Friday, December 29, 2006

Carrying On

The "animal rights" lunatics in the U.K. are in a paroxysm. Here's the problem: Two years after the "ban" on fox hunting took effect, folks are still legally hunting them with gun and snare (to say nothing of the more than 100,000 fox that are run over by cars every year).

In fact, fox hunting is more popular than ever: two new mounted hunts have been created, one third of the hunts are claiming an increase in membership, and another third say they have been granted increased access to land. As for terrier work, it is legal and continues unabated.

The "ban" on fox hunting has had no impact at all on fox numbers generally -- they continue to be at record numbers, just as they were before the ban went into effect. The difference now is that every missing cat, duck, chicken or pet rabbit in the country is now blamed on animal rights loons who managed to divide the country for the sake of an ineffective -- and apparently unpopular and unnecessary -- law.

When the history of the Conservative Party is written, I hope someone will remember to thank the animal rights fringe for supplying an organizing vehicle.

This week, Boxing Day saw the largest hunt field ever, with more than 320,000 people participating in the hunts.

The latest poll shows that more than half of all Britons expect the ban on fox hunting to fall.

To tell the truth, the ban on fox hunting seems to be going a bit like the war in Iraq: Whatever it is was that was being fought for has not been won, and now it seems pretty clear there is no good way to "win" whatever it was.

So what have the anti's decided to do? Go home? Recognize that you cannot force things down people's throats if they really do not want it? Oh no! The new program is to try to use a vague "anti-social behaviour law" (or "asbo") written in 1999 to try to curb graffiti, abusive language, excessive noise, litter, drunkenness and drug dealing in the cities. The game is to see if (somehow) it can be used to curb organized fox hunting in the country.

Andrew Keogh, a Manchester lawyer who edits "Asbo Law Reports," says, "The easiest [complaint] to go for would be dogs barking or being unruly. But I view the chances of success as very slim indeed."

"Very slim indeed" is now the last best hope of the anti's. My bet is that they will demonstrate, even more forcefully, how silly, unnecessary and ineffective the law is. In a democracy, nothing makes a cause more popular than fascist opposition to it.

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 fox a year are being run over by cars, proving that Rudyard Kipling was right when he called road-kill "the real blood-sport of Britain." The mounted hunts, in their hay-day, did one-fifth the damage to fox, with less suffering, and a great deal more economic benefit to the countryside..

You will never see anyone in the Animal Rights movement leading a campaign in opposition to road construction or road widening. These folks are entirely absent from efforts to protect farm land, preserve wildlife habitat, or slow human population growth.

Conversely, as noted wildlife biologist David MacDonald has noted, no human action has been as beneficial to the red fox as the mounted hunts which have fought long and hard to protect fox habitat.

Turning Japanese ... I Really Think So

Remember the old Vapors song "Turning Japanese ? Well, let's pray it's not true!

What do you get when you cross the trendyness of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, with the displaced maternal instincts of people without children, and the aggressive inbreeding of tiny dogs?

Here's a hint: It's not a pretty sight.

Today's edition of The New York Times notes that these three disasters have slammed into each other in Japan, where (to quote the title) "A Pet Craze Leads to Genetic Defects." The International Herald Tribune has the same article >> here.

Care for a Chihuahua with a blue hue?

Or how about a teacup poodle so tiny it will fit into a purse — the canine equivalent of a bonsai?

The Japanese sure do.

Rare dogs are highly prized here, and can set buyers back more than $10,000. But the real problem is what often arrives in the same litter: genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose.

There have been dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies. Many carry hidden diseases that crop up years later, veterinarians and breeders say.

The New York Times puts part of the blame on a strong Japanese passion for fads and conformity, but does not shy away from the displaced maternity issue:

Some veterinarians and other experts cite another, less obvious factor behind widespread risky inbreeding in Japan’s dog industry — the nation’s declining birthrate.

As the number of childless women and couples in Japan has increased, so has the number of dogs, which are being coddled and doted upon in place of children, experts say. In the last decade, the number of pet dogs in Japan has doubled to 13 million last year — outnumbering children under 12 — according to Takashi Harada, president of Yaseisha, a publisher of pet industry magazines.

“Households with few or no children are turning to dogs to fill the void,” he said. “For a dog to be part of the family, it has to be unique and have character, like a person.”

Indeed, many of these buyers want dogs they can show off like proud parents. They are willing to pay top yen, with rarer dogs fetching higher prices. Coveted traits like a blue-tinged coat are often the result of recessive genes, which can determine appearance only when combined with another recessive gene.

Inbreeding is a quick way to bring out recessive traits, as dogs carrying the gene are repeatedly mated with their own offspring, enhancing the trait over successive generations.

When done carefully, some types of inbreeding are safe. But in Japan, all too many breeders throw aside caution in search of a quick profit, experts in the business say. In these cases, for every dog born with prized colors, many more appear with defects, also the product of recessive genes.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

It Ain't the Shoes

With only one bit of modern gear in a terrierman's kit, you would think debates over the relative merits of branded technology might be given a bit of a rest.

But you would be wrong. In terrier work, as with every other sport, some folke are obsessed with gear.

But guess what? Terrier work is not about the locator collar any more than basketball is about the shoes.

The simple truth is that 99.99 percent of the time, it hardly matters what brand of of locator collar you use. The old Mark I collar was not that hard to tape up and keep dry (I have never felt a need to change), and the new Deben LRT and Bellman and Flint systems are far beyond what most folks will ever need to keep their dogs safe. Let's be honest: the number of folks digging to 12 feet is vanishingly small, and the number of folks digging to 40 feet is smaller than the total population of red-headed eskimos in the world.

