Monday, May 31, 2010
If you have trouble viewing the slideshow, you can check the Picasa album here
Sangria was consumed, mostly by the hostess, and a couple of last year's McNuggets returned from freezer camp for their charcoal debut. There was much pie.
Small goats provided entertainment.
And young Cole began his progression from poultry-herding hound to real stockdog.
He has so far hung back from the goats, because (unwitnessed, but easily surmised) encounters with their electric fence has convinced him that all goats come with a painful force-field.
So we put him in the x-pen with the kids, and when we let the kids out to romp some more, we put Rosie and Sophia in the house so they wouldn't bogart the goatiness.
Cole decided that since the goatboys had been in the x-pen for a while, they were supposed to stay there. So he started penning them -- with very appropriate gentleness.
We closed the pen, let the kids wander a little further, and he started (spontaneously) to gather them to me. Clearly was concerned about keeping them grouped, and stopped to think when they split. (Goats flock poorly; sheep are much better for training dogs. But goats is what I gots.)
I got two (self-directed) pens, two gathers, a snappy down when he got too excited, and a look-back when he lost one kid on the second gather. And then we stopped for the day. Asking for anything more would be unconscionably greedy, and court disaster.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The USDA has released a report on its own puppy-mill inspection results and practices.
You can download the PDF here.
From the report's executive summary:
In this audit, one objective was to review AC’s (Animal Care's) enforcement process against dealers that violated AWA (Animal Welfare Act). Accordingly, we focused on dealers with a history of violations in the past 3 years.
Another objective was to review the impact of recent changes the agency made to the penalty
assessment process. We identified the following major deficiencies with APHIS’ (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) administration of AWA:
• AC’s Enforcement Process Was Ineffective Against Problematic Dealers. AC’s enforcement process was ineffective in achieving dealer compliance with AWA and regulations, which are intended to ensure the humane care and treatment of animals. The agency believed that compliance achieved through education and cooperation would result in long-term dealer compliance and, accordingly, it chose to take little or no enforcement action against most violators.
However, the agency’s education efforts have not always been successful in deterring problematic dealers from violating AWA. During FYs 2006-2008, at the re-inspection of 4,250 violators, inspectors found that 2,416 repeatedly violated AWA, including some that ignored minimum care standards. Therefore, relying heavily on education for serious or repeat violators—without an appropriate level of enforcement—weakened the agency’s ability to protect the animals.
• AC Inspectors Did Not Cite or Document Violations Properly To Support Enforcement Actions.
Many inspectors were highly committed, conducting timely and thorough inspections and making significant efforts to improve the humane treatment of covered animals. However, we noted that 6 of 19 inspectors did not correctly report all repeat or direct violations (those that are generally more serious and affect the animals’ health). Consequently, some problematic dealers were inspected less frequently. In addition, some inspectors did not always adequately describe violations in their inspection reports or support violations with photos. Between 2000 and 2009, this lack of documentary evidence weakened AC’s case in 7 of the 16 administrative hearings involving dealers. In discussing these problems with regional management, they
explained that some inspectors appeared to need additional training in identifying violations and collecting evidence.
• APHIS’ New Penalty Worksheet Calculated Minimal Penalties. Although APHIS previously agreed to revise its penalty worksheet to produce “significantly higher” penalties for violators of AWA, the agency continued to assess minimal penalties that did not deter violators. This occurred because the new worksheet allowed reductions up to 145 percent of the maximum penalty. While we are not advocating that APHIS assess the maximum penalty, we found that at a time when Congress tripled the authorized maximum penalty to “strengthen fines for violations,” the actual penalties were 20 percent less using the new worksheet as compared to the worksheet APHIS previously used.
• APHIS Misused Guidelines to Lower Penalties for AWA Violators. In completing penalty worksheets, APHIS misused its guidelines in 32 of the 94 cases we reviewed to lower the penalties for AWA violators. Specifically, it (1) inconsistently counted violations; (2) applied “good faith” reductions without merit; (3) allowed a “no history of violations” reduction when the violators had a prior history; and (4) arbitrarily changed the gravity of some violations and the business size. AC told us that it assessed lower penalties as an incentive to encourage violators to pay a stipulated amount rather than exercise their right to a hearing.
I'm not going to have a chance to read the whole thing tonight.
However, I have one question.
In what universe does the person who kept this dog in this condition for at least a week:
Not get arrested on the spot for felony animal cruelty?
I'm serious. If your neighbor's pet was chained in the yard suffering from this festering, untreated injury, would he not get a visit from the law? Would you not make this happen? Are federal employees conducting licensing inspections not mandated reporters when they observe a felony in progress?
Not the Big Bad inspector who can write you up. The big bad policeman with the gun on his hip who takes you to jail. Where the bikers and potheads and bar-fighters take a dim view of people who hurt children and animals.
This willful act of cruelty took place in Oklahoma, which does have a first-offense felony animal cruelty law. The federal inspector -- our tax dollars at work -- did not trouble himself to notify the appropriate local law enforcement officials. And at the time the report was written, the puppymiller had not even been fined for the license violation.
This willful act of cruelty, also in Oklahoma, similarly resulted in no criminal charges, no write-up for a "direct violation," and no documentation by the inspector that would allow the agency, "to identify the animals during re-inspection to determine if they were treated or just disposed of. "
What's wrong with this little dog? I thought she had an untreated suite of tumors or cysts, or some exotic skin condition, until I read the caption.
