Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Charter of Freewarren


A Note for Naysayers

Nobody, even the most avid animal-rights fanatics, needs to worry about depriving caged rabbits of their liberty. Those born in confinement don't know what liberty is; they are not deprived of anything.

Also, you will note I advise housing rabbits only in wire hutches. If you house them this way you and the rabbits will do just fine. But if you let a rabbit out, you are asking for trouble ... That goes for pet rabbits, too. The wire hutch is ideal. Keep them there, except perhaps to hold and pet them.

-- Bob Bennet, Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits

We are now wabbit wanchers.

I'd been looking into this for some time. We raise the pastured meat chickens in the summer and fill the freezer, make a little money selling them. We hunt, and a friend is raising pigs, one of which we'll buy a whole or half-interest in. Hair sheep and perhaps a feeder steer are in the works.

In addition, I wanted to explore a fast avenue to fresh meat in the winter and year-round, something that wasn't dependent on freezer storage. And a varied diet is important for us and the dogs, yes? Americans eat way too much chicken and beef.

I am not sure whether we are okay with my devoted-to-pet-rabbit friends. I am respectful of their sensibilities. I hope we can all come to an understanding about animal welfare, and the touchy problem of pet v. livestock within a species.

I've had pet rabbits in the past. The archetypal bunny-in-a-backyard hutch as a child. A house rabbit as an adult. The latter demonstrated the range of a rabbit's social capacities, and the species' need for enrichment. I've also delivered several abandoned bunnies to house rabbit rescue folks, in the days before Pittsburgh shelters accepted them, and acquaintances who found pets dumped in the park would call the crazy animal lady to take this thing out of their bathtub.

I don't care whether it is livestock or pet, solitary living in a backyard hutch is not species appropriate.

What do all animals need? Fresh air, sunlight*, wholesome food and clean water, general hygiene, and the opportunity to move about freely.

What do rabbits need, specifically? The opportunity to dig and chew, social interaction with other rabbits, including the chance to play and groom, hidey-holes, enough space so that they don't feel driven to fight one another.

Bob Bennet can join Frank Perdue, Salmonella Jack DeCoster, this knuckle-dragging gap-toothed hick -- and the rest of the livestock abuse industry -- in kissing my shiny white ass. My rabbits are going to get what they need.

I guess I am rather broad in my definition of "need." Obviously, animals survive, grow, and reproduce without any of those things. Cattle put on weight in feedlots, hens lay while their feet have grown into the cage like a tree grows into a fence, and rabbits breed like bunnies while their hocks rub raw on wire floors. A bitch in a puppymill pumps out little lurve-objects for cuteness consumers while eating rancid food, drinking filthy water, living in solitary confinement in a cramped cage, never seeing the sun or breathing fresh air, covered in shit and shot through with parasites. Biologically speaking, hope springs eternal. A plant that is barely hanging on -- a tomato languishing in a nursery six-pack, unplanted, or a weed in a sidewalk crack -- puts everything it's got into producing a few sickly fruit and seeds. Things could get better for my descendants, so I better make sure I have some toot sweet.

99% of rabbit breeders keep their livestock / petstock in individual wire-bottomed cages. It's orderly, takes little room, easier to keep somewhat clean, and easier to control breeding. The good breeders -- the ones who care about animal welfare -- use larger cages, provide resting boards, give the does roommates when they can get along (bucks are either fighting or fucking in a cage situation), make sure the cages are high enough that the rabbits can stretch out vertically, meerkat-like, which is something rabbits really like to do.

I got my four foundation rabbits from a breeder who has a locally excellent reputation. Her cages were large, and all the animals are in good condition.

They are Californians, one of the two most common meat breeds. I asked for animals that had excellent production conformation, without regard to fancy points such as "correct" coloration. I got a buck and three does that are of good production quality and unrelated. (I also considered cross-breeding to increase hybrid vigor, and will probably do this when I start breeding this buck's daughters -- buy a New Zealand buck to breed to them.) I do like the Californians, though, because their dark points are just variable enough that I can tell individuals apart by markings, without checking ear tattoos. This will become important, as you'll see.

I'd read about colony-raising of rabbits, and am going to try it.