Whatever locator you chose, for whatever reason, remember the most important thing about terrier work: "It ain't about the shoes."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Suicide Raccoon

My dogs have free run of the back yard, and can enter the garage down a simple wooden staircase that is connected to a dog door that comes through a ground-level window at the back of the garage.

The staircase is penned in such a way that at the base of the stairs there is a small area of blank floor -- about two feet by four feet -- and under the stairs are three dog crates with heating pads in them.

The situation is a bit unconventional, but pretty close to ideal, as the dogs have free run of the yard, and can tuck in to stay warm and dry whenever they want. This set up has worked very well, and without a hitch, for about 10 years. And then there was last night.

Last night, I was in my study doing a little bit of reading when a terrific commotion came from the dogs out in the garage. At first I thought the dogs were fighting, and then I thought maybe one of them had gotten his leg caught in a crate somehow. When I got outside, however, it turned out that the dogs had a raccoon down inside their little area inside the garage. The raccoon must have entered the garage through the dog door, and then come down the stairs. The raccoon's bad luck was that Trooper, Mountain and Pearl were asleep, each asleep in their heated crates, doors off, at the bottom of that staircase.

I did not have any shoes on and I was not getting into that pen to sort thing out before I got them on! With that done, I opened the top of the half door into the pen, and got it sorted out in short order. I am happy to say the dogs came out without a nick and Trooper, long retired, proved that he still ranks as the World Hardest Dog.

This suicidal raccoon tipped the scale at 18 pounds. I would have let him go if there had been any other option, but inside the garage, in such a narrow space, and with three dogs on him, there was no other option but the one I took.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dumping the Dog ... and Then the Man

(Eric Jamison/AP Photo)

From Associated Press:

"While Britney's parenting skills have been under a microscope for months, the pop star has also topped the list for the World's Worst Celebrity Dog Owner of 2006, according to an online survey by New York Dog and Hollywood Dog magazines. 'Britney was the overwhelming choice,' said Hilary O'Hagan, editor of both publications. 'She once had three Chihuahuas (Lacy, Lucky and Bit-Bit) and never left home without at least one of them on her arm. As soon as she met K-Fed and had kids, they disappeared.' Spears told that she gave the dogs away to friends.

For the record, I think anyone who has a teacup dog is guilty of canine abuse. The litany of health care issues associated with "micro" breeds is nothing short of a nightmare: collapsing tracheas, hydrocephally (water on the brain), epilepsy, seizures, broken bones (a jump from a chair can do it), serious dental issues (their jaws are always too small for the teeth), moleras (soft spots on the skull), hypoglycemia, lens luxation and eye infections (due to over-large bulding eyes), and liver and heart problems.

The reason these dogs are expensive is that they have about a 70 perent natal mortality rate. Microbreeds are guaranteed death.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The picture, above, was taken on a little bridge over the The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The Canal runs 184.5 miles long from a point on the other side of the river just below my house, out into the foothills of Maryland. Originally built to bring coal to Washington, the C&O Canal was completed in 1850, and for about 70 years was a lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac River, allowing coal, lumber, grain and other agricultural products to float around Great and Little Falls.

At the spot where this picture was taken, the Canal runs next to about 3,200 acres of hunting land that stretches through swamp, forest, mixed fields of corn and soy, and occassional plots of sunflower and waste land above Great Falls.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oyster Mushrooms

Some late season Pleurotus ostreatus mushrooms. I did pretty well in my fungus course in college, but in truth all you really need to know is the names and clear signs for about 5-6 common mushroom species in your area. I once fed wild mushroom omlettes to 125 people in college -- they had no idea and no one got sick.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

You Gotta Break Some Eggs to Build a Movement

As we approach Christmas, I'm reminded that it's also time for the National Audubon Society's "Christmas Bird Count," which Audubon describes as "the oldest and largest citizen science event in the world."

What's fascinating about the Christmas bird count is that Audubon's own "citizen science" data does not support one of Audubon's core stories: that a decline in Bald Eagles and Oprey populations in the U.S. was due to DDT.

In fact, DDT did not kill off the Bald Eagle -- lead poisoning did, in the form of bullets shot from rifles.

The short story here is a common one in American wildlife: as guns became more accurate, cheaper and more powerful between 1850 and 1900, game laws did not keep up.

The result was a true wildlife massacre. We not only shot out all of the buffalo that once grazed on the East Coast, we also shot out all the passenger pigeons, Canada geese, beaver, elk, wolves, deer, mountain lions and -- yes -- eagles, osprey and large numbers of hawks as well.

Eagles, osprey and hawks were also decimated by the use of pole traps -- leghold traps set on the top of poles placed around fishing nets and barn yards. Nothing kills hawks and eagles faster, or more efficiently, than a pole trap.

Native Americans did their fair share of shooting of eagles too. It takes a lot of feathers to make a "war bonnet" for the tourist trade, and there was no shortage of demand for such things by museums, collectors, and wealthy tourist patrons.

The graph above (click here to see full-sized graph) shows Bald Eagle populations as tracked by the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which has tracked bird populations in the U.S. since 1900.

As you can see, by 1900 -- more than 40 years before DDT was invented -- Bald Eagle populations were vanishingly low. The same story is true for the Osprey -- another bird unlikely to be misidentified by a dedicated bird watcher participating in the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. As with Bald Eagles, Osprey were hammered by guns and pole traps, but large numbers were also killed when they collided with pound nets set in coastal fishing areas such as the Chesapeake Bay.

Ironically, Bald Eagle populations climbed between 1940 and 1970, when DDT was in full use in the U.S. The reason for this is fairly simple: the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 made it illegal to shoot Bald Eagles. This protection was further expanded when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.

