Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Small World Department

Steve Bodio gives a "big water bowl" boost to Lilly the dacshund.

The world is a small southern town. A while back, I discovered that Teddy Moritz's Harris Hawk was sired by Matt Mullenix's retired bird Charlie. Now it turns out that Steve Bodio's long-haired dachshund, Lilly, is related to Teddy's line of long-haired min-dachshunds, while his two lurchers, Pearlie and Plum (short for Plummer), are Hancock-bred animals as was Keeper, Teddy's old shattered-eye lurcher which was, I think, one of the spookiest-looking dogs I ever looked in the face.

Pearlie the lurcher looking guilty for having found a soft seat.

Bear the stag hound (left) and Plum the lurcher (right).

Since I've got a couple of lurcher pictures up, and I mentioned Col. David Hancock, I will quote from a Hancock article that first appeared in the The Countryman's Weekly back on July 14, 2000:

"Dog breeders have a huge moral responsibility, magnified by the increasing loss of role for breeds which once worked. Function once decided design. Now the whim of man all too often distorts a design originally drawn up by knowledgeable people who worked their dogs.

"Pastoral breeds were never intended to possess coats, which would hamper them at work. Working Bloodhounds do not display the degree of wrinkle seen in the breed in the show rings of today. Working Bassets, or English Bassets as they have now become known, do not display the over-long backs and under-length legs found in their show ring counterparts.

"The pursuit of undesirable and harmful exaggerations in breeds of dog tells you more
about the moral shortcomings of man than about the faults in individual dogs."

8 To read the full article

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

PETA Fails the Bible Test

The centerpiece to this table is not tofu.

A hat tip to Steve Bodio who alerted me to the fact that the self-aggrandizing lunatics at PETA have put models of Jesus, Paul McCartney (as Sergeant Pepper), Ghandi and others in a cage in the side of an Airstream trailer that has been made up to look like a diner (a reference to the Last Supper I suppose). The story is up at Maine Hunting Today.

All this does is prove that the folks at PETA have not only never read the Bible, they really did ride the short bus to get to school.

Say what you want about Jesus, but he was a Jew, and as such was raised in a world in which the Torah -- the most sacred book of God -- was not only made of animal skin, but wrapped in animal skins as well. His was a world of sheep and goats, camels and donkeys, horses, and mules. Sheep and goats were routinely sacrificed and eaten, just as they are today. Larger pack animals were used to the very edge of their miserable existence, and then they were killed and skinned for water bags, saddles, drums, shoes, bags, and cord -- just as they are today. In much of the Middle East, little has changed in 2,000 years, and I assure you that there is no notion of Animal Rights at all.

In both the Old and New Testaments, animals do not have rights, and in fact on at least one day every year -- during the Passover sacrifice -- practicing Jews always had to eat meat as it was part of the traditional meal. In fact, while the Bible is not quite a recipe book, it does have instructions. In Deuteronomy 14 we are told:

"These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the red deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the ibex, the addax, the oryx, and the mountain sheep. Any animal that has hoofs you may eat, provided it is cloven-footed and chews the cud.... "Of the various creatures that live in the water, whatever has both fins and scales you may eat...You may eat all clean birds. "

Jesus was born in a manger -- a place where beasts of burden and service are housed.

The story in the New Testament is not of loaves and Tofu, but of loaves and fishes, and it was fish -- a living thing -- that was killed and which Jesus fed to his followers.

In Mark 7:19 Jesus says all meat is now OK to eat (a major legal difference between the Old and New Testaments), and in Luke 22:8-15, Jesus intructs his followers to prepare lamb for the Last Supper.

Add to this the story in Samuel where the fox's tail is set on fire to help torch the fields of the Philistines (made famous in the Rudyard Kipling poem, "The Fox Meditates"), the Old Testament tales of frogs falling from the sky (not a good day for the frogs, I suspect), and the wholesale drowning of animals (see the Great Flood in Genesis and the un-parting of the Red Sea in Exodus), and it's clear that God is not a PETA member.

We have more direct evidence, of course.

If God made man in his own image, as the Bible says, then God has canine teeth.

Try to reconcile that with vegetarianism.

God did not make man alone, of course. He also made spiders which bind up living things, inject them with poison, and then eat them eat them alive, one piece at a time.

God made the hawk which will rip the head off a fluttering sparrow still grasped in its claw.

God made the fox which will chew the hind legs off a living mouse so that the flapping rodent can serve as a toy for its kits.

In short, God made nature, red in tooth and claw, and I assure you it is not all a mistake.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hunting On Sunday

"How long he stood he did not know, but there was a foolish and yet delicious sense of knowing himself as an animal come from the forest, drawn by the fire. He was a thing of brush and liquid eye, of fur and muzzle and hoof, he was a thing of horn and blood that would smell like autumn if you bled it out on the ground. He stood a long long time, listening to the warm crackel of the flames." - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

When I go hunting on Sunday mornings, I almost always leave the house feeling like I’ve forgotten something.

Do I have my vet box, my digging bar, my old canvas pack, two gallons of distilled water, both locator collars and at lease 6 button batteries?

Do I have the camera and the cell phone, my wallet and my hat? What about an extra shirt in case I need to look presentable for a stop on the way home?

I feel rushed and jangled going down the driveway, but it soon eases off. There is never any traffic on Sunday morning, and by the time I take a turn at the river, the radio is on 88.5, and I am listening to the soothing and familiar voice of Red Shipley, host of the “Stained Glass Bluegrass”

Gospel bluegrass music is about as close to a conventional church as I get. The message in the music is both simple and austere: Life is hard; Try to live life right; In the end you are going to die. Two solid facts and a small bit of good advice covers a lot of ground.

In winter my trips start in the dark and the dawn creeps up as I head into Maryland. This is my quiet time for the week, and I make the most of it.

In spring, as it is now, early morning fog will often roll in, giving the land a truly pagan feeling.

Though I like bluegrass gospel, I am not sure I am a Christian. I have spent too much time in the woods to not believe in evolution, and I have spent too much time reading the Bible not to notice that the Old Testament and the New Testament have different messages and a God who is, by turns, jealous, vindictive, petty, passive- aggressive and schizophrenic.

That said, I believe in the essential message of the New Testament, which is Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. I have not invented my own moral code.

The dogs are not Christian. Christians are preoccupied with the promise of an afterlife, while the dogs do not give it a moment’s thought. The dogs are Zen Buddhists, always living in the eternal NOW, fully cognizant that all is connected, and that much of life is unseen (if not unscented or unheard).

As I pull off the road onto the edge of the field I am going to hunt, I feel a little bit paranoid. Sunday hunting is illegal in both Virginia and Maryland, and though there is an exception for groundhog it still feels subversive. It does not matter that I am fully licensed in both states; I am always glad to get away from the car and into the privacy of the nearest thicket. Here the dogs and I tumble backwards, slipping through a rift in time to our antediluvian roots.

The dogs may look like two small white terriers, but they are genetically indistinguishable from wolves.

I may look like a balding, middle-aged white guy, but I am genetically indistinguishable from those who first knapped flint 20,000 years ago.

The dogs and I are the most primitive of hunters.

Humans and wolves have hunted this stretch of ground for millennia, both together and apart. Hunting is deeply encoded in our genes and, as improbable as it sounds, that code explodes within us just a few yards into the forest. Already we are thinking differently.

