Friday, April 30, 2010
Men Today gave us something new to worry about in February of 1963 -- Nazi piranhas!
And you should see the illustrations on the insides of these kinds of publications. Wow. It just keeps going....
And the covers. You should see the covers. Oh my!
Who was buying this stuff?
Underneath every bird's feathers lies the quickening heart of a velociraptor.
And sometimes it shows. As the Associated Press reports:
As more states move to ban restrictive livestock cages, the campaign to free egg-laying hens from cramped cages and shift them to pens animal rights advocates call more humane could be poised to unintentionally boost deaths among those birds.
Researchers say decades of breeding to make the white leghorn hens that lay most of the nation's eggs more productive have also boosted the birds' territorial instincts, making them prone to pecking attacks so fierce they're often called "cannibalism."
Scientists and egg producers warn that deadly skirmishes that start with feather-plucking and turn into bloody frenzies when a bird's pecking breaks a flockmate's skin will increase if those same aggressive hens are moved from small cages with five to 10 birds to open pens that can hold dozens.
Animal rights groups want those pens to replace the small "battery cages" they call cruel because hens are so confined they can't even spread their wings.
Seven states have passed laws that will eventually ban or limit different types of livestock cages. Two of those states — California and Michigan — have passed laws that will eventually ban battery cages for chickens, as has the European Union.
The fact that chickens are vicious little bastards is not exactly news.
Cock fights are predicated on the idea, and yes they still occur the world over, whether in a ring and watched by betting men, or unseen in the gloaming light of the chicken coop.
And, of course, chicken cannibalism has always been with us.
The above ad is from 1939, and is trying to cure the problem by fitting chickens with little spectacles to block their vision when they raise their heads. The glasses were held in place by pushing a metal pin through the chicken's beak.
Of course these spectacles were rejected, as was the idea of keeping massive numbers of egg layers in "free range" houses where cannibalism was highest and where eggs were soiled, spoiled and smashed.
Instead, we went to individual cages, with a small number of birds in each cage, not because this was cheap or in a desire to be cruel, but because when raising 200,000 egg-layers, an investment in cages prevents chickens from being cruel to each other.
Of course, all of this massive chicken-and-egg production is predicated by a simple fact: We no longer live in the age of schooners and candles.
While backyard chickens may work for some, they do not work for most and never will.
Here's a fact: 70 percent of all Americans -- 210 million people out of America's population of 300 million -- actually live in urban areas which comprise just 2% of America's land mass, and 60 million Americans live in our core central cities.
And guess what? Backyard chickens are generally prohibited in those areas and not without reason. People don't pick up after their dogs; you think they are going to pick up after their chickens? You think chicken shit, chicken feed and chicks don't attract rats by the barrel? I assure you they do. So, yes, backyard chickens can work for some (generally folks who treat their birds as pets and who never actually take one to the pot for food), but they will never work for most Americans.
Meanwhile, out in forest and field, far from farm theory, it is the cruel season, as fox predate turkey chicks, goose nests are decimated by flood, fox kits are buried under the plow, rabbit scrapes are torn apart by bushhogs, and hawks pluck small birds while still alive to feed to their always-hungry chicks.
In Asia, where the wild chicken, called the jungle fowl, still roams, more than 65% die before they reach the age of three months.
Life is short and harsh, and rarely idyllic outside of the parameters of a farm yard.
Of course this is as it has always been. Chickens lay a lot of eggs for a reason -- they are supposed to die by the trainload, and yes most of those short lives are supposed to be miserable (i.e. death at an early age from disease, flood, weather, and predation).
This is not a matter of opinion, but of fact. Food chains exist for a reason, and so too do rates of reproduction, which are the response to the Call of the Wild.
If you know the fertility rate of an animal, you also know a lot about its mortality, and the relative "value" that Mother Nature places on any one of its lives. A whale or an elephant then, is more important than a human (and generally has a less miserable life), and so it goes down the chain to cow, chicken, and stink bug.
The job of a chicken, then, is not to be happy, but to be a self-sustaining food source for other animals. That is the purpose of the chicken and why it was put on earth.
And on that score, they are doing very well. In fact, they are doing grand.
Is there any animal in America that is more common than the chicken?
From a purely Darwinian point of view, they have been a great success. Not only have they taught man to house, feed and water them, but they have taught man to police their coops to mitigate chicken-on-chicken violence.
And when death does come (and it must), the death is as swift and as pain-free as possible.
Only a human would consider this failure. A chicken, I suspect, does not.
But don't take my word for it -- go to a commercial chicken house and open the door, and see how many chickens rush outside. Not a one, I will bet.
A chicken may be bird-brained, but they know where their bread and water is, and they know the value of staying with the flock, and they know the value of a roof in a world full of hawks.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
From The Wrap:
Production has started on a new documentary focused on Harry Markopolos, who warned about the Bernie Madoff fraud a decade before his Ponzi scheme came to light.
Entitled "Foxhounds," the film is based on Markopolos' bestselling memoir "No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller."
As an independent financial fraud analyst, Markopolos repeatedly warned the Securities and Exchange Commission about Madoff's practices only to have them turn a deaf ear.
Yes, the book just came out, and it's already being made into a movie. And no, Brad Pitt will not be playing me, but thanks for asking!
- Related Post:
** All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter
The Crufts dog show is like an old couch kicked to the curb and left out in the rain: a broken down thing that looks bad, smells worse, and is now looking for a place to die in peace.
The problems started a long time ago, of course, back when it was the Allied Terrier Show.
Perhaps a clear warning was that it was always a commercial venture. Charles Crufts himself, believe it or not, never even owned a dog.
Crufts has always celebrated the bizarre and contrived; dogs with pushed in faces, bug eyes, and coats so long and thick they satisfy the pent up needs of even the most frustrated of wannabe hair dressers.
And of course, work was never celebrated, and inbreeding was not only encouraged, but required in breed after breed.
How could anything but disaster come from this?
Everyone saw it, but it was not until Pedigree Dogs Exposed put it on tape and explained it, that the consciousness of consumers was properly shocked.
In rapid succession, companies pulled out of Crufts, not the least of which was the BBC and Pedigree dog food.
Who wanted their products identified with animal abuse, defect, disease and deformity?
Finally, the Kennel Club found Graham Kirkham, a wealthy breeder of Dalmatians (a breed famous for deafness and a uric acid disorder that requires some dogs to have a hole drilled into the base of their penis).
Kirkham had a company that sold discount furniture, and in exchange for Crufts adding a couch to its logo (no, we are not making this up), he agreed to have his corporation underwrite the Crufts
Now, however, Dog World reports:
THE FUTURE of DFS’ sponsorship of Crufts may be in doubt following owner and chairman Lord Kirkham’s decision to sell the Yorkshire-based company.
Kennel Club member and Dalmatian owner Graham Kirkham is believed to have pocketed about £300m from the sale to private equity firm Advent International.
DFS sponsored this year’s Crufts and told DOG WORLD at the time that the arrangement between the company and the Kennel Club was based on an informal arrangement with no contractual commitment.
