October 30, 2007

Did you feel that?

My sis dictated info for the "Did you feel it?" form. Click the screen grab for a larger view.

So we're on the phone talking about the fires and my sister [up in San Jose] says, "Hey, we're having an earthquake."


"It's still shaking."


"It's still shaking."


"OK, that was big somewhere. I'll call you back, gotta check on the neighbors."

It was a 5.6, and shallow --- just six miles down. The epicenter was maybe ten miles away. A minute before it hit, my sister's pug dropped her toy and sat up with a "What the hell...?" expression. Figures that a Halloween baby like Lily would be in touch with Gaia.

You'll find this terrific earthquake link in the sidebar, though if you're a dyed-in-the-wool Californian you've probably had the local version bookmarked for years. You should be deeply ashamed if you haven't yet completed and submitted the "Did you feel it?" form [assuming that you did, in fact, feel it]. Here's the link. Again. Git 'er done.

Happy Halloween Pugoween birthday to me! I'm three! God, I'm so adorable.

October 29, 2007

The Fire Coast

East of Pala, looking south towards the Rincon Reservation from Palomar.

The wind was still savage when we went to bed at ten, the sky swept clear, aglitter with stars. Anacapa flashed its warning light. The cypresses, pines and eucalyptuses were noisier than the surf. Cats' fur threw sparks when stroked. We slept in spite of the sinister atmosphere.

I woke up abruptly at four to see a fierce glow in the sky . . . God, the whole face of the mountain was burning, in a long line just below the summit, and moving toward us on the wind. Fear dried my mouth. I knew doom when I saw it.

The passage above [by Lawrence Clark Powell] and this post's title were taken from an essay written in 1996 by Mike Davis.

Those are clouds in the photo, not smoke. I took that shot during a cold July rainstorm in 2006, on a drive through the country that burned this week. [You want a fire photo, go here. Or here, to see what happened to the countryside above. More L.A. Times photos.]

Here are a few links with some of the most comprehensive information on the fires: lists of homes destroyed, emergency contacts, insurance news, water safety bulletins, animal care and quite a bit more.

Google Earth + Fire Overlays
Click here for links to [free] downloads of Google Earth and an [almost] real-time fire overlay. October 23 screencaps show the fires at their early worst.

Not always the most current information on wildfires --- but it's official.

San Diego 2007 Wildfires Wiki
Everything about the San Diego wildfires. Hundreds of useful links.

San Diego County Emergency Homepage
Essential, continuously updated information for San Diego County. Fire maps, water safety, evacuation centers, cell phone notification sign-up and much more.

San Diego Fire Recovery Information
Official site with information for affected residents.

Excellent coverage of the San Diego County fires: forums, maps and emergency information.

News 8 Wildfire Resource Page
More information for San Diego County residents.

Orange County Fire Authority
Updates on evacuations, fire status, arson investigation and more.

Rim of the World
Detailed information on Lake Arrowhead, Running Springs and other communities in the San Bernardino mountains: fire damage reports, forums, scanners, more. Continuous updates.

SoCal Mountains
Information for the Big Bear Lake area and other San Bernardino mountain communities. Fire information, damage reports, weather, scanners, live chat and more. Continuous updates.

San Bernardino County Emergency Homepage
Information on evacuations, school closures, utilities, assistance and more.

Wikipedia: October 2007 California Wildfires
Hundreds of wiki-facts and links. Continuous updates.

We need more of this, if you ask me. Sheep and cattle, too.

Last, but far from least: the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Colin Fletcher wrote that Fortune is infatuated with the efficient.

Defensible space.

Papers, prescriptions, pets and photos.

Be safe.

October 10, 2007

Great read: The Dog Wars by Donald McCaig

At the 2005 USBCHA Finals, Dennis Gelling's Jan stops a collared sheep from joining the others during the shed. Photo by Denise Wall: used with permission.

I should be in bed, dammit! But Donald McCaig's book The Dog Wars has received a fine review from Terrierman and a mention from Gina at Pet Connection, and I'd like to add some comments of my own. [Besides, to borrow a line from Birdchick: "I'm siiiiiick, I'm siiiiiiiiiiick, pity me" does not qualify as a blog entry.]

McCaig's essential history of the border collie versus the AKC belongs in everyone's library. It's about good dogs, about bad things that happen to good dogs when the American Kennel Club gets control of them, and about the major public-relations nightmare the AKC brought upon itself by "recognizing" the border collie against the wishes of virtually everyone who cared about the breed.

