Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Coffee and Provocation

Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains

This Land Is Your Land: One of the most important things the U.S. can do to avoid becoming a nation of canned hunts and pay-to-shoot sportsmen is to protect wild public lands so that they remain there for all Americans to enjoy in the future. Towards that end, Congress is poised to add as much as 3 million undeveloped acres to its wilderness roles. In my home state of Virginia, Republican Sen. John Warner and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb are pushing the Virginia Ridge and Valley Act which would protect as wilderness nearly 43,000 acres of forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, has introduced a bill that would classify 517,000 acres of wilderness in his home state, while 107,000 acres of wilderness in the Cascade Mountains and another 128,000 acres of wilderness around Mount Hood and in the nearby Columbia River Gorge is likely to be protected. For a very nice piece about what lasts (and what doesn't) see America's Wilderness Cathedrals from The Guardian (if you are a Republican you can skip the first few paragraphs).

Fox in Tasmania: The island of Tasmania remains an Eden for various small marsupials of the type pushed to the danger point in Australia due to the introduction of the red fox in 1845. Now it appears that some small-brain vandal has introduced red fox to Tasmania, and a 9-1-1 call has gone out to find and extirpate these environmentally destructive pests off the island.

Is Pet Overpopulation a Myth?: I rarely mention a book until I have read it, but Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America looks to be a very interesting read. I came across this book due to an interview with its author in the The Dallas Morning News, and then I went to the web site and the blog. Winograd used to run the San Francisco SPCA and says one of the reasons so many pets are put down in animal shelters is that most animal shelters do a crummy job of outreach. He has put together a serious indictment of PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S., and he is opposed to mandatory spay-neuter laws even as he celebrates voluntary spay-neuter. Oh, and did I mention that it has a Jack Russell on the cover? This is the book that PETA and HSUS do not want you to read, which means you really want to read it. No guarantees you or I will agree with everything, but surely it will make us think. My copy is on order.

DNA and Cocker Rage: Science magazine reports that "Dogs are helping to hunt down more than foxes and lions: Researchers are increasingly relying on them to track down genes and pathways involved in canine and human diseases." Specifically, the gene-trackers are looking to see if they can locate the gene that makes dogs "point" birds (a trait found in about 40 breeds) and (on the downside) that lead to "Cocker Rage" -- a brain disorder in some Cocker and Springer Spaniels in which the dogs become psychotically violent. The initiative is being driven by a $16 million award to more than 20 European researchers from a pending European Union award for about $16 million. A hat tip to Prairie Mary for this one! The article is pay-per-view, but if you are interested, see >> here.

Grizzly Found in Idaho after 61-year Absence: A Tennessee man hunting black bears in the North Fork of the Clearwater River shot and killed a grizzly Sept. 3. It was the first confirmed grizzly bear in Idaho since 1946. Back in Jan. of 2001, I ghosted a piece that appeared in Endangered Species Update (published by the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources) in which I noted that the roadless areas of Idaho remained perfect areas for Grizzly and that protecting areas like the Cleareater and the Nolo were vital to ensuring that the grizzly expanded its territory and numbers in the United States.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pulling a Vixen

I was pretty sure this fox was dead -- but ready to release it damn quick if it wasn't!

"Even though you think it is safe to get hold of him, you should always be on guard and never give a fox an even break.... Even if he is nearly dead, he is just as dangerous and if he is not dead, he may be shamming and be very dangerous."

Eddie Chapman's excellent little book "The Working Jack Russell Terrier" has a very nice section on handling foxes that should be read carefully for those that have a fondness for all their fingers. >> To order the book

My recommendation is a pole snare -- something that seems to not be used in the UK for reasons I cannot fathom. To make your own low-cost animal control pole (and save your dog unnecessary injury and perhaps save you a round of rabies shots as well) >> click here.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

The British Veterinary Protection Plan and the BBC

Your hamburger, Mr. Lynn.

I like steaks and porkchops well enough, and I bet you do too.

I will also bet that Guy Lynn likes the occasional steak and chop as well. But I wonder if he would like them quite as well if he knew that the cattle and pigs he eats are (gasp) routinely administered antibiotics by farmers that are not veterinarians, and that (double gasp) cows and sheep are routinely dispatched in the rural countryside by a single bullet to the brain.

What the hell am I talking about? And who is Guy Lynn, anyway?

Lynn is the "Look North Rural Affairs Correspondent" for the BBC. In short, he is a reporter.

More importantly, he is the reporter who recently sent nearly-70 year old dog man Ginger French to the penitentiary for the "crime" of selling antibiotics and vaccines without a veterinary license.

What's that, you say? Since when is selling vaccines and antibiotics a crime?

Well, it's not a crime in the U.S. In fact, every veterinary catalogue in America sells vaccines and antibiotics without a prescription, and the Terrierman.com web site will give you dosage information as well as show you how to give a puppy shot. There's nothing to it.

In the U.K., however, veterinarians managed to get a law passed making it illegal for a private citizen to sell vaccines or antibiotics to treat dogs.

As a consequence, if your running dog rips himself on a barbed wire fence in the U.K., you have to decide whether to risk doing nothing and have the wound go bad, or shell out a fairly significant amount of money to go to a veterinarian who will charge you 100 pounds sterling to slap three foil strips of clavamox or cephelaxin on the counter. No money? No treatment.

The same extortion game goes on for other kinds of minor health concerns, such as puppy protection shots and urinary tract and ear infections. Pay up or let the dog suffer.

BBC rural affairs reporter Guy Lynn was apparently horrified when he found out that Ginger French was selling antibiotics and vaccines without a license.

He was even more horrified to find out that Ginger would put down a dog with a .22 shot to the brain if that was required by its owner. The BBC 's rural affairs reporter was, in fact, so horrified that he secretly taped Ginger selling him antibiotics and detailing his price schedule for services. Then he added fake graphics and store-bought B-roll to his segment to suggest that Ginger French was operating on dogs (he was not), and that he was selling medicines other than those you can get out of a catalogue without prescription here in the U.S. and much of Europe (he was not).

To which I have to ask only one question: You're sure this is the rural affairs reporter for the BBC?

You see, Ginger French was not doing anything that farmers all over the U.K. and the world do every day.

British farmers dose their owns cows and pigs with penicillin and they feed truck loads of antibiotics to their chickens without a veterinarian in sight.

It's all perfectly legal.

Pigs and cows are vaccinated by farmers too, and those farmers are not veterinarians; some of them can barely read.

As for dispatch, surely Guy Lynn does not think the cow that was the progenitor of his steak-on-a-plate was put down with pentobarbital in a veterinarian's office? No, it was not. It was shot through the brain with a captive-bolt gun or a bullet, and I assure you that the fellow running the dispatch position on the killing line was not a veterinarian playing soothing classical music in an air-conditioned office.

In fact, if it is done right, death by bullet to the brain is instantaenous and not cruel. If you study human suicides, you will find that more people chose to kill themselves by a gunshot to the head than all other methods combined.

The objections to shooting a dog then, is not about ethics, it is about aesthetics.

In fact, the British are not really very high-minded about shooting a dog outside of the vets-for-pets craft guild created by the U.K. veterinary restraint-of-trade laws.

For example, if your dog is found worrying sheep, it can be shot dead on sight. And I assure you that when a running dog is shot dead by an agitated farmer, it is not shot cleanly through the head. It is gut-shot, or shoulder shot. And that's perfectly legal. What is not legal is paying an experienced dog man to do euthenasia with a .22 short round directly to the brain.