DFS's contractual support for Crufts is assured through 2011, but after that, things are adrift.
Who wants to pick up this dirty, damaged and smelly couch and make it the center piece of their living room? Anyone? Time will tell.
- Related Links:
** The Defective Dog on the Defective Sofa
** Charles Crufts Never Owned a Dog
** The Farce That is Crufts
** BBC Pulls Out of Crufts!
** Pedigree Pulls Out of Crufts After 44 Years
** The Business of Diamonds .... and Dogs
** Basketcase: The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
** The Transvestite Terriers of Westminster
** AKC In Bed With the Puppy Mill Industry
** Does the Breed Standard Require a Rape Rack?
** The Kennel Club Freak Show
** We Want Our Mutant Dogs, Never Mind Their Pain
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Two predators cast an eye on each other.
The Daily Telegraph reports on a new publication with a forward by Sir David Attenborough:
It has been called the "Domesday book of British wildlife" - a new publication, compiled by 40 of Britain's leading scientists, provides a complete picture of the state of the country's wild animals and plants.
The book, called Silent Summer, makes for some grim reading. Farmland birds, brown hares, water voles and many butterflies and other insects are in decline because of changing farming practices and loss of habitat, it says.
There are, however, some success stories. The otter, which between 1957 and the Seventies disappeared from 94 per cent of its habitats, is now back at more than a third of those sites, thanks to a special conservation programme.
... [C]ontroversially, the book credits field sports with helping to conserve several species, saying activities like hunting and shooting are "almost universally good" for the hunted species and many other species living in the same habitats.
The 600-page book was written by a team of experts and edited by Professor Emeritus Norman Maclean, of Southampton University's School of Biological Sciences, and a leading UK authority on fish genetics and genomics.
The book records how some farmland birds, including the skylark, have seen their population fall by more than half in recent decades. Farmland birds are a key government barometer for measuring the countryside's health.
.... The book highlights the importance of field sports to the wellbeing of wildlife. Robin Sharp, Chair Emeritus of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, says that "field sports ... have been almost universally good for the hunted species and the non-hunted, non-predators that thrive in the same habitat".
Prof Sharp praises foxhunting and reveals that 86 per cent of woodland managed for hunting had vegetation cover – important for other species – compared with just 64 per cent in unmanaged woodland.
Managed areas also had an average of four more plant species, greater plant diversity and more butterfly species than unmanaged areas.
Prof Sharp also reports on a study of three areas in central England which found that all owners of land used for hunting and shooting had planted new woodland, compared with only 30 per cent of landowners who did not host hunts or shoots.
"This suggests that those who hunt and/or shoot provide significant conservation benefits," he said.
Prof Sharp calls on hunters and shooters to make more effort to explain the benefits of their activities to conservationists, policy-makers and the public.
"Overwhelmingly the target species for field sports have fared well over the last century ... More game-keeping, game crops and habitat management would undoubtedly achieve even more."
4To order a copy.
- Related Post:
** Running with the Foxes
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Purdue researchers have developed peaceful chickens to reduce 'cannibalism' in factory farm pens. That sound like a good thing, but there may be a small joker in the deck. You see:
Researchers say decades of breeding to make the white leghorn hens that lay most of the nation's eggs more productive have also boosted the birds' territorial instincts, making them prone to pecking attacks so fierce they're often called "cannibalism."
What's that mean for "peaceful chickens"?
It means they likely produce less, which means fewer eggs per bird per year and, presumably, a higher price for eggs.
Will that matter? Probably not.
Eggs are so cheap now, that a few pennies -- or even 50 cents more a carton -- will not change how many eggs I consume, or what I pay for anything at the store or in a restaurant.
But will more peaceful chickens improve the lot of egg-producing poultry? Probably not. Egg-producing chickens will still be crowded, will still live in darkened sheds, and will still end up dead and in dog food after their egg-laying life is over..
I have made my peace with it. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and anyone who thinks otherwise should check the bottom of bird nests this time of year. Nothing gets out of this world alive, and the best any of us can hope for is ready food, ready water, a roof over our head, and a little companionship. Put in those simple terms, most factory chickens are doing far better than a billion people on earth.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Repost from April 2005.
"The earth trembled and a great rift appeared, separating the first man and woman from the rest of the animal kingdom. As the chasm grew deeper and wider, all the other creatures, afraid for their lives, returned to the forest -- except for the dog, who after much consideration, leapt the perilous rift to stay with the humans on the other side. His love for humanity was greater than his bond to other creatures, he explained, and he willingly forfeited his place in paradise to prove it."
4 Native American folktale from "The Lost History of the Canine Race" by Mary Elizabeth Thurston
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Someone wanted to see what the "doggy man cave" looked like without all the snow not on it. The answer is pretty rough! This was constructed from stone at the back of the property.
From the beginning, the plan has been for ivy to cover the whole thing, and for potted geraniums to go on the top. By September, the dogs will simply be disappearing into the foliage!
At the bottom of the dog house entry, are two rough blocks of stone which slip out when the inside is cleaned. Inside, the floor is solid concrete, and sloped to drain (the stones fit into the drain ramp at the door). On top of the concrete floor is foam insulation which easily slips out, and on top of that are rubber mats, with a thick bed of straw on top. No dogs have ever been dryer!
If you look at the tree to the right of the doorway in the first picture at top, you can see a little black box, which is my Moultrie game camera which I use to photograph visiting yard fox.
For the record, the dogs have another doggy man cave inside the garage, which is also insulated and heated. At night the dogs sleep inside the house, in their own individual crates located inside the laundry room.
Friday, April 23, 2010
My father said a man could almost pass for educated provided he knew the Bible and had read all of William Shakespeare.
Needless to say, I promptly read the Bible and all of William Shakespeare!
So what do the Bible and Shakespeare have in common?
Among other things, a general contempt and dislike of dogs!
Perhaps this is not too surprising, as dogs carried rabies in ancient times, and were most commonly seen as semi-feral beasts scouring the edges of cities, dumps and waste lands.
Shakespeare mentions dogs 151 times in his plays and sonnets, but only one lap dog appears as a character -- Crab in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
So what is Shakespeare saying about dogs the rest of the time?
Mostly he is comparing dogs to people (with both suffering as a result).
We do find Shakespeare giving the nod to the beginnings of dog classification, however. In Macbeth he writes:
Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;.
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are 'clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.
House Finch (male) aka the "Hollywood Finch". This is a repost from August 2007.
The House Sparrow, (or "English Sparrow" as it is sometimes called) was first introduced to the U.S. in the 1850s and promoted to city officials across the East and Midwest as an effective form of pollution control -- sparrows were supposed to clean up the horse droppings littering America's streets.
Mayors, city councils and park officials heralded the release of sparrow colonies in much the same way they heralded the arrival of gas lights and indoor plumbing -- as a sign of America's coming of age. The House Sparrow was, quite literally, a kind of "equine catalytic converter" designed to make our increasingly crowded cities a cleaner place to live.
