July 30, 2009

Good cop/bad cop, live dog/dead dog

Barney Fife, we hardly knew ye: San Diego Navy SEALS sheriffs don't mess around.

Here's a story about a loose dog that charged a cop. Not a garden-variety loose dog, either, but a fast, medium-sized loose dog with no collar, a loose dog barking like the furies and charging with hackles high and teeth bared like a crocodile's — a loose dog with malicious, or at least tumultuous intent. All this happened in the middle of the night, and I know these details because the dog involved was my landshark.

Flashlight farmers have to feed very late sometimes, and on the night in question I drove to the farm an hour or so before midnight to feed the sheep. As always when I feed after dark, I took some dogs. Friendly Twig, shy Gray and landshark Lu rode shotgun, and I was too lazy to put on their collars for the 20 minutes we'd be away from home.

I turned on the barn light and fed and watered the ewes, and when I was done I turned off the light and started back to the truck. All of a sudden the dogs charged ahead of me, barking the way dogs bark when they mean trouble. I'd left the truck headlights on, and through the glare of the headlights I could see the shape of a man. He was standing next to the truck door.

That was scary, but only for a split second. Much scarier: I realized he was a cop. Gun and badge. Gun. And my dogs were circling and the landshark was roaring and diving at his legs.

This happened in a fraction of the time I'm taking to tell it, of course. Believe me when I say that never in history have three sheepdogs been called off and loaded into the safety of a truck cab faster than I loaded up my three girls that night.

I must have babbled something to the cop about raising sheep and feeding late, but I can't remember what I said.

What I do remember is this: the police officer didn't reach for his gun. He stood still. He was quiet and calm while the dogs were barking and circling and the landshark was lunging. After the dogs were put up he checked my ID and explained that a neighbor had seen the barn light and called the police. There had been some minor vandalism in the area, and he was walking around the buildings to make sure everything was all right. He was polite and professional. I drove home shaking like a leaf.

Yes, I live in Pleasantville. I'm lucky and I know it, and I count my blessings whenever I read about incidents like these:

[T]he shooting of dogs by police has become troublingly common across the country. My beat as a journalist includes police misconduct, and I've noticed an increase in media accounts of police officers shooting the family pet—with a notable lack of remorse or disciplinary consequences. This sad trend appears to be a side effect of the new SWAT, paramilitary focus in many police departments, which has supplanted the idea of being an “officer of the peace.”


The raid on [Cheye] Calvo's home was actually the second in 10 months in which police in Prince George's County burst into a private home during a drug raid, shot and killed the family dog, then realized they had raided the wrong house. But national statistics on police-involved pet shootings are difficult to come by. Randal Lockwood of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he sees 250 to 300 incidents per year in media reports, and estimates another 1,000 aren't reported.

The Indianapolis Star reported that between 2000 and 2002, police in that city shot 44 dogs. A recent lawsuit filed by the Milwaukee owner of a dog killed by police found police in that city killed 434 dogs over a nine-year period, or about one every seven-and-a-half days. It's impossible to say how many of those were pets (versus strays), or in how many of those shootings the dog may have actually presented a serious threat to the officer or someone else. But in too many reported accounts of dog shootings, it seems doubtful that lethal force was necessary.

It is easy to imagine that some breeds of dog might legitimately pose a threat to police officers in volatile situations. But that Calvo’s two black labs posed any serious risk to an armored, heavily armed SWAT team stretches the bounds of credulity. The same can be said of a host of recent dog shootings in which a police officer said he felt “threatened” and had no choice but to use lethal force, including the killing of a Dalmatian (more than once), a yellow Lab, a springer spaniel, a chocolate Lab, a boxer, an Australian cattle dog, a Wheaten terrier, an Akita, and even a Jack Russell terrier. Not small enough for you? How about a 12-pound miniature dachshund? Or a five-pound chihuahua? [Source: Dogs in a Deadly Crossfire.]

Cops are tough to generalize about, so I won't. But I will say that paramilitary fervor [one TPM commenter called it "weapons porn"] and a bully mentality are a bad mix, and a mix that doesn't make communities safer. Pleasantville may not be the most exciting place on earth, but we have really excellent cops. [Also, about that ridiculous photo: you're civil servants, for god's sake, not extras in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Fire your publicist at once. Thank you.]

Your tax dollars at work: "A lawless act by law enforcement"

I love these guys.