Left to their own devices, and protected from unregulated shooting and trapping, Bald Eagle populations took flight and have now soared. Today, there are about about 8,00 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles in the Lower Forty-Eight, and the Bald Eagle is now now a candidate for de-listing from the Endangered Species Act.

Another American success story. Add that to the rostrum of success we have achieved through a marriage between hunters and conservationists: the return of the white tail deer, moose, elk, cougar, beaver, Canadian geese, wood ducks, and wolves.

For the record, and to be clear, I am NOT saying DDT did no harm to bird populations. Nor am I saying that DDT should be legalized. A ban on DDT was a good thing, and helped many bird populations rebound.

What I am saying is that DDT is routinely blamed for the decimation of two bird populations -- the Bald Eagle and the Osprey -- that it had little impact on. And what is most interesting is that the The National Audubon Society's own data tells this story, even though the National Audubon Society continues to obscure this story in its popular literature.

Is their evil intent here? Is it all a big conspiracy? Not exactly.

What happened was that the push to ban DDT in the late 1960s and early 1970s happened to coincide with the rise of computerized direct mail lists. Direct mail requires organizations to have recent victories, and the ban on DDT was a convenient example that could be trotted out by executives across the environmental movement. What was doubly delicious for direct mail copy writers was the opportunity to link the salvation of an icon -- the Bald Eagle -- with the organization's recent political success.

And it worked. In 1969, the National Audubon Society claimed a membership of 88,000, but just 10 years later its membership had risen to over 330,000, due in no small part to victories touted in a massive direct mail campaign.

Other environmental organizations quickly jumped on to the direct mail bandwagon. The Sierra Club, which had a membership of 33,000 in 1965, saw its own membership rise to over 113,000 by 1970, and top 200,000 by 1980.

Did Audubon and the Sierra Club do anything wrong by growing their membership using truncated and not--quite-complete stories? Not really.

Let's face it, you cannot squeeze all of the truth in this great world into a four page direct mail letter. And without that letter, not only would people not join movements, they would not become activated or motivated to learn more. The natural state of man, I am afraid to say, is prone before a television set.

The totality of what has come out of those direct mail campaigns is a true wonder -- massive amounts of land protection, cleaner air, cleaner water, the return of endangered species, and decreases in such once-common toxins as PCBs and lead.

When my grandfather was born, almost all the wildlife had been shot out, the air was black, and the rivers were dead.

Things were not too much better in 1970. It always shocks people when I tell them that we imported deer into parts of Virginia as late as 1965. Today, the "deer problem," in this state is that we have too many of them.

In fact, across the U.S. we have more of nearly every type of wildlife than we did 30 years ago, 50 years ago, 75 years ago, or 100 year ago. The National Rifle Association did not do that, Exxon did not do that, Boise Cascade did not do that, and the American Chemical Society did not do that. What did that were rank-and-file Americans organized and activated by massive direct mail campaign that began in the late 1960s and that continue to this day.

I am not a fan of the too-simple truths of direct mail, but I am not so naive that I do not think they have their place. So when people tell me that DDT wiped out the Bald Eagle, I tend to smile and nod.

Sometimes a simple fable is more powerful than a complicated truth.

For anyone that wants to play with Christmas Bird Count data, see >>

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Wolf Within


Darren Nash at "Tetrapod Zoology" has a very nice piece on the orgins of the domestic dog that is well worth reading. I cover this topic a bit in American Working Terriers, as I did in the post below (from March 11, 2005), as well as here.

Darren also mentions the Russian fox-breeding experiments which I covered here.

If anyone is interested in paleontology, evolution, and the kind of stuff Stephen Jay Gould might be writing (or reading) if he were alive today, check out Darren's site. Some of the Great Questions of our time are mused on here, such as: "Why do British slow-worms look so different from those of mainland Europe? " I dare you to click and find out! This is, let me say unequivocally, a darn good blog.

Meanwhile, a repost from March 11, 2005, because tonight I am too tired to write anything new:

People are not apes, no matter how often such nonsense is asserted by nodding know-nothings. People are people and apes are apes. Both sides know the difference. If you think otherwise, just try to steal a good-night kiss from a gorilla.

And so it is with dogs. Dogs may be descended from proto-wolves, but they are not wolves. They are dogs. They are exactly what they seem, and quite different from what is commonly asserted, especially by facile want-to-be dog trainers who claim everything is about "dominance" as seen in wolf packs.

This is not to say that wolves and dogs are not evolutionarily related -- this is an absolute fact. Dogs descended from wolves, probably through some form of long-lasting pro-wolf phase.

That said, dogs are not wolves anymore than humans are apes. Dogs are dogs.

A wolf, for example, goes into estrus only once a year, generally in February or March. A dog normally goes into estrus twice a year and this can occur in any season.

Dogs are so far removed from wolves that basic evolutionary adaptations for reproduction no longer line up.

A male dog lifts its leg to pee, while a female dog squats to pee. In wolf packs, only the top male and top female raise their legs to pee -- all subordinate animals squat to pee.

Wolves and dogs have drifted so apart from each other that key signals related to hierarchy are no longer shared. Little wonder that dogs lost in wolf country are quickly attacked and frequently eaten!

Dogs bark -- it is their primary vocalization and it is maddeningly common.
Adult wolves bark so rarely that it is almost never heard in the wild.

Wolves and coyotes howl, and do so very frequently -- generally in the early evening just after waking up and before going off to hunt. Dogs almost never howl except under very special conditions and in response to sustained noises that rise and fall -- like human singing or the wail of fire engines. You may have 15 dogs in the yard, but they do not howl for 5 minutes after they get up in the morning as a coyote or a wolf often will do.

