Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shooting Elephants and Carrying Capacity

Peter Beard, Kenya, about 1963.

Over on Facebook
a friend posted a video which shows GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons engaged in shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe.  

The elephant was a local crop-raider, and all of the meat from this elephant went to feed local villagers (as can be seen on the video). 

Parsons' elephant shoot was done under the auspices of Zimbabwe's Problem Animal Control (PAC) program, and this was not a trophy animal. 

The shooting license for an elephant in Zimbabwe is a tidy sum of money by African standards, but it's not much more than the cost to shoot an Elk here in the U.S. if you are an out-of-state hunter.

My smart, generally well-informed, and caring friend saw the video of Parsons' elephant hunt and thought it so shocking she promptly called for everyone to boycott GoDaddy.

Shocking?  I merely thought the video was very bad public relations.  But was it a horror?  Not to me. 

Now, to be clear, I know that different people are shocked by different things.  Not everyone has actually killed something, or thought long and hard about where beef, chicken, and lamb come from.  Not everyone has watched a hawk put a talon through a rabbit's eye, or heard the scream of a fox as it smacks a fender and crawls off to die in a water ditch.  Not everyone has walked through a nursing home and looked, listened, and smelled the last few weeks of a human life.

I understand that people get emotional when they see death, especially the death of such a magnificent and exotic animal as an elephant.  And I am more than sympathetic. 

The death of an elephant should be a big deal, and I am damn glad it is.

But the question to ask about Bob Parson's elephant hunt is this:  Is this hunt bad for elephants? 

Notice the plural. 

I am not asking about this elephant in particular (yes, it was a very bad day for this individual) but about elephants in Zimbabwe in general.

And the answer is no. 

To understand why, you have to be willing to park your heart for a minute and "listen with your head."

For starts, let's admit that Africa used to have a hell of a lot of elephants.  These elephants were hunted even in pre-European days, but the kills were fairly modest as the tools for killing -- spears, poisoned melons, and poisoned darts -- were not very efficient, and the human population density was relatively low. 

Around 1930, however, things started to change in Africa. 

With the arrival of vaccines and antibiotics, human mortality rates rapidly declined even as birth rates continued to remain breath-takingly high. 

At the same time low-cost, accurate, and rapid-firing guns, efficient chainsaws, high-production logging mills, and tractor-pulled plows came to the continent wholesale.

As a result, Africa's lands and wildlife took a hammering even as things got marginally better for most humans (as measured by longevity and lower infant mortality).

By 1960, it was clear things were going to have to change in Africa, and for the very same reason they had changed here in America 100 years earlier. 

In the U.S., our own population had grown by leaps and bounds during the 19th Century. 

We had gone west, broken the plains to the plow, shot out all the buffalo, trapped out all the beaver, and stretched barbed wire from coast to coast even as we poisoned our rivers and creeks with mine tailings and sewage.  

Around 1900 we began protecting some of the wild land that remained. 

Now to be honest, most of this land was swamp or worthless mountain already ravaged by over-logging (in the East) or land that was too rocky, mountainous or dry to farm or raise cattle on (in the West).  

Nonetheless, in rapid succession we set aside State Parks, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and vast stretches of empty scrub for our children and grandchildren to come. 

On all of this land, except for the National Parks, we allowed hunting in season. 

In Africa, the push to create vast national parks and protect both wild lands and wildlife arrived in the 1920s -- much earlier in the arc of economic development than it had in Europe or North America.

Kenya was one of the first countries to protect its wild lands and wildlife, opening one of Africa's first great parks, the Tsavo, in 1948. 

It was to the Tsavo that the young photographer and author Peter Beard first traveled in 1955. 

Of his perspective back then, Beard writes:

“ When I first went to Kenya in August 1955, I could never have guessed what was going to happen.... it was authentic, unspoiled, teeming with big game — so enormous it appeared inexhaustible. 

Everyone agreed it was too big to be destroyed."

But, of course, nothing is too big to be destroyed, is it? 

What amazed Beard, however, was that a good chunk of his part of East Africa was being destroyed by elephants.  

Elephants?  Elephants.

Beard chronicled it all in in amazing, heart-shattering photography. 

Elephant herd, Tsavo, early 1960s, Peter Beard photo.

What happened in the Tsavo -- a massive die-off of elephants that started in the early 1960s and continued off and on for more than a decade -- was due to a combination of human population growth outside of the park, combined with elephant over-population inside the park, and drought to push it all over the edge.  

In the end, what had been a forested landscape was reduced to a near-desert.

Beard's pictures of the destruction became The End of the Game, a book which still stands as one of the great visual witnesses to what can happen when "heart first" wildlife conservation goes wrong.

