Friday, December 31, 2010

A Covered Bridge Near Mount Jackson, Virginia

Austin and I were driving and talking, with a little country music on the radio.    We were going nowhere -- just enjoying the scenery -- when I spied this nice little country lane with trees sentried down the side.  On a whim, I turned down the road explaining that I liked little country roads like this, as they always promised groundhogs in the adjacent fields.  

Much to my surprise, about a half mile down the road, we came across this wonderful covered bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

It turns out this covered bridge is the longest covered bridge in Virginia, stretcheing 204-feet.  The entire distance is supported by two wooden single-span Burr Arch Truss' which you can see in the pictures, above.  A very impressive bit of timber!

The Meems Bottom Bridge (its official name) was constructed in 1892 by Franklin Wissler and is located on Wissler Road. Mr. Wisslers' apple orchard was on one side of the North Fork, while the rest of his Strathmore Farm property was on the other side.   This bridge connected the two bits of land, and was covered to extend the lifespan of the trusses and to help shed the weight of snow in winter.

Mr. Wissler deeded the bridge to the state in the 1930s in exchange for a promise that they maintain it. Burned by vandals in 1975, it was rebuilt using much of the old timbers, albeit with some new steel girders underneath to stiffen it up and allow the road to carry heavy modern trucks. Yes, this road and the bridge are still in constant use to this day!


No Knee Replacement Needed

Barn at twilight near Mount Jackson, Virginia.

I am back from skiiing with no injuries.  My cell phone battery died as soon as I left the city, so it was also four days without my cell phone.

A Song to Send Out This Year

Mavis Staples, backed by Buddy Miller on guitar and Matt Rollings on piano singing the old Stephen Foster tune, Hard Times Come Again No More


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coffee and Provocation

Natural Christmas Trees are Better for the Environment:
There are about 400 million Christmas trees growing on tree farms in the United States. These trees not only generate oxygen and recapture carbon, they also slow erosion, provide some habitat for birds and animals, preserve farmland and green space, are easily recycled into mulch, and provide American jobs. In contrast, artificial trees are almost exclusively manufactured in Asia from plastic and metal, and cannot be recycled by most recycling programs due to their composite materials. After six to 10 years of use, most will end up in a landfill.

A Very Old Red-tail Hawk:
The oldest wild Red-tailed Hawk in the world is probably the bird caught in New York last month. We know this one is 27 years and 9 months old based on a band placed on her left leg when she was 6 or 7 months old.

Camera Trap Autopsies a Beer Can:
Read the whole story.  Nice!

Ostrich Egg Compared to Elephant Bird Egg:
Have you ever cracked open a fresh Ostrich egg to make an omelet? I have, and the number to remember is this: the contents of one Ostrich eggs is equal to about 24 chicken eggs. The contents of one egg from an extinct Elephant Bird, however, would have been equal to about 180 chicken eggs, according to Sir David Attenborough, who says egg predation by humans is probably what drove the Elephant Bird extinct.

A Hermaphrodite Dog Got a Sex Change?
Really? This dog needed a sex change and not a neuter and spay?   Or is this one more case of stunt surgery by an attention-seeking veterinarian and owner?

Don’t Need to Ask, Don’t Need To Tell:
In 2008, 634 military personnel were discharged for transgressing “don't ask, don't tell,” but that same year, 4,555 were discharged for failing to meet military weight standards. Big Mac really IS a threat to national security.   Someone tell John McCain.

Giant Tortoise in the Arizona Desert:
The Arizona Fish and Game Department recently discovered a 100-pound African Spurred Tortoise living in the Sonoran Desert, apparently a released pet, the second discovered this year. Because Spurred Tortoises are native to the southern edge of the Sahara desert, they feel right at home in the very similar environment of southern Arizona. This tortoise had been out in the desert long enough to have established at least two burrows, including one that was 9-feet deep. These giant tortoises can grow to 150 pounds, making them the largest mainland tortoise species in the world.

Hung Like a Barnacle

Mating barnacles from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

"Hung like a gorilla"
is not a compliment and hung like a duck is, but if you claim to be hung like a barnacle, you are just a damn liar.

Barnacles are stuck to rocks, which could make it tricky to get close enough to a partner to mate. They have solved this problem by evolving the longest penis relative to their body size of any animal. In this video the penises of several barnacles are probing the neighborhood for mates. The penis is re-grown each mating season.

Reading the Ground

Anyone home? Maybe. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Cry of Hounds and an Exaltation of Larks

For Noah, it was a simple pair of this and a pair of that.

The Animal Collective

a herd of antelope
an army of ants
a shrewdness of apes
a congress of baboons
a culture of bacteria
a cete of badgers
a sleuth of bears
a lodge of beavers
a flight of bees
a flock of birds

a sedge of bitterns
a sounder of boar
a chain of bobolinks
a clash of bucks
a herd of buffalo
a rabble of butterflies
a wake of buzzards
a flock of camels
an army of caterpillars
a clutter of cats
a herd of cattle
a flock of chickens

a cartload of chimpanzees
a herd of chinchillas
a bed of clams
a quiver of cobras
a rag of colts
a bury of conies
a cover of coots
a flight of cormorants
a band of coyotes
a siege of cranes
a float of crocodiles
a murder of crows

a herd of deer
a pack of dogs
a pod of dolphins
a drove of donkeys
a bevy of doves
a paddling of ducks
an aerie of eagles
a swarm of eels
a herd of elephants
a gang of elk

a mob of emus
a business of ferrets
a charm of finches
a school of fish
a swarm of flies
a skulk of foxes
a colony of frogs
a gaggle of geese
a horde of gerbils
a corps of giraffes
a cloud of gnats
a herd of gnus

a drove of goats
a charm of goldfinches
a band of gorillas
a skein of goslings
a leash of greyhounds
a covey of grouse
a colony of gulls
a group of guinea pigs
a husk of hares
a kettle of hawks
a prickle of hedgehogs
a brood of hens

a shoal of herrings
a crash of hippopotami
a drift of hogs
a nest of hornets
a herd of horses
a cry of hounds
a charm of hummingbirds
a clan of hyenas
a band of jays

