March 31, 2008

Spring break / Spring cleaning

This is so romantic, I could just squee: Steampunk Love.

Yes, it's pretty ring time in cloudy SoCal, a good week to clean house, work dogs [remember to check for foxtails!], shear sheep [the sheep-eating pasture was mowed on Saturday!], catch up on reading [a new Premier catalog!] and mess around with the 'puter.

Performed blogosurgery last week after discovering that my navigation bars, up there below the header, were throwing the site totally out of alignment on a few browsers. [You with Mozilla 1.7.8/Debian 3.1 — according to Browsershots, the fix seems to have worked.] I'm now using a modified navigation-bar hack from bizwhiz.

In the left sidebar I've added a link list of [mostly] design sites. They all have interesting things going on: ossum design, of course, and links...! Once I spot something interesting [and I'm interested in practically everything] I keep following link after link until I wind up somewhere like, where I spend far more time than I probably should; and vacation is no excuse, really. Don't even get me started on the rabbit hole that is Ffffound.

Here, via a back button-defeating path I couldn't retrace if my life depended on it, is Banksy's "Bow Peep" checking out a pay phone in the Bronx:


As [almost] always, click photos to make big.

Last, but not least: the section formerly known as Hacks/Trucos has been renamed Toolbox/Trucos, with a hat tip to sysadmin 'Claus' and his PC Toolbox over at Grand Stream Dreams. Claus knows all the latest and best [and free] downloads to keep your computer fast, efficient and secure.

[rolls up sleeves] I have just begun to clean!

["Dust is a protective coating for fine furniture." Quote for the day, from Mario Buatta.]

March 30, 2008

Get well soon!

Oh, crap.

Dear Bill,
Heard you were under the weather and so am sending two adorable, tiny little Chihuahua puppies to New Hampshire to help you get better, because I'm sure their tiny little adorableness is just the medicine you need! OMG, you are going to have so much fun watching them herd the new lambies!

Best wishes,

Luisa, Piper, Sneak, Bounce, Grayling, Twig & Lu

[No, really, it'll be fine — they have OnStar.]

March 29, 2008

Hierba mala nunca muere — A Weed Never Dies

A sample of last year's crop. Foxtails love socks, running shoes and [rough-coated, especially] dogs. It's an unrequited passion.

Foxtail season is here, bless its horrid, sharp, barbed and dangerous little heart. I collected a few at the farm this week, and if I'm picking up foxtails, it won't be long before my dogs are picking up the deadly things, too.

Worst things first. Foxtail awns can enter a dog's body just about anywhere, and once in, they can migrate all over.

The image on the left shows the tip of a hugely magnified foxtail spikelet. See the barbs? [Click for big.] From Wikipedia:
The spikelets or spikelet clusters of foxtails are adapted for animal dispersal: The foxtails disarticulate easily, the barbs cause the foxtail to cling to fur, and movement of the animal causes the foxtail to burrow into the fur, since the barbs permit it to move only in the direction of the callus [tip]. In wild mammals that inhabit the native ranges of foxtail grasses, the fur is ordinarily short enough that the foxtails will eventually become dislodged, dispersing the seed.

Especially in the long-haired dogs and other domestic animals, the foxtails can become irreversibly lodged. Foxtails can also enter the nostrils and ear canals of many mammals. In all these cases, the foxtail can physically enter the body.

Muscular movements (or air flow, in the case of nostrils) can cause the foxtails to continue to burrow through soft tissues and organs, causing infection and physical disruption, which in some cases can result in death.
Foxtails that have progressed no further than surface lesions are ordinarily removed and the lesion treated with antiseptic and bandaged if necessary. Once a foxtail has passed beneath the skin, dogs are often treated with systemic antibiotics, and the foxtail either allowed to encyst and degrade, or in the case of actual or imminent organ damage, removed surgically (surgical removal can be problematic, since foxtails cannot easily be imaged by x-ray or ultrasound).

Foxtails embedded in the nostrils can migrate into the nasal turbinates, causing intense distress, and in rare cases into the brain. Foxtails in the ear canal can puncture the eardrum and enter the middle ear, causing hearing loss. In both cases, detection and early removal is the best treatment.

Because foxtails "burrow" through fur, soft tissues, and organs, some people think of them as parasites. Although they may be technically "alive", containing viable grass seeds, foxtails are equally dangerous dead, since their burrowing is purely mechanical, in response to movements of the affected animal. [Photos from Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons.]
As you can imagine from this link, if your dog needs surgery to remove a foxtail, your bank account can take a hit to the tune of several thousand dollars. Even immediate removal of a foxtail from a dog's ear or nose can be pricey.

Last year my trainer, Anna Guthrie, nearly lost her good young dog Tikkle on account of a foxtail — Tick went into a coma after being anesthetized for removal of a foxtail she'd inhaled. A freak occurrence, but do check out Christie Keith's Pet Connection report on veterinary anesthesia.

I try my best to limit my dogs' work to areas where foxtails have been mowed or grazed close, but even in suburban backyards and parks there's a chance a dog can sniff up a foxtail awn or pick one up in a paw.

The trick to keeping foxtails at bay is grooming. From last year's post:
When I get home from the farm, I set my border collie on the "grooming table" [ours is an old cabinet topped with a carpet sample] and groom her from nose to tail. I start with a slicker brush or an undercoat rake and progress, every time, to the proverbial fine-toothed comb. My dogs are slick-coats, so this doesn't take too long. I comb forwards, backwards and sideways, and may comb through the same area several times before I spot a stubborn little awn. I check every orifice. (Stockdog bitches seem to have a knack for collecting a foxtail or two around the vulva.) I check carefully between the toes, and I check the bottoms of the feet.

