulldog. Plocked down in between are other bully-headed prey-driven defensive breeds -- Rottweilers, Akitas, Tosas, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Thai Ridgebacks, and the like.
There have always been men with a need to display power. While the world frowns on a man cleaning an unloaded gun in a public square, it's OK for that same man to tow an enormous dog from corner to corner and park to park -- the canine equivalent of a Harley owner with straight pipes blasting through the neighborhood for the sole purpose of intimidation. If asked, the wanna-be-tough man will explain that his breed was designed to (please pick one): kill escaping slaves, hunt jaguars, fight bears and bulls in the pits, fight other dogs, or catch semi-wild pigs and cows so they can be altered or slaughtered. You are supposed to feel fear, and you are supposed to feel respect for a man in control of such a powerful animal with such an ancient history.
In fact, I generally feel a little amused.
The famed English Bulldog, for example, is mostly Chinese pug -- a show ring creation with legs so deformed it can barely walk, a jaw so undershot it cannot grab a frisbee, and with a face so bracycephalic it cannot breathe. Add to these problems a deformed intestinal system (a by-product of achondroplasia or dwarfism) which makes the dog constantly fart, and a pig tail prone to infection, and you have a dog that considers its own death a blessed relief.
Other molosser breeds are not as wrecked as the English Bulldog, to be sure, but they too are largely the product of the show ring and have little or nothing to do with honest catch dogs or hunting dogs.
A little history is useful here. In England, catch dogs began to disappear with the rise of the Enclosure Movement of the 18th Century. As the Enclosure Movement pushed people off the land and into squalid cities and towns, boredom set in and (in the absence of television, movies, video games, and real theatre), spectacles pitting dogs against bulls, pigs, bears and even monkeys were created for entertainment, much as the Romans had done centuries before.
The dogs used for pit work were different than the catch dogs used a century or two earlier. Pit dogs were quite variable in size, and the goal was to match the dog with its opponent (dog or beast) by weight or sense of threat. While catch dogs had to be fast to catch running stock, and tended to weigh 50-80 pounds (large enough to turn a bull or stop it, but not so large as to be slow), pit dogs weighed anywhere from 10 pounds, in the case of a small ratting terrier, to as much as 140 pounds or more in the case of bear-fighting dogs. Encounters were brief, and no nose at all was required.
Other than rat pits and cock fights, animal baiting spectacles were never common, and were banned altogether by 1835. Though secret underground dog fighting and badger baiting contests continued, they were rare, episodic, and genetically maladaptive. When police raided dog fights, the dogs were killed. When participants went to jail for other reasons, dogs disappeared. And in the era prior to antibiotics, "successful" fighting dogs often died from wounds inflicted in the ring.
In 1859, the first dog show was held. Breeds that had lost their original purpose -- catch dogs, cart dogs, pit dogs, and turnspit dogs -- soon found a new rationale for existence -- rosettes.
In the decades that followed, all manner of dogs were created, proclaimed, and endowed with invented romantic histories. That trend continues to this day.
Far from show ring fantasy and hard-dog poseurs, working catch dogs still exist. At a smaller level we have the whippet and the greyhound -- dogs designed to catch a rabbit or hare at speed. At a larger size we have the long-legged fox hounds favored by the French -- dogs that can run well and chop a fox on the fly. Added to their ranks are various sizes of cross-bred lurchers. And of course, you have the border collie -- a dog that will grip, if it has to, in order to impress upon a semi-wild hill sheep that it means business.
The penultimate cach dogs, of course, are those that work wild pig and cattle. Whether these dogs are found in Hawaii or Texas, the Everglades or Australia, the marshes of Spain, or the river banks of Central America, these dogs tend to be cross-bred dogs that, for a variety of reasons, tend to look suspiciously like rangey pit bulls.
Why is this?
The answer is at least partly morphological. While a small terrier or heeler may be able to move domestic cattle or pig, and may even be able to bust them out of brush, it takes a larger and heavier dog to travel great distances and still have the weight and stamina to initimidate, and even hold, large and truely wild animals in place.