a smack of jellyfish
a mob of kangaroos
a deceit of lapwings
an exaltation of larks
a leap of leopards
a pride of lions
a lounge of lizards
a herd of llamas
a plague of locusts
a tiding of magpies
a sord of mallards

a richness of martens
a nest of mice
a labor of moles
a troop of monkeys
a herd of moose
a pack of mules
a watch of nightingales
a family of otter

a parliament of owls
a drove of oxen
a bed of oysters
a company of parrots
a covey of partridges
a muster of peacocks
a colony of penguins

a bouquet of pheasants
a flock of pigeons
a farrow of piglets
a wing of plovers
a chine of polecats
a pod of porpoises
a passel of possum
a coterie of prairie dogs
a covey of quail
a bury of rabbits
a gaze of raccoons

a colony of rats
a rhumba of rattlesnakes
an unkindness of ravens
a crash of rhinocerouses
a clamor of rooks
a run of salmon
a pod of seals
a school of shark
a flock of sheep
a den of snakes
a walk of snipes
a host of sparrows
a dray of squirrels
a murmuration of starlings

a muster of storks
a flight of swallows
a bevy of swans
a flock of swifts
a drift of swine
a spring of teals
an ambush of tigers

a knot of toads
a hover of trout
a flock of turkeys
a nest of vipers
a colony of vultures
a mob of wallabees
a herd of walruses
a pack of weasels
a pod of whales
a pack of wolves
a warren of wombats
a fall of woodcocks
a descent of woodpeckers
a herd of yaks, and
a zeal of zebras

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Festivus!

A happy and blessed Winter Solstice to all my Pagan friends.

This year, 2010, is a truly remarkable one for readers in the U.K., as a Lunar eclipse and a Winter Solstice are going to coincide for the first time since 1632. 

A once-every-378-year event!  Whooeee! 

For those who are wondering, Winter Solstice (tomorrow, December 21) is the shortest day of the year and the ancient Pagan day of celebration to which Christmas conveniently attaches its sleigh.

What? Christmas is older than Jesus?

Yes, it's true.

In fact, it's older than Judaism as well.

Surely, you did not think the world began with Moses or Jesus? Dinosaurs once roamed your back yard. I promise you this is true.

Winter Solstice is the the darkest day of the year, and Winter Solstice is celebrated as the beginning of the return, or rebirth, of the Sun.

In short, tomorrow is the beginning of the REAL New Year, and it pretty much always has been celebrated as such.

The Roman holiday held at this time of year was called Saturnalia, and it lasted from December 17th to the 24th, with the Winter Solstice itself being (incorrectly) celebrated on December 25th (Sol Invictus) after Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 B.C.

Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is the halfway point between the true Winter Solstice (December 21) and March 21 (the Spring or Vernal Equinox).

It is not an accident that February 2nd is also 40 days after Christ was born, as in Hebrew tradition mothers were required to purify their children in the temple 40 days after giving birth.

February 2nd then is not only Groundhog Day, but also the "Feast of the Presentation" otherwise known as Candlemas. In the ancient Pagan world, Groundhog Day was known as Imbolc.

So where did the holiday we know as "Groundhog Day" come from? For that story, read the previous blog posts on that topic.

Bottom Line: Today is a great day to celebrate "that old time religion" by going out into field and forest with the dogs.

And yes, all you New Age Pagans should feel perfectly free to call it Festivus.

In fact, please do!

Seinfeld - The Festivus Story

Virginia Fox Pens Under the Gun

I am opposed to fox pens.   I have said it before and I will say it again, and it goes double for fox pens in the state of Virginia where I live.

These things are not part of Virginia fox hunting history.

We didn't need them in 1800, 1850, 1900, 1950, and we don't need them now when we have more fox in the state than ever before.

As soon as these fox pens are legislated out of business, the happier I will be, as they give a black eye to hunting with dogs in general, and hunting with hounds in particular.

Fox pens are for people who are more interested in contest hunting than real hunting. And as for contest hunting, I have said my piece about that too.

I could not put the facts of the matter better than it was on the pages of The Richmond Times Dispatch:

No one knows how many foxes are killed each year. The pens are big — 100 acres minimum — and full of brush, so the kills aren't often witnessed. But Virginia's pens are stocked with about 900 to 1,300 new foxes each year.

"The operators say, 'We chase them but we don't kill them.' If that's the case, how come they have to keep adding so many?" said Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, an animal hospital in Waynesboro. "If Pinocchio said that, he'd put out somebody's eye."

Fox pens operators, of course, say they are simply replacing fox that die natural deaths. And for some fox, this is no doubt true. But let's not kid ourselves that this is fair chase or part of Virginia's fox hunting history.

These big pens were invented in the 1980s, and they have been a public relations problem from Day One. It's more than time to kick them to the curb.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Going Skiing

Superior, Speed Fly from Marshall Miller on Vimeo.

I'm going skiing for the first time, right after Christmas, with the wife, the kids, one Pit Bull and one Jack Russell Terrier in tow.

If the entire experience is not exactly like this in every way, I am asking for my money back, and never mind if I am only two hours from the house and not on Mount Superior in Utah, and I am not going parasailing at all.

I saw a video, and this is exactly what it's going to be like!

In the comments section, please let me know whether you think I should get the Zimmer, Smith & Nephew or Stryker hip and knee replacement should catastrophic events transpire.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Devo Evo with Fingers

"The abridged story of life on earth, as told through the medium of walking fingers."

If Looks Could Kill

If looks could kill, they probably will...

In July of 2009, I wrote an article for Dogs Today in which I gave some general guidelines for avoiding problem dogs and problem breeds.

Along with "avoid giant breeds" and "avoid tea cup breeds," were three other bits of advice:  
  1. avoid dogs with misshaped bodies
  2. avoid dogs with exaggerated features, and
  3. avoid any breed with a disease named after it. 

The Shar-Pei is a classic health caution
on all three counts, and for extra fun it is also one of the most chronically inbred dogs in the world.

In 1978, this dog was listed in The Guindess Book of World Records as the rarest breed in the world.

In short order a few dozen dogs were imported to the United States, and in 1988 the dog was added to the AKC's roles in the "miscellaneous" class before being moved to the "non-sporting" group in 1992.