What Beard photographed (often by air) was shocking then, and it is still shocking now.

Dead elephant, starvation, Tsavo.  Peter Beard photo.  Notice tusks.

So what does this have to do with Bob Parsons shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe? 

Maybe quite a lot. 

You see, while elephant herds are not uniformly robust across Africa, they appear to be a little too healthy in Zimbabwe, where their numbers have more than doubled to about 100,000 in the last 30 years

Why does Zimbabwe have so many elephants? 

One factor is that very few hunters have wanted to go to Zimbabwe in recent years. 

Robert Mugabe, the brutal dictator of that country for the last three decades, has collapsed the economy to the point that many people are, quite literally, starving.  Not exactly a good place for a vacation!

Another factor is that while wildlife may be in abundance in some parts of the country, most of the local people do not have access to guns, as Mugabe is terrified that an armed populace might rise up to overthrow him.

And so the elephants have done what elephants do -- they breed and they feed. 

All good up to a point, but that point can be crossed, and there is little doubt that that has occurred in some parts of Zimbabwe.

Today, the elephant population of Zimbabwe is running far beyond the carrying capacity of protected lands, resulting in elephants frequently entering farmer's fields to destroy life-sustaining crops.

In order to manage its elephant herds, Zimbabwe has implemented a Problem Animal Control (PAC) program in which elephants that threaten local village crops are culled out

To be clear, when you get a license to shoot an elephant in Zimbabwe you are not guaranteed a trophy animal, nor do you get to decide what animal is culled, nor do you get to keep any part of the elephant. 

All you get to take with you is the experience and your pictures.

Bob Parsons is unapologetic about his Zimbabwean elephant hunt.  He says:

All these people that are complaining that this shouldn't happen, that these people [in Zimbabwe] who are starving to death otherwise shouldn't eat these elephants, you probably see them driving through at McDonald's or cutting a steak. These people [Zimbabwe villagers] don't have that option."

And, as noted, Parsons is not inventing the hungry people of Zimbabwe.  If you have any doubt about that, take a look at these pictures which show what happens when an elephant dies of natural causes in that God-and-UN-forsaken country.

But surely there is an alternative to culling these elephants, right? 

What about moving the elephants to an area where there are too few of these animals? 

That's been done in the past, but after moving over 1,000 elephants it seems that all of the nearby wild lands that can take elephants have them, and the costs are not cheap to move these massive creatures -- about $2,000 per animal in a country that does not have the money it needs to feed its own children.

What about elephant contraception?  That sounds easy enough in theory, but it's not in practice, as elephants are very slow breeders which means you have to put 75% of all breeding females on contraception for more than 10 years in order to get the numbers down, and that too will not be cheap or easy.

Are other options being tried?  Of course.  Some success has been had with elephant drives using fireworks and drums.  Some minor success has been achieved with heavy gates, grates and moats around fields, crop substitution, and the use of chili-pepper fires and oil spray deterrents.  African bee hives on trip-wires are even being experimented with.  That said, Zimbabwe's problems with elephants are not small and localized -- they are widespread and endemic. If you think it's hard to get deer out of a suburban garden, and impossible to get them off a large farm, consider what it must be like to get elephants out of the fields of some parts of southern Africa!

Put it all together and you can see why regulated, science-based elephant culling in Zimbabwe makes sense, not only for the local people, but also for the long-term health of elephant populations in that part of the world. 

So, to bring it all back around, whatever happened to Kenya and the elephants of the Tsavo?  Peter Beard is not shy about answering the question:

The game now involves accommodating statistics like every mature female in Kenya having 8.2 children. The game now involves the Bono–Bardot– Jolie–Holywood–Madonna–World Bank people. The politics of sentimentality, AIDS retardation drugs guaranteeing thousands (or millions) more AIDS babies, now already numbering around four-million in South Africa alone. BandAid, UNICEF, World Bank (high nitrogen fertilizers ruining the soil), Oxfam plus all the others. (They’ve never heard of sustainable yield!) Their seemingly heroic businesses are just unloading guilt for profit. More specifically “Buy an elephant a drink” comes to mind: suckering contributions for the overloaded national park system and all the absurdly sentimental park trustees, who could see swelling numbers of 40,000 elephants eating all the trees in the park – starving to death with stress related heart disease and of course constipation from consuming the wood. Violence, vandalism, and density-related negatives… "Buy ‘em a drink! Hug the babies.”