And McCaig goes the extra mile. He places working sheepdogs and the AKC in a historical context of socioeconomic changes and political shifts that have affected all dogs and their owners:

The historical fluke that gave the dog fancy and its regulatory body, the AKC, dominion over American dogs has had unfortunate consequences, the worst of which is that no better dog government has emerged to help our dogs survive the rough ordeal of American life in the twentieth-first century.

Because the AKC is the de facto government of dogs, and because the AKC is obsolete, the laws that most affect America's dogs are often made by those who fear them, sentimentalize them, or are only interested in their suffering. Dogs and dog owners endure an ever more dog-hostile culture without a champion.

I know tax paying American citizens who dare not drive through Denver with their dogs.

[All quoted sections in this post are from The Dog Wars.]

Buy it, read it, loan it out and talk it up. This book is a classic -- one of the most important dog books I've read in years.


The only thing bellicose about The Dog Wars is its title: the writing itself is comfortable, blunt, ironic in McCaig's dry fashion, and evenhanded to a fault. (You may have to be a stockdog person to pick up the full measure of rage and pity over once-useful dogs reduced to a fluffy coat and artificial ear-carriage.)

The conflict McCaig details is the effort to save the border collie --- a matchlessly keen, athletic, biddable dog once measured solely by its ability to work stock --- from the control of an organization that values appearance above working ability, and from breeders who confuse titles with merit.

At stake is the breed's essence: quite literally, its heart and soul. Obedience people used to joke that "training a border collie is cheating," and many of these dogs are certainly intelligent and intuitive. But a good working dog on stock is something else. Says Texas handler Red Oliver: "He's obeying a higher master."

At my elbow a tough old ranch woman muttered, "We ask so much of them. And the damn fool dogs go out and do it!"
You don't train a sheepdog, McCaig says [and by "sheepdog," he and other stockmen have always meant border collie], you summon the dog's genetics. You ask them to do what they know already. You ask for miracles -- 180 ewes saved from a storm, escaped rams caught -- and you get them. After a while you may take the miracles, and the dog, for granted.

The farm where I keep my sheep is just twenty acres, but the land has a deceptive roll, and it's commonplace for my border collies to be sent to pastures to gather sheep out of my sight. The first time I did this, nearly twenty years ago, I had no choice --- there was an emergency at the house. I had never sent my young dog for sheep without a flanking command, but she knew what I wanted and would have responded the same if I'd spoken to her in Zapotec. I said, "Go get 'em," and my good girl ran across a five acre pasture, up a barbed-wire lane with cattle corralled on one side, into another pasture, down a slope and across a swampy swale to gather the sheep. She brought them across the water (they hated that), up the hill, past two open gates that led to other pastures, past the cattle corrals the sheep could have slipped into with ease, and calmly trotted them across the five acre pasture to my feet. I thought all this was quite remarkable, until I saw her do a half-mile gather in the steep hills of the Central Coast: she looked as if she'd been running out across the hills for sheep all her life, and in a sense, she had been. You don't "train" a border collie to work stock.

Ten or fifteen years ago I remember a well-known obedience trainer turning up her nose at "rejects from herding" on the grounds that they must not be as smart or as trainable as stockdogs that make the grade. This is comparable to Harvard Medical School's turning down a brilliant applicant because he wasn't a first round NBA draft pick.

If trainability and smarts were all it took, my pit bulls would be running in the USBCHA Finals.


Producing a good stockdog is a bit trickier than breeding for an oblique eye-set*. Is your future breeding prospect keen and sound enough to keep working despite harsh conditions and, god forbid, injury? Does he listen? Does he come from a line noted for its stamina? What livestock has he worked? Is he a good lambing dog? How does he deal with pressure? Is he too focused on the lead ewe -- or not focused enough? Is he a trifle sticky? Clappy? Loose-eyed? Does he run wide? Does he tend to slice his flanks? Is he fast and bold enough to cover anything that breaks? Is he savvy enough to prevent a break before it happens? What kind of grip does he have? Will he balance the sheep, driving and gathering, no matter how strong a draw in this or that direction? How well does he adapt to unfamiliar terrain? Is he patient? Kind to his stock? What breeding would enhance his strengths without exaggerating them?