Hunting is not about killing. Humans and dogs hunt for water, for shelter, and for mates. We hunt for berries and warm weather, and a soft spot on which to rest from our labors. We hunt even when nothing dies.

Hunting, is the business of seeing connections, and from those connections being able to tease out higher and lower probabilities. A hunter understands succession and season, knows where to dig a water-well by looking at the plants, and knows where to find large game by looking at small signs.

In truth, the dogs and I are not very good hunters. On the up side, we are getting better. As bad as I am at my job, the dogs are good enough at theirs that we rarely have a blank day in the field.

Every time we go out, the dogs learn a little more about me, and I learn a little more about them. Over time we get better as individuals, and we become better as a team.

I watch the dogs closely. To do so is to see the world through a new set of glasses. Mountain can sniff at a hole and know what animals have come and gone and who still remains. She reads the language of forest and field -–- language written in urine and musk on a writing tablet of earth and vine. Mountain speaks many more languages than I do.

In this regard, most dogs are smarter than their owners. A dog knows the difference between bullshit and horseshit, but most humans are too far removed from the connective tissues of real life to tell the difference.

Not all humans are so blind, of course. The Kalahari bushman that seemingly tracks an eland over solid rock extrapolates from a single hoof-drag in a narrow patch of sand. From that alone he knows which direction the eland is moving, and about how long since it has passed. The bushman knows the eland is not going to spend much time on rock where there is no food, shelter or water. No doubt it is headed to the thicket of a nearby streambed. And there he is sure to find it.

Modern humans are not as good as bushmen at tracking wild game. Not only do we not see tracks in the sand, we do not stop to think what they mean.

As it is in the forest, so it is the suburbs. In the modern world we tend to rush too fast, only seeing the vast spaces between big things and big events, nearly oblivious to the small but telling details in between.

For most people, most of the time, that works well enough. After all, we have maps and road signs to tell us where to go. We have newspapers and television commentators to tell us what to think. We do not have to hunt very hard to find our meat at the grocery store.

Out here in the hedge, however, it does not pay to rush too fast. The dogs watch me because they know I can see farther ahead than they can, and from experience they know that I have a pretty good sense of geography, drainage and cover.

On my end, I watch the dogs because I know they can smell things I cannot see. Slight changes in their posture telegraph that we are likely to find along the upper bank where the drainage is good and the soil is soft . And we do.

When all goes well, the dogs and I work as a trans-species pack. There is a natural fit here. Not only are dogs and humans predators, but we are both pack animals as well.

As a general rule, most dogs are only too happy to have humans lead the pack. Being pack leader is over-rated. Whether you are wolf, politician, or corporate executive, you are not likely to last long at the top. It is not an accident that men tend to die sooner than women.

Perhaps to obviate the stress of leadership, humans have developed written codes to follow. Most of these codes make a great deal of sense, but in truth some are complete nonsense.

In Reno Nevada, there are slot machines at the airport, but it is illegal for the volunteer fire department to run a bingo game to raise money.

In the U.K.,
it is illegal to hunt badger or disturb their dens in any way, but DEFRA – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – has been systematically gassing thousands of healthy badgers every year for thirty years in order to control brucellosis by wiping out badgers over large areas.

In the area I am hunting today, it is illegal to hunt deer on Sunday, but there are so many deer doing so much damage to forest and farms that in season there is an unlimited take – no limits at all. Shoot 100 deer a day if you want, but for God’s sake don’t shoot one on Sunday.

The core laws for humanity, of course, do not cover things like hunting and are pretty simple and universal.

Truth be told, the Ten Commandments are really just five commandments (no murder, no adultery, no theft, no false witness, no coveting). The other five commandments are just religious branding -- a Judeo-Christian version of “You shall drink Coke and never Pepsi, you will never show the Pepsi logo, nor will you ever say anything disparaging about Coke or anything positive about Pepsi, nor will you ever drink any other type of soft drink other than Coke.”

Here’s a hint: branding is not about morality. Branding is about business.

The business side of every religion fears that the congregation may take its business elsewhere. Christians fear more than Muslims, Jews and and Bhuddists -- they also fear alcohol, dancing, commerce, and hunting -- to name just four items once banned under Sunday "blue laws”.

Eleven states – including Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania – still ban Sunday hunting.

One story says the ban on Sunday hunting was first implemented as a kind of conservation measure to prevent landowners from shooting out all their game.

In truth, the measure was more likely implemented to keep the church pews full.

In Victorian England, the problem was not just keeping the congregations in church, but the pastor too. Parson John Russell, after all, was not the hunting parson, but just one of many.

The Reverend John Froude had his own pack of foxhounds, for example, while the Reverend John Templer of Stowe hunted with a live monkey seated on the saddle in front of him. There were so many hunting parsons, in fact, that Anthony Trollope dedicated a whole chapter to them in Hunting Sketches (1865).

All of this is a sidecar to the day, of course. The weather is about perfect with a 10 mile breeze. The temperature in the shade is 65, and it's 75 in the sun.

Prowling the edge of the Monocacy River, the dogs and I startle a precocious turtle – a slider – who pushes off into the muddy current and then is gone. It is very early for turtles.

The dogs and I dig another groundhog on a steep hill, but the third groundhog of the days manages to wedge itself into a root fortress and I give it law and pack up the tools.

On the way back to the truck, I see my first butterfly of the season – a fritillary -- and the dogs bust a large pair of deer from a hedge. On the river near the truck, a young couple in a canoe shoots down the Monocacy. These are the first canoeists of the year -- Spring has sprung. In a week, the shad will begin running up the Potomac to spawn.

On the way home, Dick Spotswood is hosting his bluegrass show on WAMU, and he cues up a version of “That Old Time Religion.”

Perhaps this is the big thought of the day: My religion is an “old time religion”.

My religion predates Gideon's Bible, televangelists, collection plates, sectarian riffs, and the story of the resurrection of Jesus.

My God is not under new management.

In First Church of Field and Stream, the resurrection story is told by fritillary butterflies and red-eared sliding turtles. The story of life everlasting is told by a young couple on a river outting, and a pair of deer bouncing across a bright green field of emerging barley.

You do not have to read these stories in a book; At the First Church of Field and Stream you can see them for yourself.

Let us prey.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

One in Seven

One in Seven of the test animals given dog food made by Menu Foods have died. The moist and wet dog food (sold by Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro and under various store labels) was contaminated by a type of rat poison that is illegal in the US. Dry food is not included in the recall at this time.

Rat poison came into the dog food from wheat glutten imported from China. Menu Foods is a Canadian company, and the plants linked to the pet deaths were located in Kansas and New Jersey,

The official count of dogs and cat killed is expected to climb into the thousands, as 60 million pounds of cat and dog food are involved and the company was slow to act, running its production line for weeks after contamination problems arose. >> To report a pet-food related pet death.

Hazards in the Hedge

Teddy Moritz with Harris hawk, dachshund and rabbits. Teddy has worked dogs for 40 years, starting with a bull terrier and then moving to Russells before finding true happiness with working dachshunds.

The post about "glass middens" a couple of days ago got Teddy Moritz to reminiscing about some of the odd things she has dug into over the years.

