February 23, 2008

The lifesaver

Roary the Staffordshire bull terrier with three-year-old Ebony Davis.

The genus is Pseudonaja: false cobra. A bit misleading, since the Australian Brown Snake is more dangerous than its Indian cousin Naja. Pseudonaja textilis, the Eastern Brown Snake found in Victoria, is considered the second most toxic land snake in the world.

Roary the ten-year-old Staffy bull didn't know that, of course. But he would have known something was wrong: there was a strange animal; there was Ebony's father, Tim Davis, lunging for his daughter as the snake reared to strike at the child. If fear is a thing dogs can sense, smell, taste, the air in that yard must have been acrid with it.
Roary jumped on the 1.5-metre snake, bit it and swung it clear of Ebony and her father in the backyard of their home.

But the family pet's bravery almost cost its life.

As Roary held on, the snake bit him repeatedly on the flanks and one ear before breaking free and slithering under a shed.

Ebony's father, Tim Davis, 38, said the dog "did a lap of honour around the yard, with his tail on high, and then he went in the house and collapsed".

"As I wiped the venom off his body, his legs gave way and his head came down on the floor," Mr Davis said. "There was no sign of life in him."

Mr Davis put Roary on the front seat of his car and rushed the dog 10km to Kangaroo Flat Veterinary Centre, near his home at Lockwood in central Victoria.

"He was quite still and I kept stopping to breathe some air into his nose, but I was sure he was a goner," Mr Davis said.

"When we got there, the vet told me how expensive the anti-venom was and how slim his chances were with so many bites.

"I said, 'Money doesn't matter; he's saved my little girl's life. Just get on with it'.
And the tough old dog pulled through! "Running in the yard like a puppy," according to a reporter. You can read the whole story here. I heart that photo of Ebony and Roary.


And speaking of Staffies:
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club has informed us that Michael Vick was shopping SBs to add to his collection. OUCH. So - in case you didn't already guess - Jonny and maybe even a few of our other Vick dogs may be all or part Staffy Bull. If Michael Vick's House of Horrors isn't reminder enough, breeders - PLEASE - screen your friggin' clients and know where you're sending your breeding stock! Your dogs and your breed's future are depending on you.
That word from the folks at Bad Rap, who are seeing lots of Staffordshire bull terriers in shelters these days.

And is that Rachel Ray's sofa on the Bad Rap blog? Jon Stewart's red pillow? The Donald's Hermès-orange bag? We'll know for sure February 29th when Jonny Justice works his charms on a famous New Yorker. [Earlier, if Donna tells all.]

Oh, and the most toxic land snake on the planet? Oxyuranus microlepidotus, the Inland taipan of [where else?] Australia.

My pit bull's aggressive, all right. Passive-aggressive.

Comedy gold from Janeen at Smartdogs’ Weblog, who was up early this morning pumping irony posting some side-splitting videos on her blog. I had to steal one: busted a gut watching these vids, for real. You can catch the others here.

coconutmonkey presents Argus:

Heh. Scary-perfect, if you ask me ;~)

February 21, 2008

"Musk, you huskies! I said Musk!"

The kicker: no dogs or musk oxen [or people] were harmed during production of this photo. Shot of a lifetime by Heather Williams. Larger version here, at AlaskaStock.com.

The 2008 Iditarod starts March 1. Northern Route, this year. 1112 miles to Nome. Fastest time: eight days. I'll be rooting [as usual] for Martin Buser, who holds that record, and cheering the memory of Susan Butcher, one of my generation's most inspiring and courageous women.

In honor of The Race I Hate to Love The Last Great Race , here is an only-in-Alaska story from last October [hat tip: the redoubtable Tranquilis, Iditarod authority and fellow race junkie]. From the Anchorage Daily News:
Seventeen-year-old musher Melissa Owens was a mile into a training run last week in Nome when she saw a musk ox standing on the left side of the road. She stopped her dogs so the woolly beast could cross to the other side.

"Then all of a sudden the bushes come alive, and I think, ohhh, this can't be good," Owens said. "There's more musk ox in there, isn't there?"

Sixteen more, to be precise. Just yards away from 23 huskies, including two young and curious leaders.

"The dogs see them and say, 'Oh yay, buddies! Let's go check them out!' " Owens said.

At first, it looked like the herd wasn't interested in the dogs. The animals milled around a bit and then headed up a hill toward Nome's old Army hospital. Owens, behind the wheel of the truck her dogs were pulling, inched her team forward.

And then?

"Chaos takes place," Owens said.

Shy Girl and Kiwi, the young leaders, veered to the right, provoking the musk ox and setting off the first of three charges.

Heather Williams, sitting next to Owens in the truck, leaned out the window with a camera and snapped one of the most unbelievable photos you'll ever see: A herd of hulking musk ox headed straight toward 23 dogs harnessed to a gangline and tangled in a knot.

"I remember them stomping and snorting and grunting and stuff, and I remember the dogs barking," Owens said. "They were almost nose-to-nose. The big bull charged them and the dogs did exactly what you see in the photo."
Panic frikkin' City. Read the rest here. Credit to the now eighteen-year-old Owens and 21-year-old Williams for managing to unhook six dogs and pull the rest to the relative safety of the truck. Owens said, "It's by the glory of God that we're still alive and I didn't spend the day in the emergency room or the vet's office." Alaska: where men are men, and Melissa Owens wins the [2005 Junior] Iditarod...


