Saturday, September 30, 2006

AKC Chairman Sees Three Options for Revenue

In closing the September AKC board meeting, Chairman Ron Menaker summarized where the AKC was coming from in terms of its funding history and its current dilemmas with Petland:

Mr. Menaker: Your Board does have responsibilities and one of those is fiduciary responsibilities, but let’s not walk out of here tonight suggesting that this staff or anybody else has come up with something that we haven’t been doing for the past 122 years. Indeed we have been registering AKC eligible puppies from Petland, and every other company selling AKC registrable puppies. We have been registering those puppies and we have collected millions of dollars.

This is not a new phenomenon. What is happening is: As the registrations are going down, and many of you are screaming about why this is, our registrations have been pirated by other organizations. That means, and I’ve explained this to Gretchen this morning, that these pet shops take an AKC registrable puppy and convert it to another registry.

We need to decide whether we are going to stop registering puppies that come from these puppy brokers or Pet Shops and the like. I say “stop,” because, yes, Gretchen, we have been registering puppies from pet shops.

That’s not new. While I certainly don’t endorse brokers or pet shops selling puppies, it is a fact of life and the numbers continue to grow.

What I’m saying is there are several options. One is to make a conscious decision to no longer register “all” AKC puppies. By the way, some of them make their way to pet shops from all types of Breeders. That’s one alternative.

To tell you the truth, Judi, I would almost prefer to raise the registrations and the event fees and be able to say, “Effective next month, we are no longer going to register those puppies.”

However, not only would we lose those registrations, but we would lose a large number of potential constituents and that would impact our ability to influence legislation and over time, our numbers might simply make us just one of 23 registries. So that’s Option Number 1.

Option number 2 is we continue to register any AKC puppy — as we have been doing in the past. And please don’t make it sound like we haven’t, because the data shows we have been doing so on a large scale. However, in this option, we make no attempt to stop the pirating of those AKC registrable puppies and we allow our registry and registration dollars to simply decline.

The third option was the option that the staff was trying to present — and blame the Board; don’t blame the staff. I understand you can un-elect us. But believe me, we put our heart and soul into this sport as much as I believe you all do. Our intention was not to support or to endorse Pet Shops, but rather to stop the conversion of our AKC puppies. The fact of the matter is that pet shop AKC puppies were being registered when Judi Daniels was a director and when she was president, right, Judi? We have always been registering those puppies. Now they are getting pirated and they are ending up in other registries and they are no longer part of our AKC. The people who own them may never have an opportunity to be part of the AKC family. If bred, they are no longer part of our care and conditions.

What we have learned is that competing registries are paying bounties to convert AKC registration papers to ACA papers or the like. And all we simply did, with this recommendation from the staff, and which the Board approved 12 to 1, was to attempt to prevent this trend from continuing.

You have communicated to this Board today that you do not want us to pursue this route. Indeed, we will come up with other ways to pursue revenue shortfalls. One way is to raise fees in order that we make up for the shortfall that occurs when registrations decline. There’s no simplistic answer. We are all emotional. But the fact of the matter is there are many components to this whole issue, and there needs to be a way of dealing with it. One lady asks if they are all limited registrations? Well, the question you have to ask yourself is, did the breeders make them limited registrations? As far as I’m concerned, they ought to all be limited registrations. So the real question is: As the registrations continue to decline and as AKC puppies are converted to other registries, we have to make a decision as to whether or not we want to try to go after them, or whether or not we want to try to turn away from them and look for other sources of revenue. That’s what it boils down to.

This initiative was not to endorse or support those people or the conditions that most of us are opposed to. It was never done for that purpose. It was taken because in the past we were registering those puppies, and they accounted for a large number of our registration numbers.

In any event, I can assure you the Board has received your message. We will reconvene on that subject and you will hear back from us. I assure you, it was not a decision taken lightly, nor was there any intent to do harm to the ethics and values that most of us believe in. Thank you.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The AKC Embraces the "Big Wink" of Misery Pups

On Thursday the AKC sent out the following notice to AKC Breed Clubs representatives:

"In the past few weeks we have received many comments about this [Petland] agreement, both positive and negative. We have listened to the concerns and because this issue has become so divisive, we believe it is in the best interest of our sport and the American Kennel Club not to go forward with this initiative.
-- Ron Menaker, Chairman of the Board
-- Dennis B. Sprung, President and CEO

They received many positive comments? Really? From whom? Or is this just the flourish of the pen you do before you Eat Crow?

No matter.

Ironically, the fact that the AKC has decided to scuttle their contract with Petland changes nothing.

As the minutes of the September board meeting of the AKC make clear, the AKC has happily and purposefully derived millions of dollars every year from registering puppy mill dogs, and the Club depends on puppy mill registrations to pay the rent on its rather elaborate offices on Madison Avenue in New York City.

To the AKC's credit, it was -- at last -- putting this in the front window for everyone to see.

Now that brief shining moment of honesty is over -- it's back to the "Big Wink" again.

You see, what the membership of the AKC has NOT done is change the conduct of the AKC. The AKC will continue to knowingly register puppy mill puppies from the Hunte Corporation and from far worse commercial breeders.

The board members of the AKC and the breed club representatives to the AKC have always known that the AKC finances itself through puppy mill registrations of this type.

This information has NOT been closely held information among AKC breed club representatives.

What is being protested by the breed clubs is not the ACTION of the AKC as it relates to puppy mill registrations, but the fact that this action was being made public.

The reason the AKC feels it has to increase the number of AKC puppy mill registrations is that "events" are not paying for themselves. With rare exception, these "events" are dog shows. The net loss due to "events" is now $10 million a year, and to recover this loss the AKC will have to register 666,666 pet shop "Misery Puppies" a year at $15 each.

In short, with every AKC rosette comes a little bundle of puppy mill misery.

Now here's a question: Is it unthinkable to ask AKC event participants to simply pay their own way rather than rely on puppy mill and pet shop registrations?


The "per event" registration cost would have to be raised by $7 per dog just for the current show-ring deficit to be erased.

And remember, if that were done the AKC would still be giving the "Big Wink" to current levels of AKC pet shop and puppy mill registrations. My guess is that the AKC per-event fee would have to rise by an additional $15 per dog for the AKC to be able to afford to drop their endorsement (through routine registration) of puppy mill and pet shop puppies.

Gregg Barrow, a trainer of hounds, Giant Schnauzers and schutzhund dogs (among other things), sent me an email this evening asking why so many folks in the AKC have been willing to look the other way for so long.

Good question. I have spent a lot of time pondering that issue.

I am not sure I have a complete answer, but this is what I shot back to Gregg before I scurried away from the computer for the evening:

I think there are a lot of bits and pieces that have to be disaggregated in the world of dogs and hunting.

Or, to put it another way, there are a number of severable issues.

Take the dogs.