Within 20 years after its introduction, the booming population of House Sparrows in the U.S. was perceived to be having a negative impact on some native song bird populations, especially eastern bluebirds, tufted titmice, and various chickadees.
The friction between the immigrant and native birds was largely due to the aggressive nature of the House Sparrow which simply out-competed some native birds for housing and (to a lesser extent) food.
The rise of the House Sparrow created one of the more interesting environmental battles of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Dr. Thomas Mayo Brewer -- a great friend of John James Audubon and a co-author of the first modern catalog of American birds -- thought the House Sparrow was a wonderful and determined little bird and that, in time, it would prove to be one of America's favorites.
English Sparrow or House Sparrow, male and female
Opposing Dr. Brewer's love of the House Sparrow was Dr. Elliott Coues, whose "Key to North American Birds" remains one the most important works of American ornithology. Dr. Coues advocated an open war on House Sparrows, saying they were a peril to native birds. Dr. Coues described the House Sparrow as "sturdy little foreign vulgarians," and "animated manure machines ... without a redeeming quality."
This fray between naturalists was, believe it or not, a minor cause celebre, and was enjoined by the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe (on the side of Brewer) and the very young Theodore Roosevelt (on the side of Coues).
In 1883, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), a newly formed organization made up of the most eminent men in the field of birding, resolved at their first meeting to decide "the eligibility or ineligibility of the European House Sparrow in America," i.e., should the sparrow be granted the right to be called a naturalized American bird?
In the end, the AOU concluded that the House Sparrow could not be admitted as an American species.
Despite this ruling, the House Sparrow eventually made its way into the AOU's "Check List of North American Birds," as an "introduced" species. By 1931 this distinction had evaporated, and the House Sparrow was added to the AOU check list without any quibbling or further notation.
The House Sparrow had, for all intents and purposes, been assimilated and was now a "North American Bird" (though, it should be said, it remains one of the few birds that can be trapped and exterminated without a license).
At about the same time that the American Ornithologists' Union was removing the asterisk next to the House Sparrow's name, House Sparrow populations began to decline as automobiles replaced horses in America's streets. Changes in farming practices further reduced the amount of grain spillage and horse manure available for avian gleaning. By the end of the 1940s, the first "house sparrow" reduction had occurred.
A second reduction in House Sparrow populations occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. The reason for this reduction was the rise of another bird in the eastern United States: the House Finch.
The House Finch is native to the American west. A pretty bird (it looks like a sparrow dipped up to its neck in red wine), House Finches were live-trapped in California after World War I and sold in eastern pet stores as "Hollywood Finches."
In 1940, however, the sale of domestic-caught wild songbirds was banned in the U.S. Caught with a small inventory of now illegal "Hollywood" Finches, a pet store in Long Island simply released them out the back door. From this modest and impromptu introduction sprang the millions of rose-headed finches we now have storming our bird feeders across the East.
The House Finch proved to be aggressive enough to "beat back" the House Sparrow, and a kind of detente now exists, with each bird helping to hold down the other's population.
Male and female House Finch
What about the birds that were once in decline due to competition with House Sparrows?
Ironically, they are doing fine and probably exist is numbers larger than they did in pre-Columbian time when the east was entirely in forest.
Edge-habitat-loving populations of Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice, and Chickadees are back up with the help of thousands of bluebird boxes constructed and placed in parks, on fence posts, and along nature trails by a generation of school children, boy scouts and dedicated birders.
As for Brewer -- the "winning" side of the house sparrow war -- "Brewer's Sparrow" is named after him. Ironically it is a native bird.
A bird is also named for Elliot Coues. Coues' Flycatcher, however, is mostly found in Mexico and Central America and can only be seen in the U.S. in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. Adding insult to injury, the AOU recently decided to change the name of Coues' Flycatcher to "Greater Peewee".
Clearly when you lose a war -- even a "sparrow war" -- your monuments do not last for long.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Rubber duck in dog.
Rubber dog in dog.
As I noted in a post earlier this week,
Pet owners routinely pay a fortune in surgery costs to get tennis balls, rubber squeak toys, socks, and other items out of their dog's stomachs. Most pet stores have an entire "suicide wall" of squeaky pet toys that should never be given to any dog, EVER. Just because a toy is sold at a pet store does NOT mean it is dog safe!
A few examples, above and below.
Nine golf balls in dog.
Squeak toy in dog. These are often particularly hard to see.
Today is Earthday, and it also happens to be that time of year when more than 250 species of neotropical migratory birds are now flying north to spend the Spring and Summer in North America.
Beginning in the early 1970s, scientists began to notice that many of these bird species seemed to be in decline
What was going on?
Scientists have concluded that the decline of neotropical migratory song birds in the United States is closely linked to four issues, which in turn are closely linked to human population growth and habitat destruction.
- Tropical Forest Destruction
The population of Latin America and the Caribbean has doubled in the last 35 years, and with it has come unprecedented destruction of tropical rainforests. As populations have exploded, more landless peasants have colonized forest areas and cleared vegetation, with slash-and-burn cycles becoming progressively shorter. At the same time, logging over wide areas, and the rapid expansion of commercial farming, has accelerated the disappearance of forests and fueled the rapid destruction of once-lush bird habitat. In the Peten region of Guatemala, for example, 77 percent of the land was covered in dense forest in 1960. By 1990, that number had fallen to just 29 percent.
- Pesticide Use Overseas
Neotropical migratory birds are being killed by the heavy use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, which are used to boost crop productivity to feed increasing numbers of people in the developing world. In some cases, birds are poisoned outright by chemical application, or by consuming grain and insects that have been sprayed. In other cases, the pesticides accumulate and concentrate within the birds, resulting in deformed chicks or eggshells that are so thin they break before hatching.
- Suburban Sprawl and Forest Fragmentation
As the population of the United States has grown from 76 million in 1900 to over 300 million today, cities and suburbs have sprawled outward. Fairfax, Virginia, for example, a suburb of Washington, D.C., saw 69 percent of its forest converted to homes and businesses between 1980 and 1995. As human populations have risen, and forests have fallen, primary predators such as wolves, bobcats, and cougars have been wiped out, while the ecological niche of meso-predators such as raccoons, possums and foxes has expanded. The result has been massive predation of Neotropical songbirds, which tend to nest in the open and near the ground rather than in tree cavities or higher up in the forest canopy. Along with suburban sprawl has come fragmentation of once unbroken tracts of wild woods. America’s national forest system now contains over 383,000 miles of logging roads — a distance eight times longer than the interstate highway system. With forest fragmentation has come an invasion of native and non-native birds that compete with deep-forest species for food and nesting sites. One example is the brown-headed cowbird. Cowbirds were once confined to the forest edges of mid-western prairies where they fed in grasslands grazed by roaming bison. Today, however, because of widespread forest fragmentation, parasitic cowbirds can be found all across the United States. A single cowbird may lay as many as 20 eggs in a breeding season — one or two eggs per songbird nest. Because Neotropical migrants tend to build open cup-shaped nests, and raise only a single brood a year, they are particularly susceptible to cowbird parasitism.