Her face is covered with engorged ticks. So many that the inspector who didn't see fit to cite the puppymill operator for the violation was, "concerned about their hematocrit [a red blood cell ratio indicating anemic conditions].”
Concerned, but not concerned enough to, you know, do her goddamned job.
I'll be going over this report thoroughly tomorrow. For an internal agency document, it appears to be blunt and honest about the shortcomings in the current inspection system. It correctly identifies, as well, the enormous loophole presented by direct-to-consumer internet sales of puppies. I'm hopeful that it represents a commitment to agency reform, to requiring inspectors to do the job the taxpayers pay them to perform.
If federal and state inspectors did their jobs, if police and humane enforcement officers, prosecutors, and mandated reporters did their jobs and enforced the cruelty laws, if citizens reported violators and ensured that law enforcement followed through, we'd be light-years further along in meeting our barest obligations to the animals who depend on us for everything.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Homeless, or hot property?
Sitting here, freshly scrubbed after a wet, dirty day of SAR training, I started checking some ads in a regional agricultural newspaper's online site.
Way leads on to way, and impulsively googling phone numbers from some questionable dog ads in the livestock section led to roads I wish were less taken, especially by me.
The pets/dogs classifieds of the Holmes County Bargain Hunter -- which serves eastern Ohio's Amish country -- made my skin crawl off to hide. I need another shower already.
Commingled with a modest number of the usual backyard breeder and bailing pet-owner ads is the commercial narrative of the new rural economy, one of the few facets of animal agriculture that is not yet vertically integrated, the new millenium's Mortgage Lifter:
BROKER LOOKING FOR Toy breed puppies...any kind. 10 years experience. Have lots of references. Paying $150-$300. 814-331-0247.
KENNEL SELLOUT. YORKIES, Bichons, Pomeranians, King Charles, Poodle, and Shih-Tzu. 1-4yrs. old. (423)345-3042.
LOOKING FOR LITTERS of puppies, we could pay up to $60 a pup for pure or small breeds. Call us at (330)466-7276.
ONE 9MO OLD Pom male. One AKC Pom male. Two Pom females. (740)622-1109.
PUPPIES WANTED: BOOKING litters. Cavashon’s, Schnoodles, Cavapoo’s, Cavalier King Charles, Morkies, Shorkies, Cockapoos, Shihapoos, Bichon’s and Bichon mixes, Maltishons and Maltipoo’s, Maltese cross, Puggles, Havanese cross, Yorkipoos, Yorkie mixes. Small Poo breed mixes. Designer breeds. 330-280-4531.
PUPPIES WANTED: BUYING some now, and booking ahead. Pugs, Puggles, Yorkies and mixes, Morkies, Cavashons, Havanese and mixes, Shih-Tzu’s and mixes, Bulldogs and mixes, Bichons and mixes, Maltese and mixes. We always pay and we always pick up. 330-518-9516; 330-559-9211.
THIRTY 2-1/2’X4’ WIRE dog cages made by Raber Kennels. Six 16ft sections, two 12ft sections with automatic water nipples. Can deliver. (270)528-1537 or (270)531-3751.
WANTED TO BUY: Adult kennel breed sellout. Yorkies, Maltese, Pomeranians, Shih-Tzu’s. (330)359-0245.
WANTED: SOFT-COATED WHEATON, also Brussel Griffond adults and/or puppies. Also, someone to raise Bulldogs and I will supply the dogs. (724)254-4594 or (412)289-9498.
Bad enough, the brokers looking for $60 puppies that will miraculously appreciate ten or twenty-fold by the time they reach the deli case in a week or so, the sellouts of bulk-priced breeding stock, the indelible image branded on my brain of the thirty canine livestock who have and will spend their entire miserable existences in those banks of 30" x 48" cages (with water nipples). These ads infuriate, but do not surprise. Not like some others.
There's the famous canine repro specialist vet in Cleveland I keep hearing about.
ATTENTION DOG BREEDERS
Two hour seminar by world famous canine reproduction vet, Dr. Hutchinson. A rare opportunity to learn from one of the top Veterinarians in the country. Tuesday, May 18th at Farmstead Restaurant in Berlin at 7:00pm. For information call (330)674-0810.
In addition to building vinyl storage units, the disembodied phone number that is organizing this meeting of minds has some six-week-old Australian shepherd pups for sale. Because those pups get stale if you let them sit on the shelf too long.
Then there's the new wrinkle on "rescue:"
AA1 RESCUE now accepting puppy litters. Call when young to assure placement. Will find loving homes and spay mom. (330)242-5137.
This one is fishy. I've never heard of a rescue placing an ad looking for dogs. It's not like there is, you know, a shortage of dogs and puppies in rural eastern Ohio. I have been to the pounds; they are well-populated, and many of them are only too eager to release animals to legitimate rescues.
AA1 Rescue does not have a Petfinder listing, nor a website, nor a mention on anyone else's website, nor is it registered as a 501(c)3 with the IRS.
The only place it turns up in a Google search is in this free ad in a Cleveland publication:
AA1 PUPPY RESCUE
Lab mixed puppies, 6-8wks. SUPER SWEET, shots, dewormed. $100. 330.242.5137
The phone number, similarly, only appears in this ad. It is a cell phone in Medina, OH.