Long coated dogs, and dogs with short muzzles are simply ill-equiped to handle long runs in hot weather. Wild pigs (feral, Russian or javelina) and cattle are generally found in locations that are hot most of the year -- Florida, Georgia, Texas, Australia, Southern Spain, and Hawaii.
When a dog is running 20-40 miles a day after an animal that does not want to be caught, and which may bust in several directions at once if in a group, stopping for a drink of water or a bit of rest in the shade is not an option.
Since dogs do not sweat except through the pads on their feet, the only way a dog has of moderating its temperature is to expel heat through its mouth and sinuses. A short snout, therefore, is maladaptive for honest catch work.
A short muzzle not only makes for a dog that overheats quickly, but also for a weaker bite. In the world of predators, where consistent failure means starvation, neither the wolf nor the tiger, the hyena nor the panther, has a short face with an undershot jaw.
A short bracyophalic maxilla is also poorly designed for scent work. Whether looking for wayward cattle and pigs, or hunting jaquar or mountain lion, most catch dogs have a bit of hound crossed into them, such is the desire for nose, which almost always comes attached to a decent muzzle.
The balance point on a good catch dog changes from area to area, depending on the lay of the land, the temperature, the stock being worked, and each individual dog and owner's technique. In some areas, lighter more greyhound-like dogs may be prefered, while in others greater hound influence is the norm. Dogs may be a little smaller in thick brush, and quite a bit larger in more open country.
And yet, again and again, across the planet, the result tends to be a variation on a unifying theme -- the cross-bred pit bull.
The American Pit Bull is descended from the cross-bred stock-working dogs of the 18th and 19th Century. To the extent they have been altered, it is that modern dogs are often heavier than those found working 200 or even 100 years ago -- a direct function of the fact that most pit bulls are now found on a leash. Today the breeding of pit bulls is heavily influenced by the show ring and the picture book. As a consequence heavier, more impressive-looking animals, are favored over the smaller, faster, and more utilitarian working dogs of the past.
From the beginning, the pit bull has had a stormy career in the U.S.
When it was created in 1878, the American Kennel Club refused to register pit bulls, seeing them as dogs kept by people of low breeding. The Kennel Club was interested in dignified dogs, not working dogs, and especially not dogs that acted as the canine equivalent of a barbed-wire and locust-post fence.
In frustration, pit bull owner Chauncey Bennet created his own registry -- the United Kennel Club -- in order to to register his own dog. Today, the UKC is the second largest all-breed registry in the U.S., and it remains a for-profit, privately-held operation.
When the "Little Rascal" movies of the 1930s popularized a pit bull by the name of "Petey," the American Kennel Club decided that the smell of cash money beat out sniffing social theories, and so they changed their de facto position on the pit bull, while maintaining a de jure ban on the dog.
How did they do this? Simple: they renamed the Pit Bull the "Staffordshire Terrier," and admitted it to the Kennel Club as a terrier. In 1972, the Kennel Club changed the name of the dog again, making it the "American Staffordshire Terrier," to distinguish it from the smaller and thicker-bodied dog of the U.K.
In fact the American Staffordshire Terrier is not a terrier in any way, shape or form. It is a Pit Bull, plain and simple.
Pit Bulls masquerading as American Stafforshire Terriers is how things more-or-less rested until the fantastic growth of dog shows and hobby breeders began in the 1960s and 70s. Suddenly a new interest in all manner of dogs was fostered, and many "old" breeds were invented almost over night.
For example, in 1970, John D. Johnson and Alan Scott registered their cross-bred pit bulls with the newly created for-profit "National Kennel Club". The name they invented: "American Bulldogs". Their goal, they said, was to get away from the "pit bull" name, which was already taking on negative connotations.
Johnson's line of dogs quickly grew thicker in the head and heavier too, as he realized that the "manly man" pet market favored intimidating dogs that could be paraded around the neighborhood or chained up in the back of a shop to scare kids away from petty pilfering. Never mind that heavy dogs with short faces could not go the distance with cattle and pigs -- these dogs were designed to sell, and what was selling was intimidation.