And after we're done on the grooming table, I settle down on the kitchen floor and check my dog's underside while she's lying on her back.

I may go for days or weeks with no sign of a foxtail --- but just when I start asking myself why I'm grooming so religiously, I'll find an awn between my dog's toes. Eternal vigilence...
Foxtails can harm sheep, too: one reason I like Cheviots, with their bare legs and heads.

May all our critters be safe from foxtails this season. [Oldish link, but a good one: Dog Owners' Guide to California Foxtails. I'm adding it to the sidebar.]

March 28, 2008

Sheep serif

Even the i is dotted. Well done, ladies.

North Devon shepherd/author/filmmaker/television personality David Kennard can add "performance artist" to his resume with this gem.
Sheepdogs are trained to obey their master's every word. So when farmer David Kennard decided one of those words would be "Spring", his dogs did not hesitate.

They rounded up the flock on the hills of Mr Kennard's north Devon farm and, with a little help from their master, created a picture that reminds us that, whatever the weather, this is officially the first weekend of Spring.

The scene did call for a careful scattering of feed to make the sheep form themselves in the shapes of the six letters.

However, it was down to the team of Collies – who everyone knows border on the brilliant – to have the last word. They circled the 200-strong flock and kept them from wandering off-message.
Thanks to Carol of Frogdog Blog for the tip — visit her most excellent blog to read more about Kennard and his border collies.
And also, oh look! A book about sheepherding, by someone who is… an actual sheepherder! Someone send a note to Jon Katz about this.

Kennard [below with Ernie, Swift and Greg] knows how to pen compelling accounts of farm life, and it doesn't hurt that he shepherds in breathtaking country:

A Shepherd's Watch has excellent photos to supplement Kennard's writing, and The Year of the Working Sheepdog is a classic video: read a review here.

Kennard knows a thing or two about sheepdogs. He had a respectable showing with Swift and Greg in brace competition at the 1999 International Trial. From A Shepherd's Watch:
Greg was obviously aware that this was a brace run, and on arriving at the sheep had lain down and waited for a minute or so for his partner to arrive without a command from me. When Swift appeared, he simply got to his feet and moved across to his side of the sheep. I don't know how many people noticed his reaction, but it was something that I'll never forget.
The sheep in the photo at the top of this post are Kennard's North Country Mules. To learn more about mule sheep, see Dr. Mark Lelli's excellent Muleflock website.

March 27, 2008

Estate Auction: dog related fine and decorative arts

Bonhams & Butterfields Sunset Estate Auction, Los Angeles, March 30, 2008. Click for big.

The collecting bug: one minute you're happy with two or three porcelain sheepdogs and a "Ban Stupid People, Not Dogs" mousepad, and the next thing you know, you're on eBay in a bidding war for a set of kissing-pugs salt and pepper shakers. Or at Christie's bidding on a Hockney etching of a dachshund. Or both.

This Sunday, one of the world's largest collections of dog-related art and memorabilia will be sold at auction in Los Angeles. Bonhams & Butterfields is in charge, and you can visit their site to see some of the wonderful old tintypes and photographs of dogs from the Jennifer Berry collection. Lots of working collies and pit bull types, and many other breeds -- even sheep!
Over the past five decades, Los Angeles collector and animal lover Jennifer Berry has amassed what is surely one of the largest collections of dog-related memorabilia in the world. Housed in her prestigious Brentwood Hills, California home, it has remained virtually unknown but to close family and a handful of collectors[...]

Within the highlights is photography, embodied by highly sought after daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. Almost all of images feature dogs sitting for a portrait. Considered highly desirable to both photography collectors as well as dog art lovers, these seminal images document not only the practice of early photographic portraiture, but accurately depict the state of various breeds in the 19th century. [Source]

Old books, too. From the Bonhams & Butterfields site:

Sale 15882 - Sunset Estate Auction

30 Mar 2008
7601 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

The March Sunset Auction features the Jennifer Berry Collection of Dog related fine and decorative arts[...]

Viewing in our Los Angeles Gallery:
Friday, March 28th 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday, March 29th 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sunday, March 30th 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Representatives from spcaLA will be on hand during the preview to provide information on their programs and services for our clients.
Meanwhile, back on the Bay:

"Girl w PIT BULL DOG Staffordshire Terrier Original CDV card photo dated 1866 England."

I want 'em all.

March 19, 2008

Inside Animal Minds

They're smarter than we thought.

I'm such a hardcore little fact-checker.

Went to Los Angeles on Friday and wound up in the Grove Barnes & Noble, rereading everything by J... by J... [shudders]. Honestly, I can hardly bring myself to give him free publicity pronounce his name. He's the opposite of a fact-checker. His work is bad for dogs, and very bad for border collies.

Jon Katz has parlayed inept stockmanship and mismanagement of his dogs into a Slate column, a movie deal, the odd radio appearance and a string of books, and there's a website, too, but I won't link to it. [Oh, all right, dammit: here.] He is a willfully ignorant, patronizing author who wants you to believe everything he tells you about dogs in general and border collies in particular even though, gosh, he's never claimed to be an expert or anything. And besides, experts are just big old snobs, ha ha ha! He is like that man who wrote The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California back in 1845 with directions to a new route he'd never actually traveled himself and when a group of settlers took his "shortcut," they wound up struggling across the Wasatch Range and the salt flats of western Utah and were trapped in the snows in the High Sierra, where they ran out of food and resorted to cannibalism.