A few more thoughts on The Race I Hate to Love: maybe, please God please, no huskies will die this year. [That would be a first.] Maybe not a single team will have to be led/cajoled/dragged out of the last eight or ten checkpoints. Race defenders: "We don't make these dogs run -- they love to run!" Believe me, we know they do. But after 700 or 800 miles in four or five days, many, if not most of these tremendous canine athletes aren't eager to hit the trail. See the anonymous musher in the photo? That's a consistent top 20 finisher [not Susan, not Martin, not Lance, not the disgraced Ramy] trying to leave Unalakleet, with hundreds of miles still to go. If I were in charge, a situation like the one in the photo would mean a mandatory 48-hour rest. If these superbly conditioned dogs aren't willing to step out briskly with the musher on the sled runners, they've been pushed too hard.

And on that cheery note [damn you, Iditarod!], here are a few of the links I'll be checking each day:
The official Iditarod site
Anchorage Daily News
Cabela's [their coverage now merged with the official site]
Martin Buser's site
2007 winner Lance Mackey's site
My wish for the 2008 Iditarod: that all the dogs enjoy it from start to finish.

She sounded like this

Her voice was deeper, though. And more sustained; but I'm remembering how she sounded when she had something cornered or treed. She was a sturdy tri with dark eyeliner. When she was a very young pup her tail was broken, maybe a fourth of the way from the tip: her mother sat on it. The vet splinted it with scotch tape, and it healed all right but there was a permanent bump. My girl was the smallest one in the litter. Thirty-five dollars, I think is what Dad paid for her. Up at the cabin she slept by my bed, and on cold nights I'd walk her out on a lead and look at the shadowy forest and the stars as she sniffed around. My good girl.

Big hat tip to Henry Chappell of Home Range for posting Proper Beagle Work. I spent the rest of that night screening videos for a beagle with a voice like my girl's. As Henry writes, "There's no music like hound music."

February 18, 2008

Zamora Hills 2008

Zamora: the lift. All sheepdog trial photos by Sharon.

So I'm home this weekend coughing up a lung, and when I tell my cousin [the nurse] that I'm sure I have West Nile virus, she says it's probably not just West Nile but West Nile exacerbated by the avian flu and E. coli, and I should take a Motrin. "Call the waaahmbulance," she says. Odd that such a hostile, unfeeling person works in health care, but the ibuprofen has provided some relief, and on I bravely blog.

I missed the Slavens' Zamora Hills trial this year [see lung, above], but the most excellent Sharon has sent along some terrific photos:

The set-out person on horseback in the distance is Anna Guthrie, my trainer.

The handler's post is out of sight to the right of the photo. It's a big course, and range ewes will be range ewes. You can see the drive panels under the tail of the windmill.

At the cross drive panels.

Out of the creek bed and into the shedding ring we go.

In the shedding ring -- or maybe on the way to the pen. I love them slick-coats.

"Uh, now what?" Sharon writes: "At one point, three of the five decided to make a break for it, and jumped the fence. Once over, they apparently realized they had a dozen border collies to contend with, as opposed to just one." Dammit, Marge, I told you this was a bad idea!

Next year, I hope.

Thanks again to Sharon for the great photos (and to my cousin [the nurse], who is actually a wonderful person whom I love dearly. But you knew that).

Of E. coli, feedlots and slaughterhouses -- and the right way to raise beef

What is today's threat level? The Ethicurean knows.

The Ethicurean has an excellent roundup of news articles and information related to the recall of 143 million, repeat, 143 million pounds of beef from the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino, California. Ethicurean co-founder Bonnie Powell writes:
The meat industry in this country is broken from start to finish. We take ruminants and feed them grain their stomachs weren’t designed to eat, treating them like garbage disposals for our industrial leftovers; implant steroids so they’ll grow faster; feed them antibiotics so they can survive the poor diets and crowded feedlot conditions; then ship them to slaughterhouses where they are killed and processed at speeds that practically beg for bacterial contamination and worker injuries.
What we won't do to satisfy our appetites and save a buck. All hail cheap beef! Too bad, so sad about the downer cows and all, not to mention the maimed poultry-plant workers, but the important thing is that we pay less for our meals, right?

Except we don't really pay less.
So much comes back to corn, this cheap feed that turns out in so many ways to be not cheap at all. While I stood in [the feedlot] pen, a dump truck pulled up alongside the feed bunk and released a golden stream of feed. The animals stepped up to the bunk for their lunch. The $1.60 a day [cost per animal] for three giant meals is a bargain only by the narrowest of calculations. It doesn't take into account, for example, the cost to the public health of antibiotic resistance or food poisoning by E. coli or all the environmental costs associated with industrial corn.

For if you follow the corn from this bunk back to the fields where it grows, you will find an 80-million-acre monoculture that consumes more chemical herbicide and fertilizer than any other crop. Keep going and you can trace the nitrogen runoff from that crop all the way down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created (if that is the right word) a 12,000-square-mile ''dead zone.''

