Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Bones on Blue

None of the photos I got can do it justice.

The crown of this ancient sycamore against the deep blue sky pulled a gasp from me today.

Mingo Creek County Park, in Washington County, PA. Maybe the best park in Western PA.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Luminous Lunacy

Just about a month ago, Cat Urbigkit posted over at Querencia about some rough nights on the ranch, here. Wild things and tame, mooning about.

Last night the almost-full moon already presided, magnificently, as I took The Pack for a sunset pasture walk before dinner.

The Pack is not settled and orderly on a regular day. Wedging three special-needs fosters in with four not-uncomplicated beasts of my own has not always been a path paved with silicone. Cole wants to control Sophia and make her not an idiot. Rosie thinks Jasmine is unnecessary and has ideas about making her nonexistent. Jasmine doesn't know whether she is a party girl or a bitch on wheels. Pip disapproves on general principles. Moe is conflicted, and on cold, wet days, a wild card. Barry White tries to be invisible. Sophia just tries everyone.

Two weeks ago, we had 24 hours of Jasmine rampage at the dark of the moon. It started with a fiasco. Dogs asking urgently to go out into the pitch-black, early evening -- not barking, but whining and pacing. I send them all out, but instead of bursting bladders, the occasion was an invisible intruder. All seven roared down into the buttcrack just below the barn, and then (heard, not seen) hooked a hard right and chased whatever it was up into the hayfield to the west.

Nothing has ever run away that direction before. And the barking was angry and insistent, some of it (Moe, I think, and maybe Sophia) more of a roar. Not the usual sounding off at a raccoon wondering about chicken dinners, or deer at the apple tree. I put on boots and came outside, called them out of the hayfield. Six dogs came right back.

Up at the property line by the township park, Jasmine was yapping hysterically. The lights were on at the park (why?) and I could see her silhouette running the outfield fenceline. I could not tell whether she was inside or outside the fence.

I could hear people yelling, and another dog barking. Jasmine, whose recall is actually quite good and reasonably proofed at this point, was deaf to my calls.

I had to get a headlamp and march up there to get her. My plan was to leash her and then deal with the shrieking owners of the dog who had just been poking around my poultry. When I got close she got the fuck out of Dodge, ran back to the house. Too much adrenaline for her brain to process. I followed her back. She went around to the back door in what I'm sure she thought was a very guileful move to cover her tracks. Park? I was never up at the park ignoring your calls and barking like a damned fool. What would make you think that?

The idiots whose loose dog had bolted the park, crossed a couple hundred yards of hayfield, and come sniffing around my barnyard, continued to scream at their barking beast. I never saw them.

They are fortunate that my predator-control of choice is four-legged* rather than two-barreled.

The next morning, Jazzie ate a cardboard box in my office. I told her not to. She thumped her tail, apologized, and went and ate another as soon as my back was turned.

Rosie was looking like she might have a go at the little bitch. Sophia was antagonizing both Cole and Pip. Moe was red-eyed and crabby. Mommy needed vodka. Okay, just a break from the drama would do. Time for Jasmine to spend some time in the foster kennel and play yard. I took Barry White out to keep her company. I put Sophia in the indoor/outdoor kennel. I continued with my indoor work.

When Perfesser Chaos got home, he went out to do evening barn chores. I asked him to bring in Barry White and Jasmine when he was done.

Came back in a little later with just Sophia. Jasmine had poked her head out the kennel door and nailed him on the hand when he reached for the latch. Fortunately, the hand was encased in a leather work glove. This is exactly the kind of poor decision that landed her here instead of going straight to an adoptive home.

I went out to have a talk with her about it. She was skulking. Oh shit, what now?

She skulked inside with me. Chaos forgave her, gravely. You know that Foster Daddy would be a lot less sanguine about this if he hadn't been wearing gloves, don't you?