Sex and communication -- can there be anything more basic to identity? And yet, the wolf and the dog operate on different wavelengths. This is one reason that in the real world dogs almost never breed with wolves or coyotes. This phenomenon only occurs in captivity or in those very rare instances when a vanguard of the species (a lone coyote or a lone wolf in a very large area devoid of all other wolves and coyotes) may find it impossible to mate with its own kind.

The simple truth is that dogs know they are not wolves, just as wolves know they are not dogs, and humans know they are not apes.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Over-the-Counter Skunk Treatments

I am pro-frugality and pro-foresight, which is a nice way of saying that I try to keep my dogs alive and I also try to avoid paying a veterinarian $80 for a well-puppy visit. I give my dogs their vaccine shots (and you can too), micro-chip my own dogs (and you can too), and take care of basic health care problems ranging from small hunting-related injuries to ear and urinary tract infections, ringworm, and even Lyme Disease treatment (and you can too).

If you have already bought a copy of American Working Terriers, you know this book is a practical guide to saving money on canine health care, as well as a practical guide to working terriers (with a chapter or two on canine history and wildlife thrown in). The notes on antibiotics, SuperGlue and 15-cent Deben locator collar batteries alone make this book a bargain.

So is there anything I left out? Well sure. I left out where to get epinephrine and acetylcysteine for less. Both of these drugs are very useful things to have in your kit if your dog is skunked underground and does not appear to be shaking it off very quickly.

Needless to say, being skunked above ground is no big deal, except for the smell. Underground, however, a dog can easily be overcome by fumes and undergo skunk toxic shock, a kind of Heinz Body Anemia. The most important thing you need to know if your dog is skunked undergound, and is not breathing when you get to it, is how to administer CPR to a dog.

If a dog is gotten out of the ground breathing, it is probably going to be all right. In some rare cases, however, a dog's airway can swell up, constricting breathing. In addition, a dog's lungs, liver and kidneys can have a hard time clearing the toxin from the dog's system. In such a situation, a dog can die from skunk toxic shock, which is why having a couple of good off-the-shelf medications in your vet kit is a good idea.

If your dog's throat is constricting, and it is having trouble breathing, epinephrine can help. Epinephrine (also called adrenaline) is the primary ingredient in over-the-counter Primatene Mist. This stuff is used to decrease the swelling and clear the airtract of folks suffering from asthma attacks, and it has the same effect on a dog that has been skunked underground. A good thing to have in your kit.

Acetylcysteine, or mucomyst, is a kind of expectorant that helps clear the lungs and also strengthens liver functions, especially in cases of toxicosis. N-acetylcysteine is commonly sold in health food stores and online without a prescription. Try Google and Froogle (search: n-acetyl-cysteine) if you cannot get it at your local health food, vitamin, or drug store. When administering acetylcysteine to a dog, give a 140 mg loading dose for every kilogram of body weight. Since the average working terrier weighs about 6 kilos, a 900-mg initial dose should be about right.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Bit More on the Border-Patterdale Connection

In the last post, I talked of how Joe Bowman, Huntsman for the Ullswater, was the person to coin the term "Patterdale Terrier," and that he had also been an early breeder of Border Terriers.

In previous posts, I have noted that the Border Terrier is itself a relatively young breed, created from Fell Terriers at about the time the Kennel Club was first created.

To add a point to the pencil, it's worth putting a few pictures side-by-side and fleshing out the relationships and history a little bit more. The picture at top is an early "Patterdale Breed" terrier. This picture comes from Foxes, Foxhounds & Foxhunting by Richard Clapham, published in 1923.

The picture below is of a group of early Border Terriers, taken in 1915. This picture is from Walter Gardner's book, About the Border Terrier.

The first Border Terrier entered on to Kennel Club roles to win a working certificate was a dog by the name of Ivo Roisterer, born on August 12, 1915, and receiving his working certificate in 1920. His pedigree is appended below, and clearly shows his great grand sire and great grand dam were from the Ullswater Hunt at a time when Joe Bowman was Huntsman.

The picture, appended below, shows Joe Weir, the Ullswater Huntsman that replaced Jow Bowman. Like Bowman, he held his position for an incredibly long period of time, from the 1924-1971 -- a period of 47 years. The dog in Joe Weir's arms is "Butcher" -- a picture apparently taken after a rescue. This photo, taken sometime in the late 1940s or 1950s, shows a dog very much like Joe Bowman's "Patterale Breed" and also very much like the early Border Terriers. It says quite a lot that this dog could be called a Border Terrier, a Patterdale Terrier, a "Fell Terrier," or a "Working Lakeland" -- evidence enough that all of these breeds are so closely related, and so recently differentiated, as to be interchangeable just a generation ago.

Of course, now we have generally decided that a "Patterdale" is a smooth or slape-coated black dog, while a "black Fell" is a rough-coated black dog.

Perhaps some day we will do away with names all together and simply divide the world of terriers as they should be cleaved: Dogs that work (regardless of color, coat or name) and those that don't. If we look at what we see in the field today, we can broadly state that Border Terriers tend to line up in the latter camp, while Patterdale Terriers tend to still reside in the former.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Joe Bowman's Patterdale

Joe Bowman, the Ullswater Huntsman, from Foxes, Foxhounds & Foxhunting
by Richard Clapham, published in 1923.

Most of the folks that write books on dogs would like their breeds to be ancient and have romantic and mysterious origins. Pick up any book on Jack Russell Terriers, for example, and Trump will be presented as the first white foxing terrier on earth -- never mind that the young John Russell selected it for looks alone and had no problem finding another white foxing terrier to mate with it.

