Wednesday, December 30, 2009


One year from the day that Cole, Jasmine, and Barry White were confiscated from the abusive hands of their former owner:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eat it Cold

Another fantastic PSA from the Norwegian Association of the Blind:

I would so raise a guide dog puppy for these guys.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Lied

In this post, I laxed wyrical about young Cole's quick discovery that human children were super-kewl, even though he had never seen one in his life.

Today I wanted to find some puppy photos of Cole's brother Charlie.

While reviewing my files from January, I discovered that I had lied.

On one of my last days in Billings, Operation New Beginnings got some special visitors.

The woman who filed the cruelty complaint against Linda Kapsa with Yellowstone County, and then took it in her teeth and would not let go until the authorities acted, brought her two young children.

She wanted the kids to see why Mommy had been so preoccupied. What all the fuss had been about. Why we do what is right even when it is not what is easy.

The kids could not come inside the sheriff's perimeter fence. So I broke another rule (I hadn't realized it was a rule) and randomly selected a puppy from the seven in the bitch barn to bring outside. (Or did I pick up the first one to come to me?)

The photos don't lie -- it was young Cole, not any of his siblings, romping with the children on that warm day in January.

I am not posting the cutest of the pictures, because they necessarily expose the children's faces. Not gonna do that.

Did those few minutes playing in the winter sun open up a channel in Cole's brain while his synapses were still being pruned?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There were few takers

H/T to commenter "straybaby" over at the Pet Connection for this article about veterans and homeless dogs.


One of my obscure antiquarian book treasures is this:

History of Dogs for Defense

by Fairfax Downey

Part historical record, part public relations campaign, and part excruciating period piece. Mr. Downey's attempt to affect a breezy gee whiz style provides cringe-inducing passages about "Japs" and "Nips" and lots of references to the dogs as "chum" and "pal" in stilted fictionalized dialogue. The style it most evokes is that of the miserable self-serving hack Albert Payson Terhune.

Nevertheless, it is an original source, and valuable even in the face of a possibly unreliable author. It is sometimes difficult to parse out the difference between a normal absence of foresight and an appalling lack of self-awareness on Mr. Downey's part.

Downey did not grok, for example, that his account of dogs (or more properly, dog ownership) as therapy for "shell shocked" veterans would be one of the saddest things I have ever read:

These Dogs for Convalescents as they came to be called were in effect a revival in a new form of the casualty or ambulance dog, used fairly extensively in the First World War though little in the Second. On the battlefield they ahd searched out the wounded and led parties back to their aid. Now these dogs helped wounded men find themselves. And they led their masters back to health as surely as Seeing Eye dogs guided blind veterans.

Soon after the advent of "Fritz" the Air Forces hospital and its pleasant grounds, formerly a boarding-school, began to resemble a kennel club show, an obedience class in more or less continuous session, and a K-9 training camp. Dogs were everywhere. For a time those that were house-broken were allowed to sleep at the foot of their masters' beds in the wards, but the situation reached a point where it was more than the staff could cope with, and kennels were required.

"Fritz" had created demand. Mrs. Preston and fellow-enthusiasts managed supply. Most calls were for Spaniels, German Shepherds, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Fox Terriers (both wirehaired and smooth), Boston Terriers, Collies, Setters, Pointers, Airedales, Scotties, Dalmatians, Beagles, and Retrievers. Aside from breed, patients almost always asked that their dog be a veteran of the K-9 Corps or purebred.

Insistence on purebreds was based on the wounded men's pride in the dogs' appearance, their adaptability to training, and on eagerness for pets to make a good showing in the dog show and exhibitions which commenced to be staged as part of the program. When mongrels were offered or a basket of foundling puppies was left at the gate, there were few takers.

There it is, right there. The post-war conversion of dog from working partner and companion into consumer product and brand-name ego surrogate.

Mrs. Preston, the helpful dog "fancier" who ran dog shows and brought in an AKC judge to appraise the "quality" of the wounded soldiers' kennel-bound pedigree pets -- we can thank Mrs. Preston for jump-starting the degradation of American middle-class dogs into brand-name consumer satisfaction.

Men who had given nearly all, and who had watched their friends die, to fight Nazis and Nazi ideology, now encouraged to cultivate pride in the purity of their living property, and pride in winning a contest of appearances. Taught by The Fancy as part of their government-run therapy what makes a "better" dog. Rassehund uber alles.

What decades of genetic damage and cultural delusions might have been avoided in 1944 if someone had been there to take the veterans coon hunting instead? If fair and open contests of obedience and function had channeled the soldiers' competitive urges?

Might compassion have combated consumerism in post-war America if the men had been encouraged to rehabilitate dogs who needed them, rather than demand dogs with the appearance they had been conditioned to want?

Sixty-five years later, thanks to Pets2Vets, the basket of foundling puppies finally has some takers.

Monday, December 21, 2009



See. Worked.

Timing is everything.

A joyous Solstice to you and yours

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lilly's Choice Biscuits

Ten years ago, Lilly was the celebrity judge for a dog biscuit baking contest at a local animal shelter's fundraising fair.

Mel was disqualified for being insufficiently discriminating in her "food" choices. But she did a dandy demonstration of opening dog-proof containers.

This was the winning recipe, and I've never found a dog who disagreed with Lilly about it.

I usually make a double batch of these, and will cook some up tonight. I got a lot of shredded cheese very cheap -- the local stores are pricing them as loss leaders this week.

Lilly's Choice Biscuits


1 cup rolled oats (oatmeal)
1/3 cup butter or margerine
1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup corn meal
1 tablespoon sugar
1-2 teaspoons bouillon (I use the paste-type soup base)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1 cup (4 oz by weight) shredded cheddar
1/2 cup milk
1 beaten egg

2-3 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour

Pre-heat oven to 325
Grease cookie sheets

In large bowl combine
boiling water

Set aside for ten minutes while the oats swell up.

Mix in well

Add flour one cup at a time, mixing each cup in well. This will form a stiff dough. Continue adding flour while kneading in to dough ball on a floured surface until dough is smooth and no longer sticky -- about 3-4 minutes of kneading. Roll dough* to 1/2" thickness. Cut out with cookie cutters.

Place 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 35-45 minutes -- until golden brown. Smack Professor Chaos' hand with spatula as he steals them. (These are delicious, but once cooled, a bit hard for human teeth). Cool completely before storing.

* I use a pastry cloth and stockinette roller cover for all my pastry rolling needs now. Has made life much easier.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snapshot Saturday: Fosters' First Snow

Jasmine and Cole were puppies when they were seized almost one year ago.

As a throwaway unsold pup out in the infamous "J-pen," Jasmine's baby experience of winter and snow does not bear contemplation. Cole, who was found in a hole under a trailer, experienced less of winter, but more than any month-old puppy ever should.

Barry White is perhaps five or six years old. He has known Winter.

Some of the older dogs have shown some behavior regression as snow and ice take over the landscape of their new homes.

Though Jasmine and Barry White are now sleeping indoors and spending part of each day in the house as well as their time in the well-sheltered kennel and their walks and playtime, they are now eating twice as much food as a month ago. Winter is hungry for calories. The Snow Queen will take those animals who can't get enough.

Barry White is not comfortable in the confines of the house -- he's still nervous about tight spaces, narrow doorways, and traps of all kinds. But when I go out to bring him in on the coldest nights, he pulls me towards the front door and the promise of warmth. I put the dogs out in the morning while I layer up and fill water buckets for morning chores. While the youngsters romp, Barry White stays on the porch staring at the front door, waiting for me to appear. He doesn't want to come back inside -- he wants me to come out. Once I reappear, he will trot off to scombre and even join the frolic for a moment.