The Brandywine freewarren. The walls are either block or wire-covered wood. The floor is concrete covered with rubber stall mat and thickly bedded with sawdust topped with straw. There is a high window for daylight, which doesn't open, but I'll be replacing it with one that does. It took the rabbits about five days to really start digging; they now have a nice labyrinth around the bales. It took them perhaps three days to recognize fresh greens and fruit as food, and a week or so to become comfortable with the space and climb the bales a little. I haven't seen anyone binky yet, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing it when I'm not there.

Although rabbits come in quite a few breeds, and artificial selection for functional traits and fancy points has obviously worked many changes on them, I don't consider them a truly domestic animal. Demi-domesticated, like white mice, ferrets, budgerigars, and, in a rather different way, my knuckleheaded African guinea fowl. They've lived among humans for too short a time, and too peripherally for most of it. They can't be managed in flocks or herds the way chickens, goats, cattle, etc. can.

Romans used to keep colonies in leprosaria leporaria† -- stone-walled gardens or pits from which the rabbits could not tunnel -- but did not control breeding. The leporaria kept the rabbits convenient for the catching, and provided some protection from predators. They were something like a fenced Texas game-ranch set up for canned hunts, but without the repulsive conceit of "sport."**

Rabbits became "domesticated" some time in the Middle Ages. When Pope Gregory I designated laurices as fish for the purposes of Lent and other fast days, monks and others were motivated to propagate rabbits under closer husbandry.

A laurice is a fetal or newborn rabbit, eaten guts and all. A "delicacy."

Yeah, I know. Moving along ...

In early medieval England, rabbits were introduced from the Continent and managed in open colonies established by landlords who purchased charters of free-warren from the king. The charter gave the holder the right to manage and kill rabbits, hares, pheasants and partridge in specified game preserves -- warrens. Warreners were hired to protect the colonies, create artificial earths for the rabbits, and catch them (usually with ferrets and nets) for the table or sale. It took hundreds of years of protection under extensive husbandry for the Iberian rabbits to adapt well enough to the British climate and naturalize. At the same time, warreners in some places practiced some selection for fur color in their colonies, presumably by culling the common-colored animals and preserving the eye-catching sports.

I have not been able to come up with a word in English that describes animals (or plants) occupying and evolving in this limbo between managed wild game and domestic livestock. Commensal is not right. Yet it must have been a stage in the domestication of many species, though it would look different depending on the ethology of the species and the point in technological and cultural history at which it happened. No haughty monarch was presuming to grant or deny the right of freewarren when the chickens came home to roost and the sheep joined the human fold.

Neither will the modern efficiency experts who see sentient creatures as units of meatwidget production dictate the "right" way for my stock -- livestock -- to live.
____________

* Unless one is, say, a naked mole rat.
I am not certain of this word. The OED does not verify it, but then, it's not English. My student's Latin dictionary doesn't have it, but then, it's not the O.L.D. The term later was applied to leper colonies. An erudite reader provides the correct word, see comments!
** The Romans reserved that fiction for the arena.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Thinking Dot

What is the small black dot, lower left, thinking?


One of the most interesting and unlikely things that human beings can do is drive a car in traffic.

Certainly, there are a lot of terrible drivers out there -- the distracted, inattentive, emotionally unstable, impaired, stupid, inexperienced, homicidal and irredeemably klutzy. They make driving -- and walking, and sitting in your living room near a curve in the road -- a far more engaging activity than it necessarily needs to be.

But really, consider the miracle that most adults can competently pilot a two-ton chunk of metal at speeds that far exceed what evolution should have suited our brains to process (overengineering?), and relatively rarely bump, much less slaughter, another person.

Cars don't have eyebrows, mouths, shoulders, back muscles, hands. Nor do they possess hackles, tails, ears and whiskers. They cannot convey intentions or opinions with subtle body language. They have some simple visual and auditory signals, but their drivers do not always choose to deploy them accurately, or at all.

Yet, provided we are alert and paying attention, most of us can predict the movements of other vehicles most of the time.

We recognize the car that is going to drift out of its lane, the one about to execute an unsignaled left turn, the one whose driver is a chronic dickhead who is working out his Mommy-never-loved-me issues on the asphalt, and we respond to prevent a collision. I can almost unerringly pick out which car is driven by some nimrod who will have a cell phone held up to her ear when I pass her. The incompetence is different from that of the inexperienced teen, drunken maniac, or half-blind Floridian.

One of the most extraordinary acts of civic anything I've ever witnessed was four drivers' spontaneous response to another car's tire blowout on a particularly hairy expressway known for its high-speed bumper-to-bumper mayhem and murderous vehicular attitude.