Like I said, fishy. The "rescue" that pays for ads looking for pups, but whose only web presence is in one free ad offering puppies for sale for $100. Presumably unneutered, as they don't specify the way they do for the $3 inoculation and the $.50 worming.
Then there's so-fishy-I-smell-low-tide:
GUARDIANAccepting puppies & dogs. We are a well-respected rescue with 12yrs. experience. We will pay up to $50 per puppy. (330)656-3524.
A rescue that pays a newspaper for an ad so they can buy puppies? At about the same price offered by the puppymill brokers in the same ad column?
In those twelve years of experience garnering respect, "Guardian Angel Rescue" has apparently not gotten around to getting registered as a tax-exempt charity; my fruitless search of the IRS dB reminded me, though, that there is a well-respected group in Canfield, OH, Angels for Animals, that helped out NESR with low-cost neutering on five English shepherds we once sprung from one of the rural pounds they serve.
There are Guardian Angel Rescues in Memphis, TN and Tampa, FL. Presumably not trolling rural Ohio for $50 puppies. Otherwise, no website, no Petfinder listing, no mention on anyone else's website.
The Northfield, OH cell phone that is the only point of contact for this and some similar puppy-solicitation ads, shows up on the other side as well, with paid ads that give some idea of the strict placement criteria and great care that Guardian Angel takes with its procured puppies:
A Big Puppy Sale FREE Shots. FREE Life Worming. Rescue Puppies. $35 up. 330-656-3524. 5/12/2010There is more of the same in Akron-area ads, most of them coming up on Google but not properly cached.
Presumably, the $35 "bargain" puppies cost the guardian angels less than the $50 top price offered in the other ad. Or they are old and shopworn. The inclusion of "up" suggests that there may be no ceiling on the potential price for intact "Rescue Puppies."
I've long cautioned dog-shoppers to be as skeptical of rescues and shelters as they should be of breeders.
To make sure that the animals have had appropriate health care, that the facilities do not promote disease, that behavior and health assessments are performed appropriately and the results used to determine appropriate placements and also shared transparently with potential adopters, that dogs who need training to become adoptable receive it, that the rescue provides follow-up support as needed, including guaranteed take-back. To determine that the rescue is well-run, fiscally responsible, clear-headed as well as (reasonably) soft-hearted.
I had no idea how excessively high I was setting the bar, because I didn't know how low you could go.
I think we've got enough evidence to add, now -- Make sure the rescue is a rescue, and not a bottom-feeder among bottom-feeders, a cut-rate dog broker out to make a quick two bits on kyootness.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Update: Patsy had twin bucklings the next day -- both pure white.
Sunday, May 30 is our Goat Day party at Brandywine Farm. If you haven't received an invite and want to come, drop me a line. Flame, sangria, and play with the goatniks.
Monday, May 17, 2010
This is one of the most common questions I get in private emails from strangers out of the blue.
And though I'm pressed for time, I'm generally happy to tell them.
Typically -- not always, but most of the time -- I get a reply that makes it clear that I did not answer the question they meant to ask when I answered the question that they actually wrote down.
The questions that inquirers meant to ask are:
Should I enroll in this dog-training school?
How do I get my own teevee show and be a celebrity dog trainer?
What kind of instant credentials can I buy, since I already know everything about dogs due to loving them all my life?*
The question that I stubbornly answer is the title of this post -- and here is my answer, for those who are really interested.
First, accept that your timeline for professionalization is not days, weeks, months. It's not a year from now. It will take years of hands-on and book learning for you to earn the right to charge people money for your services, or for that matter, affect an air of expertise when slinging free advice.
There is no shortcut. I'm going to repeat that. There is no shortcut.** What we old farts still quaintly call a correspondence school will not make you a dog trainer.† A two week, six week, or six month training course will not make you a dog trainer. Dog training is a profession, a science, an athletic discipline, and an ancient art. You do not master any of the above via a crash course. (And if you think you can make up for a long process of assimilation, processing, drilling and cogitation on experience with fourteen-hour-day "intensity" -- ask me to translate some ancient Greek text for you without my grammar on one knee and a Liddell lexicon on the other.)
You must also accept that the fact that you want to be a dog trainer does not guarantee that you will have the aptitude to succeed at it. Even hard work does not get everyone there. Some people are born with physical gifts and qualities of perception that allow them to be effective with animals with little or no formal training. Most of us have more modest natural talents that we develop through study and practice. Some people are just not cut out for it. This is not a moral failing. The most common limiting factors are inadequate communication skills (with people) and physical limitations, including poor timing that does not improve acceptably with practice. (Many physical "disabilities" have workarounds, BTW.) On the plus side, fewer sincere efforts fail than in, say, professional sports, medical school, or rock 'n' roll bands.
If you are a young person, in high school or recently out, my most important advice is that you enroll in the best college that you can get into/afford, and pursue an expansive liberal arts course of study. Study the biological sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and anything else that piques your interest. Take hard classes from professors who will criticize you, and learn to accept that criticism and improve from it. Because you are not there to acquire a trade or inflate your self-esteem -- you are there to initiate a life's journey as a thinking adult who can grow and learn as a citizen, a professional, and a human being for the next sixty years. An education should be, among other things, an inoculation against the credulous acceptance of nonsense, fads, and superstition. If the college is any damned good and you aren't irredeemably stubborn, your unexamined prejudices won't make it out alive.
