Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Alpha Wolf Kills Another Alpha Wolf???


An "alpha" wolf kills another alpha wolf? But that never happens!

But, of course, it happens all the time.

Wolf-on-wolf violence is one of the most common reasons wolves die in the wild.

From today's edition of The New York Times:

[T]oday, the alpha wolf of the Chippewa Harbor Pack and I are most likely recalling memories of the same event, even if we experienced it from wildly different perspectives....

One year ago, minus four days, I hiked over this same ridge and then just a quarter of a mile beyond. It was warm and sunny, like today. On a sled behind me, I hauled the 85-pound carcass of the alpha male of the Middle Pack; two days earlier, he had been killed by the alpha male of the Chippewa Harbor Pack.

In the year since, the Chippewa Harbor wolves have not had to defend their territory, as they are the only surviving pack on Isle Royale....

Grave-robbing Badgers Dig Up Cemetery

We very occasionally have the the same problem in the U.S. with badgers, groundhogs, prairie dogs and groundsquirrels.   I always give a wide birth to a rural cemetery tucked into the edge of a farm I hunt, despite the number of groundhog and fox settes located along the edge.  No reason for me to face a false charge of grave robbing! 

From the BBC comes this badger story from Swindon in the U.K.:

Badgers have burrowed under graves bringing bones to the surface at Swindon's Victorian Radnor Street Cemetery.

Frances Bevan, of the cemetery's preservation group, said the situation was "very distressing" for relatives.

Swindon Borough Council said: "Licences to move badgers are only granted in exceptional circumstances."

A spokesman said: "There have been occasions over the years where human remains have been found above the ground in the cemetery and we have reverently re-interred these as close to their original graves as possible."

Ms Bevan, from the Friends of Radnor Street Cemetery group, added: "It is quite a worry because the cemetery is pretty much left to its own devices and you just feel that there isn't anything you can do.

"The badgers are left to breed. I've no idea how many are up there but there are a couple of huge setts."

The site was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2005, and under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 it is illegal to interfere with a sett.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Back to the Start... Back to the Garden of Eden

Willy Nelson sings Coldplay's "The Scientist"on this video.

Back to the start... back to the Garden of Eden, which was not crowded with two.

Remember, factory farms are not the problem -- they are a symptom of the problem.

The problem is human over-population.

No one woke up this morning trying to ruin the world.

They woke up trying to feed all the children.

And to do that, they cut down the forest, plowed up the land, pumped water from the aquifers, and tried to raise more crops and more animals with greater efficiency.

They tried to make a profit, which meant they raced to the basement in terms of pollution control, and they tried to keep up with their next door neighbors who boosted their farm yields with fertilizers while suppressing weeds and bugs with herbicides and pesticides.

No one set out to ruin the world. 

No one set out to be cruel or so far removed from nature.  But without family planning and self-restraint, this is what happens.

Urban Fox and Coyotes

I got an email the other day from an outfit in the U.K. interested in doing a documentary on urban foxes. The were particularly interested in fox dens, and my description of den construction. How could they find a fox den, and perhaps take a cast of it?

I directed them to the work of David MacDonald who has tracked fox all over London, and suggested if they wanted to see a working fox den "any old gamekeeper should be able to help you but they are not going to be interested in wrecking the thing or in romanticizing the fox.  Fox are generally harmless, and are valued, but like any thing they can be a nuisance in the wrong place.  In short, fox are neither demons nor saint -- they are like feral cats, and in fact occupy that niche quite well."

I also noted that fox only den underground for a short part of the year, and that in an urban environment, that might not be in a dirt den, but in a crawl space under an outbuilding, under old roofing or detritus in a dump, under or inside an abandoned car, or inside a dry drain.

Of course, here in the U.S. we have urban and suburban fox almost everywhere, and I can get photos of them almost any night.

We now also have growing numbers of suburban and even urban coyotes.

In an essay called New Dog in Town, Christopher Ketcham writes that:

Wild Coyotes have settled in or around every major city in the United States, thriving as never before, and in New York they have taken to golf. I'm told that the New Yorker coyotes spend a good deal of time near the tenth hole on the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course in the Bronx. They apparently like to watch the players tee off among the Canada geese. They hunt squirrels and rabbits and wild turkeys along the edge of the forest surrounding the course, where there are big old hardwoods and ivy that looks like it could strangle a man—good habitat in which to den, skulk, plan. Sometimes in summer the coyotes emerge from the steam of the woods to chew golf balls and spit them onto the grass in disgust.

Until recently, I couldn't quite believe that coyotes were established New Yorkers. Among neophyte naturalists it's an anomaly, a bizarrerie, something like a miracle. Coyotes, after all, are natives of the high plains and deserts two thousand miles to the west. But for anyone who takes the time to get to know coyotes, their coming to the city is a development as natural as water finding a way downhill. It is also a lesson in evolution that has gone largely unheralded. Not in pristine wilderness, but here, amid the splendor of garbage cans filthy with food, the golf carts crawling on the fairway like alien bugs, in a park full of rats and feral cats and dullard chipmunks and thin rabbits and used condoms and bums camping out and drunks pissing in the brush, a park ringed by arguably the most urbanized ingathering of Homo sapiens in America—here the coyote thrives. It seemed to me good news....

From California to Maine, there are more coyotes than at any time since records have been kept, their territorial expansion unprecedented in speed and scope....