It should be blindingly obvious to anyone that the border collie's drive, athleticism and brains are due to centuries of selective breeding for stockwork. This is the reason that border collies produced by U.S. versatility breeders are seldom more than a generation removed from true working dogs -- take a look at the pedigrees of the top AKC agility winners -- and the reason the AKC's "parent club" for the border collie fought so hard to keep the AKC studbook open to working registries.

(Australian breeders were surprised and a bit hurt that the new AKC breed club chose not to adopt the Australian show standard --- after all, Australians had "perfected" the breed [that is, standardized its appearance at the cost of working ability]. But their "Barbie collie," as it was promptly nicknamed, was exactly what U.S. versatility breeders hoped to avoid: a lumbering, comparatively dull creature that looked like a small Newfoundland with an enormous coat. The Barbie collie has its fans. I'm sure Barbies are wonderful companions. They just can't work. "This is the head I'm breeding for," I heard one of the first Americans to import the Aussie model announce at a West Coast show, and sure enough, her dogs went on to win at Westminster. Stockwork? Legend has it that a well-known handler could only interest a Barbie collie in sheep after tying a tennis ball to a ewe's tail. For all that, Australian-bred dogs rule the U.S. breed ring.)

[Berkeley geneticist Jasper Rines] asked about Border Collie genetic "behaviors" (his word). I said they were quite complex, that some Border Collie strains ran wider on their outrun than others, that most were thunder shy and some were spooked by the slightest noise. That some strains seemed to be more powerful -- the sheep respected them more -- and that these type of dogs were often harder to flank (shift from side to side).

I told him what Tommy Wilson had observed of unintentional crossbreds in Scotland. They (the crossbred offspring) "have some of the bits but not all of them. Oh no. You can't train them. They're no use."
All this may seem totally irrelevant if you breed border collies for agility or conformation, but Donald McCaig and his allies know that working traits are not irrelevant: they are the essence of the breed. Border collies must be bred in relation to livestock -- bred wisely by people experienced in the ways of stock and stockdogs -- or the complex mix of traits that shaped and continue to shape the greatest working dog ever created will be diluted, diminished, lost. In simple terms: the great athleticism will disappear, and the remarkable mind will disappear. Deliver us from well-meaning souls who think the border collie would be "better" if only it weren't so, you know... intense.


McCaig and the partisans of the working breed failed to prevent the AKC from "recognizing" the border collie -- that ugly business was done in 1994. But the working border collie and its registry, the ABCA, are in a strong position and will remain stronger in the long run, I think, as a result of the struggle recounted by McCaig. The AKC took a direct (and very public) hit and has never quite recovered. Threatened by Puggles and kept afloat by puppy mill registrations, the AKC itself now poses less of a danger to the working breed than sport-dog people who breed border collies indiscriminately (and the stockdog breeders who enable them).

By defending what the working border collie is, and by fighting so hard against what it is not, McCaig, Miss Ethel, Sally Lacy, Eileen Stein, Penny Tose and the rest nudged the AKC off its axis. The dog world reflects the shift. These days Barbie collie breeders post photos of their conformation champions attempting to "herd," and versatility breeders play up the rare trial-winning dog or that famous sheepdog handler training our Scout. Jon Katz, who knows so little of authentic stockwork that he imagines good working dogs are "trained" with a clicker, bought sheep for his Barbie collies to circle. Everyone knows that an AKC "herding title" only means that a dog was able to walk behind tame sheep as they followed the handler down a fence line. And more people than ever know what a real sheepdog trial looks like.

So the AKC may have "recognized" the border collie, and pet breeders may be busy trying to market their kinder, gentler versions, but the authentic border collie is still very much a presence.

You may have read that a border collie named Patch sold for $23,000 to the Bell A Land & Cattle Co. of LaPine, Oregon at Red Bluff last January. (He was sold as a pup for $500, a typical price for a well-bred stockdog puppy.) Patch wasn't bought for bragging rights, to show or to stand at stud. He was bought to work cattle. "So long as sheep and goat farming [and cattle ranching] thrive," writes McCaig, "there will be a working Border Collie." As long as we have livestock, there will be responsible people determined to breed their dogs wisely in the name of good stockmanship, and there will be working trials -- real ones -- to help select "the sires and dams of the next generation of sheepdogs."


