Monday, December 30, 2013

Your Argument is Invalid

Has accomplished more in five years than many people ever will.
Photo courtesy Jennifer Kelley

Five years ago today, the great mass of 189 canine crime victims (plus those in utero) were forcibly removed from Dog Hell as envisioned by Hieronymus Bosch.

Previous victims of the same offender had been "rescued" by those guys who fuck up your day when you see their guilt-dunning commercials.

If by "rescued" one means "confiscated and summarily killed."

An awful lot of people figured that should have happened to the ONB dogs, too.  Said so. Sometimes in print.*

Nobody was saying that about my friend Mr. Barry White last week, as he held sofa-court at his owner's annual full-house-of-guests holiday party.

(Sorry about the crummy phone-photo. His throne room was candle-lit.)

Even the most jealous agility rival doesn't wish dead  the adopted dogs who beat them at the trials.

Sky can grab some of her namesake.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Roper

Blue. Not scared of you.
Photo courtesy of Jody Richwagen
The Ralph Lauren photo shoot personnel didn't wish it about their lovely ES model, Katydid. (Katy got her modeling gig based on wholesome good looks, charm, and solid training -- she didn't need any politically-correct special consideration as a "rescue dog.")

Get my good side. Ha ha. They're all good sides.
Photo Courtesy of Jane Connors
The farmers and ranchers whose ONB dogs slipped right into their birthrights to help with the cows and sheep, goats and chickens, generally do not think everyone would be better off if they were dead.

Skeeter put in an application for a farm or ranch position back in 2009.
Photo courtesy of Liz Dickinson.
Those who figured they were adopting pets are not sorry that their dogs have opened up new realms to them.

Libby, at lessons.
Photo courtesy of Rob McMillin

Contrary to popular perception, not all of them were English shepherds. No matter. We love them no less. Even when they eat rocks.

Jet and his boy.
Photo courtesy of Melinda King.

Absolutely nobody at the search this spring where Cole made his first find -- located our missing man's mortal remains where previous searchers had failed to do so -- suggested that the cheerful little black dog ought to have died for the convenience of his "rescuers," or for his own good, or to save the taxpayers money. Not the police, not the bereaved family, not the firefighters or the media or the other search teams, and especially not his teammates.

In the command post with his friends just before the very last task,
tired after days of searching, but game to do his duty.
Cole does not leave a man behind.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kelley

* The op-ed to which I am replying in this letter-turned-op-ed does not show up when I search The Outpost's site. Not sure whether their archives don't go back that far or what. If anyone has a link to it, please send along.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Puppy

This Saturday, the last jolly crewmate launched on her own good ship. Miss Trudy has changed her identity to Pearl, and will be assisting Linda in life and dog training, herding a flock of derpdogs, and, I suspect, achieving a great deal else and forging some new paths in the lives of her people, starting out from her command post under the Christmas tree. Her long-anticipated permanent home is a gift to her new family and to her.
Ordering her minions.
Nobody should have to wait around for the show to start.* I'll let puppies go as early as eight weeks, but think there are some real advantages to hanging around a week or two longer for more littermate lessons and Mom time. Anyone who has to fly in a crate needs to grow out until he's eleven or twelve weeks old, well clear of any primary fear imprint window. Free-range farm-puppydom plus regular field trips build lifelong resilience.

After that point, there is no point. Puppy is just being obstructed from her mission. She needs to be connecting to her people, learning her work, adjusting to her reality and helping to create it.

We chose Charlotte for our reality when she was ten weeks old and volunteered for SAR duties. We ask a lot of our SAR partners beyond the full-time job of finding people and telling us about it.

Charlie will need to conduct herself in public in a way that brings credit to her team -- well-mannered and friendly, ready to take on PR and agency relations. She will help me with client dogs and foster dogs and present herself well to their owners. She'll have duties towards the livestock and poultry, both managing and protecting them. She'll live in a pack of strong personalities. She'll go on hikes and bike rides and skiing, host summer parties, and snuggle away the winter nights.

If she acquits herself well at all of the above, and she enjoys good health, she'll be the mother of the next generation.

Like I said, a lot.

And much of it wasn't happening.

Charlie was progressing well with her SAR training. She's the second pup who we've started as a trailing dog, and this is going well, as it did for her mother. Despite being a generally goofy, dorky puppy-puppy, she brings a shockingly mature professionalism and focus to each task.

It was also clear that she really, really enjoyed being the baby on training days, the only puppy among the big dogs and the Special Snowflake.

Like her sister, she was pig-ignorant about obedience as such. She came when called, though not as consistently or with the commitment that I'd like. Knew how to sit for her dinner and when asked, had just learned to down, could walk on a leash, and was mostly ignorant of any concept of "stay." Unlike her sister, she showed zero interest in the hoofstock, had excessive caution of the electric fences, and hung back during chores. She thought Trudy had it covered.

We were still using the gates meant to control baby puppies and foster heathens to manage the two of them for housebreaking and mischief. This impeded our own movements through the house, prevented them from mastering the art of the dog door, and tended to isolate Crazy Uncle Moe from the rest of the family. Since Moe cannot handle being cornered by baby dogs who are still exercising their puppy licenses, and reliably intercepting two heedless monsters is beyond my powers,  he was not integrated with the pests except on walks. So pests they remained.