An ugly dog can hunt, but life is too short to have an ugly dog. Uglyness does not improve a dog's working ability. That said, a dog does not have to conform to a narrow set of arbitrary standards to be a pretty dog. And, ironically, a lot of pretty show ring standards (soft coats and an over-large size in terriers) are actually antithetical to work.

For a lot of people, showing dogs and hunting with dogs has nothing to do with the dogs at all.

I have come to realize that for most people, shows and hunting are a social experience. I hunt alone, but not too many people do. A fellow that hunts alone is unusual to the point of being odd.

For most folks hunting is a human bonding experience and it is the human bonding experience that they are after -- no different than golf or bridge or what have you. Added to this bonding experience is a little competition ("my buck is bigger than yours") and a slather of nature and bug spray. If all people were required to hunt alone, I think there would be a lot fewer hunters.

For most folks, the dog shows are also not about the dogs -- they are a way of socializing without getting too deeply into anyone's "stuff". When you go to a dog show, notice how many people have crated their dogs or left them in the truck while they spend hours gossiping under the tents. This is about dogs? I don't think so. At the same time, it is not about a deep personal relationship with people. Most of these folks only see each other a few times a year, and are happy to keep their relationships at that level and no deeper.

And, of course, dog shows are also a way of working out a competitive edge and achieving a pecking order. Humans are, after all, pack animals, and we have pecking orders just like dog packs and chicken flocks. Every time people "pack up" at a dog show, they have the hope of achieving a higher ranking this time around.

An additional attraction is that dog shows are a way of achieving or demonstrating an area of expertise away from home and office, and also of creating a form of self- and communal identificiation. In the world of dogs, people identify themselves as "breeders" or as flyball competitors, or agility competitors, or whatever. They identify themselves by what type of dog they have. They identify themselves as "the number one breeder of miniature dachshunds" or even as "Barney's owner."

So a lot of stuff is wrapped up in dog shows, and asking people to give that up by rejecting the nonsense espoused by the AKC is asking them to give up a lot that they have developed over the years -- their community, their identity, their hobby, and their area of expertise. They have painted themselves into an emotional corner.

For AKC breeders and dog shows folks it's hard to face all this. It's much easier to give the "Big Wink" to puppy mills and pet shops than it is to pay more money or walk away from the AKC.

Instead of listening to what is being said about the role of the AKC in keeping the puppy mill business afloat, AKC breeders and show dog enthusiasts prefer to do what little kids do: Put their fingers in their ears and begin chanting or singing until the ugly noise goes away. I cannot hear you!

To read about two breed clubs that have done it differently, and yet still manage to hold a lot of "events" and have publications that are closely read (dream on AKC Gazette) >> Read here

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Nice Thing to See in "True Grit"

True Grit is the bimonthly magazine of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA), which is the largest Jack Russell Terrier club and registry in the world, and is the National Breed Club and Registry for the Jack Russell Terrier in the United States.

To the extent people are digging to terriers in America, it's because the JRTCA has encouraged working dogs, and I would venture to say 95% of the diggers in the U.S. are affiliated with the JRTCA.

I have been a JRTCA member for quite a few years and count quite a few friends who are also members of the Club, but I do not attend shows (I go to Nationals every year and that is it) even though I have been a pretty vocal supporter of the philosophy that underpins both the Club and Registry.

Basically, all I really like to do is hunt.

This morning I came downstairs for a cup of bowl of cereal, and my lovely bride had set out what little mail I read (bills go to her, and mostly I correspond with people via email).

There, under a piece of direct mail, was the latest issue of True Grit, and inside the back cover was a half-page color ad for the book. Excellent!

I hope sales of this little publication makes a little money for the JRTCA, but most of all I hope it gets more people out in the field and helps folks keep their dogs healthy when they do so.

Good digging to all, and thanks to the JRTCA for keeping these dogs a working terrier.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

P.S.: The web folks that run the very excellent JRTCA web site have not yet got the book up online. Anyone who wants to order one online and pay via credit card (I do not sell directly) can go >> HERE

The book is also available via or you can call the JRTCA office. In the U.K. the book is available from Read Country Books. If you can wait, get the book from the JRTCA's web site when available.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Mathematics and Symbolism of Misery Puppies

At the AKC, it's not just the dogs that look alike. Here you have three ladies all dressed in red to catch the judge's eye. Judging up the leash is common at all dog shows, and the winner in the AKC is often led around by a professional handler. For more on dog show clothes for handlers (for women only, alas) see >> )

As noted in the two previous posts, the American Kennel Club has decided to enter into a formal contract with Petland to encourage the registration of Hunte Corporation "puppy mill" dogs as AKC animals. As Ron Menaker, Chairman of the AKC's Board of Directors notes in the minutes of the September AKC Board meeting (link to PDF file), the AKC has been registering dubious dogs "for the past 122 years" and "we have collected millions of dollars" as a result. He goes on to further observe that "registering puppies that come from these puppy brokers or pet shops" "is not a new phenomenon."

Why does the AKC now want to snuggle up next to the puppy mill industry? The Board of the AKC is rather blunt about the problem: though the AKC made a profit of $5.7 million last year, that is not enough. A core problem, Jim Stevens Chief Financial Officer of the AKC told the board is that events "lost approximately ten million dollars in 2005. This year there have been 8,500 events to date, which was up 12 and a half percent from 2005. The total number of entries in events so far this year has been 1.8 million, which is two and a half percent above last year. Based on how the current year is shaping up, we would anticipate that this year's loss from events will be comparable to last year."

Events. That would be dog shows for those of you who are wondering. They are losing money. And so the AKC has to endorse puppy mill puppys (as they always have) in order to make up for the economic loss caused by dog show rosette chasers.

And yes, the AKC IS endorsing Petland. As AKC board member Steve Gladstone notes, "yes ... we are endorsing them with our papers. We are telling the world these people meet AKC standards."

OK, so let's see if we can do a little math here.

It costs $15 to register a puppy with the AKC. So, in order to recoup the money lost from shows, the AKC needs to register 666,666 misery puppies a year. To see what those puppies look like in a Petland stores, see this video clip taken by two idiot teenagers and loaded up to YouTube.

"In order to recoup the money lost from shows, the AKC needs to register 666,666 misery puppies a year."
To put it another way, the AKC is losing about $1,175 dollars per event (dog show), which means about 78 misery puppies need to be registered to underwrite every AKC event.

How many rosettes are awarded at an AKC event? I have no idea, and the number shifts, but I think it's safe to say that every breed and performance win requires at least one puppy mill misery puppy to be registered.

And of course, more misery puppies will have to be sold because some will not get registered. A lot of folks coming to Petland will see the "AKC registerable" sign and banners and think this is proof they are getting a quality product for their kid or themselves. But, at the cash register, these same folks may do a little math of their own. After all, the dog cost $600, and then there was the crate ($40), the leash and collar ($20), the dog tag ($7), dog food ($15), and the registration ($15). What here looks like something we can do without right at this moment? So, bottom line, there will be a lot more misery puppies sold than registered.

