Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Poult Love

Turkeys have no personalities.
Turkeys will drown in a rainstorm.
Turkeys are born looking for a comfortable place to die.

Turkeys are stupid.

Like everyone else, I've been exposed to casual, "everyone knows" anti-turkey propaganda my entire life.

Not just from "everyone says" and popular culture, either.

No less a pastoral luminary than Gene Logsdon devoted a memorable chapter to turkeys in The Contrary Farmer.

I reproduce his advice to would-be turkey raisers in its entirety, from memory:


Understand this about me.

I like intelligent animals. Even those that -- as our friend The Donald said of goats -- are too intelligent for their place on the food chain.*

I like sturdy animals.

I like animals that meet me at least halfway in my efforts to keep them alive.

I like animals that meet my eye.

I don't have much use for stupid, delicate, suicidal, autistic animals.**

And I bought turkeys anyway.

And I am in love.

The fifteen Narragansett and Bourbon red poults came from the hatchery two weeks ago.

I knew I wanted heritage breeds, and to work on conserving these genetic resources through both breeding and market development. I was also planning to get a few commercial broad-breasted birds, which would be invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. My heritage poults won't be big enough in time. We do a big bird at Thanksgiving, and the old breeds grow slowly.

But it seems there is a run on turkeys this year, and all the hatcheries are out. I was lucky to get my Narries and Bourbons.

First thing I noticed when I opened the box at the post office is that they were coming right at me -- pecking and full of piss. Aggressive? Seemed so.

Turns out, notsomuch.

Here's the truth about normal, non-industrial turkeys. They are active, engaged, lively, and curious about everything. They are not particularly delicate, as hatchling poultry goes. Our turkey-mentor friend Carolyn assures me that "These are the ones with Life Force." And there are lots of things they love.

Things turkey poults love

Heat lamp
Hard-boiled egg
Dog tongue on mah butt
Shiny stuff
Weeds, especially lamb's quarters and amaranth
Perch on top of brooder
Red stuff
Ride on hand
Perch on finger like parakeet
Amherst College Class of 1987 gold signet ring (see shiny stuff)
Sit on lap
Be petted and fussed over
Shoulder ride

And turns out, I am the Mama.

I have never been the Mama before. The chickens are tame and meet my eye, but mainly do their own thing. The guineas are simply wild. The ducks are convinced that we will most likely eat them in the morning; domestic in their habits, but not tame. But when I opened the box of poults, they imprinted on me, and humans in general. They run to me for attention. They call for me when they are distressed, and periodically when they are lonely or bored. The meaning of their three-note contact call is unmistakable.

I'm old enough to remember when autistic human children were created by bad mothers. All the experts proclaimed this, and Reader's Digest made it a universally known fact. And old enough to remember when someone grokked that the reason the mothers of autistic children seemed disconnected from their kids was that the children did not have the normal human behavior that elicits bonding. (Probably being told by "experts" that they were the ones who f'd up their screaming, stimming, touch-intolerant, non-verbal, zero-eye-contact kids did not help matters further.)

Well thus it is with the poultry.

The ducks, while cute for the first few days, and somewhat amusing in their absurdity now, are autistic poultry. I have no love for my ducks. They do not meet my eye. Any that don't earn their keep will be sent to freezer camp. Talk about a refrigerator mother.

The turkeys have successfully played the baby card. By treating me as their Mama, they've made me their Mama.

Don't get me started about eventually eating the grandkids.

* He may as well have been describing the vast majority of pet dogs, no?

**Keeping in mind that many exotics who are labeled one, two, or all three of the above are simply animals who have a life niche that includes specific, non-negotiable needs. Meet those needs and the animals are clever, vigorous, and imbued with the will to live. Fail to meet them through ignorance and sloth, and you've killed your captive.

Iguanas, for example. Croak all the time because of errors in temperature, lighting, and diet made by their incurious owners. Give them the right warmth, full-spectrum light, and a varied vegetable diet with adequate calcium in the right balance with phosphorus, and they grow into impressive terror-lizards that will send your dog running for cover.
With this one, I'll concede the "clever."

And I don't expect a captive wild animal to meet my eye.