The Border Terrier folks have wrapped the story of their dog completely around the axle in an attempt to give it an ancient origin. In fact this breed was created at about the same time as the Kennel Club was created, and it was pulled on to the Kennel Club roles as quickly as could be.

As for the Patterdale Terrier, quite a few people claim one person or another created the dog, and yet all seem quite confused as to the shape of the head. Where did that come from?

In fact it is no mystery, and the true story of the Patterdale is not too deeply buried or very old.

In 1873, the Patterdale and Matterdale hunts were combined to form the Ullswater Foxhounds. In 1879 Joe Bowman (just 22 years old) was made master of the Ullswater, a position he held (with a few short interruptions) until 1924, when he was replaced by Joe Wear who held the position for then next 47 years. Joe Bowman died in 1940 -- one of the most famous huntsmen of all time (there is even a song about him)

Joe Bowman was an early Border Terrier breeder, and he was also the first person to cross up a blue-black Border Terrier with a black and tan Fell Terrier (also called a working Lakeland) to create what he called a Patterdale Terrier.

In Jocelyn Lucas' book, Hunt and Working Terriers, a table at the back notes that the United Hunt preferred a "Lakeland, Patterdale, from J. Boroman's strain (Ullswater kennels)."

In fact, "J. Boroman" is a typo, and the real man was Joe Bowman.

From Appendix II of Jocelyn Lucas' Hunt and Working Terriers (1931).

Lucas published his book in 1931, and the information in it was collected between 1925 and 1930. The Patterdale Terrier was clearly a type (if not a widely used type) by the 1920s, and it centered on the Ullswater Hunt and Joe Bowman.

With that knowledge, it was not too difficult a thing (but not too easy either!) to lay a hand on Foxes, Foxhounds & Foxhuning by Richard Clapham, published in 1923. Here we find not only a good picture of Joe Bowman (see top), but the picture reproduced below with caption. Click on the picture for a larger image.

"One of the 'Patterdale' breed."
Click on the picture for a larger version.

Now we can see that the Patterdale name goes back to at least the Nineteen-teens, a period just before the Border Terrier (which, like the Patterdale, started out as little more than what we would call today a Fell terrier today) was pulled into the show ring. To see what Border Terriers looked like in 1915, click here.

At about the time that Joe Bowman was fading out of the dog breeding business, in the 1930s, a young Cyril Breay was stepping up. Breay, like Bowman, had been a Border Terrier breeder.

In the early 1930s Breay met Frank Buck, when Buck rescued one of Breay's dogs that had gotten stuck in a deep rock cleft and Buck -- an expert at dynamite -- had blasted it free.

Bucks own line of dogs at the time were descended from Ullswater terriers kept by Joe Bowman, and Breay and Buck soon became fast friends with Breay breeding black dogs from Frank Buck into his line, and Buck crossing tight Border Terrier coats into his. Over time, the dogs of the two men devolved to a type as lines were crossed and condensed.

Cyril Breay was always adamant that the Patterdale Terrier was not made by crossing in Bull Terrier, and he was not lying. The Patterdale head is no mystery to a border terrier owner - the same broad cranial outlines are evident in both breeds.

Brian Nuttal began breeding Patterdales in the late 1950s, and says that his dogs are very much like those his father kept in the 1930s. It would not surprise me a bit to find that Nuttal's father got his dogs from Bowman, or from intervening hands that had gotten their dogs from Bowman. What is clear is that the Patterdale Terrier was already a recognized type by the time Nuttal's father owned his dogs.

The fact that Joe Bowman started the Patterdale strain and named it takes nothing away from folks like Cyril Breay, Frank Buck and Brian Nuttal, all of whom did quite a lot to popularize the breed, maintain it as a working dog, and perhaps improve and stabilize its looks. It is an easy thing to name a new breed (it's done every day by puppy peddlers), but quite another to find a market and a following for the dogs based on their performance in the field.

I mention all of this (I have told the story before and it is in the book), because I found a rather interesting old obituary on the internet the other day. Note the byline. With some amusement I note that "Greystoke Castle" was (supposedly) the ancestral home of Tarzan:

September 1956
PATTERDALE - One of Ullswaterside’s oldest residents, Mrs. Esther Pattinson, Broadhow, Patterdale, died at the age of 85. Formerly Miss Bowman, Matterdale, she hailed from a noted hunting family — her uncle was the celebrated Joe Bowman, huntsman of the Ullswater foxhounds for 42 years, while her great-grandfather, Joe Dawson, was for many years huntsman of the one-time Matterdale foxhounds. Mrs. Pattinson was only 13 years of age when she was hired as a farm girl, later working at Lyulph’s Tower for Mr. James Wood, who was agent for Lady Mabel Howard, Greystoke Castle.

In the end, it turns out that Joe Bowman was born in Patterdale -- a perfectly good reason for him to give a nod to the spot. It was, no doubt, an added bonus that Patterdale was also the old name of the Hunt that was both his employer and his passion. Finally, it should be noted that Patterdale was also the town where Joseph Dawson Bowman died, at the age of 88.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Footprints from the Air

Falconer Rebecca O'Conner has a very nice piece in The Los Angeles Times' West magazine about the steady creep of sprawl and what it means for her and her falcons in Southern California. This is what sprawl means at its most personal and conflicted. For a previous piece from her, see "Good Writing, Good Reading."

For a longer book that also covers the creep of shopping centers on to hawking grounds, see Matthew Mullenix's book, In Season: A Louisiana Falconer's Journal.

