Friday, July 29, 2011


I have never quite grokked it when a woman complains that she is feeling "hormonal."

When a man makes a sub-simian crack about a woman along those lines, I just figure he's looking for a convenient excuse for why she ceased tolerating his bullshit and either gave him what was coming to him or is currently weeping/in a bubblebath behind a locked door. But why would a woman say this about herself? Accepting the patriarchal dismissal of her legitimate grievances? Does she need a copy of Right Wing Women more than a cup of chamomile and a Pamprin?

Me, I'm a contextual Raging Bitch From Hell. It's very easy to externalize that which calls forth The Dragon, because it was probably some gratuitous bullshit you just pulled, jackass. As for the weepies, I'm also from Leaky Irish stock, which knows no gender of phase of the moon. A sad television commercial can bring it on.*

But Rosie -- Rosie proves that one can be utterly and sincerely ruled by hormones.

The three weeks before she produced the Roseannadannas featured some of the hottest, most unforgiving weather I can remember. We also brought a teenage foster puppy into the pack for rehab work. Everyone had every reason to be crabby. Rosie is crabby and controlling with the other dogs as a baseline. Rosie would like me to inform you that she is not crabby or in any way a control freak, but merely committed to responding appropriately to Sophia and Moe and all new dogs' incomprehensible failure to line up and get with the fuckin' program.

So what did heat indices pushing 120° F, a new teenage dork-boy up in her grille, and the sudden eruption of a hot watermelon full of squirming aliens pressing against her liver do to Ebil Rosie?

Why, made her sweet** and tolerant, of course. What else would it do?

Oxytocin is a helluva drug.

On Monday, a few hours after her temperature dropped, she began a prolonged Stage I labor -- several days before I really expected it. Her new beatific tolerance for fooldogs did not exactly abate -- it's just that the other dogs fell off her radar for 21 hours, while she paced, dug, whined and panted.

I did not fall off the radar, and my presence was not optional. I slept in fitful snippets on a dog bed next to the whelping kiddie pool, to anchor Rosie to her assigned nest. And to be available when she needed to periodically crawl into my skin. What the hell is happening to me?! Mommy, I feel weird!

The moment the first puppy appeared, she understood what it was all about and was ready to assume her primal role as Ur Mommy. She expertly severed his umbilical cord and went to work cleaning and stimulating him.

So did I. Firstborn was not breathing.

The big, shiny, pink puppy didn't respond to resuscitation -- either his mother's traditional methods or the modern options available to a well-briefed primate doula with opposable thumbs and a tube of glucose. He looked perfectly good, but never drew a breath.

Rosie knew it wasn't right, but she also didn't know what right was supposed to be. I kept hoping for a second puppy to occupy her, but after twenty minutes I had to take her firstborn away from her. It was another twenty before a living squalling sibling appeared.

Until he did, Rosie periodically stared intently at the table where her firstborn lay inert, and cried out.

I don't know whether the immediate needs of a squirming, squalling infant causes a bitch to forget the inert one that the monkey took away, or whether she just becomes too busy to dwell on her loss, but still remembers. I hope for the former; it would be a uncharacteristic kindness of Nature.

As the night wore on, Rose produced four more healthy, squirming pups. Then a long and worrisome interval -- and a terrible presentation, one shoulder and tiny foot protruding. For a brief and horrifying moment I thought I was seeing a headless puppy. The sable runt's head was folded back onto his chest; I pushed him back to free it. Released, the tiny, skinny puppy seemed much more dead than his firstborn brother. Rosie and I worked on him, and another moribund brother quickly appeared; I woke up PC, who worked on that one while I gave Little Man a drop of glucose and chest compressions and his mother licked his face, and licked, and licked, and then Little Man gasped, and gaped, and breathed. But he did not move -- his little legs did not pump, and his Gumbied neck could not support his head.

The brother who had been held up in passage was blue-grey and full of fluid and not coming back. Just bad luck.

A sister emerged, squalling, and then Rosie just knew that she was finished, message received from the same mysterious set of chemical switches that had told her that she was starting; but this time, she knew what was finished. I put Little Man under her neck so he could pass his life in warmth and love, and we both lost consciousness for an hour or so. When I woke up, expecting another dead puppy, he was crawling and squalling and moving his head. He was half the size of his biggest siblings, but he could suckle. It could happen.