And let's be clear: low-income people were not going out of their way to see Ginger French because they do not care about their dogs. They were going to Ginger because they DO care about their dogs. They were driving some distance and paying money, but they were paying less money to Ginger because, in all liklihood, it is all that they could afford. Not every one is lucky enough to have a trust fund and a fat wallet.

French was NOT doing surgery on dogs; he was sticking to the basic stuff that anyone can do -- antibiotics, puppy vaccines, tail nips, and the like.

The case was never made that the antibiotics and vaccines that Ginger French was selling were defective in any way. In fact, they were perfectly fine. Antibiotics in pill or capsule form are good for as much as a decade past their expiration date, and dry vaccines too are quite safe and can be stored for a very long time. These things are available over the counter or by mail to regular people all over the world outside of the U.K.

In fact antibiotics and vaccines are so safe that we let farmers the world over do their own work rather than have veterinarians unnecesarily drive up the price of beef, chicken, lamb, pork and fish.

But in the U.K., they have allowed veterinarians to have the monopoly on dogs and cats even for the basic stuff like vaccines, tail docking, and antibiotics.

And so nearly 70-year old Ginger French has to go to jail for a year so that veterinarians can ply their game of economic extortion; a game of "give me your money or lose your dog's life."

This travesty has made Earth Dog - Running Dog editor David Harcombe grieve for the state of his nation. In an editorial in the current issue of the magazine (Sept. 2007), he writes:

"What a hell of a mess we have made of our nation. I used to be proud to be British. Now I am ashamed of a country which can send an elderly man to prison for a triviality which hurt no one except perhaps the pockets of a few vets. Our spineless, politically correct politicians have brought us to this."

To which I can only reply,


Saturday, September 22, 2007

National Hunting and Fishing Day

Today is the 36th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Who knew?

I missed national "Speak Like a Pirate Day" too. The dogs are really pissed about that one.

I guess I need a better calendar.


Bullet to the Brain

Sad-eyed Joe

Cattle are generally raised for meat or milk.
Longhorns are raised for meat, hide, horn and skull, although a significant percentage also end up as front-of-the-pasture ornaments, with some additional use found found as outcross stock, parade, pet and rodeo bulls.

Longhorns have long horns, and if you are raising them, you do not value free-thinkers. A longhorn with an independent streak is more than a handful; it can be a real liability. And so if a longhorn starts to "vote independent," it tends to be "liberated" from life a little earlier than if it had learned to color between the lines.

And so it is with some amusement that I occasionally read the "backstory" on individual Dickinson Cattle Company skulls in order to find out the nature of their transgressions. A small sampling of the descriptions that are written up (I think) by Kirk Dickinson, who is a Jack Russell terrier owner:

  • Sad Eye Sam: This dreamer steer longed for the days he would become a herd sire. When the main bull was doing his thing, Sam wanted to be right between the bull and the cow. His visionary ideas caused him to be available as a skull today.

  • Sparky: Unlike his name, he wasn't very bright. Sparky was raised in Pittsworth, NC. His owner raised tobacco and also preached at a small country chapel. When Sparky single handedly trashed a small marijuana patch behind a local volunteer fire department garage, his life was on the cutting edge of evisceration. His skull will hang obediently on your wall... unless someone lights up a weed.

  • Don: This steer was just plain greedy. He stole milk from the other cows. He was not satisfied with just his mother's milk. He tried to get between the herd bull and his cow and that didn't work. He would stand side-ways parallel to the feed bunk preventing the others from getting feed, then he would eat it all. Once he chewed up a garden hose to this own water trough. It flooded his feed lot and every critter had to endure bull mud for days. He did one other thing that Bill Clinton would have even been ashamed of, and that did it.

  • Pride: This steer was purchased at a Texas auction and represented to be very gentle. His new owner lived near Kansas City. One day, Pride was captured four miles from Liberty in a mobile home park work out ring. His uncontrollable attitude got him syndicated into one pound packages of lean grind. His skull will stay on the wall where it is placed.

  • Rue Paul Bull: This young bull always acted a little funny. The tone of his bawl, the way he walked, and the way he wagged his tail at the other bulls. When he was turned with the cows, he walked the fence looking toward the bulls. The cows complained and almost tore up a corral. The other bulls made horrible jokes about him. He was part Watusi.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dinosaurs in Disneyland vs. Hides on the Bayou

Back when I took vacations, I used to go to Hilton Head, South Carolina which is a very nice location where the family can ride bikes through beautiful woodsy areas, frolic on nearly-perfect beaches, and otherwise have a grand old time.

Sea Pines resort was created by Charles Fraser, and I came to know about it by reading John McPhee's truly excellent book about David Brower, entitled Encounters with the Archdruid, which still ranks as one of my top 10 favorite books.

When I first went to Sea Pines, I was skeptical and figured it would be a boondoggle surrounded by a morass. Few things are as pleasant as they are made out to be. Instead, I was surprised to discover a place rather heavily developed with multi-million dollar vacation homes and golf courses, but boasting a significant array of wildlife, and still-stunning beauty. Fraser did a good job of developing this place, and even the Sierra Club's David Brower had to give it a nod. As development, this was pretty nice.

Being a poor wage slave, the family and I could not afford to stay in a huge stand-alone mansion like that owned by Michael Jordan, but we could afford a week at a rather well-done town house in Sea Pines. Each of these townhouses backed up to a lagoon, and while everyone else was running off to the beach, I would often stay back, break out the fly rod, and go fishing at the edge of the lawn.

Every lagoon had fish in it, and there were lots and lots of lagoons. The fish were not huge -- little bass and lot of pan fish -- but they provided the kind of fast-sport I like, and so from about 8 am to 10 am, when it was not too hot for the fish to bite, I cast line.

After 10 in the morning, there was no point in casting for fish so I would change the game by tying on a dry fly and tipping it with a small bit of salami rind. This is the ideal rig to use if you are fly-fishing for turtles. This is low sport, but I am a low-sport kind of guy.

I caught a lot of turtles at Hilton Head because there were a lot of turtles to be caught. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Unhooking a turtle is not much of a problem, and I always let them go unharmed. I fish for amusement, not for food.

One day I hooked a turtle and was hauling it in, when I noticed a small wake following behind. It was a small alligator -- maybe 5 feet -- and before I could say "Bob's your Uncle," it had taken hold of the turtle and was trying to make off it with it.

What to do?

Now remember the rig I am using here -- a four-piece backpacking fly rod with a regular monofilament tippet. A 10-pound turtle is on the hook, and this five-foot alligator is on the turtle. This was going to be fun! And it was fun -- for about 30 -seconds -- and then the alligator realized there was some odd pressure on the turtle and he released it.

Now what do I do? Well, play through, of course. Which I did.

Unbelievably, the turtle was still hooked, and so I hauled him in, with the alligator following behind. When I pulled the turtle up on the bank, the alligator left the water following it. I backed up fast, letting out line at about the same speed as I was moving backward. It was then that the alligator saw me, turned tail, and -- splash -- he was back in the water.

But this alligator did not leave the bank. He knew I was a good bet to provide him an easy lunch, and try as I might to shake him by going around one side of the lagoon or the other, he would follow me hoping to steal my catch. Fishing was over for the day.

