Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Acts of God

Young Moxie rests in a dry creek bed. A very nice looking little dog.

In theory, June 21st is the longest day of the year.
But, as Einstein so famously said, some things are relative and not everything unwinds according to theory.

June 24th had hours that seemed to last for weeks.

The day started out like any other, except that I had gone out for dinner with my wife and daughter the night before, and we had blown a tire on the Ford Expedition. Due to lack of a working jack, this proved to be a bigger problem than it should have been.

All of this is to say, I was a bit discombobulated that evening when I loaded the tools; one possible reason I showed up at the Flint Hill General Store the next morning with everything I needed except the locator collars.

A small problem, but not insurmountable. I have dug on the dogs without a collar before, and with the heat we were unlikely to find a skunk to ground. We would do it "old school" as best we could.

I was anxious to see Chris J., as he had picked up his first working terrier the week before from Tim J. who, in turn, had acquired the dog from an Amish fellow who had a small kennel of patterdales. The young Amish lad had subsequently come down with cancer and had to disperse his dogs.

Out of this tragedy came Moxie, an eight-month old female patterdale of wonderful proportions, a roughish coat, and a very calm disposition. I liked her straight out of the box, admiring her size and general diposition. A wonderful little dog.

I had brought Chris a short go-to-ground tunnel and a new six-foot digging bar, and we transfered both of these to his truck -- my gift to the new pup to get her started off right.

We set off with the dogs, headed down the edge of a rapidly growing cornfield on a narrow path just inside the wood line.

It was amazing what a few months had done to this section of land. Winter sticks and barren trees had fallen away to walls of thick vegetation. It was as if we were traveling down a green hallway, with Mountain ranging ahead (a greedy little dog that likes to find the hole first) with Sailor and Moxie padding along behind us.

We did not hunt the trail, as I had an idea of where we would locate quickly, and for once I was right. Sailor entered a nice one-eyed sette in a waste area with high vegetation, and began to bay. Bingo!

From the sound, I could tell Sailor was pretty deep. We stuck a stick into the sette to gauge direction and depth, and began to dig, but the ground was criss-crossed with shattered quartz mixed with hard pan, and it was very tough digging.

We dropped a four foot hole and barred, but could not locate the pipe.

Sailor came out and Mountain went in. This was a one-eyed sette, and with ground this hard the groundhog was not going to be able to dig away.

But there was some question as to whether we could dig in. We had no collar on the dogs, the ground was as case-hardened as a strong box, and I was not anxious to dig another four- or five-foot exploratory hole.

I suggested we pack it in, give this groundhog law, and see if we could find a shallower sette.

Which we did.

In the next hedgerow the blackberries were just beginning to turn, and there were quite a few holes. Sailor opened up in a large eight-eyed sette and either lost the groundhog or bolted it. Considering the thickness of the vegetation and the intensity of her barking very close to the surface, it was most likely a bolt.

We moved on.

At the base of a cluster of shattered trees on the edge of a scrub field Sailor slid in and opened up. A quick check confirmed that this too was a one-eyed sette. Chris and I moved some of the broken and barkless tree trunks, and cut away the brush.

A pileated woodpecker shattered the quiet, and Chris chuckled a little because he knows I like these big red-headed birds.

Sailor was still in the hole and baying full bore. We eye-balled the pipe, probed the hole, and then cut a few feet of rocky soil off the top.

A little barring, and we soon found the pipe and opened it up to the tube. Bingo.

Sailor slides into a den pipe among the shattered trees.

Sailor had moved back when we were digging, and now she tried to press forward past us. We pulled her for a minute and cleared away the rubble, and then she was hard on it again, baying up a storm and clearly making contact.

We were a bit behind the dog now, and about three feet behind the groundhog, so we started another hole. The dirt was mostly rock, but the pipe was shallow.

As we cut into the pipe again, Chris pointed out a large spider dragging an egg case behind her. It was that time of year. A quick scoop and spider, egg case, and dirt went sailing on to the spoil pile. Happy trails, Mrs. Spider.

At this second hole, we broke through at a little past three feet. We were just behind the groundhog now, and Sailor was grabbing one end through the old hole, and Mountain was grabbing the other end through the new hole.

Enough of that.

We pulled Mountain
out of the second hole and allowed Sailor to press the groundhog, which soon bolted to a pole snare and a quick dispatch. This was a young groundhog and I intended to skin it and grill it that evening.

While I was dispatching the first groundhog and placing it in the fork of a tree prior to tying up the dogs, Chris called over to say there was another one in the pipe.

Sure enough,
there was. Excellent.

I staked Sailor a few feet away from the hole to allow Mountain her chance to bolt or pull this second groundhog. Mountain grabbed it and pulled it out, and we dispatched it without ceremony. While I was doing that, Chris poured some water for Moxie and Sailor, but Sailor was not interested. She knew I had a groundhog in hand.

Mountain pulls the second groundhog.

The second groundhog was a little dog-worried, so we decided to use it to give Moxie a little training. I slipped the pole snare over the groundhog's body and swung it around for the dog to chase through the grass -- a little action and smell training without danger or darkness.

Moxie had a ball and used her voice a few times too -- a nice deep-timbered bark. I was growing covetous of this little dog.

I handed the snare over to Chris and he swung the groundhog a little more for Moxie while I packed up the small tools, and then we both stopped playing with the pup to repair the sette. Man it was hot!

After we had filled in the holes
and moved some sticks and brush around to disguise the dig, I began to pack up the larger tools and Chris went to check on Moxie and Sailor who were off in the tall grass under the shade of a large bush. Moxie was loose, but Sailor was staked.

"Pat. I think Sailor is dead." It was Chris' voice, but it seemed to come from a long way off. I thought it was a joke, but immediately I saw it was not. Chris was unhooking Sailor from the tie-out, and she was limp in his hands.

I ran over, and her eyes were open. I lightly touched her cornea, and she did not blink. Oh Shit. This was unbelievable.

I immediatly gave Sailor mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, putting my mouth over her entire snout and puffing into her chest and squeezing her rib cage as I let away for another breath.

One breath every five seconds, and I then could see she was breathing, but very, very shallowly.

"It's heat stroke," said Chris, and I knew he was right. I grabbed the dog and busted through the thick undergrowth to a creek bed I knew was located two fields over. "What should I do?" Chris yelled. "Take the dogs and leave the tools," I hollered back, and then I was gone, running through the brambles, trying to keep the dog's eyes from being poked out by a branch, but also trying to get her into shade and water as quickly as possible.

Sailor was totally lifeless. I stopped twice in the middle of the first field in order to give her more mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but the third time I stopped, she did not seem to be breathing at all.

My mind reeled. How could this happen? She had been fine just 20 minutes earlier. How could this .... Oh Jesus, there was another field to go after this one. Please God, keep this dog alive.

But with a shuddering sickness I knew she was dead.

I blew through the second field
and came to the last hedge before the creek, and I crashed through it. Now we were in the creek bed, but there was no water. The damn thing was dry.

I placed Sailor on the cool bank, and was amazed to see she was still breathing -- very shallowly, but still breathing.

I touched her pupils again, but she did not blink. Her tongue hung out of her mouth like a slaugherhouse calf. A dry leaf was on it. I plucked it off, and gave her more mouth-to-mouth, but nothing changed.

I broke off two short sticks to prop up under her legs so air could circulate around her body and cool her off, and I ran up the creek bed looking for water, but there was nothing. I needed to cool her off fast, and so I did all that was left: I fanned her.