Today this dog is a common "back of the newspaper" breed cranked out for quick sales to people besotted with the idea of owning a freak that is "so ugly, it's cute."


In fact, far too often, a Shar-Pei is misery on four legs. 

A common problem in the breed is "Shar-Pei Fever," which is an inherited autoimmune disease that strikes about 23% of dogs.  Among the symptoms are high fevers that can can last several days, as well as swollen hocks.  

There is no cure for this disease, only control, and because the disease results in malignant protein deposits, it also works to destroy the dog's kidney and liver function.

While Shar-Pei Fever is common, chronic skin problems are endemic due to a combination of poor air circulation across deep skin folds, a weakened autoimmune system which has a hard time suppressing mange mites, and an almost legendary set of food allergies. 

Adding to the misery are the dogs' ears -- tiny little folded rosettes of skin and flesh which are prone to chronic infection, and which are almost impossible to clean out due to the extremely tight ear canals.

Adding more fun to the the mix are chronic thyroid problems (striking one in five dogs) which can lead to hair loss, serious dandruff, and coat-color loss.

And I have not even mentioned the eyes!   This is a breed that is extremely prone to serious eye problems due to folds of skin that cascade ever the eye, creating ulcers and entropion (35% of dogs) that can quickly lead to a dog going blind if it is not rushed to a veterinary surgeon for a "tack up" eye-lift.

Of course entropion is only one eye problem with Shar-Peis.  There is also glaucoma, cherry-eye, and retinal dysplasia, as well as my favorite -- “sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome” whose major symptom is sudden irreversible blindness.  Nice!

Still want one of these dogs?   Well there's more ...

You see, underneath all those "cute" skin folds is a powerful dog with a strong and not-too-forgiving personality. 

Shar-Peis were once fighting and guard dogs, and they remain prone to temperament problems due to a sometimes toxic combination of owner protectiveness and serious crankiness due to health care miseries. 

Think Mike Tyson Vin Diesel with a migraine, and you have the right idea.

The bottom line is that whatever Shar-Peis  might once have been, or could have been, we now know what they well and truly are:  an abomination abetted by the AKC and a real mistake for far too many owners who did too little research before rushing out to buy one of these dogs.

If there was even an indictment on four legs of the closed registry system, the registration of entire litters of puppies without veterinary inspection, and the misery that show ring pretenders can bring to a dog through extreme exaggeration of features, then the Shar-Pei is that dog.

Still want a Shar-Pei? 

Please consider a rescue dog, as many are available on Petfinder. I just put in my zip code and lots of purebred dogs came up, including this fellow.  I really hope he finds a home.

I had some rough treatment in my puppyhood, but I am still very friendly. Once I realize you aren't going to hurt me, I will warm up to you. I think I was born on 11/6/09, which means I am only a year old. I had my entropion surgery already so am just waiting for my eyes to heal. They are very swollen right now so I am not feeling so well and I don't like this cone they put on me because it is uncomfortable and makes me look funny. I am very frightened right now.

Maybe not the best ad in the world, but let's not criticize the writer, eh? This breed rescue didn't bring this dog into the world or sell it to someone who had no idea what they were doing when they bought it.

This misery was not made by an ad writer.

This misery was made in the AKC.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Follow Up:
The picture at top was purloined from a Roger Ebert (yes, the film reviewer) article in The Chicago Sun Times, and was apparently shot by photographer Tim Flach and featured in his new coffee table book entitled Dogs. I actually read only the first two paragraphs of Ebert's piece and did not realize it was a book review. Jemima Harrison showed the same picture to The Kennel Club's Bill Lambert, who dismissed the dog as being of "incorrect type" and not the kind of thing The Kennel Club approved of. Wooops! It turns out that this dog was bred by a Kennel Club Accredited Breeder, and the top stud dog at this kennel is going to Crufts.  More here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bangalore Jack Russell, 1910

Bangalore, India, 1910

A Bangalore Jack Russell is a bit like a Bangalore Torpedo, but it has four legs and will, very occcassionally, return a ball.

' Twas The Night Before Christmas

Werner Herzog reads 'Twas The Night Before Christmas.  Perfect!

For more Werner Herzog on this blog, see The Life and Death of a Plastic Bag.  Awesome!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dog is Neither Shovel Nor Child

Yesterday, I quoted a book entitled Noodling for Flatheads that has a chapter in it about the mechanics and morality of cockfighting.

While hardly endorsing the "sport" of chicken-fighting (far from it), author Burkard Bilger notes that there is a clear collision of vision that frames the debate:

Animal activists will tell you this [battle against cockfighting] is all about morality.

Cockfighters will tell you it's about individual liberty.

Sound familiar?

It should. This is the kind of collision-of-vision we have in the world of dogs all the time, in which one side sees their animals as surrogate children, while others consider them mere property to be dealt with as the owner desires.

What's interesting here is that the lines shift around quite a lot depending on whose ox is being gored, chicken is being plucked, or dog is being abused or killed.

The same people who are still pounding the table in indignation about the evils of Michael Vick, three and a half years after the fact, are silent and flumoxed when you ask them what should be done to prevent one million Pit Bulls a year from being killed in America's "shelters".   Mandatory spay neuter for Pit Bulls?  Require special licensing for Pit Bulls?   Require passage of a special course in dog care and responsibility for Pit Bull owners?   Require Pit Bulls to pass a Canine Good Citizenship course?  We can't do any of that!   That would be discriminatory, and it would impinge on people's property rights. Waaaaahhhh!!!

The same dance plays out in the arena of Puppy Mills.  Require commercial breeders to pay licensing fees high enough to cover twice-a-year inspections by the state?  Require minimal space, water, food, veterinary care and socialization for the dogs?  My God, you're going to drive the big commercial puppy peddlers out of business.  These people have property rights, don't you know?  This kind of special licensing and inspection is discriminatory! Waaaaahhhh!!!

Collision of vision problems in the world of dogs will always be with us, of course.

That said, in the January edition of Dogs Today I try to give a nod to the fact that perhaps (just maybe) people and dogs would do better hewing to a Middle Way.
* * * *

A Dog is Neither Shovel Nor Child
Balance is key to a correct relationship with your dog

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that most dog owners have decent to extremely satisfactory relationships with their dogs.