The car was in the far left lane, directly in front of me, in a place where there was essentially no left shoulder, just Jersey barriers. The left rear tire blew out, and as shards of rubber hit my windshield, I braked and hit my hazards. But stopping was out of the question.

The driver to my right immediately braked in a controlled way, hit his hazards, and stayed in position, gradually slowing down, as the terrified woman driving on her rim eased over one lane.

Then the driver in the next lane did the same.

And the next.

And the next.

As she cleared each lane, the driver remained in lockstep with the other cars, preventing anyone from inadvertently or boorishly passing and creating an additional hazard.

Thus protected, the afflicted driver was able to safely ease over to a wide right berm and pull off; the car in the far right lane then pulled off in front of her, and the last thing I saw in my rear-view was that driver getting out to go back and assist. Or, you know, chop the stranded driver up and ferment some cannibal kimchi in his trunk.

Tell me that we are not hard-wired to spontaneously cooperate non-verbally. Paleolithic hunters did not have a captain shouting orders into a radio when the mammoth did not get with the morning's breakfast plan -- much less a general somewhere playing with pins on a map. But none of these drivers could make eye contact, see one another's body postures, or the bodies of the drivers behind them. It was all inflexible, inexpressive, logically inscrutable steel. And they got it right, exactly right, and may have saved innumerable lives with wit and reflex.

At yesterday's sheepdog finals, we watched handlers demand that their dogs abandon the evidence of their senses, their deepest instincts, and most of their considerable training, for a faith-based exercise: Leave your corporeal sheep, which you have, trust me and the ovine gods that they will not escape despite the fact that you can see them getting away, go to a place you have never been, and fetch my imaginary sheep that you cannot see, and which were not there a minute ago when you could have seen them.

Since profanity at the post is not allowed at sheepdog trials*, we were sometimes treated to impressive displays of truncated verbal oaths when the sheepdogs chose hard-nosed empiricism rather than accept their handlers' unlikely tales of reverse-raptured woolies in that far-right corner. Also, I now believe it is possible to swear in whistle form. I would like to learn this.

Most of the dogs did, after skeptical resistance, take their go back commands, and were rewarded for their faith (or willingness to humor the madman holding the car keys) with the sheepdog's favorite treat, more sheep.

I was sitting in the bleachers with the regular spectators when one little bitch worked through this crisis.

She'd left her ten sheep after the fetch panel, endured the torture of having them trot off towards the exhaust, reversed her course on her handler's whistles, and then become overcome by doubt or confusion or both.

She stopped, looking in the direction the whistles promised sheep. I think she actually sat down, but would not swear to it.

She could not see sheep; the topography was against her. (We human spectators could see the sheep and the set-out crew in the distance, but the dogs could not.)

The women sitting around me -- ordinary spectators, dog owners for sure, but no more sheepdog experts than I am -- all agreed.

She's thinking.

The dog whose thinking we could feel in our bones on the bleacher was over half a kilometer away, and presented as a small black period (Century Schoolbook) against a dun page of dead grass. I'd left my binoculars in the car.

Still thinking.

The period elongated a tiny smidge upward, into a comma.

She's got it!

And she had; in an instant she was sailing on her handler's whistles, away, away, on a lovely outrun for sheep she now believed in.

Stripped by distance of her ears, tail, quivering flanks, knitted brow and worried eyes, the black dog dot was just her essentials -- her overwhelming conflict, confusion, and then intention. All somehow visible to a cluster of non-experts who do not know this dog from Eve.

No more than we know and understand the subtle thoughts and rich internal life of that head-case in the Audi who saw our turn signal and goddammit I knew it, he sped up to keep me from merging, the little prick!

Long before we had need to read a sheepdog's decision at 400 meters, or perceive that the driver of that Ryder truck in front of us was nodding off, our ancestors were heavily selected; the monkey-beast who could distinguish a full leopard from an empty one a quarter mile away stood a better chance of engendering descendants. The noise of detail sometimes just gets in the way.




____________

* Number one reason I should never, and will never, run in a sheepdog trial.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Semifinals


A fascinating day at the semifinals of the sheepdog nationals. But a miserable day for photography. Also, I forgot my telephoto attachment. The finals tomorrow promise some cloud cover, and sheep and dogs alike will appreciate a predicted drop in temperature.