That the coyote has expanded his range does not surprise biologists. What does confound is the suggestion, hotly debated, that the coyotes now taking over the eastern United States in fact represent a new subspecies of wild dog on the continent, the Canis latrans varietas. The western coyote is a smaller creature than the eastern cousin. The westerner weighs in at perhaps thirty pounds, looking somewhat like a fat fox. The eastern coyote grows as big as sixty pounds at his heftiest.... Chuck Jones, the animator, pegged the Trickster, in cartoon Latin, as Eatibus anythingus. Which is true: coyotes eat garbage, darkness, rats, air — they'd lap my beer if I let them.

How to Diaper a Chicken

Your whiskey-tango-foxtrot of the day.

Digging on the Dogs

Clitter of shale dig out by groundhog.

Recycling deer.

My digging pal with the catch of the day and two white dogs.

Monday, February 27, 2012

When You Need Smart and Tough

When you need smart and tough, you need a Jack Russell.


Badger Theremin

What the hell is a Theremin?

A Theremin is an odd electronic musical instrument that makes eery undulating noises without any apparent contact from the "player" who changes the tones of the instrument by simply moving his or her hands closer or father away from two antenna receivers. Named after Russian inventor Léon Theremin, the machine was patented in 1928 and it has never been very popular as sounds cannot be well controlled. Think "playing the saw" in electronic form, and you have the right idea.

Below we see a Theremin placed in the echo chamber of a taxidermy badger.

Why? Why not!

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On

Pedigree Dogs Exposed 2, aka Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On is scheduled for airing in the U.K. tonight at 9 pm.

It's the Pick of the Day in today's Guardian:

"Three years ago, Jemima Harrison exposed pedigree breeding practices that left many dogs with severe health problems. Since then, she's become a campaigner for canine welfare and now she revisits the issue to see if anything has really changed. Although there have been some improvements, she uncovers a depressing lack of progress. Flat-faced breeds such as pugs and bulldogs may look good enough to win prizes in dog shows, but sadly they're struggling to breathe."

Check it out!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fish on Friday

A nice array of properly aged Striped Bass.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The GOP: Kicked in the Crystal Balls Again

The entire nation is laughing at the hysterical histrionics of the Republican hype machine.

But to review reality for those who like to keep score:

  • When Obama came into office, General Motors was dead and Osama Bin Laden was alive.
  • Today, Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is the largest car maker in the world.
  • Yesterday the Dow hit 13,000 -- a 24% increase in the last 4 months.
  • Al-Qaeda is on life support.
  • Muammar Gaddafi  is dead and we did not lose a soldier thanks to Obama's correct leadership.
  • The war on fraud in Medicare and Medicaid is racking up record recoveries thanks to enforcement efforts we did not see under Bush.
  • Wall Street is terrified Dodd Frank will force them to not cheat.
  • A new proposed tax restructuring will end tax subsidies to companies that move manufacturing jobs overseas, even as it lowers tax rates on companies than manufacture here in America.
  • National health care legislation means that since everyone will get sick someday, everyone has to now pay for insurance, and the insurance industry has to treat us like a large group; no more cherry picking!
  • Illegal immigrant entries have cratered thanks to massive law enforcement at the border and increased enforcement of employer sanctions at the job site.
  • More oil and natural gas is being drilled in the U.S. now than before Obama came into office.
  • Obama has saluted the 2nd amendment as an individual right, has gone trout fishing on the Gallatin River (and he got a new fly rod for his birthday), and taken wolves off of the Endangered Species List.
  • Obama has not cheated on his wife, has not written many years of racists newsletters, and has not embraced a Taliban-like Big Government Program to patrol what goes on in your bedroom.
  • Compare and contrast.  Choose or lose.  Remember in November.

How Much Is That Jack Russell in the Window?

I've happily plundered the web site of Embrace Pet Insurance in the past to write about the true cost of Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, English Bulldogs, and Dachshunds.

Now it's time to talk about the Jack Russell Terrierl love this write up from Embrace Pet Insurance

Right at the top, Embrace Pet Insurance says most people  do not want one.  No you do not!  Please do NOT get this dog if all you want is a cute lap dog.  Jack Russell Terriers are prey-driven hunting dogs.  They bark, dig, and they are a complete pain-in-the-ass.  Or as Embrace Pet Insurance puts it in their opening paragraph:

No matter how enamored you were of Eddie on Fraser or PBS' Wishbone, the fact is this: The Jack Russell Terrier (or the Parson Russell, as he's known in AKC circles) is almost certainly not the breed for you. That's not because Jack Russells are bad dogs. He was created for active work, and it's what he loves and what he is driven to do. If you have a job in mind for him that will push his limits and engage his full and enthusiastic attention, then you may be that rare person who is right for one of these dogs.

Bingo. And, on behalf of the dogs, THANK YOU Embrace Pet Insurance. The description goes on:

If you're wondering why your Jack Russell isn't as well-behaved as Eddie or Wishbone, it's because the dogs that portray those characters have full-time trainers on staff to keep them in line. More to the point, those dogs had full-time jobs, which is what the JRT wants and needs. His endless desire to be digging, barking and investigating can't and shouldn't be squelched. It should be celebrated by someone who loves the very traits that drive many JRT owners insane.

Bingo again. And again, on behalf of the dogs, THANK YOU Embrace Pet Insurance.

So what about health? Embrace Pet Insurance gets it right there too:

If you look at the list of diseases on the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America website, you'll decide this has to be one of the unhealthiest breeds around. Not so; it's just that most breed clubs aren't as relentlessly thorough about even the rarest health conditions that can affect their dogs.

Yep. Bingo again.

In fact The Jack Russell Terrier is just about the healthiest and longest living "breed" around, but that's not something those of us who love the dog are going to tell everyone, because we do not want people rushing out to acquire a Jack Russell terrier before they have gone into a quiet room to take inventory about themselves -- not who they want to be, but who they really are.