I was still fanning a half hour later when Chris crashed through to the stream bed. He had carried everything -- all the tools and both packs -- half way, and then left the bar and posthole digger at the midpoint. He had both packs, his shovel, and both dogs with him.

Sailor was clearly not better, but she was still alive. Her breathing was very shallow and her jaw was getting very rigid and locked up.

We went over the possibilities. Could it be a regular stroke? A copperhead snake? A black widow spider?

A copperhead or a regular stroke sounded possible. The edge of a field in the tall grass would be about perfect for a copperhead. A black widow seemed unlikely, as we were in the full sun and it was dry. Black widows liked moist outhouses and porch crawl spaces.

Whatever it was, it had hit Sailor very fast -- she had been fine just 15 minutes earlier. It had to be heat stroke.

We needed to get this dog to water in order to cool her off.

Chris volunteered to run to the truck and get a gallon of distilled water I had there. I gave him my keys and he was gone down the path.

Moxie and Mountain were in the dry creek bed, tied to a pack. I moved Mountain farther away so she would be in the middle of the path. If Chris came down the path fast, he could easily overshoot my location. The dog would be a stop to prevent that.

I remembered I had two small eye wash bottles in my pack, and I got one out and emptied it onto Sailor's flank, head and genitals, hoping it would help cool her off.

I did the same with the next bottle, but saved a shot glass of water for her eyes. It had been at least two hours since she had blinked.

I fanned her, first with my hat and then with a clump of branches I cut for that purpose. I saw her blink once when the branch came very close to her head. Her breathing might have been a little better. I gave her more mouth-to-mouth, and fanned her almost continuouly.

In about half an hour Chris was back with a gallon of water. I slowly poured it over Sailor's body, but it did not seem to matter.

I told Chris to go back and get the remaining tools, and I would stay and fan Sailor. In truth I was afraid to move her. She had stopped breathing entirely the last time I carried her across a field. I worried now about whether she was already brain-damaged.

A soaked Sailor remains unresponsive and paralyzed.

Chris returned with the posthole digger and the bar,
and we decided to bust back to the truck. I would carry my pack, my shovel, the six-foot digging bar, and Sailor. Chris would follow with the two dogs, his pack, his shovel and the posthole digger.

I went down the trail fast, determined to be very smooth and very rapid. I slid up the hill and down the path with the walls of green towering up on either side. Please God, please God . . . .

Suddenly there was an explosion just in front of me, and for a second I though it was a horse, but instead it was a wild turkey, as large as sofa cushion, flying up and into the trees. I immediately thought of the Emily Dickinson poem, "Hope is the thing with feathers."

Hope. Was a wild turkey a good sign? I decided it was. "Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul." Was that how it went?

I said a prayer -- the fourth or fifth full-blown prayer of the day. It is said there are no aetheists in fox holes. I do not know about that. I do know that there are no practiced diggers who have not said a prayer. It is not an accident that John Russell was a minister. A dog will put you in tocuh with God.

As I turned the corner at the bridge abutment, I realized I did not have my truck keys. Chris still had them.

Keep it together. I plotted the next 200 yards. I would wade into the Monocacy River with Sailor -- Chris had suggested it earlier, and now it seemd like a very good idea to bring down her temperature.

I ditched shovel, pack and bar, and remembered to take off my camera pouch, and remove my phone, wallet, and hunting license.

And then Sailor and I were in the river. I was holding up Sailor's head but trying to keep her body under the cool water.

Chris was about 10 minutes behind me. He went directly to the truck and put away the dogs and started the air conditioner (smart man!).

I came out of the water and saw Sailor was now worse off than before I had entered. Now I was not sure she was breathing at all.

At the truck I gave her more mouth-to-mouth again, squeezing her ribs at the exhale.

She was breathing now, but just barely. I touched her eyeballs, but she did not blink. Her jaw was locked in rictus.

I picked her up, along with a towel, and bundled her onto the floor of the front passenger side.

And then I was off.

Chris had suggested a vet, but I had hesitated.
What could they do now that I had not? If it was a copperhead bite, the dog would live or die; there was no antivenin at most vets, and besides it was pretty late in the day for that; three and a half hours after the event.

But Chris was right, of course. I wheeled on to the freeway, the air conditioner blasting, my pants dripping with water and mud from the river. Sailor was all but dead on the floor boards next to me.

I realized I had to keep my head on the road for this next part to pay off. A wreck and we were both done.

I drove fast and without mistakes, trying not to look at the dog except for the one time I reached over to put two baseball caps over her body so cold air would not blow straight on her. The air conditioner was cranking full bore.

I braked hard once, and Sailor seemed to lift her head. I called Chris on my cell phone. He had been talking to a vet tech somewhere. "Get her to a vet," he admonished, and I assured him that was exactly where I was going.

I went over the possibilities again.

It was now three and a half hours since the event
-- whatever it was -- and she was still not any better. If she was still alive when I got to the vet, four hours would have passed. She had gotten worse after the run to the car, and then she had gotten worse after the river immersion. This was not feeling like heat stroke.

A dog will generally bounce back if cooled after a heat collapse. Could it be a plain stroke? That seemed increasingly possible. I thought about the location where she had been -- in the tall grass, under a bush, near dead trees and logs. It seemed like a good location for a copperhead. It could not be rat poison -- of that I was certain.

What about a black widow? It seemed unlikely. Black widows liked moist holes, outhouses, crawl spaces and the corners of old sheds. It was hot and dry and sunny where we had been. Besides, I had only seen one black widow spider in my life, while I seen at least a dozen copperheads.

Heat stroke was still the most likely problem. It had been hot, and Sailor had worked hard. But really, it had not been that long. A half hour? Forty-five minutes? No more. At least not if all you were counting was the last hole.

It occured to me that it might be an electrolye imbalance. Perhaps some essential salt or sugar was wildly out of skew in Sailor's system.

I pulled into a grocery store parking lot at the end of the freeway and left the car running with the keys in the ignition, the airconditioner on full blast, hazard lights blinking. I quickly found the baby aisle and two bottles of pedialite. By a miracle of timing, I was the only person in the express line.

Back at the car, I pulled a huge irrigation syringe from my vet kit
and loaded it up with pedialite. Sailor's jaws were locked shut, but I pried them apart and dripped pedialite down her throat. It simply ran out the side of her mouth. Her tongue was not working and her throat muscles seemed paralyzed.

I loaded up another syringe and jetted it down her throat. I little of it might have rolled down her throat by force of gravity alone, but most fell out of the side of her mouth.

She was paralyzed.

I gave up and raced off to the veterinary clinic closest to my house. This was a small hole-in-the-wall place, and I had not been there for many years.

I went in and explained the situation very quickly.
I said I thought it was heat stroke, but it could be a snake bite. I brought in the dog, and a balding middle-aged vet quickly examined her and said it was not heat stroke -- the dog was cold. It was hypothermia.

Hypothermia? You're kidding?! It was 92 degrees in the shade!

He nodded grimly, and rushed into a little room and came back with a space blanket. He wrapped Sailor in it and simultaneously turned a little valve on the wall to start something up. He pushed a rectal thermometer into Sailor and a few seconds later he had her temerature: 91.8 degrees.

She should be at least 101. She was freezing to death.

Without further ado, the vet wrapped Sailor in a full-body hot water heating pad (he had been turning it on with the valve), and then he checked under her gums. There was some slight hemorrhaging there. Something toxic was in her system.

A very nice lady came into the room and held the hot water pad around Sailor.

No one told me to wait outside. I was grateful for that.

The young lady holding the hot water pad ordered up a warm-water IV.
While we waited for it to appear I found out she too was a veterinarian. This was her second week on the job, and this was her first job out of vet school at Michigan State. She was very nice.