On second thought, he's much worse than that.

Here's sheep farmer and border collie handler [and owner/moderator of the Sheep Production Forums] Bill Fosher, in response to a complaint that those mean old border collie snobs "spew venom" at poor Jon Katz:
I spew venom at him because of some of the horrible things he has talked about on a local public radio call-in show, such as letting a five month old Border collie puppy "have a couple of hours of unsupervised time" with the sheep to "let her get to know them." He also claims that highly-trained Border collies are trained with clickers and treats and that poses and postures are trained, rather than actual stock work. He says things like this as if he knows what he's talking about, and in fact he doesn't know sh!t from shinola about sheepdogs, sheep [or] farming [...]

In the end, I really almost don't care about what he did to Devon/Orson. I care about what other people might do to their dogs if they emulate him.
Katz arranged for Orson, his first border collie, to be euthanized after the dog developed severe behavior problems and bit three people. Orson, or Devon, as he was originally called, was given to Katz by a woman who breeds conformation border collies from New Zealand/Australian lines. And would that breeder and importer of show champions be the same woman who called authentic, working border collies "needlessly hostile, undomesticated dogs"?

She would.

According to Katz, any dog that "violates the fundamental contract between humans and canines" [have your dogs signed that contract? Neither have mine] should be killed sooner rather than later, unless you care more about dogs than you care about children, you sicko. From Nathan Winograd's blog:
[F]ear mongering at HSUS has taken a new turn with the publication of an interview with best-selling author Jon Katz, author of “A Good Dog,” in the current issue of Animal Sheltering entitled: “I Chose a Child’s Face Over My Dog.” The question and answer format with Katz does nothing to illuminate the truth about aggression or dangerous dogs, and in fact, only serves to heighten stereotypes and perpetuate myths. That Katz killed his dog because of what he considered severe aggression is not what one takes from the article. That would have been a very different piece, a tragedy for all involved—Jon Katz, his dog, and the people his dog hurt. And maybe, just maybe, our hearts would have hurt for all of them.

Instead, HSUS asks a series of very deliberate questions which not only globalize the tragedy that occurred in the Katz family, but appear to assume the worst in dogs, and the worst in people who want to see less of them killed. Opposition is dismissed as irresponsible. Dog lovers are pitted against children. It’s the type of either-or, you-are-with-us-or-against-us, your-dog-or-your-child hysteria most of us, especially those of us who love both our dogs and our kids, dismissed long ago. In fact, the parallel to attacks the nascent animal welfare movement was subjected to from industries which hurt animals is stark. Our movement’s history is littered with these sorts of unfair accusations by those who profit from animal exploitation.

And the tenor of the article—which is merely restated as Katz' viewpoint giving HSUS “plausible deniability” about the viewpoints advanced—results in the following conclusions:

* Killing dogs becomes unacceptable only when people inappropriately “humaniz[e] dogs.”
* “Millions of people are bitten by dogs every year, many tens of thousands of children.”
* If you do not believe in killing dogs, you have made them “quasi-religious objects of veneration.”
* “Millions of Americans seek medical attention every year for animal bites or attacks.”
* “[F]or every troubled or aggressive animal kept alive for months or years, healthy and adoptable animals go wanting for homes and often lose their lives.”
* “Insurance companies are paying out billions of dollars to people bitten by dogs.”
* As a result of dog bites, “lawyers [are] injected into the human-animal relationship” and this is exacerbated by people who want to see dog killing end.
* Adopting a Pit Bull appears to be more trouble than it is worth.

Every one of these conclusions is deeply flawed and deeply offensive.
And speaking of deeply flawed and deeply offensive, here are excerpts from an online chat last summer:
Question: One other question, our new border collie is extremely sensitive to loud noises. If there is thunder is the far distance, she will cower and go hide under the bed. As you can imagine 7/4 was very difficult for her. is there a way to desensitize her to loud noises?
Jon Katz: Desensitizing is possible,but difficult and time consuming. I don't know any border collies who are sensitive to noise -- partly why they are such great herders. I put mine in crates when I leave the house or when storms approach.
Sweet Jebus. This just in.
Question: Hi Jon -- do you know of someplace near Boston where I could see a herding trial? I've seen the kind held in a ring, but would love to see the type held in a large, open space (my dream vacation is to go to Scotland and watch Border collie trials, but it's not going to happen any time soon. --- Thank you!
Jon Katz: Hey Keely, Izzy and I were just herding geese along Storrow Drive. You can go to the akc dot org website for lists of AKC sponsored herding trials. I am sure there are many in N.H. and Massachusetts.

Sigh. To the left is a scene from an AKC "herding trial." There is a dog back there in the dust of this small arena, and the run was given a qualifying score. Three runs like this, and your dog receives an AKC "herding title."

The photo below shows the Open field at Zamora, CA. This is a USBCHA trial. The AKC has never, and will never put on a sheep dog trial as challenging as Zamora. Click here to find the next real trial near you. Your dog won't win a "herding title" by doing well on a course like this, but everyone will know what he's made of.

Of course I'm just a snobby old elitist to bring any of this up. Katz again:
[Border collie snobs] tend not to favor a variety of approaches to training their dogs but adopt uniform--and very rigid--methods. Those dogs you see winning ribbons on TV don't get there by relaxing and finding their own way. Every move they make--the way they sit, at what distance from the sheep, how they hold their heads--results from intense, almost relentless training. I used to watch in amazement as trainers waited until a dog's head was pointed in precisely the right direction, then click a clicker, over and over again.
Where does he get this?

