Monday, September 29, 2008

The Four Seasons of Pip

Fall began officially last week, when I woke up and couldn't move my legs.

Pip had added her thermal mass to the dogpile on the bed.

She spends her nights all summer like this:


She only occasionally gets stuck, but it's funny every single time. Yes, I know the carpet is Bordello Red. It came with the house.

We know it's fall when she switches to:


Since her two children occupy bed space year-round, this just adds to the family project of Gullivering the humans. Eventually we will develop blood clots from the immobility, die in our bed, and be eaten by our own dogs.

But wait, there's more. We know that winter has arrived when this happens:


On one hand, it's nice and warm, like a hairy hot water bottle, and she's not pinning the eiderdown.

On the other hand, she frequently begins asphyxiating, requiring me to wake up, grab her by the collar, and drag her head to the surface.

And she farts in bed.

So it's a general relief when the days start to get longer, the robins reappear, and Pip bursts forth from her hibernation:


Pip learned this important season-defining function from our first Dogmanac, who was her mentor and hero. Lilly would spend her summers in the bathtub, spring and fall on the bedroom rug, and winter on the foot of the bed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

That's Not Lipstick, That's Blood

I can't remember who said it first, but you cannot deny the truth of it.

How do I tell if something is right or wrong?

Well, if looking at it makes me need to puke, then that's probably wrong.

The Federal Aerial Hunting Act was passed in 1971. It "banned" the practice that Sarah Palin ravenously promotes. Bring me the foreleg of John the Baptist.

I grew up believing that this "sport" was an atrocity of the past, like the buffalo genocide or chattel slavery. Unfortunately, the Act left a loophole that even a rich man or a camel could pass through ungreased -- taking pot shots from airplanes would be okay for the "protection of wildlife." The Bush administration has been uninterested in enforcing the Federal Law in Alaska. There is no science to support the wolf massacre as "protecting" wildlife.

And let me be perfectly clear: This is not hunting.

See what Defenders of Wildlife has to say about the sincerity of Palin's wolf pogrom.

Against their will, wolves have always served as symbols, stand-ins for parts of ourselves. Whether we wish to nurture and release our deepest atavisms, or murder them in their beds, wolves are forced to represent them.

What is Sarah Palin trying to kill here? What darkness is exorcised by the bloody foreleg of an innocent animal?

At the polls in November, remember: When someone shows you who he is, believe him.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Standard Issue


This Pekingese is not only "correct" for his breed standard and superior to other Pekingese, he's a better dog than all the others whose owners were vying for that silver cup.

Is he even recognizable as a dog?

Is he a fully-functional animal? Can he mate, move independently, perfuse his tissues with oxygen, thermoregulate?

The thread, on a non-dog discussion forum, was about cutting off tails and ears on dogs to meet "breed standards."

Oh yeah -- that one isn't going to start some wars.

Much passion back-and-forth among the factually, grammatically and punctuationally challenged. (No dearie, the plural of puppy is not "puppy's.")

On the pro-amputation side, we had individuals whose logic boiled down to "We wouldn't always have done it this way if the people who wrote "the standard" weren't wiser and in every way better than ourselves. It is not for the likes of us to question the intentions of the Ancient and Most Sacred Standard Givers."

On the anti-amputation side, there were occasional degenerations into colorful imaginary imagery featuring rivers of blood and wailing puppies.

But I was most interested in this dire warning from a "we've always done it this way" partisan:

Traditional reasons are that, tradition. Standards were made by the people who created the breeds and they stated their reasons for doing so. Standards include appearance and function.

I didn't write the standards and I wasn't there, those are some of the reasons given.

I happen to appreciate their efforts. I see little point in mocking them for living in their times and doing what they thought best.

Without them, we wouldn't have those breeds. When people start breeding outside a standard to suit themselves, you stop having identifiable purebred dogs. Eventually you can't tell purebred from mutt, or byb junk.

Now I can't attribute this opinion to its author, since the author uses only a screen name. No matter. It's a perfectly representative, utterly unoriginal, agglomeration of the misinformation, ancestor-worship, and unexamined prejudices that hobble the brains of dog owners. Let's look at them in order.

First, the misapprehension that the people who "created" breeds were the ones who wrote standards for them.

Poppycock. The people who created almost every breed, extinct and extant, were people who needed or wanted a dog for a particular job. Some of these acts of creation took place over thousands of years; others were seen through in a single human lifetime. Breed creation was, and is, the act of genetic selection for a purpose. The number of breeds (real breeds, not latter-day marketing whimsy) whose "creators" penned a written "standard" can be counted in single digits, and is limited to a short window of late 19th and early 20th century canine eugenics.

No, for the most part, "standards" were the inventions of the Victorian poseurs who, breed-by-breed, hijacked useful gene pools of working dogs, set up artificial walls around those gene pools, and charged forward under the misapprehension that one could reverse-engineer function by starting with a scrap of dog-show scripture ('umbly penned by yours trulies) and reasoning backwards: If the dog resembled the Platonic Form of the Breed as codified by the gentlemen in the dinner jackets, then it logically must be superior at performing the work that its "unrefined" ancestors had actually managed. No need to actually test it out on that work -- that would be so, you know, common.