Domestic livestock are another matter.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blood Boiling

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.

Proverbs 12:10

YesBiscuit posted this story about a mother and son who left dogs in their vehicle on a hot day. The dogs died, and the two were arrested and charged with animal cruelty.

Were these people negligent? Did they demonstrate terrible judgment? Should the state punish them for the cruelty they carelessly inflicted on their dead pets?

Of course. Stupid is no excuse.

Were they intentionally cruel?


But while I was off working with doggy friends this week, came this story.

Reader's Digest version: Show dog handler, who is being paid by the owners of said show dogs to take them places where they can win the ribbons and points and placements that prove that they are better than all the other dogs who don't have those things, leaves seven large, mostly hairy, dogs in a van overnight. Confined in crates. On a day when it reached 90 degrees by 9 am.

By 9:30 in the morning, six of them were dead.

The times do not add up. What happened to the three hours between when the woman claims she found the dogs in distress and when she arrived at the veterinarian?

Sweet dreams, sleepytime princess.

If "the garage was too hot" what about her friggin' house? Where she was sleeping? Where are these moneymaking status symbols beloved pets stored housed when "off campaigning with the handler?"

Now, if a couple of ignorant Phish-following transients become criminal scum when their dogs suffer and die from being left briefly in a vehicle that is their only home, what is a paid dog-show handler who is too lazy to provide proper husbandry to animals that are in her power? A canine professional who cares for her own needs for eight hours before considering the animals that are caged and helpless in her vehicle?

I guess we'll find out.

Someone who takes money to "care" for animals needs to be held to a higher standard of husbandry than a down-and-out pet owner. This young woman grew up in the world of "the fancy" and vehicles crammed with crated dogs. The facts about heat stroke in canines cannot have been obscure to her.

Update: Charges filed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Photo Phriday: Not Your Mama

My lap! Who the hell do you think you are?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I nearly stepped on this large, spectacular moth in the woodshed this afternoon.

I thought he was perfectly monochrome until I cropped in the photo; click the image for big, and you'll see the blue on his legs and a little on his wings, too.

What is he?

Update: Giant Leopard Moth

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This is What I Breed For

Portrait of the collie as a young pup.

When people ask me, why breed when there are dogs for free on Craig's list?

When someone wants to know what the point is of working so hard to conserve working drives and temperament.

When someone questions my sanity for jumping on an airplane and flying across the country, then driving over the Cascades in the fog and into the high desert, so that Pip could meet the exact stud dog I wanted.

This is why.

Pictured above: Young Audie, when his name was Andy. Janeen's dog, just biding time at my house where he happened to be born, waiting for me to get around to taking him home.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Photo Phriday: Take a Hike

Hey idiot! Get off that tractor and take your damned dogs for a walk!

Ya think?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fellow Travellers who provide the vehicles

HT to Patrick for pointing us to another cell of the functional-dog Maquis.

Do I have an appropriate job here for Inuit dogs?

I do not.

Do I have a special personal connection to the culture, history, and society that is interwoven with functional Inuit dogs?

I do not.

Do I want to own Inuit dogs?

I do not.

Do I rejoice that there are people whose passion for conserving, using, understanding and appreciating real functional Inuit dogs is at least as fanatical as my own for my English shepherd dogs?

I do, I do, I do.

We are so much more the same creature than any "dog fancier" realizes. I have more common cause with the editor of The Fan Hitch than I will ever have with the beaming owner of a UKC "champion" English shepherd, or than the editor will ever have with someone whose show Malamute poses for Christmas pictures in a harness that gets stuffed back into the box with the colored lights.

As the recent articles by John Burchard and Vladimir Beregovoy demonstrate, The Fan Hitch gets it too.

I look forward to mining this resource for insights for some time to come. Their archives are online.

Check out this brief article on managing hierarchy within the pack, for example.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Photo Phriday: Perilous Nest

This kildeer (aka kildee) put her nest right by the gatepost to the barnyard at our friends' Rachel and Stan's farm.

I'm not sure whether to call it just "not a great spot" or simply evidence that this kildeer has always relied on the kindness of strangers.