The bad new is that “most” means we have only cleared the 51 percent threshold.

The simple truth is that millions of dogs and their owners have interpersonal relationships marked by stress, indifference, miscommunication, and even misery.

Are there commonalities to these problems?

Generally speaking, yes.

A Dog Is Not a Shovel

One problem is that some owners fail to recognize that dogs are fully sentient beings that need more than food, water, shelter, and sanitation. Dogs also need mental stimulation and exercise every day, no exceptions.

This means that if you kennel your dogs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you are failing your dogs. In fact, you are treating your dogs worse than the most hardened of psychopathic criminals on death row.

And yet, how often do we see this? All the time!

Go to any commercial breeding or long-term boarding kennel, and you will see cage after cage of dogs deprived of the most basic kind of mental stimulation. Most are rarely walked or even turned out from their cages. Instead, a high-pressure water hose is used to blast feces into the scuppers. The gate to the kennel run may not be opened in a week

This is not a life. This is abuse.

“Abuse?!   But that’s the way we’ve always done it!”


Slavery and torture are also ancient traditions, but that doesn’t make them right does it?

We need to do better than this.

Dogs are not inanimate property. If you leave a shovel out in the rain and snow, it is of no concern to the state. But do the same thing to a dog, and not only will the state step in – it may fine you, remove your dog and, in extreme cases, jail you.

While there may be no legal obligation to provide exercise and mental stimulation for your dog, failure to live up to this responsibility is at the core of many, if not most, dysfunctional relationships.

Job One then is exercise and mental stimulation. Satisfy your dog’s needs in this regard, and you are half way home.

A Dog Is Not a Child

At the other end of the spectrum from those who treat dogs like shovels, are those who treat dogs as if they are children.

A dog is Canis lupus familiaris, not Homo sapiens bambino.

Accepting a dog for what it is, is the cornerstone of having a correct relationship.

Dogs drink from puddles, bark routinely, bite on occasion, and turn around three times before they curl up in the grass.

You cannot warn a dog about consequences, or explain to them why you are taking away their allowance. A dog does not have morality, does not believe in heaven, and does not fear hell.

Dogs consider it normal to roll in animal feces and to eat them too. They greet each other by sniffing each other’s butts, and they often drink from toilets because they do not have hands to turn on a tap.

Many dogs have strong prey drives, and some will kill your neighbor's cat as quick as you can say "Bob's your uncle."

In short, your dog is not your “fur baby.”

Do not deny the nature of a dog or its particular needs, any more than you would a tiger or a hummingbird.

And yet, look around. So many people insist on treating dogs as children. What’s going on here?

Most of the time, it’s a classic case of displacement -- a childless woman, gay man, or senior citizen transferring maternal or paternal needs to a dog.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with treating a dog well, or even doting on it, provided that the dog is not allowed to run riot and basic discipline is imposed.

That said, it’s important to realize dogs do not see the world the way we do. What an owner sees as an act of beneficence, a dog is likely to see as weakness to be exploited.

The bottom line is that a dog’s owner must set the rules, establish the routines, and decide what behaviors are permitted and which are not.

And yes, this means the dog must be subordinate to you.

It’s not a question of being mean or not caring. Quite the opposite. It’s a question of providing the dog with the clarity it needs to know it is not an equal in the household.

A dog is a dog, and a dog is less than the owner, less than the spouse, less than a child, and less than any human guest.

If there is any question about this in the mind of either you or the dog, the basis for a less-than-satisfactory relationship is set.

It’s All Up To You

Perhaps the most common failing in the world of human-dog relationships is the failure to train.

Watch closely, and you will see that people who raise perfectly acceptable children often have dogs that are out of control.

How is this possible?

One reason is that even the most active parents are only partially raising their own children – schools and society are doing most of it.

Beginning at a very early age, kids are bundled off to day care, kindergarten, and grade school where they spend eight hours a day being taught to raise their hands, line up for lunch, and respect adult authority. Socialization and exercise occur on the playground, while more after-school instruction is provided by coaches, church, police, television, movies, and books.

In the typical human household, children spend less than 10 minutes a day talking to their parents. Whether we chose to admit it or not, it is the larger social fabric of society that provides so much instruction to our kids.

Not so with dogs.

If you send your dog to public school; they will not train it! Instead, they will turn your dog over to the local pound where, if it is still unclaimed five days later, it is likely to be put to sleep.

Did I mention that a dog is not a child? True!

While the bad news is that you cannot pass off dog training to the local public school, the good new is that your dog does not need to know very much to make it in this world.

Four or five basic commands -- sit, come, stay and down -- are all that are needed for both dog and owner to have reasonably happy lives.

And here’s the other bit of good news: any and all dog training systems work pretty well.

Dog training is not rocket science; it’s repetition, timing, rewards and consistency.

A final bit of good news is that if you are looking for a good book on dog training, there’s a new one that sets out multiple methods of training the basic commands.

Cesar’s Rules, by Cesar Millan, features Millan and eleven other dog trainers detailing the most common methods of teaching basic dog commands.

Check it out!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Clucking, Cockfighting and Colonel Sanders

Sparring Roosters, West Java, from National Geographic

In Noodling for Flatheads, a book subtitled "Moonshine, Monster Catfish, and Other Southern Comforts" (order here), author Burhard Bilger, a midwesterner living in Massachusetts, looks at a couple of activities that were once common to certain parts of the rural south: cockfighting, hand-catching catfish, squirrel hunting, gigging for frogs, making moonshine, coon hunting, marble playing, and (of course) eating odd parts of a hog.

Today's lesson is on cockfighting, one of those things animal rights activists know even less about than most of the folks who own backyard hens.

In his chapter on cockfighting in Louisiana, Bliger makes four core points.

Point One is that chickens, especially roosters, are naturally combative and vicious, a fact that has been known, recognized, and celebrated for several millenia. No one has to do much to get two roosters to fight other than put them in the same farm yard together.

Most blood sports are merely cruel; no bear or badger is baited willingly, and dogs rarely fight to the death. But chickens are different. Egg factories lose as much as 80 percent of their layers to cannibalism, unless they cut off the birds’ beaks; and even on free range, roosters are seized by blood lust now and then. “We call it a comin’ into their pride,” one chicken breeder told me. “After a storm sometimes, you’ll go out into the yard and it’ll be littered with dead birds.