The dogmen and dogwomen who developed breeds -- and I include the lapdogs in this story, for they too have their work -- selected animals who fulfilled a function; a size and shape that was more or less consistent followed from the demands of that work. The Mrs. Grundys who later wrote Platonic descriptions of the "ideal" cosmetic form for that kind of dog (refigured into closed-gene-pool "breeds") had nothing to do with the hard task of selection that had made the dogs useful and unique in the first place.

The coda to that erroneous belief is that, of course, standards change -- and not when the fiery finger of the Almighty recarves them in new granite. Committees of humans get together and change them to suit themselves. Each new committee is made up of zealots who are further removed in time and space from the working function of the breed. (Or, in the case of the United Kennel Club, perhaps an anonymous company employee who has never seen an example of the breed in question.) The 2008 standard frequently bears little resemblance to the 1920 standard. And like any scripture, the words could stay the same in a written standard and the interpretation morph so drastically that the dogs themselves are unrecognizable. Nowhere in any past or present GSD standard, in any country or registry, do the standard-writers call for a dog with
Hind feet planted in a different county than front feet. Hocks wobbly and both cowed and sickled in the extreme. Pasterns approach the horizontal plane. Dog has difficulty standing without assistance, and difficulty in transitioning from a stand to a walk. Gait is wobbly and unstable, conveying the clear impression of an animal that will be nonambulatory by middle age, and is incapable of sustained motion at any age. Dog shows clinical signs of connective-tissue disorder.

Unlike the anonymous breed standard fundamentalist, I actually have been a member of a standards revision committee for a dog breed with a long history. The standard that resulted is not a "show standard" because the Club that promulgates it does not sponsor nor approve of pageants for judging the dogs. IMO, it came out the far end of the committee process with far too much structural resemblance to a kennel-club-style show standard, rather than a practical description of what one of these dogs should be like; next round, I have hopes that these shortcomings can be corrected. In particular, reference to "disqualifications" are made for dogs with defective temperaments, misplaced or missing gonads, and an autosomal dominant color that does not appear in the breed, but is common in a related breed.

"Disqualification" from what, I asked? They can't be excused from a nonexistent pageant ring, and the registry is certainly not sending inspectors around to every farm in order to decide whether a dog is "reserved" (good) or "vicious" (DQ). Nevertheless, that meaningless language was retained.

We conducted our discussions via email. There were some heated disagreements. Some were settled by compromise, others by one side of the disagreement predominating. The discussions are archived (somewhere) in case anyone in the future wants to explore "legislative intent" for some reason.

My one verbatim contribution to the physical description of the dog is this sentence:

Variation in ear set is common and of trivial significance.

I have no problem with anyone arguing with me, disagreeing with me, or even mocking me for "living in my time," over the above sentence. If you have evidence that variations in ear set are of monumental significance in the lives and work of English shepherd dogs, please, do share.

Because that sentence, and the entire standard, is a document put together by human beings, each with his or her own perspective, expertise, prejudices, character flaws, and strength of will.

In the case of our ES standard, the limitations of the document come with an automatic check on the damage they can do to the breed genome: Because there is no selection for pageant wins, and no market for "champion sired" puppies, there are no institutional rewards or punishments for "not meeting the standard." I've never heard of anyone having trouble placing cute piebald pups, or pups from parents larger or smaller than the "standard" range, for example. While the breed community might collectively frown on someone who deliberately selects for 90 pound or 30 pound ES in a breeding program, individual dogs of those sizes are not viewed with disdain. Pups from parents without hip clearances, on the other hand, can be a hard sell. (In my opinion, not hard enough, but that's another topic.)

Finally, there's the Levitican obsession with being able to determine the breed of any given dog by appearance. Implied is the common sentiment: If any idiot off the street can't recognize it as a Sardinian Snarklehound at a glance, then the Fabric of The Universe will begin to ravel -- Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! ... Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes ... The dead rising from the grave ... Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!

What's up with that? Why is it so important? What does it have to do with what a "breed" is?

A breed is a population of animals that are selected to perform the same function. The "any idiot can tell" cosmetics are -- or should be, in a world not designed to cater to idiots -- entirely secondary to the breed's ability to consistently produce individuals that perform that function.

The notion that anyone off the street should be able to unerringly assign an animal to its breed just by looking is grounded in the worldview that what is important about a dog is not just what it looks like, but particular cosmetic aspects of appearance, what are called "fancy points." The dog should look like a Platonic specimen of its specific breed first, then it should give the appearance of the tuxedo guy's version of a sound and functional animal, and waaaaay down the list, maybe it ought to actually be healthy and sound. (Which cannot be assessed in any meaningful way through the only assessment system the "fancy" provides, the dogs-on-a-string five-second "exam" by a hard-core "fancier.")