This morning was our first real snow, and our first snowy frolic. The fosters' lesson for this day is that the Snow Queen does not reign here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A departure from our regular programming

For our nieces, and all our young friends:

Be strong. Be smart. Learn to do a difficult thing well. Don't be distracted by things.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Photo Phriday: Hot Date

Patsy and Edina are off on what, in the goat world, is considered a double date.

They don't mind the young fellow they went off to meet, but the inlaws are beastly.

I'm glad they still fit in the car, which saved me the trouble of building a stock box onto my trailer. I'm even gladder that neither decided to profane the (tarp covered) car.

Foster dog Barry White helped me load them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: US

The BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed will air tomorrow -- Thursday, December 10 -- on BBC America. 8 pm Eastern, 7 pm Central.

Check now to see if your cable or satellite system carries BBC America. Set your recording implements! This is not one to miss.

I believe this may be the "international edition" mentioned by filmmaker Jemima Harrison. If so, we may see our friend Dr. John Burchard.

In Britain, the airing of this documentary elicited lawsuits, shrieks, and recriminations from the Dog Fancy and its bureaucratic superstructure.

But it also backed them into a very tight corner, and has forced reform that would have never occurred otherwise.

The US Fancy Establishment, primarily embodied in the American Kennel Club, is larger, more contaminated by the puppymill industry, and even more arrogant than the British Kennel Club.

Will they attempt reform? Or continue to circle the wagons in the face of registration revenues that have been shooting down the crapper for over a decade?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Seized and Saved

Henry and Copper. Not yet made whole. We're looking at about $3000 each for their orthopedic surgeries, not counting aftercare. A private donor is covering the remainder of Henry and Copper's surgery costs. (She types through tears...)

When is an animal "rescued?"

The video crews catch the initial gore and horror: The scarred pit bull on his logging chain, the skeletal horse hock-deep in in mud, a hundred cats peering from holes in the wall.

The news footage shows the "rescue" -- trucks and trailers, mountains of crates, live traps and catch-poles and people wearing dust masks and t-shirts with the name of some National Animal Charity in VERY LARGE LETTERS on the back.

They gather up the miserable creatures and make them Go Away. They rescue them.

Maybe, if this show came to a Theater Near You, you might catch a news brief a few weeks later about their former owner's plea bargain, and how she "signed over" all the animals in return for leniency on the charge of cruelty to animals. Whew. That's good. Now the animals are really rescued.

Of course they are. For decades, you will see tiny clips of these same miserable crime victims against New Age background music and a Genyoowine Hollywood Celebruvoiceover.

Today I saw a seven-year-old picture of some of these dogs on my teevee while Nina from Just Shoot Me told me to send $19 a month to the National Animal Charity -- in this case, the HSUS -- to rescue them.

Where are the after pictures?

The shining horse carrying her rider down the trail. The sleek pit bull lolling on the sofa cushions. Smug moggies sunning on the windowsill.

In many cases, the after pictures would be problematic fundraising, because they look like this.

Or in the case of horses, even this.

It wasn't the man or woman trying to plea bargain on charges of cruelty who killed them.

It was the "rescuers" who determined that all seized pibbles are "fighters" and all "fighters" are irredeemable. That hoarded cats, once extracted from the drywall, are expensive to vet and time-consuming to tame. That seized horses are expensive to keep and can be quickly unloaded at auction.

But more and more, animals that are seized are getting an opportunity to live and to heal.

It may take months of patient training before a puppymill survivor can stand upright on a leash or work up the nerve to take some chicken from a human hand.

Untold hours in the round pen -- and hay, wormer, and the farrier on speed-dial -- to make a neglected horse into something other than a Frenchman's sandwich.

The cats will need to be treated for URIs, say goodbye to their gonads, and, if an implacable volunteer with a lap and a feather wand can't convince them that the Good Life lies in an easy chair, they'll need to find productive employment as barn cats.

The humans who accomplish these transformations are not the employees of the National Animal Charity.

In addition to the time -- volunteer time, unpaid time, time gifted for love -- this all takes money.

Money for food, money to transport, money for kennel runs and fencing, and, frequently, lots and lots of money for veterinary care. Sometimes, specialist surgery.

Like this girl.

While the HSUS was sending her pictures around as part of a scheme to raise a million bux this month, Fay was having her first surgery to fix her amputated lips.

Brilliant! The HSUS is taking care of Fay! They have the ability to raise beaucoups bux and pay the surgeon. Then, when she's all fixed up, they'll find her a home.

Or ... not.

True, the HSUS was part of the drama when Fay was seized. They will waste no opportunity to tell us so.

They never owned Fay.

They never had custody of Fay.

They never fed Fay.

They spelled Fay's name wrong.

The warm bed in the safe place is being provided by Gale.

Gale, like virtually everyone who works "for" or runs a Small Local Animal Charity or Small Focused Animal Charity (such as a breed or disability-focused rescue), is a volunteer.

If my experience with NESR is representative -- and I believe it is -- there is no "fundraising budget." We use our websites and email lists to ask for support. Volunteers work the phones and sweet-talk corporations for donations that represent peanuts to them, jackpot to us when it comes through. We scrounge supplies on Craig's list. Foster families feed the beasties.

If the HSUS persuades good-hearted animal lovers to send them a million dollars this month -- 1% of their 2008 revenues -- perhaps $300,000 will be available for "program costs." Including their employee's salaries, office space, vehicles ...

The rest will pay for Nina van Horn to tell us on the teevee to send more moneyz.

Meanwhile, Gale and her fellow volunteers scrape and beg to get together the vet fees for Fay's multiple surgeries.

But I already sent money to the Humane Society for that dog! They sent me an email! Who are these people asking for more!

They are the ones still rescuing Fay.

She's not rescued when the bolt cutters sever her chain.

She's not rescued when the video camera is packed up and the van drives away.

She's not rescued when the man who cut her lips off signs her over, nor when he is sentenced for his crime. Indeed, that has historically been when she is most likely to be killed by her custodians.

She's not rescued when she puts the first tentative foot onto a cushion by the hearth of a foster family's den.

She is not rescued when the surgeon pulls the last stitch.

She's rescued when she has been made as whole in body and mind as can be done, and she's living a life as a normal dog. Not an object of pity, not a poster girl for anything, not a project -- just somebody's dog.

The hard work of rescue takes months, years. It has nothing to do with catch-poles or t-shirts with VERY LARGE LETTERS displayed for the cameras.


Of course, the punch line to Fay's story is that the HSUS was caught with its pants down and its pecker in the apple pie.

Confronted by bloggers here and here and on Twitter and Facebook, the National Animal Charity now claims that it will be sending money to pay for Fay's surgeries -- the ones it claimed were already done on its fundraising video. Five thousand dollars -- which is not the full amount needed. Chump change to the HSUS -- and the largest line item in the budget of almost any local or focused volunteer rescue.

Fay's foster human will believe it when she sees it.

Meanwhile, the HSUS probably brought in $5000 within five minutes of sending that email. And continues to rake it in.

Fay will reap some benefit from the HSUS's most recent experience with the mousetrap in the cookie jar. She's fortunate to carry visually stunning evidence of physical abuse, fortunate that she became the poster pit for a cynical money-pitch, fortunate that they got caught in a lie that was specifically and concretely about her.

What about the others?