A shout out to Querencia for bird-dogging me to all of this reading (and more) on a wide variety of subjects.

To carry forward the theme of population growth, sprawl and birds, I append, below, a short op-ed I ghosted for the CEO of the National Audubon Society a few years ago. Population growth continues to gut-shoot the planet, pushing people farther away from nature, while pushing nature closer to the abyss.

Nature bats last, however. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, our time will come (as it does for all creatures).

As has been so famously said, perpetual growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Sadly, unbridled human fecundity has become a cancer on the planet. All we can do now is pray for remission in the form of family planning.


Ventura County Star (California), April 20, 2003

Safeguarding wildlife: A wise investment

As you approach Los Angeles by air, you see less and less evidence of the hand of God, and more and more evidence of the footprint of man.

From the cabin of a 757 you can see where roads slice across desert ridges. Farm fields and irrigation ditches cut straight lines across the land. Housing tracts fan out like cards, until at last the streets of suburbia fall away to the grid lines of the city.

One hundred years ago, only the birds flew over the Simi Valley. At that time, the population of the state was less than 2 million. By 1950, the population had risen to 10 million. Since then, California's population has more than tripled.

As human numbers have soared in California, forests have fallen to farms, and farms have fallen to freeway. As human populations have exploded, habitats worldwide have been profoundly altered.

Just 300 miles northeast of Los Angeles lies Mono Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in California. Just 50 years ago, Mono Lake was home to nearly a million ducks. Today fewer than 20,000 dot its shores. The reason? Freshwater diversions for Los Angeles have reduced Mono Lake's volume by 40 percent over the last 50 years, thereby increasing the lake's salinity and reducing the plant and animal life it can support.

In Tanzania, the changing chemistry of Lake Natron threatens the only breeding ground of East Africa's lesser flamingos. In Central and South America, farms and roads have been burned and bulldozed into once pristine forests. The result: 50 percent of all migrant bird species that summer in the United States and winter in Central and South America, are now in decline.

What's killing them is fallout from the population explosion that has occurred over the last 50 years. While the developing world is hardly anxious to hear lectures about waste and consumption from a nation where families already own three television sets, these same people are -- literally -- dying for family planning.

The good news is that President Bush has said he is interested in increasing U.S. aid to poor countries by $5 billion over the next three years. The bad news is that Bush has yet to earmark any portion for contraceptive delivery to the developing world. He certainly ought to. The United Nations Children's Fund has observed that "Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race."

Family planning would not only benefit human life -- it would benefit wildlife as well. By directing that a portion of this new aid money be spent on improved access to contraceptive services in the developing world, Bush could ensure that U.S. aid money was being spent wisely, while also working to improve human life and safeguard wildlife the world over. It's hard to imagine a wiser investment or one much easier for this president to make.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Trifecta in the Field

Static pushes into a tight pipe.

Mike B. was down from Colorado, and he and his Jack Russell, Static, joined up with Chris and I for a little action on a farm up near Baltimore. It was 29 degrees when I started out in Arlington at about 7:00, but it climbed to about 50 degrees during the day. Pearl stayed home this outing -- she came into her first heat on Saturday.

The first "find" of the day was a raccoon, found by Mountain and Moxie. Moxie worked it well and with a lot of grit, while Mountain perched at a bolt hole. The coon bolted for an exit with Moxie hard on it's butt, but Mountain was at the exit and sorted it out pretty quickly, with a little dispatch help from Chris. Moxie worked this coon well and came out with only a small nick -- a nice outcome and good work from this young dog.

Mike with Moxie (Patterdale) and Mountain (Jack Russell), and Chris with raccoon.

We crossed the road to the other side of the farm and worked down a creek bed. Mountain went to ground in a really nice eight-eyed sette in a mound of soft earth, but she never opened up. Mountain stayed underground for a long time, and it was only after we left, came back, and then dug a bit that she finally came out at all. I leashed her up. There was clearly a groundhog down there, but it was down for the count and walled in behind dirt. There was going to be no finding it in a sette this large and complex. Nice try Mountain Girl.

As we moved up the creek bed, a red fox bolted out of the hedge and ran up the field. It's still too warm and too early in the season for fox to be denning. Give it a month. This farm holds fox -- Chris and I had located here last March, and I have dug a few here in years past. January and February will come soon enough.

Mountain opened up in a hedge a little ways up, and when we reached her she was under a dry mound of sticks, with her tail wagging furiously in the hole. A bit of brush clearing, and a quick hole punched in the top of a shallow pipe, and we located a large male possum. Mountain pulled it out with the help of Static, and we terminated it. An 11.5 pounder -- not bad for a possum.

Mountain with possum.

We headed up the field, past five dead cows. This is a dairy, and diseased cows are generally shot and left to rot at the back of the farm, providing ready food for fox, possum, raccoon and coyote.

A little digging combined with a little watching of the dogs at work.

We decided to work a small copse of woods in the middle of field. This little patch is riddled with holes, but before we got to our destination, all three of the dogs opened up on a sette located in the middle of a jumble of old poke berries.

I tied up Mountain, and both Moxie and Static pinged on a small mouse hole at the bottom of a stopped pipe. Both dogs were too gung-ho for something not to be there, so we postholed past the blockage and found a den pipe. A bit more digging and locating, and we had a nice end-of-year groundhog. Yahoo -- a three-quarry day. Excellent!

Getting Static out of the hole was achived by pulling out the terminated groundhog.

Tired, we called it a day just in time for Mike to change clothes, wash off Static, and high-tail it to the airport for his flight back to Denver. My bet is that both Mike and the dog slept all the way back. It had been a fine day in the field with good company and three working dogs.