But you can go farther still, and follow the fertilizer needed to grow that corn all the way to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. [Steer] No.534 started life as part of a food chain that derived all its energy from the sun; now that corn constitutes such an important link in his food chain, he is the product of an industrial system powered by fossil fuel. (And in turn, defended by the military -- another uncounted cost of ''cheap'' food.) I asked David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy, if it might be possible to calculate precisely how much oil it will take to grow my steer to slaughter weight. Assuming No. 534 continues to eat 25 pounds of corn a day and reaches a weight of 1,250 pounds, he will have consumed in his lifetime roughly 284 gallons of oil. We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine. [Source]
"What will it take to get Americans to stop eating beef that’s been marinated in E. coli and suffering?" wonders Powell.

I dunno. If not our consciences, what? Scary, mysterious diseases? The environmental cost? The 284 gallons of oil per feedlot steer? A drive past the Harris Ranch? You can smell that wretchedness for miles, even with the windows up and the vents closed:

Photo by Gary Kazanjian for The New York Times.

And the thing of it is, we know how to raise livestock the right way. The right way is good for the land, good for the animals and healthy for us humans. Here's the way it should be:

Photo by Richard Morgenstein for Morris Grassfed Beef.

And because there are stockdogs along, here's another photo by Richard Morgenstein, this one of Joe Morris and Everett Sparling moving cattle with dogs Socks, Lucky, Spade and Penny:

The Morrises aren't the only ones raising grassfed beef: check out Local Harvest to find ranchers near you. There is no need for the food we eat to be
"marinated in E. coli and suffering."

[Also: keep in mind one of the oldest ways to get "free-range, grass-fed, organic, locally produced, locally harvested, sustainable, native, low-stress, low-impact, humanely slaughtered meat": by hunting it yourself.]

Edited to add: for two splendid essays on "cheap" food, the Chino, CA packing plant disgrace, and what effect Exxon Mobil's record profits have on the farmer, be sure to read Bill Fosher's Edgefield Sheep blog posts, The end of cheap food? and The further cost of cheap food. Impeccable reporting and excellent writing, as always.

February 17, 2008

Voyage of the Beagle

UPDATE: Edited for syntax. Content unchanged.
This most excellent graphic is from the folks at OBEYTHEPUREBREED.COM -- it's also available in Pug.

My first dog of my very own was a beagle. Field-trial bred, she had a chest like a wine cask, limpid eyes and a bay I hope to hear in heaven: it was a deep, beautiful, roaring aauuoooo that lasted endlessly between breaths, and according to neighbors could be heard at least a mile away. That bay was a sound with the power to change the course of a person's life, to make dog-haters and poodle-owners of some, and convince others that a well-lived life must at some point involve keeping a hound pack.
Go, one of you, find out the forester;
For now our observation is perform'd;
And since we have the vaward of the day,
My love shall hear the music of my hounds.
Uncouple in the western valley; let them go:
Dispatch, I say, and find the forester.
We will, fair queen, up to the mountain's top,
And mark the musical confusion
Of hounds and echo in conjunction.

I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear
With hounds of Sparta: never did I hear
Such gallant chiding: for, besides the groves,
The skies, the fountains, every region near
Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew'd, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapp'd like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn,
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly:
Judge, when you hear.
Maybe sometime they'll set that play in the South, and the voices will sound just right.

My parents shuttled my beloved beagle and me to an obedience class run by one William Koehler and his assistant Bob Yankie [a fine hand with a dog -- he did the illustrations for Koehler's first book on dog training]. We "graduated" with a respectable score, but my girl was not an eager participant. Her tail was always down and her warm eyes unhappy, and an observer might have believed the talk that beagles are stubborn dogs, slow learners, and hard to train.

In fact, she may have been the smartest dog I've ever known. She learned like lightning, knew a million tricks, was quickly and absolutely housetrained, hit the back door with a paw to let us know she needed in or out, and never left the kitchen to visit the rest of the house, but at night when the coast was clear would slip across the hall into my brother's bedroom and sleep on his bed. During dinner she would choose a spot between my father's chair and mine and sit up with her forepaws against her chest, and she could hold that position for at least twenty minutes. She looked like one of those pear-shaped toys you can't knock over, her extra weight functioning as ballast.

Beagles can make fine agility dogs: Marietta Huber's Squiggles [on the left] earned a Mach11 and was on the gold medal-winning Mini team at the FCI World Championships in 1998. Squiggles was still enjoying the sport at 15. Beagles are great contraband-sniffing dogs, as demonstrated by the Beagle Brigade in airports across the U.S. The AQIS uses beagles, too, and in the private sector they sniff out termites, gas leaks and, of course, rabbits.

A beagle is all nose and appetite. My girl ran away from the cabin one summer afternoon and returned with her nose raw from glorious hours of sniffing. I'd like to say she came back because she loved us and was sorry in her good-natured way for causing a general panic, but I'm pretty sure she was just hungry.

The secret [food] to training a beagle [food] is finding the right [food] motivator [food]. "Fanatical about food (even after being fed)," says the AQIS, a description beagle lovers will recognize as massive understatement.