Point Two is that folks who cockfight do not hate their birds. In fact, Bilger notes that they love them and respect them, and treat them like kings. He describes a field of birds, each tied by one leg to their individual plastic pickle barrel huts:

Although the farm looked like an army bivouac in miniature, these birds were more pampered than any soldier. The average broiler chicken lives for six weeks, wing to wing with thousands of others. These gamecocks, by contrast, typically lived for two or three years. And they lived like pashas. Every day, from five-thirty in the morning till sundown, three employees tended to their every need. They fed, trained and vaccinated the birds; trimmed their feathers and searched their droppings for worms, put them on trapezes to strengthen their legs and slowly stroked the twitches out of them. If the birds were still a little stir-crazy, the trainers might even bring around some nice, plump pullets to calm them down. “The prisons could learn something from us about conjugal visits,” Demoruelle said. “The cocks won’t fight as much if they get a female occasionally.”

Point Three is that for all the moralizing that some folks have done about the evils of cockfighting, most are pretty philosophical when it comes to the short and sordid life experienced by birds at commercial broiler and egg operations. As Bilger notes:

Not long after I left Louisiana, I went to visit a chicken factory an hour south of Little Rock, Arkansas. One of forty-one “vertically integrated:” operations owned by Tysons Foods, this one took in 1.3 million birds a week and spat out an endless sea of chicken parts and precooked wings. A mill, a hatchery, and dozens of feed sheds lay around it like spokes on a wheel, and most of the work was automated (when a chicken laid an egg, a tiny conveyor belt underneath the roost trundled the egg off for incubation). Thanks to such efficiencies, American factories slaughter some seven billion chickens a year, and chicken meat, once more expensive than filet mignon, has become blandly ubiquitous – poor man’s fare. Breeders, meanwhile, keep picking up the pace: a century ago a broiler needed sixteen weeks to reach two pounds; today they reach four pounds in six weeks.

Finally, Bilger observes that modern man has an incredible ability to compartmentalize. War is fought "over there" by namless, faceless people, and we do not want to see the injuries. Flush twice, and human waste disappears out of sight and out of mind.  Bag up your trash, and on Tuesday a truck comes and miraculously disappears it down the road.  As for meat, most people think its comes naturally wrapped in plastic and sitting on a foam tray with a little white napkin parked underneath.

There are things we don’t want to know, that we zone away beyond city limits, and most meat producers are happy to oblige. Every year we eat more chicken meat and see less and less of the living birds, and this strikes us as right and normal. Animal rights activists, of course, condemn poultry factories as well as cockfighting, but most of us aren’t that consistent. We’re appalled at blood sports, yet when activists picket slaughter houses or send lurid photos to the media, we resent them, deem them unrealistic. Like cockfighters, they threaten a cherished illusion; that society, in growing up, has lost its taste for blood.

Of course, it's more than that, as Bilger notes.  

It's also a question of property vs. pets.   More on that tomorrow. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Variability in Size & Law and Among Wild Canids

A 104-pound coyote or a wolf with a little coyote in it?

I got a question earlier today about variability in the size of red fox.

My response was the same as it always is:

[F]ox size are variable all over, just as wolves are, and coyotes are, but they "bell out" at an average weight of around 15 pounds +/- two pounds, and that's true all over.

Yes, across broad regions there is some variation in size, but this seems to be mostly due to the length of the body. Italian dog foxes average two pounds lighter than their English kin, and Italian vixens averaged one pound lighter than their English counterparts. Though you would think this might make for an English fox with a slightly larger chest, this does not appear to be the case -- body length seems to be the determinant variable.

In my experience, Maryland fox are about 12-15 pounds, but I have handled some smaller (11 pounds) and a few that were considerably larger. I do not kill fox, but I have friends who do, and they have booked a few as big as 22 pounds. Still a small chest though. A fox is mostly fur! It says a lot that there are no fox taxidermy manikins with chests larger than 14" around.

Wolves and coyotes, of course, are another matter altogether.

Both are extremely variable in size, reflecting the fact that they are true dogs (Canis) with the extreme plasticity we see in that genus, rather than merely a canidae which includes the fox (Vulpes) genus.

How variable are coyotes in size?

Western coyotes seem to average around 22-30 pounds or so, with Eastern Coyotes weighing in at 30-40 pounds. That said, in some places, such as New York's Adirondacks National Park, the coyotes are very large (50-60 pounds) and DNA testing shows a lot of wolf blood running just below the surface.

Coyotes and wolves will interbreed if they cannot find a mate, and both species will, on rare occasion, naturally hybridize with domestic dogs.

The "Red Wolf," which was once common all along the East Coast, and has since been reintroduced into North Carolina, is simply a stable wolf-coyote hybrid.

So how big and how small can a coyote get?

On the small side of the stick, the answer is about 18 pounds -- well within the bell curve for a large red fox.

On the large side, however, the question is a little harder to answer, as it depends on what you want to call a coyote.

In Maine there are "coyotes" that weigh more than 70 pounds, but most of these really large animals are at least half wolf.  In fact, about one out of every five Maine "coyotes" is actually at least 50 percent wolf.

The biggest allegedly pure coyote ever shot appears to be a "coyote" shot in Carroll County, Missouri on the opening day of the deer season this November 13th.

On the web site of the Missouri Department of Conservation they say:

DNA tests show that a 104-pound canine shot by a hunter in Carroll County Nov. 13 was an unusually large coyote.

The hunter shot the big canine on opening day of Missouri’s November firearms deer season, thinking it was a coyote. Coyotes are legal game during deer season. However, when the hunter saw the animal’s size, he wondered if he had mistakenly shot a wolf. He reported the kill to Conservation Agent Marc Bagley.  Bagley took possession of the animal and turned it over to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Resource Science Division for identification.

Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer said the MDC staff took measurements and collected tissue and hair samples for DNA analysis. The test showed the animal was a coyote.

According to Beringer, the coyote was a male approximately 3 years old. It had no tattoos, microchip or evidence of ear tags that would indicate it might have escaped or been released from captivity.

Do I actually believe this animal is 100 percent coyote? 