You are likely to come out of college with a different career goal than the one you entered with, too. That's fine. It's how it's supposed to work. I'm not here to evangelize to seventeen-year-olds, and you are not required to choose your life's work one bare decade after reaching the age of reason.
If you are a career-changing adult, well, we all need to fall back on what we have learned, both formally and in the course of life. You might consider some community college classes in any knowledge areas where you may have lacuna; that could be biology, ethology or something more skills-oriented such as public speaking. You are going to be fitting in your professional development around your other commitments. Don't quit the day job yet.
So, in no particular order, here are the elements of the education of a trainer, which you can fashion into a three-to-ten-year plan for yourself depending on your individual circumstances and goals:
Read widely, read aggressively, read critically. Just because it's in print doesn't mean the author ever had a clue. Read new and old books; do not commit the error of believing that "new" supersedes "old," or that "popular" equates to "sound." (Conversely, "old" is not always "classic.") Read up on canine evolution, ethology, training, health, reproduction, development, grooming. Read books about breeds, because you should know dog breeds cold. Read about hunting, police work, search and rescue, service work, guide work, detection work, therapy. Read about behavior problems and pathologies. Read books written for professionals with doctorates and books written for schoolchildren. Read bad training books that are popular right now, because you need to know what's floating out there in the ether that your clients are going to inhale. Read about training other species. Read about counseling, pedagogy, personal safety, zen, marketing. Read scientific papers. Take notes. Buy the books you find most important and useful. You will continue reading aggressively forever
Train Your Own Dog(s)
I do not mean "Teach your puggle a parlor trick at home." (Though parlor tricks are a great skill for a trainer's personal dog.) You need to enroll in classes with the best local instructors, and achieve something with your own dog or dogs. Best student in your basic class graduation does not qualify you for anything other than enrollment in the next level of class.
Train your dog(s) to a high level of obedience. Compete and win titles, and/or qualify them and engage in real work. Your own dogs are your most credible credential. If the instructor's demo dog can't hold a down-stay during class, what chance do the students have with their animals? If the pro trainer hasn't been vetted through competition with hobbyists or an objective working-dog evaluation (not a CGC or the equivalent "therapy dog" test) then where does he get off taking people's money.
This is no place for jokes about the shoemaker's children. The trainer's dog is his advertising, his credibility, and his training partner. No excuses.
Explore different training venues as you train your own dogs -- local training businesses, obedience clubs, schutzhund clubs, etc. (Not big-box retail stores.) Observe the different instructors, their methods, their teaching styles, and think about their various strengths and weaknesses. Be a good student, be willing to give an honest try to each instructor's homework.
(If you are a young person, in college or your parents' home, or otherwise in a life situation where you cannot or should not own a dog for a while, then seriously, borrow a dog to train in group classes. You may be able to do this with a dog from a shelter or rescue who needs training to become adoptable or more easily adoptable. This is a great incentive to do your homework and pay attention in class; the dog is depending on you to get him a home.)
The apprenticeship is the cornerstone of a trainer's professional development. This could be quite formal, with one demanding mentor putting you through a progressive multi-year program, or informal, as you learn from a number of different experienced teachers. It is up to you to ensure that you and your mentor see the relationship and any mutual or reciprocal obligations the same way. It is up to you to find a mentor who can (and is willing to) share the skill and insight that you need to become a professional.
A mentor will help you with your reading list, introduce you to professional networks, and support your development with both encouragement and criticism. A mentor, or several of them, is your best resource for improving your hands-on dog skills.
Expect to put in a lot of grunt work for your mentor(s); however, if you are still scooping kennels (and doing nothing else) after six months of "apprenticeship," you are being exploited as unpaid labor, not educated. If you find yourself teaching your mentor's group classes for no pay, and he is not supervising and critiquing you and your students' progress systematically, then you are being exploited and the paying students are getting ripped off.
Seminars, conferences and workshops can also contribute to your education as a trainer and expose you to different ideas, tools, and techniques. Choose your con-ed investments of time and money with some care, as not all presenters are worth what it costs. Beware of becoming a seminar-junkie; wannabe trainers who hop from workshop to workshop, latching onto the Latest Thing like cultists until the next Latest Thing at the next seminar. (See above re: a good education as bullshit vaccine.)
Find a local 501(c)3 shelter, rescue group, service dog training organization, SAR unit -- all of the above.
Volunteer to do what is needed -- walk shelter dogs, home-check potential adopters, foster animals in your home, socialize pups, hide for search dogs. Don't expect to waltz in, proclaim your intention of becoming a trainer, and find yourself in charge of training. They've heard it before. If you prove yourself to be reliable and professional as a volunteer, you'll find opportunities to help train and finally be responsible for training.
You can learn a great deal by working with a wide variety of shelter dogs. They will be different ages, temperaments, breeds -- but almost all of them will be utterly untrained. Exploit the opportunities they provide for you, and keep ever-mindful that each dog will require slightly (or drastically) different techniques and test your skills in different ways.
Pro bono work is part of being a professional. Expect to volunteer in some capacity for your entire career. Research your options and choose well-run, focused, accountable animal charities that are fiscally responsible and as drama-free as you can find.