A core problem for the AKC is that sales of their "product" (registrations) is slipping.

What to do?

Well, I have spent a great deal of time in meeting with professional marketing geniuses, and I will tell you what they will all recommend: Develop an icon for your brand.

And I have the perfect icon in mind. Instead of awarding rosettes to the winners, perhaps the AKC could, in honor of their new Petland contract, award every winner a plush toy "Misery Puppy?" The toy would not have to be spattered in blood. It is enough that the plush toy is poorly made, and has an odd color and perhaps an odd odor. I imagine any child-labor sweat shop that makes plush toys has a whole bin of defective cast offs that can be bought for a song. In fact, "Misery Puppies" may become quite popular and, if the AKC markets them right, they can be the new symbol of the American Kennel Club.

To go with AKC tradition, the Kennel Club can even invent a history or "provenance" for their defective plush toys, just as they have with so many dog breeds.

"These plush toy are not defective," they can sniff. "They are worn and ragged because they have been loved so much. They are like the Velveteen Rabbit."


Now I know some people will think this is over the top, but really it isn't. After all, the causal relationship between the economics of dog shows and the economics of the Petland deal and the sale of pet store puppies has now been made clear by the minutes of the September AKC board meeting.

Now we know exactly how many Misery Puppies it takes to get an AKC rosette. And yet, the core problem remains -- the AKC is without an iconic brand.

Now they have one. Let the registration begin!


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Shot of Expresso in the Morning

“…Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can…”

The reason I hit Querencia -- the blog of Steve Bodio, Matthew Mullenix and Reid Farmer -- pretty often is because the three guys that blog there can write their ass off, and they always get me thinking.

The above quote is from Moby Dick, and starts up a musing on the burden of blogging in hawking season and the creaking of age as it begins to show up in your bones (and if it has not yet, just wait).

Everyone does their own thing in the morning. Mine is to dash off a few emails and correct the typos in what I put up the night before and to check a few web sites before I scurry off to work and get on the wheel and make it go around again in the pet shop window.

On the train I read or edit more stuff. On walks from the subway station to work I think a bit about the things I have read, and they crawl up the old rock of my brain to sun themselves on top like a lizard.

Sure I read newspapers and books and magazines -- quite a lot of all of them actually -- but where else but on the internet do you get Moby Dick worked into a discussion about hawking and blogging and aging? And so, out of the millions of web sites that are out there, I have chosen a few to read regularly, and Querencia is one of them.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Breed Clubs Do Not Run the AKC: Money Does

[Permission to cross post. Also see: this related story ]

Following the signing of a contract with puppy-mill distributor Petland, the American Kennel Club has begun to feel the heat.

Odds are still 7 to 3 that nothing will come of the protests (the AKC staff does not give a rat's ass what the breed clubs say), but there have been some small bursts of eloquence, nonetheless.

Former AKC Board member and current AKC judge Patricia Laurans (an eight-time Westminster judge) told the AKC Board (click on link for PDF of AKC Board Meeting minutes):

"I would like to call attention to every single Parent clubs’ that I know of code of ethics that says we will not sell to pet stores.

"I would like to call attention to the fact that, from my humble belief, we are selling our birthright for a few shekels.

"I would like to call attention that this is a club of clubs and that we are your constituency. We are the groups that are asked to help out with medallions, to work at shows, to educate the public, to make our clubs and our events more friendly so we can help increase registration on a volunteer basis.

"I would like to make note of the fact, and pardon me, I feel we are prostituting some of our values, I feel we are going against what I believe most of the members and member clubs would want to see happen, and I feel that we should have at least had some sort of way to give you our thoughts before contracts were signed, sealed and delivered. You said, and I supported the fact, that we don’t want to let the enemy in. I question the fact right now if the enemy is already here."

What was the reaction of the AKC hierarchy to this speech? Basically, they patted Ms. Laurans on the head, told her she was a naive fool, and asked her to shut up.

For example, Steven Gladstone, who is on the current AKC Board, said:

"With all respect, Pat, we have been taking their money for 75 years and cashing their checks....we have got to accept the fact, we are taking their money; and, yes, ... we are endorsing them with our papers. We are telling the world these people meet AKC standards. Now, you may not like that, but the fact is that we have lived off of that for the last 60 years."

David Merriam, Vice Chairman of the AKC Board of Directors, said:

"What has changed is that we have competitors, and these competitors now are in the pet stores. They’re in the commercial channels. And they say, 'Okay, it costs $15 to register a puppy, XYZ Registry will do it for $12, and we’ll kickback three dollars to the pet shop.' That’s the competition we’re in, and don’t believe that it hasn’t had an effect on our registration.

Every meeting, Jim Stevens relates the decline of our registration. If we are going to address this in a serious, honest and a realistic way, we have got to address that segment of the registration. That is the commercial. And that’s simply the answer.

If you want to tell the Board and your fellow clubs that we are willing to go inward, support ourselves, pay the price, then that’s a direction you can go. But I think if we go that direction, the American Kennel Club will not exist 100 years from today."

Bottom Line:What the breed clubs think has as much chance of shaping the AKC as rain water on a stone.

And besides, what are the breed clubs going to do, resign?

It would not matter to the AKC if they did. Look at the Border Collie and the Jack Russell Terrier to see what the AKC does if an existing breed club will not drink the toxic Koolaid being offered up. In both cases the AKC simply went out and recruited an ego-hungry group of fools to start a new breed club that was more than ready and willing to follow AKC staff direction.

At this point in the game, registrations and money wag the dog in the AKC, and the breed clubs have little or no control over what the AKC does.

And from the AKC staff's perspective, why should they? After all, it's not like the AKC breed clubs are a major financial engine within the organization.

In fact, from a purely cash-and-cost point of view, the breed clubs are revenue calfs sucking money out of the AKC -- a lot of money

The folks paying the bills -- the cash cows producing most of the milk -- are the dog breeders who are not members of breed clubs, and whose canine philosophy can be boiled down to two short sentences: "Puppies are cute," and "I clear $3,000 a litter."

Of course the AKC is no better than these a cash-and-carry dog breeders. For them too, a litter of dogs is nothing but a profit center.

As for the Board of the AKC, they appear to be led by idiots. Business plans are not supposed to be 100 years long -- not even the Chinese think like that. Nor is the "Big Box Store" the best business plan model for the AKC. When people purchase a dog, they are not supposed to think of the animal as a bulk commodity, like beans and rice, but as a one-off purchase of a thing of quality. But that point of view is apparently not shared by the current Board of the AKC which voted 12-to-1 in favor of the Petland contract.