I tell this story because this is the only alligator story I have. I have never lived in a state that had alligators, and my first regular sightings of alligators have almost all been at Hilton Head. Every lagoon and golf course pond at Hilton Heads seems to have at least one or two of them, and yet there are old folks, children and pets everywhere. So I asked an islander working a boiled-peanut concession: Did they ever have any trouble with gators? "No, not really," he said. "Of course we don't let them get bigger than 6 feet before we relocate them."

Ah! I got it. Small is safe, and big is not. Common sense at work.

Of course common sense is pretty well misnamed, isn't it? Pretty rare stuff as far as I can see.

For instance, would you go snorkeling in a lake or pond with massive alligators in it? Me either. But, of course, there are people who do such things ... with predictable results.

A picture of the arm and the alligator taken immediately after the attack.

The story in yesterday's newspaper was about an alligator attack in South Carolina. As the story is told in The Telegraph and other newspapers:

Bill Hedden, 59, was snorkelling last Sunday in Lake Moultrie, in South Carolina, when his arm was bitten off by a 550lb alligator.

Nearby picnickers were shocked when Mr Hedden stumbled into their midst, grasping his left shoulder where his arm should have been, gushing blood and screaming: "Call my wife, call my wife!"

Nurses on a retreat 50 yards away ran to the scene and slowed the flow of the blood until paramedics arrived and put Mr Hedden in a helicopter.

He was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina, which declined yesterday to release any information on his condition or treatment, citing the family's request for privacy.

The Charleston Post and Courier reported that a family member said doctors were unable to reattach the arm, but that Mr Hedden was nevertheless in good spirits.

"The first order of Bill's care has been to stop the bleeding and save his life. His surgeons and health care team are determining the next steps in his care at this time," the family said in a statement. "We are in good spirits and thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers."

Mr Hedden's arm was retrieved from the alligator's belly after wildlife officers shot the 11ft 10in animal. The limb was then rushed to the hospital in a picnicker's ice cooler with a police escort.

There have been no confirmed deaths in South Carolina involving alligator attacks, wildlife officials said.

As luck would have it, the morning this article showed up, I had just settled down to reading a book sent to me for review: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting by Frank Miniter, the Executive Editor of American Hunter magazine. More on that book when I finish it, but suffice it to say that the first chapter on alligators is very good.

In a chapter entitled "Why Florida Has Killer Gators," Miniter notes that when the residents of Sanibel Island decided to ban all hunting and culling on the island in order to "be at one with nature" and return it to the Eden they imagined it once was, they failed to figure on The Alligator Issue.

A small alligator, under 6 feet long, is no real threat to humans, but once an alligator gets over 7 feet, pets and people may go missing.

On Sanibel Island this reality was put front and center when a 12-foot 457-pound alligator grabbed a woman on the island while she was gardening and pulled her into the water. She subsequently died.

The town decided to change their position on hunting, and began to cull all alligators over four feet on private property. In the next 6 months, trappers killed at least 80 large alligators on Sanibel, some over 14-feet long.

Sanibel Island's experience with large alligators is playing out across much of Florida, where dogs and cats routinely go missing, and it's not too uncommon to have a human attacked.

Perhaps such attacks are not too surprising in a state that has an alligator population of over one million and a human population of nearly 19 million, but it turns out that they are not necessary.

You see, you can have a LOT of alligators and no attacks on humans. That's the score in Louisiana. The reason: unlike Florida, Louisiana encourages licensed hunting of alligators, and alligator hunters go after the largest alligators in the easiest-to-find locations, i.e. the ones that are most likely to attack people and pets.

Louisiana actually has more alligators than Florida, but Louisiana alligators have never killed a human in that state's recorded history, while 11 people have been killed by alligators in Florida since 2001 alone.

The secret to Louisiana safety is that state's legalized hunting and harvest program called "Alligator Marsh to Market."

Because this program encourages the removal of very large alligators, the average size of alligators in Louisiana has stayed remarkably stable for a very long time, with the average size hovering around 7 feet. In Florida, however, the average size of killed alligators has steadily increased from 6 feet in 1977 to 8.4 feet in 2004.

Remember, under 7 feet an alligator is not much of a threat to humans, but over 7 feet things change quickly. The bigger an alligator gets, the more likely they are to be a real threat to people and pets.

In truth, of course, alligators are not huge killers of people. In Florida, alligators kill fewer people than swimming pools and lawn mowers. That said, the number of alligator attacks in Florida is on the rise, from 78 people in the 1980s, to 159 people in the 1990s, and 97 people in the five years between 2000 and 2005 (suggesting about 200 attacks can be expected in the first decade of this millennium).

There are reasons to legalize alligator hunting beyond safety, of course. Miniter notes that Louisiana's "Alligator Marsh to Market" program creates an incentive for people to protect and preserve wetland habitat. It has also put an end to alligator poaching, as no one will buy poached skins if legally tagged alligators caught in the wild, or raised on farms, can easily be purchased.

Alligator farms are, in fact, a core part of the Louisiana alligator management plan, says Miniter. Every year folks go out and harvest eggs from alligator nests, and those eggs are hatched out in captivity away from predators such as raccoon, fox, possum, and wild pig. Baby alligators are raised up from these hatchlings, and when the alligators reach 3-4 feet in length they are harvested for hide and meat.

About 17 percent of the alligators raised in captivity , however, are released back into the wild as one- or two-year-olds. These 35,000 - 40,000 released alligators serve as replacement stock for those shot by hunters every year.

In the end, what Louisiana has created is a perfect win-win: Louisiana resident are made safe from alligator attacks, wetlands are preserved, healthy alligator populations are maintained, and an economic engine is created.

And Louisiana's alligator industry is an economic engine; about 75 percent of all wild alligator hides, and about 85 percent of all farmed alligator hides used around the world come from Louisiana.

Just one more story that PETA will not tell you . . . .


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Clueless ... Clueless ... Clueless ... Naked

You're the fading star of a couple of forgettable movies and your time in the limelight has come ... and gone.

So what do you do now? Well, you could follow the well-trod path of other clueless bimbos and try to jimmy up a news headline by getting naked. Playboy magazine makes a small pile of money featuring naked celebs, and so too have other skin magazines from Maxim to Stuff.

But desperate naked ambition looks so ... cheap. Taking your clothes off for money is a lot like being a whore. Are there other options? Well, sure! You can get naked for a cause; you can get naked for PETA.

Which is exactly what the star of the movie "Clueless" has done. With her own flowery youth apparently beginning to wilt at age 30, Alicia Silverstone has decided to try to resurect her career by getting "buck-nekkid" for a cause. Or just because. Whatever. She's naked. And still clueless.

Who the hell is Alicia Silverstone, some of you may be asking. What, you never saw "Clueless"? Me either. How about "Beauty Shop," "Excess Baggage," or "Blast from the Past?" No? Me either. On the upside the word is that she's going to star in an NBC sitcom called "The Singles Table," only . . . uhhh . . . it hasn't been picked up yet. Maybe midseason. Or not. One thing for certain, it's Get Nekkid Time!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Challenge to All Breeders

A Challenge to Breeders: Let's see if we can change the culture and lead through positive exampe. Let's prove that it's not all about money and that we really care about dogs. Here's how: Put a link on the Home Page of your web site that connects directly to your breed's rescue. Put it right underneath the link that now says "Available" or "Our Boys," or "Our Girls." If you also want to put up a link to a general dog rescue, go ahead, but be sure to first put up a link to your breed's rescue.