The other dogs from the Missouri fight bust -- dogs whose needs may be less visually apparent, less dramatic. This one needs a dental, that one is hypothyroid. All these need to be spayed. This guy needs to see a chiropractor to do something about the damage that logging chain did to his neck. This one really needs to see a professional trainer.* All these need to be tested for heartworm and treated for coccidia. This is the hard work of rescue, as well as the expensive part.

Thousand dollar vet bill here, fifteen hundred there ... pretty soon you are talking real money. The three bux profit you got from selling each Studmuffins of Rescue '09 calendar doesn't go nearly as far as you thought it might.

And so on.

We think it's great that the HSUS is now thinking in terms of survivors, rather than proclaiming each animal "rescued" when the bolt cutters come out and then advocating that they be summarily executed for the crime of having been a victim.

We'll believe they mean it when the money starts flowing. Sure, it's likely that Fay's rescuer will see the $5000 -- such a pittance from the hundred-million-dollar budget when you've been caught in the lie, it's cheaper to cut the check than to dodge the truth.

Will Copper (broken carpals -- $3000+) or Henry (two destroyed knees -- $3000+) or Charlie (one slipping patella, $500+ if the GP can fix it) have to suffer through a bunch more bake sales before they can be rescued?


* Why is it that it is assumed that veterinarians who provide care to animals owned by nonprofit rescue groups will be paid for their services -- while those who make their modest living as trainers are expected to always work pro bono? Because we love animals and shouldn't ever take any money for our time and expertise. Unlike a vet, who is a professional.

I'm not in any way dissatisfied with my professional decision to provide pro bono services for NESR -- it has been my choice, and I believe that all professionals should donate services to some worthy cause of their choice.

But you know, a trainer's mortgage payment is not pro bono.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Photo Phriday: Mount Jasmine

There are some benefits to being under emerald ash borer quarantine.

Arborists, township road crews, and the utility company guys who turn street trees into hideous Suessian lollipops are not allowed to move wood chips very far. It can be challenging for a tree guy to find a legal place to dump a truckload of what I consider primo hardwood mulch.

The foster kennel is already mulched inside, but the outside run, which was originally turf, was starting to edge towards mucky.

So a while back, when I saw the big orange Asplundh truck parked outside a local mechanic's shop, I nipped in to see if the tree guy was there.

He wasn't, but the shop belongs to Professor Chaos' assistant fire chief (because, small town, if you haven't already got that). Neil said he'd mention it to the guy, and I put a note on his window with a map and phone number.

About a week later, this enormous truck just appeared. It could not have taken on even one more wafer-thin mint of a woodchip.

I opened up the side of the run of the foster kennel, and the guys dumped all the chips in.

Trouble is, I pulled an intercostal muscle last week, and what I certainly cannot do is rake. Or fork. Or be useful in any way.

My cunning plan is to lock up Jasmine and Cole for a few hours of puppy romping at a time, and get them to distribute the pile.

So far they seem willing and energetic, but are not making much headway.

Barry White isn't bothered by it, but doesn't see much point in the kidnicks' because it is there philosophy.

Wednesday night when I went out to bring Jasmine and Barry White inside for the night, she was curled up in a ball on top, fast asleep.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Polishing the Turd that is Cranberry

Professor Chaos has the cover story in this week's Pittsburgh City Paper.

I don't care how purty a developer talks about "greenways."

When I see a man with a tripod and a theodolite at the edge of my hayfield, I find the key to the gun safe.

My last day on the Graham farm in Cranberry was a day or so after I returned from my Houlie Puppyseed trip to the upper Midwest. I dropped off one foster dog and delivered two puppies to their new owners. Then I came home.

It was also only a few weeks after the death of Mel, which has left a jagged hole in the universe that will never heal over.

I took Pip, Moe, Rosie and Sophia for a walk. Since Rosie was a wee tot, I drove to the coffin plant rather than walk them all up the street and across Rochester Road.

We set down our usual path into the woods, where a few weeks before I'd taken Rosie and all her siblings on a Puppy Outward Bound Adventure.

And then, quite abruptly, there was no woods. No path. Nothing.

A moonscape.

In the distance, a mountain of wood chips.

And a machine into which trees disappeared and wood chips shat forth.

Another jagged hole in the universe.

I pulled out my phone and called Professor Chaos. Between sobs I told him that we needed to start looking for land. Somewhere else. Right now.

Lassie of Borg

H/T to Smartdogs for the most addictive timesuck of all, Paleo-Future.

Just reinforces my perennial pique.

Where is my damned jetpack!?

Why is there no cheerful robot cooking my dinner?

How come no monorail?

And how did past futureologists envision 21st century "pets?"

LONDON (UPI) -- The programming of family pets to perform various tasks and various deeds, good or evil as required, may be fairly common practice by the year 2000, according to an American psychologist.

Dr. Boris Levinson of Touro College in New York, a specialist on relationships between people and animals, said that by the end of the century pets controlled by brain electrodes may become commonplace. Recent experiments make this a strong probability, he said.

"it does not lie in the realm of science fiction," Dr. Levinson told a symposium organized by the British Small Animals' Veterinary Association. "In a sense the electrodes will make the animals become living robots. They will be able to open doors, close windows, adjust beds and even call for help."

He said pets could even be used for warfare and for espionage and if the knowledge of genetic engineering involved fell into the hands of insurgent groups they could be employed in bombings and in plane hijackings. Criminals might use them in the commission of theft, robbery and even murder.

But he said most pets would play a highly beneficial role in society -- "a very important safety valve in a sick society" -- as specially trained companions to invalids, old people, childless couples and even astronauts.

Dr. Levinson's remarks brought quick reactions in this nation of animal lovers. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other animal lovers described "exploitation" of pets as reprehensible.

Dr. Levinson pointed out that dogs had been used as living bombs in the Russo-German fighting in World War II an he was stating the possibilities.

"We can already implant minute electrodes into animals' brains to make them placid, angry or to stop them attacking," he said. "It is only a matter of time before electrodes can be implanted into every part of the brain to make them do whatever we wish."

Putting aside Dr. Levinson's muddy conflations of remote-control with "training," animal with "pet," and brain implants with genetic engineering, this 35 year-old prognostication raises interesting questions.

Dogs and helper monkeys already perform all the services Dr. Levinson predicts, and much more.

They can do this because of training, not electrode implants.

The BNW of remote-controlled pets has not come to pass, and I don't see any sign of it on the horizon.

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the principles of training animals. There are new tools. Not the same thing. Everything you or I have ever done to train a dog or another animal to do any given thing has been done before, and was probably done before the invention of agriculture. We're continually rediscovering and rearranging old knowledge for our current needs. Those with an inferiority complex invent new jargon so as to seem original.

But brain implants that directly controlled motor functions would be entirely new.

If it was available, if it worked, would you do it?

Would you have your dog wired?

What needs, human or canine, could induce you to do so?

What if the electrodes simply delivered stimulation to the pain or pleasure centers of the dog's brain -- so that we are, however tenuously, back in the realm of "training?"

Would you deliver a remote punishment to the dog's brain?

What about a remote reward?

If you see a difference, what is it?

borg dog sez  you will be assimilated
see more dog and puppy pictures

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kick Me

The turkeys have been bullying Sophia.

She's the largest dog here. She's the only one who has ever seriously injured another animal. (Forgot about all those murdered groundhogs for a minute there ...) Her people routinely take down bad guys, both for fun and for real. Yet the birds see a giant "Kick Me" sign on her ass.

Last week they got her cornered on the front porch; we looked out to see her cowering against the door, hackled from occiput to tail-tip, growling and snapping. The birds were not impressed. We had to let Rosie out to serve them, as she does in this clip.