Not for a minute. 

But I am prepared to be wrong.  I suppose it's possible that this animal had a brain tumor that made its pituitary glands go wild. 

But I am a natural skeptic, and so far I note that there are no full-bodied pictures of this animal next to something which provides scale.   No video either, that I can find.

I think that's odd.  

You would think a 104-pound coyote would have more pictures and video taken of it than Anna Nicole Smith just back from the dead and parading topless on Wall Street. 

So where are the pictures?    Where is the video?  The one head-shot picture we have shows an animal with wolf ears.

And please, no nonsense about there being no pictures because someone, somewhere, is worried about "the antis."   The antis???   Flush that nonsense, please!  

This is America, and we hunt and fish and trap without apology.  We have hunting shows on TV every night, and politicians stepping on themselves to be filmed blasting away at Caribou, Geese and Dove.   In this country, we're not squeamish about showing pictures of any animal, dead or alive!

So where are the pictures and video tape
of this 104-pound coyote?  What's the name of the outfit that did the DNA work? 

Inquiring minds want to know! 

And perhaps I will get an answer... I just shot an email to the dedicated state wildlife personnel in Missouri asking a few questions.  I hope they have time to shoot an answer back!  They might not, of course -- it's the middle of every kind of hunting season under the sun, and there's a lot of work to be done out in the field, I imagine.   But stay tuned!
_ _ _ _ _ _

UPDATE:   Wow!  Not only did I get an answer back from Jeff Beringer, resource scientist and conservation biologist for the State of Missouri, but I got it back almost instantly.  Someone give this man a raise, or at least a valuable first edition copy of Aldo Leopold's book on Game Management!  Mr. Beringer clarifies that:
  • Early test results showed coyote DNA was present in the sampled animal
  • Follow up tests are planned using DNA from wolves from nearby great lake states to see if their wolves also have coyote DNA.
  • It is possible for this animal to be a wolf or wolf hybrid and carry coyote DNA


So, back to the question:  When is a wolf a wolf, and when is a coyote a coyote?   Does a single drop of coyote blood in an animal make it a coyote, or are we going to snap a line and say that every animal over 70 pounds is a wolf, and no DNA testing needed at all?

The reason this question is important, is that while the coyote is not protected anywhere, the wolf is protected almost everywhere. 

A deer hunter shooting a 30-pound coyote has done nothing wrong. 

A deer hunter shooting a 104-pound wolf (three times larger and with very different ears, as can be seen in the photo at top) has just shot a protected animal.

One question that naturally springs to mind is this:  Is Missouri trying to blur the distinction between wolves and coyotes for a larger political purpose, or perhaps just this once to give this particular shooter a break for making an "honest mistake?"

Time will tell as we see what is said, and how it is messaged, and how the information is used. 

Remember, according to the biologists, a Red Wolf (Canis rufus) is just a wolf-coyote hybrid, identical in every way to the animal shot in Missouri in terms of size and looks.   In addition, the Red Wolf is the wolf that was once native to this area, so eventual return to the area is not entirely unexpected. 

But Red Wolves are entirely protected, and anyone shooting one is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine under the Endangered Species Act.

Which beggars the question.  Is the Red Wolf a species or a hybrid, or can a species be (as I would argue) a stable hybrid?  

This is the question that I think is about to get launched with a little more urgency.... and which no doubt will burn up the keyboards of arm chair pundits on both sides of the debate.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trap Line Dog

This story of dogs, dog training, and dog respect is ripped straight from the pages of Hunting Dogs by Oliver Hartley, printed in 1909 and now in the public domainEnjoy!

Several years ago I had a partner who had a dog, part stag hound and the other part just dog, I think. One day he (my partner) asked if I would object to his bringing the dog to camp, saying that his wife was going on a visit and he had no place to leave the dog. I told him that if he had a good dog I would be glad to have him in camp. In a day or two pard went home and brought in the dog. Well, when he came the dog was following along behind his master with tail and ears drooping, and looking as though he never heard a kind word in his life. I asked if the animal was any good and he replied that he did not know how good he was. I asked the name of the dog. He said, "Oh, I call him Pont." I spoke to the dog, calling him by name. He looked at me wistfully, wagging his tail. The look that dog gave me said to me as plainly as words that this was the first kind word he had ever heard.

We went inside and the dog started to follow, when his master in a harsh voice said, "get out of here." I said, "where do you expect the dog to go?" I then took an old coat that was in the camp, placed it in the corner and called gently to Pont, patted the coat and told him to lay down on the coat, which he did. I patted him saying that is a good place for Pont, and I can see that wistful gaze the dog gave me, now. After we had our supper I asked my partner if he wasn't going to fix Pont some supper. "Oh, after a while I will see if I can't find something for him." I took a biscuit from the table, spread some butter on it, called the dog to me, broke the biscuit in pieces, and gave it to the dog from my hand; then I found an old basin that chanced to be about the camp and fixed the dog a good supper.

After the dog had finished his supper I went to the coat in the corner, spoke gently to Pont, patted the coat, and told him to lay down on the coat. That was the end of that, Pont knew his place and took it without any further trouble.

The next morning when we were about ready to start out on the trap line I asked Pard what he intended to do with Pont. He said that he would tie him to a tree that stood against the shanty close to the door. We were going to take different lines of traps. I said, "What is the harm of Pont's going with me?" "All right, if you want him, I don't want any dog with me." I said, Am, (that was Pard's given name, for short) I don't believe the dog wants to go with you any more than you want him to. Am's reply was that he guessed he would go all right if he wanted him. I said. Am, just for shucks, say nothing to the dog and see which one he will follow. So we stepped outside the shack and the dog stood close to me.

I said, "Go on Am, and we will see who the dog will follow." He started off and the dog only looked at him. Am stopped and told the dog to come on. The dog got around behind me.

Am said, "If I wanted you to come, you would come or I would break your neck." I said, "No, Am, you won't break Pont's neck while I am around; it would not look nice."

I started on my way, Pont following after I had gone a little ways. I spoke to Pont, patting him on the head and told him what a good dog he was. He jumped about and showed more ways than one how pleased he was, and from that day until we broke camp, Pont stayed with me. He showed plainly the disgust he had for his master.