Rosie is not the relaxed and world-tolerant dam her mother was. She fretted. Not only wouldn't let her best buddies come into the room, but was vexed about them being on the other side of a gate or outside on the deck. It was near-impossible to get her outside to powder her nose. She'd even nose my hand aside when I touched the puppies; no implied threat, just firm persistence. If a puppy squeaked, she looked for someone to blame.

Little Man squeaked the most, and he squeaked differently from his siblings. He suckled, but did not gain. His ribs showed. He got cold in the middle of the pile-up. He worried her. He worried me. I called the vet and arranged to bring him by to measure a feeding tube. Tucked him under his sleeping mother and went out to milk the goats, so I'd have fresh warm supplemental formula for him. The least I could do, and the most I should. To bully Life where she does not wish to abide only delays and magnifies and perhaps delegates suffering and heartbreak.

I'm grateful he completed his brief pass through this world asleep and snuggled up to his mother's fur, and not in a vet's cold exam room or a box in the car.

For the little sable fighter, and his two unlucky brothers -- both Rosie and I have remained rather hormonal, if not so anxious as before. Rosie passed the next two days with her six fat healthy pups who hardly ever squeak, shedding some of her worry. Has she been more fretful and paranoid than her own mother because the gain is set too high on her ruling hormones -- or because of the grief of losing babies, something Pip never experienced? She seems to find her six healthy puppies more precious and vulnerable.

I occasionally hear of helpful people who declare that a mother who miscarries or loses an infant at birth can't or doesn't, or shouldn't, grieve the loss "as if" she'd bonded with the baby. You know, you can always make another one.

Rosie made six on the same damned day, and still ...

I know I am "hormonal" over those lost babies. Dwelling on the lost potential and what ifs. Thinking of our Mel, resuscitated at birth by her breeder, and how much poorer the world would be today if she'd never drawn that breath and gone on and made her mark on so many lives and hearts, lives she saved, not metaphorically, literally saved them from imminent death. Then I look at Rosie and her treasured brood, how protective she is of them surrounded by love and safety, and think of the unimaginably sad life of a puppymill brood bitch, and what it would be like to need to protect one's babies while trapped in a wire cage, surrounded by barking and chaos, no one rubbing your ears and telling you how beautiful your babies are and what a good Mommy you are, no one hand-feeding you balls of ground beef or bringing you fresh goat's milk and homemade chicken stock, just a hopper of Old Roy hanging from the wire, and a hamster bottle, and good luck with that. You can go down that pathway into a very dark and tangled forest, with grief driving at your heels.

Friday morning PC told me that she left the pups for several minutes and accompanied him on morning chores. "I think she's bored."

But no, that wasn't it at all. The Hormones had spoken again, and they were very specific this time.

After breakfast she started trotting around the house and yard. She greeted her mother as if someone else had enforced a separation. I could see her casing the joint. Because Day Four is Moving Day.

When her mother declared Moving Day eight years ago, one of Rosie's half-brothers† suffered a lot of indignity and wear while we argued. Pip was adamant that puppies belonged in the bedroom closet; I, as the opposable-thumbed higher mammal, was equally adamant that they belonged in the whelping box in the family room. After several hours of serial head-butting, we finally came to a compromise. I cleared all the shoes out of the closet, moved the puppies exactly where she wanted them, and she did exactly the hell as she wished.

On the next Moving Day, four years later, I snapped to it the moment Pip trotted down the hallway with the first protesting pup.‡

Rosie selected a corner of the living room, bounded by the end of the futon sofa and the raised brick hearth. My end-table and monkey lamp were evicted, I vacuumed and fashioned puppy containment, and then did her bidding. It's really a rather spiffy den, good choice, in with the family but out of the way, convenient to the regularly forthcoming meatballs and bowls of yogurt. She's allowing Gramma Pip and Uncle Moe to check out the little ones, and they are all an easy reach from the sofa and my chair. It's like having a mini-fridge built into the Laz-E-Boy, only with warm puppies instead of cold beers.

Snuggled down after a long day, a round, shiny, milky-smelling being who has only ever known love and warmth and safety tucked between neck and shoulder, trusting belly to the sky, tiny pink paws on my cheek, all the accumulated strains sublimate off into the ether. The world is, briefly, perfect.