NO ONE trains a working border collie with a clicker. [I suppose a clicker could be used for training "obedience on stock" — but that is not the same thing as stock work.] Check out the YouTube video in the left sidebar to see a top handler at work with a good young dog, and read the terrific new book Top Trainers Talk about Starting a Sheepdog to learn more about the real nature of "summoning the dog's genetics," as Donald McCaig puts it.

Katz writes that border collie snobs are "annoyed" with him
because I have border collies in the first place (they think people like me shouldn't), because I don't take them to competitions (too many uptight people shouting at their dogs), and because I've homeschooled them, avoiding the pros and adapting their training to life on the farm. My methods are admittedly unconventional. Rose is a true heroine, but there will be no championship ribbons in her future. The snobs won't approve of my new technique with Izzy, either.
Oh, please. This is such absolute, self-serving nonsense.

Katz bothers me because I hate to see livestock stressed, because I hate to see dogs put in dangerous situations, and because I believe writers have an obligation to do thorough research and tell the truth.

And what Bill said: "I care about what other people might do to their dogs if they emulate him."

DoG help us. This may be a very bad year for border collies.

March 18, 2008

"A reminder that medical research can change lives"

Thanks to Caveat for directing readers to a surgeon/scientist's look at the use of animals in medical research. Bad scientific arguments in the service of 'animal rights' activism is the title, and the author is an oncologist who blogs under the name Orac. His post begins:
One of the greatest threats to the preclinical research necessary for science-based medicine today is animal rights activism. The magnitude of the problem came to the forefront again last month with the news that animal rights terrorists tried to enter the home of a researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) whose research uses mice to study breast cancer and neurologic disease while she and her husband were having a birthday party for one of their children and assaulted her husband, who had gone to the front of the house to confront them. This unrelenting attack on the use of animals in research is primarily based on a belief that animals and humans should have equal rights and that eating meat or even having pets is viewed as immoral. However, increasingly, I seem to notice animal rights activists trying to use science to justify their beliefs. In other words, it is not enough to use ethical arguments; they feel they must argue that animal research is bad science.

Orac mentions a hero of his, Dr. Judah Folkman:
My favorite example to cite when I hear the argument that other methods besides animal research can do better than animal research in helping us understand disease (or, in its more sophisticated form, that animals may have been needed a few decades ago to discover, say, insulin, but our understanding has advanced to the point where they are no longer needed) comes from my field and my area of research interest. It also happens to come from my scientific hero, Dr. Judah Folkman, who passed away suddenly in January. It shows an area of cancer biology whose importance would have been incredibly difficult to model, appreciate, or target for therapy without mouse models of cancer. That area, of course, is tumor angiogenesis, and Dr. Folkman did his pioneering work that has now resulted in drugs like Avastin and other antiangiogenic drugs that are making it to market now and making a real impact on cancer. Dr. Folkman did it through an ingenious strategy that began from the clinical observation that sometimes tumor metastases appear shortly after the operation to remove the primary tumor.
Read the rest here, and check out the comments as well.

As it happens, there is an article in today's NY Times that mentions Dr. Folkman. In A Daring Treatment, a Little Girl's Survival, reporter Denise Grady writes:
Melanie was 9 months old when her parents faced an agonizing decision. She had already had two operations for a malignant brain tumor [see x-ray above], and doctors could not be sure they had removed all the cancer. She needed more treatment, but standard chemotherapy offered little hope in exchange for its harsh side effects. And yet the McDaniels knew that if they did nothing, the odds were high that the tumor would come back.
“It won’t save her, but it may help other people,” her father, Paul McDaniel, told me in an interview for a Science Times article published in April 2002. Then he paused and added, “Maybe it will save her.”
After the article was published, I was afraid to call the McDaniels again. I didn’t think Melanie would survive.

Recently, Mr. McDaniel sent me an e-mail message. “Melanie is now 7 years old, attending first grade, and doing very well,” he wrote. “The doctors told us last year that they do not see any residual tumor in her brain. Their original diagnosis was that her tumor had no known cure.”

What had prompted him to get in touch was the death on Jan. 14 of Dr. Judah Folkman, the researcher at Dana-Farber whose work had led to Melanie’s treatment. Mr. McDaniel wrote that he wanted “to celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. Folkman, who faced resistance on his ideas that, by the grace of God, cured my daughter of an incurable brain tumor.”
May Melanie go from strength to strength, and may Dr. Folkman's name be a blessing. Thanks again to Caveat for the link [and for fighting the good fight in the Great White North].

Obama's Speech

From Andrew Sullivan's blog:
[T]his searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.

And it was a reflection of faith - deep, hopeful, transcending faith in the promises of the Gospels. And it was about America - its unique promise, its historic purpose, and our duty to take up the burden to perfect this union - today, in our time, in our way.

I have never felt more convinced that this man's candidacy - not this man, his candidacy - and what he can bring us to achieve - is an historic opportunity. This was a testing; and he did not merely pass it by uttering safe bromides. He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man's faults and pain as well as his promise. This is what my faith is about. It is what the Gospels are about. This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian.

Bill Clinton once said that everything bad in America can be rectified by what is good in America. He was right - and Obama takes that to a new level. And does it with the deepest darkest wound in this country's history.

I love this country. I don't remember loving it or hoping more from it than today.