Tommy Wilson and Sly's top-scoring qualifying run was as near to perfect as anything I've ever seen, though there were other moments of sheer art, something from every dog. Here they are getting their pen, after the first shed and before the last single shed.

Tomorrow, the double-lift finals.

Cole, spectator dog, started out being interested in the runs only when a wreck was underway, or -- and this is the interesting bit -- imminent. He would perk up and watch intently about 30 seconds before I realized a dog was in real trouble.

Late in the day he started to study the runs when they were going well, showing the same kind of sustained, intelligent interest that Mel did when she watched her first stockwork. My turkey and goat dawg has now seen sheep.
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Snapshot Saturday: Follow Me?


This is Sophia, barking on a SAR refind.

She is demanding that I follow her to the person she has found.

It is fortunate that humans do not have stop-action eyes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cirque de Chien



September 18-26, 2010

THE WISEST DOGS IN THE WORLD!!!

WILL COMPETE IN

THE MOST INTELLIGENT

DIFFICULT

GENTLE

TEST OF HUMAN/DOG COMMUNICATION EVER DEVISED!!!

The National Finals Sheepdog Trials

BELLE GROVE PLANTATION. MIDDLETOWN VIRGINIA

http://www.nationalsheepdogfinals.com/

From the intersection of I-66 and I-81, take I-81 2 miles north to exit 302. Left toward Middletown. Left on US 11 through Middletown. 1 mile south to Belle Grove.

Adults: $12

Season: Adults: $60, Kids $30

Kids 6-12: $6

Under 6 : FREE

* * *

I'll be there Saturday and Sunday. Look for the broad with the camera, Amish boy's straw hat, and one or two dogs who look just like border collies but aren't. (Still negotiating with PC over who is coming on this trip.)


If you live in the Mid-Atlantic and enjoy feeling awed and humbled by dog and (wo)man working together to perform the impossible, do not miss these finals. They won't be back on the East coast for the foreseeable future.


My favorite thing about sheepdog trials: Your mannerly dog is welcome to spectate. Your boorish untrained or overly-excitable pet is not. You are assumed to know the difference until you prove otherwise. Don't embarrass yourself.


If you cannot come in person, try the webcast. It will run Saturday and Sunday; register early so you don't miss anything while working out technical kinks.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?


This is a partial screen-grab from a SF Gate article on a political topic unrelated to animals.

I bet my readers can find ever so much to say about the page layout.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Photo Phriday: Barry White, One Year Out

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Last Saturday marked one year since Mr. Barry White arrived at Brandywine Farm via Alice, the Barking Bus.

He came to Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group's Effective Sweep Width experiment with his owners, Don and Deb.

I was in the woods when he arrived, and met him in the crowd when I got back. He was astonished. You? Here? How?

There were dozens of people, cars coming and going, rowdy teens, an ATV mule shuttling personnel. Did not seem to bother him a bit.

He approached Cait, whom he had never met, and asked her to pet him.

That is all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T


Ooh, remember show dog handler and winner of last year's Betty Crocker Cocker Cookoff, Mary Wild?

Remember how she got a light tap on the nose with a newspaper for her callous indifference to the suffering and deaths of seven dogs whom she had been hired to trot out at dog pageants?

Well guess what?

It turns out that Ms. Wild has been as respectful of, and has attended as diligently to, the court's judgment as she was of the welfare of her canine charges.

Well, that's not entirely fair. She did complete and turn in her court-ordered essay, "What I did on my summer vacation." I for one would love to read it. And I am well-qualified by experience to assign a grade that will really go on her permanent record.

But as for showing up to de-tick the terriers and scoop the shi tzu at the local pound -- well, caring for dogs is apparently still beneath her.

J.T. Taylor, Jefferson County's animal control manager, wrote a letter last month to Katherine Tower, who prosecuted the case, saying that Wild did not show up to complete her community service, nor did she call to say why she hadn't come.

He declined to comment further when reached by phone Tuesday.

Court documents say Wild was to perform her community service in two 40-hour blocks in August, working from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Mondays.

Her tasks were to include giving the animals food and water, doing animal intake evaluations and minor grooming. She also was to help de-worm, de-flea and de-tick animals, as well as perform “animal socialization and exercise therapy.”

The shelter normally does not allow people convicted of an animal-related crime or a violent crime to work in the shelter, but made an exception for Wild “due to the unique nature of the judge's intent for defendant Mary Wild's community service,” the documents say.