So a Dalmatian is now defined by his spots, not by his function as an endurance athlete and companion to horses. In the AKC Dalmatian standard, 236 words are devoted to the correct coloring; 81 to gait; twelve to temperament, none to working ability. The Australian shepherd, predominantly a working dog as little as 20 years ago, has 58 words devoted to the correct color of his nose*, 39 on temperament, again, none to working function. Lip service? Barely even that!

I could go on.

It's strange that people who are fanatically obsessed with the minutia of "fancying" very specific breeds of animals -- such that, like all fanatics, they create a maniacally closed insider culture of jargon and shibboleths -- are equally obsessed with the most trivial cosmetic factors, the ones that distinguish those animals from other breeds, or (gasp!) the impure.
Eventually you can't tell purebred from mutt, or byb junk.
One would think that they would want to keep the mastery of classification a further mystery, one that requires their special expertise.

But then, that would require them to possess special expertise, wouldn't it?

Special expertise that is hard-won by living with, working, observing, training, raising, breeding and handling scores of members of a breed. Learning their minds. Letting them learn yours. Takes years, decades to become an expert in one breed of real dogs.

And that just won't do, will it, when one "judge" must determine the "best dog" from a dozen individuals sorted out from hundreds of breeds. So he can determine that a waddling, farting, dysplastic English bulldog is a better dog than a shaking, seizing Belgian shepherd.

And it certainly won't do when one is trying to sell one's "well-bred" cull puppies -- the ones that don't have exactly the right fancy points at seven weeks of age, and so will not crush the competition in a few months' time -- as "pet quality." Because that "pet buyer" is going to insist that his $1500-on-a-sterilization-contract Danish Diving Terrier pup look just like the one he saw on the teevee, winning at Westminster. He does not want or need a dog that dives for danish, which is good, because those "well-bred" pups are terrified of water and allergic to pastry. The one he gets has a small white spot on his chest, which is what makes it different from the show winner. But that's okay, because it has much in common with that winner -- same coat, same crooked legs, same oddly-domed head, same epilepsy, bleeding disorder, same progressive congenital blindness.

If you come to my farm, I'll excuse you for believing at first that Pip is a border collie, that Moe is a barbie collie who has been abusing steroids, that Rosie is a Sheltie mix, that Sophia has a Malinois in the woodpile somewhere. That's what they kind of look like, and you have been conditioned -- as have we all -- to assign dogs to brand names based on what they look like. Even a toddler can identify a Dalmatian -- same kid who recognizes the McDonald's logo without hesitation.

But if you tell me that Pip is "byb junk" because her ears are too high, that Rosie is unworthy of contributing to the gene pool because she's smaller than "standard" size, that Moe should have been bred because he is so bloody handsome, and that we were right to spay Sophia because she is under-angulated -- well, Moe is accomplished at showing you the door.


*Including the caveat that it is a serious fault for an Aussie to have a nose that is 26% pink. Italics in the original. Oh well, at least the pink-nosed dog is not formally disqualified like the one with a dot of white on his back. But also unlike the dog without a tooth in his head, the unilaterally deaf merle -- which are either okay with the AKC Aussie fanciers, or not worthy of mention.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Critique from Within?

I got a low-salt spam from today. They think I might be interested in this (not yet published) book:


Maybe they are right. The primary author, Johan Gallant, has written a book on schnauzers and one on African dogs. The former, published twelve years ago, appears to be the regular run-of-the-mill breed book sort of thing. The latter has no reviews on Amazon.

Anyone know about the author? Is this one likely to be worth pre-ordering?

Hot Dog!

Quick, get an ax! These abused dogs are going to die of heatstroke any moment!

A SAR trainee called today to ask me about laws prohibiting people from leaving dogs in parked cars.

Seems she was harassed by a strip mall security guard. As often happens, he invented a law that prohibits leaving a dog in a car. Ever.

Right ...

It appears that a lot of busybodies have internalized the wrong lesson from decades of proselytizing about the dangers of leaving animals in cars that could become hot.

The lesson is "I disapprove of this for reasons I cannot fully articulate, therefore, there ought to be a law, therefore, there is one. Burn the witch!"

Some of those busybodies are charged with enforcing "the law." And if there isn't a law corresponding to what Mrs. Grundy wants to enforce, she'll make one up on the spot.

The net effect is, of course, to de facto ban dogs from leaving their owners' property via the power of urban legend. Since the dog isn't permitted inside the store or restaurant (dem dawgs all carries the Ebola, ya know, and eats babees), and towns are designed to preclude walking anywhere, there's no way an owner can take Buddy to the park for a quick walk and some fetch, then stop for milk and video on the way home. Oh hell, I'll just go to the store, Buddy can have a walk next week ...

Don't even get me started on the challenges of interstate road trips, if one were to live in fear of the nattering nabobs and their fantasy laws. No pet would ever go on vacation again. The rescue transport volunteer would be forced to take her freaked-out charge out on a leash so that they could both pee in the roadside bushes.