As much as I liked the lady, I loved the bald guy, who now came in and drew some blood. He was going to run a quick test, he said, to look at sugars and some other functions. How long would that take? Fifteen minutes. Maybe less.

Sailor did not noticeably improve,
but in 15 minutes the blood tests came back, and they were good. Sailor was OK for fluids, her sugar was OK and her kidney and liver functions were OK.

This was big deal, and I knew it.

An hour went by. Sailor was still not blinking and her jaws were still locked in rictus. Under the tinfoil of the space blanket and the heavy hot water heating pad, I could not tell if Sailor was breathing easier or if she was breathing at all.

But she was.

Very slowly her temperauture came up
, first to 92.5 degrees, and then to 93.5 and then 94.

At 94.5 degrees, the bald doctor let out a smile, and at 95.1 he audibly cheered.

I asked the bald vet where he was originally from, and he said Algeria. I told him I gew up in Hydra, a suburb of Algiers, as well as in Morocco and Tunisia. He said he thought he remembered me now -- from 15 years earlier. I was the only American he had ever met who had lived in Algeria. We talked about Algeria a little, and food, and the Kabylie Mountains. I think he could tell now that I loved more than the dog. But he knew I loved the dog.

It turned out that 10 or 15 years earlier he was the kennel man at this vet. Now he was the doctor. This was a success story that spoke volumes. What a life! To escape the troubles in Algeria, come to America and become a veterinarian. I loved this guy. It turned out that the new lady vet had been the receptionist at this clinic and had then gone off to vet school herself. My new Algerian friend had hired her fresh out of school. Wonderful! What a great country.

At 97 degrees, Sailor closed her eyes for the first time in six hours. At 97.5 degrees, Sailor would open them again if we shook her muzzle. It was a miracle.

At 98 degrees, Sailor licked paste dog food off her lips, and her eyes seemed to focus a little. She was coming back into this world.

It was now 6:30 and at least an hour and a half past when the veterinary should have been closed. Sailor was clearly rallying, but both vets strongly suggested I transfer her to another emergency vet in Vienna. Couldn't I just keep warming her up at home with a heat pad? I was worried about what this vet visit was going to cost me, never mind the next.

It was then that I realized I had never filled out a single piece of paper.
They did not even know my name, and we had never discussed expenses.

The bill, for two vets working hard on my dog for over two hours, including blood work and two IV's , was just $275. It was an incredible bargain.

I hugged the vet in the parking lot as I left. They had saved Sailor!

I headed off to the emergency veterinary, with the heat in the car blasting, and found it 20 minutes later. At this vet, I again explained the situation, and they took the dog to the back. I began to follow, but was rather rudely told to stay in the reception area. I was directed to fill out paper work in the front.

The receptionist asked me if I had ever been there before. No, I had not.

I gave her my name and phone number. My phone number came up in her computer system. Did I own Barney?

Barney? Barney. Jesus, yes, but that was a long time ago.

A sad dim light came on in my brain. "Was this on Christmas Day?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

So this is where I had come. Barney was 15 and had prostate cancer. There was nothing to be done. On Christmas day he could no longer stand, and so while everyone else was opening their presents, or watching their kids do the same, I was putting down my dog. I told the kids that Barney was sick and was in the hospital. It was a week before they found out he was not coming back. That afternoon, while the wife and kids went to Grandma and Grandpa's, I buried Barney under the cherry tree in the back yard.

So this was that place. Was this an omen? If so, it was not a good one.

A veterinarian came out.
She was very grim and asked me what had happened to the dog. I recounted the day. She said the dog was still in very serious condition, and that they could not get a pulse.

I watched her listen to me, and then I watched her as she watched me listening to her. What was going on here was not medicine. I got the sense that she was sizing me up for a bill.

And she was.

Fifteen mintes later the receptionist presented me with a "prospective bill" for $1,575 for 36 hours worth of work that included two x-rays (called radiographs here to confuse the client) along with antibiotics, lot and lots of blood tests, and God know what else.

"No, I can't afford this, " I said. "I'll pay your minimal intake fee, just give me my dog back. I know how to heat up a dog, and she doesn't need any of this. X-rays? No. Just give me my dog back."

The receptionist made a phone call to the back, and 30 seconds later the bill dropped from $1,575 to $250 for 12 hours of heat, IVs, antibiotics and monitoring.

I had come this far -- I had expected to pay this cost. Done. This veterinarian was a scammer, but for $250 I would buy 12 hours of security. I was not even mad at this vet. If you cannot say "no" to a veterinarian, don't expect them to say "no" for you. Like anything, there are good honest ones and then there are the others. Caveat emptor.

I went home in a driving rain, pretty sure Sailor was going to be all right. Her eyes were open, and she would get steady heat and IV liquids all night.

There was nothing more I could do right now. But I still knew nothing. What was it? What had done this to Sailor? I was so deep in thought, it was 20 minutes before I remembered to turn off the heat in the truck.

It was not heat stroke or rat poison. The slight hemorhaging at the gum said it was not a regular stroke -- it was some sort of toxin.

It was not a copperhead -- six hours after the event there was no localized swelling or necrotic tissue.

It had to be a black widow spider.

Then, and only then, did I remember
the spider dragging the egg case. That spider had been on top of the ground. It did not seem black and shiney like a black widow, but it was a sign. A sure sign. Like the turkey. Like the smart and kind Algerian vet who cheered for my dog.

When I got home, I booted up the internet and learned a little more about black widow spiders. There are a couple of species, but they are all toxic. They are not found in the UK, or in the colder parts of Europe, but they are found across the U.S., in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Our local variant was called the Northern Black Widow.

Black widow spider toxin is 15 times more powerful than that of a prairie rattlesnake, but because a spider is small, it cannot deliver too much of it. That said, back in the 1940s and 50's -- before modern respirators and sedatives improved things -- black widow spiders killed between 4 and 5 percent of their human victims; generally the very old and the very young.

Sailor, at 10 pounds, had been dosed as if she were a human bitten by 15 black widow spiders. She was clearly very, very lucky to be alive.

Black widow spider venom is a powerful neurotoxin. It works by firing off all the nerve cells at once, locking up the muscles of the animal, and making it difficult or impossible for it to move, breath or (apparently) even blink its eyes.

Respiratory failure is what does the killing.

Sailor's breathing and heart had been barely working
because her muscles were stretched as tight as a fence wire. The neurotoxins would not let her relax enough to work her diaphragm. A failing diaphragm meant blood and air were not circulating, and so her tempertaure had fallen, crashing her into hypothermia.

Apparenly before there were outhouses, crawl spaces and old sheds (the locations where most humans are now bitten), black widow spiders denned in hollow trees, rock ledges, and animal burrows. But they are not common, that was clear. I have dug on hundreds of animals and my friends have dug on thousands, and none of us had ever had a dog bitten by a black widow spider.

Lucky me. Lucky Sailor.

Most bites occur when blackwidows are defending their egg cases, i.e. at about this time of year.

Apparently blackwidow spider venom takes 2-3 days to completely clear a victim's system, and when humans are bitten, they often report weird nightmares for weeks afterwards.

Spider flashbacks.

That night I checked my cell phone obsessively
, but there were no calls from the veterinarian.

I was at the vet's at 7:00 am -- less than 12 hours after I dropped Sailor off. They were slow to bring her out, but her overnight notes said she had eaten a little and gone to the bathroom, and that now she could stand up.

Wonderful! I paid my tab and bundled her off to the truck in a driving rain.