Mountain Quail by hearman, on Flickr.

Surprised a Mountain Quail family when I stepped out back this afternoon. (That's a watercolor of our local quail by Louis Agassiz Fuertes on the left. [Click for bigger.] See more examples of Agassiz Fuertes' art here.)

Behind the cabin are thickets of manzanita with its beautiful red branches, and the quail are beneath the manzanita. Tomorrow morning I'll scatter some birdseed there.

Manzanita in the San Bernardino Mountains, by bjornman on Flickr.

Manzanita. Photo by lotje on Flickr.

Ask Dr. Science!

What kind of dog is that? Hard to tell, sometimes, with a pound pup or shelter mix. Take Smoky, my cur-dog [when you pry his leash from my cold, dead fingers, you hate-mongering BSL wingnuts]. Smoke has the fullness below the eyes common to bull breeds, along with a hound's voice, a sheepdog's temperament, a brindle coat and a blue-black spot on his tongue. Pit/GSD? Plott/Chow? Beagle/Boxer/Bull mastiff? Search me.

But looks are all that matter to the breed-hating nutters, and they'd slap a muzzle and other restrictions on my good dog in a New York minute, if they could, or even haul him off to be killed -- never mind that Smoke loves everyone he meets and has never harmed or threatened to harm a soul. He looks like a pit mix, and BSL has everything to do with how a dog looks. As opposed to, I dunno, say actual temperament and behavior.

Enter Mixed-Breed Dog DNA Analysis.

Enter Animal Farm Foundation.

Take the Animal Farm Foundation's test [pdf link here; H/T Bad Rap Blog] and find out whether you know a "pit bull" mix when you see one. [Click on the image below for a real darn big (1000 x 1500px) jpg version]:

Will DNA analysis change the wingnuts' narrow little minds? We'll see. It took the Vatican 359 years to admit Galileo was right after all, but sooner or later, science trumps superstition. Eppur si muove, you breed-hating chuckleheads. Eppur si muove.

July 27, 2009


Forest, lichen, penstemon and black oak seedling

You can see a sliver of Big Bear Lake in the distance. This is maybe half a mile south of the cabin. Click for big.

Granite is everywhere you step and everywhere you look.

The black oak is my heart tree.

Elephant Rock

My sis is holding Lily, who is perfectly capable of climbing Elephant Rock by herself, thanks very much. How pathetic is it that the only thing remotely in focus is my cur-dog. Smoke is watching a scorpion pack of coyotes large grizzly stick I tossed into the buckthorn. Click to embiggen.

Pug climbs Mt. Whitney!

Yes, that's rib definition. Lily, my sister's awesome mountain goat pug, bouldering on the way home from Elephant Rock. Click for big.

I keed. But if any pug could climb California's highest peak, it'd be Lily. She rock-scrambles like nobody's business. The photo above was taken during her second, second for crying out loud hike of the day. Totally unposed shot, just Princess Lily doing her thing.

Did I mention that Lily is the smartest, fittest, best-behaved and most biddable pug in the history of pugs? All credit to my sis, who employs a highly modified nothing-in-life-is-free/Cesar Millan + pink party dresses + daily hikes + tons of love & laptime approach to dog training. Seriously, I'd put Smoke in a pink party dress if I thought it would produce off-lead behavior like Lily's.

That's my boy! Smoky does his part to increase hillside erosion. "Look, Mom! I'm a mountain cur!" He's wearing his hunter-orange collar and a Big Bear Lake bandana, and he is totally in love with Lily.

July 23, 2009

Hasta luego, coyotes

Took this snap [click for bigger] at midday on a road east of our place. Haven't heard any coyotes singing yet, though I keep hoping.

Hello Scorpion

Can you see him? I couldn't at first, and my sis couldn't either. Awesome camouflage for a two-inch [from head... er, cephalothorax to stinger] little arthropod hanging out in the water box. Our buddy D spotted him before any stingage occurred.

Posted from the San Bernardino National Forest, near Big Bear Lake, California, with my sister's pug Lily asleep on my lap.

July 6, 2009

Hello Rattlesnake

Rattler on a friend's porch in the foothills, next to the dog beds, yikes. Removed and dispatched shortly thereafter. Little tyke was about two Barbies long, as we measure rattlesnakes here in Southern California.