I cheered out loud when Uno [on the right, maintaining his boyish figure] won Best in Show last week at Westminster. CBS newsman Bob Schiefffer says he cheered, too, and his wife was so happy she cried. "Beagles are the best dogs that ever were," he stated in his commentary on Face the Nation. Will Uno's win trigger an increase in pet store/puppy mill beagle pups? I hope not -- I want to believe the breed is as popular as it's going to get. Marie over at K9 Solutions has more on the chances of a beagle population boom. If you think you'd like to add a beagle to your family and have decided on the rescue route, check out Beagles & Buddies in El Monte, SoCal and visit your local pound or all-breed rescue.

Me? I'm counting the days until retirement, a place in the country and a roo-rooing hound pack of my own. I heart beagles.

February 15, 2008

Lions, red knots and a valentine

UPDATE: Edited for syntax. Content unchanged.
Why you should always have your camera ready. Photo by Matthew Dickie.

I love that this happened at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Non est ad astra mollis e terris via [there is no easy path from the earth to the stars]:
JPL employees have been spotting mountain lions for years. The NASA laboratory is perched on 177 acres climbing the side of the San Gabriel Mountains into the open wilderness of the Angeles National Forest.

On its east side, the Arroyo Seco -- a stream that goes from dry to torrent depending on the weather -- courses out of the mountains onto a sandy flood basin behind the Devil's Gate dam.

Because mountain lions and other wildlife routinely follow streams, the Arroyo Seco is a natural corridor, funneling a 32-square-mile watershed down to a narrow cut -- where Dickie spotted the cougar[...]
One of several January sightings in the L.A. area: full story here.


The red knot is an amazing little bird that migrates each year from South America to its nesting grounds in the Arctic. "A sixteen-year-old red knot has flown enough miles to get to the moon," says one birder. Grim news: some population models indicate that the species will be at or near extinction in 2010.
The knot's dependence on the eggs of the heavily harvested horseshoe crab has placed it at odds with another species -- humans. Conservation groups, lawmakers, fishermen, scientists, and ordinary citizens have all entered the debate. But even as our actions have imperiled the red knot, we can also preserve the species, by regulating the fishing industry and keeping clear of the beaches that the knots rely on during migration. Where nature ranks in our system of values will dictate how far we are willing to go to protect the red knot.
A master of long-distance aviation, the red knot makes one of the longest migratory trips of any bird -- 9,300 miles along the Atlantic flyway from its wintering grounds in southern South America to its high Arctic breeding grounds. The journey is so exhausting, it requires two to three stopovers for refueling. The horseshoe crab egg feast they will consume at Delaware Bay, is not just an indulgence -- it's absolutely crucial for the birds' survival. When the knots arrive at Delaware Bay, their bodies are half their starting weight, devoid of fat and even some muscle. Here, the red knot will take about two weeks to double its weight so it can continue its migration.
The red knot is a creature in peril. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan lists the red knot as a "Species of High Concern," based on declining population trends and threats on non-breeding grounds. In the last 20 years red knots have declined from over 100,000 to less than 15,000. And in 2006, the knot was named a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection as an emergency measure to slow the rapid fall of its population. In the Delaware Bay, the knot has suffered a decline so severe that some experts predict the population stopping over at the bay could disappear within five years. [Source]
Bad news for the red knot: on Monday the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council "lifted a state ban on horseshoe-crab harvesting and will allow a limited fishery in the Delaware Bay this spring."

Good news [possibly, we hope, all fingers crossed]: read more here about shoreland purchases by the Delmarva Ornithological Society Conservation Committee and The Conservation Fund.

Want to pitch in? Every dollar helps, and they take PayPal/credit cards: click here to go to the DOS donation page. It's too late for birds like the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet, but maybe we can help save the red knot for our grandkids. We can try.

[The Nature program Crash: A Tale of Two Species is scheduled for a repeat this Saturday: check local listings.]


A day late, but I love it:

From Ironic Sans, a good blog linked to a good blog in the Nature Blog Network, now in the blogroll.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The photo to the left, one of my all-time favorite bird photos [see full size here], was taken by Mike McDowell of the most excellent Mike's Birding & Digiscoping Blog, where there's a reminder that this weekend -- February 15 - 18, 2008 -- is the Great Backyard [or wherever you happen to be] Bird Count.

Anyone can participate! Here's how:

1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes during February 15–18, 2008. Count birds at as many places and on as many days as you like—just keep a separate list of counts for each day and/or location.

2. Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time, and write it down. (You can get regional bird checklists here.)

3. Enter your results through our web page
Get the bird book and the binocs, get outside and count them birds, people! [Horribly windy today below the mountain passes, but I'll be out and about, camera and notebook at the ready.]

February 9, 2008

Zamora Hills [and some dog show]

UPDATE: Edited for syntax. Content unchanged.
Michael and Bridget Slaven, both from County Tyrone, Ireland, settled in the hills west of Zamora, CA in the 1800s. The ranch now belongs to their grandson Bill Slaven, host of the Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trial. Click on the photos to make 'em bigger.

Take along a pair of binoculars. The range ewes are set out on a ridge maybe 700 yards distant, and the sheepdog won't be able to see them as he walks with his handler to the post. The dog -- a working border collie -- will run more than half a mile to reach the top. The hills all around are vast and green and empty: it's beautiful countryside, not great for crops, but good for sheep and cattle.

