Wednesday, March 31, 2010

If you prick him, does he not bleed?

Our own Perfesser Chaos has a new gig as a commentator for The Allegheny Front, a great local environmental show on the Best Radio Station Ever.

Here's his first installment.

I told him he should have mentioned to the web people Rosie's registered name: Brandywine Briar Rose.

It's true that he seems to have Special Powers over the thorned flora.

I'm racing the spring trying to get rusty old fence out of a particularly troublesome run through the woods; I'm tired of stapling up dogs. If I don't get it out before the shrubs leaf out, we're hosed.

He hasn't been out to work on this little project. "Oh, I gotta record my commentary. No chores today."

Wonder how those Special Powers would hold up against 80-year-old barbed wire?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Photos Phriday: Tiny Cheeping Evil

The Zelie postmistress called me at 5:45 this morning to tell me that a cheeping box had arrived for me.

Oh sure, they look like adorable little striped chickies.

Don't be fooled. I missed catching them trying to eat one another's toes, but that's the first thing they did when I put them in their brooder.

The color is odd because they are under a red heat lamp. Or else that's the glow of the furnaces of Hell from whence they were spawned. One or the other.

Guinea fowl experts assure us that these vile creatures can be tamed with daily handling, but then add "We mean hours a day."

Our last flock of guineas was heavily slanted towards cock birds, and they quickly became nasty. I don't mind aggression towards humans and dogs, because, what, we can't deal with a three-pound bird? But they were mugging my chickens and kicking them off their roosts. The stress was seriously cutting into egg production, but more important, the hens were frightened and miserable. Not. Cool.

We ate most of the males, sold the remaining mated pairs. But not soon enough.

If these behave, they can stay over next winter. If not, they make a superb coq a vin. This batch is the larger, meatier French guineas. No accident.

Why guineas again?

They have one virtue. They eat ticks. And the ticks have suddenly taken off here. They'll go outside in May -- I'll house them in the woodshed, away from the chickens -- and start earning their keep.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

When do you sprinkle on the melamime?

Waste not, want not

My Dad asked for my "dog food recipe" for a friend of his. I explained that I don't have one; it's a little bit like asking for the Houlie food recipe.

I didn't have a recipe for my chili, either, but when enough people bugged me for it, I made a batch of chili and reverse-engineered a set of guidelines -- here's what I did to make this batch, and it was a pretty good one. Alter at will.

So, a week of dog eats at Brandywine Farm.

I'm currently feeding five English shepherds (weight from 35-55 pounds) and one German shepherd (about 70 pounds). One ES is an easy keeper, and is pretty severely portion-restricted, two are pretty average, and two are foster dogs who were overly lean when they arrived and eat quite a bit for their sizes. The GSD is a hard keeper, very lean and eats a lot for her size. Nevertheless, the smallest ES eats almost as much as the GSD -- he's a young guy, very active, putting on a lot of muscle, and making up for stuff.

All the dogs are in lean-to-average body condition. Well, "average" is perhaps the wrong term to use, given the prevalence of clinical obesity among American dogs. Let's call it "medium" in the interests of clarity.

No one has any allergies or sensitivities or an especially tender tummy. Only one has been on a home-made diet her entire life; the rest were transitioned from kibble. We still use quality kibble when traveling or especially pressed for time.

I get the ground beef from a local slaughterhouse. It is beef scrap, hearts, and liver. It is fairly fatty and very wholesome. It is sold only for dog food, and at a good price. No, I will not tell you where or how much. They sometimes run out and don't have it when I need it as it is. I scavenge bones from them when they are cutting on the day I come by, so the availability of raw consumable beef/pork bones is variable. Right now I have a lot. The meaty bones are probably 60% meat by weight. I would not give bovine vertebrae if my source was industrially-raised cattle, but I feel confident about the local mostly-grass-fed cattle that people raise at home and have processed for their own use. I get tripe from a different slaughterhouse that is farther away, but willing to save them for me.

If I couldn't get the ground, they'd be eating a lot more chicken necks and backs, and leg quarters. I'd also be more bullish about raising a steer or three here.

Do not feed cooked bones!