- Intensive U.S. Farming Practices
As American farmers make increasingly intensive use of their lands, bird populations suffer. Post-to-post cultivation has wiped out hedgerow thickets where many songbirds used to nest, while many farmers now cut hay three times a year where they used to cut just once. The result is that hedgerow and ground-nesting birds like the northern bobwhite, the eastern meadowlark, the vesper sparrow, and the grasshopper sparrow are in rapid decline.
As bad as things are now, they are likely to get worse in the years ahead. The reason: massive immigration, both legal and illegal, which is expected to drive the population of the United States from 300 million to over 500 million by 2050.
This is a repost from April 2004 of a piece written in 2002.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I have not checked on the yard fox for a while, and decided to move the camera to the back yard and see if the fox would hop up on top of the new stone dog house I put in back there.
As you can see, the fox found the food the very first night (the dog house is in the yard above the goldfish pond where I think the fox come to drink), and they had no compunction at all about jumping up.
It looks like there may be three different fox here -- always a bit hard to tell, but there are at least two. The lighting is off; I will have to see if I can adjust the camera to account for the glare off of the hard stone-and-concrete surface. This surface will eventually be covered with ivy.
For the record, the dogs sleep inside the main (human) house at night, and the large stone dog house (big enough for all three dogs to fit inside) is only one of several places they can lounge during the day. At first they continued to use their dog houses inside the garage, but now they seem to like the stone dog house outside best of all. It seems to stay warm in the winter (6-inch stone walls, concrete topped by insulated foam on the bottom, and a thick bed of straw inside), and I think it will stay cool in the summer too.
Here's a song from "The Who" you probably haven't heard. It's called The Dogs and was released in 1968.
The first time we met you were a kennel maid,
You gave me a tip I got me forecast paid,
You were holding a greyhound in trap number one,
Your white coat was shining in the afternoon sun.
Now we're both together,
We're never gonna break apart, no no,
'Cause we're a happy couple you and me,
With a greyhound at either knee.
I'll have ten shillings to win on CAMIRA FLASH, young man,
What dog's that THEN? IT'S THE DUKE'S DOG, ENNIT!
There was nothing in my life bigger than beer,
'Ceptin' you, little darling,
We're a happy couple you and me,
With a greyhound at either knee.
We go to the dog track on Saturday night,
We put all our money on a dog that we like,
A kiss and a cuddle, a hot meat pie,
Two dollar tickets and a starry sky.
RIGHT, where's me wage packet ?????,
Ah I'll put twenty-five knicker please on YELLOW PRINTER,
Oh, I hope the wife don't find out,
Yes, it's sure to win, isn't it,
Yes, I know, it's a good dog, I saw it run at White City,
Just last week, broke the record, YELLOW PRINTER,
Nice dog, yes, lovely form, lovely buttocks.
Lovely buttocks. And he's talking about the dog. Perfect!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Click on picture for HUGE version. Shorpy link here.
Emancipation Day was last Friday here in Washington. D.C.
The picture, at top, is Emancipation Day in Richmond, Virginia in 1905.
This picture was taken just 40 years after the end of the Civil War, and in the very Capitol of the Confederacy.
What you see here is Pride and Bravery without end.
And, believe it or not, on this day there was also a massive dose of foreshadowing too.
The article, below, is from the April 4, 1905 Washington Post story on the march.
NEGROES' DAY CELEBRATED.
Inauguration of Colored President Part of the Ceremony.
Richmond, Va., April 3 -- Thousands of Negroes observed Emancipation Day in Virginia to-day. The occasion resulted in an outpouring of the race never before equaled, armed with miniature United States flags and attended by brass bands.
In addition, there was a unique feature to-night, the inauguration of a colored President. At True Reformers' Hall the interior of the White House was reproduced, and all the ceremonies incident to the induction of a Chief Magistrate into office were gone through with.
Today was also the fortieth anniversary of the evacuation of Richmond by the Confederate forces and the partial destruction of the city by fire.
Among caring and intelligent dog owners, there is no debate about pet insurance:
Having said that, do not misunderstand what I am saying.
I am NOT saying you should rush out and get corporate for-profit pet insurance.
In fact I have not done so, and I will not do so.
Instead, I have self-insured my dogs with a dedicated bank account.
Of course, most people have no discipline. For these people, and for those who are young and/or of limited means, for-profit pet insurance might be the right idea.
But it might not be too.
Why the hedge?
Simple: If you think human insurance is confusing and poorly regulated, I can assure you pet insurance is far worse.
As Consumer Reports notes in an article entitled Why Pet Insurance Is Usually a Dog:
The most important thing you need to know about pet insurance is that it is a form of enforced savings that almost never covers the entire bill. You can accomplish the same thing by paying the same monthly premium to your savings account.
The advantage: If your pet has little cause to visit a vet beyond annual checkups, the amount saved belongs to you, not an insurance company. The risk, of course, is if you run into unusually expensive veterinary needs...
The problem with pet insurance is all its fine-print pitfalls. Indeed, buying a policy may end up increasing a pet owner's total expenditures on veterinary care by thousands of dollars, according to our analysis of five plans. That's because on top of deductibles required by all the insurers, plus any co-pays, unreimbursed costs, and exclusions--all of which you pay out-of-pocket--you also pay premiums. Seemingly small $11 to $50 per-month premiums can add up to $2,000 to $6,000 or more over a pet's lifetime.
See the entire article to see how pet insurance plans make money, on average, by costing pet owners more money, on average.
To summarize the Consumer Reports example:
"Lucky" had 9 claims over 11 years--a broken leg, an ear infection, a cut requiring stitches, an eye infection, hypothyroidism requiring years of drug claims, and a torn knee ligament. Total cost of care: $3,301. The insurance plans below would have cost Lucky's owners an extra $497 to $3,380 for care.
Wow. That sure sounds like pet insurance is the wrong idea.
But it's not that simple in the real world.
You see people are involved, and people are often a problem.
In the real world, as noted before, pet insurance may make sense if you are poor, young or (let's admit our personal weaknesses here, eh?) undisciplined.
Here's a test:
Do you have $2,000 cash in the bank right now, from which you could draw to fix your car's brakes and transmission? And NO, you cannot use a credit card or liquidate a portion of your 401-K to fix your car. Do you have the cash?
Do you have $5,000 in the bank, right now, to pay for an emergency home repair (a new roof, a new boiler, or a new air conditioning system)? No, you cannot use a credit card or liquidate a portion of your 401-K. Do you have the cash?
If your answer to these questions is NO, then you need pet insurance, because you do not have enough discipline to cover YOUR OWN emergency needs, right now, much less your dog's.
And the good new for your dog, is that while you cannot buy discipline, you can rent it .... for a price.
You might notice that the poor and undisciplined are going to pay more, and probably get less, than those who save and have cash on hand.