Few things concentrate the mind like the approach of a large, venomous snake, as the saying goes, and even a small venomous snake headed in the opposite direction will hold my attention just fine, thanks. Rattlers remind me of the old line [attributed to a "Haitian farmer," so probably coined by a summer intern at Condé Nast] that a dog is a dog except when he is facing you — and then he is Mr. Dog. Well, rattlesnakes are always Mr. Snake. Coming or going, they get nothing but respect from me.

Our local emergency veterinary clinicians see "at least a few" rattlesnake bites each month during snake season. If you live or travel in rattlesnake country, you might want to call around to find out which vets are prepared to handle snakebite, since not all vets keep antivenom on hand. A trainer I know once drove her snake-bitten hunting dog from vet to vet to vet before she finally found a clinic with antivenom. The dog made a full recovery. The trainer probably felt as if she'd aged ten years.

California has been home to some legendary herpetologists and snakebite experts. The latest, and probably the best known, thanks to Animal Planet, is Dr. Sean Bush, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and on staff in the ER as an emergency physician and envenomation specialist. You can read his articles on rattlesnake bites and moccasin bites [black widows, too] at eMedicine. He doesn't mince words ;~) Here's his page on our local rattlers.

So, you all know what the most important tool is in case of snakebite, right?

A car key.

Forget suction devices: as the doctor says, they just suck. Forget incisions, constriction bands, buckets of ice, bottles of alcohol and all those magic herbal salves the curandera gave your great-grandmother. All they do is make things worse.

1) Put the snakebite victim in the car.

2) Take the car key in your right hand, put the key in the ignition, turn the engine on, and drive carefully to the nearest hospital emergency room [or veterinary ER if, god forbid, your dog has been bitten].

[Edited to add: a cell phone is right up there with the car key.]

Don't waste time trying to catch and kill the snake so that it can be identified. In the first place, most vets aren't herpetologists. In the second place, even if your vet knows his colubrids from his elapids it doesn't matter: the antivenom isn't species-specific. A dog here in the U.S. will get the same antivenom whether he was bitten by a cottonmouth or a southern pacific rattler or a western diamondback or a Mojave "green." So will you. Vets give dogs the same antivenom that ER docs give to human snakebite victims. The doctor will probably administer CroFab, and you can read more about it here and here.

"But what if one of us is bitten by a coral snake?"

You're screwed, basically. Sorry about that.
Historically, if the snake was positively identified as an eastern or Texas coral snake and the victim was asymptomatic, or if signs and symptoms of envenomation were already present, the recommendation was to obtain and immediately administer appropriate antivenom. In the United States, however, as of October 2008, all available stocks of Wyeth's North American Coral Snake Antivenin will have expired, and this country will find itself without a commercially available antivenom. [Source]
Absent an available antivenom, victims can be managed with sound supportive care (as outlined above) with an expectation of excellent outcome as long as airway management and respiratory support are adequate, though ventilator dependence could persist for many days following serious bites.

[The truth is, you'd pretty much have to chase a coral snake down and grab him and pry his jaws open and stick your hand in his mouth to make him bite you. Most human victims of snakebite in North America are bitten because they are drunken idiots they've picked the snake up. The rest are unlucky. Two examples from California's handful of snakebite fatalities: an elderly grandmother who sat on a rattlesnake during a family picnic in the San Jacinto mountains; and a San Diego construction worker who mocked his coworkers for scrambling away when they uncovered a rattler at a construction site. "I'll show you wimps how to handle a rattlesnake," he said, or words to that effect. He picked up the snake, it bit him, and he died.]