Sunday breakfast
3# ground beef (raw)
3/4# (dry weight, before cooking) cooked rice
6 multivitamin supplements
6 fish oil capsules

Sunday dinner
3# ground
4 large sweet potatoes, cooked
1/3 cup ground dried eggshell
6 raw frozen chicken feet, toenails cut off

Monday breakfast
@ 5-6# raw meaty beef bones (ribs, vertebrae, other edible bones)

Monday dinner
3# ground
8 large dog biscuits
6 multivitamin tablets
6 fish oil capsules

Tuesday breakfast
2# ground
8 hard-boiled chicken or duck eggs
1/2 package frozen green beans, cooked
6 multivitamin tablets
6 fish oil capsules

Tuesday dinner
3# ground
1# (dry weight) whole wheat pasta, cooked

Wednesday breakfast
3# ground
3/4# (dry weight) rice, cooked
2 bananas
6 multivitamin tablets
6 fish oil capsules

Wednesday dinner
4 large turkey necks, raw, partly frozen

Thursday breakfast
2# ground
8 hard-boiled chicken or duck eggs
5 or 6 carrots, cooked
3/4 cup ground dried eggshell
6 multivitamin tablets
6 fish oil capsules

Thursday dinner
3# beef tripe, raw, unbleached, barely hosed off, partly thawed
3/4# (dry weight) rice, cooked

Friday breakfast
4 or 5 chicken leg quarters, raw, partly frozen

Friday dinner
3# ground
1# (dry weight) pasta, cooked
6 multivitamin tablets
6 fish oil capsules

Saturday breakfast
3# pork scraps from pig roast, cooked
3/4# (dry weight) rice, cooked
6 multivitamin tablets
6 fish oil capsules

Saturday dinner
1# beef liver and spleen
8 boiled eggs
1 can peas
1 loaf whole-wheat bread (made at home in bread machine)

Other things I feed when I have them -- almost all fresh veggies from the garden (not cabbage family -- these dogs sleep in my room), venison when we can get it, canned mackerel, any other fish when we can get it, chicken necks, pig's feet, and cut-up whole turkeys bought when they are cheap in November. (I partly thaw, cut out the breast to roast for us, and feed the rest to the dogs.) I feed more tripe when I have it; it's one of the best foods to put a glow on a dog, and just generally get them feeling good. And they love it. But it is repulsive -- looks and smells like a flood-damaged rec-room carpet after two weeks of August heat.

I usually get poultry in 40# cases from Jo-Mar in Pittsburgh's Strip. But I watch for supermarket sales, especially seasonal loss-leaders, and stock the freezers.

I use a good multivitamin supplement from Vetriscience the same guys who make Glycoflex. Some of the dogs get Glycoflex as a prophylactic, though no one has any joint issues at the moment -- including our ten-year-old SAR partner. I don't get any kickbacks from Vetriscience, though I wouldn't turn it down if they offered.

Because rice is pretty low protein and can be overly high in phosphorus, I'm going to start phasing in the bread for more meals. Since the machine makes it, the only increase in work is in the additional measuring. (We also have a rice cooker -- great convenience.) Price is comparable to rice, calorie-for-calorie. We buy both flour and rice at Costco, whole wheat flour at Frankferd Farms. (Again, no kickbacks, but I am entirely corruptible, so bring it on.) Pasta is more expensive, but quicker to whip up if I didn't plan. Bulgur is also a good change of pace.

They could probably do with more vegetables.

There are many sources of information on home-made and raw feeding on the web. Many are fundamentalist jihadi feeders -- if you aren't feeding your dog the exact way they dictate, well, then, you are an animal abuser who hates his pet. Whatever.

I don't need a degree in nutrition science to feed myself, and I don't need one to feed a few dogs. I did do a fair amount of reading, including this text, as I came up with our "system," such as it is.

We were feeding home-made well before the 2007 pet food recalls.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh, does that matter?

From the Toronto City News:

It's usually the perfect combination - a loving youngster and a gentle dog.

But something went horribly wrong at an Oshawa home Tuesday and now a three-year-old girl is facing the possibility of having plastic surgery.

Police say the youngster was being cared for by neighbours at 506 Lanlark Drive just after 1pm, and was petting a normally friendly pit bull.

Cops aren't sure what provoked the animal, but it suddenly turned on the child, mauling the tot from her eye to her cheek.

The toddler was rushed to Lakeridge Health Centre, where plastic surgeons began examining the damage. It's believed her eyesight will be O.K. but she may require surgical repairs to her cheek.

The same people looking after the child were also looking after the dog for the day.

"They were petting the dog," relates Richard Ovila, the babysitter's husband. "I don't know if they were patting together or what, when all of a sudden the dog turned around and took her on the left cheek."