Daniel Pinkwater's encounter with the literally self-appointed humane enforcers in his town is, sad to say, not too unusual.

A friend of mine had a similar interaction with semi-officialdom in New Jersey about fifteen years ago. As a result, her border collie got to stay home in a crate for ten or more hours a day. Because, see, it was "cruel" to keep the dog in a crate in an open vehicle, parked under a shade tree, visible from her owner's office window, where she could be exercised four or more times a day, and trained intensively (borderline collie Nirvana) for an hour at lunch. My friend should have fought the "humane enforcers" who bullied her, but she believed what they told her about the law. It was a lie.

Here's the real scoop.

Thirteen states have laws specifically addressing leaving animals in parked cars.

Not a single one of these states has any kind of blanket prohibition.

In every single case, there is language to the effect that the animal must be in danger of suffering, disability, or death from the confinement. (Which makes every one of these laws superfluous, since presumably any kind of confinement that would cause such outcomes is covered under the regular cruelty statutes.)


1. Don't leave your animal in a vehicle if it is too hot or too cold for him to be safe and comfortable there. If he will escape when you leave the window open far enough for adequate air flow, either crate him or leave him home. (Sunroofs are great!) Check your vehicle frequently -- for temperature, and to ensure that some dimwit isn't breaking in to "save" your pooch. Don't leave highly excitable, fearful or defensive animals alone in vehicles; if you have no choice, make sure the animal rides in a crate that is covered or positioned so that he cannot see out or menace passers-by. Remember that an overexcited dog can go down hard in ambient temperatures that a calm dog won't even notice. Train your dog to have car manners even in your absence. Use some sense.

2. If you are harassed by anyone who claims that leaving your dog in the car is illegal, don't become defensive. Make Mrs. Grundy defend herself. Demand to see the law that she has conjured. Remember, your camera phone is your friend -- take video of the entire "conversation," and leave it running for the audio capture. If your vehicle has a thermometer that shows cabin temperature, take video of yourself entering the car, turning it on, and show the temperature on the readout. If Mrs. Grundy is a store employee or security person, get her supervisor out into the parking lot pronto. Don't leave your car and dog -- again, your cell phone is your friend. Demand to know why you, a customer, are being harassed, and ask whether the establishment would like to retain its customers or drive them away. If Mrs. Grundy is a cop or humane enforcement officer, get badge numbers and call the supervisor right there; tell them to come on out with a copy of the statute.

And remember, breaking into your car to "save" a perfectly content animal is still breaking and entering. Prosecute.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Missing Vermin

I feel like I'm courting disaster to even say it, but here it is:

Our new farm is mysteriously lacking in certain key pests.

When we were preparing to buy the property, I developed a game plan to deal with the critters from whom I expected trouble.

The cleft just below the house (what I like to think of as the plumber's buttcrack of our personal topography), where a perennial spring comes to the surface and begins a deeper ravine along the long axis of the property, features dense brush and perpetual damp. On the advice of my friend Janeen, I bought a butt-crack-kicking Echo weed-whacker, with the intention of clearing out most of it. It seemed like the kind of place where troublesome pests would set up home base for raids into the tamer areas of the farm.

The butt-crack. This is the top portion, the sort of plumber-butt segment at the top of the ravine, viewed from the back deck. It gets deeper, darker, moister and hairier as one goes downhill.

My plan to control garden-raiding groundhogs was simple: Let Pip free-range. This has worked precisely as expected.

And I also made plans to deal more directly with the Big Three arthropod pests. I'm averse to chemicals and lazy, so this mainly meant arranging for others to do the dirty work.

Bat houses and a purple martin house, to help control the West Nile and heartworm vector mosquitos that must surely swarm from the vicinity of the spring.

Hanging traps and the ever-popular husband with a can of politically incorrect wasp killer to take out the ground-nesting hornets and German yellowjackets that get nasty in late summer, and pose an immediate threat to my life due to an overly-enthusiastic immune system.

Guinea fowl to eat the vile, Satanic, Lyme-disease-carrying ticks from the eighth dimension.

We've been here all summer, in a house where the windows have either crummy screens or none at all. I may have suffered three mosquito bites. Seen a couple of yellowjackets (and squashed them, on the theory that eliminating the scouts may discourage the army). And found not one single tick among four dogs, three cats, and two humans.

I think the answer to these mysterious absences lie in the power of biodiversity.

The mystery of the missing mosquitos is solved every night, as we watch our resident barn swallows perform airs above the ground in the space between the house and barn. Several guano heaps in the barn and outbuildings is a small price to pay for their elegant presence and diligent attention to their appetites. There are also scores of species of other songbirds, some of which I have not yet identified, and have never seen in my life. And the dragonflies who join the swallows as my aerial escort when I mow. But I believe the swallows are the backbone.

We've been surprised to find that mosquito control is apparently accomplished entirely by the day shift workers here. I haven't seen any bats, despite the many bat-friendly structures and grandaddy trees here. We will try bat houses on the south-facing wall of the barn next year, just because we like these critters, and, as the cavers' t-shirts remind us, murcielagos necesitan amigos. I hope the swallows don't mind the competition.