The Slaven family's Zamora Hills Sheepdog Trial is one of the best-known in North America. The dog that wins won't earn points towards a title, since the USBCHA shuns such nonsense, but everyone at the trial will know what that dog is made of. The judge this year is Jack Knox, and with any luck I'll be there with bells on to watch part of it. [Probably Sunday, given the drive and all. Look for a pug.]

If you are going to be anywhere near Northern California from February 15th through the 18th, pack the folding chairs, sunblock and binoculars and follow the directions to Zamora Hills:
Directions to trial site: North on I-5, take Zamora exit, head west, 92B is about 1-1/2 miles from exit. Turn left and the ranch is the first place on the left. From Highway 505 – Take the Zamora exit and head east. Turn right on 92B (about 4 miles from exit).
First run is at 7:00 each morning -- Nursery and Pro-Novice dogs run on Monday. Food and drinks will be available at the trial site. There'll be fine handlers and dogs from as far away as Canada. Bill Berhow will be there: he and his good dog Pete won Soldier Hollow last year. Here are some shots from 2007.

The handler's post -- the Lombardi Tower -- is out of sight on the left. Sheep are set out on the far ridge, at about one o'clock from the orange post in the middle of the photo. There's a dry creek bed between the drive panels and the pen. Sheep are brought around the orange post (rather than around the handler's post) prior to the drive. The shedding ring is to the left of the pen.

The shedding ring is in the middle of the photo, marked with sawdust. The shed's done --- the dog is fetching the sheep to the pen. 2007 judge Bill Berhow is seated on the flatbed truck. The Lombardi Tower [named in honor of rancher Guido Lombardi, a long-time champion of the working border collie in California] is just to the right of the shedding ring.

Top young handler Haley Howard steps down from the tower as Diona [out of sight behind the sheep] brings the range ewes to the shedding ring. Legs at left belong to the judge -- I recognize the knee brace ;~)

End of the day, and Diona is about to put her sheep in the pen. The good ones make it look so easy.


Something else is coming up... oh, yeah. Westminster.

The announcer will say something about border collies being great sheepdogs. And smart. Tops in agility. He may say that this or that dog has an AKC "herding title," which means the dog was able to follow tame sheep down a fence line in a small arena. Three times! But the truth is that none of the border collies in the ring at Westminster can work stock. Not one is competitive in agility. Here, in a nutshell, is what the border collies at Westminster are bred for:
The skull is broad and flat between the ears, slightly narrowing to the eye, with a pronounced stop [from Merriam-Webster: "the depression in the face of an animal at the junction of forehead and muzzle"], cheeks deep but not prominent. The muzzle tapering to the nose, is strong and the same length as the skull.
No, that isn't from the AKC standard, but it might as well be, since the conformation ring in the U.S. has all but surrendered to the Australia/New Zealand standard. [You can read more about the border collie and the AKC here.]

Breeding to the conformation standard of Oz means that a border collie pup without that pronounced stop will be sold to a pet home on a spay/neuter contract, no matter how excellent his health and how keen and biddable he may be. His good-looking littermate with the "perfect" stop -- the perhaps slightly more anxious, perhaps somewhat less intelligent pup with perhaps one or two very mild health issues -- is the one that will go on to win a championship, and he is the one that will stay in the gene pool. And so it goes, generation after generation. "This is the head I'm breeding for," I heard a woman at ringside announce the year border collies were "recognized." Her dogs won at Westminster.

Breeding to a conformation standard produces healthy, stable companion dogs by accident rather than design. This isn't meant to suggest that show breeders want to produce dogs with health issues and less-than-stellar temperaments, or that they don't take health and temperament into consideration. Of course they do. But the pronounced stop [among other characteristics described in the standard] is absolutely essential, because without it a border collie has no hope of success in the breed ring.

If the goal were simply to produce healthy, temperamentally sound companion dogs, breeders might take a page from guide dog experts and start crossing Labs with Goldens. They would breed pugs that don't need surgery in order to breath normally, and bulldogs that don't require C-sections to whelp. They would breed dachshunds and Bassets that don't develop back problems.

They might even give up the conceit that breeding for pronounced stops has no effect on working ability. The truth is that breeding for appearance eats working ability for breakfast. A good stockdog needs a finely calibrated set of tools to get the job done. A pronounced depression at the junction of the forehead and the muzzle ain't one of them.

Conformation-bred border collies are beautiful dogs, and no doubt fine companions, but the cookie-cutter structure, the matching fluffy coats and those pronounced stops have come at a considerable price. If you are lucky enough to be at the Zamora Hills trial next weekend, you'll see what the border collies at Westminster have lost.

The soft bigotry of low expectations suits the BCSA just fine

Action at an AKC "herding trial." There's a dog back there in that dust cloud, and this run earned a qualifying score: one leg towards an AKC "herding title." Identities protected, because honestly.

Back in 2006 the parent club of the AKC border collie announced a new title: Stockdog of Distinction. To qualify for this honor, an AKC-registered border collie had to earn herding championships from the AKC and either ASCA or the AHBA, as well as five points accumulated by placing in the top 20% at USBCHA Open trials. [That last requirement was quickly amended to read "an ISDS-style trial."]