Must be the hormones.


* I was going to post the link to the Iams dog food commercial featuring the child/girl/young woman and the Irish setter named Casey. You know the one. It is inexplicably not on YouTube or anywhere else on the web. (wipes tear)

** She's always "sweet" to people, in the "It's really your idea to keep petting me indefinitely and also you should tell me how pretty and smart I am just now" kind of way.

† It's been my experience that on Moving Day, the same pup gets picked up over and over if Ur Momma is thwarted. They never choose a different pup.

‡ For those who have never raised pups from birth: this does not present the kind of sanitation challenges one might imagine. Birth is, as with any mammal, a gooey, messy affair. Puppies three weeks and up are a very messy affair. But neonates are clean and shiny little things, induced eliminators whose mothers handle the hygiene. By the time they start toddling it's generally possible to move them to the containment facility of one's choice without incurring the implacable resistance of Ur Momma.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Lack of Any Useful Purpose"

The use of rubber hands and creepy dead-eyed dolls and other witchdoctory in the process of "temperament testing" dogs in pounds and shelters is, shall we say, controversial.

I mention that right out, because those who have infected the nation's animal shelters with a strange and unsupported dogma about "safety" and "prediction" like to pretend that their religious faith is a done deal -- that it represents an established standard of practice, and that failure to meet same is a invitation to charges of negligence.

My first personal goal in flying to Montana to help with Operation New Beginnings in January 2009 was to do what I could to ensure that the dogs weren't signed over to an organization that would summarily kill them without any evaluation or attempt at rehab, as the HSUS had done to the Kapsa Shelties, their predecessors in the Ballantine puppymill, some years before.

My second personal goal was to prevent anyone terrorizing these animals with hoodoo "temperament tests" while the cart with the syringes waited out in the corridor.

Fortunately I was not the only person who thought this way, and the universe was spared the spectacle of Barry White, Curly, Suri, Sparky, et. al. being chased into a corner by Bride of Chuckie and then declared irredeemable dangerous.

No matter. Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that there is some validity to the Poke-It-Till-It-Bites school of "temperament testing." Let's play make-believe that these tests are predictive, and that animals who "fail" by biting a rubber toy or showing "aggression" to a dolly are dangerous and unsalvageable, and those who "pass" by declining to do so are uniformly idiot-proof.

If we do that, can we agree on what an unequivocal "pass" looks like? I would have thought that we could. That, say, if a dog is in the top 1% of wonderfulness when confronted by insanity, that reasonable observers -- including "experts" -- would agree that such a dog is worthy of life.

Consider this four minute evaluation of a dog being held in a shelter in Michigan after being seized in a raid on a "dog fighting operation."

Here's the same girlie on her "dog aggression" (aka, "let's see if we can set up a dog fight") test:

What do y'all think of how this plain brown dog did on her test?

How would your family pet fare under the same circumstances?

I think that, based on Dusty's performance on this "test," I'd take her as a foster in a New York minute. If, after a few weeks of evaluation (and of course, obedience training, because isn't she just begging for direction?) she proved herself to consistently be the dog I think I see in the videos, I'd especially recommend her for a home with kids.

Here's what VMD, PhD, tenured "behaviorist" Katherine Albro Houpt of Cornell University saw. (She is the person in the khaki trousers who is taking notes and doing most of the poking and chasing.)

Dog 206 in cage 33 brown female with white markings Dusty

Wiggled at approach, stare and squat. Bit hand when petted and when eating.

avoided witch

Snarled at doll

jumped but no aggression to male or female dogs

The results of the testing indicates that the following animals: the two males Monroe 207 Reilly 212 that both demonstrated aggression to other dogs and one female Dusty 206 who snarled at the doll should be humanely euthanized because of their lack of any useful purpose and the public safety threat they pose." MCL 750.49(18) aggressive whereas Dog 210 Razzle --- may be safe

Katherine Albro Houpt VMD PhD

Professor emeritus
Cornell University

Thus leading to the order for Dusty, Monroe, and Riley's deaths.
A judge this afternoon ordered three of the four pit bulls seized during a dog-fighting raid in March to be euthanized.