The dearth of blood-sucking arachnids is the most complete, and most welcome, of our absent arthropods. The normal density of white-tailed deer frequent our acres; they bed in the hayfield and the eastern end of our larger pasture, travel through the woods to drink below the spring, help themselves to apples and crabapples in the overgrown trees, bulk up on acorns, and likely yard up in winter in the pines that mark our northern property line.

There should be ticks. This has been a bad tick year elsewhere. I've used Frontline on the dogs once -- after we all trained at a notoriously tick-ey state gameland, and found dozens of the monsters on each dog and on ourselves. (When are they going to sell me some Frontline For Peoples?) I had to tick-bomb my car after that outing.

Did I mention how much I hate ticks?

But in addition to deer, we have a healthy flock of wild turkeys. They have brush cover, acorns, berries, cherries, and bugs to eat here; apparently they like ticks best of all.

The day after we closed on the house, a big tom entertained me by performing his sexy dance thirty feet from my office window, while several more demure ladies eyed him from the brush.

And turkey guano is the Axxe body spray of the discriminating teenage farm dog. (Smells like burnt tractor tranny fluid and ass.)

Again, I'm willing to suck it up and apply shampoo in return for services rendered. Happily, even.

I got guineas anyway; just don't think I need them for tick-patrol.

The yellowjackets should have appeared in late summer, getting stoned on apple drops, guarding trash cans, dogging our barbeques, crawling into Coke cans and becoming pissy about the fact that they were soon to die.

But they're just not here.

What is here are honeybees, solitary bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees. Giant hornets, solitary wasps, colonial wasps -- big black ones with baroque waistlines, tiny parasitic ones. Scores of species of hymenoptera, and millions of individuals. The pastures, hayfield, fruit trees, mint patches, and the shaggy butt crack hum all day when the sun shines.

As an anaphylactic who is now a confirmed cross-reactor -- woo hoo! -- this would make me nervous if I didn't know three things:

-- If I leave them alone, they'll do their level best to leave me alone.

-- Harmony volunteer ambulance is a fast and professional ALS service with highly skilled paramedics. Don't ask me how I found this out.

-- Many of these wasps eat those nasty little yellow-striped communist bastards. That's where they all went. Into the bellies of monsters like this:

(Found already deceased in the dogs' water bucket; no predatory wasps were harmed in the making of this blog.)

A lot of things end up eaten by one of these, too:

The hayfield is swarming with them; Zorak here is eating a cricket, her salary for the photo shoot.

The diversity of bird and insect life here is a direct result of the diversity in the land. We have overgrown hayfield, pasture, woods with both old trees and young ones, brush and bramble, lawn, swamp, and stream. Because the multiple pastures are long and narrow, the edge habitat is maximized. And edges are where it all happens.

My fervor for shaving the hairy buttcrack of this farm with a string trimmer has dampened. The bramble, pokeweed, Joe Pye, lamb's quarters, goldenrod, fleabane -- everything except the burdock, which had a talk with the machete and the fire pit -- is wild and rank now. I hang laundry from my deck above and watch its edges, where it meets woods, pasture, barnyard, lawn and water. I never know what might happen next at the boundary.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Snowball's Chance

Over at Pet Connection, Gina is reporting on the animals abandoned by Texans who evacuated the Gulf coast and failed to make provisions for their animals.

This is no reprise of the injustices of Katrina. Snowball wasn't ripped from the arms of his screaming, vomiting child-owner in Galveston. It took an Act of Congress to prevent that travesty this time. But an Act of Congress has no power to force individuals to not be creeps.

What most "civilians" don't know about is the long history of attempts by members of the public safety and animal welfare communities to convince emergency managers that planning for pets in disasters is just good public policy.

I attended the first organizing meeting of the FEMA New England TF-1, in early 1993. The experience convinced me permanently that I could not trust FEMA, or any of the "types" who were attaching themselves to it -- my interest in becoming a handler for them evaporated when I saw the triage priorities that effectively classed an injured SAR dog with damaged equipment.

At that meeting, my friend Sue Webb -- SAR handler, animal control officer, vet tech, reserve police officer, and veteran of animal rescue post hurricane Andrew -- put the Massachusetts EMA Director into a corner. Literally. Out in the lobby. Sue is about 5'3" in her Vasques, a petite and soft-spoken Quaker lady, and that fat bombastic man was going nowhere until she was done with him.

He'd stated in a meeting session that the Commonwealth's disaster plan for animals was to tell everyone to leave them behind and run. My husband pointed out that roving packs of abandoned dogs were a safety hazard and all abandoned animals were a disease vector. No worries -- the post-disaster plan for animals was to shoot dogs on sight. Problem solved. (And authorities really did exactly this before and after Katrina. Caught on film.) Ah, but people would refuse to evacuate if it meant leaving their pets behind, creating more civilian casualties and endangering public safety personnel. No problem, we'll evacuate them all at gunpoint!