So she's on Jasmine probation now. No more freedom of the yard -- she gets put out on a cable for breaks, in the kennel for a bit of the day, and supervised walks. Lots of recall work on those walks.

Then last night, as I was walking seven dogs towards a nearly-full moon hanging just above the trees to the east, I could feel the crackling. My control was tenuous. The dogs were torn between the temptation of lighting up and their earnest desire for me to keep them in line. They bounced against their training and the notion of human leadership, testing to see how far it would stretch. Considering the option of becoming werewolves.

We'll walk twice for a while, four and four. Barry White can come on both walks, as he is invisible.**

Last night, when Rosie woke me up to tell me about another intruder, the moon, now low in the west, made the world of new snow luminous and bright. I stood out on the deck as she and Cole ran off the deer that had come to browse on the apple tree. The trees threw sharp shadows on the sparkling, swirling whiteness, and I could see all three animals emerge from the brush. The defenders stopped in the south pasture and watched the doe run, then turned and trotted back along the old fenceline, no confusion, no fog of battle, adrenaline well in check, duty discharged.

Dogs after all, even in the moonlight.


* Well, 28-legged on that night. The creature may not ever come when it's called, but I'm guessing it won't come around my barn again, either.

** I tried it today, and the crackling was inaudible.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Opening the Box

Yesterday, a Virginia farmer opened Schrodinger's box and resolved the uncertainty of Morgan Harrington for the rest of the universe.

Harrington's body was well outside of any area that could be covered by a ground search. There are 314 square miles within a circle ten miles in radius. It would take 290,000 man-hours to grid-search such an area -- with well-trained and conditioned personnel.

That's why we don't do searches that way. Why there's an entire discipline devoted to juggling probabilities and figuring out where to look. Why a "search" conducted by main force -- throwing untrained pick-up volunteers at the ground en masse -- is an exercise in futility.

But ten miles is not that terribly far in the vehicular age. And the remote nature of the place where her body was dumped without concealment indicates the likelihood of a very local murderer, with very specific local knowledge. A crime of opportunity, not planned out, and the evidence disposed of in haste by someone who knew how to get to a remote and lonely spot.

Not like the last festering pustule who brought me to Virginia seeking better news about missing girls. He planned his atrocities carefully, disposed of his victims almost randomly.

Now the police need to heed the commandment (not command) that has driven Lilly and Mel and Pip and Sophia, the biggest thing I've ever asked of a dog, what I've asked above all else for the past eighteen years.

Find him.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Irregularly Scheduled Programming

Perfesser Chaos has hooked me with repeated contact buzzes on this highly-addictive British ... well, let's call it a "car" program.

Actually, what it is is bunch of entertaining man-boy idiots who are having way too good a time playing with toys that go vroom.

I particularly enjoyed their take this week on the question "Did communism ever produce a decent car?"

Check out the four-way race that is introduced at about the 4:05 mark.

If the show was filmed in the US (which it never could be, because American man-boy idiots do not know how to be entertaining -- they always just go for the dick joke) I'd say the second-place finisher was an English shepherd.

My guess is he's one of the dogs they call "working collies" in the UK, perhaps considered a border collie, perhaps not.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Oh. This Again.

One of the things that is so cool about Pip is her ho-hum attitude towards most of the strange things to which we subject her.

She knows when she's in the driver's seat, and when she just needs to relax and go along for the ride.

Did I ever mention that I'm deathly afraid of heights and exposure?

I spent one morning atop the barn when we did the roof job before concluding that my place in this project was with two feet on the ground. No one argued with me.

I have been known to hug the ground when on a treeless mountaintop. No shit.

But hook me into a system that has been rigged and checked by my trusted Mountain Rescue teammates -- a system that I understand and have helped to rig -- and I don't give it a moment's thought. Seriously. The moment my harness is clipped into whatever part of the system I'm working on, the fear of falling is off the table.

Pip seems to have internalized this same trust. I don't know whether she understands the system. She doesn't have any thumbs, so she can't tie knots.