Yes, that's right.
As a general rule, the poor and undisciplined also have bad credit, need to borrow more, pay higher interest rates, and are more likely to pay the minimum on their credit cards as well.
Not for nothing does the Bible say the poor will always be with us.
The good news is that while you are the problem, you are also the solution.
All you need is discipline. Get some. It's the cheapest kind of canine health insurance there is.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Along that line, here are five doggy tips that could save you big bucks in the long run:
- To help avoid breed-specific high-end health care costs such as cancer, cruciate ligament surgery, hip dysplasia, and soft palate problems, follow these 10 common-sense tips when selecting a dog. There is no reason to buy into an expensive canine health care problem. In the long run, nothing will save you more money and heartache than avoiding some Kennel Club breeds. Caveat emptor.
- Get a real leash and use it. Failure to keep a dog on a leash leads to more unnecessary, and expensive, injuries than anything else. And no, a real leash is not a string leash. A real leash is a leather, web, chain or rope leash of the kind used to train dogs. A leash should provide complete control, not partial control, and it should be capable of being used to tie a dog to a fixed point if necessary. And while you are getting a real web leash, get a real web collar and put a slide tag on it with your identification.
- Only give dog-appropriate toys. Pet owners routinely pay a fortune in surgery costs to get tennis balls, rubber squeak toys, socks, and other items out of their dog's stomachs. Most pet stores have an entire "suicide wall" of squeaky pet toys that should never be given to any dog, EVER. Just because a toy is sold at a pet store does NOT mean it is dog safe! Getting no toys for your young dog, however, is the WRONG idea. Your dog will chew on something. By giving your dog a solid well-built chew toy with a food treat inside, you can prevent an expensive surgery bill and (maybe) save your shoes as well.
- Strengthen your solid fence with an e-collar system. For a few hundred dollars you can put an e-collar system inside your hard fence. This is a permanent investment, as your e-collar system can move with you from house to house. A "belt and suspenders" approach to pet containment will prevent "accidents" from dig outs, loose boards, jump-overs and open-gate problems.
- Keep Your Dog Thin. Fat dogs are expensive dogs. Not only are your dog food bills going to be unnecessarily high, but extra weight on the dog will mean hip and joint problems, and an increased chance of heart, liver and kidney disease. About 35 percent of all dogs in America are overweight, and the cure is as simple as putting down less food. Avoid high-end "boutique" dog foods that are loaded with fat and short on fiber. For most dogs, good food means more fiber and less fat -- the same diet advice most people need as well!
Monday, April 19, 2010
Last April I wrote a post entitled Weights and Measure at the Polo Grounds in which I speculated that the sudden death of 21 polo ponies in Florida would end up being due to
"... an accidental supplements toxin due to mislabeling by someone who does not speak English too well."
I further speculated that the problem was likely Selenium poisoning.
The problem in Florida was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and with each turn of the spoon the chance for the supplements recipe to get screwed up rose exponentially.
Time will tell, but I will bet that the final story is that the Spanish-speaking veterinarian gave a formula to the U.S. vet, who then gave it to the compounding pharmacist. Somewhere along the way -- perhaps due to translation problems -- I suspect a microgram measurement for Selenium was translated as a milligram measurement for Selenium. The result was that 21 horses got 1,000 times more Selenium injected into them than they should have.
Death followed pretty quickly.
An equine veterinarian came in on the comments section of this post (see link, above) and defended compounding pharmacies.
With very little research I deduced this vet was affiliated with a compounding pharmacy that promised obliging vets that they would create a dependency model that would indenture their equine clients to the vet. Is that a scam? It sure isn't entirely kosher, is it?
I then went on to note that the business model of non-mail order compounding pharmacies was very shaky and generally subsidized by Medicare and Medicaid fraud in the form of off-label marketing abetted by kickbacks paid to doctors (and sometimes to vets). I also noted that in most cases the drugs being compounded are not FDA-approved.
Guess what? I was right. This morning the U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release:
The United States has filed a civil suit on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Florida, against Franck’s Compounding Lab Inc., dba Franck’s Lab, a compounding pharmacy located in Ocala, Fla. The government alleges that Franck’s has been introducing adulterated, misbranded and unsafe drugs into interstate commerce as part of the company’s veterinary pharmaceutical compounding business, and has asked the court for a permanent injunction that would prohibit Franck’s and its CEO, Paul Franck, from using bulk pharmaceutical ingredients in its compounds. According to the government’s complaint, Franck’s compounded a drug mixture last year that killed 21 polo horses belonging to a Venezuelan team that was in Florida to compete for the United States Polo Championships.
Franck’s is in the business of drug compounding, which is the mixing, combining or altering of drugs to accommodate the particular needs of specific patients. Compounding is common in both human and veterinary medical industries, and the FDA and Department of Justice have long recognized that it is a necessary and valuable service. However, the agencies become concerned when pharmacies use compounding as a way to circumvent the regulatory requirements of the drug approval process and potentially put consumers and animals at risk.
Franck’s compounds drugs for human and veterinary use, but the suit for a permanent injunction only pertains to the company’s veterinary practices. In the past year, inspections at Franck’s have revealed that the company compounds most of its veterinary drugs from active pharmaceutical ingredients called "bulk" ingredients. This practice is prohibited by the statutes and regulations that govern veterinary compounding. Animal drugs created from bulk ingredients do not undergo FDA approval, and no clinical testing or other controls are in place to ensure their safety. The government alleges that Franck’s use of a bad mixture of bulk drugs a year ago led to the deaths of the 21 horses.
In addition to using bulk drugs for compounding, Franck’s also eludes the regulatory scheme by creating drugs that are compounded copies or near-copies of approved drugs that are already on the market. Franck’s distributes its drugs throughout the country. The company has refused to stop these practices in spite of several warnings from FDA that its activities were illegal.
"We allege that the practices at issue in this case contributed to deadly results," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "The Justice Department and our federal partners will work together to pursue pharmacies that put the health and safety of animals at risk."
"Misbranding" for those who wonder, is the same as off-label marketing.
As for Franck's Lab, it is now being sued for $4 million by the horse's owners. And yes the horses did die of Selenium poisoning as I speculated.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
A Little More Hexane in Your Veggie Burger?
Mother Jones magazine, notes that "In order to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, manufacturers of soy-based fake meat like to make their products have as little fat as possible. The cheapest way to do this is by submerging soybeans in a bath of hexane to separate the oil from the protein." Hexane, of course, is an EPA-regulated neurotoxin, but despite that fact, the FDA does not test for it. Read the article.
This Is Why You Defend the Second Amendment:
The U.S. Constitution says nothing about guns. Not a thing. What it talks about is the "right to keep and bear arms." If you remove that right, the state can actually march in and take your pocket knife. Think that's crazy talk? It's not if you live in the U.K., where a disabled man who kept a Swiss Army knife in his car's glove box has just gotten a criminal record for possessing an offensive weapon. The knife was not just in his glove box, by the way -- it was in a pouch in his glovebox, along with a small flashlight, a first aid kit, and waterproof matches.