For a state with strict gun laws, Massachusetts in a hurricane was sure starting to sound like the Wild West (movie-style, not reality-style.)

The EMA Director was no match for Sue. She'd been there, done that in Homestead, and he heard every detail of how failing to plan for animals turned a natural disaster into a human-caused disaster. She used phrases like "dereliction of duty" and "criminal culpability."

It took her several years, but eventually Sue prevailed in Massachusetts. I believe the EMA Director did the good deed of finally retiring, or maybe dying. That's often the only way to accomplish the most urgent and butt-obvious reforms. Send the Old Guard to Sun City or Mount Auburn and get on with it.

But it took sixteen years and another major natural and human-caused disaster for our country to recognize -- in this little way -- that public health and public safety requires us to accommodate the way people actually behave, instead of imagining that we can force them to behave as disaster planners wish they would. Sixteen years and a little dog named Snowball lost with all the rest to acknowledge that it is a grievous injustice to do otherwise.

Because "we" knew in 1992 that planning for animals in disaster was a public safety obligation, not a woolly-headed luxury.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No joke ... Service dog makes himself of service

D'ja hear the one about the dog that called 911 ...?

No, it's really not a joke -- despite the way that most media outlets are treating the story of Buddy the GSD and his owner John Stalnaker.

Disabled man trains dog to perform life-saving function. Dog performs flawlessly at need, and also demonstrates an apparent awareness of the seriousness of the situation. 911 system correctly flags the address as one featuring a trained service dog, allowing the dispatcher to treat the call as legitimate. Police and ambulance crew save man's life.

Wacky stuff, man.

A special steaming turd goes out to the Philadelphia Examiner, for a treatment of this story that equates its news value to that of a recidivist pervert anally raping the family dog.

Here's one newspaper story that got the facts straight, refrains from smirking or making "original" dog puns, is grammatically correct, contains no glaring spelling errors that I could see (e.g. "Shepard"), and does not incorrectly state that the pup was "adopted at eight weeks from Paws With a Cause." Too bad I had to go to the foreign press to find it.

I hope Buddy's story helps to educate the dog-ignorant public about the ways that service dogs can aid people with disabilities and permit them to live independent and dignified lives.

Am I the only one who winces when she sees "enlightened" signs in public places, such as "No dogs allowed except seeing eye dogs" or the puzzling "Only medically necessary pets permitted?" (Both on the doors of major national chains that presumably retain attorneys who handle their ADA discrimination claims.)

The mainstream media doesn't seem to care to help with that. An opportunity to devote a couple paragraphs to Mr. Stalnaker's training of Buddy, or Buddy's status under the ADA, is lost in favor of platitudes about "man's best friend" and gabbling about "Fido."

(Service dog trivia. The first guide dog in the US was a German shepherd named Buddy.)

Great Red Spot

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures

Spoke to my friend Jan yesterday. She's the owner of Son-of-Pip, Brother-of-Rosie, Tuck.

Jan lives in Socorro New Mexico. Soccoro is 980 driving miles from Galveston, TX.

It is 1744 miles from Harmony, Pennsylvania.

While Ike scraps were blowing the shingles off our barn, uprooting trees, and taking out the fence at our former home in nearby Cranberry, Jan's road was being washed out by Ike rainfall.

Same storm.


Folks, we broke the planet. And it is out of warranty. We're going to have to fix it with duct tape and bailing twine ourselves. And most important -- we have to stop making it worse.

How much more dramatically can the Earth spell it out for us?

As you are sweeping out your yard, chainsawing the tree off your garage, pumping out your basement, and counting yourself lucky that this is all you have to do, ask yourself: Do I want more of the same binge-orgy attitude that created this?

More Big Oil. More agribusiness. More scientific pig-ignorance (w/lipstick). More millenialist lunacy -- "What do I care about this nasty ol' material world, Jesus gonna rapture me any day now, I got mine, beyotch!" More trashing of the world, its creatures, and its people as if it was all a weekend rental car.

Do we want to be remembered as the generation that sobered up, saw the problem, and began the solution?

Because the alternative is that there will be no one around to remember anything.

McSame, or Yes We Can?

Monday, September 15, 2008

What the ...? Don't Touch It -- It's Evil!

Found inside a curled-up cherry leaf this morning.

Anyone know what this critter is?

Thanks to Jean for the ID of a saddleback caterpillar.

Would it be a bad idea to touch it?

Feed it to the chickens?

Feed it to Zorak, the evil mantis?

Apparently so. Well, not sure about Zorak, but there are plenty of grasshoppers around, so we won't chance it.

Top view

From the side:


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ike Farts in Our General Direction

We finished up the first CDS Wilderness First Aid class hosted at our new place just in time for Ike to start passing wind at us. I'm glad to have sent our great group of students on their way before the roads became hazardous.

A number of of members of Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, and several prospective members, spent Saturday night on bivouac in the back forty. Glad they chose last night's icky sticky humid discomfort over tonight's Was That A House With a Little Girl In It That Just Flew By? ambience.