In truth, the AKC has fallen down a manhole. For as long as I can remember, their focus has not been on doing the right thing for dogs, but on keeping the money flowing.

Mr. Merriam, it appears, is more than willing to sacrifice principle and prestige to keep the Club going, but he is not willing to remake the AKC so that it is an organizaton identified with high-quality healthy dogs able to engage in performance functions. And above all, he is not willing to tender the idea of the AKC ever going out of business.

It seems that in the struggle to keep the doors open at the AKC, certain things can be discussed (like endorsing puppy mills), but others cannot (like moving out of their Madison Avenue digs in New York City in order to save millions on rent and salaries). The AKC Board of Directors and staff are willing to sacrifice dogs for cash, but they are not willing to tuck in the belt or pack up the bag for a move to Minnesota.

This is not to say that the AKC staff and Board of Directors do not have a clear view on some things. They are clearly right when they say the folks in the breed clubs are naive. After all, the AKC has been sucking on the puppy mill teat for more than 60 years - - on this point, nothing has changed.

Nor has this information been closely held: just "google" AKC and "puppy mill" and see how many hits you get.

Nor is the only AKC problem the "big wink" of puppy mill money. No one in the world of dogs can have possibly missed the genetic decline in dogs that has occured over the course of the last 60 years. The causal reason here is that the AKC and show ring afficionadoes continue to embrace the failed eugenics theories of the 19th Century (see Inbred Thinking for more on this topic).

And so we get down to it now, don't we? Will the AKC representative of the Border Terrier Club of America resign in protest and will the Border Terrier Club disenthrall itself from the AKC? Will it matter if it does? How about the representatives of the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America? What will it do? How about all the other breed clubs?

My bet is that the Board of Directors and staff of the AKC are betting right in their calculations.

In the end, most breeders and show ring enthusiasts in AKC breed clubs will lower their heads and shuffle forward like cattle. They have always done so in the past. A few dozen may bawl and mew, and one or two may even jump the fence, but it's a big country and the AKC will replace them quickly and move forward.

In truth, I think very few people will make a stink.

And why should they? After all, the AKC is simply doing what it has always done. In for a penny, in for a pound.

It would be silly for anyone in the AKC quit over the Petland deal because, as AKC Boad of Directors Chairman David Merriam notes, all the AKC is doing now is telling the truth and putting their ethics in the front window for all to see. Anyone who quits now is quiting not because of the practice of taking cash and doing business with puppy mills, but because they are embarassed at being seen as part of the deal.

To which I can only advise: "Don't do things you are ashamed of." But then, I am a bit of a Puritan, aren't I?.

As for the AKC, their longterm business plan is not much of a secret. The AKC has teamed up with the Humane Society of the United States and PETA to push for legislation mandating the microchipping of all pets. This is a great idea as far as the AKC is concerned, as they happen to own one of the most popular microchip products around. PAWS legislation would, in effect, be a multi-million dollar subsidy for the AKC.

The AKC is also getting into the heath care and insurance business -- two notoriously crooked arenas. The AKC figures it will be able to make many millions of dollars in kickbacks from veterinarians, while the veterinarians will get a steady supply of gullible customers -- a win-win for everyone but the consumer.

Gilding the lilly is the fact that the AKC will have a steady stream of veterinarians willing to speak up and testify on the AKC's behalf should a reporter come poking around asking hard questions. The veterinarians, in turn, will give the AKC their "seal of approval" (doctors are generally trusted by the public), while the AKC will give the veterinarians their seal of approval (after all, who is better qualified to "certify" a veterinarian than the AKC?).

At the same time that all this is going on, the Humane Society, PETA and other lunatic fringe "animal rights" groups have been successfully pushing legislation that would require all non-show dogs to be neutered or spayed. These laws are ostensibly designed to reduce the number of "unwanted" puppies in America, and mandatory spay-netuer laws have already been embraced in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are under consideration in places as diverse as Sacramento, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Is it just a coincidence that these mandatory spay-neuter laws will have a very positive benefit for the AKC? After all, if enough of these laws are passed, the end result will be that almost every dog in America will come from a show breeder (most of whom will be affiliated with the AKC) or a commerical breeder (with whom the AKC will have a licensing contract). How perfect is that?

The AKC says it opposes mandatory spay-neuter laws, but their opposition has been pretty tepid as far as I can see. In truth, I suspect the AKC is simply on the road to another "Big Wink" in which they profess to oppose something (like puppy mills) even as they maneuver to make more money from the "inevitable" (like puppy mills).

Like Brer Rabbit they warn, "Don't throw me into that briar patch."

Why are all of these shenanigans necessary? To put it simply, this puppy-mill seal of approval scheme is necessary because the American Kennel Club is producing a product fewer and fewer people are willing to buy. The secret is out that Kennel Club dogs are no better than any other kind of dog.

In fact, due to the Kennel Club's long embrace of inbreeding and line breeding, AKC dogs may be less healthy than a cross bred dog collected from the pound.

Failing businesses are insidious places because owners and managers are so often willing to do unethical things in order to try to stay afloat. In a failing church the pastor may torch the building for the insurance money. In a failing dry cleaning business, the proprietor may report only a portion of his income to the IRS. At a failing construction company, the owner might stop making OSHA-required safety improvements or stop paying into the pension fund. And, of course, at the AKC you end up endorsing the puppy mill industry and price-gouging veterinarians.

From the point of view of the AKC Board of Directors, of course, "something" had to be done to bring in more money. After all, the Club is only running a net profit of $5.7 million a year. Clealy what is needed is more money, more money, more money.

The problem is that while are a thousand and one ways to spend money at the AKC (an expensive building on Madison Avenue, an expensive New York City staff, a magazine that no one reads, lawyers and lobbyists, lots of travel, etc.), there are precious few ways to raise revenue.

Forget the dogs shows -- they consume money (a $10 million loss in 2005), they do not produce it. Behind every AKC rosette is puppy mill dog making that rosette possible. Say what you will, but the AKC is not givng up those rosettes. The show must go on.

Which leaves us with the central dilemma faced by the AKC Board: How to "make the nut" from year to year.

A core element in the AKC solvency scheme has always been to mass-produce registrations for mass-produced dogs. And really, the AKC is not doing anything different now than what it always has.

Sure it's a bit of a leap in the dark and a calculated risk that there will not be a mass exodus of dog breeders from the AKC's roles.

But the AKC has done the math, and they know their audience and their business. That audience is human, not canine, and the business is ego, not better-bred dogs.

And so, when the day is done, I expect a small flury of outraged mewing and bawling from the cattle, but in the end most will march smartly through the gate at their next AKC show.

Sure a few old cranky's will walk away in a huff, but so what? The AKC is a business, and the bottom line is the bottom line.