In the four days since she became an only puppy, all of Charlie's latent oursness has emerged at once.

The gates are open. She is truly free-range. Uncle Moe is fine with it.

On Sunday I sold eight wethers, requiring the most stock handling we've done in her lifetime. Charlie marched into the shed and tried to help us load them.

She has stopped torturing our overly-indulgent cat.

She has taken her place in the Big Bed.

I call, and I get a puppy. Right away. With imperfectly-engineered brakes, so it's best to be prepared before calling.

She is remarkably adept at distinguishing dog toys from the general clutter.

When it's quiet, she is not up to no good. She's usually following the family tradition of slipping in silently behind me.

Fact is, we got a puppy for Christmas.

*Beats a really crappy show that starts on time, though. Like maybe a double feature of Twilight and Eraserhead. Yeah, I'll just wait.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Situation Wanted: Farmer's Little Helper

Gertrude Imogene Stubbs was meant to go to a farm home as a potential future dog mom.

I later decided that Trudy is not a great prospect for carrying on the family. Not because she isn't healthy, vigorous and robust. And there's nothing wrong with her personality, either. She's friendly, affectionate, likes people, and is a naturally polite and rather dainty creature.

But Trudy has the tiniest overbite (she seems to be outgrowing this) had a tiny overbite, but is now scissor-tooth Gertrude, and is a little bit light-boned and fiddle-fronted. It's not the structure I was going for in this breeding. She may outgrow it, but she may not. (Yeah, so she has just about outgrown this, too. A bit of transient puppy-fugly.)

So after sticking around for a few weeks of further interviews she's looking for another position.

Ideally,* at a farm.

Helping with things.

She already really likes helping with things. Chickens. Turkeys. She's thinking about goats and sheep and her role in their management. Last week she genuinely helped Perfesser Chaos catch a loose wether

Do you by any chance need help with things? Do you have some dog experience and a light hand with animals?

She's fourteen weeks old as of yesterday, and ready to be your right-hand dog.

Her pedigree and information about her parents is here.

Email me for more information and an application.


*I could be convinced of another placement, but you'd have to make a good case.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Yo Ho Ho

Sunday was the four-week birthday of the Jolly Crew.

Red Sonja. She is seal, not black. You are gonna have to trust me on this.

Gertrude Imogene Stubbs. Daddy's girl. Really. She looks like her  papa Jet with lipstick.

Dread Pirate Roberts. We call him Bob.

Charlotte de Berry. Yes, that eye is blue.

Sadie Ferrell, aka Sadie the Goat. Yes, she is eating in public, but she is still a supermodel.

Belit. She and Red Sonja are hard to tell apart, but she is black and has a little spit-splash of white on her head.

In the dirge-like service of the empirical application of the most current ethological-behavioral research  (Clinique calls that burning) we hosted the first of our closely-engineered and highly technical puppy socialization optimization sessions.

Also, there were burgers, watermelon, corn from the garden, and beer. And we hoisted the Jolly Roger.  Because SCIENCE.

The Crew were handled by 17 people, of whom 12 were entirely new to them, and three were below the age of reason.  They hung out on the back deck, front porch, and two places in the front yard.

They ate their first solid food -- two meals of satin balls, one ounce of meat each at each meal, provided by a helpful volunteer who titrated access to cut down on the nom nom nom choke factor.

Uncle Cole stepped up to his role and began playing with them for the first time.

Their mother also began playing with them, swallowing their heads, and delivering love-nibbles.

And they got assigned use names for the next month or so.

Famous pirates, of course.

Without too much persnickety attention to the factual basis of any names or narratives. Because why spoil the fun?

Photos have been delayed by rolling technology failures, and the best ones are currently not retrievable. You got a problem with that, come to my house and fix all the computers and cameras and media cards.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Snapshot Saturday: Fall

The wild cherries ripen, black and fat,
Paradisal fruits that taste of no man’s sweat.

Reach up, pull down the laden branch, and eat;
When you have learned their bitterness, they taste sweet.
 -- Wendell Berry

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Beast Wants What the Beast Wants

Moved the Jolly Crew into larger and more secure day digs today, and then plopped down in there with them.

A little girl crawled into my lap and seemed entirely content as Rosie settled in to feed the rest of the swabbies.

I put her into the scrum so she wouldn't miss a meal. She left the pigpile, crawled around her mother, and hoisted herself back into my lap.

This puppy has spent plenty of time being cuddled in her twenty days on the planet, but has never crawled into a lap under her own power before.

Just give her the lap and you will be okay.

Lesson delivered: even if one is not yet three weeks old, food is not love. Food is not better than love. And food is not what we should offer to someone who wants and seeks something more substantial out of life.

Trainers and dog owners, cogitate as is.*

Parents, educators, employers, political leaders, you may, as appropriate, substitute "money" for "food" and adjust accordingly.


*Yes, I am ashamed of myself. Thanks for asking.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Surface Tensions

Once you get right in there, you're gonna find the dirt.

Surfaces can be sterile or colonized in abundant life. Porous or inpenetrable. Transparent or opaque. Flat or polished to a reflective gloss. Rough or slick. Thing about all of them is that there is stuff underneath, behind, within. If what you are interested in is the whole thing -- is that ring gold or electroplate, does that lawn cover bedrock or landfill, what horrors lie beyond the dread drop ceiling? -- you'd best take out a proverbial pocketknife and do some digging.