The rain had started to come down at about the time Sailor was discharged from the first vet.
Over the course of the next four days, more than a foot of water was dropped across our area.

Creeks and rivers jumped their banks and basements flooded. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, the Commerce Department, and the Smithsonian Institution were closed due to flooding.

Up at Great Falls, boulders the size of houses were ripped from the riverside and washed down stream. The Washington Post ran a picture of a groundhog that crawled on top of a car hood to escape its flooded burrow. Aerial pictures of farm country up along the Monocacy River showed fields under standing water.

This was a 200-year record for rain in a 24-hour period, a 48-hour period, and for a week.

It was as of God was trying to drown every spider across a three-state area.

It was an act of God.

Sailor warms up at the house, an hour after coming home from the vet. She is fine now, without brain damage or any other evidence of injury.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Seeking Higher Ground

Is that a Chevy Noah he's on top of?

A groundhog sits on the roof of a car in the flooded garage of the Marriott Courtyard hotel on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. The picture is from The Washington Post.

We have had over 12 inches of rain in 48 hours and it is supposed to continue to rain all week. There is widespread flooding, including flooding that has closed the Department of Justice, the IRS, the Department of Commerce, and the Smithsonian.

My house is on a hill, and I have no basement (a solid rock house on a rocky hill), but some of my friends are not so lucky. The river and local streams should be amazing -- I will try to check those out tonight.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Skye Terriers: The Dog's Been Dead a Long Time

reports that the Skye Terrier is on it last legs as a breed in the U.K. Apparently only 30 Skye terriers were born last year in the U.K. and only 89 Dandie Dinmont terriers -- another breed (supposedly) teetering on the edge.

But so what if these breeds do disappear? Neither breed is remotely like the original working dog from which it is descended.

Today's Dandie Dinmont is that breed in name only -- the original working dog as described by Sir Walter Scott, has been gone quite a long time.

As for the Skye Terrier, it has always been a put-up job -- a fantasy dog created by hair dressers for the show ring. Even the story of "Greyfriar's Bobby" is a bit of a put up job -- the dog did not lie on his master's grave for 10 years; he was adopted and fed by a local tavern owner and consequently stayed in the general vicinity of the graveyard. At the risk of not sounding very romantic, dogs are not driven by sentiment but by food.

I have described the split between Cairn and Skye terriers in "The Missing Part of a Cairn Terrier", but even before that there was the split of the Scottish Terrier into a dozen-odd breeds at about the time the Kennel Club was created.

What all of these "ancient" working breeds have in common is that none of them has ever been found in the field working, outside of an odd dog or two.

When push comes to shove, all of these terrier breeds are bred for ribbons and companionship. In this regard, they offer nothing distinctive or special.

The demise of the Skye Terrier is logical. If you have too many hamburger stands in an area, some of them are going to go out of business and fail. The mostly likely targets for failure are those that offer slow service, mediocre food and an expensive menu. Is there a better description than this for the Skye Terrier? What has been created by the show ring breeders is a dog that needs its own curling iron and that cannot possibly be allowed to walk off the rug. The breed is not only expensive to buy (it is so rare!) and keep up (it requires ribbon, combs, dematting shampoos, etc.) but it is also no better (and perhaps quite a lot worse) than other breeds of terriers, poodles, and walking fluff balls.

Bottom line: When Skye Terrier breeders forced short-haired Skye terriers to be called "Cairn" terriers, it was a truly Pyrrhic victory, for it turned out that the public much prefered the rough-and-ready (if rarely ever seen working) Cairn terrier. As for the Skye, I doubt it will actually disappear. There will always be hair dressers.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Some Groups Are Nuttier Than Squirrel Scat

One of the folks I like to read is Ted Williams. Not the baseball player (did he write anything?) but the conservation author, hunter, environmentalist and sometime angler who has a regular gig with Fly Rod & Reel magazine (as well as about a dozen other places).

Williams writes well, but he also melds common sense, conservation and a pretty good understanding of the political landscape.

His latest piece on his blog is commentary about a lunatic-fringe group called "Californians for Alternatives to Toxins" or "CATS". As Williams puts it:

Just because hackers, gougers, radical conservatives, and wise-use whackos claim to see “environmental extremists” behind every Coke machine, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And CATS (not the kind that stink up my barn, but equally clueless about wildlife) provides a superb example. The herbicides that BLM uses are essential to protect wildlife habitat from invasive exotics such as yellow star thistle. Along the upper Snake River I inspected two million acres of former big-game habitat that had been forever ruined by environmental extremists who got an eight-year injunction on federal herbicide use. All the feds needed to do was spray 100 acres of roadsides to keep the weeds out. For eight years they could not, thanks to the injunction. Now it’s too late. The infestation is too big to treat.

Groups like CATS have zero understanding of and zero concern for native ecosystems. And the pesticides they rail against are short-lived and safe, posing virtually no threat to humans or non-target organisms. These pesticides may not be the perfect tools to protect and restore native fish and native plant communities; but, in most cases, they are the ONLY tools.

CATS was also behind the long delay and near scuttling of Paiute cutthroat recovery—the first-ever project to restore a federally listed species to its ENTIRE native range

Shame on the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and anyone else for listening to lunatic land de-spoilers like CATS. The people at CATS are not just idiots, they are positively dangerous, as their policy demands, if listened to, end up stealing and despoiling America's wild lands as sure as if they were doing it with a backhoe and paving crew.

The botton place is that there is a place for herbicides, not only in your yard, but in our National Forests, National Parks, Indian Reservations, Military Bases and on BLM land as well.

I am not sure if 80 percent of our corn and soy crop needs to be "Round Up Ready", but I'm damn sure strategic spraying to control non-native invasive and destructive species such as star thistle, purple loosestife, spurge, and brazillian pepper trees is the way to go. It is outrageous that America's public lands are being allowed to be degraded by the tryanny of a handful of California wackos that represent no one.

For those interested in reading a little more Ted Williams, his magazine articles are generally excellent and he has a few books as well. His piece on "Guns and Greens" can be read in the Essays section of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thank God Some Americans Still Give a Duck

Ducks Unlimited has announced a plan to raise $1.7 billion to buy and protect critical wetlands habitat. This is, without a doubt, the largest wetlands conservation campaign in world history -- and hunters are initiating it.

Ducks Unlimited's program will focus on nine major areas, and donors will have the option of directing their gifts toward regions and projects where they have a particular interest. Gifts can be made online at

Even as Ducks Unlimited is trying to save wetlands, the Supreme Court appears amenable to draining them. In their latest decision, by a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court said they are willing to consider allowing shopping malls and condominiums to be built on wetlands -- provided those wetlands do not actually connect to a navigable body of water. Under that standard, you can drain and pave over most of Alaska.

I guess that's what happens when you replace the fly-fishing Sandra Day O'Conner with corporate toady John Roberts. Hello shopping center, good bye frog, salamader, turtle, fox, raccoon and duck. Goodbye heritage. We have sold our birthright for a few more Bed, Bath and Beyond's.

Government has done a lot to help protect and preserve wildlife and wild lands, but politicians and courts are fickle and turn more often than the leaves.

Aldo Leopold saw this political turn of events back in 1949 when he wrote his great essay framing a new American Land Ethic, and called for private ownership of land by men and women capable of looking past a quarterly profit statement. "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land," he wrote.

Leopold went on to note that a new American Land Ethic could not be sustained by "consevation education" alone.

"... Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail's pace; progress still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back forty we still slip two steps backward for each forward stride.

"The usual answer to this dilemma is 'more conservation education.' No one will debate this, but is it certain that only the volume of education needs stepping up? Is something lacking in the content as well?