In a few years the Petland deal will be seen as a "normal" thing, and the new cattle coming into the feed lot will pay it no mind, while the AKC itself will be able to "keep on keeping on" -- Madison Avenue offices, inflated salaries, and puppy mills profits as usual.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

The AKC Signs Contract With Puppy Mill Distributor

This is the foyer of the American Kennel Club's office on Madison Avenue in New York City. In order to pay for this level of build-out and the fabulous salaries of top AKC officials, the AKC cultivates and apologizes for puppy mill operators and pet store puppy vendors .

[Permission to cross post. Also see: this related story ]

The AKC has signed a contract with Petland Discount stores to get them to register the dogs they sell as AKC animals. That's right -- the AKC is making the sale of pet store puppies a core part of their business plan.

The AKC business plan is that the stores will charge the AKC registration fee at the time of sale and register the puppy online. My understanding is that the Board of Directors of the AKC voted 12 to 1 to enter into this contract.

To read the AKC spin on all this, see >>

To read the real truth, see >>

Guess who supplies Petland with their pups? The Hunte Corporation -- the country’s largest distributor of puppy mill dogs.

As the AKC apologia suggests, the AKC's taking money from the puppy mill trade is not something new -- this travesty simply codifies what has been going on for decades, and makes it open and transparent.

In fact, the AKC has always gotten better than 10 percent of its revenue from puppy mills, and the AKC counts on puppy mill misery to subsidize both dogs shows and their plush Madison Avenue digs.

The AKC is a not a small player in the puppy mill business and the Club seems to be ramping up now to include puppy milling as a core foundation of their new "revenue enhancement" efforts.

For example the AKC is a "Platinum Sponsor" of the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, which is one of the largest associations of commercial dog breeders in the country.

In recent years, the AKC has been actively "reaching out" to the puppy mill industry in order to get them to generate more money for the AKC. As a frantic notice at the Missouri Pet Breeder's Association notes, "the AKC outreach program is ending soon" and with it the waving of late fees and penalties for puppy millers. Sign up now while puppy mill operators get special dispensation!

For those who wonder what the dogs and conditions at Petland look like, see >> this video. Note that these pictures were not taken by PETA or some other organization with an agenda -- they were taken by a couple of idiot school girls who are exactly the kind of people Petland (and the AKC) hope to palm these dogs off on. For too many of these dogs, the next stop is the local dog shelter or rescue.

So what can you do? Not a damn thing, except to send people to this web site or cross post this information to other lists or email groups.

People who think the American Kennel Club will "wake up and smell the coffee" are either naive, fools, or very inexperienced with the Kennel Club.

The AKC is not about dogs -- it is about money, and the AKC makes money by leaning hard on an essential human weakness -- ego. What the AKC has to offer has nothing to do with dogs, but has quite a lot to do with salving brittle human egos that need a continuous application of ribbons and pedigree papers.

For more information on the AKC and why working dog bred clubs reject everything it stands for see >> The AKC & Working Dogs

For a better understanding of why the rise of the Kennel Cub has resulted in a decline in canine health, see >> "Inbred Thinking"

[Permission to cross post. Also see: this related story ]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Court Upholds Roadless Forest Protection

As a few people know, I spent a couple of years working on roadless forest protection
while working as Director of Communications for the Heritage Forests Campaign while it was housed at the National Audubon Society in Washington, D.C.

During that period, we delivered more than 2 million public comments to the U.S. Forest Service in favor of roadless forest protection -- seven times more public comments than had ever been received for any other federal regulatory initiative.

Of course, not everyone has been in favor of keeping the public in the debate about what should happen to our public forests. The Bush Administration, which received millions of dollars from timber operators, quickly moved to scuttle the roadless protection rule as soon as they came into office.

By their way of thinking, the real purpose of our National Forests is not to provide for hunting or recreational opportunities for average Americans -- it is to supply a steady stream of susidized timber to a handful of timber mill operators. Never mind that the American people actually lose well over a billion dollars a year by allowing clear-cutting in our National Forests. Never mind that National Forest land produces 15 times more recreational revenue than timber revenue. The Golden Rule in Washington has always been that those with the gold are allowed to make all the rules.

Now, I am happy to say, a court has overturned the Bush Administration and reinstated roadless forest protection. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte has ruled that the Bush administration failed to conduct necessary environmental studies before scuttling the roadless forest protection rule, and she has reinstated Clinton-era protections which prohibit logging, mining and other development on 58.5 million acres in 38 states and Puerto Rico. Judge Laporte sided with 20 environmental groups and four states - California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington - that sued the U.S. Forest Service over the changes.

Judge Laporte's ruling does not affect about 9.3 million acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which is covered by a separate rule on road construction and other development. The trees in the Tongass, many of them over 400 years old, are now being sold for a "stump price" of about $5 per tree -- less than the price of a McDonald's Happy Meal and a large milkshake.

This Tongass is your wild lands heritage. Once the Tongass is gone, it's gone forever. Let's protect the first National Forest set aside for protection by Teddy Roosevelt. It was first for a reason.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lost and Not Found: Hurricane Katrina Jack Russell

Max, a 7-year old brown and white Jack Russell Terrier, was one of the many dogs placed in local animal shelters during Hurricane Katrina, when fleeing residents were told they could not bring pets with them to hotels or to temporary housing facilities.

Max appears to have been one of the dogs airlifted from the Lamar Dixon Shelter in New Orleans on or about 09-10-05 and sent to California.

Unfortunately, Max was NOT supposed to be placed on a plane to California, and his records seem to have disappeared so there is no way to know where he has gone to.

Max's old owners are desperately looking for him, and are anxious to see him return home.

Max was 7 years old when he disappeared, and was an intact male, though he may now be neutured. He is white and brown with a brown face and ears with a thin line down the center of his face, and a patch of white on his upper left muzzle. He has half a brown saddle on his right shoulder, and a full brown saddle mid-back, and a large brown spot on his butt. His tail has been cropped as in the photo.

Please circulate a link to this page and/or pictures and a description to rescues, terrier lists, and pet owners as you see fit.

For more information and to contact the owner, see >>

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Seeking a Small Worker

WANTED: 11 inch, smooth or lightly broken-coated Jack Russell out of working lines. Prefer young adult (under 18 months) or older puppy (over 7 months).

I have begun the hunt for a small Jack Russell Terrier out of working lines. This is never easy, and my needs are pretty narrow. There are a lot of pups out there, but most dogs end up a bit bigger than I want. On the other hand, it's not fair for me to take too small a dog.

A very nice-looking 10 inch dog (7 pounds!) is available, and if I hunted only a few times a year she would be ideal but since I am out a lot, and in all kinds of weather, I am afraid I would wear her down before her time. A few pounds can make a world of difference in terms of stamina if you are hunting week-after-week.

A very nice looking 11.25 inch dog with a tiny chest is available, and she's a real looker. If she does not grow over the next month, she would be ideal, but genetics and time may be against her. Sailor stopped growing at 4 months, but I do not know if that is very common. Let's see what the next month holds in terms of growth. She is certainly a very pretty dog.