The dog has been seized by animal control and those who know the creature are baffled. Pit bulls are generally among the most gentle of dogs and are usually excellent with children.

"It was a very serious dog bite," confirms Dave Selby of Durham Regional Police.

The youngster was surprised by what happened and reportedly continually asked the doctors who were treating her why the dog bit her. But like police, they didn't have those answers, either.

"It's just a very unfortunate incident and obviously our thoughts and prayers are with that young girl right now to make sure she can get through this situation and hopefully not have too many damages as she grows older," Selby concludes.

It's not clear what will become of the canine, but the owner is the neighbour's son and he has no idea about what's happened to his beloved pet. He's currently away on vacation down south for March Break.

Authorities hope this tragic event will provide a lesson for others.

"The best thing to do is keep your children away from unknown dogs or strange dogs that you don't know their personality or behaviour," suggests Tre Smith of the Toronto Humane Society.

The little girl has been taken to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for further assessment. She'll be staying there until at least Wednesday.

Something is off, you say?

Why, how could the gentle pet who "turned on" the toddler be a pit bull, when Ontario has criminalized them?

Where are the cries for the dog's death, the smug Itoldyasos, the obligatory accounts of locking jaws?

Why isn't anyone being investigated for dogfighting? Cited for harboring a vicious and dangerous animal?

Oh, sorry. My bad.

My computer must have a virus that searches text and autoreplaces. "Pit bull" for "golden retriever."

Feel better now? No?

This toddler will grow up with a scar on her cheek, and maybe her psyche, but secure in the knowledge that the Ontario government has wisely protected her from all possible harm.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Afraid to Ask What Happened to His Tail

A bomb-detecting dog named Treo has been awarded Britain's Dickin medal for his wartime service.

The US DoD doesn't permit animals to be honored for their service in this way. The official line, when medals that had been awarded were revoked early in WWII, was that to do so profanes the medals of human service members.

There are a lot of soldiers and veterans out there who owe their lives to a patrol dog or bomb dog who are quick to differ with this attitude.

Is it just me, or is there something neurologically wrong with Treo? Anyone know the story there? I'm almost afraid of what the answer might be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Question for the Peanut Gallery

What caused the sudden spike in AKC registrations in 1991 and 1992?

I cannot for the life of me think of anything that happened during those two years to account for it.

It seems too big -- and the sample far too large -- to write it off as a "blip."

By 1995 the spike had "corrected" to near 1990 levels.

Bueller? Anyone?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Emperor's Striptease

Until about 2006, the American Kennel Club published its registration statistics every year -- how many dogs of each breed registered, the comparable number from the previous year, each breed's relative position in popularity rankings, and the overall number of individual dogs registered.

Once the interwebz had evolved, those statistics were easy to find, handy to access on the AKC's site -- and announced with fanfare and fatuous press releases every January -- "Labrador Retriever is America's Top Dog Fourth Year in a Row -- Yorkshire Terrier Closing In."

But starting in 1992, the statistics tell a more interesting story than the timeless drama of poodles vs. Rottweilers.

From what is itself an outlying peak of over 1.5 million registrations in 1992, the numbers went into an immediate tailspin -- not a slow, steady decline, not an accelerating curve, but an impressive nosedive. By 2002, AKC registered fewer than a million new dogs -- over a one-third reduction in registrations over the course of a decade.

One institutional response to this extraordinary development was to circle the wagons and stop putting those registration statistics out where people like me could see them. That will fix it!

According to the AVMA, in 2001 Americans owned 61,572,000 dogs. 36% of American households included one or more dogs. By 2007, 37% of US households owned 72,114,000 dogs. And the average number of dogs per dog-owning household increased from 1.6 to 1.7.

Dog ownership rates increased slightly over that six year period, the human population increased, the number of households increased, and the total number of owned dogs jumped by over ten million animals! During the same period, AKC annual purebred registrations dropped -- as I've just learned, by 300,000.

No wonder they've circled the wagons.

But, you say, wouldn't a well-run business try to find out why they were losing market share, and then do what they needed to do to change that?

Of course it would. We'll get back to that.

I was surprised to find that the AKC recently allowed a gross account of its registration statistics to be published here.

No surprise, the tailspin has not abated.

(And yes, I tried to embed these figures here -- fair use -- and they won't go. I found a workaround to display the gif images. I get the distinct impression of an organization that is still desperately trying to control the message.)