Develop respectful, collegial relationships with other trainers and dog professionals such as veterinarians, groomers, ethical breeders, shelter workers. Join the appropriate professional organizations and training clubs, using the same criteria as you should for charities. Exchange information, insight, contacts.
You will notice that I don't have a subheading for credentialing or certification. That's because credentials are something you earn through your work as a professional; they are external validation of what you already are. They aren't magic charms that turn you into a professional. The "popular" ones are popular because they can be bought or easily gained, and tend to have the effect of convincing their bearers that they have more skill and knowledge than they do. I have chosen NADOI membership and endorsement, which is difficult, and encourage others who have met the requirements to do so.
Ask the Leather Queen. (I also suggest affecting an accent of some sort. Try Jamaican -- that hasn't been done yet. Miss Cleo doesn't count.)
Pay APDT a hundred bucks and stop bothering me. They will take your money -- I guaranfreakintee it -- and you didn't offer me any, did you?
** If I knew the shortcut, I would not tell you. But there is no shortcut.
† Anyone remember the comedian who had the bit about correspondence schools in which he did an impression of a terrorized dog living in the house where someone was taking the "vet tech" course by mail? Yeah, it's like that.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
It's annoying being a pretty rational, empirical person who is frequently regarded as a sort of witch doctor.
Depending on the particular religious leanings of the person in question, I'm either able to invoke cryptic Majikal Powers to Save the Day, or I'm a complete charlatan, on par with Jon Edwards and Miss Cleo.
Unfortunately, both believers and disbelievers are frequently in a position to make decisions that could save or kill someone.
It's hard to remember, after nineteen years of partnering with four different dogs' minds to exploit four different dogs' noses to accomplish feats that seem inexplicable to people who have not made a study of such things, that other people have no idea how this works.
So Perfesser Chaos and I -- and hundreds of our colleagues, in various ways -- make yet another part-time unpaid career out of studying, documenting, and explaining both the science of canine olfaction and the capabilities and limitations of real-world dog teams.
Part of that project is the collective work of establishing standards of competence. Because when you tell the chief of police that an operational dog team should be able to stay on task for x hours in y conditions, and cover that much ground to this probability of detection, it would be nice to know that the next "operational" dog team that shows up at his command post can do just that.
At this point, I cannot. A grim topic for another day. But those who don't meet basic standards of competence -- especially those who claim to have done so but have dodged any legitimate and objective quality controls -- are the #1 reason that responsible authorities (RA's) cast a jaundiced eye on those handlers who have actually done so. It's always nice to have been preceded by a slacker whose mouth wrote checks that his ass bounced.
Unfortunately, a related perennial duty of the thoughtful, legitimate, educated, careful, self-skeptical, rigorous search dog handler is to explain what a competent dog team cannot be expected to do.
Part of that is self-protection.
No Sheriff, given that our subject, an endurance speed-hiker with early-onset Alzheimers, has been missing for four days and we have a theoretical search area the size of Delaware, calling in one airscenting dog and handler, no trained search management, and no other field resources is highly unlikely to fix your problem at this point.
Part of it is an attempt to inoculate decision-makers against bullshit.
The bullshit follows a gradient.
I remember a search about fourteen years ago, one that dragged on for days and was stumping a good DCNR incident commander (IC) and the several trained searchers who stuck it out. We were having difficulty getting additional trained resources, especially canine teams, from the immediate area. The IC asked me whether it would be worth the expense to bring in an "expert" cadaver dog team from a four-hour drive away by helicopter. Because the handler and dog were, he'd been told, sooper speshul.
I had driven three and a half hours to respond to the search. No one had offered to pay for my gas. It had not occurred to me to demand an airlift. I knew who the handler was. I'd known her since her dog -- her first dog -- was a tiny pup. In the ensuing few years, she'd devoted plenty of energy to self-promotion in her own locale. I advised him that a celebrity dog team was unlikely to solve his problem, and that a sooper speshul "cadaver" dog was not the relevant resource for an ever-expanding wilderness search area. The IC ultimately decided that one small-area cadaver dog did not merit 800 gallons of helicopter fuel. (The missing man was found, very much alive, by a ground team on a Hail Mary task at the outer limits of the search area the next day.)
Now, the would-be jetsetting team was not by any means incompetent. As far as I know, there was nothing fishy about their unit's procedures for declaring them operational; the unit was generally regarded as legitimate and as employing the usual training and certification practices for the time. The handler wasn't claiming that the dog had supernatural powers -- just that its training was "better" than that of the dogs already deployed, so much better that the team merited star treatment. She was making that claim based on an unsupportable (and ultimately falsified) opinion about the nature of the search, and an unsupportable opinion about the nature of her dog and its training relative to everybody else.
Bullshit-meter reading, about a two* out of ten.
At around the same time, the canine SAR community was graced with the collegial presence of Sandra Marie Anderson, aka Sandy Anderson, international celebrity cadaver dog handler.
There were those of us who frequently cautioned about dogs and trainers who seemed too good to be true. And there was the zombie army of Anderson's students and partisans, who attacked all skeptics with accusations of "jealousy." We were engaging in "politics," see.
Anderson's claims about her Majick Dog became increasingly far-fetched. The dog, a Doberman mix named Eagle, never missed. He found tiny scraps of remains where other dogs had "failed." This was due both to his own inherent Majickalosity and Sandra Anderson's sooper speshul training methods.