Yet tiny Rosie, and even tinier Cole, easily drive or gather the turkeys, put them up in their coop, and generally keep order in the flock. The turkeys don't even think about giving any crap to any of the English shepherds. Notice the space they give Pip and Rosie in the clip.

At the moment they are cooped most of the time -- not for stalking the German shepherd, but for their serial acts of vandalism and hooliganism up in the village.

The neighbors didn't tell me about the "visits" -- or the turkey crap on their Weber grills, broken porch tchotchkes, stolen pet food -- until they'd been at it a week and developed a habit. When my neighbor came to tell me about the attempted theft of his Christmas lights, Rosie, Cole and I had to drive them home from over half a kilometer away.

This a long way to chase a dozen turkeys.

Now I only let them out for about an hour before bedtime, when I can keep an eye on them.

Photo Phriday: Whew -- that was close

The turkeys are all still with us. Proof:

Dale thrives. She is so fat she cannot cluck (she grunts) and I periodically have to extract her when she gets stuck in a regular-sized nest box. As the slowest hen, she became a "favorite" of the adolescent former cross-dressing, gang-raping roosters. Roosters don't mind fat chicks.

What, you say something is wrong here?

"You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office -- and then, there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland."
-- Barack Obama

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blog Remix: Gaiting Away from Omelas

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows' crossing flights over the music and the singing.

The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes--the child has no understanding of time or interval--sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear.

These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Photo Phriday: Quaaaaak!

No ducks were harmed in the gang-creaming of this German shepherd.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Notorious Murderer Wolfgang Werle's Feelings Are Hurt

Where's Waldo? Find the slander in this Wikipedia article.

Come on folks, keep looking.


Turns out, in the New, Improved, Sensitive New Age We Would Never Incinerate So Many Jews It Would Compromise The Air Quality Germany, the delicate sensibilities of convicted murderers are a precious, precious orchid that we must protect.

Read it first in The Register

Attorneys took the action on behalf of Wolfgang Werlé, one of two men to receive a life sentence for the 1990 murder of Walter Sedlmayr. In a letter sent late last month to Wikipedia officials, they didn't dispute their client was found guilty, but they nonetheless demanded Wikipedia's English language biography of the Bavarian star suppress the convicted murder's name because he is considered a private individual under German law.

Werlé's "rehabilitation and his future life outside the prison system is severely impacted by your unwillingness to anonymize any articles dealing with the murder of Mr. Walter Sedlmayr with regard to our client's involvement," they wrote. "As your article deals with a local German public figure (such as the actor Walter Sedlmayr), we expect you are aware that you have to comply with applicable German law."

Apparently the German-language Wikipedia has pussied out and engaged in a little small-scale denial, which if it had been about six million Jews instead of one gay actor, would itself be a crime in the Heimat.

Will Murderer Werle's solicitous solicitors bring suit against the German newspapers next, requiring them to hire an army of Winston Smiths to revise the microfiche archives?

As a blogger who has been drawn into reporting about a notorious criminal case in which insidious revisionism has been a noxious force from the beginning, this hits rather close to home.

If everyone cannot report the name of a convicted felon -- much less the facts of the crime as determined by a court of law -- then no one is shielded from lies and atrocity. From being stabbed in the neck and kidneys and then beaten to death with a hammer, say.

I don't suppose anything can be done for German citizens if the German government decides to shut down the internet in order to help a hammer-murderer get all self-actualized 'n stuff. It would be up to them, whether to, you know, follow orders.

But I certainly hope, as Professor Chaos just noted, that the US Government supports its Constitution -- as protecting ourselves from foreign oppressors is kind of the whole point. The appropriate response to a foreign court attempting to extract money or silence from an American citizen engaged in lawful speech is "Why don't you try to come and get it?"

As for Herr Werle the hammer-murderer and his deep need to buy carpentry tools in privacy -- shame about that Streisand Effect.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Still Life

Saturday Pip and I deployed to Virginia on an ASRC callout for the kind of search I least want to do.

The kind where, as you are doing your best to be diligent and thorough and up to the highest standards in the technical execution of your work, you fervently hope for no results, because if the ground search effort is successful, it is the worst news possible. This girl is not a missing hiker. If she's in the woods three weeks after disappearing from a stadium parking lot, it is not an episode of Survivorman.

As long as the ground search remains fruitless, there is hope: Hope that a feckless young metalhead is rockin' out in Cancun with some hairy dude named Tusk, hope that somewhere a blond is waking up with a new tattoo and a mouth that tastes like a tire fire, even hope that she plots her escape from an abductor's cellar, from a living hell that is, after all, living.

Still life.

We've had some searches over the decades in which we knew the inevitable outcome. Crime victims whose murderers had confessed. Partial remains. Evidence of blood loss incompatible with life. Witnessed drowning.

That somber chore -- to restore the earthly remains of a departed soul to his survivors -- offers no ambivalence. A successful search does not help much -- but it does help.

But these "most likely scenario" searches offer the successful searcher an opportunity to kill hope. This does not make one's day.

Then there's the plenty of time out on task to cogitate on the fairness thing.

Another massive search effort for a rich, pretty white girl.

Not that missing rich, pretty white girls do not deserve to be sought tirelessly.

But so did this lady. Exactly as much. Exactly.

And well -- you know, I could go on ...

I won't even get into the Byzantine interstate SAR politics that yesterday equated my multiply-certified, battle-tested, impeccably professional partner, myself, my two teammates, and my sixty-some highly-trained SAR colleagues with "anyone over 18 with a state-issued ID." Including the associates of a notorious felon.

Because I don't train for those people, and neither do my teammates.

Anyway, it was an unseasonably lovely day in Charlottesville when Pip and Eric and I set out to comb some woodland for clues. Pip's main job was to find any scent clues and tell me about them. We humans needed to navigate accurately, choose search tactics that kept Pip downwind of the unsearched portion of the area, avoid hazards, and use our eyes like any other searcher.

When your eyes are peeled bare for six hours, looking for drag marks, disturbed earth, a black t-shirt, crystal bling -- anything that might be relevant, anything that does not belong -- the other thing that you see is everything. Even stuff that does belong, but is worth noticing.

Like this:

I saw it as we were about to head back to our car for a snack before tackling the other half of our search area. Actually I saw Pip see it -- she noticed the contrasting whiteness, briefly checked it out, and declared it background noise. It certainly did not smell relevant to her.

Lots of deer skulls in the woods, but I never find one with two undamaged antlers. This needed to come home. Antlers don't fit into backpacks well, so I was carrying it under my arm as we walked down the road that formed one of our task boundaries.

As luck would have it, a local television reporter driving by gave herself whiplash when she saw the cute doggy in the orange vest. Never fails.

She asked if she could get video of us. We told her that we didn't have time to stop, and that she needed to check in at the command post.

This gave me just enough time to wrap the skull in my jacket before she started rolling. The press will be press.

I just really did not want to be the searcher shown on-camera dragging a skull out of the woods, no matter the species of its former owner. Some people would not, you know, grok this.

But inside my small pack was something that I do not grok.

That does not belong.

Yes, those are lemons.

They were on and under a large, vigorous, weird-looking spiky lemon tree.

Out in the middle of the dense and untraveled woods. Uncultivated.

In Charlottesville Virginia.

38 degrees latitude.

I smelled them before I saw the tree.