Now there's your problem, right there. Eight in the morning?! Are they kidding?! Sleepyhead Princess needs her beauty rest! Haven't y'all figured that out by now?

I wonder what time the lights come on in the county lockup?



I wonder how Ms. Wild's crime will go over with an assortment of prostitutes, drug users, paperhangers, shoplifters, and other female prisoners whose crimes were against (inanimate) property, or no one at all, but who did not get an opportunity to avoid their incarceration by performing odious "animal socialization and exercise therapy" at the county shelter.



Her parole is now suspended. Next month, a hearing on revoking it entirely. Wonder what story she will spin when next she chats with Judge Dikhaner?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Angels and Daemons


Rosie is Evil.

It's not the only thing that defines her, but it's a strong thread in the warp of Rosiness.

We knew she was evil by the time she was about five weeks old. Pip knew she was evil; Rosie was the single pup elected for 90% of the Momma-delivered ass-kickings loving discipline out of a field of eight worthy candidates. The two people in the universe to whom I was willing to sell her -- exactly because they were able to recognize that she is evil -- chose non-evil brothers. Who can blame them?

So we kept her. All in all, it has been a pretty good match.

We understand that Rosie's agenda is all about Rosie -- what Rosie likes to do, what Rosie wants to get, Rosie's opinion about any given situation, generally what's in it for Rosie today.

Rosie understands that if she steps too far over the line, there will be consequences for over-indulging her evil nature.

Fortunately, Rosie's genetics and upbringing predispose her to want certain useful-to-us things. She wants to work, and to work in partnership with a person. That's programmed in, not much subject to choice. She wants to crack kneecaps and suppress chaos, in conformity with her farmdog/enforcer genes, and we have stroppy livestock that needs that done. She wants to drive off intruders, and on the farm, there are plenty of four-legged (and aerial) trespassers that need to be escorted to the boundaries or else killed and eaten. She wants to find people and tell me about her achievement, and is willing to work damned hard to succeed at the job she was literally born to. She wants to snuggle and be fussed over, and we like snuggly dogs. She wants to meet new people and bend them to her will, and strangers mistake that for sweetness and oblige her by fussing over and petting her and complimenting us on her "friendliness." Rosie's first SAR assignment came when she was about 12 weeks old; she went with two teammates as they interviewed the runaway kids' friends at boot camp, and suckered them into talking by deploying her puppy innocent shtick. (She elicits what I call the My Little Pony response in little girls, who cannot keep their hands off of her; if I do not supervise closely, her tail will be in braids and she will be dyed purple and covered in glitter.)

So, since Rosie is evil, and intelligent, and useful, and since we see her for what she is, we get along great. We love Rosie -- adore her, really. And very likely, deep in her black little conniving heart, she loves us in her fashion.

The trouble comes in two ways.

First, Rosie's interests are not always our interests, but her commitment to pursuing them is nearly full-time and quite energetic and ingenious.

She decided, for her own reasons, that one of our foster dogs needed to be gone last winter, and waited for an opportunity to Make That Happen.

It was bad enough that I took Jasmine to another foster home. Rosie got her way, which was Not A Good Thing; but it was more important that Jasmine could finish her behavioral rehab in a place where another bitch did not have a hit out on her. We will be working more with Rosie on the topic of You Don't Get a Vote on Foster Dogs. Nor does she get to snark at innocuous strange dogs at social and professional gatherings -- an experiment she commenced when she was ten weeks old and to which she keeps returning.

Also, tantrums because Rosie has to wait to work at SAR training while other dogs get their turn -- consequences for those. Pushing visitors around. Making young Cole her bitch, even if he does have a smile on his face. Guarding people from their own dogs. These are things we have to stay on top of.

Second, other people get upset when we matter-of-factly share the reality of Rosie's Evil Nature.

At a professional conference last year, another trainer complained to my friend that she didn't see why I had the dog at all, since I never expressed any love or affection for her -- apparently hanging her upside down while crooning about what a Vile Little Bitch she is didn't qualify as "affection," though Rosie sees it differently. Lately, people who barely know Rosie -- but on whom she has employed the Jedi Mind Trick* -- have argued vehemently that "She's just a misunderstood Sweetie-Pie."

Gag. Can you people not see that a sweet, "innocent" face is the perfect camouflage?

Had you considered that by denying the possibility of puppy evilocity, you trivialize all genuine canine virtue?