Awareness test

[Hat tip: The Daily Dish.]


On the masters of our domains, the Great Firewall of China and a glitch in Pakistan:
Susan Crawford, a visiting law professor at Yale and a leading authority on Internet law, said the fact that many large domain name registrars are based in the United States gives the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, control “over a great deal of speech — none of which may be actually hosted in the U.S., about the U.S. or conflicting with any U.S. rights.”

“OFAC apparently has the power to order that this speech disappear,” Professor Crawford said. [Source. Mezzoblue wrote, "Got any domains registered or hosted with US-based companies? You may want to read this."]
China aims at Tibet, shoots self in foot. YouTube is there. From CNET:
Protests break out in some nation around the globe and one of the first things a media-shy government does--just after sending in riot police--is pull the plug on YouTube.

The latest example is China's handling of protests in Tibet. The Chinese government has blocked access to YouTube in that country after scores of clips showing violence between police and protesters were posted to the site, according to hundreds of reports found on Google News [...]

In an example of YouTube's influence, blocking access to the video-sharing site is now a sort of scarlet letter for governments. The site, which allows individuals to communicate with mass audiences, has become a symbol of free speech to many, and governments that forbid it are immediately branded around the world as repressive.

This kind of image can't be welcomed by China as it prepares to host this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.
No kidding. This doesn't look too good, either.

Snafu in Pakistan:
Perhaps the poster child for bans gone wrong is Pakistan. The government there was angered over videos it found disrespectful to Islam and demanded YouTube be blocked. An ISP in Pakistan goofed and erroneously shut down access to YouTube around the world.

Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition... But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas... that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. [Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.]

March 8, 2008

Verde que te quiero verde

March 7: a late [and overcast] afternoon at the farm, looking north.

I lost a sheep in that greenness a week ago. It's hip-high, for crying out loud. The grass, I mean — the sheep, not so much. She just vanished. That's a five-strand fence, and in places only the top strand is visible, oy.

The lost sheep [one of my new Cheviots] is safe and sound now, but she only narrowly avoided becoming a red spot on the asphalt. When we finally located her, she was galloping down a lane towards an open gate and certain doom on a fairly busy road. The landshark grabbed her and took a drubbing [outweighed as she was by some 150 lb] but held on like grim death until I could catch up with them and slip a makeshift halter on the ewe.

I've seen videos of shepherds — Isle of Soay, maybe? — who use their collies to grab and hold island sheep, and as I recall it seemed vastly less stressful than our experience. My sheep and dog were both bloodied. No lasting damage, but still the worst injury to the stock I've seen in twenty years of sheep-keeping. A vet says I've been very lucky.

For years an old friend and I planted barley in these fields with no more irrigation than what nature provided, and the barley grew five feet high. Last year, not even a weed grew. For purposes of comparison: the photo on the right shows a fencepost in the same pasture last winter: the winter of no rain. It was miserable.

Off to feed the prodigal and her flockmates now — with far less excitement, God willing.

Green is my absolute most favorite color ever.

Goat quadruplets [not mine] born last week. Mother and babies all doing well: one of the kids is being fostered by an obliging doe that had just one of her own.

[Post title from García Lorca's Romance sonambulo. Original here. Figures that a poem having to do with a corpse has launched everything from salad reviews to blog posts about pasture. "Green, how I love you, green..."]

Iditarod links, and a moment of silence, dammit

What we all love to see: "Jeff King's wheel dogs Lobben and Guinness are still rearing to go as they get checked into Ruby on Friday, March 7. Both dogs are leased from Kenai musher Jon Little." Photo by Photo by Bob Hallinen for the Anchorage Daily News.

From Iditarod Race Talk:


*Please note: all comments/descriptions are by the Cabela/Iditarod crew at Iditarod Race Talk, linked above.*

[Updated for the 2008 Iditarod]

OFFICIAL IDITAROD WEBSITE (Streaming live coverage, archived videos & more, but to see much of it you need to subscribe to Iditarod Insider for $19.95/yr)

BSSD TALK FORUMS (Very active Iditarod talk forums! If you're an Iditarod junkie or a complete newbie to the sport, you are welcome here. People of ALL ages participate in these moderated forums.)

BSSD CHAT ROOM (This is the best chat room and it worked flawlessly last year. Open to all ages.)

BSSD IDITAPROJECT (The Bering Strait School Distict's Iditaproject allows students to act as new media journalists. Students living along the trail provide news and trail condition updates, videos, pictures, a forum area, and live chat. In addition, schools can sign up for free, live video conferences during the race that focus on the history, culture and mushing traditions of the villages that make up BSSD.)




OFFICIAL MAP OF THE IDITAROD (Includes distances between checkpoints)

LIVE GPS MUSHER TRACKING (This is a special test program you can use to track select mushers in real-time.)

EARTHSLOT'S COVERAGE OF THE 2008 IDITAROD IN 3D (Movies of the trail flythrough, data updates of musher locations & more) *Newly updated! Check this out!
2008 EarthSLOT Data Mashup:
Google Earth KML File Download:
*If you have any trouble getting this to work, please email me. This site is absolutely amazing!!!

KTUU-TV CHANNEL 2 (Reports from the trail including lots of videos)

ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS (Lots of articles and pictures)

JOHN LITTLE'S BLOG (Updates, Pictures)

SLED DOG PODCAST (Podcast interviews)

DOGSLED.COM (Updates, Podcasts, Talk Forums)

IDITABLOG.COM (Features Josh Rogers' blog and podcasts in partnership with

ALASKA PUBLIC RADIO (Reports from the trail)

THE ALASKA PODSHOW PODCAST (Updates, Videos, Live Streams)


TEAM & TRAIL MAGAZINE/BLOG (Team & Trail is an online mushing news magazine.)