Buy it:

The Dog Wars: How the Border Collie Battled the American Kennel Club by Donald McCaig. Outrun Press, 2007.


*Oblique eye set: In an old issue of the AKC Gazette, I read in the Rough Collie column that the breed's "oblique eye set" [nowhere evident in very early photographs, and I'm looking right now at a photo of show collie Sable Plume, born in 1880] was necessary so that the dogs could better "scan the Highlands for sheep." Gentle reader, do not mistake sincerity for authenticity.

October 2, 2007

Nathan Winograd talks about pit bulls

Nathan Winograd's new book is called Redemption, and it's a hot topic in bloglandia. From the book:
There is no breed of dog in America more abused, maligned, and misrepresented than the American Pit Bull Terrier. There is no breed of dog more in need of the humane movement’s compassion, in need of a call to arms on its behalf, and in need of what should be the full force of a shelter’s sanctuary. Many shelters, however, have determined that these dogs are not worthy of their help. They have determined that Pit Bulls do not deserve to live.

The more circumspect among them might not say so publicly. They may couch it in more benign terms, shifting the blame to others, claiming that no one will adopt them, convincing themselves that only a ban and death will keep them out of harm’s way, but the end result is exactly the same. By their actions, words, policies, and failure to speak out positively on behalf of Pit Bulls, they stoke the fire that has at its core only one end: their mass killing. To a breed abused for fighting, victimized by an undeserved reputation, relegated to certain death in shelters, add one more torment: those who should be their most ardent protectors have instead turned against them. The humane movement has joined the witch hunt. The very agencies whose officers seek out dog fighters and abusers in order to “save” Pit Bulls often relegate the dogs to locked and barren corridors away from public view with no hope of adoption, regardless of their temperament. Ultimately, all of them—the healthy and friendly ones, side-by-side with the hopelessly sick or vicious—are put to death.

In Multnomah County, Oregon, Pit Bulls are killed en masse in a shelter that claims it is near No Kill by using temperament testing to find reasons to fail Pit Bulls, creating a virtual de facto ban on the breed. In Denver, Colorado, they have been simply outlawed and executed. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the nation’s most outspoken animal rights group, has joined the battle to exterminate these dogs—demanding that all cities ban the breed, and that all Pit Bulls who enter shelters seeking sanctuary be killed.

Ending the tragic plight of the American Pit Bull Terrier should be among the humane movement’s most ardent goals. Humane groups must remind people that the Pit Bull’s misfortune is in finding itself the favored breed of the dog fighter at this time in history—a distinction shared at one point by the German Shepherd, Doberman, and Rottweiler. This is a distinction that will shift to another breed if Pit Bulls are banned but the scourge of dog fighting is not ended.

Rather than rally against an injustice which condemns an entire breed of dogs to death—literally hundreds of thousands of dogs a year—shelters have failed the Pit Bull completely. And one of those leading the charge is none other than the dog behavior expert championed by HSUS and NACA, Sue Sternberg. In her training video, The Controversial Pit Bull, Sternberg claims most Pit Bulls are aggressive to other dogs and cats and perhaps even children, a statement that flies in the face of Tompkins County’s experience. Sternberg goes further, claiming that even if they are friendly, they should not be adopted into homes with children because they are

"very strong, very powerful, the tail alone will cause bruises on a small child. And they have no boundaries, so when they go to kiss you, as my friend who used to do Pit Bull rescue [found out], knocked her front tooth out [and caused] $500 worth of bonding. Just saying hello."

Due to a strong, swishing tail and a freak accident involving her friend, the woman considered to be the foremost temperament testing expert by shelters nationwide says Pit Bulls should not be adopted by families with children. This point of view would be ludicrous if the end result—the slaughter of healthy, friendly dogs nationwide—were not so tragic.

In Tompkins County, by contrast, if one isolates “Pit Bulls,” a breed condemned by Sternberg as generally being aggressive to cats and other dogs and otherwise dangerous to kids, nearly nine out of ten of them—86 percent—passed temperament testing and were adopted in 2002. It is also worth noting that Sternberg’s shelter, where she claims the Pit Bulls who come in are “unadoptable” is also in Upstate New York—a three-hour drive door-to-door from the Tompkins County SPCA. The point is worth underscoring. In Tompkins County’s animal control facility, 86 percent of all Pit Bulls impounded were found to be friendly to kids, other dogs, and cats, and were all adopted. This occurred in the same region of the country, in the same state, a few short hours drive from the shelter of the nation’s expert who says the vast majority of Pit Bulls in her shelter should be killed. It is a contradiction that can only be reconciled one way—Sternberg is wrong.