"Living and mouching about for varmints in northern NJ has shown me many 'middens', aka trash heaps. One county where I lived was the bottom of an ancient lake therefore much of it is wetlands. However, before legislation to stop development many sites were filled with debris of great variety. An archeological dig in many parts of this county would probably yield trash further back than the early 1900's. Maybe Jimmy Hoffa is out there too. I did find a set of false teeth once...

"Groundhogs being the resourceful prey species they are, my dachshunds once cornered one in a damaged glass cider jug. The neck of the bottle had been broken and the chuck was harboring in the main part of the bottle. Pretty efficient for awhile. Another time a chuck was backed up under the roots of our favorite dump-site tree, a young Ailanthus. The dogs would go in, bay, then back out. I would jab my small trowel in and the chuck would bite it. I would send the dogs in and they acted as if they were blocked off. When I eventually opened the den I found an old license plate. The chuck had been pushing it up in front of the dogs when they went in. Clever rodent. The dachshunds often found chucks harboring inside old buried cars. Tough to get them out when they are in the drive shaft. One chuck was up inside a car door. When I tried to pry the door apart with my shovel the shovel handle broke, hit me on the eyebrow and knocked me out briefly. When I got the bleeding stopped I continued and we got the rascal. Half-buried old truck beds are also good places to find varmint. I once lost a red fox because he was tight up inside a bulldozed mound of old cars. Just could not get to him. Most of our groundhogs use plastic as bedding and it's not uncommon to find many yards of plastic sheeting jammed into dens. And on and on. Old farm dumps are great places to find varmints, as you've found. The broken glass can be a problem...I've got scars on my fingers where I've tried to pull dirt out and found shards of glass. The dogs often yank at old mattresses, balls of twine, old clothing, etc. when trying to get to a chuck. Good times in skanky places. Cops asked me to leave one of my best spots after it was declared a Super Fund site. There was every kind of ground game imaginable on that old landfill. Kind of spooky working a place where the ground was burning, especially in winter when the warm places were devoid of snow. The access to this spot was over an old bridge. Had to 'walk the plank' to get to the good area. The dump was an island in an old river bed, ah the memories. My big male bull terrier couldn't swim and he chased a coon into that water. About half way across the chocolate-colored water his body reminded him he had no floatation and he started to go under. I swam out to him to rescue him, grabbing sixty pounds of hard muscle and light brains. The dachshunds of course thought the bull and I had something, so they swam out too, trying to ride my shoulders. The coon got away across the river. Another swim occurred while ratting in a big landfill. The rats would run across the debris floating in the water but the dogs would have to swim. Again the bull had to be rescued. Sometimes I am amazed I had normal children, after those drenchings."

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rat Poison in Dog & Cat Food Kills Over 1,000 Pets

A lot of dogs and cats are dying due to the unintentional poisoning of wet and moist dog food manufactured by Menu Foods and sold across North America under store brands carried by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers, as well as private labels such as Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.

The latest numbers from PetConnection data base shows 1,103 deceased pets (654 cats/449 dogs).

A point under-reported in the popular press: High-price Eukenunba, IAMs and Nutro dog food is the same crap made at the same company as the store-brand dog foods sold at Safeway and WalMart.

For the record, my dogs eat Purina dry bag kibble, and always has.

Rat Poison Found in Tainted Pet Food By Mark Johnson, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - Rat poison has been found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Agriculture and Markets said Friday.

Spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden would not identify the chemical or its source beyond saying it was a rodent poison.

ABC News reported it was aminopterin that may have been on imported wheat used in the pet food. Aminopterin is used to kill rats in some countries but is not registered for that use in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The chemical, also a cancer drug, is highly toxic in high doses.

Officials from the agriculture department and Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Center would not immediately confirm the ABC report but scheduled a news conference Friday afternoon to release laboratory findings from tests on the pet food.

The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation was focusing on wheat gluten in the food. Wheat gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but the common ingredient could have been contaminated by heavy metals or mold toxins, the FDA said.

State and FBI officials said they knew of no criminal investigations in the case.
The pet deaths led to a recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food produced by Menu Foods and sold throughout North America under 95 brand names. There have been several reports of kidney failure in pets that ate the recalled brands, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog.

Menu Foods last week recalled "cuts and gravy" style dog and cat food. The recall sparked concern among pet owners across North America. It includes food sold under store brands carried by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers, as well as private labels such as Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.

Menu Foods is majority owned by Menu Foods Income Fund of Streetsville. The company also makes foods for zoo cats, but those products are unaffected by the recall.

The company's chief executive and president said Menu Foods delayed announcing the recall until it could confirm that the animals had eaten its product before dying. Two earlier complaints from consumers whose cats had died involved animals that lived outside or had access to a garage, which left open the possibility they had been poisoned by something other than contaminated food, he said.

Menu Foods planned a media teleconference for later Friday, a spokesman said.
A spokesman for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he was not aware of any criminal investigation involving the tainted food. FBI spokesman Paul Holstein in Albany said Friday he was not aware of any FBI involvement in the case.

"I don't know where we'll go from here," he said.

A complete list of the recalled products along with product codes, descriptions and production dates was posted online by Menu Foods and is available at The company also designated two phone numbers that pet owners could call for information: (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708.
Associated Press writer Andrew Bridges in Washington contributed to this report.
On the Net:
FDA pet food recall information: htp://
Menu Foods:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Dedicated Rat Smoker -- Available Off-the-Shelf

The only way to go ratting in daylight hours is with a smoker. The traditional rat smoker is made from a chainsaw (bar and chain off) or string trimmer whose exhaust manifold has had a flange fitted over it. A length of metal pipe is then affixed to the flange, and a length of car radiator hose is affixed to the pipe. By adding a little extra oil to the gasoline mix, a generous amount of smoke can be generated, with the smoke (and to some extent the vibration and noise of the engine) transmitted down the rat hole. Position terriers, turn on smoker, put smoker pipe down hole, see rats run out to the dogs.

I have always thought a bee smoker might work as a quiet, light-weight, and low-cost rat smoker, but now a dedicated rat smoker has been created.

From the video to be seen on the manufacturer's web site ( ) it appears the new rig generates quite a lot of smoke. The mechanism appear to be a simple propane torch affixed to a spray bottle filled with mineral oil. The spray bottle shoots mineral oil down a bit of twisted conductive pipe, which is then heated by the propane torch. The resulting smoke is then expelled by the force of the heated air pressure. A hard screen surrounding the conductive pipe provides some measure of safety and prevents the conductive pipe frorm getting accidently being bent.

This new rig is priced at 80 U.K. Pounds (or about $160 U.S.) which does not make it cheaper than a used (or new) chainsaw. That said, I always applaud innovation, though in this case I expect someone will soon put out instructions on how folks can make their own rat smoker for less.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

POSTSCRIPT: After posting this, I drilled around on the web and found what I suspected: this is not a new invention, but a new use for an off-the-shelf implement called a HUDSON PROPANE INSECT FOGGER. The good news is that you can have one for about 23 Pounds UK rather than 80 Pounds UK (that would be $55 American rather than $160 American) at Northern Tools. Conversely, you could also get a "Burgess Propane Insect Fogger" from Ace Hardware for about $60. In both cases, instead of insecticide being loaded into the receptacle at the bottom, you simply fill it with garden-variety mineral oil.
Of course, if you are looking for the best deal, that's on EBay where both new (in the box) and used propane foggers range from $25 (including shipping) to about $50 (including shipping).