In 2008, the AKC registered the same number of dogs it did in 1965 -- the year I was born. Even more dramatic, when the data controls for the size of human population -- number of dogs registered with AKC / human population -- the potential revenue loss shitstorm from 1992 to 2008 is more on the order of 62%.

Now, the article from the ag-industry astroturf organization NAIA would have us believe that the reasons the AKC's registrations are dropping are:

• New laws and regulations that target breeders
Imports of purebred puppies*
• 30 years of bad publicity about breeders

Reality: none of the above.

AKC isn't drowning. It's in quicksand. It jumped in by itself. All of its witless struggles just send it deeper. And as it screams abuse and curses at its former subjects, fewer and fewer of them are feeling inclined to throw it a rope and get pulled in themselves.

The real reasons for the drop in registrations have something to do with general cultural trends and consumer behavior, and quite a lot to do with the behavior of the AKC itself, past and present. These factors interact with one another, form feedback loops, weave into a full picture and become effectively impossible to parse out into separate threads. Nevertheless, I'll give it the old college try.

Top Ten Reasons the AKC's Registration Revenues are Down the Shitter

10. Televised Dog Shows

Does watching the Miss USA pageant on television make you want to run right out and buy a JonBenet Ramsay Junior Pageant Whore-Baby kit for your daughter?


Yeah, I didn't think so.

Westminster and other televised dog shows do nothing to encourage regular dog owners to become "dog fanciers." While they are moderately popular with viewers -- so are reality TV shows featuring freaks, misfits, drama queens and assorted object lessons.

As your teacher tried to tell you, They aren't laughing with you, they are laughing at you.

The viewers -- mostly dog lovers -- who watch for the weird dog haircuts, unfortunate handler fashion decisions, strange misshapen breeds, and tiny dogs with absurd names that weigh more than they do, are not gaining a higher opinion of the ACK, dog shows, and dog fanciers. The whole exercise in artificial glamor and hype for the cameras makes that world seem even more remote and bizarre.

9. Shelter Adoption

The last two decades have seen a revolution in attitudes towards dogs in animal shelters. Dogs that were formerly killed are now adopted as pets.

None of those dogs are producing purebred offspring to be registered. All of them are occupying a growing, but still finite number of slots in family homes.

There's a special place in my own black little heart for breeders who bitch about rescue because rescue adoptions deprive them of puppy sales. (Yes, really, I've had breeders complain to me about this, as if they would find a sympathetic ear.)

A registry that pisses and moans about essentially the same thing is no better.

8. Puppymills

Consumers began to become aware of the puppymill/pet store connection in the 1970's; awareness continued to grow through the eighties and nineties. The pet stores went on the defensive, with marketing spin that all their puppies came from USDA-registered breeders. (Read: puppymills.) "We buy our puppies from local breeders, not puppymills." Etc. The puppymill marketers and consumer consciousness have been in a sort of arms race of spin versus cognition for over 30 years, but in general, ordinary dog owners and would-be dog owners are aware that puppymills are bad and cruel and to be avoided.

Sadly, many dog buyers discover the provenance of their dog after the fact, when they are standing in a vet's office with a sick or psycho puppy and folder containing the receipt from Petland, a useless warranty, and the puppy's possibly fraudulent AKC "papers."

The postwar marketing scam that had duped American consumers into believing that "AKC-registered" was synonymous with "quality dog" was unraveling.

The AKC was not only willing to register pups that had passed from massive mill to wholesaler to retailer to unwitting pet buyer, it actively courted those revenues. Even when the little sales units weren't individually registered by their ultimate buyers, the AKC took a cut every time the beastie changed hands -- much more lucrative than a hobby or show breeder who sold a puppy just once to a pet buyer. Without the massive revenues of the puppymill industry to subsidize the swank Madison Avenue HQ and glittery dog shows, ACK would have been forced to scale back or require its vassal fanciers to bear the actual cost of their hobby.

Related post: At Least, Don't Buy This

7. Puppymill Registries

Ironically, the biggest hit on AKC registrations came as a direct result of ACK's single arguably good deed.