She became the darling of the FBI. Always a bad sign in dog-handler land.
She jetted to other countries to deploy the Majick Dog in high-profile, politically-charged searches for murder victims.
Took quite a while for someone to definitively swing out the mirrors and reveal the flim-flam.
A Michigan woman once recognized as one of the nation's best trainers and handlers of cadaver-sniffing dogs was sentenced yesterday to 21 months in prison for planting bones and other fake evidence in cases she worked.Yeah, when you are finding body parts that are later discovered to be still attached to the whole bodies, when none of the DNA of the bones you find matches that of the missing people -- but it matches stuff you got at your house, when the bloody saw blade at the putative murder scene has your blood on it -- well, it would have been nice if the authorities had bothered to run some DNA panels a little sooner. Most people frown upon framing someone for murder just to shore up your own delusions of grandeur.
She got a sweetheart deal in the plea agreement.
She's out of Federal prison now, I believe past the term of her supervised probation. After getting out of prison, she married a former SAR dog handler in southwest Virginia, Dan Crumrine**, and disappeared into the identity of Sandy Crumrine, or Sandra Crumrine, Cassondra, Cassondra Cummins, Ms's "C," or "Ms. Sande" -- or, if you know any other aliases, please add them in the comments. She's apparently directing a scheme to "train service dogs for disabled children" that both fundraises and charges families, and seems to be involved a "search and rescue unit" in SW Virginia and this organization, whose mission seems a little dissipated. As the local resident who uncovered most of the post-prison aliases and connections points out about the "credentials" on the various websites:
If you look at the groups listed they either do not have a web presence, are not really a group you join ( like AKC), or are websites that she appears to own.
(edit: I was able to verify by phone that a Sandra Crumrine is listed as an obedience judge by ASCA, though the person who answered the phone indicated that she had been inactive since 1995. ASCA was, however, not aware of Ms. Anderson-Crumrine's criminal history. Ms. Anderson-Crumrine did take the trouble to update her name on the ASCA rolls after her release from the penitentiary and marriage to Dan Crumrine; the small matter of the federal felony conviction must have slipped her mind at that time.)
It has not been my experience that serial perjurers, habitual frauds, and people whose own mothers tell a judge "she's a pathological liar" are in the habit of reforming themselves and treading the straight and narrow. Give me an alley-mugger for an ex-con with prospects any day. Considering the many aliases, gravitation towards vulnerable populations, and bogus credentialing, things sure aren't looking good.
Bullshit-meter reading, This one goes to Eleven.
So that kind of defines the ends of the spectrum of SAR handler capability-inflation.
When the Level Two Majick Dog Handler fails to produce up to his own hype -- wastes all that helicopter fuel for an ego trip -- he contributes to an incident commander's suspicion that dogs may not be all they are cracked up to be.
That IC may not have the background to distinguish between one handler's baseless claim that his dog has a better nose than all the other dogs, and a more conservative handler's caution that he be careful about deploying that uncertified handler who has no training logs. It all gets dismissed as "dog handler politics."
More important, to the uneducated IC, all claims about the useful olfactory powers of trained search dogs may seem equally implausible.
Can you spot the implausible, wild-assed claims among those below?
This dog has detected a person's scent on the wind (no ground trail), and found her at a distance of over 200 meters in good atmospheric conditions.
This dog spontaneously alerted on graves that were over 30 years old.
This dog can distinguish between the individual scents of a pair of identical twins.
This dog reliably distinguishes between animal remains and human remains.
This dog can indicate the location of human remains under 50' of water.
This dog will reliably signal the absence of the lost person's trail.
This dog works confidently and independently on unstable rubble right next to bulldozers and jackhammers, and only searches for and indicates people who are buried, not workers out on the pile.
This dog has accurately followed a 48-hour old trail.
Although any of these claims may, indeed, be utter bullshit about any given untrained or poorly-trained dog, they are all standard findings or expectations for SAR dogs properly trained in various disciplines. Some are codified in standards -- the minimum performance expected for a dog to be operational in its discipline.
While it's important to be skeptical-until-shown-otherwise of all unknown handlers who claim to have met these standard expectations (that are the subject of broad agreement about essential competencies), it's even more important that IC's and other public servants -- not to mention politicians, journalists, and the families of missing people -- understand when they are encountering an actual wild-assed claim.
The claim that one has met ordinary, industry-standard, levels of competence should require that one present ordinary proofs. Back in the day, it was training logs and some token that one had been declared operational by a unit that had published standards. Nowadays, an external (presumed to be more objective) certification by a third-party organization, to standards that are NIMS-compliant is an increasingly common additional expectation, depending on the specialty.
What if the claim is extraordinary? The handler maintains that his dog can perform feats that are orders of magnitude superior to the industry standard?
The dog is never wrong.
The dog can follow scent trails that are months old.
The dog can track bullets.
The dog can track anthrax.
The dog responded to an average of more than one search a day for fourteen years, with 2.25 finds per week over her whole life.
The dog's ID is not just a reasonable means to establish probable cause, but is sufficient evidence to convict someone of a crime in the absence of any other evidence ...
These are the claims that bring reporters running, shock and awe the fatuous and desperate, and inexplicably seem to qualify the claimants as go-to guys in the eyes of the FBI and sometimes other "top level" law enforcement.