SLED DOG CENTRAL (News, Articles, etc)

SLEDDOGGIN (News, Articles, etc)

WUNDERGROUND (Northern Route Map with weather and race info. Click on a checkpoint and get the weather. Click between two checkpoints to find out the distance between the checkpoints, the total distance traveled and the distance to go.)

ACCUWEATHER.COM (Enhanced infrared satellite map of Alaska)


ULTIMATE IDITAROD (There will be no updates or commentary this year. Tyrell was recently married and Jim is finishing up medical school, and both are extremely busy. But there's some interesting information on their site so I'll leave the link up.)

IDAHOCLIFF'S IDITAROD LINKS (Links & some very helpful information)

IDAHOCLIFF'S 2008 ARCHIVES (with comments as to how the leaders are doing at various points along the way)


TEAM NORWAY (Updates, Pictures, Chat, Talk Forums)

KAREN RAMSTEAD (Updates, Pictures)

PAUL GEBHARDT (Pictures, Updates by his wife)

JEFF KING (Updates, Pictures)

KEN ANDERSON (Pictures, Updates by his wife)

MARTIN BUSER (Updates, Pictures; click on the "Rohn" link for information about Martin's son and Iditarod rookie, Rohn Buser.)

ALIY ZIRKLE & ALLEN MOORE (Updates, Pictures)

LANCE MACKEY (Updates, Pictures -- Be sure to read the archived stories about Lance's 2008 Yukon Quest win)

ED STIELSTRA & JAKE BERKOWITZ (Updates, Pictures -- Scroll down for the updates)

CLINT WARNKE (Updates, Pictures)

WARREN PALFREY (Updates, Pictures)

RICK HOLT (Updates, Pictures)

JESSIE ROYER (Updates, Pictures)

GERRY WILLOWMITZER (Updates, Pictures)

JOHN KORTA (Updates, Pictures)

ANNE CAPISTRANT (Updates, Pictures)

JENNIFER & BLAKE FREKING (Updates, Pictures)

TOM ROIG (Updates, Pictures)

DEBORAH BICKNELL (Updates, Pictures)

GB JONES (Updates, Pictures)

And a moment of silence, please, for the first dog to die in this year's Iditarod: Zaster, a seven year old male dog on rookie John Stetson's team. Damn, damn, damn. Poor John. Poor, poor Zaster.

Dog deaths in the Iditarod are generally traced to gastric ulcers. On her excellent web site, Iditarod veteran Karen Ramstead [who dropped out of the race last year following the death of her beloved lead dog, Snickers] has more information about gastric ulcers and about the Snickers Memorial/Ulcer Research Fund. Excerpts:
Nine different studies that have included, in some manner, endoscopic examination of sled dogs after exercise [...] have yielded relatively consistent results:

· Approximately half of all dogs running a significant distance (100 miles/day or more) had evidence of stomach ulcers, provided they were not receiving any medication intended to reduce or eliminate the problem.

· Endoscopic evidence of stomach ulcers can be found after as little as a single 100 mile run at a modest (8-9 mph) pace.

· The severity of the stomach ulcers does not seem to be greatly influenced by how long the dogs are working (i.e., how many consecutive days), but may be related to how hard the dogs are working (i.e., how many miles/day).

· In the majority of dogs, ulcers heal with 3-5 days of rest, so that during pre-exercise exams, most dogs do not have visible evidence of stomach ulcers.

· We have found no evidence that a particular blood line or feeding strategy is related to stomach ulcers in sled dogs (although these issues have not been thoroughly investigated).

· We have found minimal evidence of certain dogs being predisposed to ulcers.
Chemical tests of [sled dogs' stomachs] have also provided evidence that the stomach is leakier during exercise than normal, and that may be part of the overall development of the ulcers by letting stomach acid leak into the wall of the stomach and damage it. There is some evidence that the dog's response to the stress of running can cause that leakiness, but this is not a certainty, since it is possible that the leakiness causes the stress, rather than vice versa. We are reasonably certain that stomach ulcers in sled dogs are not caused by bacteria (like in humans) or by the type of food being fed (like in horses) based on tests of the stomach biopsies and analysis of the distribution of the ulcers within the stomach.
Which raises the question: have modern-day shepherds whose dogs run great distances each day during lambing season ever noted a problem similar to the gastric ulcers suffered by sled dogs? Hunters whose hounds run all night long — have you noted a problem? And how is it that Iditarod mushers whose teams finish consistently in the top twenty manage, by and large, to keep their dogs so healthy? I wish I knew. Hoping not to jinx the man: here's Iditarod record holder Martin Buser, who has never lost a dog.

Buser has a tradition at the finish line: he turns his dogs loose. They roll, shake, sniff and roam a bit — and actually return to him when called. I heart Martin. His son Rohn [named after a race checkpoint] is competing in his first Iditarod this year. Good luck and healthy teams to them both.

March 2, 2008

Toronto's gulag for dogs

Dogs aren't people. Toronto's city animal shelters aren't Guantánamo. But dogs aren't refrigerators or cars, either, so forgive me for comparing Toronto's shelter system to a prison system, a place of isolation and suffering, when the wardens issue chilling statements like this:
A sign of just how controversial the [pit bull] issue can be, animal services officials refuse to allow the media to photograph or have contact with the condemned dogs in their shelters.