Want to help more? Put a link to this post on every dog list-serv and canine bulletin board you are on. Tell folks "I did it," give the URL of your own web site, and see how many others follow.

Terrier Dreams

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to Digging on the Dogs

The temperature has come down, and so it's back to Sunday digging on the dogs.

The weather was just about perfect, and we hit the fields at about 9 am after piddling around at a general store getting ice, taping up collars, and generally doing all the stuff we should have sorted out the night before.

Chris had Moxie with him -- her first time out with me since March, when she had a major wreck on a groundhog. She has healed up, but some of her lip on both sides is permanently gone. On the upside, Chris says she has changed the way she works and is baying now. A hard lesson, and a reminder of two things: 1) You cannot completely control a dog underground, you can only hope they learn a sensible working style quickly, and; 2) anyone who says they value a hard dog is an idiot and probably a pretender.

We decided to stay away from the creek to avoid the undiggable hole in that one trunk we hit last month, and instead headed uphill to see what a small woody hedge in the middle of an alfalfa field held. The answer: a lot of trash.

There were at least three old refrigerators, an old chicken coop, old plastic barrels, wire fencing and God knows what else in this hedge -- not quite what I wanted, but about the habitat you would expect to find a possum in.

And sure enough, there was one. Moxie got in on it, and we tied up the other dogs and let her work it. This was a good soft catch for her, and about perfect for me as I wanted to see her working style a bit before we let her get in on a hog. She bayed a bit, and then gripped as she should, while Chris dug down and located a tail to pull a not-too-large possum, which was humanely dispatched.

While Chris was digging, I took out a minute to watch what I think was a Cooper's Hawk and a Crow battle it out in a mid-air dogfight. It was pretty intense, with the hawk initially on the attack, and then the crow coming back on his own terms, and with enough intimidation to rout the hawk. In the end, it was a draw, but if there had been a camera crew standing by, it would have made for a good National Geographic moment.

Moxie is not quite finished with this very dead possum.

The next hole was right along the fence line, with a huge eat-out in the soybeans in front of it. Pearl got in and bayed it up well. I barred the ground in front of her, and when I thought I was just behind the groundhog I dug down. In fact, I was right on top of the groundhog, and tailed it out without too much trouble and gave it a quick dispatch. Pearl came out of the hole with a small ding in the middle of her forehead, which had the odd effect of making her look like a devout bindi-wearing Brahman. This was a pretty nice groundhog that tipped the scales at 13 pounds (Pearl weighs a shade less than 10 pounds).

Pearl and her first groundhog of the day.

The next sette was just up the field and was a bit of a fortress, as the groundhog had dug his den right next to an enormous push-pile of brush. Pearl was in on it, and she stayed and bayed until we got down to her. We pulled Pearl and opened up the pipe a bit. We thought the groundhog was quite a bit farther on than where she had been baying, but in fact it turned out to be right there. There was no explaining why it had not gone back farther up the pipe (there appeared to be room), but it had not. It certainly could not dig away; the ground was like stone at the level she had esconced herself.

Due to the location of the brush pile, there was going to be no getting this groundhog out if it decided to back up the pipe, so we pulled Pearl and tied her up, and set Chris up with a pole snare. I then climbed on top of the brush pile and began slamming the bar into the ground behind where I though the groundhog was located.

I was down about three feet, and rattling the bar good, when the groundhog decided the noise behind him sounded worse than the silence in front of him, and he came forward just enough for Chris to snare a leg with the pole snare. Another quick dispatch, and we had a very fat pot-bellied 14-pounder accounted for.

The dogs slid in to another sette on the way back to the truck, but it was under an undiggable push pile of brush, and we left Mountain underground and walked away with the other two dogs. We were three-quarters of the way back to the truck when she came running down the field. Mountain knows I will not dig in every location, and if I am not digging after 20 minutes or so, she will generally come out to see what's up unless it's a fox or raccoon which seems to get her jazzed up a little more. We have a partnership, and by now we more-or-less understand how each other think ... or at least I think that is happening.

Chris and I loaded up on cold drinks at the truck, and decided to hit the creek but avoid the impossible tree sette we had gotten stuck in last month.

In short order, we got into two settes, Chris working solo with Moxie, and Mountain in on another sette farther back up the creek.

Moxie bolted her groundhog straight into Chris, who managed to dispatched it with quick footwork, a little luck, and one more assist from Moxie. Not a huge groundhog, but a nice no-dig bit of work from a dog learning (thankfully) to bay. This was a good-experience day for Moxie.

Chris and Moxie with her groundhog.

Mountain was in on a five-eyed sette, and though we had a pack over one of the possible bolt holes, the groundhog pushed past it and flashed off into the high weeds and thicket of the creek. Count one for Mother Nature. It did not help us humans, or the dogs, that there was a nest of ground bees in this sette.

With three groundhogs and a possum accounted for, and a fourth groundhog bolted, we decided to call it a day. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon, but there's no need to bleed a farm white, and every reason not to. There are still large parts of this new farm that remain unexplored, and I look forward to working it for several more years.

This day ended with all the dogs healthy and my muscles reasonably sore. Nothing more can be asked for; a perfect day in the field.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Some Cool Sites Worth Checking Out

This post should probably be called "Blogs That Are Way Better Than Mine," but not all of these links are blogs, and there are so many blogs that are better than mine that I could be here typing all day. So instead of the better title, I am calling this post "Some Very Cool Sites Worth Checking Out." I promise to do this kind of thing more often. For even more blogs better than mine, check out the blogroll in the right column on this blog.

  • Bioephemera is a mash-up of biology and art. If you go straight to the Museum of Natural History, or could easily spend a morning looking at old biology prints, this is your kind of site. Very good, very cool, very eclectic. Gotta check it out.
  • Prairie Ice is a site written by someone who lives in Montana, lives for the Antarctic, and has a fetish for birds. Oh, and did I mention he is an astounding photographer? Good stuff. Gotta check it out.
  • Camera Trap Codger is a site done by a guy who hunts with camera traps and adds to it bits of interesting information on the critters he is photographing. A man after my own heart and a nice idea. Gotta check it out.
  • Art of the Greyhound is exactly what it sounds like -- but better. This one is from a master sculptor who lives in North Dakota. Check out the pictures of the greyhound looking at the sculpture of a greyhound with the top of its cranium cut out. And then what happens? Gotta check it out.
  • Laelaps is a site about dinosaurs and evolution and ecology and conservation and what's for dinner on the Serengeti. It's from a fellow at Rutgers and it's very well done. Gotta check it out.
  • Bearskinrug is a site by a very good artist-illustrator in the U.K who also has a nice sense of humor perfect for children's books and The New Yorker magazine. Since I have no abilities in this arena, I am always a bit awed by anyone who can take a picture with a camera, much less draw one with colored pencils. Gotta check it out.
  • uncylopedia is one of those wiki-things taken to its logical conclusion: a compendium of nonsense lies and distortions. How is this different from wikipedia? Not much, but check out the "dog" entry anyway. Very funny.
  • Hybrid and Mutant Animals. It is what is says, and that should be enough to garner a "look see" from anyone.


Straight Talk From Fox

I found this poem by Mary Oliver on the NRDC web site and thought it was pretty good. I do not read much poetry.

Straight Talk From Fox

Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment's miracle. Don't think I haven't
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.
. . . . -- Mary Oliver


Where's Timmy?