This Is Why You Defend the First Amendment:
The Associated Press reports that: "Sarah Palin spoke to a crowd of about 16,000 attending an evangelical Christian women's conference in Louisville Friday night....She asserted that America needs to get back to its Christian roots and rejected any notion that 'God should be separated from the state.'" Great. Just what we need to be: a theocracy like Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Vatican.
Tasering Sheep on Meth:
In a study of Taser safety, scientists got a bunch of sheep hopped up on meth and then zapped them with tasers to see how they did with that. Read all about it.
Native American Genius:
W.T. Wallington's Forgotten Technology web site shows techniques he has developed to show how the stones for Stonehenge and the Pyramids might have been hauled, rotated, and lifted into place using nothing more than simple physics. Check it out by clicking on the picture on the home page, and clicking through the links at the bottom of each subsequent page. Yes this stuff works! No space ships or Martians needed -- or massive ramps either from what I can gather.
Doug's Expanding Menagerie:
Doug is rehabbing a red-shoulderd hawk and starting an adventure in bees, the animal most likely to kill you. Madness I say!
Dominance in Pigeons:
Who is the alpha pigeon? Researchers are studying it with little GPS backpacks.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation:
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation was created by Charles Jencks and Maggie Keswick in Dumfries, Scotland in 1989. It contains bizarre and mind-blowing geometric patterns. Check it out! This is a private garden and open to the public only one day a year, so these pics are probably your only opportunity.
Whatever Happened to Sealyhams?
Sealyham's are a breed that was sucked into the kennel club vortex almost upon creation. For a web site documenting that, see this interesting, if obscure, web site on show sealyham terriers in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, complete with a pictures of what the Westminster show looked like at Madison Square Garden back then, and a little note about the first head of the "professional handler's association." Hat tip to Paul H. for the link!
If anyone wants to see what a fun life in Western Colorado looks like (complete with great photos), see the Dirt and Dogs blog and check out "the hunter and the hunted" post for a little amusement. Also a few pictures of Arizona in here. Of course, Jamie O'Neal claims there is no Arizona. I think Trina might disagree!
Vitamin C for Canine Snake Bites?
I am quite happy that we do not have to worry, too much about venomous snakes in my area; we are a little too far north for water moccasins, copperheads are way over-rated, and rattlesnakes are rare all over and generally confine themselves to rocky shelves and outcrops in the mountains. That said, not everyone is so fortunate and Jonathan from South African passes on this tip about Vitamin C shots as a treatment for snake bites in dogs. Does it work? There are reports on the internets that it does, but I have to say I am skeptical. Snakes do not always envenomate when they bite, and there's a lot of mis-identification of snake species as well. Still, when nothing else is there to help, break out the Vitamin C. It cannot hurt!
It seems a yellow-bellied marmot has decided the middle of a roadbed was a good exit hole.
The marmot was snapped taking death-defying peeks from a hole in a Montana motorway.
‘I thought it was just sitting in the road, as they do this quite often, but while setting up my tripod I saw out of the corner of my eye a car approaching the marmot,’ said photographer Zack Clothier.
‘I thought for sure it would scurry out of the road to avoid being hit so I continued what I was doing, still observing from the corner of my eye.
‘When the car got almost on top of it, the marmot seemed to just melt into the road.’
The yellow-bellied marmot – a kind of ground squirrel – soon reappeared, ducking in and out of the pothole as Mr Clothier moved closer.
‘When it finally stopped popping its head out, I walked over to the hole,’ said the photographer.
‘It seemed to be quite deep and tunnelled to one side under the road so it is possible the marmot was using it as a den.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
The book, above, is a limited edition (1,000 copies printed) edition of the Rev. John Russell's memoirs, written by E.W.L. Davies and printed in 1902, complete with illustrations by N.H.J. Baird, and "coloured by hand."
The cover is embossed in gold.
I brought it along with me to coffee this morning. I took the picture and loaded it from my laptop at Starbucks.
On the way over, National Public Radio had a story about a fellow who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, which was turned down by multiple publishers before it was published by Bellevue Literary Press, which is run out of a couple of rooms at Bellevue Hospital (yes, the place with the nut ward), in New York City.
It seems every other publisher had turned It down. Not commercial enough. The folks at Bellevue thought that was crazy talk. How ironic!
Last night I stopped at Barnes and Noble to drink more Starbucks coffee and cruise the racks. I got two paperback novels, but not before stopping at the desk of the guy selling the Barnes and Noble version of an e-book reader.
Barnes and Noble is selling e-book readers.
Clearly, you do not need to be a genius to see that paper publishing is not long for this world.
Ten years, tops.
I already get my newspaper from my cell phone and my computer.
And with e-book readers, who needs book stores?
Certainly no writer needs a publisher skimming off $19 out of every $20.
In the Next Economy, books will cost $10, the author will get $9, and the file-sharing site will get a dollar. There will be no publisher at all.
And there will be no loss.
Publishers never sold books anyway; they placed them in stores. In the era of Amazon, book stores are going broke faster than tobacco shops in the 1990s.
Anyone can see the Next Economy is already here.
Look at music. Who goes to record stores anymore? You order online and get your recommendations online, and the music is downloaded to your computer, or your I-pod. No more skipping songs, cascading CDs, and ripped audio tape.
How about movies? First there was video tape, and then cable TV, and now NetFlix. Next will be "online all the time, and on demand."
Some folks already have it.
Books are clearly next.
The market for e-book readers is exploding. In a world in which cheap paperback novels cost $15, the demand for a $150 reader will not be contained for long.
Of course, every new technology has its ups and down. A shakeout in e-book readers has yet to occur; the wave of inflated expectations is still building.
But how deep will the "trough of disillusionment" really be?
Not very, I think.
The current I-Pad is not the machine that will win the race, but the next generation along this same curve will probably be the tipping point.
It's not like an e-reader has to do a lot to beat a paper book.
For one thing, a million great books are already out there for FREE (including the book featured at the top of this post).
E-books do not rot, mold, crowd shelves, or cost a fortune to move across town.
Plus they are cheaper than their paper equivalents; a lot cheaper over time.
And what will e-books do for publishers and book stores?
The fellow at Barnes and Noble selling e-book readers tried to make the case that publishers and books stores will still exist in the future. His thesis: that consumers need publishers and book stores to tell us, the consumer, what to read.
I call bullshit.
In the Next Economy we will not need priests to tell us what to read.
Book titles will be loaded directly up to file servers, the same as i-Tunes.
Consumers themselves will rank them up or down. Blogs and social marketing sites will tell niche communities what's hot and what's not.
Of course, the real choke point will always remain.
Very few people can write well.
Even fewer people have something to say.
Even fewer have something new to say.
Even fewer can leap the hurdles of production; the unending hunt for typos, the sanding of sentences, and the tyranny of pagination.
But paper, printing and publishing priests?
In ten years, we will look back on them as an anachronism, right up there with snail mail and the fax.