Just as Sandra Anderson's claims that Eagle was capable of things that no other dog could do made her into a celebrity -- and skeptics into pariahs -- these extraordinary claims are polarizing.
It's not because they threaten the egos of lesser handlers with mere mortal dogs.
It's because non-experts frequently can't or won't distinguish between them and the "industry standard" SAR dog abilities I listed above.
So when the "extraordinary" handler's deliberate fraud or unconscious delusion is unmasked, it's the legitimate SAR community that is left damaged. Those who perform due diligence in both their training and proofing and in their claims about their capabilities know that they will be fighting to recover from utterly unfounded guilt by association.
So what need we ask of anyone who makes extraordinary claims about his scent-detecting dog?
Presentation of extraordinary evidence.
Let's say we have a dog who we claim not only can, but HAS followed an individual human's 24-mile trail that is six months old, and was primarily left while the subject was being driven on a highway in a car, in an arid climate, in an area of moderately high vehicle and human traffic.
The dog has done this in part by being let out at off-ramps and indicating whether the car continued or exited.
Now, in case you were wondering, yes, this is an extraordinary claim.
Here is how I would test it.
An experienced, professional SAR unit that has no connection to the handler making the claim designs a double-blinded trail task.
When the trail is laid:
The trail-layer is a visitor to the area who will not return in the next six months -- a friend or relative of a team member. This is to ensure that the trail-layer will not inadvertently cross his trail in the course of normal activities and travel while it ages. The SAR team member acts as driver and selects the route. Both driver and trail-layer sign agreements that they will disclose nothing about the trail's location to any person until the trail is run.
The test administrator collects three scent articles from the trail layer on the day of the trail, and preserves them in whatever manner has been requested by the handler.
A test administrator designates a starting point. This point is selected so that there is easy, close access to more than one limited-access roadway. Three nearby highways with regular on-and-off ramps offers six possible initial directions of travel on limited-access roads. There may be other roads, not limited access, leading away from the designated start point. The driver can choose any road he wishes.
The driver and trail-layer are provided with the following instructions:
The trail layer may get into the car at the start point or walk some distance -- either on or off the road -- and be picked up to continue. Or he may lay the entire trail on foot. He is not to mark the trail in any way.
Please determine how many options there are for initial direction of travel, and use a random process (dice throw or random number generator) to choose one of them. After that, you may choose a route that suits you.
Do not double back or cross your route. Do not drive or walk parallel to a previous leg of your route any closer than 300 meters. Do not make turns that bring you closer than 300 meters to any part of your previous route. Be sure you don't double back, come within 300 meters, or cross it as you leave the area after laying the trail, either, even if it means taking a long detour.
The trail should be between ____ and ____ miles long. (The test administrator will generate these numbers with a random process. The handler will not be told the ranges, and only the trail-layer and the driver will know the actual length.)
The trail-layer will carry a top-of-the-line consumer model GPS (e.g. Garmin 60csx, Garmin Oregon, Magellan Triton) and record the track from the start point to the end point. While the trail-layer is in the vehicle and at all times, he will ensure that the GPS is positioned for optimum reception and has adequate satellite acquisition for accuracy within 20 meters.
At the end point, the trail layer will save the track and will start a new track, the purpose of which is to document that the driver and trail-layer did not cross or impinge on the trail-layer's track as they left the area.
The driver will leave an appropriate marker at the end point, something that is not likely to be removed or disturbed over six months of weathering. This may be spray paint on the roadway berm, or whatever is most likely to be durable at the end point. The marker will be symbolic/coded only, and the mark used will be known only to the test administrator, the driver, and the trail-layer. The driver will then leave the trail-layer at the end point and place four similar coded markers at similar points no less than 500 meters from the end-point or any part of the trail, and no less than 500 meters from each other, preferably further. The real and false end-markers will be waypointed on the GPS.
The trail-layer gives a scent article to the driver at the completion of the trail, and the driver preserves it in whatever manner is specified by the handler.
Upon returning home, the driver downloads the GPS tracks, labels them, and preserves them as electronic files on a thumb drive and imports them into the appropriate mapping software, where they are both preserved electronically and printed out onto maps of appropriate scale. The driver seals the maps and the thumb drive in an envelope, signs across the seal, and maintains it in a secure location along with the trail-layer's scent article.
The trail-layer retains a map that indicates the area of the trail, so that if he must travel in the vicinity, he can avoid crossing his own trail inadvertently.
Six months pass.
On the day before the team attempts to run the trail:
The driver returns to the end point directly without reiterating the trail and conceals the trail-layer's scent article within 10 meters of the end-point markings. The article is concealed from view, but marked in such a way that it can be definitively identified as the trail-layer's once revealed. The driver then returns to the "dummy" end markers and conceals an identical article that has never been in the same building or vehicle with the trail-layer at each of those locations.
The driver transfers the sealed envelope containing the records of the trail to the test administrator.
On the day the team attempts to run the trail:
The trail-layer submits a signed affidavit attesting that he or she has not been in the area of the trail since laying it.
The trail-layer and the driver submit signed affidavits attesting that neither has disclosed any information about the route of the trail to any person.
The test administrator, the handler and dog, and at least three observers convene at the designated starting point. The handler may designate up to two observers, the unit providing the testing may designate at least two observers, one of whom will serve as videographer and one of whom will ensure that the GPS is operating in good order for the duration. The observers do not need to be members of the testing team, but should be qualified SAR personnel.