"It is difficult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as I understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join some organizations, and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the government will do the rest.

"Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worth-while? It defines no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifice, implies no change in the current philosophy of values. In respect of land use, it urges only enlightened self-interest. Just how far will such education take us?"

Aldo Leopold argued that education and government parks and set-asides alone could not do it all -- that without a new land ethic there would come a time when the burden of government would grow too heavy and its ability to manuever would be too compromised:

"At what point will governmental conservation, like the mastodon, become handicapped by its own dimensions? The answer, if there is any, seems to be in a land ethic, or some other force which assigns more obligation to the private landowner."

What land was most in need of "more obligation" being assigned to it? Leopold argued that, contrary to popular belief, it was the land that was valued least.

"Lack of economic value is sometimes a character not only of species or groups, but of entire biotic communities: marshes, bogs, dunes, and 'deserts' are examples. Our formula in such cases is to relegate their conservation to government as refuges, monuments, or parks. The difficulty is that these communities are usually interspersed with more valuable private lands; the government cannot possibly own or control such scattered parcels. The net effect is that we have relegated some of them to ultimate extinction over large areas. If the private owner were ecologically minded, he would be proud to be the custodian of a reasonable proportion of such areas, which add diversity and beauty to his farm and to his community."

The Clean Water Act, and the various pieces of wetlands protection legislation that followed, did what Leopold called for: they assigned more obligation to the private land owner.

Now, however, we have a deeply divided court that is contemplating removing those obligations.

The good news, if there is any, is that in the late 20th and early 21st Century, we have found a new type of American land owner to stand as antidote to the wetland-draining mall developer -- the philanthropist, both large and small.

A new American "land banking" movement is being led by groups like The Nature Conservacy and Ducks Unlimited, and by hunter-conservationists like Ted Turner and his son Beau, as well as millions of Americans simply giving $50 at a time. This is America at its best, and America's hunting community is leading the way.

If there is a motto to this new movement, it is this: "We preserve land the old-fashioned way; we buy it."

Will it be enough? I don't know. All I know is that America is snake-bit by too many people, too much avarice and too little connection to wild lands and wildlife. Entire lifestyles are manufactured in China and sent to us shrink-wrapped and bar-coded. Most cooks have never gutted a fish or plucked a chicken. When Americans go "camping," most never go more than 300 feet from their car.

In such a climate, those who love America's lands and wildlife need to fight for every protection they can get, and thank every protector that comes forward.

Count me a hunter, and count me a fan of Ducks Unlimited.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Give That Clone a Bone

Back in 1998 John Sperling decided to clone his dog. Sperling was, at the time, the 79-year old founder of something call the "University of Phoenix," which can best be described as a very-for-profit continuing education system married to a huge internet-based correspondence school.

The University of Phoenix is now the largest private university in the United States, with more than 140,000 students attending classes at 41 campuses, and it is supported by over $1.6 billion in U.S. Government sanctioned-student loans. Sterling became a billionaire in less than 15 years by simply marrying the old correspondence-school idea to the internet.

All of this is by way of introduction to John Sperling's dog cloning project, which is one of the ways Mr. Sperling is spending his considerable fortune.

It seems Mr. Sperling used to have a cross-bred border collie by the name of Missy. Sperling got the idea it might be possible to clone Missy whom, he decided, was a very special genetic combination.

And why not clone a dog? Sperling's brain storm occurred just two years after Scottish scientists had cloned Dolly the Sheep. How hard could a dog be?

And so John Sperling put up millions of dollars to create the "Genetic Savings and Clone" company with the "Missyplicity Project" at its heart.

Missy died at age 15, in 2002, before efforts to clone her had succeeded, but her tissue has been well-preserved and she will, no doubt, be cloned within a few years.

Meanwhile, the "Genetic Savings and Clone" company is moving along apace. The company was the first in the world to clone a cat, creating a kitten called CC (Copy Cat), and in February of 2004, the company launched the world's first commercial cat cloning service.

On the canine front, the company is offering genetic banking of dog tissue in anticipation of the commercial viability of a stable and reliable canine cloning procedure. For $900 to $1,400 per pooch, the Genetic Savings and Clone company will collect and store biopsy samples of your beloved dog in anticipation of that Great Day when dead dogs will rise out of the ground and stand at the right hand of Jesus ... or at least until you are willing to have it cloned.

In 2005, the first dog was supposedly cloned in Korea (an Afghan of all things). Though genetic testing supposedly confirms the validity of this clone, the scientist doing the research has faked other research data and some doubts remain.

What is not in doubt is that cloning a dog is harder than cloning a cat and a reliable and stable procedure and protocol have yet to be worked out.

But it is clearly only a matter of time.

In 1998 the Ishikawa Prefectural Livestock Research Center produced Noto and Kaga, the first cows cloned from adult cells, and the next year the University of Hawaii produced the first male clone -- a mouse. In 2000, Chinese researchers produced the first cloned goat, and the next year Advanced Cell Technologies cloned "Noah," a rare gaur (a type of wild cow). In 2002, researchers at Trans Ova Genetics and Advanced Cell Technologies produced the first banteng (another ungulate), born to a surrogate domestic cow, with the genetic material taken from a donor that had died 23 years earlier and whose cells has been preserved in the "Frozen Zoo" at the San Diego Zoo's Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species.

In 2003, Italy produced the first cloned horse, and that same year the University of Idaho produced a pair of cloned mules, while the University of Texas cloned a whitetail deer. Everyone was getting into the act!

In 2005, researchers at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans (not related to the National Audubon Society) naturally breed unrelated African wildcat clones, resulting in the birth of African wildcat kittens -- the first time unrelated clones of a wild species had produced offspring.

What's next?

Well, another dog or two, for sure. A human being or two is a pretty safe bet, as are gorillas and chimpanzees for medical research. Millions of genetic mice and other small test animals are an eventual certainty. A cloned mammoth (from frozen cells gleaned from long-frozen Siberian carcasses) is not beyond imagination.

But what of cloned dogs? Let's assume that the health issues associated with cloning are worked out (about a quarter of all animals born through cloning have some kind of cloning-related health problem). Who is going to buy these cloned pups?

It may not be the market you think. The racing horse industry has already banned clones, and I think it's safe to say the Kennel Club will follow suit.

Hunting dogs may be a very real canine cloning market. Who wants the risk of a working terrier that is too big, or a pointer with no interest in birds? For the lurcher man, a baying dog is a nightmare, while for the houndsman a dead-mute dog is a serious nuisance. Everyone wants a dog with gameness, tractability, brains and a nose. If you've hunted with a "one-in-a-million" dog, you may want to pass that dog on to your kids 50 years from now.

On the pet side of the equation, there will always be a demand for "guaranteed-healthy" dogs that are going to be"just so" in terms of size, coloring and temperament.

Look for "clone shops" to advertise terriers and beagles that do not bark and border collies that are entirely apathetic. After all, it is the prey-drive of these animals that make them "problem pets" for so many urban and suburban owners. A defective border collie is just what some people want.

That said, I suspect that most people just want a dog, and are not going to spring for a test tube pup-ciscle hatched out in a lab. In fact, a cultural aversion to such fetish perfectionism may develop.

It is a fac, however, that technology and biology tend to creep -- and sometimes gallop -- on to the human stage. It is entirely possible that, in just 50-years time, cloned dogs will be passed down from father to son (or daughter) and on to human clone.

Yes, yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Your cloned self (it's never too early to bank a little tissue) may one day hunt with your cloned dog (cryonic technicians are standing by) in genetically modified fields and forests.