A dog is not a hat to try on and discard with fashion and mood; it is a commitment for life.

Let me suggest to you a simple truth: most people who want a dog need a cat and deserve a gold fish. Damn few people need a Jack Russell Terrier.

The health care costs of a Jack Russell are going to be pretty low, but you might find the fencing costs staggering (this little dog both digs and climbs), and they may eat your furniture if they are bored.

Still thinking about getting one of these dogs? Then please visit Jack Russell Rescue after reading this article twice. And if you are thinking about breeding a Jack Russell (please do not!), be advised that JRTCA members routinely test their breeding dogs for vision, hearing and other health problems, and so should you if you ever hope to find a place for your dogs in the marketplace. And no, Jack Russells do not sell for much money, so there's no big dollar puppy business to be had here. If that's your dream, can I suggest AKC toy poodles rather than JRTCA Jack Russells?

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA) stands for the dogs, it stands for canine health, and it stands against the puppy peddlers who oversell other breeds. The JRTCA runs ads in almost every all-breed magazine every month telling people NOT to buy a Jack Russell terrier, with links to the "Bad Dog" page. This is what a breed club should be doing, but so far as I know, the JRTCA is the only dog breed club in the world that actually does it.

If your take-away message from reading this little post is that Jack Russell terriers owners are fierce about protecting their dogs as healthy working dogs and keeping them out of rescue, then I have only two words to say to you: Damn right.

Kill It With Fire

Hat tip to Heather Houlahan for finding this one. Best comment so far: "It's harvest time at the Donald Trump toupee orchard."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You're Not an Abusive Dog Trainer, Are You?

My column from the March issue of Dogs Today.

Have you noticed that the "instant experts" have decided that every kind of dog collar is the wrong one?

A flat collar, after all, does not stop the dog from pulling, while a slip collar can choke! Surely no one would greenlight either one!

A pinch collar pinches, while an e-collar shocks. Surely no one would greenlight either one!

What about a constriction harness or a head halter?

Good lord NO! The former squeezes the dogs insides and does nothing to stop the dog from pulling, while the later can scrape against the eye and cause corneal damage and neck injury.

After hearing this, if you are terrified that you might "do it wrong," with your new dog, then the message has worked.

You see, so much of this nonsense comes from dog trainers who are intent on selling their services, their books, and their CD-roms.

Their main message is that you are probably incapable of training your own dog without their input.

If you go it alone with a book from the library, you might injure your dog!

Never mind that hundreds of millions of dogs have been trained for thousands of years on six continents without the advice of professional dog trainers.

Modern professional dog trainers want you to know they are here to Save the Day ... provided, of course, you have a credit card.

Part of their pitch is fear.

You aren't an ABUSIVE owner are you? Because they want you to know they do not believe in ABUSIVE dog training.

You don't believe in OUTDATED training methods do you? Because they want you to know they believe in only the LATEST, MODERN methods.

Surely you want to be modern and non-abusive?

All right then -- sign up with any of the trainers to be found in the directory!

Now there is nothing wrong with going to a dog trainer (I am all for it), and there is nothing wrong with click-and-treat dog training (I am all for that too).

But do me a favor eh? Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!

Example one is the simple slip collar. It's been used for a thousand years and it works. I am past 50 years old and I have never seen a dog injured by one, and I bet you haven't either.

I have seen dogs injured by cars, fences, broken glass, hot tar, excess body weight, and roofing nails, but never by a slip collar.

Have you not noticed that your own vet puts a plastic slip lead on your dog before leading it out to the waiting room?

True! Is your vet an “abusive” veterinarian? Probably not!

Now to be clear, I am not advocating one kind of dog training over another, or one kind of collar over another.

I am all for click-and-treat dog training, and I have no hesitation saying that it works, and that it works well for most dogs in most situations. If you want to proceed with clicker training, then do so by all means and with my full encouragement!

That said, I would be very wary of any dog trainer who shows too little respect for the very real on-the-ground succcesss of thousands of other dog trainers who have employed dozens of other diverse techniques over hundreds of years. Konrad Most, Barbara Woodhouse, William Koehler, Cesar Millan, and very fine dog trainers training police dogs, military dog, search-and-rescue dogs, herding dogs, bird dogs, and fox hounds all over the world are proof that obedient and enthusiastically happy dogs can be had using a wide variety of methods.

I would also be wary of any dog trainer that says compulsion has no place in the world of dog training.

At its simplest, dog training is simply getting a dog to do what it will not do naturally and on your schedule, whether that is an entirely artificial act such as running weave poles or retrieving a shot bird to hand, or not chasing a cat or barking at the mailman.

Yes, earned reward and praise is core to training.

Yes dogs and children need love, support and praise. But both dogs and children also need time outs and an occasional jerk back to the straight and narrow as well. Leashes and collars exist for a reason, same as curfews and police stations. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is deluded.

Yes, by all means, teach your dog what it needs to do in order to get a reward.

Part of training, however, is also to train your dog what NOT to do.

Not every signal you send will be positive, and on rare occassion your signal may not be entirely gentle. There is no place for cruelty or anger in the world of dog training, but there is most certainly a place for clarity and some high-drive dogs are, truth be told, a little tone-deaf to mere suggestion.

If your goal is to take your dog off leash, your NO signal has to be every bit as strong as your dog’s GO signal when it comes to prey drive, sex drive, play drive, and food.

Who among us wants to become an international YouTube sensation for screaming out our dog’s name (“Fennnntttton!”) as it bounds over four lanes of traffic chasing a herd of deer? No one!