A little humor and fair warning, there's nothing about dogs in here.

Earlier this week I was at a conference for a few days with the typical results that you get from such things -- a numb brain, a numb rear end, 500 emails in my unattended in-box, and a briefcase full of papers that will never be read.

On the up side, very occasionally someone will speak at a conference who will be much better than you expect, and this time around that distinction went to former Attorney General John Ashcroft who gave a fairly impressive no-notes speech on a fairly obscure but on-point legal topic, but who also told the slightly edgy and self-deprecating joke which follows.

It seems the Attorney General was visiting an elementary school as part of a tour of Southern Ohio.

After a short speech he asked if there were any questions, and a Third Grader by the name of Timmy stood up and said:

"I have three questions for you sir:

  1. Where is Osama Bin Laden?

  2. Where are the weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?

  3. Is the Federal Government monitoring our email?

Just before the Attorney could answer, the recess bell went off and all the kids rushed out to play. When they came back, the Attorney General said, "I am sorry we were interrupted. I will now answer any questions the students might have."

A little girl by the name of Samanthaa stood up and said: "Mr. Attorney General, I have five questions for you, sir:

  1. Where is Osama Bin Laden?

  2. Where are the weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq?

  3. Is the Federal Government monitoring our email?

  4. Why did the recess bell ring twenty minutes early today?

  5. And where is Timmy?

And yes, everyone laughed. Nothing works quite as well as self-deprecating humor, and if you are smart enough to use it, you will almost always come away solid gold.

The other bit of humor is a true story. I was at the gym, trying to huff and puff my flabby self into a shape that is a little less grotesque, when an older fellow who had been working out earlier walked out of the men's locker room.

He was a good looking older guy, bald with a coronet of white hair and a nicely trimmed Santa Claus beard. But what got me was that he was wearing ... wait for it ... a camouglage mini-skirt.

No, not a kilt. A camouflage miniskirt.

I watched him stride across the gym floor and go up the stairs, and I have to say I was rather dumbfounded. Then I noticed another fellow in the gym looking at me with a "what the hell was that fruit-cake wearing?" grin on this face. I shook my head and said, "You'd think a guy his age would know you never wear Mossy Oak Breakup after Labor Day."

A wonderful line, I thought, but this being Washington, it was lost on this boiled-in-the-suburbs fellow. He looked at me like I was speaking Chinese.

Yes, this is a strange town.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Nannying Idiots Continue to Ignore Real Problems

I got an email tonight from Char (Pearl's first mom and breeder) letting me know that a woman in the U.K. has been jailed for violating the ban on tail docking that exists over there.

For those who do not keep up on such things, the new U.K. law states that only veterinarians can dock puppy tails, and that even then it can only be done if it is deemed to be "medically necessary."

Heads up. In this increasingly interconnected world, even stupid ideas in other countries can quickly creep in over here. A while back, for example, I received an email from Canada suggesting that the idea was gaining ground in that country. My correspondent wrote:

"I am writing you for help in clarifying a long standing dispute among terrier fanciers involved in conformation dog shows. I am involved in several traditionally docked terrier breeds (Lakeland, Fox, Welsh etc.) and it is becoming increasingly common to see these breeds undocked. Is there a functional purpose for docking tails? Is it required to work terriers?

Why I am supposed to be an expert on these things?

I don't know, but I guess I'm as good as the next guy to ask for an opinion. So here goes.

This is a European debate. You remember Europe. Europe is the place where the rivers are so polluted that the eels no longer run up the rivers to spawn, and where carp are considered a game fish. Europe is the place that has shot out almost all its wolves and bears. Europe is the place that colonized Africa and now lets Africans starve due to lack of aid or political intervention.

Europe has ignored these things, and decided that the the real horror in the world is docking puppy dog tails!

What morons.

The Brits were fools to follow Europe in this. Now let's hope Canada does not go follow the Brits, or I may have to burn my Joni Mitchell and Neil Young CD's.

Tail docking is a very minor procedure and does no harm to the dog. It is largely aesthetic and historical with certain breeds. That said, some terriers and other breeds have long thin tails that can be damaged when whipped in brush, worked in rock, etc. so they may benefit, medically, if they are docked. How often an over-thin and fragile tail is a real medical problem depends on the breed, the dog, how it works, where it works (and if it is worked at all).

A terrier's tail, of course, is an essential part of the dog, and I consider it a very stupid thing to dock a terrier tail too short. I always advise people to err on the side of leaving the tail too long. You do not want to lose a good handle on the rear end of a working terrier by being too quick or aggressive with a pair of tail nippers.

That said, a very long tail is of no use to a terrier, and could be a small health liability. A dog often has to exit a hole backwards and around curves. In that situation, a long thin tail could be a problem -- imagine exiting a tight and winding tunnel with a spring-pole stuck out behind you, and you get the idea. And then there are the thin tail tips that bleed when banged against rocks and brush.

Some caveats. At least one breed of working terrier does not have a docked tail -- the border terrier -- and neither do working dachshunds. The tail on a border, however, is a very solid thing and is not easily damaged. If you cannot pick up a border terrier by its tail and throw it over a fence, it's not a true border terrier. A tail that is left intact on a working Jack Russell terrier, however, often ends up being very long and thin, and as a consequence it could be subject to real damage, and so it is generally docked.

Another issue for working dogs is that digging on a dog is not an absolutely precise thing, and so the length, form and placement of the tail becomes an issue. To put it bluntly, a long thin whippy tail trailing behind an underground dog could be subject to being trimmed by a shovel.

Has it ever happened to me or anyone I know? No. I am careful and my dogs rarely come in direct contact with a shovel. That said, it does not take too much imagination to think harm could result if a digger were very inattentive.

All in all, however, and as I said before, tail docking is mostly done for cosmetic and historical reasons.

But so what? We do a lot of things for cosmetic and historical reasons. Why can't tail tail docking be one of them? For God's sake, people, let's use a little common sense!

People circumcise their children, women get themselves nipped for child birth (it's called an episiotomy), and every third teenager has a pierced tongue, nipple, eyebrow or navel.

Whole TV shows are devoted to full-body tattoos.

Women are getting breast implants or breast reductions, and men are getting hair transplants and scalp reductions.

Noses are bobbed, fat is sucked out, teeth are capped, botox is injected, and ears are being pierced, ringed, barbelled, and pinned.

Ever been to a PETA rally? If you look around, you will see a lot of metal hanging out of nostrils, off of eye brows, or rammed through tongues. Every other girl will be showing off her "tramp stamp" tattoo on the small of her back. God only knows what you might find ringed, belled and pierced if you were foolish enough to ever see one of these PETA lunatics standing before you naked. The mind shudders.

Consider PETA spokes-idiot Pamela Anderson, who not only married the walking Erector Set known as Tommy Lee, but who also got her own body repeatedly tucked, sucked, injected, lifted, dyed, bobbed, and implanted. And these people are worried about a ten-second tail nip? What on earth for?

There are real problems in the world, and this is NOT one of them.

The anti-tail docking people have no sensible rationale to oppose tail docking -- it is a ten-second thing done when the dog is one or two days old, and it is over with very little fuss or pain. People who love dogs more than their own lives have been doing it for generations -- proof alone that it is a small thing and does no damage to the dog while sometimes serving a health function in the field.