A colleague in dogs sends me a venting rant about a local (to her) puppy producer.

By the checklist, on the surface, they would seem to be the kind of breeders that I'd send a buyer to. Parents seem to have the breed-appropriate working titles and health checks. A lot of thought and expertise and expense obviously went into designing the puppy-raising facility. The kennel employs a young woman to care for the pups.

All that thought and expertise is engineered towards the end of producing marketable puppies in the most uniform and efficient, lowest-risk, touch-free, labor-saving manner.

Do they cut corners on feed and vaccines and bleach? Apparently not.

Are they religious about rubber boots and foot baths and non-porous surfaces, and perhaps airlocks and hermetically-sealed bubbles?  Apparently so.

Do they have the AKC's Good Dogbreeding Seal of Approval, achieved by, among other things, promising to make their buyers register all the puppeez? They do.

Do they think that if some vaccination is good, then asstons of vaccination is best of all? Ayuh. Best and most current scientifical vaccination protocols that 1975 has to offer.

Are the puppies they sell aware that human beings have legs? This is unclear.

Unlike the agribusiness-compliant plastic whelping boxes under the red heatlamps, there are a lot of nooks and crannies just below the surface where nasty things can lurk with a puppy-producer.

After a minute or so of bopping around the efficient, non-porous website, something seemed eerily familiar here, something about the attitude towards the dogs, their puppies, and the people to whom they sell them.

Oh. Right.

Yep, our old friends the puppy-rafflers. The Jesus will sort them out approach to buyer screening. What's one $1600 puppy to an outfit that has to be grossing around $170K in puppy sales alone? Great advertising and PR for the price, that's what it is. If you are producing @100 puppies a year, you gotta keep 'em moving.

We produce somewhat fewer puppies of a very different sort, but also prioritize keeping them moving.

At 2 1/2 weeks, the Jolly Crew has crawled on towels, fleece blankets, carpet remnant, an old sleeping bag, the canvas cover of the futon dog bed, the flannel duvet cover on the big bed, and most recently grass, and dirt. They've climbed each other, their mother, human legs, laps, chests, rolled up flannel obstacles in their nest, the pillows meant to barricade them onto the big bed, grass tussocks, and the daunting slope in the front yard. Pretty soon they are going to start climbing their containment system, and then the games begin.

The one surface type they have not experienced has been a slick, non-porous one. Easily-sanitized loses out to good traction. Puppy joints are forming, and they should not be formed as the puppy splays out scrabbling for a grip on a plastic substrate as newspaper scraps fly by. When a pup has gained the strength and will to stand, she should fight only gravity, not a omnipresent banana peel of a floor. They can learn to negotiate these when they've got their sea legs. The other surface type that they have not and never will experience is the efficient wire kind where pee just magically disappears and puppy craps get extruded through like Play-Doh in a Fun Factory. Theoretically.

Because they are puppies, not broiler chicks.  (Also, my broiler chicks aren't raised on wire either. They are out scratching around in a stall that I didn't even sanitize before moving them in.)

Now, I understand the reason that CAFOs and puppy mass-production facilities go with the jet-cleaning and foot-baths, the chronic antibiotic use and the inoculation schedule that makes Jenny McCarthy sound like Jonas Salk. Their goal is to get as many animals as possible through an unnaturally crowded system alive in a matter of weeks or months.

If the eight-month-old pig is alive when he steps onto the truck and the six-week-old puppy has not croaked of parvo when his new owner forks over eighteen benjamins and plucks him off the grating, win! The state of the former's feet or the latter's immune system is of no concern. One is meant to be bacon, and the other -- checks clear very fast these days.

It helps if one offers a "health guarantee" that is not only half the duration required under the California Puppy Lemon Law for initial disease and defect, but includes what the black wit of Carol Gravestock has dubbed the "dead dog clause" for the breed's enzootic genetic defects, which also must, per the contract, be diagnosed prior to the normal age of evaluation, oops Catch-22, customer loses.* Enjoy that blind dysplastic dog.

And you control the calendar. The longer those critters hang around, the more opportunities they have to croak. Get the super-fast broiler chickens that are ready to butcher at seven weeks; if they are puppies, charge your buyers a steep storage fee if they don't show up with the money in their teeth and a cat carrier in their hand when the puppy is six weeks old.** Don't worry about tiny details like socialization and canine developmental stages -- I've always told people that if a puppy is in a bad situation, it can be better to get him out of there rather than leave him to languish for another several weeks for the sake of time with Mother and littermates.† And in any event, Mother was demoted to twice-daily milk bar cameos weeks ago, so it's not as if she's doing any, you know, mothering. Temperament testing or other measures are moot anyway. The trainer says so:

Picking an individual pup from the litter is the least important part of the whole purchase process. There has been much written on extensive, complicated testing procedures to determine the "pick of the litter"! I personally haven't found a puppy's reactions and behavior at six or seven weeks of age, to be of much significance in predicting future behavior.

I have even had people ask me to teach them how to pick the best pup out of a litter. The truth is, I haven't figured out a reliable way to do it, and probably never will! I once kept a bitch pup for myself because a bird feather drifted by her kennel gate and she barked and carried on to get it. I sold her litter mate, who slept through all her carrying on. The bitch was completely untrainable and her docile litter mate turned out to be a Field Champion. I get many letters telling me how well the last pick puppy turned out.