In short, collars and leashes have a place in every training regime, as does both positive reward and certain level of compulsion.

If someone comes along and tells you otherwise, be extremely wary.

And if that same someone tells you everyone else has been doing it wrong for 2,000 years, walk away in the opposite direction.

Nothing good ever started with a lie.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are You Throwing Money Down the Drain?

Most of the common antibiotics prescribed for humans are exactly the same as the ones used for dogs, and the pill, capsule and gel-caps versions of these antibiotics are good for many years past their expiration date.

The fact that expiration dates on pill antibiotics are a marketing fraud has been widely know for years. In an article entitled "Drug Expiration Dates - Do They Mean Anything?", The Harvard Heath Letter summarizes a 20-year study done by the FDA for the U.S. military:

It turns out that the expiration date on a drug does stand for something, but probably not what you think it does. Since a law was passed in 1979, drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.

Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.... So the expiration date doesn't really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use.... Is the expiration date a marketing ploy by drug manufacturers, to keep you restocking your medicine cabinet and their pockets regularly? You can look at it that way.

The Wall Street Journal put this story on their front page a few years back. But don't take my word for it: You can read the article, in its entirety, right here.

Do drugs really stop working after the date stamped on the bottle? Fifteen years ago, the U.S. military decided to find out. Sitting on a $1 billion stockpile of drugs and facing the daunting process of destroying and replacing its supply every two to three years, the military began a testing program to see if it could extend the life of its inventory. The testing, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ultimately covered more than 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results, never before reported, show that about 90% of them were safe and effective far past their original expiration date, at least one for 15 years past it.

In light of these results, a former director of the testing program, Francis Flaherty, says he has concluded that expiration dates put on by manufacturers typically have no bearing on whether a drug is usable for longer. Mr. Flaherty notes that a drug maker is required to prove only that a drug is still good on whatever expiration date the company chooses to set. The expiration date doesn't mean, or even suggest, that the drug will stop being effective after that, nor that it will become harmful.

Medscape has posts here and here (PDF).

The U.S. Department of Defense has a post here.

The AMA has noted that antibiotics are good for years past their shelf life and has raised questions about how much medicine is being tossed down the sink.

So how come so few veterinarians seem to know this?

The answer, I think, is illuminating.

You see, on some important issues, veterinarians are often taught very little. The entire "course" given on canine nutrition, for example, may be a single lecture from a dog food salesman. The lecture on flea and tick remedies may be a lecture from a Merial salesperson who will detail "the spread" to be made from selling non-prescription Frontline as if it were a prescription drug (hint: it's not).

As for antibiotics, vets will learn by heart the branded and generic names of various drugs, and what they treat, but they may not learn other essential information.

And, as alarming as it may sound, that's true for many human doctors too.

Pharmacist and U.S. Army Colonel George Crawford, who used to be in charge of the Department of Defense's pharmaceutical Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) notes :

"Nobody tells you in pharmacy school that shelf life is about marketing, turnover and profits."

Right. Apparently no one does in veterinary school either.

You would think veterinarians and doctors might learn about this stuff in a Continuing Medical Education (CME) course, right?

Except there is a little joker in the deck.

You see, those CME courses are heavily subsidized by drug and vaccine makers, who help pay the speaker fees and travel costs for many of the lecturers.

Drug and vaccine makers make money when people throw good medicine down the drain, and they make money when dogs are over-vaccinated.

The business of canine health care is business, and good health and integrity often take the hind post.

Everyone in the system -- vets, pharmacies, and manufacturers -- profit when dogs are over-vaccinated and non-expired medicines are thrown down the drain.

Billions of dollars are wasted every year as a consequence.

The problem with over-vaccination and flushing good medicines down the drain is more than money, of course.

Throwing good antibiotics down the drain unnecessarily adds to the antibiotic load in our sewers, streams and rivers -- the very kind of thing that can help establish a beach head for real pathology in our own communities.

For those looking for information on antibiotic type and dosage to treat simple flesh wounds, urinary tract infections, and ear infection on your dogs, see this link on the main web site.

For those looking to obtain antibiotics without prescription, simply look in almost any dog supply catalogue in the country (see here, here, here, here for example) or simply go to (see here) and order. 

Antibiotics without prescription have been sold to treat common farm and kennel ailments for years, and they work fine with a few caveats:  know what you are dosing for, know how what you should be dosing with, know how much to dose, and know how long to maintain the dosing regime.   A barbed-wire flesh wound or cut foot is a pretty simple thing to diagnose, but some others are not.  If you are in doubt about what is going on with your dog, go to a vet.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Digging on the Dogs

I've had some shoulder problems which, combined with the warm weather, has kept me out of the field. Two weeks ago I got out to one of my farms to find a mounted hunt pack with about 40 hounds and a number of horses unloading and an ambulance blocking the road as one of the riders had fallen and broken his shoulder. I stopped and talked to the huntsman a bit, and then crossed over the river to hunt the other side.

It was supposed to snow yesterday, but by the time morning showed up, that was pretty clear nonsense. I loaded the dogs and hit the farms, and was about half way out when I realized I had no coat, no vest, nothing but a long-sleeve shirt over a T-shirt. Oh well, at least I had a decent hat! I checked the temperature, and it was 33 degrees, so it would not be too bad.  Serious walking at 30 degrees and a shirt is about perfect. If there was going to be much wind or standing around I would be in trouble, but that would be a problem I would deal with if it came up (though I was not too sure how).