It amounts to selfish and presumptuous often spoiled interference from the disastrous, locust-like, human population exploding all around and replacing (if not eradicating) most of nature. And then on our end: U.N. bureaucrats, G.W. Bush at the G8, and at Kyoto; and even more awkward, his pathetic African tour, just handing out money – more silly interference, less understanding…No sense of biology, population dynamics or Charles Darwin, and most amazing of all, hiding behind clichés like “climate change”, global warming, etc… when all it is, is emissions from our own horrible exponentially expanding human population explosion (except in France, Scandinavia, and a few other places).


Read the entire interview (I am not saying I agree with all of it!) and go order a copy of The End of the Game for the pictures alone.  You will not be disappointed (though you may be a little disturbed).

Water for Elephants -- A Terrific Book

I'm not a huge book-pusher, but for those looking for a terrific bit of fiction, I give five stars to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. 

There's not a bad paragraph in this book -- terrific characters, great plot, vibrant settings, and yes there is even operant conditioning for the dog- and animal-trainers among you! 

Get a copy -- I guarantee you will like this book!

Not Entirely Persuasive


Catacombs Full of Dogs?

Finally, an economic stimulus plan for dog breedersThis one is straight from Egypt:

A labyrinth of sacred tunnels packed with the mummified remains of millions of dogs has been excavated under the Egyptian desert.

The catacombs are estimated to contain the remains up to eight million dogs, many of which would have been offered to the gods when they were just hours old....

With the need to mummify so many animals, perhaps thousands per year, it is likely the animals were bred in puppy farms dotted around the ancient capital of Memphis.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Point ... Counterpoint


... and his most loyal reader..

Right Feed Cannot Cure Wrong Breed

Brennen McKenzie, a California veterinarian, has taken an unblinking look at the "RAW" versus commercial dog food debate.

McKenize has found a lot of puffery, bloviating, conspiracy, philosophy, and paranoia from the the RAW folks, but not much science to support their claims and quite a bit of evidence that commercial dog foods are more than just fine -- they are probably safer and more nutritious as well.

The argument that dogs are designed by their evolutionary history to eat raw meat based diets is riddled with errors and fallacies and ignores the impact of tens of thousands of years of domestication and cohabitation with humans ... The accusations that commercial dog foods are nutritionally inadequate or unsafe are not supported by any objective or scientific evidence, only anecdotes, intuition, and conspiracy theories. There is, in contrast, significant evidence that commercial dog foods are nutritious and healthy and that they have contributed to greater longevity and reduced nutritional and infectious disease morbidity of dogs fed these diets.

The benefits promised by advocates of BARF diets for dogs are numerous... However, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these claims. BARF proponents have no shortage of opinions and anecdotes to demonstrate the benefits of their diets, but they have a severe shortage of data.

The risks of raw meat based diets, however, are well-documented. Homemade diets and commercial BARF diets are often demonstrable unbalanced and have severe nutritional deficiencies or excesses. Dogs have been shown to acquire and shed parasitic organisms and potentially lethal infectious diseases associated with raw meat, including pathogenic strains of E. coli and Salmonella...

So with a dodgy theory behind it, no sound evidence of benefits, and clear risks, there is no justification for recommending raw meat based diets for dogs.

Of course not everyone agrees! You will hear cautions from some people. No problem there, but be sure to down the leash before listening too closely.

Do they own a cancer-prone breed like a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Scottish Terrier, an Irish Wolfhound, or a Flatcoated Retriever?

Do they own a giant breed like a Great Dane or a Scottish Deerhound, which is likely to die from gastric torsion or heart disease?

Do they own a toy breed whose jaws are too crowded to hold its teeth, or do they own a heavily inbred rare breed with a gene pool that was closed with less than 50 dogs?

Now ask yourself this: are you really going to listen to these people when it comes to the health risks associated with dog food when the same people so clearly ignored the more obvious and well-documented risks associated with breed selection?!

Do you also ask ask bankrupts for their business plans, three-time divorcees for marital advice, and the obese for dieting tips?

If a person does not know enough about dogs to stay away from a famously unhealthy breed, why would you think they know enough about dog food (or relative risk) to give advice?

If a person does not have enough common sense to read the label on the DOG -- the most important decision they will make when it comes to owning, raising, training or living with the animal -- why would you pay any attention to what they have to say about dog food?

I Said There Ought'a Be a Law... Now There Is!

Back in 2010 I wrote that:

Retractable string leads are inadequate to control even a small dog, are easily chewed through, are almost impossible to affix to a fence or post, and can easily trip you. In short, there ought to be a law against them.

Now the city of San Jose, California has done exactly that!   The San Jose Mercury News reports:

The San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a new ordinance that requires people on city trails to keep their dogs on leashes no longer than 6 feet -- 14 feet shorter than is allowed now.

The new law also requires dog owners to walk, jog or bicycle to the right of the trail with their pets.