If the central function of an animal registry is to keep an accurate account of the pedigrees of the animals registered, the AKC was failing because of its long-standing policy of rubberstamping whatever the puppymills reported. It was an open secret that the sale of "papers" for breeding stock and the sale of the animals themselves were two independent and unrelated transactions in puppymill land. If a production unit breeder dog died, its papers were still a lucrative property. This was not limited to simple fraud about identity. Especially in the case of expensive and delicate small breeds, it becomes convenient to cross the breeds, with a small sire caged with some bigger-breed bitches in order to maximize litter size and survivability. No one knows how many Petland "Maltese" are the offspring of a bichon mother and a Maltese father, but by the time the switcheroo becomes apparent, they are in little danger of being returned to the store -- if the owners ever figure it out at all.

The AKC's core constituency -- dog fanciers whose hobby is competing in dog pageants -- was understandably miffed about the open secret that their core values of pedigree accuracy and breed "purity" were overwhelmingly compromised.

In response, the AKC instituted their frequently used sires program, requiring that males that engendered more than a certain number of litters (it is now six, or three in one year, though I believe the initial thresholds were higher) be DNA typed.

The puppymill industry's reaction was to vote with their feet, and create their own papermills with cheaper fees and no questions asked. Not only do the ACA, APRI, CKC, et. al. issue bogus pedigrees for their core constituency, but they are happy to keep on doing so for the mill-puppy buyers turned backyard breeders whose classified ads are the last thing keeping dead-tree newspapers out of bankruptcy.

So now, most puppies bought at pet stores are not AKC-registered, and fewer and fewer of the pups sold by casual breeders and local direct-to-consumer puppymills are. Yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pet classifieds included 58 ads for pups registered with AKC, as against 37 that mentioned no registry, 23 for cross-breds (almost all deliberate "designer dog" crosses) and 18 that mentioned "other" registries -- puppymill industry registries. However, most of the ads for deliberate crossbreds and many of the ones for ACA, WWKC, and other papermill-registered pups bore the field marks of direct-to-consumer mills -- websites, takes Visa, multiple litters listed in one ad -- so the number of pups sold per ad in that category is indubitably higher than the single litters listed.

No question, the Frequently Used Sire Program and concurrent crackdown on records violators -- steps the AKC took to assure its delegates and core customers that it was doing job they pay it to do -- severely cut into the profits. And there is probably no way for them to take it back without digging the hole deeper. Not that they aren't capable.

6. The Return to Normalcy

The practice of sending money to a stranger and accepting in return a sheet of paper that repeats the information you sent along with the money is a curious one, and it only goes back a little over a hundred years in this country. It was initially an indulgence of wealthy fanciers, and remained exclusively so for decades.

The wealthy fanciers also set the habit of paying someone to tell them what they could and could not do with their dogs -- the Government of Dogs proclaimed that there would be no race-mixing, that thus and such color or shape or fur texture was anathema, that ears must be amputated for this dog, but never for that one -- and their subjects jostled one another aside to be the first to obey. (Still cheaper than hiring a dominatrix or Frank Lloyd Wright, and the welts and structural defects are on the dog, not you.)

It wasn't until after the Second World War that very many ordinary middle-class people were convinced that they needed a "pedigree dog." (And there were never more than six AKC registered dogs per year per one thousand Americans, even at the outlying peak of registrations.)

The practice of registering dogs with, and paying obeisance to, an organization that is designed to indulge the hobby of a tiny proportion of dog owners, is a historical blip in the culture. Choosing not to register, not to follow "the rules," is more in keeping with the way that Americans -- humans -- have always kept pet and working dogs.

Rather than ask why Americans no longer register their pets with the AKC, we might seriously ask how it is that they were persuaded to do so, for no apparent benefit to themselves or their animals, for nearly fifty years.

5. Michael Lemonick and Mark Derr

In the March 1990 issue, The Atlantic published the first mainstream media critique of the institution of fancy breeding of dogs. Mark Derr laid out the harm to animal welfare and human needs that follows from selection for physical uniformity, closed studbooks, and exaggerated type in "The Politics of Dogs." (Not available online without paying $$ to The Atlantic.)

More than a decade later, Time's Michael Lemonick laid it all out again in the cover story "A Terrible Beauty."

While most mainstream media coverage of doggy matters remains firmly in the realm of fluff and fatuousity, the horse has left the barn. Even the shallowest treatment of show dogs and "The Fancy" now typically includes some mention of the evils of rewarding only for beauty, inbreeding, ignoring health and temperament. Sure the journalettes have no idea what they are talking about, and get it mostly wrong, but there is some obligatory embedded backlash nevertheless. The reading public is reminded that AKC papers "are best used to housebreak the puppy" at regular intervals.