Pip's job description does not include acknowledging errant citrus; she continued to work while I looked around for the source of the incongruity. Since we had detected a few party spots in the course of our task, I suppose I was imagining some odd variant on these. But there was the tree, surrounded by drops and loaded with fruit.

I'd have been less surprised to encounter a family of penguins.

I've asked about it on the citrus forum of Garden Web. No response.

Everything the Googles has uncovered indicates that lemons don't grow north of Florida.

I have no friggin' explanation. None. The tree is an impossibility.

So, driving north to home last night with my teammate Chris and a bag of the fragrantly impossible, we mulled over the not-so-strange case of the missing Metallica fan.

I recounted a disagreement I had with my ONB training partner, Douglas, when I had worried that a certain individual was not above harming or killing a dog in order to seek revenge on people involved in ONB.

Douglas told me I was being ridiculous, that what I was postulating was "TV levels of evil."

Meaning: People don't act that awful in real life -- it has to be badly scripted. Douglas was referring to, let's say, Dynasty scripting.

Yet SAR responders' stock-in-trade is slogging through the consequences of TV levels of evil that are so shopworn, we sometimes wonder if we are living repeats.

We perform our duties in a world where the first, and usually last, suspect in a child's violent death is one or both of her parents.

We sit on our hands while public servants decide that an all-out search is unnecessary for someone -- someone who is not rich, is not white, is not pretty, but is just as missing as Chandra Levy.

We watch as public servants and our self-declared colleagues in volunteerism obstruct professional search efforts as they play out their territorial pissing matches and ego fantasies -- while the lost person's survivability curve plummets by the hour.

We smell the piss and neglect in the dank nursing home, and wonder how long that 98 year-old has really been missing.

We look into the glassy eyes of the mother of a runaway boy who is trying to convert us to her religion while we are trying to find her son, and know that there was a reason he hopped a freight.

We wonder how the swindlers with a magic search dog and a "100% success rate" stay out of prison for years and keep garnering breathless laudatory press coverage and the fatuous loyalty of law enforcement.

We see TV levels of evil all the damned time. More than we do on TV.

Okay, sure -- there's plenty of selection bias. We all imagined our SAR duties in terms of misplaced hikers, wandering children, stranded climbers, and trackless wilderness. Our reality is wandering dementia patients, once-a-year Nimrods with cardiac histories, the victims of violent atrocities, and the trash-strewn strip-mined gully behind the assisted-living center.

TV levels of evil are the bleached deer skull in the thicket of a SAR career. Interesting to find, but no surprise. Something that belongs.

So Chris and I parsed out the obvious selection bias, and just went with people we knew in our personal lives. The neighbor who stabs his parents to death in their bed. The one who shoots her child and then herself. The one who invites her illicit lover in to rape her teenage daughter while her husband is out of town. The brother's best friend who murders his 13 year-old girlfriend, molests the body, and then disposes of the evidence with the help of his aunt. The former lover serving federal time for treason. And those are just the things we know about.

TV has got nothing on real life for the ubiquity of human evil. It's not the skull in the woods, it is the woods themselves.

So perhaps what we work for is the impossible. That part of the woods that we do not expect, but must be open to seeing.

Ron Remich, the unwitting Patron Saint of my SAR career. The dead man who insisted on being alive four days after he went missing without his insulin or his anti-rejection meds, and taught me that I have no right to kill a lost person in my head. No right to search for a body when I might be searching for a man.

If not for Ron Remich, I would have given up hope for young Jacob Allen. I'd have been looking for a dead boy, not the live boy we found. Maybe I'd have dismissed his parents' account and turned a jaundiced eye upon them, wondering what they'd done with their handicapped son. Given in to the omnipresence of evil. Instead, I rolled out of my sleeping bag every morning and went to work on a rescue, not a recovery.

Ron and Jacob remind me to believe in the reality of the improbable.

The inconceivable existence of a wild lemon tree in central Virginia. The remote prospect that a rich, pretty white girl has not succumbed to the most likely scenario, the most banal story of evil.

A bowl of impossible lemons makes a decent still life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Flows downhill

This Spring, when Professor Chaos had the bionic implant done on his chubby, flat, right foot, I had the privilege of playing Step-n-Fetchit for him, then a few weeks of four-hour-a-day rush-hour unpaid chauffeur duty, and a couple of months of managing every farm and household chore single-handed.

Which metaphor I never appreciated properly until we got the farm, and had a hundred-times daily lessons on how a given chore or repair that would take two people two minutes takes one person a half hour and a small storm-cloud of profanity.

A dog may be far better than a hired man for helping with livestock, but they suck at holding the window frame while I screw in a new hinge. Also, cannot lug a five-gallon poultry waterer.

The by-catch of all this, aside from a persistent vile temper in excess of the baseline, was the near-destruction of my upper back and neck.

A new physician, presented with the primary complaint of neck and back pain and severe paresthesia in both hands, questioned whether my insomnia might not indicate a need for antidepressants, and ordered up a a few fuck-you radiographs and a butt-cam for good measure. Neither revealed anything of interest. So, ipso facto, nothing wrong with me, thankyoucomeagain..

(Anyone know a decent internist/GP in the North Hills of Pittsburgh? Someone who, you know, actually practices medicine? Still looking ...)

The chiropractor strung me along for about six weeks, and I still couldn't feel my hand.

Finally, in July, my witch-doctor friend flew in as close as Dayton to teach a clinic. I drove out the night before, and a half-hour after deplaning, she got into my back, made me do things that made me cry, and essentially fixed me. Within four days the parasthesia was gone, and it has not come back.

Today Professor Chaos is having his left paw sliced, and I no wanna repeat.

So last month, I spent a couple days devising a labor-saving gadget that is, after a four-week trial, safe to say, the cat's ass.

The most tedious chore on the farm has been keeping the poultry supplied with plentiful, clean water.

First of all, there isn't a single commercial poultry-fount design that I would kick a duck in the ass with. We have at least six different designs, and each one of them sucks in some different way -- fragile, tips, leaks, won't open, won't close, hard to clean, clogs, breaks. And none of them are cheap, at least, for what you get.

So I bought some parts and made a poultry waterer that is easy to keep clean, does not leak, does not clog, does not tip, and never leaves my birds without plenty of water -- and I've only refilled it once since I installed it. It takes less than a minute a day to clean, and there is no heavy lifting involved. The heaviest work is pulling the garden hose up about 12' with a string.

First, I bought a self-filling dog water bowl. About $12 on sale somewhere.

I already had a 55 gallon plastic barrel that had served as a rain barrel for many years at our former home. It had cost me $5 -- I see them on Craig's List for $10 all the time nowadays.

I installed a new plastic spigot near the bottom. Spigot cost about $3 at Trader Horne.

I had some good-quality hose that I'd salvaged from the curb quite a while ago. Someone ran over a long, expensive hose with his lawnmower, and rather than cut out the damaged part and repair, he pitched it. My gain.

A shut-off valve for the downhill (in-coop) end -- about $3.

Male and female ends for the hose, about a buck and a half per.

My poultry are cooped in the lower level of our bank barn. Upstairs is hay storage and gear/equipment storage.

So I moved the empty rain barrel into the upper part of the barn, directly above the chicken coop. Positioned it over a strong beam near the foundation, and set it up on some cribbing so that the spigot isn't so close to the floor that the hose kinks.

Ignore the wood detritus around the barrel -- it rained down during roof repair last week.

Drilled a hole in the floor. This was harder than it sounds. The floor is oak, and 1 1/2" thick. Fortunately that is two courses of boards, so I was just able to pull this off with a hole saw and a chisel.

Fed the hose through the floor, and down into the coop.