First-time violators would receive a warning, second-time violators could be issued a $100 citation, and a third violation within three years could result in a $200 fine.

The action comes after a series of community meetings held by San Jose City Councilwoman Nancy Pyle following a fatal accident that occurred on Sept. 16, 2009.

Beverly Head was taking a morning walk when her legs became entangled in a dog leash as a mountain biker riding alongside his two Siberian Huskies passed her on the Los Alamitos Creek Trail. The retired 62-year-old San Jose phlebotomist fell, bumped her head and was conscious after the accident. But at the hospital, her brain swelled and she died the next day.

To be clear, the string leads are only illegal on bike and walking paths.  But that's a start!   How many more people need to be killed, have their legs broken, and their fingers amputated before we say this is a product we managed to live 4,000 years without ... and that we can probably do so again.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost by a Neck in the Race of Life

The Pug again.  This time look at the shortened neck.
  No wild canid has a neck that looks remotely like this.  This is the neck of a hippo, not a dog.

Here's what a natural running dog looks like (click to enlarge). 

Try to count the vertebrae in the neck of the Pug.  Now try to count the number of vertebrae in the neck of the natural dog.

Not only is the neck of the natural dog  long enough to allow the head to move, but the skull is the right shape, and the legs are long enough to propel the dog forward to either capture prey or avoid being eaten by an even larger predator.

Yes They Really Are Doing This

Dogboarding from DANIELS on Vimeo.

This Dog Was Drafted

Welcome to the U.S. Army, dog!
Click to enlarge.Source

Pugs Defective by Design

This is a normal dog skull, which is structurally identical to that of a coyote, wolf, German Shepherd, dingo, or Jack Russell, albeit with differences in overall size.


This is the skull of a Pug owned by a reader of this blog.  It reminds me of one of those "pickled punk" jars they used to have at circus freak shows in the 1920s and 30s -- a deformed human fetus in a jar.

Of course deformed animals show up all the time in nature. 

The difference is that so many Kennel Club breeds are bred for intentional defect and planned misery.  This is is systematic and institutionalized animal abuse by the American Kennel Club and it is abetted by puppy peddlers and dog dealers who call themselves breeders, as well as their show ring sycophants who put their own desire for fifty-cent ribbons over the daily lives of the living animals to be found in their own homes.

Why do wolves, fox, dingoes, coyotes, fox and honest hunting dogs have long snouts?   For the simple reason that short snouts are maladaptive. 

A dog with a short snout has no front-end eye protection when running in grass or weeds -- and yes, this is an issue for Pugs which often sustain serious injury because their eyes sit right at the "edge of the wedge" of their skulls with little to no orbit protection.

A dog with a short snout will almost always have teeth problems because the jaws have been shortened and now there is no place for the teeth and tongue to go.

A dog with a short snout will always always have a compromised sense of smell and may also have serious breathing problems if the dog's face is as short as that of a Pug's.  The reason for this is that the nasal chambers of a flat-face dog are much smaller than those of a longer-snouted animal, and may also be crushed and twisted, obstructing the flow of air.

The bottom line is that Mother Nature prunes away its mistakes -- it does not give them a ribbon or try hard to make a lot more of them.  And, as a consequence, in the world of natural dogs there is no canine that looks like a Pug!   

If you have a Pug, try to keep it comfortable and love it until it leaves this earth.  It's physical problems are not of its own making, and the dog is without sin.  But pledge to never get a dog like this again.  Dogs deserve better!  

Same Pug as in the x-ray. 
Picture courtesy of the dog's owner, picture by Tim Rose for Dog’s Today.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Step Away from the Flexi and No One Gets Hurt

I have noted, in the past, that guns create a great deal less unintentional mayhem than most people believe.

New York City -- ground zero in the war against guns -– has 2.6 million children under the age of 10 and approximately 3 million guns owned by adults.

Yet, accidental gun deaths among children under age 10 averages only 1.2 per year in that city

Clearly, most gun owners are pretty safety-conscious. The same cannot be said for automobile drivers or mothers who do not bother to read the instructions that come with child safety seats.

I have also noted in the past the flexi-leads can very easily kill you:

Retractable string leads are inadequate to control even a small dog, are easily chewed through, are almost impossible to affix to a fence or post, and can easily trip you. In short, there ought to be a law against them.

What I missed, however, is doing a comparison of guns and flexis. 

Janine at Smartdogs Weblog did the work of putting the data together, and it is an excellent and illuminating read. 

...based on 2007 data compiled by the Center for Disease Control – you are more likely to be seriously injured by a leash than by the unintentional discharge of a firearm.