If I lived in the foothills where B. and her hubby live, or in any other rural area of Southern California, I would look into Red Rock Biologics' rattlesnake vaccine for dogs. UC Davis doesn't recommend it yet, not, I gather, because they've heard bad things about it but because they haven't heard much either way. The best things I've heard about this vaccine come from Jennifer Clark-Ewers, a top hand who works her sheepdogs in southeastern San Diego County. Jennifer wrote the following to Sheepdog-L a few years ago, and I reprint it here with her permission.
I have vaccinated for 3 years and it has saved 4 dogs on my ranch including one this week. Last year I had a small female bit on the inside of the back leg, obviously she pee'd on the snake.. I thought she had injured herself as we always think there will be some giant amount of drama when they are bit, NO in the 4 dogs bit on my property we only knew after the fact. In 2 cases we killed the snakes in the other 2 cases we had no idea they had been bit, of course until the swelling. The legs still turn black and the skin died in the immediate area around the bite, but antibiotics and Benadryl were the only thing the vets suggested because of the vaccine. The vaccine obviously buys you an enormous amount of time since in the case of the "unknown" bites the dogs were crated waiting to go to a vet for some unknown injury; snake bite puncture holes are not exactly easy to find on a fur ridden leg. So anyhow for people that are in the area that has the vaccine available I think you are foolish not to use it. Am I complacent about the rattlesnake bite? Not even, but I am a bit more relaxed. I only have a few dogs that "alarm" me to the fact that there is a rattlesnake in the area... I believe more in the vaccine than the shock collar.
As Jennifer emphasizes, the vaccine gives you extra time and in the case of her dogs, lessened the severity of the symptoms. It isn't a cure-all: I heard from vet techs last year about a dog that had been vaccinated but died following a rattlesnake bite because the owners were away from home and didn't return in time to get the dog to the vet. And with or without a vaccine, rattlesnake bites can cause horrific tissue damage. Trainer and Open handler Amelia Smith has written a gripping account of her famous Price and his battle to survive after a big southern pacific rattler bit him on the face and paw.

[What "big" means:
Rattlers are heavy-bodied snakes. They're not long — a 6-foot rattlesnake is humongous — but they can be mighty hefty. The largest one I've seen in California was a southern pacific as big around the middle as my knee. He was in the basement of the San Bernardino County Museum, back when Bob Sanders kept his live rattlesnakes there and Dee Simpson's Joe - a big, bonny Gila monster - would ride around on your arm like a puppy. That southern pacific had a ginormous rattle going like crazy and you could hear it two floors up — when I first heard him I thought a steam pipe had burst.]

I should mention that a vial of antivenom costs hundreds of dollars, and the cost of treating a dog with multiple vials can easily hit four figures. The local veterinary ER has euthanized dogs at owner request in a few cases where the owner was unable or unwilling to pay for the cost of treatment for poisonous snakebite.

On the phone Jennifer pointed out that it can be impossible, sometimes, for a sheepdog to avoid a snake while the dog is working stock. This is one of the problems I have with aversion training, which is the use of electric collars to teach dogs to avoid snakes. What good will aversion training do when the dog is completely focused on stock? Aversion training might help a dog avoid a snake on a dirt road, but not during an outrun or a gather.

It was late Friday afternoon near beautiful Oak Glen when that rattler at the top of the post had his picture taken. On Sunday - yesterday - another one showed up. Gophers in the new apple orchard... ssssssspread the word...

Good-bye rattlesnake! [Click for bigger.]
DancesWithGuars photographed this magnificent southern pacific rattlesnake crossing a trail in Rancho Sierra Vista.

"But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone."
Emily Dickinson

Just chilling

July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Know your rights. The better we know them, the harder it is for evil despots well-meaning politicians to take them away.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Happy Fourth! [And be sure you know where your dogs are!]

We’ll finish the temple of freedom, and make it capacious within

The song Lincoln and Liberty was recorded by American folk singer and activist Ronnie Gilbert in 1991 for the TV special and compilation album Songs of the Civil War.

"Songs are dangerous, songs are subversive and can change your life." [Ronnie Gilbert, on the effects of hearing Paul Robeson sing when she was 10.]

Lincoln and Liberty was written by New Hampshire's famous Hutchinson Family Singers, "ardent abolitionists," for the 1860 presidential election. Says Gilbert, "That song helped Lincoln win the presidency."

Hurrah for the choice of the nation!
Our chieftain so brave and so true
We'll go for the great reformation
For Lincoln and Liberty too

We'll go for the son of Kentucky
The hero of Hoosierdom through
The pride of the Suckers so lucky
For Lincoln and Liberty too

Then up with the banner so glorious
The star-spangled red white and blue
We'll fight till our banner's victorious
For Lincoln and Liberty too

Come all you true friends of the nation
Attend to humanity's call
To aid in the slave's liberation
And roll on the liberty ball

We’ll finish the temple of freedom
And make it capacious within
That all who seek shelter may find it
Whatever the hue of their skin

Success to the old-fashioned doctrine
That men are created all free
And down with the power of the despot
Wherever his stronghold may be!