A vehicle sufficient to accommodate handler, dog, and observers will be provided by whomever has such at hand. One observer will be designated the driver. The driver will stay with the vehicle, while all other observers will remain with the team.
The test administrator will bring the preserved scent articles, the same or substantially similar model GPS used by the trail-layer with adequate batteries and media for 12 hours of use, maps of the search area, the sealed envelope containing the electronic and printed definitive record of the trail, a computer and peripherals adequate to immediately download both the old and new tracks and overlay them on the appropriate mapping software, appropriate radios for communications, and a digital video camera or cameras with adequate batteries and recording media for 12 hours of use.
The start time will be early morning. The team will have 12 hours to complete the trail. The handler may take breaks as needed. Each person is responsible for his or her own food and water and personal needs for the duration. The handler will be briefed, and cautioned that accepting or soliciting help in determining the direction of the trail from any outside party or test observer will invalidate the test. The observers will be briefed and cautioned that any interference with the handler, to aid or hinder, will result in their expulsion as observers and may invalidate the test. All participants will be instructed to mute their cell phones and place or receive no calls or text messages, with the exception of emergency communications with the test administrator.
The test administrator will provide the handler with the preserved scent articles and the maps of the area when the handler states that she is ready. The clock starts at that point.
The videographer will begin recording, keeping the camera at all times on the team, and as much as possible keeping both dog and handler in-frame. He will continue recording for the duration of the test, including breaks, and will not stop or pause except to change batteries or media. He will endeavor to remain close enough to record all audio of conversation between persons or between handler and dog during the test.
The GPS-keeper will attach the GPS to the handler in a manner designed for optimum satellite acquisition, begin track-log recording, and will be responsible for monitoring it for accuracy and battery/media needs throughout the test. The GPS will never be turned off except to change batteries/media.
The handler may use her own GPS for navigation purposes, but agrees that the definitive record of the trail will be the one recorded on the test-GPS.
The test administrator will remain at the start point or a location nearby for the duration of the test.
Communications will be limited to hourly status reports and emergencies or technical glitches. Status reports will be simple check-ins, and will not include the team's location or current activities. The test ends when the handler identifies the end-point based on finding the scent article or the handler decides to stop.
After 12 hours have passed, if the team has not either arrived at and identified the end-point or given up, the test administrator will instruct the team and all observers to return to base.
The GPS-keeper will save the current track and start a new one for the return to base.
The administrator will then open the envelope with the printed maps and the electronic records of the trail before the handler and all observers, and while being videotaped. The administrator will then download the GPS tracks of the team's movements that day and overlay them on the map of the original trail.
All participants will receive a copy of the map with both sets of tracks, and electronic copies of all the records, including the full video record.
All participants agree that the map with both sets of tracks, and individual accounts of the test by the trail-layer, driver, observers, handler, and test administrator may be published.
What constitutes success?
Before initiating the process, all parties must agree that --
The team must correctly identify the initial direction of travel at the start point.
If the team follows the trail accurately and maintains overall progress of 1 mph (total time, not moving time), then it need not reach the end point (assuming a trail longer than 12 miles). "Accurate" shall be defined as following the actual roadway on which the trail-layer was driven, and following within 100 meters of any off-road path taken by the trail-layer.
If the handler chooses to use the vehicle to "jump track" between exits or intersections, then the team must not miss a turn or exit, nor follow a false trail more than 300 meters at a turn or or exit ramp.
Trailing the driver in places where his trail and the trail-layer's diverge does not meet the criteria for success.
Finding the end-point by any means other than following the path of the trail-layer does not meet the criteria for success.
Identifying any of the dummy markers and articles as correct does not meet the criteria for success.
Continuing to trail past the real marker -- as long as the team follows the driver and trail-layer's route -- does meet the criteria for success, i.e., the dog does not have to indicate the concealed article.
So -- sound reasonable?
I'm sure my SAR colleagues and other good minds can find ways to improve the protocol, make it tighter and fairer and more objective, and find places where I forgot to specify something that does not "go without saying" when we are being so formal.
If you were claiming that your dog could for real follow the trail of an abduction victim for 24 miles, mostly on highways, without any hints from people already working the case, is there anything in this protocol that you would find inapplicable or unfair? Anything you would want added or removed?
If someone making this extraordinary claim would not undergo this kind of test when it was offered, claiming that it is about "SAR politics," how would that reflect on the credibility of the claim for you?
* Why two? Because just about every handler with enough ego to tackle the job at all is operating at one.
** Authorities had found Anderson holed up at Crumrine's house in Virginia when she skipped out on her sentencing hearing in Michigan.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
I'm sprucing up the blogroll this week. I've added some new (really new and new to me) blogs to the list, and will be adding more and reorganizing as I go. I'm cleaning out the inactive blogs, fixing links for those that have changed addresses, and culling a few that have veered off into areas that I find less interesting or less relevant to most of my readers' interests.
And, if you shitcan my comments when I disagree with you, then call me an idiot in public and shitcan my response to that, I remove you from my blogroll, no matter how interesting other things you may have to say might be. I don't think that's unfair, since my comments are thus far unmoderated, and I only remove commercial spam.
Check out the new-to-you links; there are some interesting points of view out there.