Read the whole thing, which also notes that:  

The Flexi lead’s product safety warning is over 1,400 words long. Glock’s is less than 250.

That might tell you something right there!

A final point: Flexi's aren't cheap

In fact, they cost more than twice what a nylon leash will cost you, and they last less than a quarter as long due to rapid wear, mechanism breakage, and bite-throughs. Combine that with the injury rate and the fact that you can't reliably control any dog with a flexi, and you have reason enough to dump the "string lead".
A Flexi can injure others - and you may be liable..
A flexi can snap and take out your eye.
A flexi can easily trip you up and cause you to break a leg.
The product insert specifically warns about finger amputation.

Think you can get by with a Flexi because you have a small dog?  You can't -- not safely.  As the product insert itself notes:..

Even small dogs can pull hard enough to injure you, particularly because the length of the leash allows dogs to run and build up speed.

Bottom line: Step away from the Flexi!

You Be the Judge in this Dog Story

"Crazy with hot sauce, and a dog story too."

That was the subject line in the email I got, and when I clicked on the link, I got  a little video view of Pam Bondi, the new Attorney General of Florida.  I assume she is the hot sauce? 

As for the crazy part, I assume that's because Bondi is a right-winger who courted the tea bag party seeking their endorsement?  That's not crazy if you are a Republican seeking office.  It's only crazy if you are a member.

So what's the dog story? That was a little farther down in the Wikipedia article where we learn:

Bondi adopted a St. Bernard dog, after he was rescued from St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. When the original owners located the dog and attempted to reclaim it, Bondi did not return the dog. In July 2006, a lawsuit was filed by the dog's original owners against Bondi seeking a transfer of custody. In May 2007, Bondi agreed to return the dog to its original owners.

For the record, the St. Bernard Parish family that owned this dog did not want to leave it.  When they themselves were rescued by boat, the human rescuers threw the dog out of the boat and handcuffed the owners for trying to dive back in and get it.  Last they saw the dog, it was swimming after the boat. 

The owners, undeterred, sent a cousin out to leave food and water for the dogs, which he did.  On September 18th, the dogs were picked up by pet rescuers and taken to a Humane Society shelter set up for Katrina dogs.  The dog was then transferred from Louisiana to another Humane Society shelter in Pinellas County, Florida where, despite clear records indicating that the dog was owned by a responsible owner, it was put up for adoption.  Bondi adopted the dog on October 15th.

In the interim, of course, the owners were trying to find their dog.  They eventually tracked it over several states and located it, but Bondi fought returning the dog for 16 months, first arguing that it was a case of canine mistaken identity, and then arguing that she would be a better owner for the dog. 

Only after losing in court, did Bondi relinquish the dog.  Now she's the new Attorney General of Florida.


Robots That are Powered by Consuming Flesh

This is how it starts.

Now the question is does it end with Soylent Green Energy or Skynet sending Terminator-like robots after us?

Friday, March 25, 2011

This is a Protection and Guarding Breed?

Is this a hippo or a dog?
  And no it's not photoshop, it's not a photo taken by somone with an anti-Neopolitan mastiff agenda, and it's not a "bad specimen" of the breed.  In fact this photo is from a top breeder of Neos, and is displayed on the breeder's web site to show the quality of the dogs offered for sale.  More photos below. 

The dog, above, is three years and six months old.  At this age, he should be in prime form as a guard and protection dog.  But is this dog built to intimidate?  Can this dog outrun anyone? Can it leap up and grab anyone by the throat?  It is even capable of walking all the way around the perimeter of a suburban house at a slow pace?

This dog was feature in a Harry Potter movie and this picture is featured on the breeder's web site as an example of his breeding success.  

A small question:  If a cherry-eyed dog that can barely see and barely breathe is the model of success in the guarding and protection game, how come we never see these features, or this breed, used for protection or guard service by police, military or private security contractors anywhere in the world?

And what about the dogs here in America?  Are they any better?   The picture, below, is from the web site of the United States Neopolitan Mastiff Club, and so I suppose this cherry-eyed dog is thought to be ideal?

And what about in Italy? 
The name "Mario Querci" is a top name in Neos, and goes back to the beginning of the breed and right up through to the modern era (1950-1990) with 50 world champion titles.  Querci is dead now, but here we see the best of the breed in Italy competing for the "Mario Querci Trophy."  Watch the breathing of these dogs after they walk around a ring! This is what "success" looks like in this breed.

More pictures at Jemima Harrison's Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog here and here.

Real Work for Spanish Mastiffs

I pay attention to people who work their dogs. These are the folks who put their terriers or dachshunds to ground, who shoot more than 200 rounds over their bird dogs a year, who put their running dogs out on hare and fox and coyote, or who herd sheep for a living.