"All it would do is make the public very upset about that particular one dog and whoever might own that dog -- it would potentially cause them further upset," says animal services manager Eletta Purdy.
"Make the public very upset"? And why on earth shouldn't we be "very upset" that a good dog — a dog that has never harmed nor threatened to harm anyone — may be scheduled to die because of a brindle coat or a broad head? Why on earth shouldn't a family rage that a beloved, trustworthy companion was taken from them on the basis of a law rooted in ignorance and hysteria?

We should all rage against such criminal idiocy — and against the politicians capable of enacting such flawed legislation. Don't imagine that their judgment will improve or their knowledge increase when they turn to laws aimed at people.

The blockquote above was taken from an article in the Toronto Sun: an article so badly written that the reporter never mentions the total number of dog bites recorded each year; and never mentions the fact that Ontario's lone dog-attack fatality of 2007 did not involve a pit bull. No, Ontario is not safer.

But if we hide the cruelty, maybe we can get away with it. Maybe we can disappear a few breeds and make Michael Bryant and like-minded bigots happy. And if the public doesn't raise too much of a fuss — well then, we'll flex our power a bit more.

No, Ontario is not safer.

Want the USDA's "naturally raised" label to by God MEAN naturally raised? You have until Monday, March 3 to speak up.

"Naturally raised"? Tell the USDA what you think. You have until Monday. As we call it here in California, "tomorrow."

Important news from The Ethicurean: the USDA is soliciting comments on a "naturally raised" label for meats.

The proposed label won't mean the beef was grass-fed.

The proposed label won't mean the hogs saw sunlight or had a chance to root.

The proposed label won't mean the chickens could walk and run on normal, healthy legs.

The proposed label won't affect the lagoons of waste that have turned much of Iowa — the air, the aquifers — into a toxic miasma of pollutants.

I could go on, but you get the idea. What, exactly, are the standards behind the USDA's proposed label? Here you go, via The Ethicurean: "Livestock must have been raised without growth promotants, antibiotics, or mammalian or avian byproducts in their feed."

That's it.
If the USDA’s proposal goes through, consumers looking to do the right thing at the grocery store will see a label that tells them the meat they’re buying has been raised naturally. But in the words of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride, "I do not think that means what you think it means."

A weak "natural" label will also undermine other more meaningful labels like organic and grassfed by making consumers think that they’re buying something comparable when they buy "naturally raised." Wouldn’t a "no hormones or antibiotics used" label be more clear and more honest?

We can do something about this, but we have to do it quickly. The USDA is taking comments on their proposal through Monday, March 3. So this weekend, please take a few minutes to let them know that consumers deserve labels that are clear and meaningful. It’s easy to submit comments online. And in case you were worried, it does make a difference: in 1997, the USDA floated a proposal for an Organic label that allowed irradiation, GMOs, and sewage sludge in organic production. The agency received more than 275,000 public comments and reversed its stance on all three issues.

Please submit comments opposing USDA’s proposal by Monday, March 3rd, 2008. You can submit comments two ways:

1. Electronically – submit your comments online at the following link: main=SubmitComment&o=09000064803b3e50.

2. Via fax to 202-720-1112.

Important: All comments must reference "Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0131".

Also: Be sure to include your name, address, and if appropriate, affiliation(s) and/or interest(s) in the issue.

Remember: The public comment deadline is March 3, 2008.

Need talking points? The Ethicurean's got em. Much of this post was lifted straight from their coverage: please visit this link for more information.

March 1, 2008

Down on the farm: time's arrow, time's cycle

Sans flash. First Daughter snug in a blue blankie towel, Second Daughter in the process of being unwrapped, and Third Daughter on the way.

Triplets — all girls! How cool is that :~))) First-time mom, and she was excellent. The human girls had their nails done in honor of the occasion. [The Boer doe belongs to a local high school student.] These photos were taken late Thursday night — mother and babies are doing very well.

One more time, with flash goodness. Slippery, messy, bloodstained: yep, everything's looking OK.

More towels! (How did goats ever manage to do this without our help?)

"Injection of goat placental tissue will make one appear to be 5 years younger, while continuous treatment may make one 10 years younger!" I must inject myself immediately.

Three perfect babies — one tired mom.

A full tummy, a new friend, four functional legs: it's all good. Welcome to the world, Java!

[Post title from the book by Stephen Jay Gould.]

"A warning for dog owners: Pug almost dies after eating breath mints"

Remember Harley? She's the cute elf on the left. Harley lives in the Bay Area and has an adopted sister from Bad Rap, and she's friends with Lily, the pug in the navigation icon at the foot of each post in this blog. I'm very, very happy to be writing about Harley in the present tense: she is alive and well today after a near-death experience with a nasty chemical called xylitol.

Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute, and you can find it in many types of gum, candy, breath mints, toothpaste, mouthwashes, baked goods and other products.

Dog owners [and all people who love dogs] should be as cautious about xylitol as they are with antifreeze or rodent bait. This stuff can kill.

Harley's human, Stephanie Lam, told their story to Linda Goldston of the Mercury News:
"Right before Christmas, my pug, Harley, ingested a couple of small breath mints containing xylitol...

"It nearly killed Harley. Within hours, she went into acute liver distress. Her liver enzymes, which in a normal dog should be in the hundreds, were at 7,500. Her blood pressure was so low that my vet feared she would not be able to administer an IV catheter.