Some very nice litters are due soon or are on the ground, but with terriers you are always buying a pig in a poke when it comes to size. To get what I want I may need to have a small male cover a small female, and there are not too many small males. A puppy may be too much risk.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Putting a Point on the Absurdity

From The Daily Telegraph

Hunt Man Turns Himself in After Dog Kills Mouse by Paul Stokes

A retired police officer has admitted twice flouting the new hunting law by allowing his terrier dog to chase and kill a mouse and a mole.

George Morrison, 51, reported himself to former colleagues but he was not prosecuted over either incident.

In the first case, the dog, named Chip, flushed a mole from beneath a horse trailer before swiftly killing it in June last year.

Two months later, Chip chased a mouse from behind the washing machine at the family home and went on to make another kill.

Mr Morrison served with Northumbria Police for 30 years before retiring as a detective inspector three months after the Government's Hunting Act came into force in February last year.

He turned himself in to the police on both occasions to demonstrate that the 2004 Hunting Act was a "ridiculous law".

Under the legislation, moles and mice are classed as mammals that cannot be killed by dogs, although they can be shot by a competent huntsman.

Mr Morrison said he was not taken seriously when he reported himself, but was eventually cautioned. He was later told no further action would be taken.

When Chip repeated the offence, the matter was again brought to police attention and a sergeant and constable conducted a second interview.

Again the Crown Prosecution Service did not bring proceedings.

Mr Morrison, who lives with his wife Karen in the Tyne Valley, Northumberland, said: "I knew they wouldn't take me to court because there would have been a media frenzy. Putting myself in a police officer's role, this Act is a nightmare and something they didn't want to enforce."

Since retiring from the police service, he has remained as secretary of the 137-year-old Border Hunt, which was set up to control foxes over a large area of Northumberland and Roxburghshire.

He has gone public on the issue ahead of the second season of hunting since the ban came into effect to draw attention to the state of the law. Mr Morrison stressed that the hunt, which he will head out with next week, operated within the law.

"This law was not about animal welfare, it was about trying to get so-called toffs and red jackets," he said. "But it is rural communities it is affecting."

Chief Insp Simon Packham, of Northumbria Police, said: "We did refer two cases to the CPS regarding this individual, but no further action was taken."

The only material available to police against Mr Morrison were his own admissions in his statements.

A CPS spokesman said: "There was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of a conviction."

Richard Dodd, the regional director of the Countryside Alliance, said: "George is helping to make the point that this law is not about foxes, but is about revenge from the Government about things such as the miners' strikes."

Meanwhile, out in the farm country, the veterinarians and the farmers have joined hands to try to get DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in the UK to tackle a proliferation of badgers which are believed to be spreading bovine tuberculosis, which is now appearing even in closed herds.

From Farmers Weekly Interactive of 06/09/2006

Industry call for DEFRA to allow badger cull to reduce bovine TB risk

Farming and veterinary organisations in the UK have presented a joint statement to DEFRA detailing how the government should tackle bovine tuberculosis.

At a meeting last Thursday (24 August) the group agreed several points, the main being that badgers in areas heavily affected by TB should be culled.

The government, they say, should approve applications for culling licences as permitted under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

But the group does not suggest farmers carry out the culling. Instead they should employ suitably trained individuals to do it.

Crucially, the proposals give industry control of the operation while minimising the cost to the government. They also allow DEFRA to remain distant from the issue, other than the approval of licences and provision of suitable maps.

In accordance with the Independent Scientific Group's conclusions of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, the group also advocates culls are carried out across areas of at least 300sq km by urging farmers to collaborate with their neighbours.

Initially, the culling method would be cage trapping followed by shooting (as used in the RBCT). But it suggests carbon monoxide and, possibly, stop-snares be adopted as first choice methods once approved.

Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the NFU, said: "We've done all we can here. We've agreed a position which will involve farmers continuing to put up with cost and inconvenience, but as part of a partnership approach with government.

"This agreement has now been issued to the minister, Ben Bradshaw. This places the ball very firmly in the government's court. We're prepared to play our part, are they prepared to play theirs?"

British Veterinary Association president Freda Scott-Park endorsed Mr Raymond's comments saying the time had come for some joined-up thinking.

"We're very much supportive of the NFU and its mature approach. As a dairy farmer I know how challenging farming is. With TB it's even worse. As a veterinary surgeon it is quite distressing to see the disease expanding year on year. We are particularly concerned by the number of closed herds going down with TB."

Dr Scott-Park added that she often hoped to achieve consensus across all groups involved in the TB debate, including conservationists, if only they would listen to reason.

DEFRA is understood to be reviewing the statement.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Worst Local Environmental News

From The Washington Post

Male Bass Across Region Found to Be Bearing Eggs
Pollution Concerns Arise In Drinking-Water Source

By David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2006; Page A01

Abnormally developed fish, possessing both male and female characteristics, have been discovered in the Potomac River in the District and in tributaries across the region, federal scientists say -- raising alarms that the river is tainted by pollution that drives hormone systems haywire.

The fish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, are naturally males but for some reason are developing immature eggs inside their sex organs. Their discovery at such widely spread sites, including one just upstream from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, seems to show that the Potomac's problem with "intersex" fish extends far beyond the West Virginia stream where they were first found in 2003.

The cause of the abnormalities is unknown, but scientists suspect a class of waterborne contaminants that can confuse animals' growth and reproductive systems. These pollutants are poorly understood, however, leaving many observers with questions about what the problems in fish mean for the Potomac and the millions of people who take their tap water from it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Finding Common Ground in Wild America

From the Casper Wyoming Star-Tribune
Unlikely environmentalists
From staff and wire reports Monday, August 21, 2006

JACKSON -- Gary Amerine doesn’t look like an environmentalist.

He doesn’t wear Birkenstocks, tie-dye shirts or a peace sign tied around his neck with a length of hemp rope. He looks and talks more like a rancher, with a cowboy hat and a weathered face.

Amerine doesn’t really act like an environmentalist either. Instead of ambushing mink coats with cans of spray paint, he makes a living leading hunters into the woods to kill elk, deer, moose, antelope and mountain lions.

However, Amerine in fact does represent a recent addition to the environmental movement. Ever since the U.S. Forest Service earmarked his hunting grounds in the Wyoming Range for oil and gas development, the owner of Greys River Trophies has joined a growing coalition of sportsmen working to preserve the wild lands where they work and play.

Fearing that energy development sweeping through the Rockies could permanently scar the landscape, hunters and anglers are forming alliances with environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club. The two sides, which have sparred in the past, are trying to protect such areas as the Wyoming Range, Colorado's Roan Plateau, Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, and New Mexico's Valle Vidal.