At one point one of the horses opened a gate from the pasture and let the whole herd into the barnyard. We hurried to contain them again, for fear the great lummoxi would crush the nest. So maybe she has it all figured out. For example, she had the good judgment to live absolutely nowhere near George W. Bush.

When we first arrived, she was doing the usual broken-wing distraction routine. Later, we couldn't get her to leave the nest and perform this show for the camera. The sun was blazing (hence the harsh shadows), and perhaps she was unwilling to leave her eggs to roast.

I have watched these birds all my life, and have never been this close to one with such leisure. And I've only rarely found the nest. You do see the eggs under her, yes?

I never knew what extraordinary eyes they have.

And I could curl up and go to sleep on her tail feathers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

No talk, no touch, no eye contact

Spike's choice, on Spike's schedule.
No talk, no touch, no eye contact.

Raise your hand if you have never heard this phrase applied to a dog.

(Scans silent room with no hands up.)

Cesar Millan's mantra when he's dealing with a new person and a pack of dogs, or a single unsocialized, fearful, or aggressive dog, has pretty well permeated the popular culture.

I had no idea how thoroughly, or how fortuitously, until Spike came to foster here.

Spike's genetic temperament is bold and pushy. His total lack of socialization as a puppy did not support those genetics. He came here shy and somewhat reactive, with a desire to approach people overlaid with terror at the prospect. He was especially reactive to men.

In other words, a pup who could easily be pushed into the world of fear-biting.

So off we went to Tractor Supply. All the damned time.

At first, I'd hook him to Rosie with a coupler. Rosie always wants to whore it for strangers; Spike would get dragged up to people whether he wanted to go or not.

Most people would ask what was up with him. I developed a really brief little patter for them:

Spike was born in a puppymill that was raided in a cruelty investigation.

He was probably not touched for the first eight weeks of his life, and certainly never met any new people.

He's here to learn how to be confident.

It works best if you just fuss over Rosie and pretend he isn't even there.

If he approaches you, just put your hand down low and let him investigate it, and pet his chest and chin if he leans into you.

And at least half the people would come back with "Oh, I get it. No talk, no touch, no eye contact." And without any further coaching, or with very little, they'd carry on allowing Spike to progress at his own pace. They'd turn sideways to him, avert their eyes, continue the conversation with me some of the time, and let Spike get comfortable and approach them without getting excited and lunging for him as soon as he made the slightest overture. No hovering, no cooing, no "Oh, it's okay, dogs love me!"

Scores of total strangers who are presumably not all dog trainers did this in the months we worked with Spike. (The one place I did not take Spike was the local PetsMart, where the "trainers" will not leave customers' dogs alone, and insist on using junk food to condition jab 'n' grab precursor-to-biting habits in shy dogs.)

Once, and once only, when I asked a strange man to stop approaching a barking, growling, skittering Spike in the store, the man tried to argue with me -- "How else is he going to get friendly?!"

Tried to argue, because I no longer argue with intrusive idiots -- I stepped between them and claimed space from the cynological expert -- and with me, because a lady who was looking at the baby chicks nearby spontaneously took up verbal advocacy for Spike for me. She told the guy that Spike was not his dog, and that he didn't know what he was doing and had no business screwing up his training.

Imagine that. For my N=1 of morons who are dead-set to press their pig-ignorance on my dog, I got an N=1 of genuinely helpful bystanders.

There couldn't be a starker contrast than to the last time I had an unsocialized, terrified hoarder refugee -- two of them, actually.

When I fostered Zoom and Boink for Animal Friends of Pittsburgh (I think it was about 2001), the two little beaglish mutts may have never been touched by human hands. It took weeks to gain their trust, and a couple months to get them socialized enough to consider placing them for adoption. And it was a daily trial to get people to give them some goddamn space. I had to use clients and friends, and provide pre-contact coaching and simulations using my own dogs, in order to get people to behave appropriately around the adorable, and mortified, little dogs. Taking them out into public simply invited assaults that they were simply not equipped to tolerate for several months.

There are other true and useful memes that have drifted out into the generally dog-ignorant popular culture from Cesar Millan's cable television show: the importance of exercise, the fact that dogs are animals, not human children in hairy jumpsuits, the owners' role in most "dog behavior problems."