And can you not see that True Love comes only from knowledge of True Nature? All else is fantasy.

So we have Rosie, who is Evil, and her mother Pip, who is only a little bit Evil when it amuses her, and her brother Moe, who can seem Evil when he is hurting, but is not. Before them there was Mel, who strove harder to be Good than anyone I ever met, and who skipped right past Good into Heroic Greatness, and Lilly, born saintly and smug and judgmental -- the glare from her frikken' halo could get to be A Bit Much at times.

In addition to each dog's inborn or acquired place on the Good - Evil spectrum, they are and were each unique individuals, souls who will never be duplicated, complex beings with unique genetics interacting with unique experience, agents with free will. Themselves, not simple archetypes.

When we are telling or writing the story of a dog -- reducing him to narrative -- he cannot interrupt and correct us. No, it never happened that way, and I'm not really like that. Like the dead, the dog has no voice. Unlike most dead humans, he often has few independent witnesses to contradict an owner's choice of adjectives.

So there's a special responsibility to try to minimize projection -- to avoid making the dog a stand-in for some part of ourselves, or something we need, or some quality we idealize or loathe. To control the pathological urge to subsume the animal's identity into our own.

It's especially lazy to reduce the dog to a thoughtless cliche that doesn't even apply to him.

The golden retriever who would literally go with anyone and never look back -- please don't tell me how "loyal" your dog is. You didn't give that adjective one second's earnest consideration.

If your Chihuadoodle is hiding behind your legs and yapping, please stop characterizing him as "protective."

Just because your Dane has a huge head and a weak heart that makes him phlegmatic and unreactive does not mean he is "noble."

If you fail to train, manage, and provide appropriate medical care for a fearful and reactive dog, then convenience-kill him when the inevitable keeps happening, is it too much to refrain from (lucratively) proclaiming that he's your soul-mate?

And if your dog is hyperactive, untrained, ill-led, and obviously poorly-matched with you, this does not make him an amusingly "bad" dog, though it speaks volumes about you.

Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

This came home to my gut recently when a friend sent a link to a cringe-inducing memorial blog about a dead dog.

Reading the posts by the dog's owner, I came away with virtually no intentionally-communicated useful information about the dog.

Here's some dog descriptors from a truly painful series of posts:

Brilliant
Hero
Inspiration
Sunshine
Salvation
Love
Rescuer
Fuzzy body pillow
Noble
Loyal
Honest
Best friend
My inspiration
My hope
Gift

Where's the dog?

There's not a single story there that reveals anything about his character, what sort of dog was this, for all the owner's claims that his life was transformative. I cannot discern a single thing the dog accomplished.

"He learned his name while I fed him McNuggets" does not count. Nor does inadvertently flinging a drool gobbet into the vet's open mouth.

Tons of abstract verbiage. But dogs are concrete creatures. What did the dog choose to do? What actions made him an individual?

I am actually hearing a cricket chirping in the corner.**

The Number One hyperbole that this person applies over and over to the dog, without supporting anecdote or evidence, is ...

Angel.

And you can be sure, not any flaming-sword cherubim playing bouncer at the door to the Tree of Life. Not Metatron appearing as a column of fire. Not this kind of angel:



But, in the owner's mind, and only there, this kind:


You see my problem. I'm trying to hold down food here.

So what's an angel, really?

It's an anglicization of the Greek word angelos, meaning "messenger." Which in turn, was used when translating the Hebrew mal'akh, also "messenger." Yahweh's errand-boy -- a being that presents divine pronouncements to mortals. An intermediary creature between heaven and earth, but transmitting one-way.

But the Greeks had another word for what at first appears to be a very similar sort of creature in their own theology.

Daemon.

Now here's a word with some nuance. So much so that its definitions are legion. Think about explaining all that the English word spirit denotes, and you start to grasp the breadth and difficulty.

The thing about a daemon is, whether you personify it as a semi-divine being, identify a person or animal as having daemonic qualities, or abstract it to a immanent quality latent within a person's psyche -- the daemon is not just divinity's shiny white herald. The daemon travels the space between the mundane and the transcendent, and its function is to escort one closer to the divine, without necessarily renouncing the world. You can bring it with you.

The daemon is crepuscular.

It occupies doorways, porches, vestibules, limbos and such spaces that are neither clearly in nor clearly out.