The game may be a natural animal or perhaps a clone (what species would you like to hunt today, Sir?) or perhaps even a chimera with just enough exotic genes spliced into its double-helix that it provides an entirely different kind of hunting sport -- a faster flying duck, a larger whitetail with elk-like antlers, or a 10-pound European rabbit entirely immune to North American rabbit diseases.

I know I am supposed to be terribly concernd about all this, but I find it increasingly hard to get terrified. Having grown up in the shadow of The Bomb ("duck and cover little children") and news stories about chemicals in the air and water, mass extinctions, global warming, AIDS and avian flu pandemics, I no longer scare easily.

Besides, what are you going to do? If people want cloned dogs, they will get them, never mind that they reduce genetic variability.

You will have more success holding back the ocean with sand castles than you will trying to stop those seeking a quick profit or instant gratification.

In the end, you have to bet that Mother Nature and Father Time will work it all out. It's always a good bet they will bat last in this game. They always do.

No, this is not a real ad. But it might be
part of the real market for cloned pets.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Great Moments in Ratting

This is a picture of 972 rats taken from a chicken farm in the U.K.

For another amazing picture, along a similar vein, see the ratting section of the main web site.


Gassed by Noxious Fumes?

Some stuff you cannot make up. This is a real ad that appeared in the December 2004 edition of Vogue, showing the loathsome Paris Hilton in a Guess advertisement on the inside cover.

The dog looks as if it's being gassed by noxious fumes. Are you telling me no one in the ad campaign noticed this? Or do the folks at the ad agency just think Paris Hilton is as big a skank as the rest of us do?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Meanwhile, Back in Slovakia ...

There is always a little variation, from place to place, in the world of terrier work. These pictures are from Matej in Slovakia. In the photo above, I believe he is shining a flashlight down the hole to see what is going on. This shot could be anywhere in the world.

And yet, it is always different, from one place to another, in one aspect or another.
Matej has three or four types of terriers, including a working bedlington. Here a terrier is used to locate and bust a russian boar out of dense brush. We don't have those where I hunt!

Get along little piggies! This little terrier is moving a lot of pig. You have to have a dog with brains and some discretion in a situation like this.

Matej uses a Mammut Barriovox transmitter/receiver for his locating box, and an Ortovox transmitter on the dog (an Ortovox transmitter is pictured on a Bedlington, above). He says the range is 40 meters (about 120 feet) in digital mode, and 80 meters (about 240 feet) in analog (accoustic only) mode. He got his rig on ebay and says it works great. Friends in Germany are using the same rig and also say it works great. I think this collar rig is too large for our very tight earths over here in the U.S., however -- compare the size to a cell phone, below. Thanks to Matej for the great pictures!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Playing in the Gutter

I have been playing in the gutter -- the area of the blog to the right of the main text, where I have put a few small pictures and links.

I have added links to some very good blogs that are worth checking out, as well as to a small host of environmental and conservation organizations, and a few other oddities that are "outside the box" and might be of some interest to others.

Now that I have figured out how to add links and text in this sidebar section, you might want to occassionally check this sidebar for new additions. This weekend, for example, I hope to add a short list of books on dogs, nature and conservation that I think are worth reading.

If anyone out there is really good with graphics-art programs, drop me a line as I have an idea that I would like to turn into a reality, with the goal of generating a little money for charity. Not a big idea -- just a small fun idea celebrating American working terriers.

OK, Now What?

Two elderly hunters come to a fence and begin to cross over when one of them suddenly clutches his heart and falls to the ground.

His buddy, in full panic, grabs his cell phone and calls an emergency operator: "My b-b-buddy just fell down! He's not breathing and his eyes are r-r-rolled back in his head. I think he might be d-d-dead. What do I do?"

The operator, in a calm soothing voice says, "Ok just take it easy. First, let's check to make sure your friend is really dead."

A silence is heard, and then a shot rings out.

"OK," says the hunter, "Now what?"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Drawing the Line at the Border for Wildlife's Sake

Road kill is not about vehicle impact. It's about what a road does to the land forever. It is not one animal that dies next to a white line, it is the environment that supported that animal being altered -- and often destroyed by development -- forever.

I have written about population growth and U.S. immigration policy for more than 25 years. I mention this simply to say that this is not my first rodeo on this issue.

If immigration reform is now fashionable, so be it. I got my T-shirt when it was not.

Back in 1980, when I was more-or-less permanently camped at the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, the entire immigration reform movement could have fit into the back of a Volkswagen microbus. Back in those days, when I spoke about the impact of U.S. population growth on the environment, not many people were actually listening. Maybe no one.

Things have slowly changed. When I did CNN's Crossfire with Pat Buchanan in February 1989, he was an open-border apologist and I was the liberal opposition "in the crossfire". The next week Buchanan wrote his first column on the need for U.S. border security asking, "Does the United States have the right to engage, if you will, in national family planning for the future ... Or are we obligated, by our values and tradition, to leave such matters to fates, and to the fortunes of guerrilla war in Central America and the business cycle in Mexico City?"

Bingo. Someone was listening. Since the events of September 11, 2001, even more people have paid attention to U.S. immigration policy. No doubt it has helped that I have moved on to other debates.

Of course nothing has really changed (yet). In fact, the number of people coming to our shores keeps going up. Companies still want cheap labor and politicians still want cheap causes. With a wink and a nod both sides of the political aisle find a thousand and one excuses to do nothing.

America is a compassionate place. But having a heart does not mean you have to lose your brains. The United States cannot take all of the world's displeased and dispossesd, nor can we move all of the people of Somalia (or Indonesia or Guatemala or Ireland) to the United States. We have to draw a line somewhere and decide who we will take, how many we will take, and how we will enforce the law. These three questions underpin all immigration policy.

For 25 years I have listened to those on the Far Left and the Far Right answer the first two questions thusly: "More people that look like me."

It is with sadness that I note that the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Ancient Order of Hibernia, and the Ku Klux Klan all find common ground in that one answer.

I do not.

Instead, long before Bill McKibben wrote Maybe Just One, I decided maybe just none. I was born and raised in Africa (a child of American diplomats) and was observant enough to see that children the world over were, quite literally, dying for what I and my wife could offer as parents. So we adopted from overseas -- a simple way of reconciling global population concerns with a personal desire to have a family. No big deal.

I mention this only to say my tribe has never been defined by skin color or ethnic cuisine. Instead, my concerns have been more elemental, shaped by watching young goat herders shimmying up trees in order to hack every limb off the trunk and drop them down to the hungry animals waiting below.

Goats demand forage, and so the desert expands by degrees because people are locusts on the land. The people are not bad (nor are the goats) -- there are just too many of them.

There are too many people all over. Over population is not something that is happening "over there" -- it is right at our doors as well.

Over the years I have listened to a lot of arguments for immigration reform. If unemployment is up, some will argue that immigrants are taking jobs from Americans. If terrorism is the flavor of the day, they will suggest that border security and more immigration law enforcement can make us safer. If the audience seems pissed off that no one speaks English at 7-Eleven anymore, they will talk about how ethnic diversity can lead to social divisiveness.

I will not deconstruct any of these arguments -- they all have their place and they are all, largely or partly, correct.

But they are not the principle reason I have always favored immigration reform. I favor immigration reform because I love America as she is and was.

I love an America where we can hunt and fish and where wildlife is plentiful, and the water is clean. I want an America where forests are not managed solely for timber, and where kids can still play in the creeks.

I would like to live in an America where every beach is not crowded, and where camping grounds and back country shelters do not have to be reserved weeks in advance through Ticketron.

