Sunday, April 30, 2006

Urban Fox Now a Problem in London

WALL STREET JOURNAL - April 26, 2006; Page A1
Thousands of Foxes Are Living in London And Making a Mess
City Dwellers Fend Them Off, But Not Very Effectively;

By Cassell Brylan-Low,
LONDON -- Londoners are being outfoxed by foxes.

Long associated with Britain's leafy countryside, foxes now have become a common sight here. The creatures, which can trash gardens and leave a foul scent, can make unwelcome neighbors and have prompted some city folk to arm themselves with water jets and traps.

Gillian Alman has raised her fences, sprinkled pepper-laced repellents and even thrown water to scare off the fox that tears up her lawn, destroys her plants and steals shoes left outside. "He's a little demon," says Mrs. Alman, 61 years old, who lives on a street of Victorian houses in Balham, a residential district in south London. "He's so daring, he comes right up to the window and looks at us."
Robert Harris spent more than $2,000 on a new fence for his garden to keep out foxes. But they burrowed under it and continue to tear up his garden as well as gnaw through the television cable and cause Mr. Harris's West Highland terrier to bark at night. "The dog sits by the window and goes berserk," says the 80-year-old Mr. Harris, the former chairman of a theater-makeup supplier called Charles Fox. "It really is a nuisance."

For his next attack, Mr. Harris is eyeing a water-jet device that attaches to a garden hose pipe and fires water when an animal approaches.

Experts say foxes and humans increasingly are brushing up against one another as heaps of urban garbage act as a tasty lure and the city limits spread. It's too early to tell what, if any, effect a recent law limiting fox hunting is having on London's foxes. The fox has become a common feature of the city's landscape like the gray squirrel and the pigeon, both also considered by many to be urban pests.

There are an estimated 10,000 foxes living in the London area, some of them very near the financial district, Buckingham Palace, and No. 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence.

Opportunistic omnivores, foxes feed on pet rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as on worms, beetles, birds, rats and fruit. And they can get into spats with cats. Gardens are a particular problem.

A few years ago, Peter Craggs spent two weeks manning night vigils to catch the vandals that were repeatedly ripping out the underwater lights from his new garden pond and cutting the cables. He called the police twice before he caught the bushy-tailed culprits.

Mr. Craggs, a semiretired university administrator, bought a house in the countryside six months ago and says he has yet to see a fox there. He jokes the government should reach a compromise on fox hunting, which is now prohibited: ban it in the country but allow it in the towns. "You could have your Hackney hunt," he says, referring to one of London's inner-city boroughs.

The 2004 Hunting Act bans the hunting of foxes, or any wild animal, with packs of dogs. Traditionally, hunters on horseback or foot have followed packs of dogs that chase and kill foxes. It still is permitted to use up to two dogs to flush out wild animals, which can then be shot. Parliament took up the issue because it deemed the pack-dog chase cruel to animals. Hunters marched in protest arguing that the sport helps keep the fox population in check.

Shooting foxes by licensed gun owners remains legal under British law, as do most forms of trapping, says a spokeswoman for the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Hiring a pest-control company to trap or shoot a fox can cost as much as $900. Poisoning is forbidden, however. The British government at one time tried to stem the rise of the urban fox population and as early as the 1940s started killing foxes in cities. But it phased out the policy by the 1980s because it was costly and largely ineffective.

Moreover, killing foxes is an emotional issue in the U.K., which has a strong animal-rights tradition, as Charlton Athletic Football Club has discovered. After a newspaper reported that the professional soccer team had hired County Pest Control Services Ltd. to dispatch the foxes that dig large holes in the field at its London stadium, it received a mailbag full of complaints, says operations director, Mick Everett.

Before that, Mr. Everett had hired someone to trap and relocate the foxes outside the city, but animal-welfare advocates argued that that, too, was inhumane because urban foxes can't fend for themselves in the country.

Now, Mr. Everett is getting advice from a wildlife consultant, who has recommended the soccer club block gaps under the fences and have a dog walk the perimeter to leave its scent.