First District Judge Jack Vitale made his decision following hours of testimony from several witnesses over a three-day period.

No action will be taken for the next three weeks, the time permitted for attorneys to decide if they want to file an appeal. Tracy Thomas, who has represented the organization fighting to save the dogs, said after the decision that he is undecided if he will appeal the judge's ruling to a higher court.

The one dog that was deemed safe has been named "Razzle." Judge Vitale said based on the evidence, the dog is not dangerous and can be released to the Buster Foundation after the 21-day rule. However, the other three -- called "Monroe," "Riley" and "Dusty" -- were determined to show aggressiveness and pose a danger to the public, so they must be put down.
That order dates from July 14. Dusty, Monroe, and Rily's advocates have until the 4th of August to appeal this ruling. I'm trying to find out more about the legal process, and will update here or in the comments.

There's a petition on asking Herr Doktor Professor Houpt to retract her recommendation that these dogs be killed. Not sure what good it would do if she did. I have no faith that a multi-degreed authority who sees a "public safety threat" in the supernatural forbearance of a sweet, wiggly, peaceful, lovey dog can ever be expected to act rationally or with regard to the facts or the truth. But I signed, on the principle that doing so adds my name to the record, to the thousands of gobsmacked animal lovers who have eyes with which to see.

As a cynic, I'm inclined to think that the epitaph "Lack of any useful purpose" could be appropriately scribed on any number of gravestones. There are days when people seem to line up for the honor. I can think of some candidates right here.

But it is not the authoritative coda to the life of a wiggle-butt pit bull who has been sentenced to die for the offense of being a crime victim.

Comments on this post are invited. Anonymous comments that call for retribution against Ms. Houpt will not be posted. Alas, few receive what they deserve in life, one way or the other, and it is not up to the anonymouse internetz to provide it.


More Blog Posts

For the Pit Bulls

KC Dog Blog



Web and News

Buster Foundation

Monroe News

Welcome, Roseannadannas

Twenty-one hours of stage I labor, four hours of delivery.

Three girls, four boys. Sable boy is a genuine runt who won't take no for an answer, but I'm still considering him touch and go. Two brothers who did not take a breath -- Rosie and I tried.

Mother went from a confused princess to a highly competent coyote dam in a matter of minutes.

I have been dismissed for the moment. Coyotes don't have the same staffing requirements as do princesses.

If your impulse this morning is to the pick up the phone to convey congratulations, don't.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Macro Monday: Dog Eat Dog World

As I was showering this morning, I noticed two of the delicate, elegant spiders who typically occupy the corners and edges of the bathroom ceiling cautiously approaching one another.

Through the steam, they appeared to be the same species. Was I about to be a voyeur at the mating dance?

Alas, no. That was not a kiss that the victrix kept planting on the less fortunate arthropod as she systematically folded and wrapped eight now-ungainly legs.

By the time I got a camera and a chair, it was all over but for the dessication.

When we arrived home tonight, there was no sign there had ever been more than one spider.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photo Phriday: Commensal

She hops up onto the back deck -- three steps up -- nearly every night, and stations herself by the glass door. There she picks off the bugs that hit the window and drop. I leave a light on in the kitchen for her, and try to remember to close the door so that she has maximum dinner-collection area, and also so I don't step in toad shit in the kitchen.

I bring her stinkbugs and Junebugs -- but never fireflies -- and she now hops towards me when she sees me coming out.

She's the only being I've ever seen who will eat a second stink bug.

The dogs have been lounging on the deck late nights in the heat. They politely give her a couple feet of space near the door, and she pays them no mind.

Everyone should have a porch toad.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Not Your Stick

Ernie about to be introduced to a
hitherto obscure Law of Nature

Cole has taken on our latest foster, young Ernie, as an interesting project.

There wasn't much for him to do in the first week Ernie was with us. The New Guy was living a very restricted life -- tied to me, on a long line on walks, kenneled, in a crate, or gated into a room with me where my eyeballs were always on him. This is how it normally starts with fosters here.

Ernie got opportunities to play outdoors a bit, after dark, when the poultry had gone to bed. He and Cole played keepaway in the front, running round the landscaping bed that is overgrown with mint. In our house, only fosters wear jingly tags -- helps me keep track of them.