But if the popularity of this cable television show had done nothing else, Spike and countless other dogs -- dogs whose tolerance for simian vulgarity is not the bottomless well that rude, thoughtless humans presume from the mostly endlessly forebearing canines who abide them -- say Thank You.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Snapshot Sunday*: Courtship

Took Rosie to the NADOI meeting last weekend. The Snarkmistress General was in full fun-police form, disapproving of any frivolity expressed by any of the other dogs. Okay, just generally disapproving of the other dogs.

On Saturday night, we figured out why. Dazzle, a young Malinois who is just discovering the wonderfulness of his magic nether orbs, was sniffing very intently at every spot where Rosie had sat down.

Ohhhh ... we're at the "take his face off" state of proestrus, are we?

Apparently, we are.

And apparently, we quickly change our minds.

It's okay, he says he's a cop.

Then quite suddenly, he's adorable.

How can you tell from a still photo that Rosie isn't getting ready to launch at Dazzle in earnest?

Look at her front legs -- they are mirroring his. The splayed-out V shape as her chest goes down is a play cue.

Since Rosie doesn't really promiscuously play with strange dogs, this is courtship.

After buzzing the room at top speed several times, she raided his crate and stole his chewie, absolutely confident that he'd let her get away with it.

It was someone else's turn to feel dubious.

Apologies for the photo quality. My camera was very miffed by being asked to take high-speed action shots in the poor lighting. The hotel carpet pattern just gave it a Canon coronary.

* Cuz we missed Photo Phriday this week.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dog Breeding: Yer Doin' It Rite

Scanning the wasteland for the fabled Good Breeder

All right, I rail against puppy mills pretty regularly here. My regular readers are the choir; I really count on the Googles delivering some Easter Christians to hear the message, if only so briefly, else it would be wasted keystrokes.

And I do go on about vanity breeding for the show ring, closed gene pools, and the "dog fancy" in all its would-be-laughable-but-for-the-pain-it-causes naval-gazing excess.

Then there's the calling to task of "rescue" organizations, "humane societies," and advocacy groups that clearly have something else in mind besides the actual welfare of actual animals.

Don't get me started on trainers who can't train, and "behaviorists" who wouldn't know a "behavior" if it bit 'em in the ass. (Not a metaphor when speaking of dogs.)

OMG, I hate everybody.

Help me out of the funk.

Well, not quite true.

At last week's NADOI annual meeting, I found myself in the curious position of advocating for two different young dogs' testicles. Two very different dogs, very different breeds. Nicely put-together animals with temperaments to die for, from breeds where temperaments are rarely what one would wish to see.

Those dogs were not accidents. They were the products of breeding decisions that did not sacrifice soundness or temperament to other values.

I'd like to feature dog breeders who are doing it right. Give the interwebz some examples of the different ways individuals are holding up high standards in a breeding program.

Tell me about breeders you know -- friends, colleagues, your dog's breeder -- who are conscientiously producing sound, healthy dogs with temperaments appropriate to their breed and function. Who uphold high standards of animal welfare, including for animals not their own. Who show their concern for the families and communities where their pups will live. Who have big-picture attitudes towards their breeds' gene pools. Who stand by their dogs.

Any breed, except my breed, English shepherds. Or any crossbreed -- I'd be especially interested in thoughtful "out of the box" crossbreeders. Working dogs, hunting dogs, purely companion dogs.

I'd like to be able to interview the breeder, other breeders who know him or her, and puppy buyers.

And it can't be someone I already know.

Nominations are open! Use the comments section to provide the information that gets me started. Make sure I can contact you privately with followup questions.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Belay

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Taken with my phone, submitted to the Fail Blog.

In the minotaur-worthy parking area of the building that houses my chiropractor's office, among other medical professional offices.

I could not make this shit up.

Black and White?

HT to Luisa for this five-part Slate article on Pepper, The Stolen Dog Who Changed American Science.

Read The Whole Thing.

Parts 4 and 5 are not yet up as I write this.

An observation about the effects of the Animal Welfare Act.

As many of you may have gleaned, I am not one of those people who think the only relevant thing about an animal is his or her capacity to feel physical pain.