Responsibility for dealing with foxes now falls to the local councils that govern London's 33 districts, mostly known as boroughs. But they typically just offer advice about securing garbage and reinforcing fences.

Many obvious alternatives, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and large pest-control companies like Rentokil Initial PLC won't routinely deal with foxes. The RSPCA says it intervenes only if a fox is injured or ill, and Rentokil says that it's company policy not to deal with foxes because they are such a touchy issue. "It's easier not to deal with that particular banana skin," a Rentokil spokesman says.

The buck-passing has been a source of frustration for London residents, including Lesley Aaronson, a 46-year-old mother of four who recently discovered a pair of trapped fox cubs under the stairs to her cellar that had entered the house through a broken air vent leading to the garden. She tried the RSPCA twice, as well as her local council and two pest-control firms, but no one could help her.

"It's a complete spiral of ever-descending madness," says Mrs. Aaronson, who meanwhile had to cope with whimpering cubs that sounded like crying puppies. "It was very distressing."

She finally found John Bryant, a wildlife consultant who charges $90 to $125 a visit and generally advises clients to tie up garbage, use repellents, remove compost heaps and fence off ponds. Still, it's very difficult to get rid of foxes for good, says the 63-year-old, who shuttles between jobs in a dark green station wagon plastered with wildlife-society stickers. He also concedes that displacing foxes from one garden means they'll probably end up in another.

In Mrs. Aaronson's case, Mr. Bryant enlisted the help of a builder to punch a hole in the wall. Then Mr. Bryant, sporting protective overalls and gloves, fished out the six-week-old cubs. He left the cubs in the garden shed with the door ajar and figured their mother would likely return for them and move them elsewhere. She did.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Free (Searchable) Peek Inside

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, folks can randomly scan a little of the text of American Working Terriers.

Just click here to go to the Google Books section and type in "American Working Terrier" to display the cover and search inside for a little text. The complete 275-page book cannot be read -- it's a bit like flipping through the book at a book store. That said, a few pages can be read and a little information gleaned. Not a bad thing on all counts.

To order the book, click on the " at Lulu" link on the Google Books page, or simply order directly >> by clicking here.

Is there a finer book on American working terriers? We think not!


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tape Worms and Whip Worms

Canine Tapeworm

The tapeworm is an intestinal parasite transmitted to dogs who ingest fleas or who hunt and eat wildlife infested with tapeworms or fleas. The dog sheds segments of the tapeworm containing the eggs in its feces. These segments are flat and move about shortly after excretion. They look like grains of rice when dried and can be found either in the dog's stool or stuck to the hair around his anus. Tapeworms cannot be killed by the typical over-the-counter wormer.

Canine Whipworm

Whipworms: Adult whipworms look like pieces of thread with one end enlarged. They live in the cecum, the first section of the dog's large intestine. Infestations are usually light, so an examination of feces may not reveal the presence of eggs. Several checks may be necessary before a definitive diagnosis can be made.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Red Flag of Lunacy

I received a few pieces of correspondence yesterday which reminded me of just how crazy people are. The first bit came from the UK -- a newsletter from The Countryside Alliance in which Simon Hart, the head of the Alliance, recounted that "This week four animal rights activists admitted their part in the notorious campaign against Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch which culminated in the theft of the body of the mother-in-law of one of the brothers who ran the farm."

Yes, that's right, the animal rights lunatics are now digging up the dead, desecrating their bodies, and even holding them hostage.

Simon Hart goes on to note that: "The campaign's leader, John Ablewhite, graduated from harassing hunts and was originally arrested with one of the individuals who was imprisoned for attempting to dig up the 10th Duke of Beaufort's grave." Yes, they have done it before.

Hart goes on to note that "there is little separating animal rights organisations like the League Against Cruel Sports from the most extreme of their supporters," and that just because people put on a suit does not make them respectable.