Glass Middens

There are odd things you find again and again in the woods, and one of them you stumble across every once in a while is an area replete with lot of broken glass -- old bottles and jars mostly, with the occasional small piece of scrap metal or iron. Who the hell is dumping all this broken glass in the woods?

It took me some time to recognize what I was looking at: a midden. A midden is a term an archaeologist would use to describe an ancient trash pile. About a quarter mile up the road there is an ancient shell midden left by pre-Columbian Indians who gathered mussels from the Potomac River just down the hill. Today no one gathers mussels from the river -- groceries come in cans and bottles, and these are what fill our modern middens.

The glass middens in our woods are not very old, of course. Most of them represent that period between 1900 and 1950, when the country was fairly affluent, lots of goods were being bought in packages and bottles, and settlement was getting denser but rural trash collection services did not yet exist in many areas. Back then folks would toss their trash into a heap at the the edge of their property, burning it every once in a while in order to reduce mass and speed decomposition. This was a period before plastic, and anything made of paper or wood rotted, and a surprising amount of metal also atomized down to rust. Glass bottles might break, but otherwise they are as enduring as stone -- virtually untouched by rain, snow, mold or rot. If the broken glass is not plowed under or buried, it will stand proud on the ground or protrude a bit after being partially sunk in thanks to the heaving action of worms.

The trash you find in the woods is often some indication of how old the trash is -- the secondary growth around you represents the time passed since the trash was initially dumped on the edge of a field or hedge.

About 25 years ago, I came across a glass-filled midden in Ohio that consisted of many hundreds of shattered Ball canning jars, and in between were bits of broken glass tubing. I walked around collecting unbroken Ball jars and old zinc canning lids, but the glass tubing flummoxed me. What was that? And then I realized what the spot had been: an old moonshiners still. The tubing had been part of the coil, and the jars were the retail end of the operation. The big heavy pieces of glass represented the remains of the 5 gallon storage bottles. The zinc canning lids put this operation sometime before World War II -- probably in the middle of Prohibition.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Shearwater's Endless Summer

The first robins have arrived back north -- a sure sign of Spring on the horizon.

The first robins are always males, as they come before the females in order to establish territories. Like many birds, Robins eat bugs in the spring and summer, but they mostly live off of fruit in the winter.

The robins of Virginia and Maryland only fly as far South as Georgia or Florida, but thanks to new micro-transmitters, we now know that some birds are world-record holders in the migration department.

Sooty shearwaters have been electronically tracked flying across the entire Pacific Ocean in a figure-eight pattern while traveling a 40,000 mile (64,00 km) roundtrip migration.

For more information on the Tracking of Pacific Pelagics, see the terrific TOPP web site, which gives information on the tracking of sharks, whales, seals, birds, turtles, and fish as they roam the Pacific and beyond.

Whales, shark, tuna, seals, turtles, birds, and even insects migrate across and around the Atlantic and Indian oceans as well, and thanks to smaller and more power radio tranmitters we are learning more and more about how life is interconnected around the planet.

A study is going on right now to track the migration patterns of dragonflys as they migrate down the East Coast of the United States.

Though it is hard to believe, each dragonfly carries a small transmitter and battery that lets it transmit a signal for about a week, and though the signal only broadcasts about a mile, it is enough to give scientists data on where the dragonflys are going and where they stop along the way.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pasturing the Horses

I am very happy for Al Gore. He got an Academy Award for his documentary on global warming, and he is also up for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The last person to actually get that kind of trifecta of honors was Charles C. Dawes who was, at various times in his life, a Vice President, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the coauthor of a Top Twenty song ("It's All in the Game") recorded by three generations of big-time musicians.

The fact that no one remembers who Charles C. Dawes is today tells you a little about the transitory nature of fame. Party on Al -- the champagne does not flow forever.

I have written about Al Gore's Academy Award winning-movie, An Incovenient Truth, before. That piece stands on its own, but there is a bit more to say now that we are in the post-Academy Award period. You see, Al Gore's movie has done its jobs very well. Perhaps a little too well.

At the very beginning of the book version of the movie, Al Gore devotes an entire page to a Mark Twain quote:

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

It's a good quote, and generally true, (though it may be from Artemus Ward, not Mark Twain).

What's ironic about that quote is that Al Gore's movie now has everyone so darned sure about global warning that we seem to have swung completely to the other side.

I mention this because a few weeks ago I had a generally lucid person screaming at me about global warming -- actually red faced and shouting -- simply because I shrugged my shoulders and said "could be" and did not seem all that concerned about his pronouncements about the world's impending disaster. This person was freaking out because I was not freaking out.

The truth is that scientists are not very good at explaining simple systems, much less very large and complex ones. Scientists are getting better at collecting data, but they are not very good at interpreting it, and in the case of climate, they have very poor historical data and almost no understanding of how such complex global systems as volcanic action, oceanic flora, the biological sources of greenhouse gases, solar flares, geologic wobble, water vapor, and particulate matter all inter-relate. Just 30 years ago, some of the very same scientists now telling us we are going to die from heat stroke were telling us we were going to die from the cold.

This is not to say that today's scientists know nothing, or that global warming is a bunch of hooey. In fact, global warming may be the most important issue of our time.

Or not.

While I remain an agnostic, I am quite certain of one thing: It is much better to be warned very early about a massive global problem that may end up fading away, than it is to be warned very late about a massive global problem that escalates and ends up killing us all because we did not have time to act.

A stitch in time saves nine, etc.

And so, I am very happy that so many people are paying attention to gobal warming. I am quite content that so much measuring and modeling is going on.

I believe in science.

But please, don't expect me to freak out based on current data and theories.

One reason I am not freaking out is that I am dubious about some of the basic suppositions that underlie much of the hysteria. For example, does anyone in the world really think we will be using the internal combustion engine 100 years from now?

One hundred and thirty years ago, no one had ever heard of a car or an internal combustion engine. Back then, if you had said that New York City would have a population of 8 million, people would have said: "Impossible! Where will we pasture all the horses?"

We now live in a similar era -- a time of significant technological shift. It is still too early to say whether the cars of the future will be powered by hydrogen or electricity generated by pebble-bed nuclear reactors or something entirely different, but I think it is not too early to say that they will not be powered by oil. We are running out of oil too fast, and the $500 billion and the 300,000 deaths already spent in the war in Iraq is too high a price for not making a change.

As for using coal and oil for heating and cooling, that era is also coming to a close. I am 48 years old, and I have no doubt that the last buildings I work and live in will not be warmed or cooled by fossil fuels, but by off-the-grid solar-driven geologic heat pumps or something even more economical. This is not fantasy -- the techology exists right now.

And so, when Al Gore and others predict that our coastal cities will lie under 20 feet of water because of our continued use of fossil fuels, I do not buy the conclusion because I do not buy the premise. He is like a man, in 1900, wondering where we will pasture all the horses in 1950. Of course by then we were not pasturing horses, we were turning them into dog food.

But that, as they say, is another story.