Listen up children, when I was a kid, we had printed books. On paper. Can you imagine?
“We don’t chase foxes,” Rudolph said. “They run too fast. We wanted to chase something that just waddled along.”
So, the Mountain Falls Hunt “chases” possums, because they basically just turn around in circles in the road, she said. “And, there are a lot of them out here.”
To make sure the group actually sees a possum, each member has one embroidered on her saddle pad.
Also, the group rides to the “hound,” singular.
A basset hound named Daisy is the hunt’s official dog, but she usually does not attend parades, because the blacktop is too hot for her paws.
A repost from August, 2008, which quotes an article from The Winchester Star.
Teddy Moritz sent me this shocking photo of a tiny 5-pound groundhog with a terrible malocclusion of the jaw which resulted in the animal's teeth growing without end. As Teddy notes in her email: "Mother Nature is not always kind."
So why was I shocked by this photo? Well, I first saw it on my cell phone, and the picture was pretty tiny. What? Is that fingernail polish? When I got back to the computer, however, I saw it was just blood. Fine; all is right with the world again. Carry on.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The fraud involves Collateralized Debt obligations, or CDOs.
This stuff is a bit complicated, but the good news is that there is a brilliant little video that explains it all very well. See below.
Crisis explainer: Uncorking CDOs from Marketplace on Vimeo.
In the first bottle, you are buying bulls.
In the second bottle, you are buying bullshit.
If you are "new to the farm" you might not know the difference.
Of course, most people are new to the farm.
I used to have young reporters who had never experienced an economic downturn tell me that the stockmarket always went up, and that we were crazy, as a nation, not to privatize Social Security by putting everything into the stock market.
I said I would roll over on my position and support privatization of Social Security, provided the reporter could first answer three simple questions about basic finance and financial history.
Did he or she want to play that game?
Every reporter said they did. Here were my questions:
- What is a no-load fund?
- What is a zero coupon bond?
- Who is Robert Citron?
When every single reporter crashed and burned on those three questions (this was before Wikipedia), I would point out that this was normal.
"Across America, people who don't know the rules are pretty sure they can win the game. Las Vegas casinos get rich fanning that conceit"
Of course, not everyone is a fool.
Look at India.
As Robert Kuttner notes, Dr. Yaga Reddy, the former Governor of the Bank of India, knew what he did not know and what the average consumer in India did not understand.
And so, over the objections of Western bankers, the International Monetary Fund, and greedy local bankers he refused to let the Indian banking system engage in Wall Street-style speculation.
As Dr. Reddy notes, somewhat tongue in cheek:
"We are a poor developing nation. We don't really understand these securities, so we don't permit our banks to use them. We leave them to the advanced nations like you."
Of course, after the crash, (a crash India avoided thanks to Dr. Reddy's common sense) Alan Greenspan and pretty much everyone else admitted they did not understand security transactions either.
But greed won out, didn't it?
And doesn't it always?
And there, ladies and Gentlemen, is why we will always need a little government regulation and oversight.
The story, as I have often noted, is as old as Genesis 41.
And where did Joseph say the grain should be stored?
And what did Jesus do to the money changers?
Thus concludes today's short lesson in macro- and micro-economics, with a side order of Moses and Jesus as well.
Let us prey ...
A young Mongolian sharpshooter with Tarvags bound for the pot.
Two thousand years ago Herodotus told a tale of large furry ants that enriched the Persian empire by burrowing for gold.
According to Herodotus, the "ants were bigger than foxes, but smaller than dogs".
Herodotus's story inspired generations of treasure hunters and explorers going all the way back back to Alexander the Great.
Classical scholars assumed Herodotus was either a liar or a very gullible believer of fables. In fact, Herodotus was right -- it was the translators that were wrong.
It turns out that the "golden ants," were actually marmots that burrow into a gold-bearing stratum of sandy soil that lies just a few feet underground in much of Central Asia. The ancient Persian word for marmot, translates into "mountain ant".
The "Mountain Ant" of Pakistan is a close relative of the the North American Groundhog (Marmota Monax) and the Tarvag (Marmota sibirica).
The Tarvag and other Central Asia Marmots are hunted for food and for their fur, which -- if it is not used locally for fur coats -- is sheared, dyed and exported as "imitation marten."
It was fleas on the shipped hides of Mongolian Tarvag that first brought the Black Plague to Europe. The Tarvag is the natural home of Yersinia pestis -- the bacterium that inhabits the Xenopsylla cheopsis flea that thrives on Tarvag.
When dead Tarvag hides were shipped to Europe, Xenopsylla fleas leaped off the dead hides and reproduced on the Black Rat (Ratus ratus) which it found to be a suitable host.
The Bubonic Plague swept through Europe with the Black Rat until the Black Rat itself was driven out of Europe by another import -- the Norwegian Rat (Ratus norvegicus), which probably originated in the Middle East.
With the arrival of the larger and more aggressive Norwegian Rat, the smaller and more docile Black Rat was pushed out of Europe, and the era of Bubonic Plague infestations in Europe ended.
The bad news is that Tarvag fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis) managed to get to the West Coast of the U.S. around 1900 where they found a home on black rats living in San Francisco. Believe it or not, Norwegian rats did not arrive on the West Coast of the U.S. until around 1940.
The Black Rat and the Xenopsylla flea rode the train into the deserts of the American Southwest shortly after arriving in the U.S., and today the Bubonic Plague is a permanent feature of Prairie Dog towns and, to a lesser extent, Richardson's Ground Squirrel colonies, in the American West.
Could the Plague come East to take up residence on the common Groundhogs? For some reason this has not yet happened. It's hard to know what the barrier is, but the Xenopsylla flea may not find the Groundhog a suitable host -- fleas and lice are often host-species specific, and most will live on only one or two kinds of animals and no others.
Another problem may be that it is simply too wet and cold for the Xenopsylla flea to thrive in an eastern North American hedgerow. The Plague bacillus and its host flea generally thrive in desert or near-desert conditions.
Though Europe is as cold and wet as the Eastern U.S, the Black Rats of the Europeam Middle Ages tended to live under warm and dry roofs. The Xenopsylla flea apparently found this habitat quite suitable, while a wet and frozen hedgerow is the exact opposite of what the flea is looking for.
Another bit of good news is that today the Bubonic Plague to treatable with massive amounts of antibiotics, provided patients seek medical attention and doctors properly diagnose the problem.
That said, I will say this about movement: two legs on a dog is probably not enough. A dog can certainly work with three legs and one eye. But two legs seems to me to to be a bit short on leg. That said, I am willing to make an allowance that there may be exceptions and I will not hold fast to my prejudices for reasons soon to be revealed.
No, the dog below is not a terrier, but if a terrier like this ever does show up, I will be happy to take it into the field, where I have little doubt it will do quite well.
This is a repost from November 2007.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Dogs from the early 1980s were decidedly smaller than the Plummers seen today.