The dogs bounced out of the truck, and very quickly it became apparent that the groundhogs were moving about. This is mating season for them, and the males will roam looking to find as many females as they can. The females will clean out their dens a bit, evacuate their bowels, and then bunker back down with a dirt plug in the mouth of the den to keep out intruders and water.  I like this time of year, as I can find new dens before they disappear under the vegetation that starts to spring out in early April.

I was headed to a fox sette I have worked a few times in years past. The huntsman I talked to a few weeks ago asked me if I had seen coyotes on the farm. I had not, but he said they were there (no surprise) and that he had found a vixen with her throat torn out by one a few weeks earlier.   Yow!

As I headed to the fox den, Mountain and Gideon crowned over a slight rise and disappeared. When I got to the sette, I stopped and listened. Nothing. I waited and then I heard a barking below. The sound was a bit illusive, but I eventually found the dogs about 30 feet from the fox den, and down a wooded slope thick with multiflora rose. Gideon was inside baying up a storm, and Mountain was working two different holes trying to get in along an alternate route.

I leashed up Mountain and put her at a hole that she was interested in, but I thought an unlikely pipe to support an exit. It was probably where Gideon had entered.

I downed tools and boxed for Gideon. He was not deep, and very near another exit. Looking good. Ten inches down I hit solid rock. A bit of soil removal and I ascertained that it was an enormous rock that had cracked into three pieces, with the edges still firmly together. I got out the smaller one, which was about the size of my head, with some difficulty. Then using the the bar and and post hole handles as a lever, along with the shovel, I managed to get out the second stone which was about as big as a sofa cushion.

Things moved quickly and easily after that. I managed to snare the groundhog, take his picture, and let him go for another day ("and now with your third hand...") while keeping Gideon underground by kicking a blocking rock into the hole.

Once I was sure the groundhog was good and gone, I let Gideon out, but leashed him up immediately, as I was not interested in him going to ground on the same animal again. I packed up, and with the dogs on lead, headed back to the truck. It was going to be a short day. No need to push the shoulder early in the season.

It looks like the farmer is repairing the old barn, which makes me happy as it is a massive structure and I hate to see old barns left to fall in on themselves.

I got back home in time to see my son off to college.  It's a four-hour drive down to Blacksburg, and he located the snow that never reach us on his way up the valley, sending me this picture from his cell phone along the way.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lassie Could Not Have Done It Better

Donald McGregor age 62, who lives on the isle of Kerrera, off Oban, Argyll, Scotland flipped his car in the dead of night and suffered a punctured lung, a fractured vertebrae and broken ribs while coming down a remote farm track in the dead of night. He probably would have died if his faithful patterdale terrier Zulu, who was unhurt in the crash, had not it raced to Donald's daughter house nearby to get her attention

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coffee and Provocation

Medical Breakthrough Could Change My Life... and Yours:
Two Penn State University doctors have developed a free iOS app called "Caffeine Zone" which tells folks the perfect time to take a coffee break to maintain an optimal amount of caffeine in their blood, and when to stop drinking coffee so caffeine doesn’t interrupt sleep. This is Nobel Prize-worthy stuff!

How to Genetically Modify Yogurt to Make Prozac:
Yes, there's real instruction here

You Want Fierce Looking Dogs? 
We got 'em. Very cool.

How About a Living, Growing Cathedral of Trees?
Check it out.

True Story (maybe):
A British man was bitten "down under" by a venomous Tiger snake while answering a call of nature in the Australian bush. The reptile sunk its fangs into Jackson Scott's testicle as he squatted in the dark, but when he begged best mate Roddy Andrews to suck the venom out, his friend refused. Instead he drove Jackson 40-minutes to Hobart, Tasmania, where doctors gave him an antidote to the "deadly" tiger snake poison.  For the record, a Tiger snake is a great deal less hazardous to humans than most people realize. In fact, every year far more people die in Australia from bee stings and horses than from all the snake bites combined!

Longest Horns in the World:
It's a Texas Longhorn in Australia.  The horns have a 9 foot 1 inch spread.  Check out the picture.

Signs of Economic Recovery at Cabela's:
Cabela's says it plans to add 5 new stores in FY 2012, including their first stores in Ohio and Kentucky.

Not Dead Yet:
Bryan’s Shearwater, a species of burrow-nesting birds recently discovered from a misidentified museum specimens, still has a remnant population that is breeding on islands off of Japan.

Rat Island, Alaska Needs a New Name:
After a couple of tons of poison, the rats are all dead and now the locals and natives want to return the island to its old name.

America Needs This:
A school bus that is pedal-powered by children.  To hell with gym class!

Gomer the Cooper's Hawk:
Isaac is back blogging with a new URL and a new Cooper's Hawk he caught in January. 

14% More Oil Was Always There:
In the last four years, new cars have gotten 14% more efficient. You want to find more oil and more jobs? Here they are, and there's a hell of lot more to be had through conservsation and innovation.

First New U.S. Nuclear Reactor Since 1978:
It's in Georgia. Eventually, others are likely in South Carolina and Tennessee.

Get Your (Chicken) Shit Together:
If you do, you can heat your hen house for free, and get eggs even in winter.

The Sad and Romanic Richard Fenyman:
Nuclear physicist Richard Feynman's wife died in June of 1945, after succumbing to tuberculosis. She was only 25 years old. Some 16 months later Richard wrote here a love letter that remained sealed in an envelope until it was opened after his death in 1988.  Read the whole thingBy the way, the web site this is from is a small gold mine.  Have fun.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Use for the Westminster Winner

Compare the picture of the Westminster dog show winner with this sporran for sale on Ebay

Now read these "25 Descriptions of the Strange Beast that Won the Westminster Dog Show". 

Hat tip to Sean O'Q for the comparison!