1400 miles from Galveston, and we are getting 50 mph gusts. Power has gone out twice, but back on quickly.

This afternoon, as the air started to get moving, young Rosie set upon barking at the power transformer at the top of the pole outside the house. I don't know whether it was making some uncharacteristic sound that I couldn't hear, or perhaps swaying when it is clearly supposed to remain stationary. Rosie did not succeed in driving it off, and has abandoned the attempt.

The barn kittens demanded to be let in, and are enjoying the good life in the living room.

Grill cover, a couple of trash cans, a heavy wooden bench, and several noisy objects unknown have gone walkabout into the darkness. We'll have a treasure hunt in the morning, and assess any damage to trees around the place.

After the second fire call of the night, Ken decided to just hang around the station until things quiet down; lots of jumping spitting power lines to enjoy.

All told, I'll take Ike's blowhard ways over Ivan's inland incontinence. I suspect the citizens of the Western PA towns that found themselves underwater four years ago are inclined to agree.

Casualty Update: All sentient beings under our protection weathered the night just fine. The barn roof, not so much -- quite a lot of roof shingles on the ground this morning. Ripe wild cherries that were going to become syrup this week-- trees are stripped bare. I've recovered the grill cover, several chairs, buckets, tarps, the wooden bench, bird feeders, trash cans, a pineapple plant, a broom (no one riding it at the time). One screen door may be a total loss, and a cable runner that easily withstood the lunges of a 70# GSD popped completely.

Country Living Insights: Remember to stockpile water before the power goes out. It is hard to internalize the fact that my water comes via an electric pump.

Also, those solar-powered LED landscape lights are the balls! If the power goes out, you can just go out and pluck them from their posts and bring them in -- safer than candles, and they'll last all night. If the power stays out, just set them back on their posts in the morning, and they'll recharge. We're cavers -- I've got three sources of light on me when I go to the mall. So no worries about being left in the dark. But those solar LEDs can light the whole house enough to get around. I can't say enough for the advances in LED technology that have gone commercial in the last five years.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Country Dog, City Dog

I would never keep a dog in the city. That's just cruel.

While I occasionally hear this original pearl
of "wisdom" from a cat-owning urbanite or a bona fide hick (generally one whose dog is chained to a stump out back), it's mostly parroted by smug sprawl-dwellers, the ones with the 1/4 acre of Chemlawned perfection surrounding their Maronda trophy house. The dog lives in the basement laundry room, because claws damage hardwood, and, turns out, a $1500 non-shedding, hypo-allergenic goldendoodle sheds plenty, and smells pretty bad, too. This is the dog owner who installs an invisible shock fence -- often because his homeowners' association forbids real fencing -- in a lot with indistinguishable boundaries. Nobody walks the dog -- no sidewalks, and anyway, Dustin has soccer and Kimberlee needs to get to cheering practice. Then he wonders why his trophy dog is neurotic, disobedient, and hyperactive.
But I digress.
Why start a blog about our adventure on our new farm with a post about dogs in the city?

Well, that's where we started.

Our first search and rescue (SAR) dog, Lilly, grew up in a second-story walkup apartment in an urban neighborhood in Greater Boston.

A big German shepherd with working drives and a mission in life would seem like the exact dog for whom city life constitutes cruel restriction.

I want to come back and have Lilly's life next time around.

While our d
uplex had a small yard, and our landlord even permitted me to grow a tiny vegetable garden, the realities of urban life meant that Lilly got her walks every single day -- short walks for a leg stretch and elimination, and long walks every single day. We went to the school playground, the city park, the town conservation land. One cannot skip the walks in the city, and to have pleasant walks, one cannot skip the obedience training.

Because Boston/Cambridge is a fairly sophisticated place, and at the time, the crime rate was of concern, I had little difficulty bringing Lilly to work with me. The one objection by a visiting faculty member was overruled when I shamelessly dealt out and played my sure is dangerous for females working at night around here card. So Lilly shared my space in my tiny TF crate in the basement, she heeled thro
ugh Harvard Square and Harvard Yard to classes, chilled out under the desk during class time, schmoozed with the students, knew all the tellers at our bank, had the out-of-the-way spots for down-stays memorized for each and every used book store. Lilly stayed home with the cat when we grocery shopped, ate out, and went to the movies. Otherwise, she was included.

Lilly was a sophisticated Harvard-educated city girl, with the genteel manners to show for it. She was also Mistress of the Wild
erness; in those first two years of urban life, she spent more time sleeping in a tent and carrying a backpack than most modern Boy Scouts will in their entire lives.
After we moved from Boston, the next 14 years of our lives were spent in the 'burbs, first in a close-in older suburb of Pittsburgh, then in a township that is literally a case study on the evils of sprawl. Neither place has sidewalks or anything resembling civic life. The first time I walked into a bank in Pittsburgh with Lilly at heel, one would think that I'd arrived with a bomb strapped to my chest -- except that a mad bomber would have at least gotten some respect.