And, of course, it includes folks who use guard dogs to protect their flocks because they live in an area where wolves, coyotes, lion, black bear, and grizzlies live in some abundance. Cat Urbigkit is one of those people, and she recently traveled around the world to look for better guard dogs for wool growers in the Intermountain West. She came back with Spanish Mastiffs. Compare and contrast with the non-working fantasy dog called the Neo! Another excellent post on the same topic on the same blog by Cat is Living with Livestock Guardians (Anatolians, Akbash, Aziats, Kangal, Karabash, Ovtcharka, and Great Pyrenees).  Not much fantasy here!

The Italian Job

Scanziani's flyer advertising his old kennel and his new breed.

Look through the back of any dog magazine, and you will find dog dealers hawking "testosterone" dogs to young men.

The list of dogs includes the "Olde English Bulldogge" along with the Old English Bulldog, the Original English Bulldogge, Olde Bulldogge, the Campeiro Bulldog, Leavitt Bulldog, the Catahoula Bulldog, the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, the Aussie Bulldog, the Victorian Bulldog, the Valley Bulldog, the Olde Boston Bulldogge, the Dorset Old Tyme Bulldog, the Ca de Bou, the Banter Bulldog, and the Johnson Bulldog, to say nothing of the Alana Espanol, Cane Corso, Bully Kutta, and the recreated "Alaunt."

These new-age molosser breeds are sandwiched between the English, Tibetan and Bull Mastiffs, the Rottweilers, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the Dogo Argentino, the Fila Brasileriro and, of course, the English Bulldog.

And then, of course, there is "The Italian Job" -- the Neopolitan Mastiff.

What does a Neopolitan Mastiff have in common with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

Actually quite a lot.

For one, both dogs were created at a dog show, based on a sample size of one.

Both dogs were invented by show ring people anxious to create a breed that looked like the pictures they had seen on a wall. 

In the case of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Roswell Eldridge was trying to breed a dog that looked like those seen in the paintings of van Dyck.  

In the case of the Neopolitan Mastiff, Piero Scanziani was looking to breed a heavy "gladiator dog" like those he saw in the mosaics at Pompeii.

Scanziani, to set the record straight, was not Italian, but Swiss.  Born in 1908, he was one of those young wanna-be-tough-guys who are so often fascinated by molosser breeds.  Starting in 1930, at the age of 22, he began breeding Boxers, English Bulldogs, and Dogue de Bordeaux.

After Italy's ignoble defeat at the end of World War II,  Scanziani, now the editor of an Italian dog magazine called Cani, had an idea.  Why not create a heavy-bodied "Italian dog" that would harken back to the greater glory that was Rome and perhaps revive the nation's flagging sense of self?  

Scanziani cast about for a mastiff that was large enough and imposing enough to do the job, but he came up blank until October 12, 1946  when he attended the Castel dell'Ovo dog show in Naples, which was the first dog show to be held in Italy after WW II.

There Scanziani met a gentleman who owned a massive dog by the name of Guaglione, but the dog had already been sold to another man by the name of Carmine Puolo. 

Undeterred, Scanziani eventually bought Guaglione from Carmine Puolo in 1949, and that same day he also acquired from Puolo a bitch by the name of Pacchiana. 

Scanziani declared that he now had the foundation stock for his new breed -- two dogs of pedigree unknown which he had acquired on the same day!  

Within a few months, Scanziani had written up a standard for his new breed based on Guaglione's appearance, and in 1951 Guaglione was made the first Italian "Champion" of the breed. 

Wow, what a dog man!   He buys a dog, invents a history for it, writes a breed standard based on a sample size of one, and makes the dog a champion!

Welcome to "the Italian Job" -- the Neopolitan Mastiff. 

This is a breed created by dog show people for dog show purposes, and it has never strayed too far from that path.  This is a dog forged in the fire of fantasy.  It was never a dog designed for work because there was no work for it to do.  A gladiator dog?  It's to laugh.  The Roman coliseum was in ruins the day this dog was created, and it still remains a ruin! 

Today the Neopolitan Mastiff is shown in the ring as a "working" dog.  But working at what?  No one can say.  There are no Kennel Club-registered mastinos working as guard or police dogs at any military, police, or corporate security installation in the world.  This is a dog that is simply too heavy too move, and too plagued with health problems to invest time and energy into training.

Which is not to say that there are not working molossers in this world; there certainly are! 

American Pit Bulls are used for police work, guard work, and pig-catching work around the world, as are various cross-bred bandogs.