So That's What's Wrong With Your Spouse

The Wall Steet Journal reports that for three decades, Stanford University researchers kept a colony of narcoleptic dogs to study the disorder which effects about one in 2,000 people. The Stanford scientists managed to breed 30 litters of dogs out of two litters of dobermans and labrador retrievers which had the disease, but breeding narcoleptic dogs was difficult. "It was a definite challenge trying to get two narcoleptic dogs to breed," researcher Lewanne Sharp says. "When the male would get excited and mount the female, invariably he would fall asleep."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Dogs and Hawks at Work and Play

Rina, Matt Mullenix's young whippet, with Smash the Harris' hawk.
This picture was taken by Sid Seruntine on his property in in Southeast Louisiana, while Matt hunted with hawk and dog. This picture lifted from the great blog Matt shares with Steve Bodio and Reid Farmer.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thirty Years Ago Today

This morning's edition of The Washington Post had a lead article in the Metro section entitled "Some Things You Never Forget." The article was about the day, 30 years ago, when a small group of Hanafi Muslims took over Washington D.C.'s City Hall and the B'Nai Brith building, killing a reporter and shooting D.C. Councilman Marion Barry in the process. A three-day standoff ensued.

This was a shocking turn of events thirty years ago. Back then, terrorism had not yet flown across the Atlantic, and Islam was not yet radicalized. Marion Barry was just a good city councilman -- he was not yet the cocaine-and sex-addicted ex-mayor of Washington. Crack and AIDS had not yet reared their ugly heads, and Cheech and Chong movies were still considered funny. There was no internet, no cell phones, no fax machines and no cable TV.

It seems a long time ago.

I remember the exact day the Hanafi Muslims tooks over the District Building because at the time I was 17 years old and walking the Appalachian Trail alone. It was the coldest winter in 200 years, and I had started south of Springer Mountain, Georgia in January. There had been sheet ice all through George, and monstrous snow drifts all through North Carolina and Tennessee. At night I slept with both water bottles and wet boots inside my sleeping bag so they would not freeze solid at night.

Back in Georgia, I had ditched my tent for a simple fly in order to save weight, and on days when I could stay on top of the snow I was walking 20 or more per day with a 60 pound pack on my back. Every two weeks I picked up food that I had mailed to myself care of General Delivery at towns along the way. Thing has been fine for seven or eight weeks, but by the time I crossed into Virginia, my boots were beginning to fall apart and my little stove had developed a stress crack and exploded, sending a fire ball up just past my head.

That's the way it was when I crossed down a mountain somewhere in Virginia and came across a small ranger station.

It was about 5 o'clock and the station was still open but a sign said they would be closing in a few minutes, and the station had a big overhanging porch and an outside faucet tap. I decided to wait until the rangers left for the day in order to bunk under the dry porch roof and avail myself of potable water from their tap. I walked over to a tree and sat down, but I was there only a few minutes before a ranger came out and asked me where I was coming from. I named the last town I had stopped at a week back. He ignored that answer and asked me if I had started at Springer. Yes, I said. He said that I was the first one through this year, and why didn't I come home with him. His wife would wash my clothes, I could take a bath, and he would grill us all hamburgers?

I protested a little, but he was having none of it, and that's how I found myself in his truck with the windows down despite the cold -- a small sign I smelled pretty rank after eight weeks in the same unwashed pair of pants.

Thirty years later, I do not remember the ranger's name, but I remember that he grilled hamburgers while his wife waited outside the bathroom for me to hand out my wool pants so she could wash them. Someone showed up to visit, and he asked me a few questions while I scarfed down four hamburgers in a row. On the television news, a reporter recounted the Hanafi Muslim hostage crisis going on in Washington, D.C. This was Big National News in 1977.

Early the next morning, the ranger asked if I would go to a prayer breakfast with him, and I said sure, not quite knowing what that meant. At breakfast, it was awkward, as I was asked to say the blessing, and I did not really know how. I did not pray at all then, and I rarely pray now. I mumbled something rambling and incoherent which concluded with an "amen." The men at this breakfast -- and they were all men -- were polite but every one of them knew I was unchurched.

When the ranger let me out at the road-head where he had found me, he gave me a small pocket-sized New Testament to carry with me on the trail. Thirty years later I still have that little book.

This ranger was the first Born Again Christian I ever met, and though I loathe the preachy self-righteousness of many fundamentalists, I will never forget the kindness extended to me by this man who walked his faith right into his house and never asked for anything back.

Months later, when I was back in D.C., an envelope arrived from the ranger station. Inside was a copy of a newspaper article about my walking the Appalachian trail in winter. It seems that the fellow who was asking me questions while I was wolfing down those hamburgers had been the local small town newspaper man. I have no idea when the picture was taken -- I don't remember posing for one -- but I am glad to have it, as it is the only picture I have of this time 30 years ago today.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Francis Galton Dog Show

The work of Francis Galton was important to the development of the breeding theories that underpin the closed registry system of The U.K. Kennel Club and its U.S. analog, the American Kennel Club.

As a diversion, I looked up Francis Galton's 1865 essay on "Hereditary Talent and Character," in which he suggests that the dogs that people like best are are the stupid ones that most readily make themselves available to us as "slaves."

"So far as I am aware, no animals have ever been bred for general intelligence. Special aptitudes are thoroughly controlled by the breeder. He breeds dogs that point that retrieve, that fondle, or that bite; but no one has ever yet attempted to breed for high general intellect, irrespective of all other qualities. It would be a most interesting subject for an attempt. We hear constantly of prodigies of dogs, whose very intelligence makes them of little value as slaves. When they are wanted, they are apt to be absent on their own errands. They are too critical of their master's conduct. For instance, an intelligent dog shows marked contempt for an unsuccessful sportsman. He will follow nobody along a road that leads on a well-known tedious errand. He does not readily forgive a man who wounds his self-esteem. He is often a dexterous thief and a sad hypocrite. For these reasons an over-intelligent dog is not an object of particular desire, and therefore, I suppose, no one has ever thought of encouraging a breed of wise dogs. But it would be a most interesting occupation for a country philosopher to pick up the cleverest dogs he could hear of, and mate them together, generation after generation -- breeding purely for intellectual power, and disregarding shape, size, and every other quality."

It's not too hard to see how H.G. Wells could imagine the human race evolving into a race of "Eloi" and Morlocks" is it?

Of course, the idea of controlled breeding of both humans and animals predates Galton.

Plato, for example, said that "The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior."

As I note in American Working Terriers, Robert Bakewell is the person who popularized the control of sires to improve farm stock.

It was Galton's eugenics thesis, however, that set the intelligentsia of Victorian England on fire.

What the Kennel Club proposed in 1873 was simply a logical extension of Galton's work: to remove natural selection from the table completely. What better place to begin with than the dog? Dog breeds, after all, are not a product of natural selection, but of unnatural selection. A "natural" dog is a mongrel. A working dog, however, is a dog that has been selected for certain attributes. Since some selection for defined characteristics had already begun with working dogs, why not start with those breeds and see how they would work out with further "refinement" in a closed registry?

For more on the not-entirely-successful theories of Francis Galton (and for the ironic story of what happened to the Galton/Darwin gene pool), see my earlier post on Inbred Thinking.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Zumbo was (Mostly) Right

Sharp-shooting prairie dogs in South Dakota with a truck-mounted professional-grade shooting stand.