A fixation on "freedom from pain" can become at best a distraction tactic from a thoughtful appreciation of the full scope of animal lives, and at worst, a self-serving justification for euphemasia -- killing a healthy animal who desperately wants to live and declaring it a kindness.

Nevertheless, if someone is going to subject an animal to pain and distress that is not in the animal's own best interest -- if he is going to use an animal for extrinsic ends -- then he is damned well obligated to mitigate that pain and distress as much as is humanly possible.

That's true of humane slaughter, of ethical hunting, and that's true of medical research.

I think an animal being used in this way has the right to demand this of its exploiter: If your ends require that you hurt me, you had damned well better hurt me as little as possible, even if it is inconvenient for you to take this trouble.

I think an animal being used in this way has the right to demand of the law of the land that its exploiter be held to this standard.

The Animal Welfare Act is intended to keep medical researchers honest. Because a white coat is not a substitute for a normally developed sense of empathy, or of perspective.

Real story. Our rooster, Henery Hawk, got his leg broken in an accident.

I had a decision to make in the moments after the accident: Do I attempt to repair the fracture and rehab the rooster, or do I break his neck right now and stop his pain?

I know this is shocking to people who have had only beloved pets, but that's the difference between livestock -- even livestock with a name -- and a pet. That stark decision.

I decided that it was likely that Henery would, if he could choose, choose to try to live. I may have made the wrong call from an animal welfare point of view. I may have been influenced by sentimentality and even aesthetics. But it was the choice I made: see if we can fix the rooster.

The fracture was a distal closed fracture of the tib-fib. (In a human, this would be a fracture of the two bones of the lower leg just above the ankle joint; in a chicken, the lower end of the drumstick, just before the scaly part of the leg.)

Tricky fracture to stabilize and splint -- mid-bone is much easier. But we did splint it -- Henery was a surprisingly cooperative patient -- and I moved him into a small cage with a heat lamp.

Went inside and got on the googles looking for some information about pain-control for a chicken -- what could I give him that would be safe and effective?

Try googling "chicken analgesia" or any number of other possibilities, and see what you find. Try google scholar. Hell, try Ask Jeeves.

What you will find is dick-all. Nobody knows how to control pain in a chicken. Or pigeon. Or even a parrot. Very few researchers have even considered the issue.

Now google "dog analgesia." The trouble there is sorting through the hits for your specific query. You'll have to narrow it down.

Birds are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act.

So why bother to learn anything about pain control for them? They're not getting any. The government doesn't force the issue.

Now here we have a Catch-22. Because chickens, ducks, pigeons, et. al. "bred for research" do not fall under the aegis of the Animal Welfare Act, no one is counting how many are used in research.

But in Europe, it is, according to one anti-vivisection organization, 650,000 per year.

If rates are comparable in the US -- that's a lot of birds.

And no legal authority in this country is forcing those who are using them as a means to an end to consider their welfare, even on the basest level of pain-control in the conscious animal.

So if you think that people who use animals on an industrial scale -- whether in agriculture or surrounded by the glowing halo of "science" -- can be left to their own devices when it comes to the welfare of their charges, think of Henery.

Henery and the late Pepper the Dalmatian have only two things in common: Flashy black-and-white coloration, and the indifference of the law of the land.

Henery's bones have healed. He's still not walking normally, and this is clearly an involvement in the ligaments at that joint. I cannot tell whether he's dealing with weakness or pain. If I could give him conscious pain control, that could tell us.

Millions of his species used in research for decades, and nobody has bothered to find out whether I could safely give him a friggin' aspirin, and whether that would help.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Take the Quiz

From here to Paris Hilton's feckin' purse, MC/Visa accepted

Here's a well-designed quiz on the ways that puppymillers coff coff high-volume breeders and their retail accomplices dupe the dog-buying public.

Remember, folks, when you line up with money in your teeth to be robbed by these institutionalized animal abuse systems, you not only end up with a personal heartbreak, you get a gift-with-purchase -- the knowledge that you have personally funded the continued torture of your damaged pet's parents, and their inevitable ('cuz you paid for it) replacements.