So just pick the one you like after the guys who paid a deposit first pick theirs and its all the same. It's probably God's duty to sort the pups out, too.

But wait, we digress. This is about dirt. The stuff of which my Granny said every kid needed to eat a peck. We didn't all have asthma back then, and peanuts didn't kill us on sight.

Now you want to avoid filth at all costs. Filth is the wages of crowding, it comes from not cleaning, it accumulates as shit mashes into the little squares on the wire floor, as diarrhea runs down the leg of a steer who is standing hock-deep in more of the same, eating corn instead of grass while his liver dies, as parasites and smaller cooties hop and crawl and aerosolize from host to stressed-out host and find puny immune systems cowering in the corner with their eyes closed.

In order to prevent filth when you are okay with porosity, or dogforbid making use of dirt, you have to be vigilant about cleaning and changing surfaces (though whelping boxes do not, contrary to the video, require much if any cleaning for at least three weeks after changing the actual whelping bedding). You have to be involved. And you have to provide space -- enough physical space for all the critters, mental and social space, temporal space between batches of babies.

Physical space -- with, guess what, variation in the surfaces -- allows the noobs to learn to poop over there, play and sleep over here. It's the best barrier to pathogens and parasites. Or, if they are chickens, just keeps the poop spread out enough so it isn't a problem.

Mental and social crowding stress a Momma or a baby out. Everybody needs a little mental health break, the ability to get away from anyone who is bullying or irritating you, the freedom to move around and get jiggy, or to choose not to, the opportunity to not interact. Another aspect of social crowding is stability; if your pack is stable and there are roles that all understand within it, then it's not up in your grill demanding your psychic energy to sort things out.

One of the things that broke my heart at the start of Operation New Beginnings was the chain-link runs where the Momma dogs were housed. They were housed there because it was the only place that could be heated, and it was January in Montana. But each mother was constantly and keenly aware of the dam on her left and the dam on her right and the dam who was pitching a fit three runs down. Fishbowl.

Time between litters not only allows the puppy play-yard to defunk, if necessary, but it is a refractory phase for the humans involved, during which they can ask themselves how that went, whether that breeding was a good idea, how are the puppies turning out as they grow in their new homes, how will we do things differently or the same next time?

It lets you dig down under the surface, past the facade of an always flawlessly cute fat puppy, a perhaps deceptively shiny puppy, and sift out what holds it up.


* Here's how the Dead Dog Clause in a "health guarantee" works.

In order to get a refund or, better yet, a "replacement pup" you either prove that you killed the defective one yourself or give him back to the breeder, who has made it clear with option A that she is going to kill him upon receipt. Otherwise, no refund.

Your beloved pet/working partner, who you have raised for the past year or two, and who is now hurting. Not hurting enough that life is not worth living, but he needs help, he needs the vet, he needs you.

Are you a sociopath?

See how that works?

** How's that go, exactly? How is that legal? My guess is that there's one o' them flexible-type vets on retainer who signs the form for every puppy, every time, on their six-week birthdays. California, you cannot be trusted to write sensible animal welfare laws. You screw it up every time. Just. Stop.

† I do not, however, advocate paying ransom for the privilege of rescuing a puppy from the shitty socialization regimen of his own breeder. You are just encouraging them, dammit.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Don't Think He Knows About Second Breakfast

In the mornings Rosie and the kids come up on the big bed for snuggle time and second breakfast.

Probably fourth or fifth breakfast, if you want to cut it fine.

I poof the edges of the eiderdown into a puppy containment field and let them soak up all that human scent and presence while they hit the milk bar.

 Once they have full bellies and are passed out in a milk stupor, I pop them off to snuggle on my neck while I check email and return phone calls. The puppies twitch and occasionally squeak or groan or chortle in their sleep -- tiny nervous systems growing and developing, pruning and branching.

They are fat, shiny, contented and are growing like broiler chicks. Rosie is milking like a Holstein. I'm pretty sure it's impossible for a dam-raised puppy to get too much food at this stage.

Not true of Momma, though.

Perfesser Chaos and I were away most of the day Saturday for a family event. The dog family was left in the capable hands of one of our young teammates.  I fed Rosie her second breakfast before we left, and doled out a heaping bowl of boiled eggs, meat, yogurt and vegetables for teatime.

When we got home, late, I fed all the dogs a dinner of mostly canned fish. Rosie got a big bowl.

Around 1 a.m. she started to get restless. Anxious. Nervous. Weird. Panting on a cool night. And it was not centered around the puppies. She left the puppies to act weird. And kept it up.

I let her out and she ran right back inside to stare at me anxiously.  Do something about this!

Took her temperature. No fever.

But something was not right.

Back of my sleep-deprived mind kept echoing milking like a Holstein.


Did her hocks look just a little bit stiff? Maybe? Yes? Maybe?

Was I going to wait for tremors and fever and ataxia and more critical signs to develop?

Oh Hells No.

Our usual emergency vet* told me that they were full up; if she needed hospitalization, which a diagnosis of eclampsia would require, they had not a single cage open. They foolishly recommended the practice that is known far and wide as the Pirate Ship of Camp Horne Road. Erm, no. Not if I was bleeding out on their polished granite doorstep.