Hart notes that the leaders of the Animal Rights movement "share a common disrespect for humanity and a warped view of the relationship between man and animals. Those politicians who choose to do business with them should not be fooled -- their agenda is not the welfare of animals but a hatred of people."

I could not agree with Simon Hart more.

That said, we have problems on our side as well. There are lunatics in every pond -- where they come from, I do not know, but they hop in from one side or another and are quick to foul the water.

Here's an example: I received an email from someone near Richmond a few weeks ago inquiring about working dogs in his area. He wanted to get into working terriers, he said, but he did not want to travel far to get a dog.

Uhh ... OK . . . but he's sure not sounding too serious about it. I gave him a name or two to call, and invited him down to hunt any Sunday he liked. No worries - no problem.

The second email from this fellow asks me how to make fox nets -- what do they look like? Hmmm. A man without a dog who wants to make fox nets? And out of season? Alright, we were all young and enthusiastic once. Nothing wrong with that. I let him know where he could buy a fox net, and explained their basic mechanics.

My third email came over the transom today, and in it this fellow explains to me what terrier work is all about -- from a man without a dog who does not yet own a fox net (or a locator collar, no doubt).

Here is what my fine red-blooded lunatic writes:

"I think of 'earthhunting' as work, not play. It is not fun. The sole purpose for doing it is to eradicate the vermin.The snuffing of an entire generation is the specific goal. Thus the very best time to conduct these excursions is during the times when the offspring are in or around the den site and essentially helpless from a 'raid' by men with dogs and tools."

Are you thinking what I am thinking? Bet you are! An Animal Rights lunatic, right? My thinking exactly. The funny thing is that I have no fear of the Animal Rights people -- I do not engage in illegal or unethical activity, and if I can enslave an ignorant Animal Rights person to carry my tools for me, I guarantee he will leave the field with a sore back and great deal more knowledge about wildlife than he entered with.

Plus I will get a nice story.

Another possibility is that this is simply a fantasy hunter. The world of working terriers seems to attract quite a number of these people. I have written about them in the past, and will not do so again. All I can say is that some people have thrown more bunk with a keyboard than a ditch digger throws dirt with a shovel.

Fantasy Man, if that is what he is, wanted to impress on me that he was an expert trapper. OK .... except that it seems he does not trap any more. Nor did he seem to know much about the economics of trapping. Instead, he hammered away about the need to eradicate all fox-vermin and raccoon-vermin off of all farms. Not that he has ever trapped them all off a real farm. You see there are so many fox and raccoon on every farm, he simply cannot kill them all.

Hmmm. Anyone else smell a rat in this restaurant?

I inquired about what kind of economic impact fox and raccoon populations actually had on farms that raised beef cattle, milk cows, and horses, but he did not have an answer. He was similarly dumb-struck when asked how fox and raccoon impacted farms that raised hay, corn, soy, apples, wheat, barley and oats. He could not explain how silage and bailage were wrecked by vermin, or why maximizing the kill was in anyone's interest.

I am pretty sure this fellow was an Animal Rights lunatic who thought he was aping the rhetoric of terrierwork, or perhaps he was a young instant-expert who has simply got it all wrong from reading too many board postings from fellow fantasy chasers. Sadly, however, he may have be something far worse: a true sick sadist.

Such people exist, and they can be found in all professions from clergy to doctors, from policemen to factory workers. What is broken here is not related to income or education, but something much deeper in the brain.

Sadly, as elsewhere, these people occasionally turn up in the world of working terriers. Some of these people confuse terrier work with dog fighting, others seem to be working out their short comings as men. As a general rule these folks are very loud and dig very little (if at all). Almost all pass out of the world of working terriers after a year or two.

Sadly, of course, they leave behind them a wreckage of dogs and a near-permanent stain on our sport.

Genuine diggers are careful to protect both the health of their dogs and the reputation of the sport. They show genuine respect for the wildlife and the land. They know there are more efficient ways to kill animals than terrier work -- poison, traps, hooks, gas, snares, bulldozers, bullets -- but none that are more humane.