It not only has knowledge of and the ability to sense realities which a human cannot -- it shares those hidden worlds with us and brings us to them.

Socrates dropped a lot of broad hints about daemonic nature, his own, Diotima's, who else might possess one or be possessed, not least by swearing an oath that was unique to him. By the dog! No other Greek employed this oath. But no other Greek was as occupied with elevating and transcending, seeing the unseen and knowing the unknown.

A daemon has some very doglike qualities, both in itself and in its relationship to a human seeker.

And a dog, especially a really good evil dog, can aspire to the daemonic.


------------------------------------------

*Like virtually all English shepherd bitches, Rosie is a Master of the Jedi Mind Trick. Except, you know, more Sith than Jedi.

So, background: Far too many owners of ES and other genius dogs are unaware of the Power that the Force has over Weak Minds.

My friend Douglas explains it thusly: One day, you will find yourself sitting on the floor watching Animal Planet while feeding popcorn over your shoulder to the dog who is relaxing on the sofa. And you will suddenly grasp the consciousness that you have no idea how you came to this -- you thought it was your idea, but no, this is not what you want to be doing. At that moment, you will feel a cold nose on your neck, reminding you that someone wants more popcorn. Oh.

** This is literally true; there's a cricket making a racket over by my closet door, and no dog wants to get up and eat him. Possibly the cricket is cover for a closet monster.

Photo courtesy of Rob McMillin. Evil Rosie is Evil.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Macro Monday: He followed me home, can I keep him?

Warning: Blue Willies Alert. Do not view photos if you are prone to the crawlies. Do not embiggen unless you have a strong interest in entomology or stand to win something on a bar bet.

Thursday night I noticed that Cole had a nasty reddened lump on his right rear leg, medial.

Not surprising for the Pennsylvania Summer of Sauna; everyone has stings, spider bites, dings, nicks and rashes. Pip is in the cone of shame because she won't leave a thing on her front foot alone (I'd assumed a spider bite, but perhaps not, as we shall see.) Rosie has what appears to be two stings on her side, and I got nailed on the ear a couple weeks ago (no ambulance ride this time).

I checked it again Friday morning. That's when I saw the hole. The breathing hole.

Oh shit. Warble. Bot fly larva. Cuterebra. Feckin' alien living in my dog. Gaaaah!

I was vaguely aware that dogs could get these, but they are rare -- much more common in cats, horses, and cattle. I'd never even heard anyone tell of a dog having one.

Ticka ticka ticka -- ask teh interwebz -- and I found enough references to things like anaphylaxis and toxicity and "kill your dog" and was getting skeeved out enough that it was off to the vet.

So naturally, I'm in the exam room waiting for the Doc, and I've got to get a picture of this, right?


Then, a little squeeze, well back at the base of the lump, see if I can make the hole easier to see in the photo, and look at that, it's the little bastard's snorkel.


Squeezed a little more, and he came out and performed an interpretive dance for us. I named him Ivan.


One more gentle squeeze, and he was liberated from his co-dependent relationship with Cole's leg.


Dr. Strobel assured me that most of them come out easily like this, though it's nasty when they don't. He flushed the hole with some amoxicillin and sent some more home for the next couple days. Now I'll know what to do if this happens again. Just before I curl up in a fetal position under a boiling shower.

If Cole would like a pet of his own, I will get him a kitten. Or he can keep that toad that insists on hopping into the kitchen at night.

We left Ivan with the vet, who assured us that he could manage the rehoming.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Photo Phriday: Don't Screw With The Broody


One of the ornery Daughters of Henery disappeared for a few weeks in late Spring.

Well good riddance, Owl Bait, I thought to myself. Her sister had just become taco filling after murdering three of our scant crop of turkey poults, and her personality had not been notably better.

Three weeks after she dematerialized, she reappeared out of the shrubberies with thirteen gorgeous chicks in tow.

She declined to take them back to the coop, and instead raised them as she had incubated them -- as wild chickens. Wild chickens that got fed corn and soybeans twice a day along with the meat birds and flock of guineas, up by the summer goat shed.

The meaties mobbed their feed troughs pretty completely, and were each quite a bit more substantial than the little half-Hamburg biddy.


But DoH's kids always got their own trough.



She may be ornery, noisy, and barely domesticated, but she raised all thirteen of her brood to full-feathered "fledging." No other hen has done so well, and with such little care. I didn't do as well with my first incubator experiment this year. She has earned tenure.

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