From a BCSA Board Announcement dated January 14, 2008:
In the last few weeks, several questions have been raised about BCSA’s Stockdog Of Distinction (SOD) and SOD-Excellent awards; as well as on BCSA’s support of some USBCHA-sanctioned open field trials. A few members have contacted the BCSA board to express concern over or disagreement with these policies, and we are aware that there has been recent conversation on some email discussion lists about this topic.
Read the whole announcement here. Tragicomical gems:
3. What is the purpose of the SOD and SOD-X Award?
Because one of BCSA’s primary missions is to preserve the working heritage of our breed, the SOD award system is intended to highlight excellence in this area. It is meant to inspire BCSA members get out and compete in herding trials, which are a good metric to compare your breeding stock with that developed by other breeders. For many centuries, dog breeders have used shows and trials as a means for evaluating breeding stock and sharing knowledge.

4. Why does the SOD award require placement in Open classes at ISDS-style trials?
It was important that one component of the award be to require that a dog is proven in the open field, versus only competing in arena trials. The Border Collie is a highly developed working dog for this particular purpose, and the skill and instinct required to control livestock in a large area without the benefit of a fence line is very different from working in a small farm arena. Though AKC offers such style of work in the B course, AKC B courses are still relatively few and far between, and very small in scale as compared to ISDS-style trials. So, they are still not the best test of good Border Collie-style work. Thus, it was felt that to declare a dog truly a “Stockdog of Distinction”, it must prove its mettle in the traditional forum in which Border Collies have been tested for more than 100 years, the ISDS-style trial.
The fact that any of this has to be spelled out for members of a border collie club says more than I ever could about the AKC worldview. Ay Chihuahua.

More BCSA insights:
6. I’m concerned that BCSA is “promoting” USBCHA by encouraging members to compete in ISDS-style trials, when some prominent USBCHA members have expressed “anti-AKC” sentiments. Should BCSA be supporting an organization that does not offer reciprocal support back to us?
It is true that some USBCHA members are not supportive of our organization and do not feel that we share the same goals. But we beg to differ, we feel that the goals of both organizations are the same—to preserve and protect our breed, and to inspire Border Collie breeders to continue to develop excellence in the field, and sound, healthy, well-constructed dogs. And, not all USBCHA members and competitors are in disagreement with our club. So, it’s not fair to stigmatize an entire organization’s membership based upon a few outspoken individuals, and declare that we won’t cooperate with any of them.
No, no... go right ahead, stigmatize! All the USBCHA members I know think the AKC is worse than useless. And here, let me fix that for you: The goals of both organizations are the same??!!

Here are the objectives of the USBCHA:
to collect and preserve the history of the Border Collie dog, to promote the breed through obtaining, maintaining and disseminating information pertaining to their breeding and training as working dogs; to promote dog trials, exhibitions, publicity for the breed, and to work specifically for the improvement and preservation of Border Collies as working dogs.
The BCSA, on the other hand, promotes "a spirit of encouragement and learning for the membership in all Border Collie activities, including but not limited to: herding, obedience, agility, conformation, tracking, companion dogs, flyball, and therapy dogs," with "support and education offered to all in their equally worthy endeavors" -- which is lovely, but as different from the USBCHA's goals as chalk from cheese.

Either people breed their dogs for stockwork or they don't, and if they don't, you are going to have to keep the bar lower than dirt and keep your "herding trials" dumbed way down and make titles possible for dogs that aren't interested in stock unless you rub peanut butter on the ewes' tails, and yes, that's been done.

Doesn't perseverance count for anything? Isn't it terribly unfair to demand such a high level of, well, actual ability?

No. There won't always be fences.

February 8, 2008

PEOPLE Magazine: check. it. out.

OMG OMG OMG please pretend you don't know me while I squee like a fangirl. Seriously, go to the BAD RAP Blog this minute and enjoy. They have all kinds of good news to share. [Get some rest, you guys -- you deserve it.]

Take a look at those happy dogs, will you...! And so calm [smothers laughter]. Here's a snippet of video taken during the photo shoot. Gah, I love pibbles. Good on ya, BAD RAP, for those great bully smiles.

February 7, 2008

PETA wants to kill my dogs -- and yours

Ever-so-true billboard courtesy of the greedy breeder at Frogdog Blog.

They do. Really. It's the old "we must destroy the village in order to save it" excuse for mass slaughter. Dogs are miserable, exploited slaves. Owning a dog is the moral equivalent of owning a human. Or so believe the leaders of PETA -- and their solution is to make dogs extinct. "Find companionship with your own kind," lectures PETA prez Ingrid Newkirk. Pity Ingrid wasn't around to give dogs that message when they first sidled up to our campfires: poor beasts might have been spared the misery of long walks, tennis balls, home-cooked meals, the best spot on the sofa and advanced medical care. Silly animals -- how dare they link up with us! Let's kill 'em all, the sooner the better, one breed at a time or in bunches. [Yes, this solution is brought to you by the same folks who equate chickens on farms with Jews in concentration camps.]

And these hypocritical little PETA fascists, sitting on a war chest worth millions, say they have to kill the dogs they collect because the organization can't afford to take care of animals waiting for adoption. How insane is that, to kill a good dog rather than make the effort to place him in a loving, responsible home? PETA calls it "helping to alleviate cruelty and suffering." Suffering like this, I guess.