Like all working terriers, a Plummer Terrier is a composite animal. The Plummer is made mostly out of Jack Russell, with a strong dash of beagle (added for nose, voice and coat color), and bull terrier (added for toughness and head size). A fell terrier was mixed in to improve the overall appearance.
This strain of terriers, first created by Brian Plummer in the late 1970s and 80s, started out -- by Plummer's own admission -- as genetic wrecks with shot jaws, an ugly appearance, foul tempers, and a tendency to be mute.
For anyone with a lick of sense, a caution flag should now pop up: Who in their right mind begins to breed from such a canine mess?
Brian Plummer did.
After a long period of outbreeding and culling, obvious genetic problems were worked out of the breed, but a new problem worked its way in -- today's dogs are often too big for truly tight underground work. Perhaps that is not a problem if you are developing a dog just for ratting, but was a new ratting dog actually needed?
In fact, is any new terrier breed needed? Is it too much to ask people to simply preserve and work the terrier breeds we already have?
It is not a question Plummer asked, and now the point is moot. The dog that has been created is attractive, and they certainly have their fans. The question now is whether the breed will make it as a worker among workers, will remain a generalized ratting terrier, or will be pulled into the Kennel Club to be little more than another show-ring trotter.
If salvation is to be had, it is in the hands of those few genuine diggers and dedicated ratters that are trying to size down the breed and keep it working (to one thing or another) on a regular basis. A proper nod to such people -- they certainly exist even if there are not too many of them.
If doom is to rear its head, it is in the form of internecine rivalries between breed clubs, hump-and-dump breeders, and rosette chasers that do not work their own dogs.
In fact, this is a threat to all working dogs of all breeds, and the Plummer terrier is no different.
As for Brian Plummer himself, he is dead, and presumably not too concerned with critics of his dogs, his books, or himself.
His books live on, and continue to be very fun reads, and deserve their spot in the lexicon of terrier literature.
They are certainly no worse than any others, and quite a bit better than most.
There seems to be universal agreement that Brian Plummer himself was a little odd. He liked to bait others into intemperance, and he was known to lift stories from others and present them as his own. He wrote an entire book, under a pseudonym, in which he variously quoted and criticized his own books -- a decidedly odd thing to do.
Plummer suffered from both depression (a true illness) and very marginal finances, and cranked out Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for cash even as he dabbled in recreating "lost" breeds like the Lucas Terrier and the Alaunt -- breeds that had slid into extinction in generations past because they no longer had a rational reason for existence or preservation. Today Plummer's "Lucas Terrier" is a scruffy show ring dog, while his "Alaunt" appears to be little more than a variation of the pig-working pitbull so common in the American South.
While he was alive, Plummer was drowning in dogs -- Bearded Collies, Alaunts, Lurchers, Plummer Terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, fell terriers, and White German Shepherds, to name just a few. He could not possibly have had time to work so many dogs, and those who visited his kennels reported they were often in a disgraceful state of upkeep.
That said, Plummer's books and dogs remain. Plummer terriers continue to rat and even work fox to ground if placed in the right hands.
The fact that some dogs do indeed work to ground seems to cause some distress to people that despised the man for his pretensions and slights. The fact that relatively few dogs work to ground, is similarly distressing to the other side. No matter. The dogs are what they are, same as the books.
The trouble ahead for the Plummer terrier appears to be a rush, by a foolish few, to usher the Plummer terrier into the tar pit of the Kennel Club, from which no other working breed has ever emerged intact and still working.
Tar pits look benign -- cool water tends to pool on top -- but nothing has ever come out of them but bones.
In the case of the Kennel Club, what has emerged, time and time again, are exaggerated dogs devoid of working instinct, nose, and common sense, with coats inappropriate for the job, and skeletal structures that are often inadequate for a day in the field.
No one who courses dogs looks to a Kennel Club dog to do the job, and the same is true for working sled dogs, herding dogs, cart dogs, pointers, setters, and retrievers.
Terriers are not an exception to the rule.
The key and recurring problem with working terriers drawn into the Kennel Club-- from Fox terriers to Sealyhams, Borders, Jack ("Parson") Russells to Fell ("Welsh") Terriers -- is size.
Why do working terrier breeds always seem to get too big in the chest after being listed on Kennel Club roles?
The answer is to be found in an inherent defect of the show ring, and a basic understanding of canine anatomy.
The essential elements of a working terrier are small chest size, strong prey-drive, a loud voice, a sensitive nose, and a clever kind of problem-solving intelligence.
Aside from size, none of these attributes can be judged at ringside.
In a judging field of 20 or 30 dogs, a selection filter of size alone does not provide the gradients required to articulate a reason for choosing a single dog or bitch as a winner.
The breed club solution has been to generate pages of cosmetic criteria which effectively devalue the only important attribute of a working terrier that can be judged in the ring — a small chest.
And it is no small matter that chest size is defined rather vaguely -- the span of a man's hand. Whose hand? Wilt Chamberlain's? In a world of micrometers, surely there is solid research on the true size of fox chests all over the world? Yet it is not used, because Kennel Club pretenders with hulking dogs find it easier to breed good-looking large dogs than small well-proportioned working dogs.
In the Kennel Club, head size and shape are deemed to be very important by theorists who assign a great number of points to this feature (see the Border Terrier for an example). It is head shape, after all, that gives each breed its distinctive look. It is the head that faces the quarry in the hole.
Surely the shape and size of a terrier's head is important?
In fact, when it comes to working terriers, head shape is only important to the extent that it leaves space for brains, produces a strong enough jaw to grip, and allows for unobstructed breathing.
Most crossbred mongrel terriers have heads shaped well enough to do the job.
As for size, in the world of working terriers, a bigger head is not necessarily better -- a point that is often overlooked by theorists who have spent far more time listening to show ring judges than they have their own dogs working their way through a tight den pipe.
Larger heads tend to be attached to larger chests — the latter being necessary to support the former. When terriers are bred for the "bully heads" that Kennel Club judges favor, the resulting dog is often large-chested as well.
It does not take too much gain in the chest for a dog to have quickly diminishing use in the field -- a point easily overlooked if you spend more hours at shows than you do with a shovel in the field.
Paths to destruction are often well-worn. The Plummer terrier is apparently sliding straight down the Kennel Club chute that so many other terrier breeds have gone down before.
The current rage is now to "out cross" Plummer terriers with bull terriers in order to "improve" and "strengthen" the head, which a few show ring breeders claim has grown "snipey."
It is their dog to breed and do with as they see fit. Each to his or her own, etc.
The fact that terrier breed after terrier breed has fallen into the Kennel Club trap of exaggerated heads and overlarge chests will not stop others from following on, any more than the predicament of a trapped Mastodon at the La Brea tar pits served as a warning to the Dire Wolf and Saber Tooth that followed.
Will the entire breed disappear into the tar pit? Time will tell. The tar is cunning, powerful and above all patient. It waits. Time will tell if it is fed.
A dire wolf and a saber tooth at the tar pit. "It looked like a good idea at the time."
This post is recycled from April 2006.