Some years back, I was lurking on several boards and list-servs when PETA came out with an advertising campaign against dairy milk. The folks over at FOL (Foxhunters On Line) went nuts. To listen to them talk, this was the end of the world and PETA's silly campaign was proof that the Anti-Christ was coming.

Over on the Dairy Management list, however, everyone yawned at the PETA campaign, and the talk quickly moved on to more germane matters such as the best low-grade slope to have on a loafing shed (3 percent as I recall).

The point here is that one embattled group -- the fox hunters -- freaked out, squawking like pet store parrots next to a slamming screen door. The dairy folks, on the other hand, knew One True Thing, which is that America will always drink milk.

I was recently reminded of these two divergent reactions when Outdoor Life columnist and Big Game Hunter Jim Zumbo posted a short rant to his blog concerning the use of semi-automatic "assault" rifles to shoot prairie dogs.

The gun community went nuts. Outdoor Life promptly fired Zumbo, and everyone in the Mainstream Media was quick to pronounce Zumbo -- a modest man with a small column in a magazine most people do not read -- as economic toast.

It seems all sides wanted to martyr Zumbo for their own purposes. The black-helicopter-spying, UN-hating, survivalist wing nuts wanted a martyr so they could show that they were powerful. The granola-eating, foreign-aid-giving lefties who assume all depravity is due to deprivation wanted a martyr so that they could prove that the "Gun Nuts" were as myopic, intellectually shallow and intolerant as anyone who ever served on a Taliban governing council.

The editors at Outdoor Life, of course, simply wanted to continue to pimp out America for their corporate advertisers. Zumbo must die so that another ad for something you do not need can be tossed into a land fill at the end of the month.

What no one seems to have actually asked is what was Zumbo actually trying to say in his blog? This is, after all, a man who has spent his entire life buying, carrying, cleaning and firing guns. He has shot deer in every state of the Union and knows how to skin a bear with a pocket knife. Is it really possible he woke up one morning possessed by the demon spirit of PETA-founder Ingrid Newkirk? I seriously doubt it.

While a lot has been written about "L'affaire Zumbo," I think most writers have missed the point -- perhaps because not too many of them actually read what Jim Zumbo said.

Here's a little of that original missive:

"While at the SHOT Show recently, I ran into a guy who complained that too many hunters were taking excessively long shots. He’s an outfitter, and witnessed plenty of people shooting at elk at distances greater than 350 yards. He suggested that that was too far, primary because the majority of those hunters had no clue of ballistics. Most were 'Hail Mary' shots. I agree. We read about people making 500 yard shots and more, and that, to me, is ridiculous.

Then at the SCI convention last week, I talked to a guy who bragged that his custom gun kills deer out at 800 yards and better. To each his own, I suppose, but that isn’t hunting. It’s shooting. And I don’t care how great a marksman you are. The risk of wounding an animal at extremely long ranges is high, and where’s the sportsmanship, the ethics, the satisfaction of taking outrageously long shots? I understand there’s a group in PA that shoots deer at 1,000 yards and more. More power to them. Just don’t ask me to support that kind of 'hunting.'”

Zumbo was making a point: there's a difference between shooting and hunting. We do not call range-shooting hunting, and we do not call skeet-shooting hunting.

In the English language, hunting means something and we all know it, and should be working to preserve and protect it.

Now, where Zumbo strayed on to thin ice is when he began to talk about marmots. I know something about marmots, and I think a man like Zumbo should just leave them the hell alone.

Marmots, you see, are a special problem. While Zumbo the Great White Hunter is definitely the man you want with you shooting elk in the field, he is not the man you want leading a charge into the dangerous thicket known as marmot politics.

In Zumbo's defense, let me point out that he is not the first ship to wreck on these rocks. In the last election cycle, when my friend Andy (a great Medicaid policy mechanic) stopped by my office to tell me he was going to South Dakota to work on the Rosebud Indian Reservation as an election monitor, I was the first one to give him the bad news: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was political toast. Andy wanted to know why I thought so. "Simple," I said, "He's soft on Marmots."

Andy thought I was kidding. He gave me a weird look (I get those a lot), and changed the topic to something I might have real expertise in: the pricing of anti-psychotic medications.

When Andy came back two weeks later, however, he admitted I was right. "The entire election hinged on marmots," he said. "Marmots!" He was amazed. I was not.

Prairie dogs have long been an emotional issue in parts of the West. In truth, these little animals do no harm and quite a lot of good. Of course, that's not the way cattlemen see them. In arid and marginal country, ranchers are always anxious to blame their misfortunes on something more tangible than the weather, and so they take it out on coyotes, prairie dogs and the IRS, not one of which has the slightest impact on a herd of Angus.

While government-sponsored poisoning is the main cause of prairie dog mortality, recreational shooters also have an impact.

Notice what I called these folks -- shooters. They are not hunters. A prairie dog colony does not move. This year it will be exactly where it was last year, and the year before that. There is no "hunting" for prairie dogs.

Nor is there any woodcraft involved. The shooter knows nothing about marmots nor does he care about them. For the shooter, marmots are simply a small target shot from a great distance.

If you hang out on the prairie-dog and groundhog-shooting sections of varmint-hunting bulletin boards and list-servs, you will find that these folks do not talk about the gestation period of their respective marmots, the symbiotic relationship between the prairie dog and the buffalo, the depth of the burrows, the importance of prairie dogs to black-footed ferrets, or the call structure (both audible and sub-sonic) of marmots. A marmot shooter does not know -- or care -- about these kinds of things.

What interests the prairie dog shooter is not the prairie dog, but the ballistics -- the grains of gunpowder used, the feet-per-second, the effect of wind, and the flatness of the trajectory.

Prairie dog shooters have a fetish for physics. The animal itself is simply a convenient excuse to drive out into the countryside with a couple of sandwiches, a cooler full of beer, and a few small sandbags to help steady the barrel on the hood of a car or portable bench.

Zumbo does not "get it" because he is a hunter, and not a sniper. Zumbo seeks to be involved with the animal and its habitat, while the prairie dog sniper cannot be bothered to leave the hood of his car.

While Zumbo's idea of a proper gun is a well-made bolt action rifle or shotgun with a carefully engraved walnut stock and a history behind it, the prairie dog shooter prefers high-end technology and may even be living a kind of Walter Mitty fantasy, with himself as the deeply embedded Marine Corps sharpshooter, and the prairie dog serving as a proxy for the commandant of a Viet Cong prisoner of war camp. Pull the trigger and you get a "red mist" either way.

In truth, there is a fine line between a hunting rifle and a weapon of war. Vietnam-era snipers used to go into the field with their own guns -- carefully calibrated bolt-action hunting rifles originally crafted for deer. Today's military, of course, has specialized sniper rifles, but in truth some of the better off-the-shelf semi-autos like the AR-15 are about as good a shot as the old Vietnam-era sniping rifles. And so they are used by a certain percentage of prairie dog Fantasy Camp snipers, never mind that using a military-looking semi-auto on a prairie dog looks more than a little bit ridiculous.

Zumbo was remarking about this ridiculousness in his since-removed blog posting.

Now a prairie dog is just as dead with a .17 Hornady as he is with a AR-15 (or even a grenade), but is there anyone in the modern era who thinks image does not matter? Do not ALL of us in the hunting community bear the burden of being forced to carry the dead weight of the most reckless things that the stupidest among us do?