Here are some real things to worry about with dogs:

  • Closed genetic registries which mean that the genetic diversity of dogs is dramatically reduced in time, and with it the health of every breed with a closed registry (i.e. all Kennel Club breeds);
  • Fat dogs which do not see exercise and which have sad and shortened lives (about 1/3 of all dogs);
  • Slick floors in kitchens which increases the chance of hip dysplasia for all large canines (a serious and sad thing);
  • Poor fencing, poor obedience training, and the complete absence of tags and microchipping which means dogs are easily lost and frequently struck by cars.

These are REAL dog problems. Tail docking does not even come close to making the list of things to be concerned about -- in the world of working dogs or otherwise.

Not everything in the world needs to be legislated, and this is something that fits under the umbrella of "leave it alone and let freedom ring."

If a breeder of nonworking dogs wants to leave the tails on their dog long, so what? If a breeder wants a sensible working dog with a properly docked tail, so what?

What interest, business or concern is it of society?


The tail docking debate is really about a very small but vocal sector of society wanting to be nannies to the rest of us.

As a general rule these people know very little about dogs, know nothing about working dogs, and do not give a rat's behind about honest animal welfare -- if they did, they would pick a real issue to take action on.

And there are a LOT of real animal welfare issues. How about habitat protection? How about disease control in wild animal populations (rabies, distemper, mange, tuberculosis, chronic wasting disease, West Nile)? How about pushing to lower the price of veterinary care and improving access to it as well? These are real issues.

Fair warning, however -- making a change in these arenas might involve actually going out into the environment with mud, bugs, rain and cold (Ugh!).

In addition, a real problem might be inconveniently complex and serious (God forbid!), and actually involve something more involved than self-righteous bullying of ignorant legislators and dog owners.

But of course, the tail-docking debate is not really about dogs, is it? It's about people who want to feel smarter and superior to others. These people will always be with us and I suggest they simply find something new to feel smarter and superior about.

If, faced with all the issues and problems in the world (hunger, violence, hurricanes, disease, lack of health insurance, war, poverty, illiteracy, racism, deforestation, violence against women, animal extinctions, loss of global fisheries, pollution, child abuse, etc.), someone thinks tail docking of well-loved pets and working dogs is a major concern worthy of time and energy, they are idiots.

Nannying idiots.

Nannying European idiots.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mandating Hunter Safety for Politicians and Press?

In hunting and in life, what you see often depends on where you sit.

And so, it was with some amusement that I snapped open the Tyler, Texas newspaper this morning I booted on the ol' computer and read in The Tyler Morning Telegraph :

"If you ever gripe about hunting in Texas, stop it. You could live in Massachusetts.

The hunting season in Texas is off and running with dove season in its second week and teal season opening Saturday. The peak won't come until November when waterfowl, deer and quail are all open at the same time, but it will continue until mid-May when the final turkey season closes.

If you still have an itchy trigger finger and can stand the heat, there is no reason you can't hunt non-game species such as wild pigs and coyotes from then until September 1, when the cycle starts again.

Still feeling shorted, OK, consider the plight of hunters in Massachusetts. Sure they have a quail season. It lasts five weeks. There is also a deer season. Again five weeks for bow hunters, three for the shotgun season. There is no season for centerfire rifle hunting. They do have a bear season, something we don't have in Texas. They also have a crow season, bobcat season, opossum and raccoon seasons."

Texas boasts that it has more hunters than any other state (1.1 million), and that in just 5 days, Texas residents recently purchased a little more than 385,000 hunting and fishing licenses, pumping about $12 million into Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's coffers.

Meanwhile, over in Massachusetts, they do not exactly feel wildlife deprived. Paul E. Kandarian writes in The Boston Globe:

Bobcats, fishers, and mink - who knew such creatures inhabit Southeastern Massachusetts woods?

The genesis of this article is that Massachusetts is now requiring residents seeking their first hunting license to take a 15-hour state-mandated hunter safety and education course.

I think such courses are a great idea (though 15-hours seems a bit long), but why limit such a course requirement to hunters? How about making them a requirement for journalists and politicians as well?

Imagine how gun debates might change if more journalists and politicians actually knew how safe hunting was, and how few accidental gun discharges there really are (accidental swimming pool drownings are more common).

Would journalists be outraged that someone would joke about ping pong in a movie called "Balls of Fury," if they knew that the National Safety Council says ping pong is more likely to result in injury than hunting?

And would there be a national movement to ban Bambi as "anti-American propaganda" if journalists knew that deer had killed more Americans this century than Al-Queda and all other terrorist groups combined?

If folks knew that the red fox was an import, would immigration restrictionists argue that these non-natives are taking away jobs from American (gray) foxes?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Border Terriers vs Border Collies

An older, but still great, commercial which illuminates the difference between a border collie and a border terrier.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Sailor, A Working Terrier, Has Gone to Earth

Sailor died one year ago today, and it still hurts to talk about it.

And yet, this was a good death by any measure -- standing up, boots on, doing what she loved best.

The post below was her obituary from this blog, one year ago. Words cannot express how much I loved this small, self-effacing little dog. We had a happy life together.


Sailor, the love of my life, has gone to earth for the last time.

Her last day was a beautiful sunny morning in September.

She worked a groundhog at the first hole of the day, only 200 feet from the truck, and she then found again, 10 feet deep, in a rocky sette under an ancient and shattered oak at the edge of the farm.

We moved on, confident that she would exit in a bit, and she did, following us up a slope to a large field sette where she located again and bolted a large groundhog, which was nailed by Mountain as it tried to slip back to ground.

Two groundhogs down, and it was not yet 9:30. It was already a good day.

The dogs noodled around the edge of a steeply sloped and forested creek bed, and Sailor found again in a mess of old iron, discarded rugs, and wood that had been topped over with dirt. This earth was undiggable, and we moved on, confident that Sailor would sense the silence and realize we were not interested.

At the bottom of the slope, I began to pound the posthole digger into the ground like I was digging, and down came Sailor, trotting to where the action was.

Fooled you, I thought, but she did not seem to mind. She traipsed along behind me as we went up the wooded slope to the fields on the other side.

We worked the edge of the fields, looking for settes. All three of the dogs pinged on a rocky set of holes just 100 yards up the edge. Excellent!

Once again, Sailor was in the ground first, moving around and trying to locate. This sette was very tight, and after forty-five minutes of chasing around through rocks, roots and rumble, Sailor came out, walked off a little ways into the woods, and sat down. She was tired.

Sailor giving up in the middle of a dig is a very odd thing, but I reminded myself she was a little dog and she was no longer young. Plus she had worked four settes already. And then, of course, this sette was impossible. Maybe she had the right idea -- move on.

I let Sailor rest for a few minutes, and then picked her up and carried her to the creek for water. She was not interested, so back we went to the hole.

While I was in the creek, Chris had been digging up a storm, and his young dog, Moxie, had at last found a small groundhog squeezed in among the broken slates. I helped Chris move a little more dirt to get to it, and then we dispatched it and decided to call it a day.

I picked up Sailor and a full load of tools and carried her back to the truck in my arms. She looked fine, but she was very tired.

We were about 100 yards from the truck, when Sailor suddenly squirmed and jumped out of my arms.

She hit the ground running, flying down the fresh-mowed hay field like a six-month old puppy. What the hell? Had she seen a rat? A cat? A groundhog? A fox? There was no telling.

Sailor disappeared over a slight curve of the earth, headed straight for the trucks. I was sure she was headed for the vehicles.