It so happened that the first trap I came to was a trap set in a spring run, and it had a 'coon in it. I allowed Pont to help kill the 'coon, and after the 'coon was dead, I patted Pont and told him what great things he had done in capturing the 'coon. Pont showed what pride he took in the hunt, so much so that he did not like to have Am go near the pelt. I saw from the very first day out that all that Pont needed was kind treatment and proper training to make a good help on the trap line.

I was careful to let him know what I was doing when setting a trap, and when he would go to smell at the bait after a trap had been set, I would speak to him in a firm voice and let him know that I did not approve of what he was doing. When making blind sets, I took the same pains to show and give him to understand what I was doing. I would sometimes, after giving him fair warning, let him put his foot into a trap. I would scold him in a moderate manner and release him. Then all the time I was resetting the trap I would talk trap to him, and by action and word teach him the nature of the trap. Mr. Trapper, please do not persuade yourself to believe that the intelligent dog cannot understand if you go about it right.

In two weeks Pont had advanced so far in his training that I no longer had to pay any attention to him on account of the traps. The third day Pont was with me he found a 'coon that had escaped with a trap nearly two weeks before. My route called me up a little draw from the main stream. I had not gone far up this when Pont took the trail of some animal and began working it up the side of the hill. I stood and watched him until the trail took him to an old log, when Pont began to sniff at a hole in the log. He soon raised his head and gave a long howl, as much as to say he is here and I want help. After running a stick in the hole I soon discovered that the log was hollow. I took my belt axe and pounded along on the log until I thought I was at the right point and then chopped a hole in the log, and as good luck would have it, I made the opening right on to the 'coon, and almost the first thing I saw on looking into the log was the trap. Pont soon had the 'coon out, and when I saw it was the 'coon that had escaped with our trap, I gave Pont praise for what he had done, petting him and telling him of his good deed, and he seemed to understand it all.

Not long after this Am came into camp at night and reported that a fox had broken the chain on a certain trap and gone off with the trap, saying that he would take Pont in the morning and see if he could find the fox. In the morning when we were ready to go Am tried to have Pont follow him, but it was no go, Pont would not go with him. Then Am put a rope on to him and tried to lead him, but Pont would sulk and would not be led. Then Am lost his temper and wanted to break Pont's neck again. I said that I did not like to have Pont abused and that I would go along with him. When we came to the place where the fox had escaped with the trap Am at once began to slap his hands and hiss Pont on. Pont only crouched behind me for protection. I persuaded Am to go on down the run and look at the traps down that way while I and Pont would look after the escaped fox.

As soon as Am was gone I began to look about where the fox had been caught and search for his trail, and soon Pont began to wag his tail. I merely worked Pont's way and said, "Has he gone that way?" Pont gave me to understand that the fox had gone that way and that he knew what was wanted. The trail soon left the main hollow and took up a little draft. A little way up this we found where the fox had been fast in some bushes but had freed himself and left and gone up the hillside. Pont soon began to get uneasy, and when I said hunt him out Pont, away he went and in a few minutes I heard Pont give a long howl and I knew that he had holed his game. When I came up to Pont he was working in a hole in some shell rocks. I pulled away some loose rocks and could see the fox, and we soon had him out, and Pont seemed more pleased over the hunt than I was. There was scarcely a week that Pont did not help us out on the trap line.

Not unfrequently did Pont show me a 'coon den. I had some difficulty in teaching Pont to let the porcupines alone, but after a time he learned that they were not the kind of game that he wanted, and he paid no more attention to them.

I have had many different dogs on the trap line with me, and I can say to any one who can understand dog's language, has a liking for a dog and has a reasonable amount of patience and is willing to use it, will find a well trained dog of much benefit on the trap line, and often a more genial companion than some partners one may fall in with. But if one is so constituted that he must give his dog a growl or a kick every time he comes in reach, and perhaps only give his dog half enough to eat and cannot treat a dog as a friend, then I say, leave the dog off the trap line.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hope is the Thing With Feathers :: Trailer Bride

Yesterday was poet Emily Dickinson's birthday

Hope by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

The musical saw used in this song is the perfect instrument, perfectly played.

Consider Changing TWO Lives for the Better

Adopt a Jack Russell Terrier.  Looking for a place to start?  Try Russell Rescue.

A Jack Russell Rescue.... in California

Video here which for some reason I cannot get embedded.

From CNN comes this story:

A lucky dog in California is still recovering after literally being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Fuji, a Jack Russell Terrier, was trapped beneath boulders on the beach for a whole day!

Firefighters, lifeguards and even a bomb squad were called to the scene after someone heard Fuji's cries for help.

Fuji's owner quickly arrived too -- she'd been looking for the pup for an entire day.

It seems the frisky Jack Russell terrier had gone exploring -- possibly chasing a small animal -- and gotten her head stuck.

After more than six hours, rescuers gently pried her free.

Veterinarians say Fuji should make a full recovery and be back to her old self soon.
Thanks to Patti Skorupa of Ardenwood Flat-coated Retrievers for the heads up and the links!

Coffee and Provocation

A Bit Pricey for a Birding Book!
A copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America was recently sold at a London auction for more than $10.2 million, making it the most expensive book in the history of the world.  The BBC has a video of the inside of the book.

A Bit Pricey for a Shotgun!A Fox “F” Grade, double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun owned by President Theodore Roosevelt was sold on October 5th for $862,500, making it the most expensive shotgun ever sold.  The gun was crafted for the 1909 Grand American World Trapshooting Championship in Chicago, but never made it there as it was diverted to Roosevelt, who took the gun with him to hunt in Africa.  Roosevelt declare the gun  "the most beautiful gun I have ever seen," and later wrote in Scribners that "no better gun was ever made.”  During his year-long safari in Africa, Roosevelt and his companions killed or trapped 11,397 animals, including 11 elephants, 20 rhinoceroses, 17 lions, 20 zebras, seven hippopotamuses, seven giraffes and six buffalos.

New Jersey Bear Hunt Going Like Gangbusters:New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, but it still has quite a few black bears.  During the first three days of its bear season, 435 bear were killed.  The total cull expected this season is over 1,000.   There are about 500,000 black bear in the lower 48.