So off we went to Northview. I shook Perfesser Chaos awake at about 0400 and just said "We are going to the vet."

He leaped up and went to start the car, no questions. Off we went, with a box o' puppies to boot.

Short version: The huge smelly dump that Rosie deposited in the waiting room 30 seconds after we entered was a big clue.

Her blood calcium levels were normal.

She had a weak positive on the in-house (not terribly reliable/precise) Lyme test. We will revisit that in a few weeks. I assume that all of my dogs have been exposed to Lyme at some point.

But mostly, it was a very expensive and panic-inducing case of overfeeding and the resulting GI distress.

Do not know why she wasn't able to relieve her discomfort at home. Maybe the inactivity of being a 24/7 milk bar had stopped her up even as she most needed her innards to move.

Your reward for suffering through a breeder's panic-by-proxy is two and a half minutes of today's second breakfast.


* Owning Suicide Sophia means that we have not only a regular vet, but a regular emergency vet.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Snapshot Sunday: How Do I Love Thee, Stupice ...?

July in Pennsylvania this year -- a fine impression of Borneo, then for August, this glorious weather like early fall, splendid days and cool, temperate nights designed for sleeping.

Not designed for tomatoes to ripen.

The 'maters in my garden survived, with moderate foliage loss, the inevitable funk blight from the rain it raineth every day and set to producing #$%^tons of green fruit.

And more green fruit.
Or in the case of Rose Indigo, blackish-purple and green fruit.

Even the jungle of early-ripening currant tomatoes.* Still green.

But not my old friend Stupice.

You may, with sufficient googling, find negative reviews of this magical Czech heirloom cultivar.

Those reviewers have been allowed too much online time from the care staff at the home for the mentally should STFU.  (Also, it's clear from their descriptions that some of them are not, in fact, growing Stupice.)

Stupice produces first. It keeps producing until hard frosts kill it stone-dead in the fall. It is perfectly happy in a hot summer, but can set fruit and ripen when nights are cool. It produces heavily. And it tastes fantastic. Balanced, complex, acid, tomato-ey, not insipidly sweet. Nothing not to like.

* So much better than cherry tomatoes that you don't even know, man.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mom Always Liked You Better

We welcomed six new little beans to the Brandywine family on Sunday.

Which, by the atomic mother English shepherd clock, means that today (Thursday) or tomorrow will be Moving Day.

After Moving Day, Rosie will start to chill the fuck out. Since Sunday, she has literally not spent more than 30 seconds away from them. She eats in the whelping box, pees when I insist, and poos seldom and at implausible speeds.

I am hoping she consents to use the same corner of the living room she chose last time. It's a very convenient spot.

One of the things about Moving Day that has been consistent in the last three litters of ES born here is that one puppy is chosen as the Moving Day Scout. If I replace that pup in the whelping box, that's the one she will retrieve each time until Moving is accomplished.

That pup turns out to Mom' Favorite later on.

So in the spirit of participation, voting is open in the Moving Day Sweepstakes.

Vote in the comments for which pup will be chosen as Scout. I'll reveal the Chosen Pup's identity when the deed is done. One person will be chosen from among the correct votes to receive two dozen fresh Brandywine Farm eggs.

No names or genders, so as not to bias the voting. Here are the hamster-like heirs of Pip, in birth order:

Puppy 1


Puppy 3

Puppy 4

Puppy 5

Puppy 6

Which one will Mom choose?


Well, this is unprecedented.

Rosie spent yesterday (Thursday) being squirrely and acting as if she was just about ready to grab a pup. She checked out the designated den corner by the fireplace several times.

Around dinnertime I came in from chores and Perfesser Chaos said he'd caught her picking up a puppy, but she quickly put it down when she saw him. And he did not take note of which puppy it was.

This morning, some time between 0830 and 1000, while I was upstairs, she moved all the hamsters to their new digs without being detected.


Final Pupdate:

There sure was a lot of moving going on here.

The first several attempts, either Perfesser Chaos could not remember to take note of the puppy with whom he caught her slinking away, or I would find the entire Jolly Crew transported to the closet in the guest room, Sophia's crate, under the bed ...

But I have three data points on the first puppy to move -- in one case the only puppy to move, when PC left a door open for a while and then closed it without making a puppy count -- and unsurprisingly, Puppy #5 is Mom's Favorite.

Unsurprisingly because he is the only male pup, and Favorite Puppy of a Brandywine bitch is always my son, my son. They are the Jewish mothers of the dog world.

A few contestants apparently cheated by comparing the photos to the blow-by-blow descriptions of the pups I gave on Facebook as they were born.

But I didn't specifically forbid cheating.

Anyway, five contestants chose Puppy #5 and were each assigned a value on a six-sided die, which I rolled once.

Mr. Andrew Brouse, please collect your eggs!

(Ha! Andy always gets some eggs when he comes here anyway. Now he will just get more eggs.)

This is a relief, because I totally don't know about shipping eggs to Britain. And I refuse on principle to vacuum-pack and ship eggs to California to a person who has her own hens.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mending the Rescue Wall

An animal rescue is meant to be a conduit — critters come in one end, are improved and assessed in various ways — and leave out the other end, into what we try to ensure are permanent, happy homes.

So why do we hear so many complaints about rescues and fences?