Secured the bowl to the wall so that the chickens have to reach a little in order to drink. Shorter chickens can stand on the ramp to the pop-door. This way, less junk gets into the bowl.

The bowl is mounted on four screws with its keyhole mounts. It is secure on the wall, but easy to lift out to clean.

I just bring a bucket into the coop in the morning, lift the bowl off the mount, slosh the dusty water into the bucket, wipe the bowl off with a damp rag, and make sure that the new water glugging in is clean.

The drip you see at the shut-off valve in the photo is because I had just cleaned the bowl and inadvertently loosened the connection a little. I've since cranked it very tight.

I could have just as easily placed the barrel outside and uphill of the coop. This would have made filling it even easier. I bring the garden hose from the house up into the barn with a string that dangles down through a siding board that isn't nailed down at the bottom, and gives the barn swallows an entrance when the door is closed. But since the barrel is white, I wanted to keep it out of the sunlight so I wouldn't have to contend with algae. I also have some terra-cotta colored and blue barrels, and those would be better for an outdoor installation.

If I lived someplace level, I'd have built a frame/platform for the barrel that raised it to about chest level, and placed it very close to the coop.

Someone asked why I don't just run a hose straight to the coop from the house.

Last year, a hose that I left on burst while I was out for the day. Came home to a well cistern that had actually been sucked dry. Fortunately our well-pump has a safety shutoff and didn't fry, but we were without water for a day.

This single innovation has cut poultry chore time by about 75%.

Come winter, we'll probably have to go back to hauling water on the coldest days. I could heat the reservoir, but keeping the hose flowing overnight, when the birds don't drink, would be a bitch. Still, unless we have another apocalyptic winter, this should be about a month of water-hauling total.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


H/T to Patrick over at Terrierman for this post about the AKC's streamlined merchandise-handling software for puppy-mill retailers.

Seems that I remember a few years ago, the AKC hacks backed down in the face of a torch-and-pitchfork mob of breed club delegates who objected to a speshul marketing program designed to keep puppymill products on the AKC rolls, the better to profit from the money-for-paper scam that pays those Madison Avenue salaries.

What they did, of course, was just transfer the scheme to an administrative hidey-hole and quietly go forward with their attempt to re-capture market share from the puppymillers' new, no-questions-asked "registries."

Reading the PDF instructions for Petland clerks on how to instantly register "inventory" with the AKC -- a nice cut of additional revenue for the retailer, and the only way Ron Menaker is going to make his boat payment -- I was struck by this clause under "Adding a Dog to the Store."

Dogs can also be added to the general inventory by the AKC based on the AKC’s assessment of the dog’s pedigree. The store will fax pedigrees for non-AKC dogs to the AKC and the AKC staff determines if the dog is eligible for AKC registration within two business days. Eligible dogs are automatically uploaded to the inventory.

Just, wow.

The one thing that AKC could reserve for its dubious bragging rights was a claim of "purity" and "pedigree integrity."

What this meant in paperwork terms was, if an owner neglected to properly register his dog or bitch within the allotted time, if he lost the registration paperwork, or for any reason all the i's weren't dotted and the t's crossed, that dog's offspring could never be registered. Nevermind that the dog was clearly purebred, that the owner had the dog's pedigree, might even own the dam himself. Did not matter.

And puppies from unregistered parents in most breeds could not command anything like the price for registered pups.

Which is, you know, deranged. Regardless, this created a powerful incentive for owners snap to it and fill out the paperwork and send their money to Madison Avenue each and every generation.

This obedience to unelected authority has always been very important to the dog fancy set. A "reputable" breeder has his paperwork in order. A dirtbag BYB doesn't send in his registration fees.

But a puppymiller did -- until the "industry" discovered that they could make things much easier and cheaper for themselves by creating their own "flexible" no-questions-asked money-for-paper schemes.

Now I'm pretty sure that an ordinary pet owner who has a "pedigree" for his purebred dog, but no litter registration slip, is still hosed.

But apparently a pup from unregistered parents can now "qualify" almost instantly for AKC registration -- for inclusion in the "pure" gene pool of whatever breed. Just so long as it came from a puppymill and is being sold at retail from the deli case at a mall near you.

No DNA testing. No photographs. No review by experts from the breed club. No investigation into the paperwork irregularities. No punitive fees for the special case.

Because getting a cut of the profits from the living "inventory" is going to goose the bottom line this week way more than being a stickler for record-keeping is.

As for next week -- well, I guess that depends upon who finds out and what they do about it, doesn't it?

How do you dog-fancier breed-club snobs feel about the Missouri-born inventory getting an instant administrative upgrade to "pure" and "AKC-registered?"

If contemplating each puppy's mother languishing her whole life in a wire-floored crate so that the registration fees for her lifetime production output can help support your dog show habit has no goddamn effect on your conscience.

If you don't give a rat's ass about the health and behavior of these little units of inventory once they are bought and installed into your neighbor's home as "members of the family."

If you meekly accept that you are being held to a higher standard of record-keeping than Helga the Kansas puppy farmer.

Can you at least give a shit that your precious "purity" -- the last thing that your Overlord In Dogs has to offer you -- is being tossed away on the say-so of Tammi at Petland and some faceless clerk in Raleigh?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consent and Compulsion

Please do not click on the photo link of Barry White in the second paragraph unless you are sure you want to see it. If you are easily upset by images of cruelty and animal suffering, do not look. I did not reproduce this photograph in the body of this post for a reason.

Instead, consider the portrait of Barry White as he is today.

Barry White had the honor of starring at the sentencing hearing of his former owner.

He was fortunate that he did not have to attend in person, but the sheriff's photo of him on the day he was seized as evidence glowed larger than life over the proceedings. His face screwed into a rictus of terror, eyes wide, tongue lolling and blue -- he has clocked out of a reality revealed by his emaciated flanks and pelvis (obvious even under his matted strawlike coat) and the necklace and cape of shit-and-mud pendants that must have doubled his weight.

Not long after that sentencing hearing, eight months after that photograph was taken, he and eighteen others were released from their special indenture by the judge, and I was allowed to evaluate him.

Most of our evaluations of the ONB dogs were pleasant, interesting interviews. Barry White's was not. I was traumatized by his completely genuine and inconsolable terror -- but not nearly as much as he was traumatized by having a leash hooked to his collar.

I promised his handler that day that, if it came to it, I would personally foster Barry White. She'd only recently taken him on -- he'd had several handlers in succession at ONB, and none had made much, if any, progress with him. With each failed attempt to leash and handle him, his spinning alligator reflex was reinforced and strengthened. This was not an act or contrived panic; the possibility that he would harm himself in his hysteria was real.

Parties with connections to Barry White's former owner were still planting and fertilizing rumors among the volunteers that Douglas and I were the Doggie Death Squad, "culling" (yes, that word was used) those dogs who "failed" their behavior evaluations. Handlers feared for the lives of the most regressed dogs; after eight months of repeatedly showing ourselves as good as our word, toxic slander still seeped into the hindbrains of otherwise sensible people.

I gave her some ideas for working on the leash hysteria, and steeled myself to welcome into my home a dog who could not be walked. She didn't have much time, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in the power of the few things I could suggest to work quickly.

Still, he was not an entirely discouraging case. He allowed his handler and me to sit with him in his stall and cut some of the few remaining mats from his fur. He did not seek the touch, but he didn't offer to bite us, or froth in terror, either.

And then there's his eyes. Barry White looks straight at me, and his eyes do not ask -- they require. Require acknowledgement, demand an answer, insist that I recognize him and work to give him what he needs.