Both places were tolerable because of nearby "waste" land -- an abandoned strip mine in Baldwin, and extensive fallow farmland in Cra
nberry. We walked, biked, picked berries, hunted, worked our dogs and played with them in these doomed spaces, forgotten until the developers could squeeze the maximum profits from them. The modest Cranberry house has a large fenced yard -- "perfect for dogs." Except -- my dogs were almost the only ones on the street who got walks, or training, or car rides to places other than the vet. The others, with a couple exceptions, barked at the novelty from behind their own fences.

When the bulldozers showed up on the Graham farm to the north of us, we started looking for rural property.

A year later, here we are.
But I wanted to write about Rosie.
Here is young Rosie in her natural habitat, what the biologists call the environment of evolutionary adaptation:

She wasn't born here, but she was less than a year old when her world changed from suburban restriction to the farm environment that her genes tell her is right and good. Her people have been selected for hundreds of years to live and work on small farms just like ours.

But the other thing that her genes tell her to do is to find people. We refine that with training, so that she is becoming a Mistress of Trailing Lost People. When she's operational as a trailing dog, we'll cross-train her for wilderness air-scenting and disaster work, just like her Momma.

A SAR dog -- and especially a disaster SAR dog -- needs to be rock-steady in the face of weirdness, loudness, scariness, and just-plain-wrongness.

So yesterday it was off to the city for some long-neglected "exposure" in conjunction with many errands.

We started with breakfast at Pamela's in the Strip, which has sidewalk tables and something called Lyonnaise potatoes that will surely be the death of me and I don't care. (Rosie had already enjoyed her own breakfast -- raw beef liver, rice and vegetables -- which may explain why we eat separately.)

Rosie broke her down-stay when I went inside to alert the waitress to our presence -- came to the door and looked in for me. She broke the stay so quickly and guilelessly that it was clearly a lack of understanding, not disobedience. A hole in her training. So, check -- practice out-of-sight down-stays in new environments.

She was a good girl and held her stay while I ate, but really, really wanted to greet every person who walked by. This is partly because she is genetically uber-friendly, like her mother, partly because we encourage outgoing behavior through her SAR training, and partly because she's a hick who hasn't learned to pace herself, that th
e cool dogs don't whore for every single person passing by. Picture Crocodile Dundee, hailing every passer-by in Manhattan. Just like that.
Then we drove to two different wholesalers for various raw meats, which is what Rosie and her homies eat. I had twenty minutes left on my meter, so it was time for some heeling practice. Heeling is something we've done little of, and that I don't use much in daily life in the country. But it's an important skill for a SAR dog.

Rosie did beautifully. Just like her SAR training -
- her accomplishments are well out of proportion to the degree of time and effort we've invested in attaining them. Five minutes into the walk she had mastered the automatic sit. While she still wanted to greet every passer-by, she held heel position. Several people stopped to fuss over her while she was sitting at heel, so she got rewarded for that. There were two dogs who passed nearby that were hauling their owners and being unmannerly; Rosie hates that, and made some comments under her breath, but stayed at heel.

It wasn't until I was about to cross the street to return to our car that we hit a hitch. Rosie jumped and balked and even spun a little as she startled. What had spooked her? The loud, nasty busses and trucks? No -- those weren't
bothersome. The lady with the walker? Hardly! The large crowd of loud-talking women? Just another pack of admirers in Rosie-world.

No, the wrong thing was this:

And who can blame her, really?

Rosie explained to me that this thing was pret
ending to be a person, but wasn't a person, and the eyes and hairy stuff were horrible, and it just would not do! It's a troll! An evil troll! Right here on the corner by Wholey's parking lot, not even under a bridge like he's supposed to!

I explained to her that she was right about all that, thanked her for bringing my attention to the matter, and now she was just going to have to suck it, harden up, and deal with the monster.

Took about two minutes to encourage her -- with matter-of-fact obedience exercises, not cooing and babbling -- to touch the thing
with confidence. I did not accept darting in and then popping backwards.

When I backed up to take a snapshot with my camera phone, we had to start all over. Touching the thing with Momma right there is an entirely different thing from sitting next to it all alone. But we persevered.

Notice that Rosie is neither looking directly at the camera (thus turning her back on Evil Troll Gorton's Fisherman) nor making "eye contact" with the mannequin. Her sideways stance is an attempt at self-calming.

So Rosie will meet many more wrong vaguely anthropomorphic things in her near future. Statues. Cigar-store Indians. Sports mascots. Smokey The Bear. Clowns. Creepy dolls. Department-store mannequins. "Lost hunters" in ghillie suits. Paris Hilton.

Because a search dog -- country dog, city dog, suburban dog -- needs to have the jaded nerves of a Manhattanite. When the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man lumbers onto the disaster scene raining destruction of Biblical proportions, and forty firefighters in full Haz-Mat gear are spraying it with hoses while Yog-Sothoth awakens in the crater below -- I expect my search dog to keep hunting Little Timmy's well with equanimity.