Alan Scott's dogs remained lighter and did not deviate too much from their working-class origins. Weighing in at around 80 pounds (often 40 pounds lighter than Johnson's) Scott's dogs also had longer muzzles and better bites. Scott and Johnson's dogs began to deviate from each other markedly, and in the end they ended up as distinct breeds with Scott breeding "Standard American Bulldogs" and Johnson a "bully" breed with huge heads that he evenually advertised as "Johnson Bulldogs".
Other bull breeds have followed suit, and other for-profit dog registries have followed on as well. Today, along with the AKC, the UKC, and the National Kennel Club, we have a host of other for-profit registries including the Continental Kennel Club, the American Canine Association, the American Hybrid Canine Club, the American Dog Breeders Association, the American Canine Registry, the American Purebred Association, American's Pet Registry Inc., the World Kennel Club, the Animal Research Foundation, the Universal Kennel Club International, the North American Purebred Dog Registry, the Dog Registry of America, the American Purebred Registry, the United All Breed Registry, the American Canine Association, the World Wide Kennel Club, the Federation of International Canines, and Animal Registry Unlimited -- to offer up only a partial list.
Among the newly minted molosser breeds are the Old English Bulldog, the Original English Bulldogge, Olde Bulldogge, the Campeiro Bulldog, Leavitt Bulldog, the Catahoula Bulldog, the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, the Aussie Bulldog, the Victorian Bulldog, the Valley Bulldog, the Olde Boston Bulldogge, the Dorset Old Tyme Bulldog, the Ca de Bou, the Banter Bulldog, and the Johnson Bulldog, to say nothing of the Alana Espanol, Cane Corso, Bully Kutta, and the recreated "Alaunt."
No doubt there are many others.
Adding to the confusion, in 1972, the AKC recognized the smaller thick-bodied Staffordshire Bull Terrier as a separate breed from the American Staffordshire Terrier, while in 1936 the Bull Terrier (still another breed) was split into two colors (white and non-white), and in 1991 into two sizes (miniature and standard).
None of these machinations have anything to do with working dogs, of course.
In the scrub country of Texas and Australia, the water hummocks of Louisiana, Spain and Florida, and the steep green volcanic mountains of Hawaii, working pig and cattle dogs look pretty much like they always have for the last 250 years. These dogs are fast, have good scissor bites, fully developed muzzles, and straight agile legs.
In the world of honest stock-working catch dogs, no one spends too much time dreaming up fanciful histories and contrived names. Whatever the dog -- pure bred or cross -- the goal is to avoid the heavy-bodied ponderous dogs so popular among the bridge-and-tunnel set, and create a dog capable to going a full day in rough country.
No one who works their terriers to ground, or uses catch dogs to chase semi-wild stock, has any confusion about what kind of dog they need to do their respective jobs, or the differences between them.
By definition, a terrier must be small enough in the chest to go to ground in a natural earth.
By definition, a catch dog has to be fast enough to catch, and large enough to hold an animal that has escape and mayhem on its mind.
Neither dog can do the job if it looks like a "keg on legs" -- an apt description of many of the molosser breeds sold in the back of pet magazines today.
The story then is an old one. In the world of true working dogs, form follows function. In the world of rosettes and puppy peddlers, form always follows fantasy. As ironic as it sounds, the blue-blazer rosette chaser and the young wanna-be bull dog man have that much in common.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Sailor tries to exit past a root after bolting a groundhog.
I went out on new land Sunday. It was a short day for no other reason than I was feeling a little lazy. The dogs bolted one, and we dug another from a steep wooded hill. The ground was not too bad, but a bit stony in places, and there are some large chunks of stone on this land that have not yet degraded to flints and rubble. Fields are still farmed, but a lot of this 2,000 acre tract is in woods or left fallow between the fields, and there is an area of flooded forest as well. All in all, this is a very good-looking location for fox and raccoon later in the year when the weather gets cold again.
Sailor and a spring groundhog.
I can report that the snakes are now about -- I caught the first one I've seen this year -- a little garter. My son said he saw a very big black rat snake down by the river cliffs two weeks ago.
Around here snakes generally come out of their winter dens between the first week of April and mid-month. This little fellow probably overwintered in the shale rock faces just above where I was digging. I let him go -- a harmless little thing.