Thanks to teammate Dan Beckey for scrambling down into the ravine to get this shot. Mountain Rescue highline training, Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, January 23 2010.

She's Baaaack!


Working Dog Diary is back!

Check it out.

She doesn't have a feed to update in a blogroll, so you just have to check it for yourself.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Now We See The Violence Inherent In the System

In a move that reveals recently unprecedented clarity of self-interest and public relations goals, the American Kennel Club has just announced that it will now permit the impure-of-blood to pay their fees and compete against those anointed by the right paperwork, in contests of obedience and agility.

Most AKC critics are applauding this decision as actually virtuous and good for dogs and their owners. Here's why I'm not joining them.

A couple years ago, ACK started sending up weather balloons about the feasibility of permitting filthy mongrels to compete in performance events.

AKC has always controlled virtually all the venues for formal obedience competition and titling in the US. Only properly-documented ACK-registered "purebreds" were eligible to compete in this red-headed stepchild of "The Sport of Purebred Dogs."

When I took my golden retriever -- an obviously purebred, field-line bitch -- to community obedience classes in the mid-70's, she could not prepare for any formal competitions because she came from the pound. No "papers." The instructor was kind but matter-of-fact in explaining this inflexible reality to the skinny kid who rode her bike* to class, dog galloping beside. Shannon's more accomplished son, who looked purebred, was not, and was also ineligible.

So there we were, alone at the fairgrounds and park, practicing retrieving over jumps and scent discrimination, just because.

In the 80's, they instituted a scheme called the "indefinite listing privilege," (renamed "Purebred Alternative Listing" two years ago) in which the owners of undocumented dogs that looked like a particular AKC-registered breed might pay a fee and send in some photos and proof that their putative purebred was surgically sterilized, and be permitted to slip in alongside the pedigreed elite in the pursuit of obedience and tracking titles.

Many a mongrel became a "Labrador" or "poodle" by virtue of a clever camera angle or strategic haircut, and once the Government of Dogs (G.O.D.) had so declared it, who was to say it was not so? And on the ground, who the hell cared? Obedience competitors are practical sorts, for the most part. The only complaint about an ILP I've ever heard seemed to have to do with someone winning too much, and with the pageant matrons of the breed club getting wind of it. That one provoked a special rule.

Meanwhile, an organization called the American Mixed-Breed Obedience Registry got going in the early 80's. They worked out a deal whereby mongrels could enter local "fun"** matches, the handler and judge could treat the run as if it were a trial and be scored accordingly, and AMBOR would issue titles.

Yeah, second-class citizenship -- but citizenship of a sort, even if not granted by the G.O.D.. Later AMBOR and the privately-owned commercial registry called the United Kennel Club worked out a deal that allowed mixed dogs into UKC obedience trials on an equal footing with UCK-registered -- with one caveat. The mixed-breed dogs had to be sterilized.

Keep watching that last clause, because it becomes important.

One big disadvantage of hitching up with the UKC was that there aren't a lot of UKC trials in most parts of the country. The owner of an AKC-registered dog or an AKC-anointed "ILP" dog could trial every weekend with moderate travel in most parts of the US. Nowhere was that true for those with dogs whose only venues were UKC shows. The advantage was that everyone in the class was really competing, so it was harder for snobs to denigrate the curs' achievements as just affirmative action grade-inflation.

Meanwhile, through the 90's, new, innovative dog sports not under the aegis of the G.O.D. were catching on -- flyball, agility, freestyle and rally obedience -- and venerable working tests/sports -- stockdog trials, schutzhund, earthdog trials -- were becoming more prominent. These events were, for the most part, sponsored and controlled by entities that did not limit entrants or prizes based on breed or registration or "purity." In the new sports, mixed-breed dogs were common and unremarked. In some cases, competitors started to deliberately cross-breed in order to develop competitive animals. Interest in entering dog beauty pageants was waning (even as more and more were televised and glamorized), and consumers started getting wise to the bad deal that "champion bloodlines" meant when they went looking for a pet. ACK registrations were in a clearly unrecoverable tailspin, due in part to the rise of the new puppymill registries, and in part to the indifference of pet owners who quite rightly could not be bothered to send AKC money in exchange for worthless paper. In a panicked attempt to keep the registrations rolling in, the AKC was grabbing "new" breeds right and left, against the increasingly righteous and organized resistance of their breed stewards.