"Harley required two blood plasma transfusions and countless other medical treatments. I was extremely lucky that she even survived. The vet that saved her specialized in toxicology and said that xylitol-related deaths and poisonings are becoming more common. I talked to the dog owners in my group, and none of them knew xylitol was toxic to dogs - nor what types of products contained it."
Here'a a link to the ASPCA Poison Control Center's page on xylitol, and the obligatory Snopes link.
Right now, xylitol is used mostly in cookies, candies, cupcakes and other sweets developed for people who have diabetes. It's also sold in bags of crystals for baking. Because of its bacteria-killing properties, it is put into some oral care products, including Tom's All Natural and Biotene toothpastes.

It also is beginning to be used in a broad assortment of products intended for the general public. Among them: Jello sugar-free puddings and a wide variety of sugar-free gums, including Trident, Orbit, Stride, Icebreakers and Altoids. [Source.]

Stephanie says that xylitol should be as familiar to dog people as antifreeze, and as carefully managed if not avoided altogether. I couldn't agree more. Over at Dolittler, Dr. Patty Khuly has written a number of posts about this sweetener: here's the most recent one. Check them out, and spread the word — xylitol can kill, and it's killing more dogs each year.

[On the right, happy Harley, alive and kicking, vivita y coleando. "I'm well!"]

Rottweilers, bone cancer and mandatory spay/neuter laws

Got a slew of posts to add, and I hate to start with such a sad one. It's important, though. I'll make the message as clear as I can:

Male and female Rottweilers spayed/neutered before 1 year of age have an approximate one in four lifetime risk for bone sarcoma and are significantly more likely to develop bone sarcoma than dogs that are sexually intact.

See this link for the abstract at PubMed. See this link for the complete study. From the abstract:
Endogenous gonadal hormone exposure and bone sarcoma risk.
Cooley DM, Beranek BC, Schlittler DL, Glickman NW, Glickman LT, Waters DJ.
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA.

Risk for bone sarcoma was significantly influenced by age at gonadectomy. Male and female dogs that underwent gonadectomy before 1 year of age had an approximate one in four lifetime risk for bone sarcoma and were significantly more likely to develop bone sarcoma than dogs that were sexually intact [RR +/-95% CI = 3.8 (1.5-9.2) for males; RR +/-95% CI = 3.1 (1.1-8.3) for females]. Chi(2) test for trend showed a highly significant inverse dose-response relationship between duration of lifetime gonadal exposure and incidence rate of bone sarcoma (P = 0.008 for males, P = 0.006 for females). This association was independent of adult height or body weight.
And no, it isn't just Rottweilers. From the essential report on spay/neuter health effects, by Laura Sanborn:
Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer)

A multi-breed case-control study of the risk factors for osteosarcoma found that spay/neutered dogs (males or females) had twice the risk of developing osteosarcoma as did intact dogs[13].

This risk was further studied in Rottweilers, a breed with a relatively high risk of osteosarcoma. This retrospective cohort study broke the risk down by age at spay/neuter, and found that the elevated risk of osteosarcoma is associated with spay/neuter of young dogs[14]. Rottweilers spayed/neutered before one year of age were 3.8 (males) or 3.1 (females) times more likely to develop osteosarcoma than intact dogs. Indeed, the combination of breed risk and early spay/neuter meant that Rottweilers spayed/neutered before one year of age had a 28.4% (males) and 25.1% (females) risk of developing osteosarcoma. These results are consistent with the earlier multi-breed study[13] but have an advantage of assessing risk as a function of age at neuter. A logical conclusion derived from combining the findings of these two studies is that spay/neuter of dogs before 1 year of age is associated with a significantly increased risk of osteosarcoma.

The researchers suggest a cause-and-effect relationship, as sex hormones are known to influence the maintenance of skeletal structure and mass, and also because their findings showed an inverse relationship between time of exposure to sex hormones and risk of osteosarcoma.[14]

The risk of osteosarcoma increases with increasing breed size and especially height[13]. It is a common cause of death in medium/large, large, and giant breeds. Osteosarcoma is the third most common cause of death in Golden Retrievers[10] and is even more common in larger breeds[13].

Given the poor prognosis of osteosarcoma and its frequency in many breeds, spay/neuter of immature dogs in the medium/large, large, and giant breeds is apparently associated with a significant and elevated risk of death due to osteosarcoma.
Yes, Laura Sanborn is a leader in the fight against mandatory spay/neuter. Her review of the literature is evenhanded — quite the contrast with California's AB 1634 supporters, who are past masters at misinterpreting [I'm being kind, here] all types of data. And no, there is simply no way to spin the science and come up with anything that makes osteosarcoma appear less of a risk for medium size or larger dogs subjected to early spay/neuter.

If you support mandatory spay/neuter laws like AB 1634 or the recently passed spay/neuter law in the city of Los Angeles, you are apparently willing to condemn many dogs to an agonizing disease and a drastically shortened life on the entirely baseless speculation that this might somehow help reduce the number of dogs and cats in animal shelters.

God forbid individual citizens should make medical decisions based on what's best for individual animals — right, Lloyd Levine? Tell us again how your determination to mandate a dramatically increased risk of canine osteosarcoma is really no different from telling people to buckle their seat belts.

Related links:
Heartbreaking message posted in the Border Collie Boards In Memoriam section.
Dolittler post on amputation for dogs suffering from osteosarcoma. Nothing said about whether the Rottie was neutered — I'll ask.
Rottweiler Health Foundation.