One kind of fence, a sort of type-specimen for the problem with many rescues,  is the literal one.  If you are applying to adopt a dog from a rescue or from a shelter that has any sort of screening program, you can expect to answer a question about whether your yard is fenced.

What you can’t expect is to know what the “right” answer is.

For one rescue, the fence may be a red flag that you will toss the dog out into the yard for “exercise,” and may not be committed to walks and training.

For a different rescue, the fence or lack of it is just an entree to further questions about your plans, and may be useful information when matching a dog to you.

But all too-often, the fence — of specific height, construction, and materials — is a non-negotiable item.  No fence, no dog.  In general, these are organizations that place no faith in the efficacy of training, and undue faith in the reliability of physical restraint.  You may find that a dog acquired from one of these entities has not had the benefit of any education during his time in the kennel or a foster home.  He comes to you ignorant and unmannerly, and the expectation is that he will remain that way, a cute and useless drunk-and-disorderly love-object who has to be shut out in that fenced yard when company comes.

The lack of a fence becomes the wall between you and adopting a dog.

The thing about walls is, they are rigid, but unreliable.

The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.

This week, Slate published this article by Emily Yoffe decrying the unreasonable intrusiveness  and petulant criteria of pet rescue adoption screening.
And I’m inclined to agree.  Except when I don’t.

For every story that a would-be adopter tells about being turned down to adopt for inflexible, unreasonable, and downright insane reasons, I can match you a story from a shelter or rescue worker about the entitled, lying, deluded would-be adopter who thinks that adopting agencies have no right to ask any questions or indeed, practice any judgment about where the animals they have cared for, rehabbed, and come to love should go to live.

I’ve been on both sides of that story.  Guys, when the write-up on the website says that this specific dog will not be available to a home with children, the fact that your eight kids “fell in love” with her picture does not alter that reality.  Are you trying to get your offspring bitten?  Do you think we decided that for whimsical reasons, because we are communiss anti-family atheist un-American lesbian separatists?  One of us has been caring for this dog for months.  That person may well be a professional trainer, and is likely to be a very experienced foster person with years of experience dealing with this breed.  He or she has been working with an adoption coordinator, and maybe with one of the behavior coordinators, to both assess the dog’s temperament and address any training needs she may have.  We are not just making this up, and there is no injustice involved in the fact that we are the ones to decide who can adopt each dog that is in our care.  We do own the dog, you know.

On the other hand.

I used to volunteer for a local shelter.  I’d walk dogs, foster litters of kittens, but mainly, I fostered supposedly hard-case dogs — the ones that were borderline in behavior, the ones that worried the kennel workers, and might trigger a meeting of the euthanasia committee for this “No Kill” shelter.  They all left my house reformed and adoptable.

I stopped actively volunteering for them when my breed rescue duties expanded, but also when I discovered that their personnel wouldn’t refer adopters to my training practice because I was not politically correct — but they would continue to send me “thugs” to “fix” in ways that they must have imagined were brutal, but which were okay as long as they didn’t see or hear about it, and nobody knew. I declined to continue using the servants’ entrance, as it were.  But I didn’t say anything when I stopped.

Couple years ago, I applied online to adopt a cat from them.  I was interested in a mature housecat that liked dogs, if they had one, or if one came in.

The application was not extensive, but it did inquire about the reproductive status of all my current animals. Meaning, had all of my critters had their gonads removed?

(This can be a simple screening question.  For example, if an applicant wishes to adopt an adolescent male pit bull puppy, the presence of a male Akita in the household might be a cause for concern, and potentially greater concern if the older dog is intact.  This can be an opportunity for rescue or shelter personnel to suggest that a female pup might be more conducive to pack harmony.  Just for example.  Or if the rescue releases pups on a sterilization contract, rather than pre-sterilized, they may choose not to adopt a male pup to a family with a bitch until one of them is sterilized, especially if the family doesn’t have the experience and means to keep the dogs separated effectively.)

My answer was no.  Out of seven total dogs and cats, one of my SAR dogs retains her ovaries, and is likely to do so indefinitely.

Their response:  Did I need help paying for her to be spayed?

I did not.  (And if I did, what business would I have seeking to add another pet to the household?  But perhaps this was a trick question with no right answer.  I never found out.)

Ah well, then — no cat for you.

Did the shelter imagine that the bitch endowed with the freakish reproductive organs that she was born with would miscegenate with a neutered cat, adding both numbers and strange to the shelter population?  Were they worried about providing bathrooms for the transpecial offspring of the English shepherd and the moggie?

Is there some research showing that dog ovaries emit fumes toxic to kittehs?

Or was there simply a reflexive, unexamined, self-reinforcing orthodoxy within the adoption department that dictated:  People with unspayed dogs are all puppymilling trailer-trash who will use the cat for target practice?

The adoption “counselor” seemed excited by dangling what she thought of as the “reward” of being allowed to pay them for a cat as an incentive for me to do the obviously right thing and surgically sterilize my SAR partner.  (Only then could the world be spared the horror of more superb working dogs being carefully bred and sent out to loving homes where they will perform feats of service during their long and healthy lives.) She was on a holy crusade against dog gonads, and a theoretical kitteh was her spear.  Maybe I could be coerced into following the One True Path.

I was not interested in what she had in her bait bag.  And I no longer recommend that people support this shelter, or do so myself.  I can guarantee that this shelter lost a great deal more than I did when it turned what was meant to be a mutually pleasant exchange into a power gambit over my dog husbandry.*  Have you any idea how easy it is to acquire a cat elsewhere?