Not only does the experience of Tompkins County prove this point, national outside-the-shelter testing does, too. According to the American Temperament Test Results for 2004, the three breeds commonly referred to as “Pit Bulls”—the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier—had a combined passing rate of 86.6 percent, virtually the same as found in Tompkins County, and, interestingly, a pass rate higher than the Golden Retriever.

The hypocrisy of this kill-oriented sheltering philosophy finds no better example than in Denver, Colorado, where in 2005 local authorities began enforcing a law making it illegal to have a Pit Bull as a pet. Banning Pit Bulls or any breed of dog is geared to overkill by definition because—media hysteria to the contrary—the vast majority of dog bites occur within the home by many breeds, with the dog biting a member of the family after some provocation, a different causal mechanism than the false image presented: an epidemic of free roaming Pit Bulls attacking unknown children or the elderly. As a result, a breed ban won’t stop the vast majority of dog bites. Nonetheless, Denver newspaper reports describe police officers seizing friendly pet Pit Bulls from homes on threat of arrest, again putting the lie to the claim that shelters are killing because of public irresponsibility.

While groups like the Fund For Animals whitewash the truth, saying that shelters are doing the “public’s dirty work,” the truth is more sanguine: the work is dirty, but it is not the public’s. In the case of Denver’s Pit Bulls, the lie is two-fold because people are not discarding them: government animal control and police agencies are taking cherished family members on threat of arrest—only to put the poor creatures to death. This is your American animal shelter, the one that blames you for the killing.
See Nathan Winograd's blog here. He read the passage above, bless him, during his visit to L.A. last week.

"An incredibly uplifting and inspiring outcome"

Friendly boy's gonna be all right. Thanks, ASPCA! Thanks, BAD RAP!

Dog news of the day, from AP via the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

All but one of the 49 remaining pit bulls seized from a home owned by suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick at the outset of a dogfighting investigation have placement potential, according to a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

One of the dogs has a history of biting people and should be euthanized, according to the motion, which cites extensive behavioral testing done on all the dogs seized from the property in rural Surry County, Va. It says the dogs were put through a protocol of 11 exercises to evaluate their behavior toward humans and other animals.

The behavioral testing was carried out Sept. 4-6 by a team of animal experts assembled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The dogs were placed into five categories ranging from could be rehabilitated and eventually be adopted to euthanasia for dogs exhibiting intense aggression toward people or suffering from a significant medical condition.

The categories also include one for dogs that could potentially be placed in specialized training for law enforcement work, and Sanctuary I and Sanctuary II for dogs that either exhibit fear toward people and need to be socialized under supervision, to dogs that react mildly to intensely to stimulus and require more extensive help.

Only one of the 49 dogs was deemed unfit for rehabilitation and recommended for euthanasia, which order was entered yesterday by Judge Henry E. Hudson.

“The ASPCA—which was founded to fight cruelty 141 years ago—has been honored to assist federal investigators in this groundbreaking case, from participating in the investigation itself, to leading the behavior evaluations, and we greatly appreciate the trust placed in us,” said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres. “More than anything, I am extremely proud of the dedication and collaboration demonstrated by the behaviorists who evaluated the dogs—that almost all these dogs can expect to live long and happy lives is an incredibly uplifting and inspiring outcome to this case.”

Huge, huge props to California's own BAD RAP, whose tireless experts have shown time and again that abused pit bulls and pit bulls from fighting backgrounds can live safe, happy lives in responsible homes. On the BAD RAP Blog, Donna Reynolds writes:

For an insider's scoop on how this is even possible - Abused pit bulls with placement potential? - we'll have to refer you to Sophie.

And of course, Pearl. And Katie Jane. And all the good pit bulls that deserve fair evaluations and good homes.

I'm guessing that food, shelter and training for these dogs won't cost the taxpayer a dime --- it'll come out of Michael Vick's pocket.

Game-bred pit bulls --- and Vick seems to have had the real deal --- tend to have sound, people-friendly temperaments and the resilience to survive extreme abuse, heart whole. I hope the example of these dogs will help save the lives of other friendly, stable pit bulls confiscated from dog fighters.