That is what Zumbo was trying to say, and here is what he wrote:

"As I write this, I’m hunting coyotes in southeastern Wyoming with Eddie Stevenson, PR Manager for Remington Arms, Greg Dennison, who is senior research engineer for Remington, and several writers. We’re testing Remington’s brand new .17 cal Spitfire bullet on coyotes.

I must be living in a vacuum. The guides on our hunt tell me that the use of AR and AK rifles have a rapidly growing following among hunters, especially prairie dog hunters. I had no clue. Only once in my life have I ever seen anyone using one of these firearms.

I call them 'assault' rifles, which may upset some people. Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity. I’ll go so far as to call them 'terrorist' rifles. They tell me that some companies are producing assault rifles that are 'tackdrivers.'

Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern. I’ve always been comfortable with the statement that hunters don’t use assault rifles. We’ve always been proud of our 'sporting firearms.'

This really has me concerned. As hunters, we don’t need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing. Let’s divorce ourselves from them. I say game departments should ban them from the prairies and woods."

Now where Zumbo overstepped the mark is in the last line. You don't need the last line. You see, if Zumbo -- who spends a heck of a lot of time in forest and field shooting and hunting -- has not actually seen assault rifles in the woods and fields, is there really a problem?

I think not.

The good news is that these assault-rifles (or look-a-likes of the same) are mostly in the hands of wanna-be tough guys, ballistic shooters, and a few kids who would be quickly laughed out of deer camp if they showed up with one.

The simple truth is that if you need a 32-round banana clip to kill a deer, you are a joke on legs and no one is going to go hunting with you -- ever.

But the Ballistics Boys who shoot prairie dogs are not hunters. They are shooters, and among this particular tribe, there appears to be a few who are a little low in common sense and a little over-caffeinated to boot.

Apparently there are more than a handful of Walter Mitty fantasy snipers who want to use an AR-15 Bushmaster -- the gun made infamous by D.C.-beltway sniper John Allen Mohamed -- to shoot prairie dogs.

No doubt they also put grease paint under their eyes to cut the glare, and slip on genuine Vietnam-era camouflage before they pretend to be muscular Green Beret commandos on patrol in the Laotian Highlands. Never mind that they are actually pudgy office workers shooting 3-pound marmots on BLM land in Colorado.

Real hunters like Zumbo tend to go the opposite direction. Instead of looking for more fire power and more accuracy, a good shot who really knows the land and his abilities may handicap himself a little bit in order to increase the challenge. He will not shoot over bait. He may chose to hunt wild turkey with an ancient French-built .16 gauge rather than a brand new American-made .12 gauge. He may forgo a high-powered scope, or lower the caliber on his rifle.

True experts handicap themselves in all sports, from cards and golf, to fishing and hunting. The fastest growth in hunting today, I am happy to say, is in the area of black powder shooting -- the very antithesis of semi-automatic fire power. At a time when the entire nation seems to be neck-deep in whitetail deer and turkey, the average hunter is not trying to ramp up for slaughter, but trying to dial down to keep an element of sport in the game.

So was Zumbo wrong? Not at all. Shooting wild game with an AR-15 is such tremendous over-kill that no one needs to say it, and damn few are actually doing it.

Sure there are always going to be some redneck idiots who want to play Rambo, but the proper response is not to legislate or to litigate, but to laugh out loud, draw a few cartoons, and make a joke to their face about the need to "overcompensate for their inadequacies" (And by that you mean shooting inadequacies. If they want to take it another way, that's their problem).

It is a simple truth, that mockery often works better than manifesto.

There is no need to legislate AR-15s from the woods, when laughter alone will work just fine.



Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Cruelty of Crufts?

From The Daily Telegraph

It's the biggest canine beauty contest in the world, with 22,500 competitors fighting it out to be top dog, there will be bitching, grooming and millions of pounds spent on getting that million dollar look.

Shar-Pei dogs are noted for their folds of wrinkly skin
But as dog breeders across the world converge on Crufts 2007 to fight it out for the most prestigious prizes in the dog world, an almighty row is raging behind the scenes which calls into question the very principles on which such shows are based.

For some Crufts, and other dog shows represent a world which favours superficial beauty over health, putting the personal whims of breeders and judges before the well-being of the animals.

David Hancock, a dog expert and author, says the demands of breeders and judges who favour exaggerated features such as long ears, short legs or long spines, result in animals which suffer ill health and a reduced quality of life.

"The dogs should come first and they don't," Mr Hancock says. "Dogs that are not sound are capable of winning Crufts. Breeders shouldn't be looking for superficial perfection, they should be looking for soundness in structure, movement and temperament."

Bloodhounds, for example, now have so much loose skin around their eyes, thanks to modifications made by breeders, that they risk getting painful grass seeds in their eyes, Mr Hancock says.

The St Bernard, fondly regarded as a mountain rescue dog, is now so weighty with such heavy eyelids and loose lips that it would be severely handicapped in any snow rescues. And short-faced dogs like the Pekingese and Bulldog only have 20 per cent of the scenting capability of longer muzzled dogs - a real disability in the canine world which relies so heavily on scent, he says.

Shar Peis, famed for their soft folds of wrinkly skin, can suffer eczema and other skin complaints, and bulldogs which often suffer breathing difficulties due to the large heads which they have developed, more often than not are born by caesarean section due to their comparatively small behinds.

"When human excesses and arrogance get out of hand, it's the dogs who suffer. I see a lot of flawed dogs winning Crufts and other shows and it may be very flattering for the owners, but what about the health and well-being of the breed?" Mr Hancock told Dogs Today magazine.

He says vets and the RSPCA should do more to encourage the Kennel Club, which runs the competition, to change the breed standards upon which the dogs are judged, to encourage breeders to change their agenda. He also wants health testing, currently voluntary, to become compulsory.

Phil Buckley, spokesman for the Kennel Club, said it constantly looks at improving breed standards to safeguard the animals' welfare, and encourages breeders to take part in health schemes.

"If we notice problems with a dog, we contact the breeders association. For example, in the case of the British bulldog, the breeding standards used to say "head massive" which lead to problems in some areas.

We contacted the breeder's council and in conjunction with then we amended the breed standards to say "head in relation to rest of body. That was in the 1990s and we have already seen an improvement."

So far Britain is not among the 18 European countries who have signed up to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. This requires dog and cat breeding associations to revise their standards to eliminate "extreme characteristics detrimental to the health and welfare of the animals".

But the Kennel Club is actively lobbying parliament not to sign up to the convention, saying it has adequate measures in place without the need for "inference from politicians who are not experts in dogs."

Acting Chief Veterinary Advisor to the RSPCA, David McDowell said the charity broadly shared Mr Hancock's concerns and said responsibility for change lay with the club.

"We have highlighted the problem on many occasions. But until breeding standards are changed, breeders will breed dogs which will win shows."

Information appearing on is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence.

Should Crufts Be Banned?

Should Crufts Be Banned? That's the title of this piece (appended below) by Beverley Cuddy from The Daily Telegraph .

As I have noted in previous posts, Crufts was created by a man who never owned a dog himself and who put on the show as a money-making proposition. Nothing has changed as far as I can tell: It is still not about the dogs, and it's still all about human ego and money.