It is, in fact, the inefficiency and selective nature of terrierwork that is its long suite. The option of letting an animal go unharmed is preserved, while the inefficiencies of digging are such that while fox or raccoon can be easily extirpated from a farm with free-range chickens or ducks, it would be difficult to put up a large bag over a wide area, and so a pleasant balance between general animal welfare and localized animal control is achieved.

The notion of balance is alien to lunatics. In fact, the absence of balance is the very definition of lunacy.

That said, let it never be said I did not have a kind word for lunatics. I, for one, hope they stay warm in their straight jackets.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Quick First One

This little fellow was a quick find and a shallow dig on state land. We had just started down the path along this field edge, when I realized Sailor was no longer with us -- she had stopped to sniff a hole the other dog had given a pass to, and I never paid it a mind.

The old girl had found, of course, and by the time we backtracked 40 yards down the path, she was baying up a storm. Though we are in the middle of long drought, the ground was pretty soft from a decent rain the night before, and this fellow made a valiant effort to dig away.

For his troubles we let him go completely unharmed (he is very much alive in the picture above). Perhaps we will dig on him later in the season, when he is a few pounds heavier.

There is nothing easier than killing something at the end of a dig, but it is not always needed. Anyone who thinks they cannot bleed a farm white by killing off everything they encounter, is not hunting too often or successfully. In my experience, if you let a few things go, and try to repair holes as well as you can, you are only the better for it in the long run.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sunday, Last Dig of the Day

A couple of random pictures from the last dig of the day on Sunday. This was a small spring groundhog taken from a Morrison shed -- a bit of minor pest control. The groundhog was very shallow, but in ground as hard as adobe, compacted by tons of large farm equipment and hundreds of large bales.

At the end of the day, Chris picked up a free rooster from the farmer -- it will be rehomed with one of his neighbors who raise chickens. The bird had a rooster-mate a few weeks ago, but he lost his head due to intemperance, as he was harassing the hens.

This last rooster was smart enough to stay in the farm yard so that the farmer's Australian shepherd (on a stout chain) could keep fox and raccoon at bay. Chicken may be bird-brained, but they are no one's fool.

The small hen house on this farm is riddled underneath by a complex groundhog den, and a groundhog was seen scurrying into the tunnels as we chased down the wayward rooster. We will get him next time.

I have removed a groundhog from this sette once before, and filled it in as best I could, but it has been re-opened and re-occupied making it a perfect entry way for fox and raccoon eager for a chicken dinner. The chicken shed has a wood floor, but it is far from solid and the den pipe enters into the outside run at the back.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven's Door

On Sunday the dogs bottled a groundhog up under the root ball of an American holly tree.
While the dogs were underground baying, a pileated woodpecker got to drumming very near us on a large and hollow log. The sound this bird managed to generate was phenomenal!

The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America (about the size of a crow), and is quite common across the Eastern U.S. The very loud drumming of a pileated woodpecker is used to establish a territory and attract a mate -- an important activity at this time of year. The woodpecker and his mate will stay in the same area all year long, holding a territory much like a fox will.

The pileated woodpecker looks quite a bit like an Ivory Billed woodpecker, which was believed to be extinct until a small remnant population was found in Arkansas last year.

"Pileated," by the way, is just a fancy word for "capped" and refers to the bird's bright red crest. You can tell a pileated woodpecker has been working trees in an area, as the birds will knock out a hole that is shaped like a vertical rectangular slot, almost like a perfect mortise.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Time for Shad

Different parts of the world mark the changes of season differently. For some people, it is when the swallow returns, or the robin. For others, it is the when the cherry tree blossoms or the cabbage butterfly returns. In Hinkley, Ohio (believe it or not) the arrival of Spring is hearkened by the arrival of vultures.

Even within an area, different people use different seasonal markers. A gardener, for example, will note that this is the time of year when the forsythia blooms (and therefore pre-emergent weedkiller needs to be put down). An orchard man might note that this is the time of year he needs to order more Japanese beetle traps and sharpen his brush hog.