When I arrived at the trucks a minute or two later, Sailor was nowhere to be seen. I assumed she had slid under the vehicles to get cool, and so I loaded up the tools and poured her some water.

I looked under the truck, but the grass was too high to see anything. I looked under Chris' vehicle, but she was not there.

Chris walked up with Moxie and the rest of the tools, and Dave, the farm manager pulled up in his truck at exactly the same time.

Chris and I showed Dave the three groundhogs on the hood of my vehicle, and we talked a bit about Dave's chickens and the terrific quality of the eggs you get from pasture-raised hens.

While Dave was still there, I rolled my truck forward, very slowly, looking for Sailor. She was nowhere to be seen, and I began to get worried. She never wandered off. Ever...

Chris and I said goodbye to Dave, and then we headed off with Moxie and Mountain to find Sailor.

We walked the length of the hayfield, which Dave had cut as smooth as a suburban lawn the day before. We saw nothing.

Then, just as we neared the very end of the hayfield, Chris saw something white on the ground in the distance. He began to walk to it and then, as he got closer, he started to run. That was when I knew something was terribly wrong. I did not run.

It was Sailor. She was dead in the field, her eyes open, rigor just starting to set in to her legs. There was nothing at all around her. It was as if someone had put a stuffed toy out onto the lawn. But, of course, it was not a stuffed animal. It was Sailor.

Sailor must have been dead within a minute of when I last saw her. She had continued running past the trucks, taking a sharp right up the hayfield and then straight on to where she had expired.

Chris left me alone with Sailor, and I sat in the field, craddling the greatest little dog I have ever known, completely heart broken and dumbfounded.

There is no explaining it. Perhaps Sailor died of a massive heart attack or a stroke or an embolism. Perhaps the Black Widow Spider bite that she survived in June weakened her heart or brain, and something finally ruptured within. Perhaps she got stung by a bee or a hornet while she was in my arms, and that's what made her jump off and run, with anaphylactic shock setting in a few hundred yards later. Perhaps a Black Widow Spider got her, but this time it caused a very different reaction from the one before.

It hardly matters what killed her. Either way she is dead and gone, and now I have a hole in my life that seems unfathomable. I loved this little dog.

Sailor was wonderful on every level. She was like a cat in the house -- curling up in her bed, and mugging for my wife who adored her. No other dog was allowed on the bed, but Sailor was. It is an unequal world, and Sailor was an unequaled dog, and everyone knew it. She was treated like a queen.

Sailor began her working career at nine months, and got her first working terrier certificate at 10 months, to a groundhog, only an hour or so after being skunked undergound. From Day One, there was no stopping this dog.

Larry Morrison once told me I would die of old age before I ever saw a dog the likes of Sailor again, and I am afraid -- very afraid -- that he might be right.

Over her life, Sailor worked it all -- groundhogs, red fox, raccoon, and possum. We mostly worked groundhogs of course -- they account for better than 90 percent of the terrier work in my area.

It's impossible for me to tally up all the critters Sailor worked, but the number is well over 400 -- a fairly impressive tally for a dog that weighed just 10 pounds with a full belly, and who stood only 11 inches tall.

Sailor was not a perfect dog in terms of conformation. She was a little short in the back, and had almost no coat at all on her belly. Winter fox hunting was hard on her. That said, I have never seen a dog that could equal her in the field. She had a great nose, and could get anywhere, and she never got hurt. Sailor not only knew butt from breath, she knew the power of voice and used it. She also knew when to put in her teeth. On more than one occassion people have gone out with me and exclaimed, after watching Sailor in action, "I thought you said she was a soft dog." Well she is. But mostly she's a smart dog.

Sailor did not know one way to work a critter in the hole, she knew a half dozen. And she changed tactics when needed, depending on the quarry and its temperament.

When Sailor was underground, I almost never worried about her. She was small enough to get anywhere and she was not foolish. She protected herself from real harm, and her only serious injury was caused by a freak accident when a falling piece of steel roofing nearly cut her in half. I scooped her up in my arms that day last winter, stuffed her intestines back in, and sped to an emergency vet who stapled her back together. Miraculously, she rallied and was back in the field again a few months later.

Sailor, you have gone to ground for the last time. I know you are happy down there, because it was your favorite place. Until we meet again.


Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

~ Robert Louis Stephenson ~

Sailor doing what she loved best.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Wildlife Rules of Thumb

In physics you have "laws" -- unbreakable realities like the Law of Gravity and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Nothing is quite so simple in the world of wildlife where "rules" are generally observed but frequently broken. A few of the more interesting "rules"

  • Allen's Rule states that certain extremities of animals are relatively shorter in the cooler parts of a species' range than in the warmer parts. By "extremities" we mean arms, legs, ears, and snout or nose. An example: the arms and legs of a Dinka tribesman from Sudan are much longer than those of an Innuit from Alaska.
  • Bergmann's Rule: It's a basic physical reality that that the larger a solid object, the less surface area it has relative to its total volume. Therefore, large animals tend to lose heat more slowly, relative to their size, than smaller ones. Because of this fact animals tend to be larger in colder areas than in warmer ones -- an observation called "Bergmann's Rule". This is a very loose rule, but holds true for many species. For example, whitetail deer in Mexico are considerably smaller than their counterparts in Canada, while red fox and raccoon in Florida are generally smaller than their counterparts in Maine. What are we to make of tiny Eskimos and massive Samoans? Well, this is a rule not a law -- and rules are frequently broken. In fact, Bergmann's rule is really pretty weak. Eastern coyotes in North Carolina, for example, are much larger than their counterparts in Montana.
  • Gloger's Rule states that dark pigments are more common in warm and humid habitats, while light-colored pigments are more common in cooler northern regions. An example of this is human skin coloration, but it is also true with bear (polar bears in Alaska and black bears in Alabama), rabbits and many other animal species. Again, however, this is a "rule" that is frequently broken.
  • The Egg Rule states that among birds in the Northern Hemisphere, the average number of eggs in a clutch laid by songbirds (passerines) and raptors (hawks and eagles) increases as one moves north in latitude. This may occur because birds in northern zones have no hope of laying two clutches in a year.

Too much can be made of these "rules" as there is considerable variation within every animal population, not only between the sexes, but also in the genetic potential of each animal and its ability to achieve that genetic potential (i.e. the local availability of food). In the real world there is often as much variation between animals found in the same region as between groups of animals found in different regions, and often as much size variation between the sexes as there is within regions.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Thanks for the Fear J.R.

J.R.' Absher's blog got my attention this morning with his post that an aggressive rabid bear had been shot in Maryland. It was attacking a land owner's goat pen, and then it began attacking the house when the land owner yelled to try to shoo it off. Read all about it on J.R.'s blog at the link, above.

Meanwhile, my boss says the fellow that lives one farm over from him in Virginia lost a calf to a bear the week before last.

Bear populations are on the rise all over; we have about 500,000 of them in the lower-48 right now. But rabid bears is something I have never thought about.

I hunt in Maryland. And while I have assimilated the idea of a rabid raccoon or fox (a lot of us have seen them), even a timid Sunday-going-to-meeting bear that has rabies is enough to give me the willies. Honest; it doesn't even have to be aggressive for me to want to get the hell out of the woods.

We've got some rabid coyotes running around too. Nothing like rabid wolves and bears to put a little mystery and sport back into hunting, eh? Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.


The Kennel Club's Scheme

The Kennel Club has a scheme, and they want you to know about it.