Did I say "fascists"? PETA also wants the government to have the right to neuter your dog -- all dogs. Weren't planning to breed Scout? Doesn't matter: you're not responsible enough to manage an unaltered dog. Risk of bone cancer? So what? Better your Rottie or Rottie-mix should die an early, agonizing death than for you to look at the science and ask questions and discover that people who really care about animal welfare -- those wild-eyed radicals in Scandinavia, for example -- have made neutering without medical cause against the law. [Imagine that.]

And now, just in time for the Westminster Dog Show, PETA comes up with ads comparing the AKC to the KKK.
“When it comes to contempt for ‘mixed breeds’ and a fetish for ‘pure bloodlines,’ there’s not much difference between the KKK and the AKC,” says PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch.
I'm not making this up. The same group that throws all its weight behind bills designed to restrict dog breeding to purebreds -- California's AB 1634 [until the last desperate minute], Los Angeles city and county neuter mandates -- is accusing the AKC of "contempt for mixed breeds." You know, just like the KKK! Sweet Jebus.

Daphna, you're the ones killing adoptable mutts by the tens of thousands! You're the ones backing legislation that will allow only pedigreed dogs to be bred! You're the ones galloping through town in white sheets, Daphna, taking good dogs out of rural shelters and killing them.

Meanwhile, the AKC helps countless mutts, mixed breeds and purebred dogs get home safely. The AKC isn't perfect by a long shot, but the last time I checked, cross-burning was not on their list of upcoming events.


Forty-eight years ago this month, a brave group of college freshmen changed the course of American history: they began a sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, to protest segregation and racism. The four students cited as motivation the lynching of 14 year old Emmett Till:
[I]n the middle of the night, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, showed up at the house where Till was staying. Armed with a pistol and flashlight, they pushed through the house to find Till, forced him to get dressed, then dragged him away as the rest of the family begged them to leave the boy alone. On August 31, three days after the abduction, a boy fishing in the nearby Tallahatchie River found Till’s submerged body. The brutalized corpse was missing an eye, had a severed ear, a bullet hole in the head and he was anchored by a 75-pound cotton gin fan that had been tied to his neck with barbed wire[...]

The trial of Bryant and Milam ended in acquittal, as the all-white, all-male jury–warned by the defense that “their forefathers would turn over in their graves” if the men were convicted–voted not guilty on grounds that the state had failed to prove the identity of the body.

“That sent me some messages,” said Greensboro Four member Franklin McCain[...] “I concluded rather quickly that if that is all this life has to offer, then it’s not worth living.” But McCain and the rest of the Greensboro Four decided to seek change rather than accept the type of life segregation offered, and with their sit-in, they sparked a revolution.
Daphna, tell me again: how do the people at Westminster resemble the KKK?

February 5, 2008

Gratuitous leftovers [yes, I'll be bidding]

They didn't get chosen for the Nitwit post, but here are a few more pieces of visual material [as the historians call it] that happen to be on eBay at the moment. I should get a commission. Kidding -- links to sellers are under each photo:

Basket o' pups. Last week this seller sold the cute photo below.

And another shot of the railroad surveyors with their dog:

I see an "eBay photo of the week" in this blog's future, yikes. This will have to be all for now. Two more wonderful photos from the same seller [and I think it's the same dog]:

From the comments section, below:
Just want to note that portrait of the baby and the pittie on the ground can also be seen in "The Best Dog in the World" by Donna Long. All types of breeds, but some nice pit bull pictures, too, and the author notes how pit bulls were very popular family dogs.
Thanks for the heads-up! I've ordered a copy.

Toddler trains pit bull (with a little help from Mom)

Sam with Teddles

Sam is one terrific [and hugely adorable] kid:
[Vick dog Teddles] is so big that he has been compared to a bull in a China shop. Now he lives in a home with Sam, who is only two years old. Teddles has learned to be careful around a little person and Sam actively participates in his training. Every morning, under Mom’s supervision, Sam will say, “Teddles-Baby, sit" and will wait for the “look command” prior to letting him out for his first run of the day. Sam will even correct his mother’s training, and note if she has forgotten to praise Teddles for an appropriate behavior. Reynolds chuckles, “We have a two-year old toddler training a Michael Vick dog how to have good house manners and Ted is responding.”
Christine Allen, Sam’s mother and Teddles’ foster parent:
What's wonderful about children like my Sam is that every dog that he meets is treated like an individual with a clean slate because he doesn't have any stereotypical or preconceived notions about different breeds. And I hope that when he's old enough to understand what stereotypes or preconceived notions mean, that he will be continue to be compassionate and humane enough to judge all living things on his or her individual merit. Those community leaders who still believe that all pit bulls were bred for ‘unstoppable violence’ and are unfit to live as family pets have a great deal to learn and could take lessons from my 2-year old.”
See the complete article here, and be sure to check out all the other Best Friends articles opposing BSL. (Look! It's Wallace!)

Teddles with Isabella

February 3, 2008

Library of Congress photosets on Flickr

Bands of sheep on the Gravelly Range at the foot of Black Butte, Madison County, Montana. [Link]. Click on photos for a larger view.

Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana. [Link].