But a cross-bred bandog is not a Neo, is it?  By definition, a Neopolitan Mastiff is a registered dog bred to a standard that allows not a single drop of outcrossed blood.

Now, to be clear, there is nothing uniquely bad about Neos. 

Are they hideous freaks fit only for Harry Potter movies?   Sure, but so are a lot of Kennel Club dogs, from Chinese Cresteds to Pekingese and Italian Greyhounds.

Are almost 100% born cesarean?  Sure, but how is that different from a lot of Kennel Club molossers, from English Bulldogs to English Mastiffs?

Are too many burdened with cherry eye?  Of course, but if we start counting that as a defect we won't have Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds and Saint Bernards, will we?

Do too many of these dogs die painful deaths from gastric torsion and cancer?  Well sure, but how is that different from Irish Wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, and Great Danes to name just a few breeds with similar problems?

No, I am not outraged by the Neo's health problems. 

I am outraged that this dog is in the "working" dog class when this dog has NEVER worked, cannot work, and does not work.

So what is my solution?

I propose a new class for Kennel Club dogs -- a class that Piero Scanziani himself would have saluted. 

You see Scanziani was a writer of religious science fiction.

Is not the Kennel Club a religion that operates independent of science and which professes things that its adherents are told to believe based on faith alone?

It is!

And are not a great number of Kennel Club breed histories little more than science fiction?

They are!

So let us create a Kennel Club class for Science Fiction dogs. It will be a big and diverse class.

It will have in it the terrier breeds that are terrified of a mouse and that are too big to go to ground on a fox.  

It will have in it the "herding" breeds never seen in the hands of commercial sheep men -- the Bearded Collies, the Lassie Collies, the Old English Sheep Dogs, and the like. 

It will have in it the running dogs that trip over their own hair, and the German Shepherds with hocks as collapsed as Hitler's bunker.

And, of course, it will have in it all those molosser breeds which, like the Neopolitan Mastiff and the English Bulldog, have devolved into cartoons and caricatures.

Fit for function?  Of course!  They are fit for the function of science fiction!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coffee and Provocation

Thoughts on Beagling:
A nice little video with three different beaglers doing it their way.  This video is 32 minutes, and features Clayton Bright, a sculptor of sporting art from Brandywine, Pennsylvania; Roland Baltimore, an African American contractor from Middleburg, Virginia; and Claude Honeycutt, a beagle man from the mountains of western North Carolina near Asheville.  All nice guys, but I would be happiest spending a day in the field with Roland! 

Thoughts on Fox Hunting:
This 30-minute film from 1975 features huntsman Melvin Poe and the hounds of the Orange County Hunt near The Plains,Virginia, where old and broken hounds are replaced with as little fanfare as old and broken reigns. 

Cat Killers:
According to a new study in the Journal of Ornithology, cats kill 500 million birds a year as compared to only 440,000 a year for wind turbines.

A World-Class Hero:
The Democratic Republic of Congo's Environment Minister Jose Endundo has rejected a bid by UK oil firm Soco International to search for oil in Virunga National Park, home of the world's only Mountain Gorillas.

You Can't Keep a Good Albatross Down:
The Tsunami wiped out thousands of nesting albatross on Midway Island, but the oldest bird in America, a 60-year old female Laysan Albatross named Wisdom, not only survived, but so did her chick who she relocated and is now feeding.  This is this particular bird's 35th baby.

James Joyce's Microbe:
When Craig Venter created the world's first synthetic microbe, he inserted a passage from James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man into the "extra" bits of code so he could distinguish his synthetic creation from natural forms.  Now Joyce's estate is suing, claiming copyright infringement.  The very short line inserted into the DNA (“To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life.”) will likely be deemed to be fair use by the court, and I hope the Joyce estate is hit with court costs for filing frivolous litigation.

PeTA Kills:
The 2010 PeTA kill data for PeTA's "shelter" in Norfolk, Virginia is in. The total kill rate in 2010 was 93.81%.  PeTA took in 1,553 cats and killed 1,507, and they took in 792 dogs and killed 693.

The Chamber of Commerce Has Never Been Right:
In over 30 years of advocacy, I have always sat in opposition to whatever the Chamber of Commerce was pushing.  It turns out  that just proves I have always been right!  Bill McKibben, author of Maybe Just One, notes that in almost 100 years, the Chamber of Commerce has been on the wrong side of almost every debate from Lend-Lease to the New Deal, from wage and hour laws to child labor, from McCarthyism to pollution control.  McKibben writes:  "There's a reason the U.S. Chamber always gets it wrong: they stand with whoever gives them the most cash (in 2009, 16 companies provided 55% of their budget). That means that they're always on the side of short-term interest; they're clinically, and irremediably, short-sighted. They recently published a list of the states they thought were 'best for business,' and the results were almost comical -- all their top prospects (Mississippi!) ranked at the very bottom of everything from education to life expectancy.... If you're trying to figure out the future, study the U.S. Chamber -- and go as fast as you can in the opposite direction."