I found out about this scheme while cruising The U.K. Kennel Club web site and clicking on the ad/link for their "Puppy Sales Register."

Here's what it says:

"Buyers of puppies from Accredited Breeders will gain the assurance that the breeder has undertaken to follow basic good practice as laid out by the scheme."

The scheme? Now there's truth in advertising!

So what is "the scheme"?

Well, let's start with what it is NOT. While the above paragraph offers "assurance," be forewarned that there is no insurance that a Kennel Club dog will not be an expensive genetic nightmare for you and your family.

As this bold faced warning on The Kennel Club web site notes:

"The Kennel Club makes no warranty as to the quality or fitness of any puppies offered for sale and can accept no responsibility for any transaction between purchaser and vendor arising from publication of the listing."

So "the scheme" is not an assurance of quality. They make no warranty and accept no responsibility. Good luck, and you're on your own. Don't let us know if it doesn't work out.

So then, what is "the scheme" all about?

Well, apparently, "the scheme" is all about overcoming the information people are hearing about the problems associated with Kennel Club dogs. As The Kennel Club web site notes:

"Some canine commentators have written and filmed recently with regard to the disadvantages of pedigree dog ownership, including expense and the possible health problems that owners may inherit when they take on a pedigree puppy."

Good God! These people have passed on information.

And they have even stooped to FILMING.

The bastards! Come on people, who are you going to believe, the Kennel Club, or your lying eyes?

Never mind that the problems associated with inbreeding are so well-known that they are warned about in the Bible (see Deuteronomy 27:22).

Never mind that genetic problems foisted on dogs by the Kennel Club's closed registry system are so legion they serve as a genetic gold mine for dysfunction and disease. As William Saletan noted in the Slate Magazine of Dec. 14, 2005:

"The reason we targeted the dog genome for decoding is that it's useful for genetic research. The reason it's useful for genetic research is that dogs are neatly divided into breeds, each of which is plagued by specific diseases. And the reason dogs are divided into diseased breeds is that we made them that way. Dogs are the world's longest self-serving, ecologically reckless genetic experiment, perpetrated by the world's first genetically engineering species: us. . . .

"In the course of engineering dogs to look, feel, and act as we wanted, we ruined millions of them. We gave them legs so short they couldn't run, noses so flat they couldn't breathe, tempers so hostile they couldn't function in society. Even our best intentions backfired. Nature invented sexual reproduction to diversify gene pools and dilute bad variants. By forcing dogs into incest (which we ban among humans, in part for biological reasons), we defied nature. We concentrated each bad gene in a breed, magnifying its damage: epilepsy for springer spaniels, diabetes for Samoyeds, bone cancer for Rottweilers. That's why the dog genome is so nifty: We can find disease genes just by comparing one breed's DNA to another's."

Does The Kennel Club admit they have anything to do with the genetic problems within their own closed registry system?

Of course not! Instead, they say:

"Many breeds benefit from health screening schemes ... There is huge potential for wiping out diseases in pedigree dogs, and within a matter of a few generations of rigorous DNA testing and selection of appropriate breeding mates, faulty genes can be removed from the breed's gene pool. This benefit simply does not exist in the cross breed or mongrel population, primarily due to the fact that the dog’s parentage is unknown, while it is a myth that these types are healthier than their pedigree cousins and do not suffer from inherited problems."

This is, of course, complete nonsense, on a par with the Vietnam-era mantra, "We must burn down the village to save it." In fact, no one has ever said that non-pedigree dogs do not have genetic disorders. What is being said is that non-pedigree dogs are far less likely to have specific genetic disorders, and that the chance of getting a specific (and often quite serious) genetic problem is directly linked to the narrowness of a gene pool.

And so what is the Kennel Club's answer to the very real problems associated with having too narrow a gene pool in the world of show-bred dogs?

It's narrowing the gene pool even further through a program of expensive genetic testing followed by a program of culling, exclusion and sterlization.

Their genius idea is that if they just keep cutting away at the rotten wood, they'll eventually get a solid boat.

Or not. Maybe they'll just end up in the water.

You see, the problem is not a handful of "bad dogs" with "defective" genes; it's the closed registry system itself. No mattter how "good" a gene pool is, if it is very narrow and inbreeding, it will produce defective stock, and culling an already narrow gene pool will only exacerbate the underlying problem. You may get rid of one problem, such as catacts, by culling a narrow gene pool, but another defect will soon crop up due to the doubling down of the invisible recessive genetic load. An eye disease may be scrubbed out, but a liver disease will crop up. Keep testing and culling, and a breed's genetic base will get narrower and narrower, and more problems (albeit different ones) will pop up and express themselves in an increasingly-inbred population of animals.

Or to put it simply: There is a reason that Mother Nature outcrosses animals, and there is a reason the Law of the Land affirmatively prevents you from marrying your sister, and there is a reason that Zoo's all over the world are shipping animals from one country and continent to another in order to increase genetic variability.

But of course, the Kennel Club does not want you to think clearly on this matter, do they?

Above all, they do not want you to consider that specific genetic disorders are being bred for in Kennel Club dogs.

  • Ignore the Dachshund, the Basset Hound and the Skye Terrier, which suffer from achondroplasia (dwarfism) which is associated with heart, back and patella problems.

  • Ignore the English Bull dog, the Lhaso Apso, the Pekingese, the French Bulldog, the Pug, the Boston Terrier, and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel which suffer from brachycephalic syndrome and have such difficulty breathing that they often have sudden deaths which are written off as "heart attacks."

  • Ignore the dogs bred for merle and piebald coats which are often deaf -- dogs like Dalmatians and Harlequin Great Danes.

  • Ignore dogs like the Boston terrier and the Bulldog whose heads are now so large they must be born Caesarean-section.

How is the Kennel Club going to breed out these genetic problems when in most cases these genetic problems are written into the Kennel Club standards for these dogs?

The Kennel Club does not want you to think about that.

Nor do they want you to focus too much attention on all the breeds that are wracked by hip dysplasia, skin diseases, cataracts, liver failure, von Willebrand’s Disease, and the rest.

Never mind that there is now a veritable online catalog of breed-specific diseases in which you can "pick a breed, any breed".

Above all, gloss over that little disclaimer in which The Kennel Club specifically warns you that buying a dog from a kennel that is enrolled in their "Puppy Sales Register" does not ensure that you will get a healthy dog.

Instead, focus on "the scheme."

So what is "the scheme"? Why should anyone buy a Kennel Club dog? Well, to their credit, they are pretty straight up about it:

"[Buying a Kennel Club registered dogs] ensures that money is being put back into the canine world and enables the Kennel Club to run many schemes for the good of dogs and also be the voice for dogs on behalf of all their registered owners."

In other words, you should buy a Kennel Club dog so that the Kennel Club can perpetuate itself and the closed registry system that is wrecking dogs.

That's the scheme! And you are being invited to participate.

Oh, and good news -- the Pug has "Gone Top 20" thanks to rising breed popularity.

Never mind the atopy, the Brachycephalic syndrome, or the Demodicosis.

Let's not mention Entropion, Exposure keratopathy syndrome, Fold dermatitis, Hemivertebra, Pug encephalitis, or Sick sinus syndrome.

The slightly undershot jaw is supposed to be how they look.

And the snorting? That's normal too.

Woo-hoo, the Pug has gone Top 20. This is a dog that's part of "The Scheme!"