Photographs taken in August of 1942, by Russell Lee. The Library of Congress' Photos.

February 2, 2008

Pug degrees of separation

She had her nose fixed. Seriously. The poor wee girl on the left is Lily, with pink stitches in her nose. She just got home from the most excellent veterinary hospital at UC Davis, where in addition to the nose business she had soft palate resection and work done on her larynx, which is what happens to pugs that have 1) breathing difficulties and 2) loving owners, the loving owner in this case being my sis up north.

Lily is friends with pug Harley, who belongs to Stephanie Lam, a writer and artist who designed the website for Our Pack, a Bay Area rescue and the current home of former Vick dog Leo, a sweet, happy, charismatic gentleman now working as a therapy dog with owner and Our Pack founder Marthina McClay. [That's Leo in the blue bandana -- Harley is the Christmas elf.] Leo was featured this week in a terrific article by Linda Goldston in the Mercury News.

When she's not busy with portraits and writing and web design, Stephanie organizes pug meet-ups and shows her French Bulldog, Chubby. You may have seen the whole happy family on the BAD RAP blog last month with Stephanie's new dog, Miso.

A small, happy, bully world ;~) Yes, Lily is the black pug in the navigation icon. Get well soon, Lily!

Vick dogs at Best Friends, and on the front page

Best Friends caregiver McKenzie Garcia with Squeaker. NY Times photo by Garrett Davis.

Front page of the NY Times, hey. A narrated slide show, too!

And I know I should be doing a happy dance over quotes like this:
“These dogs have been beaten and starved and tortured, and they have every reason not to trust us,” Mr. Garcia said as Georgia crawled onto his lap, melted into him for an afternoon nap and began to snore. “But deep down, they love us and still want to be with us. It is amazing how resilient they are.”
But in order to reach that great quote I had to get past this:
“The successful rehab rate for these kinds of dogs is unknown because nobody has ever studied it until now,” Dr. McMillan said. “You might see an incredibly friendly dog, but does that dog’s personality change over several weeks, over several months, after psychological trauma? Are they hard-wired to be aggressive, or can they change? What’s the best way to work with them?”

Honestly, you'd think people at the nation's best-known animal sanctuary would be old hands at caring for unsocialized dogs, abused dogs, fearful dogs, dogs with obsessive-compulsive issues. City pounds and reputable pit bull groups have dealt with badly-scarred ex-fighters, and adopted them out. Yes, a dog's personality can change after psychological trauma [but I'd be very surprised to see "an incredibly friendly dog" become a dangerous, brooding loner unless some underlying health issue were involved. Dogs aren't John Rambo]. Some pit bulls are hard-wired to be dog-aggressive, others not so much, some not at all. What's the best way to work with them? As individual dogs.

[On the left, trainer John Garcia plays pillow.] To be fair to Best Friends, the dramatics may be due to quotes taken entirely out of context over the three-day period the Times reporter spent at the sanctuary. I hope people will remember that all the Vick dogs were treated badly, and over half are already in foster homes and slated for adoption. No dog on earth can survive terrible abuse heart-whole the way a pit bull can: a fact that makes those of us who love pit bulls feel some particularly serious anger and contempt for their abusers, believe me. [I know, I know: Don't hate -- educate.]

Some pit bulls are predisposed to issues like separation anxiety and sound sensitivity, and can suffer from these conditions as much as any border collie. (My male pit bull shakes like a leaf when the wind blows and a door starts to bang on its hinges [or he would, if I hadn't developed door control OCD years ago].) It stands to reason that abusive treatment would make these conditions worse. When I read in the NY Times article about toothless Georgia, my first thought was that she might have worn her teeth to nothing by chewing obsessively on rocks or on her chain tether. And talk about zero socialization:
Little Red is a tiny rust-colored female whose teeth were filed, most likely because she was bait for the Bad Newz fighters. Handlers cannot explain why loud noises make her jumpy.

Cherry, a black-and-white male, has what seems to be chemical burns on his back. His file at Best Friends says he loves car rides and having his backside rubbed. But like many of Mr. Vick’s pit bulls, he is petrified of new situations and new people.

Oscar cowers in the corner of his run when strangers arrive. Shadow runs in circles. Black Bear pants so heavily that he seems on the verge of hyperventilation.
If someone wrote to the Border Collie Boards about a dog that jumped at every sound or rubbed its nose until it bled, you might see a response like this one [by a postdoctoral scholar involved in the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project]. Or a link to an article like this, by the veterinarian who literally wrote the book on companion animal behavior. Excerpt:
Storm and noise phobias are emergencies.

They will only worsen with exposure, and the rate at which they worsen depends on the neurochemistry of the dog and the severity and unpredictability of the storms [...]

Treatment not only saves lives, but it means the difference between a life of quality or a life of pain and suffering. Treatment can involve the dreaded behavior modification, but this is one case where drugs are essential and not optional.
But enough, already: I'm sure the Best Friends folks know all this. I wish for these pit bulls a comfortable future of long walks, cozy sofas and belly rubs from loving owners, and I know the people at Best Friends will do all they can to ensure that future. Follow the whole story here: Best Friends Blog - "They’re front page on the New York Times."

Edited to add: Here's another nice write-up, this one courtesy of ABC News.