For me, this time of year marks the beginning of a two-or-three week period when great schools of American shad begin running up the Potomic River below my house.

The shad runs of my youth (not that long ago!) are somewhat reduced -- a function of too much commercial fishing and too much pre-emergent weed killer (see forsythia, above) running into the side creeks where shad return to spawn.

In the Potomac River, where I dip-netted shad two at a time just 30 years ago (and snag hooked them too, if truth be told), a shad fishing moratorium has been in effect since 1982.

The good news is that there are small signs that shad stocks are rebuilding. While there is still too much silt in the river (a function of a thirty-year construction boom in this area), the water itself is not as chemically polluted as it once was, and many of the smaller tributaries are being cleaned up by local conservation and beautification efforts.

Another bit of goods news is that a fish dam is being built at Little Falls, which will help shad ascend the river to an area that has been blocked by a dam for more than 50 years. A million shad fry a year are now stocked in the river, and they are being released above the Falls so they will imprint and return to this upriver location as well as below.

As a consequence of just this little bit of action, the number of adult American shad collected during the Spring brood-stock collection period has more than doubled. One-year-old shad are now far more numerous than they once were, and the size of the shad runs in the Potomac River appears to be growing.

All of this if good news, and not a minute too late. Mother Nature is as tough as an old tire, but it requires that we take our boot off her neck and give her half a chance to thrive.

In plain English, that boils down to habitat protection and respect for basic game laws, especially those that deal with endangered species or species that are declining in number. It also requires us to learn a little more about the environmental interconnections, and our part in shaping them.

America's wildlife and wild lands are the greatest legacy we can pass on to our children. I am happy to say that my generation will pass on most of our wildlife and our wild lands in better condition than we inherited them from our parents and grandparents.

Today we have more whitetail deer and bear in American than we did when I was a kid. We also have more beaver, buffalo, bald eagles, osprey, elk, moose, mountain lions, alligators, whales, falcons, wolves and coyotes.

Only in the area of fish (both fresh water and salt water) have we failed to turn things around.

Support protection of watersheds and riparian areas. Stop eating fish that are bottom-trawled (that includes shrimp), and consider eating domestically farm-raised tilapia, trout and salmon instead. If you fish, practice catch-and-release fishing as much as possible. Above all, demand cleaner water, from mountain headwaters to delta outflows.

Let's bring back the great salmon runs, the sharks, the blue fin and the sail fish, the crab and the paddle fish, bull trout, alligator gar and the flathead. It's their turn now.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Fast Fun Day in the Field

It was a fast day in the field on some new land. The dogs located their first groundhog very quickly. After a struggle to get past a root and a sharp turn at the entrance, Sailor bayed the groundhog to a stop end. I boxed for location, found the pipe with the bar, sank a quick hole, and dispatched a small and thin Spring groundhog.

The dogs and I noodled around a hedge between two fields. There were quite a few holes, but no one home. We headed up hill and a little ways into an area recently planted with new trees.

The dogs headed over to what looked like a possible fox sette, and I grabbed them and staked them out before they could enter. I looked over the sette for any sign of fox. There were no tracks and no scat, and no food of any kind at the entrance. I had checked this sette twice on very cold days and no one had been home then -- it was almost 70 now. I took a picture of Mountain (below) and then released her to check out the pipe. Mountain paused for a second at the entrance, and then slid in. A few seconds later she began to bay.

A groundhog, no doubt.

Mountain continued to bay, and then she was mixing it up a bit. I boxed for location and got her about four feet down. I began to take off the first foot of soil when -- BAM -- something large bolted out of the hole to my left. I turned to see a large fox with a cross-coat high-tailing it out of the hole with Mountain hard on its tail!

Wooeeee. That was unexpected! Mountain disappeared into the forest after the fox, and I repaired the soil divot and packed up the tools. Now where was Mountain?