A week later I watched him, leashed, following his handler willingly around the kennel of the Moore Lane hospital, where he'd come to be neutered. I still don't know how she flipped him so fast.

And three weeks after that, I opened his crate on the Barking Bus and led him out for a constitutional in my hayfield, then into the newly constructed kennel run that is his next waystation on the road to a life as a normal dog.

Every day we have our quiet time, during which we work on his willingness to approach a person and to be touched without flattening himself to the ground in surrender. And every day we have our walk, usually with my own dogs and young Cole, sometimes just the two of us. On many days, he can also follow me for some of my chores.

Until a few days ago, I held a 16' nylon long line on our walks. There was always a belly of slack dragging behind us as he followed at my heel sporting a huge dog smile, but I kept my grip, mindful of the possibility that something could panic him and make him bolt.

And there are points where he puts the brakes on. Barry White is afraid of doorways, gates, and constrictions. He still can't cope with a human being coming at him frontally at close range. At first, he tried to flee when I would pick up a tool or bucket -- anything larger than a paperback book was fearsome if it was in the hand of a human being.

When Barry White backs up or sets his brakes, I use gentle, steady, authoritative pressure on the leash to bring him through the scary space with as little fuss as possible. Since Barry White isn't interested in love and cuddles, praise, coaxing, a game of fetch, or a nummy bribe, I compel him to move through his fear.

We've never yet reprised the spinning croc. And there have been times when I've put a fair amount of pressure on him. He has the inherent ability to keep his wits, which is most of what he needs to advance towards normalcy.

Last week I took the plunge and dropped the end of the line when we are out in the pastures. And there's Barry White, sticking so close to my heels that I can't get a photograph of him unless I tie him to something and back away. I still don't have a decent picture of his beaming "go for a walk" smile.

Even though we've been doing beautifully with the drop-line on our walks and for some of the more active routine chores, it's good policy to tether the dog when one can't keep an eye on him. So Sunday, while Professor Chaos and I raked shingles out of the barnyard, I hooked his nylon line to a fence post nearby.

All was well until I walked away towards the house. I hadn't gone twenty steps before I felt a soft, familiar tap on my calf. Barry White's nose.

Barry White has determined that his Mission From God is to follow me around the farm. The leash interfered with the performance of that Mission. That Would Not Do. So he neatly, deliberately, without drama or fuss, without fear or panic, severed the leash and joined me. It looked as if he'd taken a pair of sharp scissors to it. He knew exactly what he was doing.

In other words, at any time in the past month, as I "compelled" Barry White to move through his fear, he could have chosen to opt out. He knows perfectly well how to make the leash go away; hundreds of times, he has chosen not to do so.

Barry White doesn't totally trust me; humans have been too unreliable and sometimes dangerous for him to let go of those parts of himself he has reserved. He doesn't like having his collar taken hold of, doesn't want me to reach for him. He doesn't want to be petted, though he'll allow it if "forced." He has a ways to go.

But one thing that Barry White does trust me to do is to walk him through fear and into the possibility of happiness. He can't always help himself by himself, but he consents to let me "compel" him to do so.

And now, I consent to remember what he has told me: that he makes his own choice about trusting me every moment of every day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: Socialize

Cole was pulled from a pile of dogshit on his abuser's property when he was a month or so old. He spent the rest of his life, until September, behind the sheriff's evidence perimeter. He got to know and like a lot of people, but never saw a kid.

The first kid he ever saw at close quarters was a deranged-looking-and-acting toddler who came running right for him, face level and full-frontal. Cole backed up in alarm, round-eyed, and growled nervously and very, very softly. What the hell is that thing?! I just leaned forward to both greet and intercept the free-range house-ape, modeling what I wanted him to see.

Five seconds later, Cole's alarmed round eyes changed to astonished, and his ridiculous squirrel tail began to wiggle. Omidog, it's a tiny human! How cool is that?!

And that's how Cole's Day of Discovery went at the Audubon Society Apple Fest. By the afternoon, he was playing "needle in the haystack" with the little children as if he'd been romping with them all his life.

Absolutely essential to Cole's future as a working dog. Liking kids is not optional.

Saturday AMRG did wilderness safety programs for 600+ Cub Scouts/Parents. Pip, Rosie, and Cole assisted. Every one of the cold, wet scouts helped to "socialize" Cole.

As a donut-spare English shepherd, he has found that he heartily approves of downsized humans. Something about playing with action figures that are on the same scale.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Paper Plate Recall: The Basics

Ten minutes before this picture was taken, young Cole (far right, with his butt velcroed to the ground) did not know what the word "stay" meant.

I learned the paper-plate recall from colleague Dick Russell of Baton Rouge. Dick wrote a detailed but unillustrated article about this obedience drill. Until recently it was available several places on the web, but I can no longer find it to link to the original.

So here is my own guide to this useful and entertaining exercise, without Cajun wit, but with illustrative photographs. You can click any of them to embiggen.

My model for the photos is young Cole, my Operation New Beginnings foster pup. The photos were taken just before he earned off-leash freedom here. He had no inkling of "stay" when we introduced the exercise, little idea of "come," would sit for a lure, and was a bold, energetic pup with lots of confidence and no environmental sensitivities.

What is it?

The paper-plate recall is a training drill that very quickly provides excellent building blocks for three useful exercises:

• Come
• Stay
• Send Out

And, if you choose, is also a nice drill in which to practice the finish to heel.

When you get it right, the exercise develops a hypnotic progressive rhythm that is quite satisfying to dog and trainer alike.

What do you need?

• A plate or other target. I use heavy plastic or metal rather than paper, as we have this thing called wind in Pennsylvania. A dog bowl works fine. For dogs that like to retrieve the target, a heavy ceramic tile works well. Contrasting color/brightness to the ground is very helpful. (After you master the basic sequence, you will need additional plates in order to progress. But for the first few days or weeks, you only need one plate.)

• A generous supply of very tiny, very delicious treats -- chicken, dried liver, hotdog. Very food-motivated dogs will work fine for their regular kibble. I sometimes have two kinds of bait, one high-value and one lower-value -- see below. A bait pouch on your belt is helpful to maintain a rhythm.

• A large open training area relatively low in distractions. As smooth and level as possible, and well-mowed if it is grass. Lawn, golf course, playing field, church parking lot, driveway, beach, gymnasium. You will be walking or running backwards, so plan accordingly.

• Safety containment appropriate to the reliability of the dog -- fence or 30' minimum long light line. No retractable leads. I typically train this exercise with no containment at all on pet dogs who have a "sort of" recall, and use a long line for the first few sessions of untrained animals.

• If not using a long line, a short leash or collar tab for the first few drills (usually can be taken off after less than five minutes.)

• Dog. Dog should have some inkling of what the words "sit" and "stay" mean. I typically introduce this drill to group classes after the dogs have been practicing "stay" for two weeks. I have personally taught it from scratch to dogs who have the barest notion of "sit for a cookie" and no stay, but I recommend this only be attempted by serious trainers who have practiced the exercise successfully on trained and partly-trained dogs.

How do you do it?

1) Put your target (plate) on the ground.

2) Place one smidgen of your yummy bait on the plate.

3) Stand no more than 3' from the plate, facing it. You should be positioned so that most of the training space is behind you. You will be backing up as the exercise progresses. Variation: You can move the plate further out each time you increase the distance. We did that for the purposes of getting photographs. This makes it harder for the dog to keep track of the target. I prefer to move the dog and myself on first sessions, and then later on mix it up by moving the plate further out on the same line.