This very well-heeled shelter’s “thinking” is a good example of the fallacy that confuses rigidity with rigor.

The words share a Latin root, but are not the same thing.

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Rigorous standards for pet adoption are those that are designed to ensure that adopters are qualified to own a pet at all — they aren’t, say, on probation for zoophilia, or planning to sneak the dog past a disapproving landlord, don’t have a history of adopt ‘n’ dump.    They are designed to discover whether the kind of animal the rescue offers is a good match for this adopter.  And they are designed to help the rescue or shelter find a good match — or determine whether they currently have one — for this adopter.
What we want for the animals we care for are long, happy lives where they fulfill their individual potential and are assets to their families and communities.

Just avoiding legally actionable abuse is not where we set the bar.  Thus screening — including interviews, background checks, reference checks, often home checks — and thus, the adoption contract.

Because in your town, chaining the dog to a stump out back and tossing him some Ol’ Roy once a day may meet legal standards for proper husbandry — but it’s not the reason our volunteer just spent four months patiently training him to stay, come, and stop hiding behind the couch when a stranger comes in.  The second quickest way to burn out a foster volunteer is to send her charges to carelessly-selected homes.  (The quickest way is to kill them for space when she returns them to the shelter and call it “euthanasia.”)

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for would-be adopters who blurt out “You’d think we were adopting a child!” when faced with a three-page application.  I strongly suggest that these people, if they wish to avoid a hearty smek in the puss, refrain from such exclamations within earshot of anyone who actually has adopted a child, or is in the process, or dogforbid was unable to do so.

If a rescue is not applying any rigor to adoption screenings, and has none in its adoption contract, you should ask yourself — on what else are they skimping?  How well has each dog been vetted, evaluated, and rehabbed — medically and behaviorally?  If I have trouble with the dog, will my calls be returned?  If I need training or behavior advice, does the rescue have both the willingness and the expertise to help me?  If I have a life setback that makes it impossible to keep my dog, will they really take him back — and if they did, would I be happy knowing that his next owner would be selected in the same way I was?

Many of the would-be adopters featured in Yoffe’s article, and many online commenters, sheepishly admit that after being rejected by rescue organizations, they “did the wrong thing” and went to a breeder for a dog.

First, I am not too thrilled at how thoroughly the public has reflexively adopted the attitude that buying a puppy from a breeder is always “wrong,” in contrast to the always “right” choice to adopt from anyone who claims to be a “rescue.”  We can discuss that false dilemma another day.

An ethical breeder’s screening process is about the same as a well-run rescue’s.  Her contract is going to be similarly rigorous.  There’s going to be a return-to-breeder clause.  Any differences in criteria should be pretty directly related to differences in the dogs being offered.  For example, a well-bred puppy won’t automatically be sold on a sterilization agreement, though there should be some health and performance criteria for breeding written into the contract, and this can be intrusive.  A small puppy places more demands on your time and attention than does a mature dog, so the breeder may be legitimately more concerned about your working hours or other commitments, and this can be intrusive.  But a well-bred, well-raised puppy should not have any fear issues, health issues, temperament issues — no issues or hard caveats, period, just varying potentials — so a conscientious breeder is less likely to have restrictive criteria about what home a specific puppy can go to.  (She’s still likely to select the puppy for you, or narrow your choices to the ones that she thinks will make a good match.)

Good rule of thumb.  If it is way easier for you to get a puppy from a breeder than it is to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue something is very wrong.

Maybe something is very wrong with the rescue or rescues, as the Slate article claims.

More likely, something is very wrong with the breeder.  Because for every inflexible, misanthropic, paranoid, power-tripping teetering-on-the-edge-of-hoarding animal rescue group out there, I give you a dozen internet puppymillers, small-time “miller lite” producers looking for pin money, and “Gypsy is such a pretty Labradoodle, let’s get pups from her” dabblers who have put no thought or expertise into producing the pups for sale and don’t care about you, or about what happens to the pup after the check clears.  What I said about rescues that don’t screen also applies to breeders; if it’s easy come, easy go, you will be SOL when you need help with your dog.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

Consider this a plea for moderation, flexibility, and understanding.
Adopters, please appreciate that the rescue personnel — almost certainly unpaid volunteers — have poured their time, money, lives and love into each dog they are offering for adoption.  You are not “doing them a favor” by taking an unwanted animal off their hands, and any hint of that attitude is going to raise hackles.  If you “fudge” on your application about some “triviality,” expect to be regarded as a liar and rejected.  If you come across as crazy or unstable, expect a reasonable person to reject your application by finding some statable reason other than “You give me the wiggums.”   A thorough vetting when you apply and a strong contract that protects the animal’s welfare are evidence that the rescue is not a revolving-door profitable “nonprofit.”  You are a stranger, and you are asking to be entrusted with something these people love. Approach accordingly.