Fish on Fridays

Carpe diem.

A Real Dogman

The Dog Man Movie Documentary from The Dog Man Movie.

Joshua M. wrote me last week and asked me about the term "dogman".

I've heard the phrase, or title, "Dogman" used in a few encounters. In my experience, the people who have called themselves dogmen are of ill repute as far as I have seen. Basically being breeders of pitbulls in low income areas where I've lived. ... I have great passion for my dogs, and dogs in general, and make my living training people's dogs in the best way I can. I like the sound of Dogman, but I feel like I would be casting a negative stereotype on myself if I used the moniker. Any input you could throw my way would be greatly appreciated...

My reply was written before someone posted a link to the excellent video, above:

I understand your point....

My two cents are that words are just words. They only have meaning in context. The world has true dog men, whatever they call themselves, but they are for the most part people with WORKING dogs, not pet people. Show people are never dog men in my mind and neither are mere typists and most "trainers" whose experience is running sit-stay classes. A man who has run 40 hounds for 40 years in the field is a dog man whatever he wants to call himself, while a man who has yet to bury his first dog is not, no matter how much he may toss the title around.

A true dog man takes care of his dogs, thinks like his dogs, and respects the dogs at the level of animal, carnivore, canid, breed, individual. A true dog man puts the welfare of his dogs front and center, and that is not only their physical welfare, but also their intellectual and spiritual welfare as well.

No fighting dog man is a true dog man in my book, and neither are the breeders with 50 screaming dogs in a kennel that never see a moment's work, or the show people who put rosettes and ego before canine health. I do not believe the owner of a lap dog breed can ever wear the mantle of a dog man (or woman), but some will disagree I suppose.

A dog man's goal is to have the dogs have a self-actualized life. He lives for the dog; the dog does not live solely for his needs.

The good news is that there are a lot of people in America who are honest dog men and women. Not poodle poofters, dog fighters, frustrated vet techs, dog groomers, or failed actors with marketing plans, but honest dog men and women who put their dogs first, and who might even have a little to teach other people  if someone were to slow down and ask or watch.

Some train trick dogs, some hunt dogs, some breed dogs, and some work dogs.  Almost no one does it all, as the world of dogs is too big and each breed has its own idiosyncrasies and getting good at even one thing can take most of a lifetime. 

If someone tells me they are a dogman, however, I will generally raise an invisible eyebrow.  It's the kind of thing someone else might say of someone else, but a dogman will rarely say of himself.  He or she knows how little they know.  The real experts have a tail.

My favorite part of this clip is when Dick Russell asks if his audience know he's a world famous dog trainer and then follows on... "because honestly, until four or five months ago, I was not aware of it."

Perfect. That's a real dogman.

David Lee Roth, Border Collie Man

DLR Dog World from David Lee Roth on Vimeo
He's pretty good with the dogs, and has a nice sense of humor.  These are self-actualized dogs with as good a life as a dog can get -- real work with an owner that can laugh.  "You ought to hear them howl when they hear my truck pull up."  I bet! 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Getting OFF the Boat of Defect and Disease

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) has put out a press release noting that:

During the past two years, UFAW has been developing a website to provide clear and comprehensive information about the welfare consequences of hereditary problems in companion animals: to explain how these problems affect the quality of animals’ lives. While undertaking the work it has discovered that the levels and extent of adverse welfare effects is even greater than was anticipated....

"Preparing descriptions of all these genetic conditions for the website," said James Kirkwood, UFAW’s Chief Executive and Scientific Director, "has really brought home to us the extent and severity of the welfare problems that have arisen as a result of selection for arbitrary aspects of appearance....

For example, when breeders first selected for the curly tails of pugs – because they liked the look - no one suspected that this could cause serious disease. But we know now that they achieved the curly tail by selecting for deformed tail bones and that the mutation that causes these can also affect the bones of the spine in the chest or back. In these cases, the affected spine bones do not align properly and this can result in very painful injuries to the spinal cord. The spinal cord damage can also cause partial paralysis of the hind limbs and incontinence due to loss of bladder control. This condition is considered a common problem in Pugs and other short-nosed breeds with screw-tails (it is estimated that the UK population of Pugs alone is around 30,000).

... [I]t has been estimated that each Great Dane has a 40% chance of developing gastric torsion. This acute disease typically occurs after a meal. The stomach twists – perhaps because it is inadequately anchored within the cavernous bodies of these large dogs – such that the oesophagus at one end and the small intestine at the other are twisted shut. As a result, it becomes massively distended with gas and fluid causing intense pain and leading to death if surgery is not performed urgently. It has been estimated that around 16% of Great Danes die from the condition.

Right.  It seems not everyone is rushing to "get on the boat" with Kennel Club dogs that are raised in a closed registry where health and performance count for zero.

Imagine that!

Selling Out the Dogs

To tell the truth, I was not surprised to see Victoria Stilwell at the Wesminster Dog Show insinuating herself with celebrity, but I was suprised that she would be so tone-deaf as to be urging people to "get on the boat" of the Kennel Club in the face of the Westminster public relations fiasco of dumping Pedigree-brand dog food because of its shelter dog campaign, the crowning of an inbred Pekingese as "Best in Show," and doing it all on the eve of Pedigree Dogs Exposed 2.

Of course Stilwell's cause has never been dogs, but about marketing herself.  Her hysterics about slip collars is not about any acual harm those collars do to dogs, but about market segmentation as she seeks to differentiate herself from more experienced dog trainers with larger book sales and greater public appeal. 