Is it any wonder that the AKC also cast its lidless red eye on these new, and newly prominent, sports -- sports that had developed and flourished under a system of fair, equitable, open-to-all competition? Earthdog, agility, rally obedience, "herding" and lure coursing were soon appropriated, with varying degrees of success. In the wake of public interest in SAR dogs after the Oklahoma City bombing, a new variable-surface tracking title was, before the screaming from the public safety community, witlessly promoted as a search and rescue certification! ("The level of physical difficulty should be such that it will permit all AKC breeds and handlers of any age to participate.")

In the case of, for example, agility trials, clubs and venues that had previously hosted open-to-all, level-playing-field trials sanctioned by USDAA or NADAC in conjunction with their large dog shows and obedience trials now found themselves forbidden to do so.

In 1993, my SAR unit was asked to provide demos and a booth for an AKC dog show in Massachusetts. We'd done the same at an even bigger "cluster" of shows for some years -- a cluster that included an ARBA pageant and open-to-all agility. Good PR and education, sometimes a recruiting success, and a moderate fund-raiser.

But the hosting AKC club of this other show had one stipulation. Only search and rescue dogs that were AKC purebreds were invited to demonstrate or attend. The pit bull (gasp!) and the mixed breeds and their low-life handlers were not wanted. Not Our Sort, you know.

I was the unit's contact person for setting up this demonstration. My regular readers can probably fill in the wording and tone of my response for themselves.

The following year, AKC-sanctioned agility trials -- for registered purebreds only -- replaced those held by the USDAA or NADAC at AKC show and obedience-trial venues.

That's the mindset we are dealing with here, folks. It may have learned to keep its David Duke opinions about canine race under wraps a little better in the past decade and a half, but believe me, inside the country club, when the help is out of earshot, nothing has changed.

So fast-forward to around 2007, when the AKC started floating those weather balloons about the mutts. Eventually it belched out a survey directed at the members of the "Purebred Fancy" and the owners of impure performance dogs, asking under what conditions each group would find it acceptable for mixed dogs to compete in agility, obedience, rally, and tracking trials.

What they came up with, in an attempt to have/eat cake, was separate water fountains.

Mixed dogs could not earn the same exalted titles as the pure. They could never compete head-to-head for placements with the pure. They could not advance to AKC invitationals or the Nationals. They could not be entered into trials where a beauty pageant was being conducted at the same venue, else they might infect the Aryan dogs in much the same way that a rusty heap can profane a new Beemer just by parking next to it. And of course, they had to be sterilized.

Reaction from the owners of mixed-breed performance dogs -- particularly those that are tearing up the USDAA and NADAC agility courses around the country -- apparently sounded like this.

It appears that the reaction from the clubs that actually run the trials and shows from which ACK takes a cut for its "sanction" was also less than enthusiastic.

Prompting this new development frantic backpeddle:

While each club's participation in the AKC Canine Partners program will remain voluntary, clubs may now choose to allow mixed breed participation at any AKC Agility, Obedience or Rally event. Mixed breeds will compete in the same classes and earn the same titles as their purebred counterparts.
So, individual clubs may now ban the impure, but the G.O.D. is no longer mandating apartheid.

As long as the mongrels are sterilized!

The "Canine Partners" program is also open to "purebred" dogs of non-AKC breeds.

As long as the infidel dogs are sterilized!

Ruh roh, Raggy.