Is this a great country, or what?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Condors and Species Lost

The North American condor's range was reduced to coastal California for reasons that had nothing to do with modern man.

A healthy email discussion yesterday about condors, lead shot and bullets, and the strengths, limits and pitfalls of environmental advocacy reminded me of an older post, appended below, from April of 2005, in which I suggest some caution is needed before the world swallows the extinction hyterics of some environmentalists (such as entomologist E.O. Wilson) who like to proclaim that we are now in the "era of mass extinctions."

I suggest one can be very concerned about extinction (I am), without tossing science and data overboard or engaging in out-and-out distortions about the data. Truth and data are not lesser values, and should not be abandoned by advocates looking to score cheap debating points.

In the case of condors, I am for doing whatever it is we can to ensure their survival and increase their numbers, including baning lead shot and bullets, if necessary (background article here on this controversy).

Having said that, let's acknowledge that this is a bird that was on the decline long before there were guns anywhere in the world.

During the time of mammoths, some 15,000 years ago, there were condors all over North America, but as the herds of these and other giant pre-Columbian animals declined and then slid into extinction, the condor's range was reduced to a narrow part of California (hence the name California Condor).

What few folks are willing to talk about, in a frank and unsentimental kind of way, is that the era of the condor was closing long before the Santa Maria left Spain. The reason for this is not too hard to explain: The condor is a huge, poorly conceived, "line of sight" meat scavenger. It was too specialized to make it.

And yes, God does make mistakes (the Whooping Crane, for example, is simply an "Edsel" Sandhill Crane) and He has plenty of "discontinued models". It is neither sacrilegious to say this, nor bad science: It is plain truth.

Not only is a condor a huge animal (a 9-foot 6-inch wingspan) that requires a lot of meat to keep it in the air, but it is also an animal that cannot kill that meat itself. The feet of a condor are closer in structure to those of a chicken than those of a hawk or eagle -- it cannot lift a rabbit, much less a lamb.

Unlike the turkey vulture, whose population numbers are huge and rising, the California Condor cannot smell rotting flesh from miles away. It is a pure line-of-sight scavenger. What this means is that if a condor does not see a large pile of dead flesh every couple of days for its entire life, it is going to die of starvation. The condor may have survived in coastal California only because of dead whales and seals washing up along the coast -- an easy-to-patrol carrion line.

Another factor in the demise of the condor, even before man showed up, is that it is a very poor and slow breeder, laying only one egg every other year, and not breeding at all until the age of 6 or 7. This is a bird that does not build a nest -- it needs caves and cliff ledges which, as a general rule, are in short supply.

Put it all together, and you have a very maladaptive kind of animal -- an animal whose internal biological problems were, and are, so serious that its range and numbers were shrinking long before the gun, the powerline, or DDT. Which is not to say guns, powerlines and DDT did not push things over the edge. They most assuredly did. Sadly, things on the edge are a little too easily tipped over in this over-fast, too-crowed and intensely-machined modern world.

In the end, the last pair of wild condors were caught and put in a captive breeding program with 20 others back in 1987. Since then, I am happy to report, the population of condors has grown from 22 to about 280, and there are now about 140 condors in the wild, and another 140 birds in captive breeding.

In addition to restocking condors in the shrinking wilds of California, where powerlines and windmills remain a very serious problem, the California Condor has also been restocked in Arizona.

All of this is good news, and it is about as good as it is ever going to get. There will never be large numbers of condors in America because this an animal adapted for a pre-Ice Age era that no longer exists. That said, poisoning from lead (the isotopes from shells has been traced into the dead birds themselves) has killed a large number of the condors released into the wild. If paying a few more dollars for shells will help reverse that phenomenon (while also spurring shel and bulletmakers to do more to develop new composite-type loads), I am all for that.

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Reposted from the April 29, 2005 edition of this blog.
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Thinking About Species Lost

The rediscovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker in the hardwood swamps of Arkansas reminds me of how much we hear about wildlife species loss, but how rarely such species loss is quantified, defined, or given proper causation.

Whenever I hear about species loss, I naturally ask five key questions --and I often find the answers surprising.

1. Do the animals exist at all?

This may sound like an odd question, but it's a pretty important one because a lot of what is written about species extinction is totally unsupported by observed data.

Here's the scoop: Over the course of the last 400 years, only about 820 species of vascular plants and vertebrate animals are listed as having gone extinct by the IUCN Red List. In addition, the IUCN reports several species being "rediscovered" every year after having previously listed them as "lost".

Though the IUCN cannot report on what has not been discovered, we have clearly discovered most of the mammals, birds, fish, snakes, frogs, shrubs, vines, grasses and trees in the world. While new species of wildlife are being discovered every day, there is no evidence to support the notion that even 50 vertebrates and vascular plants are going extinct every year, much less the 20,000 number commonly cited (invertebrates and fungi are very difficult to push into extinction as any farmer can tell you).

As odd as it may sound, even physical evidence of the existence of a species does not necessarily mean that this species has ever existed. Here, I am specifically talking about birds, where it turns out some "extinct" species are based on single skins collected in the 19th or early 20th Century. The cone-billed tanager is a good example (to read more about the hunt for this "extinct species" read "The Ghost With Trembling Wings" by Scott Weidensaul).

The problem with birds is that they hybridize a lot, and bird species are not always very distinct from each other. Along with the cone-billed tanager, for example, there are several species of hummingbirds that we know of only due to single examples collected for the millenary trade. These
so-called "Bogotá Skins" (for their central shipping point out of South America to Europe) may in fact represent evidence of a new species of now extinct hummingbirds -- or they could simply represent hybrids of other hummingbirds. With about 10 percent of all bird species known to cross the "species barrier," it's hard to know.