Now Stilwell has moved into the franchise sales business, which seems to be a particularly poor fit for the world of dog training.  Presumably franchise owners will have to give some portion of their earnings to Stilwell (that's how franchise's work), which means that when a franchise deal goes south (and some always do), then the stink of litigation is likely to follow.

Stilwell has also effectively gagged herself when it comes to talking about the institutionalized violence and misery done to dogs through Kennel Club policies that lead to deformed, defective and diseased dogs.  If she were to actually start talking about that, that might impact her dog-training franchises and her income from the same, as well as the income her franchise-owners get from the same.  Ditto if she talks about how the American Kennel Club has pulled in scores of millions of dollars from the institutionalized misery of puppy mill dog breeding, and continues to do so.

And so, instead of leading the fight to end the institutionalized abuse of dogs by the Kennel Club, we find Victoria Stilwell urging us all to "get on the boat" with pedigree dogs and the the Kennel Club.  Never mind the misery; think of the marketing opportunities!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Get on Board With the Kennel Club?

The Westminster winner: a dog that cannot breathe. It's own death will be its own relief.

A dog that cannot herd won the herding group.

This is the winning bitch for the Neopolitans.  Say no more!

This is the winner of the hound group. 
Neither judge, owner or dog has ever hunted anything but rosettes.

This English Bulldog was given an "award of merit for breed."

It's the morning after the Westminster Dog Show, and the litter and trash are being swept up at Madison Square Garden.

In the newspaper Victoria Stilwell tells us that we have to get on board with pedigree dogs and dog shows:

"We can't ignore dog shows, For one thing, they're so popular. So, I say 'get on the boat.' I don't think the world is going to exist without pedigreed dogs. I don't think the world should exist without pedigreed dogs. I love pedigreed dogs as much as I love the mutt. If there is no responsible breeding, what will happen to the dog? But I am talking about breeding that must be responsible."


Responsible breeding of the English Bulldog?

The Pekingese?  The Pug?  The Neopolitan Mastiff?  The Basenji?

The Lundehund?  The Chinese Crested?  The Boston Terrier?  The Shar-pei?

How can one have responsible breeding when the breed standard calls for intentional selection for defect and the Kennel Club calls for breeding pedigree dogs within a closed registry that affords ZERO points for health?

In fact, Victoria Stilwell is bit clueless as to the issues here, which is not a complete surprise since she has never actually shown dogs and has only had a dog herself for a few years.

She supports adoption and mixes (good!) but she is also a celebrity-chaser and would not want to piss off any big names or big money which might advance her career.

Like so many before her -- veterinarians, dog handlers, breeders, trainers, book authors, and magazine editors -- she has simply looked past the institutionalized violence done to dogs by the show ring. Now she cages the debate as being between "responsible" breeders and "irresponsible" breeders.

In fact, the debate is not about vague terms like "responsible" and "irresponsible," or "good" and "bad," but about measurable terms such as health and work.

You will never have either when you select for defect and mandate breeding within a closed registry that ignores temperament and coefficients of inbreeding.

You will never have health or work if the show ring affords zero points for health and work, and if you celebrate fantasy, celebrity, cash and ego over what is good for dogs.

Get on board with the Kennel Club and the show ring pretenders?

Sorry, but in America we are going the other way and we are voting with our feet and our wallets.

The AKC has seen a 70 percent decline in registrations in recent years, and the decline is speeding up, not slowing down.

If Victoria Stilwell wants to cuddle up next to Martha Stewart and her Chow, she is free to do so, but that's about celebrity- and fame-chasing, not dogs. 

If you stand for dogs, you do not stand for the Kennel Club

You do not 'get on the boat' --  you get off the boat and tell everyone on the dock to avoid the Titanic mistake that has been the 120-year venture called the Kennel Club.

A Celebration of Defect, Disease and Deformity

The poofters at the Westminster Kennel Club have chosen and this is what they chose:

  • An ugly dog that looks like a cross between a dust bunny and a badly trimmed  three-toned nylon wig from the 1960s.
  • A flea magnet.  Yes this is the "function" that this dog was bred for.
  • A dog that has a smashed in face so severe it cannot breathe.
  • A dog so incapacitated by its smashed face that it had to be carried to ringside.
  • A dog visibly panting with its tongue hanging out from simply walking across the carpet.
  • A dog so overheated from walking across the carpet that it had to be placed straight away onto a bag of ice in order to cool it down so it did not pass out ringside.

Welcome to the Westminster freak show where the ignorant, the incompetent, and the pretenders show up to "celebrate" dogs by cooing over the deformed, the diseased, and the dysfunctional.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Comedy of Dog Shows

The cast and characters of "Best in Show".

Across the world, but especially in America, people congregate in social tribes, and most of these tribes seem to have an occasional "pow wow" of one sort or another.

For motorcycle freaks, that pow wow might be
Bike Week in Daytona, or Sturgis
in South Dakota.

A certain type of fundamentalist Christian cannot pass up a tent revival, while folks with other interests may flock to Renaissance Fairs or Civil War re-enactor events.

Gun enthusiasts have their gun shows, while still other Americans are attracted to tractor pulls, car shows, or rodeos.

Whatever the group -- from wine connoisseur to reformed alcoholic, from Star Trek fan to opera aficionado-- each has its own gathering, its own customs, and its own set of odd-ball characters.

The writer and producer Christopher Guest has made a living crafting "mock-umentaries" about such American subcultures.

His first foray into the genre was a movie entitled This is Spinal Tap -- a wonderful send up of the bloated pretensions of heavy metal music.