Of great note, the AKC's new-ish method of breed-takeover-by-attrition, the "Foundation Stock Service," comes into play here. Because if you own a dog of an FSS-listed breed, you can't access performance events through the "Canine Partners" scheme. You have to register it through the FSS -- the dog, and it's sweet, juicy pedigree.

Make no mistake that the AKC's latest policy move has nothing to do with what is good for dogs, what is good for dog breeds, or what is good for dog owners.

It is good for General Motors the AKC, period.

One aim is to destroy the largest of the level-playing-field, open-to-all competitive venues entirely. USDAA and NADAC compete with ACK for entry fees, publicity, and credibility, and they have to die. Same for APDT rally trials. What started when their trials (and the mutts that entered them) were banned from the same grounds as the dog shows is now meant to finish with the appropriation of all the entrants.

Another aim is to short-stop deliberate cross-breeding for performance and the development of new breeds for new roles. The G.O.D. that howls in protest whenever a mandatory sterilization law threatens to impact their revenues institutes the exact same policy against a subset of their "customers."

A third aim, largely dependent on the destruction of the independent sporting organizations, is to appropriate non-AKC breeds into the FSS, and thence on to full "recognition" as proper show dogs. So they can be improved, natch. And to keep those registration dollahs coming in.

There is no way for the owner of a non-AKC purebred dog to compete with him in AKC events unless the dog is sterilized. With the swamping of alternative venues, the ACK can increase the pressure on independent breed clubs to fold and be assimilated into the FSS, in order to maintain some access to events that can serve as thresholds for soundness and ability, and an engaging hobby for the owners of dogs who don't have real work to do.

The AKC spent nearly a century imagining itself to be the G.O.D. in the United States, and having that presumption continually reinforced by its toadies in The Fancy. Those it considers its rightful subjects have overwhelmingly been sniggering at its nudity or ignoring its existence and getting on with their lives with dogs without benefit of its rule for decades.

Since bringing down the hammer of "purity" backfired last time -- causing the puppymills to take their registration money and go home -- the putative G.O.D. is pursuing another favorite tactic of the failing tyrant -- expansionist warfare.

Fourth, the money from the individual enrollees could be significant. The fee for enrolling a mudblood dog or non-AKC breed as a "Canine Partner" is $15 more than standard registration. An extra ten-spot if you want to give him a particularly long and fancy name. Interesting differential, given that the AKC (we're just a registry, we keep the pedigree records) is not charged with the task of recording the pedigrees of these animals, nor will those pedigrees continue into the future.

More confusion. Although wolf hybrids of any percentage are strictly verboten from enrollment in the "Canine Partners" scheme, by the curious and physics-challenged requirement that the animal be "... not a wolf or the immediate progeny of a wolf-dog crossbreeding, in the past or in the future" the FSS happily enrolls these wolf-dogs as a "breed."

What it all adds up to is a grab for more power over American dogs and their owners, and especially the breeding of dogs and the development of breeds, presented in PR-friendly way. It's especially targeted at getting control of working dogs -- those breeds and types whose owners and breeders are most likely to seek outside validation of their dogs' trainability and athleticism. ACK has been trying for decades to take credit for working dogs, and accelerated their efforts after 9-11 in the smarmiest way.

What better way to associate oneself with the achievements of others than by killing off any alternative sources of external validation?


*Purple. Hi-rise handlebars. Flowered banana seat. Plastic basket on the front. Yes, those are bell-bottoms caught in the chain. But no sissy-bar. Not a Stingray, either, what, were we the friggin' Rockefellers?

** Those not "sanctioned" by the AKC, and meant for people to practice before entering a sanctioned match or trial. Often hosted by obedience clubs, sometimes by training centers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Photo Phriday: Installation or Editorial?

This afternoon I took Cole and Jasmine out on some errands.