I would like the schools to be less crowded (and the buses, subways and malls as well). I would like to see larger side yards, fewer condominiums, larger woods, and less road widening.

I would like to see more wetlands, fewer culverts, less asphalt, and more people that know the names of their neighbors.

Above all, I want my kids to grow up in a country where there are still places you can walk 20 miles in a day without once crossing a road. Grizzlies, cougars and mule deer need such places. So too do people.

Earlier this month The Washington Post announced that the Senate immigration bill would add 20 million more people to the population of the United States in a decade.

Am I the only one to ask the question: How many Americans do we want? How many Americans would we like there to be at some point in the future? At one point do we say enough?

Right now, more than 33 million legal and illegal immigrants live in the United States.

Thirty-three million is a lot of people. Here are a few comparative numbers to give you an idea of the scale of this population, and its annual environmental impact in the United States:

  • A country with a population of 33 million would be the 34th largest country in the world (out of 227 nations), and would have a population larger than the current population of Canada.

  • 33 million is the combined populations of the 20 largest cities in the U.S in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, San Antonio, Detroit, San Jose, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Jacksonville,Columbus, Austin, Baltimore, Memphis, and Milwaukee).

  • 33 million people in the U.S. would require over 12 million housing units, assuming current U.S. average household size.

  • 33 million people in the U.S. means 15.8 million more passenger cars on America's roads, assuming average per capita car use.

  • 33 million people in the U.S. can be expected to consume about 825 million barrels of oil a year (25 barrels per person per year). To put it another way, 33 million Americans will consume all of the economically recoverable oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in less than four years time.

  • 33 million people can be expected to consume 2.26 billion cubic feet of roundwood per year (80 cubic feet per person) assuming average U.S. consumption patterns. Assuming 35 cubic feet of roundwood grown per acre of forest per year, over 75 million acres of forest will be needed to supply 33 million people with their paper and wood needs. This is an area larger than Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland combined.

Immigration and births to future immigrants will account for 67% of U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's middle-series projection. If you count births to the foreign-born already here, the number is approaching 100 percent.

Under the Census Bueau's middle-series projection, the population of the U.S. will grow by an additional 120 million people over the course of the next 50 years -- a population nearly four times larger than the foreign-born population enumerated above.

To put this 120-million number in perspective, this is a population greater than the current populations of ALL of the states West of the Mississippi: California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined -- with Illinois thrown on top.

Of course U.S. population growth will not stop in 2050, but will continue for at least another 50 years under the Census Bureau's middle series projection, rising to over 470 million by 2070.

And this is the Census Bureau's middle series projection, which is probably too low.

Back in 1989, when I was trying to convince Pat Buchanan that U.S. population growth rates might be an important issue, the U.S. Census Bureau's median projection was that the population of the U.S. would "peak" at 302 million in 2040 and then decline from there.

In fact, the population of the U.S. will hit 300 million this October, and will top 302 million by next Spring. The Census Bureau's 1989 "high" components for fertility and immigration are now those used in the Bureau's "middle series" projection.

For more than 50 years, Census Bureau projections have been too low.

Will America fall apart at 400 million, or 500 million or even one billion people?

No, it will survive. It just will not be the America I love today.

If you hunt, you will have to drive farther, and perhaps pay to hunt in a for-profit shooting preserve (some do that now).

As we pave over paradise and put up parking lots, surface water will flow fast and dirty into our rivers and creeks. Cars will become more efficient, but population growth will consume the oil savings, and we will be more dependent on foreign oil than ever before.

More and more creeks will run in culverts, and fewer and fewer children will play in them. Silt from construction sites will clog rivers and streams, and no one you know will have ever caught a five-pound bass or a three-pound trout. You will no longer be allowed to walk down White Oak Canyon in the Shenandoah National Park unless you first bought a ticket at Ticketron.

For me, immigration policy is all about numbing numbers and the inexorable loss of the last best things in America -- a loss that will come with an ever-growing tide of people.

If I could, I would deport some Americans I know, and swap them out for good honest, hard working immigrants. But that's not going to happen anymore than God is going to make more wild lands. It's a cute idea, but in the real world forests are falling to fields, and fields are falling to freeways at a dizzying rate.

Something's got to give, and there's clearly a place to draw the line. Is it too much to ask that we draw the line at the border?

A surveyor's stake cuts through the heart of the land and signals the end of the road for both hunter and wildlife. America's wild lands are not committing suicide -- they are being killed by population growth, the vast majority of which is now being fueled by out-of-control immigration.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Groundhog With Cancer Can Still Teach

You don't need to smoke cigarettes to get cancer. This groundhog, humanely dispatched just this past weekend, had a very large and visible tumor under his front leg (the bottom leg in this picture). Though still active, there is little doubt this groundhog's movements were soon going to be seriously compromised.

Groundhogs have about a 70 pecent mortality rate every year. While there is a fair amount of predation of young groundhogs by hawks and fox, an adult groundhog fears only coyotes, man and dogs.

So what kills adult groundhogs? A certain number, like this fellow here, die from tumors, cancer, and hepatitis, but most seem to expire from pneumonia as they overwinter. They simply go to ground and never reappear.

Cornell University claims to have the only disease-free groundhog population in the world -- a population they use to study cancer and hepatitis B tranmission in humans.

For those worried about such things, a human cannot get the woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV). That said, woodchuck hepatitis is similar enough to human hepatitis that the groundhog is one of the the best animals in the world for studying the disease (the only other good animal candidate is the chimpanzee).

Based on groundhog research, scientists at Cornell University discovered a hepatitis B vaccine. They also discoverd that hepatitis B is a major cause of both liver cancer and cirrhosis.

An estimated 250 to 300 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are carriers of the human hepatitis B virus, and cirrhosis and liver cancer kill about one million people, worldwide, every year.

Bottom line: if you want to avoid liver cancer, get a Hepatitis B vaccine.

And thank a groundhog.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Few Hours in the Hedge

A large plume of kickout, and the size of this hole, makes me think this is a fox sette. No one was home on this fine day (no surpise in June) , but I will remember this location and check back in winter. The cap to the right is there just to show scale.

It was beautiful day -- cool and sunny, with everything green. The corn is up about 18 inches or so, and the first cut of hay is coming off of the fields. The barley is ready to be cut, and the first water lillies are staring to bloom.

I counted four dead deer on the highway this morning -- that's a fair amount of carnage for late Spring. Normally, I don't see that many deer strikes this time of year -- most of them seem to occur in the Fall.

At the gas station I watched a mocking bird chase a squirrel across the road and into the bushes -- her maternal juices were flowing, and her attack on the squirrel was absolutely unbridled.

I left Mountain at home today -- her nose is about healed, but one more week at the house will not do her any harm. With just Sailor and I in the field today, I decided to work the short hedge bordering the field across from the Country Club. This used to be a very productive little hedge for me, but I worked it too hard a few years back, and so I have left it alone for the last 18 months -- a chance to recover.

Sailor and I raised a deer bedding in the hedge, and we also come across the remains of another -- most likely an escaped gut-shot, or perhaps a vehicle-impact victim from the nearby road.

At the back of a small woods we located a nice large sette that looked pretty foxy. With corn coming up on either side, and thick stands of raspberries all around, it's a likely this spot will hold fox and coon when the weather gets cold again. I will remember this sette and leave it alone until then.

Sailor and I turned the corner at the back of the field, and checked a few blank holes before locating in a four-eyed groundhog sette that straddled an old fence line.