4) Put your dog, with leash or tab (or long line) into heel position. (That is at your left side, facing the same direction you are, shoulder even with your leg, no more than about a foot away.)

Cole in the start position, target clearly visible in front of us.

5) Sit the dog and tell/signal him to "stay."

6) Extend your arm towards the target and command your dog to "go out" (or whatever command you are going to use). Make your movement very exaggerated.

Cole's first sendout.

7a) If your dog immediately goes to the plate to take the bait, praise him at the moment he has it in his mouth, simultaneously backing up about two - three steps past your original position and grabbing another treat from your pocket or pouch. (Go to step 7)

Successful first sendout.

7b) If your dog looks confused when you first signal the go out, get him started towards the target with you left hand helping him with the leash and collar in the right direction, praise as he finds and takes the bait, and step one step back from your original position while grabbing another treat from your pocket or pouch. (Go to step 7)

7c) If your dog is still hesitant or confused after some collar guidance, quickly lead him to the plate, praise as he finds and takes the bait, and step backwards to your original position while grabbing another treat from your pocket or pouch. (Go to step 7)

8) As soon as your dog has swallowed the treat from the plate, give one clear command to Come. The command is Dog Name + "Come."

"Cole, Come!"

9) As your dog comes back to you from no more than five feet away, bring your in-hand treat down to his level in front of you. As he reaches you, lure him into a sit while commanding Sit. Feed him as he sits. Praise and stroke him down his back while he continues to sit directly in front of you.

Good recall to front.

10) Return your dog to the heel position (most need collar guidance to do this). Command him to Sit, and then signal/command him to Stay.

Cole is now very motivated to go out to the target, and I'm telling him to stay while I leave him.

11) Step forward and re-bait the target.

Because we can't back away from the target during the recall, I am moving the plate a few feet further from Cole.

12a) Return to your dog and put yourself back into heel position with him.

12b) If your dog breaks position, correct him verbally, and if necessary with the leash, back into his sit stay -- in the exact same position where he was before he broke. Don't allow him to gain any ground. Don't be punitive or loud about this -- just calmly replace him and remind him to stay. One he's back in position, return yourself to heel position.

13) Repeat starting at step 6. Repeat at least a dozen times the first session. Twenty is better.

Second sendout, twice as far as the first.

If you had to help your dog forward to the target and treat, you will still be standing about 3' away from the target for your second iteration. Don't back up until your dog is going out to the plate with just the command and arm signal.

If your dog went out on his own or with just a starter tug on his collar, you will have backed up a couple of feet. The target will now be further away. When you send your dog, he will have to go further. When you command Stay, you will be going further away from him. Both are challenges. You want to gain just a little ground on each iteration so that your dog gradually masters the difficulty of the longer send-out and the temptation of the greater distance from you on the stay.

But your best recall will come when you are backing up rapidly. So when you call Come, walk or run backwards as far as you can before your dog reaches you, receive him and feed and praise him, then gently swing him into heel position and walk forward to a position just a few steps further from the target than your previous spot.

If you start 3' from the target and do 12 repetitions on your first training session, backing up a couple steps on each rep, you will be sending your dog to a target about 40 feet away by the end of ten minutes. And your dog will be holding a stay while you walk 40 feet away, put food on the ground, and return to him.

Yes, in ten minutes.

I first practiced this exercise on Moe, who as a seven-month-old already had a pretty good stay and a great recall, plus an abundance of enthusiasm. In our first session he progressed to a 200 meter stay and sendout -- we had to stop when we ran out of township park. Dogs without the obedience foundation and with less drive and confidence will require much slower and more incremental progression.


Dog is hesitant to go out

This is more common than you think. Keep close to the plate as dog gains confidence. You can move around the plate in a circle in order to mix things up. Use a more tempting bait on the plate -- whatever your dog likes best. And be sure to start with a hungry dog -- don't feed him before the drill session.

Cole has become confused on a longer sendout (same session, moved outside the pen and onto a 30' drag line). He looks back for help.

I move forward a few steps and give an exaggerated directional cue with my arm. This is enough to address his momentary confusion. Cole does not lack confidence, he just doesn't know where the target is and has not learned to trust that it is on the line yet.

Success! Now I need to start backing up and preparing to call him.

As he's momentarily distracted by an uninvited interloper, I increase my pitch and excitement, and move away from Cole more rapidly for the recall.

If the dog has a great recall and a hesitant send-out, or he would rather run around on the send-out, try using a better bait on the plate than the unexciting one you use for the recall.

Dog breaks stays, tries to make an end-run around you to the bait, runs the other way, and generally makes it difficult to correct the break smoothly (insubordination rather than error)

Use a long line. If he rushes the plate, block him and correct with a strong NO for any rudeness in attempting to get around you, through you, over you. It's crucial that he never get to take the bait until he has been sent for it. If he takes off the other way and it is not because he is afraid, give him a leash correction and return him to his original spot. Keep the exercise low-key to avoid overstimulating the dog -- again, the slow progressions and ritual drill should become almost hypnotic in their ability to focus both human and dog.

If the dog is running from you or from the pressure, then close up the distance to the target, send him one last time, and end on a positive note with a good recall. Work him in subsequent sessions with smaller increments from the target. This is not insubordination, it is confusion and possibly fear.

A persistent offender on the stays should first be worked close to the target for several sessions. If the dog continues to break frequently and/or resist correction, stop paper-plate drills and spend 2-3 weeks working on Stay and Leave It in other contexts.

Dog is good on send-outs but slow on the recall, or does not recall

Start by increasing the value of the reward he gets for recalling. Use regular kibble on the plate and nummie treats in your hand. Praise and pet him lavishly when he comes. Run backwards and raise the pitch of your voice to be sure you are tempting and inviting to him. Be sure you aren't doing anything he perceives as punitive after he comes to you -- no manhandling in returning him to the sit at heel, no scolding tone to the Stay command.

If he's having fun at your expense, use a long line and drill at that length until he is coming back reliably.

Dog hits threshold where he won't go out any further, or seems to lose the target

Work the dog at the threshold distance where he is still succeeding, moving around the target in a circle so he is approaching from different positions. When he's fast and accurate on those, slowly start to increase distance.

Get down to dog level -- can you see the target? It's easy for a foot-tall dog to lose sight of the target in shaggy grass or slightly uneven ground. You can try elevating the target.

I can get the longest send-outs the most quickly in bowl-shaped terrain, where the dog can most easily see the target at a distance.

If you work incrementally, the dog will begin to take the "line" from your arm signal.

What this Drill is Not

The paper-plate recall is a food drill. It can serve its purpose without ever fading or randomizing the bait. As such, it is not a substitute for the obedience exercises done in a variety of contexts and without the promise of a cookie. Practicing this drill will help you increase the speed and precision of your dog's recalls. It will help build your dog's ability to hold a stay at a distance from you like no other exercise. And it is absolutely the quickest way to start a send-out for later advanced work. But unless you work on those commands in different contexts and without bribes, the drill practice will not jump context and translate to daily life in a reliable or predictable way.

Later we'll revisit the paper-plate recall drill and discuss advanced variations with multiple targets and directionals.

A class of beginning obedience students, third week, start paper-plate recalls with their dogs. Note that the dogs are on 15' drag lines in an unfenced area, and are working simultaneously about 20' apart. They are staying focused on their own plates and are not distracted by the other dogs' sendouts and recalls.

Lest anyone think that this is difficult to teach.

Note that dog in the center is a Jack Russell terrier.