Amerine has teamed with fellow outfitter Dustin Child in a quest to protect the Wyoming Range from oil and gas leases that could, they say, turn the Wyoming Range into another Jonah Field, one of the densest gas fields in the nation.

For these outfitters, protecting this land isn’t just a moral duty -- it’s a matter of survival, they say. Many of the hunters who pay top dollar to hunt big game at Child’s and Amerine’s hunting camps said they wouldn’t return if wells marred the landscape.

“No one in their right mind would pay to take a scenic pack trip through oil and gas wells,” Amerine said. “The Wyoming Range is on the front burner right now. It’s gonna set a precedent for a lot of other areas.”

Joining the outfitters are other sportsmen's groups, including Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and Trout Unlimited.

"For the last three years, we've been organizing hunters and anglers all over the West on energy-related issues because there's just been an unprecedented amount of gas and oil development going on all over the West in some of our last remaining wild places," said David Stalling, Trout Unlimited's Western field coordinator based in Missoula, Mont.

'Marriage of convenience'

The efforts have been noticed. At a recent energy forum in Denver, Ken Wonstolen of the oil and gas association called the alliance of outdoors groups and environmentalists "an effective marriage of convenience right now."

"It's something we have to address very seriously," Wonstolen said.

Politicians have noticed, too.

In Wyoming, Republican Sen. Craig Thomas joined Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal in objecting to further oil and gas leases in the Wyoming Range.

Bill Ritter, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Colorado, has sent letters to sportsmen, pledging to be a good steward of public lands. His Republican opponent, Rep. Bob Beauprez, has also met with hunting and fishing groups.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., locked in a tight re-election race, has introduced legislation to ban new oil and gas drilling on federal land along the Rocky Mountain Front, valued by hunters and environmentalists alike. Two years ago, he advised groups opposed to drilling there to raise private money to buy the federal leases.

In June, Republican Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico co-sponsored a bill prohibiting energy development in the Valle Vidal after her Democratic challenger signed a pledge opposing drilling. Environmentalists and sportsmen have long urged protection for the 101,794-acre valley in northern New Mexico.

Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar, both Colorado Democrats, have said the top of the Roan Plateau shouldn't be drilled.

This kind of bipartisan opposition in the West helped scuttle a plan by the Bush administration to sell 300,000 acres of national forest, said Daniel Kemmis, a senior fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana. Supporters said the sale would raise money for rural schools.

"That was as stillborn a proposal as you could find, in large part because so many Western Republicans opposed it," Kemmis said. "They saw these broad-based coalitions that are now just too politically potent to ignore."

Working with activists

Alliances among environmentalists, loggers, ranchers and hunters have evolved as environmental groups realized they needed local support, Kemmis said. He said he believes more industries will follow timber companies in working with grass-roots activists.

"I think it would be very good for the West if we begin to see more of that kind of cooperation," Kemmis said.

That's exactly what the executive director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife has proposed for the Wyoming Range.

Bob Wharff recently proposed forming a sportsmen's coalition to work with landowners, oil and gas industry officials, and state and federal agencies to help protect wildlife in the Wyoming Range.

"We can have both world-class wildlife and an economically viable mineral industry," Wharff said. "However, (his group) believes that we should cease adding additional leases on Forest Service lands in the Wyoming Range and forestall any drilling on forest lands until we can be collectively assured that our combined activities are not furthering the decline of big game populations."

Energy industry officials have said that drilling in the area can be done in an environmentally sensitive manner and without significant harm to wildlife. They contend that drilling in areas such as the Wyoming Range provides stability for job growth, provides the state with a stable revenue source and helps the country be less dependent on foreign oil for energy production.

Wharff said the Wyoming Range is an important enough area to warrant "further review of the accumulative impacts" that are limiting the recovery of big game populations.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Looking for Bird Flu in Alaska?

Sand Piper, Alaska

The Associated Press reports
that biologists are testing thousands of birds in Alaska, looking for any signs of Avian Flu.

Alaska? Sure -- Alaska. Huge numbers of bird nest in Alaska in the summer, from Peregrine Falcons and Snow Geese to Red Knots. Some of the birds that nest in Alaska are migrants from the tropical areas of Asia where Bird Flu has been somewhat prevalent.

For exanple, the Arctic Warbler nests in Alaska in the summer, and then flies across the Bering Straits, down the coast of Asia, passing through various countries including Korea, Thailand and Vietnam on the way to the Philippines where it spends the winters.

The Yellow Wagtail follows the same general migration path but nests throughout the region.

In theory, avian-flu infected birds could migrate from Asia to Alaska, and then transfer the disease to other birds that then migrated south into the heartland of North America and Latin American.

Bird are not alone in making vast migrations. If you follow migration patterns of animals, you will find that tuna, sharks, whales and turtles migrate vast disatnces North and South, East and West, and some species actually follow great circle migrations around the oceans on a seasonal basis.

Birds, of course fly great distances, and "American" birds migrate as far away as Tanzania, Australia, Tierra del Fuego, and Europe, with vast numbers going to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America.

Even some insects migrate vast distances. Right now Monarch butterflies are on their way south from Canada to their hibernation spot in the Oyamel Fir forests of Mexico.

In addition to monarch butterflies, some species of dragonflies also migrate south for the winter, soaring up into the jet stream to achieve incredible daily distances as they move to the Caribbean and Mexico.

Mallards on snow, Alaska

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma

My father used to subscribe to a publication called Organic Gardening put out by Rodale press, and he also had this huge book on composting.

This may not seem like such an odd thing in this day and age, but in 1969 it was an almost subversive thing to subscribe to this kind of publication. It meant, at some level, that you were either a hippie, a free thinker or a bit strange.

What was particularly odd about it is that I have never once seen my father with a hoe in his hand (or even a paint brush), and we were living in North Africa at the time. Whatever organic gardening was about, it did not seem to have too much to do with turning over the soil. It seemed to have something to do with thought -- a way of looking at the world.

As for a 400-page book on compost, that was clearly either madness or a mistake.

At age 10 I did not quite get it, but by age 20 I did. By then I was a pretty good mushroom collector. I even took a course in fungus in college, and once served wild mushroom omelets (clitocybe nuda) with apple sauce (made from found apples) to 100 folks at an eating co-op on campus. No one got sick, the omelets and applesauce were proclaimed excellent, and the total cost was $20 bucks.

A few folks gave me strange looks when they later found out I had collected the mushrooms from a leaf mulch pile near where I had constructed a dog run for my terrier, but what could they say? The food was good and they were very much alive.

Life moved on.

Bob Marley died, the hippies disappeared, eating co-ops vanished into the sucking tide of individuality, and I got a job that required a suit, a tie and wingtips.

One day in the 1990s I looked up and it seemed every independent store in America had fallen under the rip tide of corporate America, with Bed, Bath and Beyonds, Starbucks and Best Buy stores shoe-horned into every strip mall. Nothing was "mom and pop" anymore -- it was all Big Corporate.