Sailor got it bottled pretty quickly, and neither one of us was too rushed. It wasn't going anywhere. This was a simple dig in pretty soft ground to an average-sized groundhog. Nothing spectacular, and Sailor came away without a scratch.

A fine way to start the day!

A very dead groundhog tied to a nice wobbly fence post made a fun set up for Sailor.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Course in Thanksgiving

On one of the boards in the UK, the topic of a wolf attack on a pack of dogs in Idaho was raised by someone in Maine (it is a small world after all). Rey McGehee put up a link to his very excellent story about the day his borzoi's accidentally coursed a wolf in Idaho, the day before Thanksgiving.

I have to say I am not sad at all to see the wolf return. Most of our western lands is public lands and in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, etc. the forests and parks stretch from one into another. You can hunt on almost all of it, but you assume the risk when you enter wild federal land that is known to have bear, wolf, cougar and coyote. That's just the way it is, and it has been that way all our lives.

The wolf was once part of the natural landscape in this country, and it's not a bad thing that it has returned. Yes, some stock grazing on public lands (stock that is already very heavily subsidized by taxpayers) will be lost and a few hunting dogs will be tragically killed as well. Yes, some individual bad animals will have to be culled (it's done now with bear and cougar), but as a general rule the goal should be to allow them their place in the wild landscape. The notion that every top end predator has to be exterminated is as misplaced as the notion that every animal is a sacred cow. There is a place for balance and a place for people to prepare and think through situations before they enter areas with top end predators in them.

In the last areas of truely wild lands we have in this country --- in the Nolo, the Clearwater, the River of No Return, the Bridger, etc. -- the wolf should have its leave. Yes, we will have to cull wolves in some places where they rub up too close to dense human populations -- of this there is no doubt. That said, restraint and adaptation by man should be the word. An America with a healthy wolf population is something we can rightfully brag about. For all the money in the world I would not want to be a country that has shot out all its wolves, its elk, its beaver, its lion, and its bear. We were nearly there only 80 years ago. Europe has been there for centuries. It is not a future I want. Let us make balance the watchword, and protection of wild places the goal.

As an old person, with a IV in his arm and a catheter draining into a bed pan, I have no doubt Rey will be telling the tale of the day his Borzoi coursed a wolf.

That's an America we want to live in ... forever. Thanksgiving indeed.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Nature Comes Knocking on the Door

Nature came knocking on the door in the form of a house finch that has built its nest on the very top of a seasonal wreath we keep on the front door of our house. The fact that the wreath is fake does not seem to matter in the slightest, nor do the night lights in the front yard, or the fact that the door is opened and closed at least four or five times a day (we use the garage door more often).

The picture below was taken this morning, and shows four perfect eggs in the nest. Momma bird is dutifully sitting on them, and I suppose we can hope for chicks soon enough (never count your chicks before they hatch).

The location is actually not too bad -- there are several bird feeders in the front yard, and the smooth door should keep cats, fox, raccoon and possum away, while the overhang should keep everything nice and dry and shaded from hawks and direct sun. A southern exposure, on the other hand, should keep everything warm.

For those interested in the natural history of the house finch, see "Sparrows with Wine-colored
Heads" -- it's a pretty interesting history of two of our most common birds.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Anti-Coursing Law Falls to Common Sense

Coursing rabbits, 1924.

Some time last year, somone in a coursing club in California decided he would get a little publicity for his club. Or perhaps he was called by ABC-television and was too naive to turn down the request.

Whatever the case, a reporter and camera crew were invited to a rabbit hunt in the California scrub, and the reporter used that footage to produce a "shocking segment" on jack rabbit hunting with greyhounds, complete with footage of a few dogs catching a rabbit or two in mid-stride.

The reporter, of course, left everything out that would have grounded the piece in the real world.

The piece failed to mention that jack rabbits are considered an agricultural pest in Calfornia, and that the state publishes advice on how to shoot, trap and poison them on farm land.

The reporter never mentioned that coursing rabbits is sufficiently rare in the U.S. that only about a dozen people showed up at the event. Some of these people had come from as far away as Canada and Washington state.

The reporter failed to mention that this type of hunting is not much different than using dogs to point birds or squirrels, except that the animal is not killed by a shotgun blast, but by a quick chop from a greyhound who returns the dead rabbit to hand.

The piece failed to mention that scores of thousands of coyotes "course" jack rabbits every day, and that rabbits are a prey species that breeds rapidly, and is found in record numbers across much of the West.

The reporter failed to mention how many shattered roadkill jack rabbits he passed on the highway (and ignored) while making this piece, or how many jack rabbits are devoured every year by bobcat, mountain lion, fox, hawk and eagle.

In the air-conditioned offices of ABC-TV, wild animals die in hospital infirmaries with a morphine drip, while dog food and T-bone steaks come direct from God, prepackaged and with a Universal Product Code printed on the side.

The quick death offered by the greyhound is never compared with death of tularemia -- the disease that routinely sweeps through American rabbit populations, and is a primary density-control regulator.

Television producers have never even heard of tularemia. In fact, they know nothing about jack rabbits at all (hint: they are not a rabbit), nor do they much care. The goal of a lazy reporter in TV Land is not to tell the truth -- it's a quick and "shocking" video to wrap around the advertisements which generate the station revenue.

"Breath deep the ether, little children, tonight the Koolaid is free." All you have to do is see a few ads for tampons, Miracle Mops, beer, and Viagra.

Back in January, I wrote about the history of jack rabbit eradication campaigns in California. Of course this kind of history was not mentioned by ABC-TV. My God, if we start talking about what Grandpa did to control rabbits, greyhound coursing will seem tame!

As sure as swallows return to Capistrano, of course, an opportunistic politician will follow behind "shocking footage". In this case the smug reporter and a Berkley assemblywoman (a true weepy-eyed bunny-hugger) were in clear cahoots. Slam-bang, legislation to end rabbit hunting with greyhounds was introduced in the California legislature.

The good news is that stupid does not always sell, even in California. This particular bit of legislation did not even make it out of committee.

It seems proponents of the law failed to mention that enforcement of laws costs money, and that a new hunting law would require rules and regulations to be written up, web sites updated, brochures produced, and statistics collected. Even as staff time and resources went down this "rabbit hole" of waste, hunting license revenue would be lost, and opportunities to address real natural resource needs would go unaddressed.

The bottom line: this was going to be the most expensive "rabbit rescue" in the history of the world!

And this was even before the litigation was filed to challenge the law -- litigation to which every hunting dog owner in America would have been asked to contribute.

And, of course, all of this nonsense was entirely pointless, because no law can avoid rabbit death. Even in the best of times, adult jack rabbit mortality is around 75 perent per year. The state legislature cannot save a jack rabbit from California's growing population of coyotes, bobcats, cougars, hawks and eagles.

Nor can the state legislature save a single jack rabbit from a Lincoln Mercury. It is an inconvenient truth that cars kill 1,000 times more jack rabbits in California than greyhounds -- to say nothing of the legal shooting of jack rabbits (over 2,000,000 jack rabbits a year are legally shot in California alone), and the occassional abatement poisoning and trapping that occurs on some agricultural lands.

Of all the ways for a rabbit to die, in fact, death by a swift greyhound may be the very best. Not only is it quicker than tularemia, pseudotuberculosis, or toxoplasma, it is more humane and assured than death by gun or automobile tire. It is no worse a death than by mountain lion or coyote, and decidedly better than death by hawk or eagle.

It is not nearly as permanent as death by tract house -- almost nothing can come back from that!

And so, a silly law died under the crushing weight of common sense. For a brief shining moment, logic and nature Herself triumphed.

And so too, in an odd way, did the jack rabbit.