Without a sound cue, Ernie appeared to believe that every time Cole disappeared around the other end of the mint island and froze, he had disappeared off the face of the earth. He'd stand and whine until Cole would sneak around into sight and recommence the game.

On Friday, I took the leash off during daylight for the first time. All the dogs were hanging around near the two big maple trees above the house. No poultry close by, so I was confident I would have time to intervene if Ernie forgot the chicken manners he'd been learning while on the long line.

After a short romp, Cole settled down to enjoy chewing a stick.

Or so it would appear to the casual observer.

What he was actually doing was writing and executing a lesson plan, conceptualized in the form a game.

The name of the game is Not Your Stick. The rules of Not Your Stick are simple: That stick? Not yours. That other stick over there? Also, not yours. The stick so small you think I can't see it? Nope, not yours. (Click the little speech-balloon icon lower left for captions.)

To a decontextualized observer, what this looks like is just Cole being a little shit. And he is certainly capable of being just that.

Since Ernie landed in foster largely due to his previous failure to appreciate the twin principles of Not Yours and Keep Your Mouth off of Not Yours, I was more interested in seeing where this would go. I'd had several opportunities to correct Ernie for putting his mouth on things that did not belong to him in the house, and he'd taken the correction well, seeming to contemplate this new information without being overly worried or sensitive. And Cole not only stopped short of overt bullying; he gave the impression of conscientiousness in his titration of timing, pressure, and display.

After Cole explained the Not Yours principles to Ernie using four or five sticks in order to achieve generalization, he allowed Ernie to pick up a stick and retired a short distance away, and benignly observed him enjoying a good chew.

This lasted only a few minutes. All the during the lesson, my flock of curious, friendly, and exceedingly naive turkey poults had been working their way towards the field of play. This would be Ernie's first off-leash encounter with poultry.

He took the bait.

Just as I opened my mouth to correct him, Cole ran forward, blocked him, and sent him in the other direction. Cole is my turkey hound -- he not only herds the turkeys, drives the turkeys away from forbidden areas, plays a silly game with the adult toms, and brings the turkeys home when they stray, he protects the turkeys from predators, cars, and their own suicidal stupidity. Turkeys are his special responsibility.

Cole decided that young turkeys needed to stay in the shrubberies and were not to come out and mingle with dogs in the mowed area. He trotted the boundary until the turkeys relented and moved back into the weeds.

Ernie did not challenge the rule that these were emphatically Not Your Turkeys. He came back towards me and fawned on Pip and Rosie while Cole moved the flock.

He not only absorbed the lesson, he passed the pop quiz at the end of class.

Coming Soon

Bear with us. It's hot out, there are many projects to complete, and quite a few things, including posts, are gestating on their own schedule, not ours.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I ... don't understand the difference

What Michael Vick and his apologists, including Nike and Subway, don't get.

Putting on a nice sweater is not the same thing as being nice.

Being sorry that you were caught is not the same thing as being sorry.

"Letting down the fans" is not the problem.

"Letting myself down" is not the problem.

Fearing just punishment is not the same thing as knowing what you are doing is wrong.

Enduring punishment is not the same thing as redemption.

It's not all about you. Has nothing to do with "nobody's perfect." It's not a "mistake."

And you will never get it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thank You

On July 5, 1991, Perfesser Chaos and I -- just engaged, still in graduate school -- counted out five fifty-dollar bills and came home with the better end of the deal.

Within a week we were semi-desperately looking for a bigger job for the little German shepherd we'd brought home to be our backpacking companion and my teaching assistant.

Within two months we were setting up puppy SAR runaway tasks, more or less with puppy in one hand and instruction book in the other.*

Within four months we had found our first SAR unit, and been informed that we'd somehow avoided ruining our puppy, who looked to be a pretty good SAR prospect.

Within a year (!) Lilly had fielded on her first search, and made her first live find. Precocious, much?

Over a decade of working partnership, thirteen and a half years of wisdom and tolerance and gentle companionship. Over half my SAR career under her tutelage.

Thank you, Lilly. Thank you for the last twenty years of my life.

*NB: I recommend this route to no one.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

No Second Chance

Portrait of the fan and his pit bull dog

Reposting this entry from August 14, 2009, for the benefit of new readers, Subway, BET, and Nike.