Editor: Dirty tricks and eccentric topiary are one thing. But on the eve of Britain's biggest dog show, Beverley Cuddy asks whether we are endangering man's best friend

We're all suckers for puppy dog eyes. Maybe that's why the BBC has, for the second year running, allowed Ben Fogle to present its Crufts coverage, which begins again tomorrow. It obviously doesn't matter that he can't tell his Affenpinschers from his Estrelas; most of his audience will drool in any case.

Unfortunately, for the excessively jowled breeds like the St Bernard, Newfoundland and Bloodhound, the drooling will continue long after the credits stop rolling.

I'm far from immune to canine charms, but increasingly I find myself wondering whether it would not be better if Crufts were banned. After all, what good does it do? For me, showing dogs must have some higher purpose than simply accumulating rosettes. I'm no killjoy - the exhibitors can all have their bit of fun with the silly walks and eccentric topiary - but surely someone has to look after our best friend's best interests.

We've all had a snigger over the past few years at the bizarre goings-on in the show world: the poison pen letters that led to the Best in Show judge resigning in 2004; the drugging of rivals' dogs; even the case of the terrier that had three testicles -the owner had implanted a fake one (just one of the dog's testicles had descended into the scrotum and the judges require two on display), only to have the retained testicle drop during the show. As a result, the owner was banned from showing dogs for several years.

But behind the outward eccentricities of the owners and trainers, real dogs' lives are being increasingly affected by this seemingly mad and ferociously competitive world.

Sadly, health concerns seem to be close to the bottom of the show dog agenda for the canine governing bodies in Britain and America. There are just over 200 pedigree breeds in Britain and, shockingly, more than 150 of them have significant hereditary diseases.

At the moment in the UK, testing dogs for health issues is purely a matter of personal conscience. Most people believe all the beautiful dogs at Crufts are perfectly healthy. I'm afraid many are anything but.

Let's put Crufts into a historical context. Dog and man have been best friends for 100,000 years or so. Dogs helped us catch our dinner; they protected us while we slept. In return they shared our food and homes. Over time, the genetically elastic dog was changed into different shapes to help us more. Thankfully, our dabbling with eugenics didn't harm the dog, as we selected for function not fashion.

With industrialisation, the dog's employment opportunities started to dry up. It was around this time that Britain invented the dog show and Kennel Clubs. The face of British dogs was to change as the concept of human beauty became the reason to breed. In an era where bearded ladies were considered interesting, many oddities were prized when they should have been avoided. Physical traits such as hairlessness and squashed faces were encouraged.

When the first Kennel Club was formed in 1873, the gene pools for hundreds of pedigree dogs were soon to be sealed. It wouldn't have taken a genius to predict that there would be trouble ahead as relatively small numbers of dogs were then mated together for the next 150 years.

There are now more than 30,000 genetic defects identified in pedigree dogs, with a new one being discovered every month. As well as the inevitable in-breeding caused by the cult of pedigree, dogs' health has been further challenged by the peculiar fashions and foibles of the show world, which has kept "improving" the appearance of breeds.

The Bulldog is the obvious example of a breed changed almost beyond recognition. Show judges began to favour a massive head, so it grew ever larger, unchecked. However, the pelvis remained the same size, meaning Caesarean births became the norm. Almost every breed has been changed to a degree - the Chow used to have fairly normal eyes, but the judges took to favouring tiny eyes, with devastating results.

Many Chows now have to have their painful in-growing eyelashes removed. The judges liked the Dachshund to have a longer back and shorter legs - unsurprisingly, spinal problems resulted. It has not taken long for 100,000 years of breeding for function to be undone.

If you wanted to breed from a dog that's deaf, blind, crippled with hip dysplasia or suffering from a heart condition, you'd probably expect the Kennel Club to refuse to take your money. Sadly, you'd be wrong. At the moment - I think shamefully - KC registration is no mark of quality. It'll proudly compare itself to Debrett's. It'll say it is paid to record lineage, not intelligence or health. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Twenty or more years ago the Swedish Kennel Club decided to reform its practices and made health tests mandatory. It also ensured that breeders took notice of the results by simplifying the complex systems of testing for hereditary diseases, so people had clear guidelines on what to breed with what.

It even came up with ways of ensuring the breadth of the gene pool was preserved by establishing quotas so that no stud dog could be overused - unlike in Britain and America, where a top winning stud dog can sire an unlimited number of litters, meaning that almost every dog in the breed can end up a half brother or sister.

The Kennel Club (as the British KC likes to be known), however, has left it to the breeders to police themselves. It has softened a few words in the breed standards that constitute the blueprint which the judges are meant to aim for - but hasn't disciplined any judges for continuing to favour the unhealthy exaggerations that make even breathing hard work for many breeds.

Over the past 50 years, our pedigree breeds have been growing increasingly unhealthy, life expectancies have fallen drastically and some breed characteristics have become exaggerated almost beyond recognition. For example, the Bernese Mountain Dog, a breed that increasingly suffers from cancer, is now lucky to reach the age of seven. The Irish wolfhound, selectively bred for its massive size, has been left susceptible to bone cancer and has a similar life expectancy. Your average mongrel will live two or three times as long.

Those who sport the hallowed KC members' badge at dog shows radiate pride. But while everyone wants to wear the badge, few seem to want to reform the system. Maybe history has taught them to keep their heads down. About 20 years ago, the Kennel Club decided to expel one of its members for publicly saying it should do more to prevent health problems in dogs.

That member was Dr Malcolm Willis, probably the world's leading expert on hip dysplasia in dogs. The club has taken him back now, but sadly no one listens to his demands for mandatory health testing in dogs that will be bred from and are disposed to hip dysplasia.

Similarly, no one at the KC seems interested in the British government ratifying the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. To date, 21 countries have signed this, including Turkey.

As well as laying down minimum requirements for good animal welfare, the convention highlights a list of breed characteristics that need to be modified for the dogs' best interests. The KC argues that we don't need Europe telling us what to do - the breeds are safe in its hands, it says; it has got it all under control.

The KC's expensive Clarges Street offices in London are hung with beautiful canine art from an era before the show world distorted the shape of so many of our wonderful breeds. The dogs in those pictures left the destiny of their pups to the KC - and it has let them down very badly.

I'll still watch Crufts. After all, I'm an optimist. I'm just hoping someone will soon stand up and start making Crufts not just the biggest dog show in the world, but the best.
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Beverley Cuddy is editor of Dogs Today magazine

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

God's Mortising Machine

On Sunday, I came across this tree on top of a stream bank that the dogs were exploring. The deep mortising you see here is not the work of an over-caffeinated bed-post maker, but the fresh work of a pileated woodpecker.

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

The pileated woodpecker looks quite a bit like an Ivory Billed woodpecker, though these slightly larger woodpeckers have almost certainly been extinct for more than 50 years, despite the fact that a small remnant population was reported to have been found in Arkansas about 18 months ago. There is now considerable reason to believe the Arkansas reports were either mistaken sightings of a pileated woodpecker (the video tape is inconclusive) or an intentional fabrication.

"Pileated," by the way, is just a fancy word for "capped" and refers to the bird's bright red crest.

For the record, the mortises in the first picture were large enough for my entire fist to disappear inside them, but they were too low to the ground to be prospective nesting holes. They are simply the product of a hungry bird drilling for a few beetle grubs.