This movie was so well done -- and done with such seriousness and affection -- that some people actually thought it was a documentary about a real band. Reality blurred a bit more when Guest and his actor "bandmates" toured and played their instruments on stage -- never cracking a smile or leaving character as they sang faux heavy metal lyrics such as "as Big bottom, big bottom. Talk about bum cakes, my girl's got 'em."

Spinal Tap was followed up by
A Mighty Wind (a parody of folk music), and Waiting for Guffman (a parody of community theatre).

In A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman, as with Spinal Tap, Guest's comedy depended on his movie audience recognizing that his characters had very close approximations to real types.

In A Mighty Wind, for example, estranged folk musicians are modeled on the likes of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Mamma Cass and Denny Doherty, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

In Spinal Tap, the repeated demise of drummers in freak accidents is a reference to the untimely deaths of such rock percussionists as Keith Moon, John Bonham, Eric Carr, Nicholas Dingley, and Dennis Wilson.

For his entry into the dog show world, Christopher Guest created "Best in Show," in which dog show archetypes are dissected with the precision of a surgeon and the cultural sensitivity of an anthropologist.

The thread that holds the tapestry of characters together in Best in Show is not dogs, so much as the recognition that many of the people that attend dog shows seem to be "working out" their issues through the world of dogs. We laugh at the joke because it is so often true, and everyone in the audience knows it and "gets it."

A repeated theme in the movie is dysfunction -- sexual dysfunction, social dysfunction, and emotional dysfunction.

The fact that many dogs show obsessives are driven by a hole in their soul, and that that they seek to fill this hole through the surrogacy of dogs and dog shows is faced head on.

Many of the "normal" people that frequent dog shows are slightly odd, and more than a handful seem to be trying to compensate for the absence of children in their lives by dressing up their dogs, dancing with their dogs, or -- as in this case -- singing to them. Frustrated maternal instincts from both straight and gay couples are worn on the sleeve for anyone who takes the time to look for them.

A recurring theme in Best in Show is the large number of openly gay and closeted gay people that can be found at dog shows.
In the clip below, a sad and powerful story is told in a single line: "I asked my ex-wife ... who's that?" The painful laughs that follow are triggered because almost everyone familiar with dog shows knows a character who fits the story. This is a story about lost lives.

Another recurring theme in Best of Breed is that people of moderate financial means often seek personal recognition and an improved social position by participating in the world of dog shows. Or, to put it more succinctly: "Make Fern City proud" !

The role of the dog show judge as part-and-parcel of the scene gets a delightful send up when color-commentator Fred Willard and his side-kick come together to steer the TV public through the judging process. The judge, "a retired school teacher from New Jersey," is initially mistaken for a man, and Willard cannot help but blink at the way she will spend her day.

Following the success of Best in Show, Bravo-TV did a "reality" show knock-off of the movie. It says quite a lot that they had no problem finding a ready cast of real people to populate their series: Showdog Moms & Dads.

In this series, a cast of "real dog show people" were followed around to canine events across the country including a woman with no kids who freely admitted to displacing her maternal instincts on to her German Shepherds; a married man (and former AKC judge) who came off as a closeted version of Liberace; two screaming queens and their Toy Fox Terrier; a woman whose relationship with her Weimeraner appeared to be much stronger than her relationship with either her husband or reality, and; a "normal" person who was a single-mom and dog trainer trying to raise her son in a dog show world -- and with dog trainer commands.

I suspect Best in Show and Showdog Moms & Dads made some people in the dog show world uncomfortable, if for no other reason than rooms full of people were laughing out loud at scenes not so very different from reality.

Is this what we look like to the rest of the world, they wondered? Others protested that not everyone at a dog show is dysfunctional ... or gay ... or controlling ... or ego driven.

To which we can reply: Of course not. Not everyone at a Star Trek convention was unpopular in high school. Not everyone at a gun show is a Republican. Not everyone who listens to "Peter Paul & Mary" is a Democrat.

But that's the way to bet.

The bottom line is that tribes do share cultures, values, backgrounds and experience. And the people at dog shows are a tribe every bit as strong as those at a Star Trek convention, a gun show, or a "Peter Paul & Mary" concert.

The success of Best in Show, and Christopher Guest's other movies, is based on his understanding that obsessive groups do differ from us and each other, and those differences make the people in those groups both interesting and amusing.

Certain "types" are "over-represented" at almost every convention or tribal gathering. The result is that if you want to see tattoos, Bike Week is not a bad place to start, and if you are studying psychological dysfunction, a dog show is not a bad place to collect test subjects.

Of course, if you are looking for plain crazy, you can also do pretty well at the local dog park! As Cesar Millan's show, The Dog Whisperer, suggests, a lot of people have very dysfunctional relationships with their dogs outside of the show ring.

A commonality here,
as I have noted in the past, is that a lot of people with "dog problems" treat their dogs as if they are human children rather than what they really are ... which is a dog.

Too often, the result is a dog that thinks it is "top dog." These confused "top dogs" believe they must discipline the humans in their pack and also protect their packs (human and non-human alike) from outside intruders. The result is a disaster, as Showdog Moms and Dads captures so humorously on film.

Paradoxically, this little bit of "reality" turns out to be more surreal -- and at least as comical -- as anything dreamed up by Christopher Guest.

In an interview with an Australian publication, Christopher Guest explained how he got the idea for the movie:

"I got the idea for Best in Show six years ago when [wife Jamie Lee Curtis] and I were taking our mutts to the dog park in Los Angeles. I noticed a real dynamic that existed between owners and their pets. The pure-breeds looked down on our mutts in the same way their owners looked down on us. I started attending dog shows to meet the people and to see just how serious this all could get at the top level."

And so, you see, it really did start in a dog park!