Meanwhile, something weird was happening to the food. It was subtle. At first it was the ever-expanding sodas and bags of popcorn at the local movie theatre. The cups were now so large they would not fit in the holders.

Hamburgers, which had been discrete human-sized items wrapped in paper, were now so large they were served in Styrofoam boxes. A "Whopper" -- once one of the biggest hamburgers imaginable -- was replaced by the Double Whopper. McDonald's came out with the Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder.

Meanwhile, the grocery store produce section no longer seemed to have seasons. You could get grapes year round, and oranges too. New varieties of fruits and vegetables started showing up. What the hell was Bok Choy and Star Fruit?

On trips across America, I would see fewer and fewer cows and horses. I almost never saw a pig.

Sometime in the 1990s tobacco disappeared in Maryland and Virginia and North Carolina. Only two crops seemed to be grown now: corn and soy. A great deal of land in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and all along I-95 South seemed to be lying fallow. Old pastures of thick grass reverted to weeds and small bushes.

Flying down the road you could not help but notice that a lot of land was being colonized by dense stands of Virginia cedar.

I would never have thought all this was connected, but after reading Michael Pollan's excellent new book Omnivore's Dilemma, I can see that it is.

When I first heard about this book, I was not all that interested. It was clearly a book written by a “foodie,” and I am pretty much done with food-fadists who think bread is evil, and so too are beef, eggs, milk, and …. My God are you eating an apple? They have Alar on them!

But Fate intervened when I came across the book at a local book store. Reading the back of the book, I realized Pollan was the same fellow who had written "The Botany of Desire" -- a book I found quite well written and entertaining. I flipped through his newest book and saw a section on mushroom hunting. I was in.

My money was well spent. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a terrific book. Roughly structured around four meals, Pollan attempts to trace the food back to its origins. How was this stuff grown? What are the ecological, economic, health, and social trade-offs to eating conventional food from the local grocery store versus "Fresh Fields" (industrial organic), versus artisan foods (local organic) and even hunting and foraging?

The book starts with a chapter on corn, which is so astounding that it alone is worth the price of the book.

And let me hasten to say that while Pollan is squeamish (and almost vegetarian), he went on his first hunt (for pig) while writing this book, and his conclusions are pleasantly surprising. There is only one “perfect” meal in this book, and it does not come from Whole Foods.

The power of Pollan's book is that he connects a lot of disparate pieces into a greater whole.

One small fact-filled mosaic after another is slipped into the frame until at last you have a larger picture of what is happening, not only on America's farms, but also in politics, economics and kitchens.

I had seen bits and pieces of this story myself, but only after reading this book did I understand the big picture of what has been going on all around me my whole life. Good stuff. Not just good writing, but good thinking.

Pollan is not a polemicist, and he does not tie it all up with a "this is what you need to do" kind of ending (thank God!)

In fact, he does not need to. If you read this book, you will get the point and you may actually change what you buy. Grass-fed beef may show up in your cart as well as locally grown vegetables. You may discover the joys of returning to seasonal food selection.

Pollan does not seem to think everyone has to eat the same way, and he does not begrudge those who want to continue to eat as they are eating now.

He suspects, however, that if people knew more about the economics and ecology of corn, and the fakery behind much of the "organic" food being hawked to us today, more people would eat locally, seasonally and healthier (even if not entirely organic).

Suffice it to say, that he made a believer out of me, and I was not a likely convert.

And, for the record, he confirmed what I already knew: My Old Man is a pretty smart cookie and more than a little bit ahead of the curve.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What Would You Give Up to Keep What You Have?

Would you trade North America's songbirds for another 5 duplicate catalogues? How about for another dunning notice from an organization you no longer have an affinity for?

Whether you want to or not, that's what's happening according
to Dr. Peter Blancher of Bird Studies Canada who points out, in a new study, that the United States purchased $20 billion worth of Canadian forest products in 2001, most of it cut from the boreal forest. Most of this timber was pulped for paper used in junk mail, advertising inserts and catalogues. Another chunk went for newspapers -- boreal trees provide more than one third of all newsprint used in the United States.

What is not mentioned in the report is that per capita wood consumption in the U.S. has gone down for 20 years according to the U.S. Forest Service, while the total volume of wood consumed has gone up.

How's that possible? Population growth.

Between 1990 and 2000 alone, the U.S. grew by 34 million people. Those 34 million additional people consume 2.26 billion cubic feet of roundwood per year, and keeping their paper and wood needs supplied requires the sustainable management of over 75 million acres of forest -- an area about equal in size to the entire National Parks system.


Note: This post was composed of 100% post-consumer binary code, without inks on a paperless medium.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Training Children Like Dogs

Click here to play part of the SouthPark Dog Whisperer episode

One of the core messages of "The Dog Whisperer" is that dogs are not children. The converse can also be said, but, in fact, most over-indulgent suburban parents could learn quite a lot about raising children by studying basic operant conditioning -- the kind of thing you learn in dog training.

In the long version of the Southpark program Cartman sends two TV reality show "Super Nannies" over the edge. Why had the Super Nannies failed? Well, in Southpark it's because the nannies tried to reason it all out and because they really had no serious consequences to offer -- a "time out chair" stops working at about age six.

With nowhere else to turn, Cartman's mom calls Cesar Millan, "The Dog Whisperer."

As in the National Geographic TV show, Millan is all about "dom-ee-nance." Millan says the problem is that the child (Cartman) is leading the adult, and it needs to be the other way around. Or, as Millan puts it, "This walk is about me, the child is merely lucky enough to come along."


Watch as Mrs. Cartman get her life back, and as Cartman learns that bad behavior has bad consequences.

In the real world of dogs, kids and adults, the rules are really not that different: "Do good, get good. Do bad get bad."

Really, isn't that what both job performance bonuses and the criminal justice system are all about?

If you watch the long version of this South Park episode (no longer on You Tube, but look around in Goolge Video, as the world will be free) you will notice that Cartman turns his life around, but at the end that Cartman's mother reverts back to enabling behavior as soon as Cesar Millan is out of the picture.

Even in the Southpark version of the "Dog Whisperer," the realities of the human condition intrude. That's good cartooning!


Dog Lovers

"That come hither look"

Some days I am convinced we need to put medication in the water.

From Chuck Shepherd's New of the Weird:
Boutique wigmaker Ruth Regina of Miami is readying a line of hairpieces for "teacup" dogs and other over-pampered canines, at prices that range into the hundreds of dollars. Most promising include the "Yappy Hour" (a fluff of curls) and the "Peek a Bow Wow," which (according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in August) "fall(s) down over part of a dog's face, giving a glamorous look reminiscent of 1940s movie star Veronica Lake." (It's for dogs that feel sexy, Regina said. "There (are) some dogs that have the come-hither look.")