KFC's Secret Herbs and Spices:
Most food companies (including dog food companies) try to keep their recipes under wraps because recipes cannot be patented or copyrighted, which is why so many recipe books are "written" by famous people with no cooking talent at all.  Eventually, of course, every secret is told.  For example, here are KFC's "11 secret herbs and spices."

Tastes like Cat:
During the German siege of Paris in 1870, Daily News correspondent Henry Labouchère had to eat whatever was available, and he record his opinions on eating horse, cat, donkey, kitten, rat, and spaniel.

Genghis Khan: Historically Hardcore

Of course, Genghis and Kublai Khan were both falconers.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Golden Gate Pet Cemetary

It turns out the old Presidio Army Base pet cemetary is right under the ramp to the Golden Gate bridge.  Who knew?   The ramp has been deemed to be a seismic hazard, and so it is being rebuilt.  What to do with the old pet cemetary?  Answer:  fence it off so it remains undisturbed while millions of dollars of construction go on around it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teddy Roosevelt: Historically Hardcore


And, of course, he was a terrierman.  See here and here and here.

We'll Start Small and Slow, and Build...

Snaring out one at the end of a dig.
Not the biggest groundhog ever, but the season is still young!

Sunday was a beautiful day in field and forest. 

It's still very early in the season though, and most groundhogs are only moving around once a week or so.  What happens is that groundhogs first start to stir in early February, but their activity is mostly limited to popping out for a quick poop and pee after three months of hibernation.  After a quick evacuation, they generally scoot back in, wall up the den with dirt, and nod back off back to sleep.  Right around now, the males will stir a little more and begin to look for mates, but once they have mated a female, she will generally lay up underground as her pregnancy develops.  Pups are delivered in mid-April when real foraging starts.

During hibernation, groundhog heart rates will drop from about 80 beats a minute to about 4 beats a minute, and during the time they are underground they lose about 30 percent of their body mass.  The result is that after a winter of wet ground that has settled, and with most den pipes still blocked by dirt, this time of year is a real challenge for terriers and diggers as fewer groundhogs are to be found than later on, and those that are found can scoot into some pretty tight pipes. 

Isaac and I found a lot of den pipes, and the dogs went to ground and stayed under for quite a while, but we only heard a real bay three times. 

The first was a find by Gideon (Mountain went to find us with her classic "come her Timmy" routine) but we had to pop in a lot of holes as the dog moved past dirt blockages and wall-ups erected by the groundhog.  Mountain evetually found after we swaped her in, but we let Gideon work it at the end of the dog, as she had found it and bayed it at the start. 

The second find was a field sette and pretty deep.  I could only hear Mountain when my ear was pressed flat on the ground.  The box said she was about 5 feet down, but the sound was not traveling very far.  Instead of ruining this farmer's field digging a five foot hole for a groundhog that was sure to dig away in this soft earth, we waited for Mountain to exit which she eventually did.  We moved on.

The next sette was found as we headed back to the truck.  Mountain found in a nice location and worked it alone for about 15 mintutes before we located her.  This place was shallow, but with a lot of rock, and as we dug and shifted some stone, the groundhog either managed to dig away or perhaps it had bolted just before we got there.  Either way, we lost this groundhog.  Next time.

A highlight of the day was spooking several wild turkeys in two locations.  They did a pretty credible job of treeing and then flying some distance to get away from us.  I may have to take up turkey hunting as we have great opportuities around here.  Shotgun recommendations welcome!

Mountain Hung on a Root

Poor Mountain!   This very tight pipe was no bigger around than a coke can, and Mountain could get no further, as she was hung on a root just underneath her chin.  Isaac from Another Falconry Blog was out with me, and we popped in a hole and cut the root.  The groundhog was not too much farther on.

Merial and Intervet Merger Crashes, but ...

Bloomberg reports that the merger between Merial and Intervet has crashed and burned at the last minute:

Merck and Sanofi-Aventis abandoned plans to combine their animal-health businesses after wrestling with competition regulators for a year over potential divestitures.

The companies will now keep the Intervet and Merial units separate at no penalty to either side, they said in a statement today.

So what's really going on? My sources say that they think this deal came apart when Pfizer announced it was interested in divesting itself from Animal Health.  With a "new potential spouse" in the room to be acquired (or parted out), both bride and groom suddenly decided  they might hold off and see if they got a better offer (or a better deal) down the road.