Rescues and shelters, understand that tick-marks on a checklist are no substitute for judgment.  Examine your procedures and criteria for potential Catch-22′s and any unexamined shibboleths that your organization may have enshrined without a reasonable cause.  Potential adopters are, almost to a person, excited about adding a dog to their lives, and also excited about the feelgood rush of adopting rather than buying.  There’s no reason to make the procedure so distasteful, so marred by dominance posturing and Mrs. Grundy judgements, that even approved adopters come away wanting to spit out the bile.  This is not an adversarial process.  Most people are not trying to pull something over on you, but the more nervous you make them, the more evasive and defensive they are likely to become.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'


* Later the counselor found out “who I was” and allowed that an exception might be made on that basis, but only for certain specific cats — by which I think she meant, the ones they couldn’t move out of the shelter, i.e. the ones that were less valuable to them.  Nice.  No thanks.

This post was originally published on the now-defunct communal blog The Honest Dog in February 2012; rescued via the Wayback Machine and re-posted here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Photo Phriday: If You Build Them, They Will Come

Last year I made five bluebird boxes from the short sound bits of old broken and rotted barn wood and installed them around the pastures and hayfields.

This year I turned it up to eleven.

It works! By gum, it works!

Bluebirds -- several nests of them -- and one nest each of house wrens and tree swallows are all successfully fledging from the barnwood boxes.

I may have nearly saturated the appropriate bluebird habitat with boxes. (The wrens and swallows chose boxes that the bluebirds didn't think were sunny enough.) One box had a successful clutch of five wee bluebirds.

I have had to practice house sparrow eviction and infanticide measures. Part of the responsibility of being a bluebird landlord.

Starting to regard the neighbors' open country with an imperialist eye.

This winter I'll be making bat boxes and nest boxes for kestrels and screech owls.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Garden Cart of Theseus

It would have been around 1995 or '96 when I found the garden cart in the dumpster of a big box store's garden center.

The metal parts were a bit rusty. Some of the molding was bent. The plywood was a bit splintery. And it was completely sound and functional.  Pretty enough to roll horseshit around the yard. So into the Tardis lunar excursion module van it went.

It only lasted 17 years of abusive use from the day of dumpster rescue to when the bottom fell out.

What was left of it sat in the barn for another year until I could do something with it.

Here's what I had to start with:

Knocked out what was left of the plywood, and then cut off the rusted-out bolts from the metal parts .

Cleaned up the worst of the rust with a wire brush.

Primed and painted the metal parts. I used spray paint in the color that I had a lot of.

I also had to replace some of the angle-iron in the front. There was a length of angle-iron among the farm junk that was not too rusty.

Cut replacement plywood from some that I had left over from repairing the barn roof.

The dimensions from this scrap couldn't be exactly the same as those from the original cart, so I ended up with a cart that is slightly narrower, but deeper than the original.

This plywood is significantly thicker than the original plywood; as a result the cart is rather heavier than I would have preferred.


 Primed and painted all the plywood parts before assembly, again with a paint I had around. This is porch and floor paint for extra durability. I gave it a lot drying time before assembly.

Assembled the cart with shiny new bolts.

Hoping for another 17 years of abusive use out of the reconstituted cart.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Clorox Kettle is Back On the Stove

Over three years ago I accidentally discovered just how fake a "rescue" could be, and wrote about it in this post

Tonight I revisited the classified section of the Holmes Bargain Hunter. Because some of us masochists can't be satisfied by a mere cat-o-nine-tails or a nifty thumbscrew.

No "Guardian Angel Rescue" in this edition, or "AA1 Rescue." But there is an ad "Looking for litters of puppies, all breeds, all sizes to place in loving homes. Call us at: (330) 465-6040."

That seemed ... provocative. So I googled it and got this:

Of course it is "Heaven to Earth" rescue.*

Further down the page, there is the obligatory Give Us Money Button, and the only place on the site that provides human names. (The "About us" page includes only directions to the "rescue" location; the FAQ page ... I'll get to it.) There's also the name of a young girl who raised money for the homeless rescue puppies as her bat mitzvah project. I cropped that name off.


Remember those, because it becomes important.

Paul "Joseph" Feldman. Or Paul Feldman. Or Joseph Feldman.

Cindy "Rachel" Feldman. Or Cindy Feldman. Or Rachel Feldman.

Only one other ad seeking puppies in the heart of Ohio Amish puppymilling. Joseph the familiar local puppy buyer has been doing business for ten years, and he pays top dollar, as usual!

Joseph's phone number is (330) 465-1140 and he will see us soon!

Yes, yes Joseph will see us soon

Uh oh Paul "Joseph" Feldman.**

You forgot the first rule of laundering puppymill widgets.

Keep your "rescue" profit center separate from your wholesale profit center!

Folks, this is why you google any rescue from which you are considering acquiring a pet, and absolutely any charity that wants your money. Don't just google the name of the organization -- google the names of all the principles, and all phone numbers.

* Carol Gravestock once quipped "When a dog breeder starts talking about Jesus, I start looking for the rabbit hutch full of starving puppies."

This seems to be a statistically sound conclusion one can draw about "rescues" with explicit or quasi-religious marketing.

Invoke Judaeo-Christian language and imagery, Imma gonna start looking for the sorting shed where the pups get divvied into pet store sales and sucker "adoptions."

** Further up on the FAQ page, the lovely Feldmans explain that they rescue puppies -- and only puppies, never grown dogs -- because ehrmagerd bait dogs doncha know!

How can you not pay up?!  Bait dog! Bait dog I tell you! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Also "We do not support or agree with the puppy mills, we just want to prevent the puppies from ending up back in the breeding cycle."