Sailor and I hiked up the ridge into the woods and I whistled and called. Nothing. No doubt she had followed the fox to another hole and was underground with it.

I tied off Sailor and walked away from her. She hates it when I do this, and it will always get her barking. Bingo -- she barked and I called, and we did this intermittently for about 25 minutes. No Mountain. I gathered up the tools and headed back down the hill in the direction I had come. As I got near the base of the hill, Mountain showed up on the other side of the creek. She made sure I saw her, and then headed off in the opposite direction -- the direction she had just come from.

This is Mountain's "Come here Timmy" routine. It's just like Lassie -- "Come here Timmy, Mr. Maypole is down the well with a broken leg." Mountain's "Come here Timmy," routine is just as clear, and it's actually pretty funny. I love the fact that the dogs and I can communicate a little bit about the work. We are a team, and I think they value my input almost as much as I value theirs.

I headed off in the general direction Mountain had bolted, and sure enough there was another big fox sette in the forest up the hill from the path we had walked in on. I had missed it on the way in, and so too had the dogs. Mountain was now inside this sette and snorting, but not baying.

I moved back from the sette and tied off Sailor and sat down. I had no nets with me (taken out of my kit just that morning!), and there's no need to dig a fox sette this time of year. Bam -- the fox was out again from a secondary hole about three feet from the main entrance. The fox bolted up the hill, went over the ridge, and was out of sight.

This time, Mountain did not follow very quickly, staying inside and checking for the unseen fox. Where had it gone? At last Mountain came out the main entrance to the sette (picture below) with a little "shaving cut" on the front of her muzzle -- gotten at the first hole, no doubt.

We packed up the tools and headed back to the car, but the dogs found again as we exited the woods. A quick dig, with Sailor finding, and Mountain swaped in at the end. In the picture below, the groundhog is quite dead (a fast dispatch with a blow to the head) and it simply slipped back down the hole while the two dogs were ragging it.

It was still very early in the day. We had gotten a bit of a late start (due to daylight savings), but we had found a few critters pretty quickly, and now I decided to check a Wildlife Management Area that I had never visited before but, as luck would have it, is only about 25 minutes from my house.

The directions were simple, and I was pleased to see that the land was purchased with Pittman-Robertson money, which meant it was primarily intended for hunting.

There are 2,000 acres here, some in forest, about 60 percent in fields bordered by hedge, and also a wetlands area. The soil is good, there is parking, and only shotgun and bow hunting are allowed (no rifle or pistol) so the chance of the dogs getting shot, even in deer and turkey season, is not too high.

I walked a 200 yard loop into the WMA and counted five holes. This land was an excellent find!

Finding this new bit of hunting land put a nice cap on a splendid day, and so I headed home early to clean up the dogs, have coffee with the wife, and throw some some steaks on the grill out back.

Life is Good.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Older Than America

Pardon me, if I stray off topic for a second to give a nod to the dead.
Earlier this week Addwaita died at the Alipore Zoo in Calcutta.

A giant aldabra tortoise, Addwaita was brought to India in 1775 aboard a sailing ship from her native Aldabra atoll in the Seychelle islands, about 250 miles north of Madagascar.

Already very large, Addwaita and the other giant tortoises in her entourage, were a gift to Robert Clive of the East India Company, who kept them in his garden for a number of years. She had been a resident of the Calcutta Zoo for the last 130 years, and at the time of her death weighed about 550 pounds.

Addwaita's age is variously listed as 250 and 255 years, with an estimated birth date of around 1750. Her shell will be carbon dated. The average lifespan of an Aldabra tortoise (geochelon gignatea) is well beyond 100 years. Addwaita became ill after a crack in the underside of her shell lead to an infection.

The atoll of Aldabra has been protected from human influence, and is still home to about 150,000 giant tortoises.

With the death of Addwaita, the world's oldest documented living animal is a Galapagos tortoise by the name of Hariet who lives at the Australia Zoo near Brisbane. She was taken from the island of Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos Islands by none other than Charles Darwin himself, and is known to be 176 years old.