See also here

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed Michael Vick.

A few weeks ago my friend Mike and I got into it about Vick.

Mike is a lifelong football fan (the Giants). A really hard-core, basic-part-of-my-identity fan. Pro football occupies roughly the same place in Mike's life as dogs do in mine.

He also owned a pitbull named Rocko. Mike and his ex-wife adopted Rocko from a NYC rescue nine years ago. He was already a mature dog. He had some scars. He had no ears -- scissored off.

The folks at the rescue thought Rocko might have been a failed fighter, then a bait dog. I doubt it. But he'd had a rough life.

Within a week of bringing Rocko home, Mike and Kathy came to visit us. As it happened, we'd brought home our new puppy the day before.

Well, that was pre-digital camera for me, but somewhere I've got the print of seven-week-old Pip blithely taking a bone away from a beaming man-eater. That day Rocko also lit a torch that he carried for our Mel for the rest of his life. Because pitbulls are loyal.

Rocko passed away early this summer. He led a blameless life, and from an inauspicious start, whatever it was, he got a second chance. It would be trite to say that he deserved a second chance. He deserved what every dog deserves, what every being deserves -- a decent first chance. He didn't get that, but he showed us what he would have done with it if he had.

So anyway, I got into it with Mike about Vick.

Because Mike kept getting distracted by his fan-ness, from Vick's depravity into Vick's shortcomings as a player, as seen by Mike. Who doesn't think Vick is much of a player, and will go on about the technical details of this -- so much blah blah blah ... Houlie to me. So he'd start to conflate the two kinds of "shoulds" when talking about whether any team should sign Vick.

And I finally asked him to please picture in his mind, Michael Vick taking hold of Rocko -- Rocko who wasn't any good as a fighter, Rocko whose heart was too big for a life of violence -- and declaring Rocko a useless piece of shit. And clamping alligator clips onto Rocko's lips (lips, because he had no balls, and no ears). And throwing him into a swimming pool. And electrocuting him while he screamed and struggled. And laughing. Laughing at his pain and terror and clawing for a second chance. Laughing while Rocko dies.

Because this is not about a mistake. Hitting a guy with a broken bottle in a bar fight may be a mistake. Believing a slick accountant about your taxes may be a mistake. Leaving the baby on top of the car and driving off may be a mistake. Hell, even shooting a lawyer in the face with birdshot may be a mistake.

Vick pled not guilty to the animal cruelty charges, and they were dropped in a state plea deal. He served Federal time for racketeering. Not one minute for what he did to the animals. He has never admitted that he was "cruel." There is no mistake.

Torturing helpless animals to death and laughing while you do so is the outward expression of a depraved consciousness and a dead psyche. Some souls go to Hell long before the body follows them. It's a choice.

This is not about dogfighting, even, though the dogfighting criminal enterprise provided the backdrop for the depravity. There is nothing in the "sporting" requirements of dogfighting that says you torture the losers to death while cackling.

Do you doubt the depths of Vick's core depravity? I say to you, he is not a monster. There is not a word in English that describes what he is.

From Donna, on the Bad Rap blog (read the whole thing):

The details that got to me then and stay with me today involve the swimming pool that was used to kill some of the dogs. Jumper cables were clipped onto the ears of underperforming dogs, then, just like with a car, the cables were connected to the terminals of car batteries before lifting and tossing the shamed dogs into the water. Most of Vick's dogs were small - 40lbs or so - so tossing them in would've been fast and easy work for thick athlete arms. We don't know how many suffered this premeditated murder, but the damage to the pool walls tells a story. It seems that while they were scrambling to escape, they scratched and clawed at the pool liner and bit at the dented aluminum sides like a hungry dog on a tin can.

I wear some pretty thick skin during our work with dogs, but I can't shake my minds-eye image of a little black dog splashing frantically in bloody water ... screaming in pain and terror ... brown eyes saucer wide and tiny black white-toed feet clawing at anything, desperate to get ahold. This death did not come quickly. The rescuer in me keeps trying to think of a way to go back in time and somehow stop this torture and pull the little dog to safety. I think I'll be looking for ways to pull that dog out for the rest of my life.

And now, so shall I.

What about you?

Here's how you contact The Eagles.

And here's a list of their corporate sponsors.