An unknown dog or dogs had an upset tummy* in my office this morning, and the weather is turning mild, so I put all the others outdoors while I was away. Sophia (it was her, as it happens) in the indoor/outdoor kennel by the barn, and Pip, Rosie, and Barry White with the run of most of the foster kennel and play area.

Moe was by himself in a run in the foster kennel. Just before I left I hung a bucket of fresh water from the fence.

When I returned, it looked like this:

Yes, the two-quart bucket is completely filled with straw and mulch. Mostly straw, which came from inside the plastic doghouse about six feet away.

No, I have no idea how he did it.

I do not know why he did it.

Is it an editorial comment on the indignity of being left in a kennel, as if he was a dog for chrissakes? Protest over being confined alone?

Maybe. But I got this kind of Richard Dreyfuss sculpting Devil's Tower out of mashed potatoes vibe from it. It kind of felt like a compulsive act of art.

It was a deliberate and symbolic act. But what kind?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Photo Phriday: Snow Day

It just keeps coming.

Dogs = happy
Chickens = extremely PO'd

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cats have balls?

Is neutering your pet Metal?

I just received an email from a correspondent who had to admit defeat with one of my reflexive pop-culture references.

I must concede that a couple of forty-somethings who record the cartoons on Adult Swim so we can watch them the next night before our bedtime may be fairly characterized as displaying some degree of arrested development.

I have a justification for that!

It's my experience that the pendulum swing away from witless fad orthodoxy is led, and often defined, by satire.

And the most culturally influential -- or culturally indicative -- satire is this kind of hip, edgy, youth-oriented mockery.

We just found out that cats have balls too.

Could there be a more perfect distillation of the reflexive, brain-damaged, knowledge-free regurgitation of a passively received dogma than Nathan Explosion's single sincere-and-oblivious sentence?

It's way better than some old fart like me railing about the anorexic celebutard who poses naked for PeTA, then wears a pair of shoes made from the hide of an endangered lizard, which is okay 'cuz lizards aren't cuddly and it was already dead.

Along with countless other pop-culture mavens, the writers of Metalocalypse are finding the stupid and smugly milking it for entertainment.

Smug on, boys and girls.

Because the laughter evokes a question in the minds of the laughers. And that's all the truth -- nuanced, messy, data-dependent truth -- needs to get into those minds and fertilize a thought.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Double-Suspension of Disbelief

The six of us drove from the Bay Area to the only motel near a Central Valley town where there are more coursing hounds than anywhere else on the continent. Hell, there may be more hounds than humans, amid the glass-flat, engineer-squared, desert cotton fields forced green by water wrung from the Sierras.

View Larger Map

Three humans and three search and rescue dogs rolled out of bed at o-dark-thirty and met our long-time correspondent,* Dr. John Burchard, and his colleagues George Bell and Vicky Clarke at the blinking stoplight in "town," before driving out to the unplanted -- therefore unwatered -- fields near the irrigation ditch.

With them were an assortment of the fastest quadruped predators on the continent outside of the cheetah pen at the zoo.

It was already summer, and for the sake of both hounds and hares, all coursing needed to be done before the sun could begin its relentless scorching.

The SAR dogs presented a conundrum. It was too dangerous to leave them in the car. Would it work to bring them along? Vicky briefly fretted about our GSD partner, Mel. Her hounds had never met another dog who was not a sighthound. Would they make Mel to be a coyote and try to hunt her down?

Not to worry. Mel and the two English shepherds, Pip and Rikki, had one thing in common with the salukis -- courtly dog manners.

Vicky asked for this picture, as proof that Joey and Mojo had met a pointy-ear and not served her as a giant 'yote. The SAR dogs walked as part of the human "gallery" when we slip-coursed with George's greyhounds; when the salukis were released to free-course, the SAR dogs moved out a bit more. Rikki even flushed a hare and futilely chased it until the salukis took over.