2. Is the animal being described really a species?

In fact a lot of stories about species decline are NOT about the decline of a species, but about the decline of a SUB-species in a very specific area.

A sub-species is, by definition, NOT a species. In fact most subspecies are nothing more than slightly different colored animals that exhibit no other behavior differences and that freely breed with populations of other animals in their species (animals whose populations may in fact be quite large and growing).

Sub-species are an interesting thing. I have always found it ironic that many environmentalists place little value on the prolific creation of thousands of new subspecies of apples, potatoes, pigs, cattle, and chickens, but assign tremendous value to subspecies of cougars, lions and pronghorns (to give just three examples). In fact, mmany sub-species of wild animals are little more than political artifices designed to boost the careers or egos of the people naming them.

In some cases there is another less vanity-centered reason to name a subspecies -- you can "up list" an animal (and its habitat) for protection by simply singling it out. The Sonoran pronghorn appears to be an example -- an animal made "rare" despite the fact it appears to be little more than a light-colored variant of an animal that actually numbers in the million.

3. Was the species ever very common?

Some threatened and endangered species are animals that were always rare and not very successful to begin with. Take the Whooping Crane, for example. DNA analysis suggests Whoopers never numbered more than about 5,000 individuals. The 1850 population of the bird (when most of the American West was still unsettled and very wild) is estimated to have been just 1,500 individuals. There are now 500 Whoopers in the world, with about 350 of them in the wild. I am very glad the Whooper was pulled back from the edge of extinction, but the fact that the bird was never common or genetically successful is not an inconsequential part of its story (though it is rarely told).

The Florida Manatee is another animal that was probably never terribly common. The Manatee population of Florida before there were outboard motors is estimated to have been around 10,000 or so. By the 1980s, the manatee population had declined to about 800, but it has since risen to over 3,000.

Again, bringing the American manatee (Trichechus manatus) back from extirpation in the U.S. is excellent, but we should not expect the population to ever get really huge. Note that the American manatee also exists in many other Caribbean countries south to Brazil, but it is a rare animal there due to hunting by indigenous people .

4. What is the population of the species now?

I am always interested in both the percent decline or increase in a species and the total number of individuals that exist (and existed). For example, if I am told that 97% of all pronghorn antelope are gone, I am shocked. But if I am told that this 3 percent totals 1 million animals, I begin to feel a
little better. I begin to feel pretty good when I know that in Wyoming the pronghorn population is estimated to equal the human population of the states, and even better when I learn that the human population of Wyoming is actually declining.

The point here is that numbers are only meaningful within context. Do I wish there were more pronghorn in America? Sure! But one million pronghorn -- up from just 13,000 individuals at the Turn of the 20th Century -- is pretty good news and one we should be celebrating!

5. What has really caused the decline (or increase) of this species?

The death of any species is important, but I also want to know the circumstances of the decline or extinction. I consider the loss of the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew (there were once millions of these birds flying over vast areas of this continent) a much more significant tale than the loss of a species of flightless rail on a small island in the Pacific. One extinction signals the total loss of a once very common species that was successful over a very large area. The other signals the total loss of a very rare species that was NOT successful over a very large area. There are very different lessons to be learned from these very different stories.

Most people are surprised to learn that most extinctions are of the latter type (fairly unsuccessful species in very isolated locations) and not the former (fairly successul species in fairly common locations). They are further amazed to discover that habitat loss is a much rarer cause of species extinction than the introduction of rats, cats, goats and pigs -- or of indiscriminate hunting. If you go through the IUCN Redlist of extinct species, for example, you find zeros for most countries (no known endemic species pushed into extinction), but incredible numbers of extinctions for such tiny islands as Mauritius (41 extinct species), Réunion (16 extinct species), Saint Helena (29 extinct species), French Polynesia (67 extinct species), and the Cook Islands (15 extinct species). In fact, these little spots of land, along with Hawaii, account for about 200 of the 812 species pushed into extinction over the course of the last 400 years.

Is the loss of an "unsuccessful species" a bad thing? I think so. But it may not be quite as horrible or as unprecedented as it is commonly made out to be. In fact it may be part of the order of things. After all, instead of a living at a time when there is a "biodiversity bottleneck," as some texts would have you believe, we are actually living at a time of incredible genetic diverity. As the folks at the World Resources Institute note, "Global biological diversity is now close to its all time high. Floral diversity, for example, reached its highest level ever several tens of thousands of years ago. Similarly, the diversity of marine fauna has risen to a peak in the last few million years." In short, we live in a very bio-diverse time, and with diversity will come a lot of failure which is every bit as much a part of Darwin's evolutionary equation as success (if not more so).

It's also worth remembering that even as we are losing species, we are also gaining them -- new types of chickens, pigs, apples, corn, and trees. New hybrids of canaries, geese, ducks, pigeons, cattle, horses, falcons, eagles, dogs and cats. And we are doing it with wild birds too.

The last time I flipped through a Sibley's Audubon guide to birds, I counted one extinct species of parrot (the Carolina parakeet), but 27 new species of introduced parrots that are found in wild flocks in the U.S. (65 species have been encountered in Florida alone). In California and Florida these wild-flocking parrots are already creating new hybrids. Wild parrot colonies are not just found in warm climates by the way -- they are found near my home in suburban Virginia, and in downtown parks in Seattle and Chicago. One hundred and fifty years from now my great grandchildren may find hybridized variations of these same birds listed as entirely new "American" species of parrots (the Sibley guide already notes the presence of many Amazon hybrids in Florida and California).

Food for thought.