Wolf-killing Advocate is an Elk Poacher:
It turns out that Tony Mayer, who founded the rabidly anti-wolf web site called, is a poacher.  Mayer will stand trial on felony elk poaching charges in Idado.  For the record, more than 350,000 elk currently inhabit Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, but there are only 1,706 wolves scattered across the same area.  The Wyoming/Montana/Idaho elk population has grown by almost 20% since wolves were reintroduced to the wild in the mid-1990s, and all three states actively recruit out-of-state elk hunters.

The Perfect Place to Kill a Person:The location is a pretty big area in Idaho where no jury can be found to convict you.    And yes it's  connected to wildlife and wild lands.  Check it out!  Subscribe to FREE interesting newsletter here.

Belize Protects Its Future and Its Economy:Belize has banned bottom trawling in all its waters.  Now, when will we the U.S. do the same?  Bottom trawling for fish is akin to cutting down the forest in order to harvest the deer.  If you do that, you might not get any deer next season!    With bottom trawling going on almost everywhere, is there is any question why ALL of the world's fisheries are in decline? 

More Signs of the Times:Last week in my Coffee and Provocation post, I mentioned gigantic underwear as being a "sign of the times." Well, it turns out that there may be an even better sign. It seems the Illinois Department of Corrections gets its prison underwear from an inmate labor program at the Sheridan Correctional Center, north of Ottawa where they buy the broadcloth to sew them into boxers as big as 12XL. Twelve XL? Jesus Christ, no wonder this nation is broke! What are we feeding the prisoners?

Wheel + Shovel = Wovel
The greatest invention in the world that I have not tried is the Wovel, which is a combination wheel and shovel designed to move snow off the driveway.  Video here and ordering information here.

Massive Time Saving Idea

Just in time for the Festivus Season.  I could have thought of this.  One again I am losing my chance to make a small fortune.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Hunting Dogs" by Oliver Hartley, 1909

Teddy M. sent me a terrific link to an old now-public-domain book from which these pictures are lifted: Hunting Dogs, by Oliver Hartley

A couple of things leap out at me while reading through:

  1. Many of the old working dogs were as ugly as a muddy river, and;
  2. People still tell hunting stories with the same humor they always have.

A few lines should suffice to demonstrate that last point:

I had an old speckled hound we called Teddy. He went in and when he backed out he had company with him, and he seemed to think a great deal of his company, for he was hanging right on to him just as though he thought his company might leave him if he got a chance. Ted was doing all he could, but he got him up so the other dogs could see Mr. 'Coon's back and then he had plenty of help and the 'coon's troubles were soon over.

Some coons, but a lot of skunk, and one dog that looks half pit.

The text and pictures are a very good read, for we are reminded that this book was written at about the time we had shot out almost all the game in this great county.

There are many reasons why the 'coon hunt is fast becoming one of the most popular of the manly sports. The 'coon is found in many sections of the United States. Other game is becoming very scarce. The wealthy business man, the man of affairs who is tied to his desk six days out of the week, can own a 'coon hound and in the stilly hours of the night, after the day's turmoil of business, can enjoy a few hours of the most strenuous sport now left to us and witness a battle royal between his faithful hound and the monarch of the forest, the wily 'coon. Nothing that I can contemplate is more exhilarating or more soothing to the nerves than the excitement of the 'coon hunt. From the first long drawn note when the trail is struck until the hound's victorious cry at the tree, it is one round of excitement and anticipation. What or whose hound is leading? What direction will Mr. Coon take? What dog will be first to tree? And then the fight! It is simply great! And then showing the hide to the boys who didn't go, and telling them about it for days to come.

The good news is that 100 years later deer, once scare, are now so common that I saw two on the way to work yesterday morning.

It may be bumper-to-bumper traffic from my house into the city, but I can still hunt deer from the front seat and watch bald eagles nesting while I do it!

Greyhounds said to be of a good type.

As for fox and raccoon, we have never had more animals in the history of this nation. The fecundity of Mother Nature is amazing, and if we will only protect habitat and regulate hunting in a sensible way (and we do), then she is only too happy to get up off the floor and dance a jig for us.

Of course it helps that coon and fox hunting is a little less popular than it once was. And for anyone who wonders why this is the case, the book helpfully explains!

The 'coon hunt calls for manhood. Tender weaklings cannot endure the exertions necessary to enjoy this sport. It is too strenuous for the lazy man or the effeminate man to enjoy. They shudder at the thoughts of donning a pair of heavy hip boots and tramping thru swamps and slashes, crossing creeks and barbed wire fences, thru briars and thickets, maybe for several miles, and the probability of getting lost and having to stay all night. But to the man with nerve and backbone this is one of the enjoyable features. It affords great fun to get a tenderfoot to go out for the first time and initiate him into the "'coon hunters' club." The tenderfoot will use every cuss word ever invented and will coin new ones when the supply of old ones becomes worn out and ineffective. He will cuss the briars, cuss the ditches, cuss the creek, cuss the fences, cuss the swamps, cuss the slashes, cuss the man who persuaded him to go, and finally cuss himself for going. But when the excitement of the chase is on and when the fight commences he becomes reconciled; and if good luck is had he is very likely to be the next man to propose another "'coon hunt."

Coonhounds in 1909.

Motley dogs with cased coon skins, and men with carbide lights.

This photo is captioned "fox hound graduates".

Captioned as "foxhounds worthy of the name."

Fox Terrier (what we would now call a Jack Russell)

Some things never change, of course.

The best advice any honest working dog man can give a novice is to stay away from the purebred Kennel Club show dog. As Hartley notes,

The ideal coon dogs of most experienced night hunters are the half bred fox hounds.

True enough today.

The rarest dog in the AKC is the purebred American Foxhound. Who wants a purebred from show lines? No one! And yet foxhounds are as common as stagnant water in this state, and the Masters of Foxhound Association is just an hour up the road from my house. What is rejected is not the foxhound, but the inbred and the nonworking version of these dogs.

Working dogs come with pedigrees too, but those pedigrees mean something, as attached to every dog going back five generations or more is a decent story or two about real work in the field.  Not trials with coons in cages, or farm-raised and just-planted birds, or pet sheep trained to follow any man or woman with a stick. Real work.