In slip-coursing, the humans walk a line through the grass and light brush, hold hounds by the most ingeniously-constructed leash-collar contraption. When someone spots a hare, he shrieks RABBBIIIITT, the hounds surge forward, the handlers let go of the T-handle of the lead, and the wrist loop engages the deadman release -- it all takes less than a second, and the chase is on.

George handed me the lead of a massive greyhound named Lionheart. I felt as if a total stranger had just trustingly handed me the keys to a Bugatti with his baby inside.**

As we walked and scanned for hares, I asked him about the breeding of these real coursing greyhounds -- what characterized the bloodlines of dogs who still hunt the way their ancestors did before the invention of the alphabet?

We cross track-bred dogs with AKC greyhounds.

Coulda knocked me over with a saluki's ear feather.

Why do you do that?

Because it works.

My brain raced with more questions, but I dropped them, because George had just given the final answer to any sensible inquiry about why an expert might do something a certain way. And because someone screamed RABBBIIITTT, and the chase was on.

It was over in less than a minute. The hare escaped through a fence that was so far away I had failed to perceive it. The hounds were colored dots in the distance.

When they returned at a more reasonable lope, they were done. The first order of business was to thoroughly cool them.

George took the greys home, and it was time to free-course the salukis. Contrary to the armchair fancier folklore I'd been fed, they hunted by scent like any other dog until they (or Rikki) flushed a hare.

When Joey and Dark Lady were in pursuit, Mojo was most ingenious as he tried to get a look at its trajectory.

The salukis were not as fast, and did not run as far (edit: as far away -- they ran for longer over a more crazed course), as the greyhounds, but they turned and strategized and provided an exciting chase at least twice. My blood surged with adrenaline shared by hunters in wide desert places since the Bronze Age.

I would not have been in better company if I'd been invited to hunt from the Pharaoh's chariot.

No jackrabbits were harmed in the making of this morning of hunting.

We did do considerable damage to some chorizo and huevos at an excellent Mexican greasy spoon.

Then to George's house, to spend the late morning studying astonishing videos and high-speed photographs of sighthounds running, turning, spinning -- hyperextending their joints in ways that humans never imagined before Muybridge.

It was John who had, years before, presented such definitive evidence for the functional necessity of front dewclaws that I was compelled to discard every bit of lore I had been fed for decades about the practice of amputating them. (And just in time for our first litter of puppies to keep their God-given thumbs.)

As we viewed another amazing image, one of our hosts mentioned that the double suspension gallop was unique, among dogs, to the sighthounds.

All galloping animals have a moment in the collected phase of the gait when the beast is airborne.

A dog or cheetah capable of double-suspension is also airborne at full extension.

And apparently, everyone knows that only sighthounds can do this. Ken and Laura and I were conversing with two of the world's experts on animal locomotion, and they were quite clear on this point.

Except ... I fired up my laptop and starting looking for this:

Pip had just spent the morning being emphatically not a sighthound in the company of both of them. She is not structured anything like a sighthound, doesn't do a sighthound's job, and isn't remotely as fast as a sighthound.

There is undeniably air under each of her feet in this photograph.

QED. Sighthounds do not have a monopoly on the canine double-suspension gallop.

What was striking was how delighted both men were to see the photo. How happy they were to surrender what they knew in favor of the new information. A lovely demonstration of the scientific worldview, and beyond that the generosity and confidence of temperament that prefers a novel and messy truth to a tidy and coherent conviction.


Pupdate. I'm putting together a photo gallery of non-sighthounds airborne at full extension, here.

Reviewing the excellent photos people have been sending me, I need to specify that what we need is sequential photos of the animal airborne at both collection and extension.

Like this fabulous coyote.

Otherwise, there's no way to know that the dog wasn't leaping out of a different gait.

You can send submissions to the surname of this blog's author spelled correctly AT zoominternet DOT net


* I don't think the dogs had been writing to him, though he'd be one to read and answer graciously if they did.

** Begging the question, who puts a car seat into a Bugatti?