The popular perception that purebred dogs are inbred (largely true) and that mixed breed dogs are healthier (also on average true) has fueled the market for gormlessly crossbred "designer dogs." While consumers misunderstand the precise nature of the problem, and have definitely fallen for a marketing scam with the "solution," they are to some extent on the right track.

4. Gen X, Y and Z

We don't need your stinkin' certificate to tell us we got a dog, dude!

Oddly enough it was Boomers -- yeah, you're all revolutionaries, sure you are -- who obediently sent in the check for their pets' papers in unprecedented numbers.

That swan dive starting in '92? Right around the time my generation started settling down and getting their own dogs. (Yes, I am 44 years old. That is Generation X. Seriously. Few tats, no piercings. Lotta Gulf War veterans. Look it up.)

3. People Like Me, You, and This Here Lamppost

I used to encourage my clients to send in their dogs' registrations, just in case they might want to go into the obedience ring one day.

I haven't done that in years.

Now, when a client asks, I discourage them from sending in the money. The boys on Madison Avenue don't need your fifteen dollars. Spend it on a nice leash. If they want to know about the pedigree, their breeder should have already provided it. If the breeder won't give a pedigree, that's about all we need to know about that breeder.

I talk about the shortcomings of the ACK -- including a lot of the ones listed here -- to all sorts of people, not just dog hobbyists who seek out a blog like this.

It boils down to advancing the idea that the AKC offers no value for money spent, and is actually bad for dogs.

Viruses spread. Most of you regular readers have spread this one.

2. The Dog Wars

Once upon a time, the gentlemen of independent means from the Westminster KC who actually call the shots at Madison Avenue HQ had some pretty strict criteria for "recognizing" a breed.

A club of fanciers had to come hat-in-hand to the back door, present a studbook that established the unassailable "purity" of their breed, and sing a cool island song to melt their hot hearts, or whatever, in the hopes of being granted permission to send money to the AKC in exchange for a piece of paper that tells them what they already know -- and especially, being included in the honor of having someone who knows nothing about their dogs tell them which ones are wonderful and which are shite.

There were even a fair number of disappointed office seekers. My own breed was dismissed from the servant's entrance for being inadequately pure and insufficiently "standard," some time in the 1950's.

Whew! That was close!

This changed in the early 1990's. 1992, I think it was, when AKC announced that it would "recognize" the Australian shepherd.

Except, the Aussie owners' club had no interest in being so honored. It was doing just fine by itself, with a registry, pageant shows (there was their mistake -- a topic for another day), and open-to-all obedience and working trials.

But AKC was in an acquisitive mood. It cobbled together a little group of Aussie owners who wanted to enter the big pageants, declared them the official club, and to Hell with the studbook -- they'd just take your word for it on the pedigree.

Most of the Aussie people I knew at the time took a fatalistic view -- they didn't like it, but basically rolled over and peed themselves. "I guess I have to double-register, or else lose puppy sales. They're going to close the studbook." (Edit: I do not mean to imply that all Aussie owners went this way; I was just shocked and disappointed about the ones I knew at the time, who all did.)

And they were off.

Next in the sights was the border collie.

Their owners did not roll over and pee themselves.

They "lost," in that they could not prevent the ACK from appropriating the name "border collie" for their transvestite show dogs, nor from capturing the registrations of dogs from working breeding whose owners were addicted to the rush of kicking ass at agility and obedience trials.

But the thing about a little guy who gets beaten by a bully -- all he really has to do is give the thug a bloody nose, and he's won. Better yet if a whole crowd of people watches the fight. It not only clearly reveals the bully for what he is, it plants the seeds of resistance in all of the spectators' minds.

The ABCA continues to register over 20,000 border collies a year -- more than ten times as many as the AKC. Most of those latter are "captured" agility and obedience dogs, and many of those are dual-registered.

The AKC's "standard" version of the "border collie" is widely referred to as the "Barbie collie," and recognized for the pale imitation that it is.

Nowadays, when the AKC announces that it is fixing to "recognize" a working breed, it is universally (and accurately) assumed that this is a hostile acquisitive action fronted by a tiny hollow shell group of wannabes who do not work their dogs.

The involuntary quality of recent annexation is even true of companion breeds, such as the Coton de Tulear, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Leonberger.

The boards of "rare breed" clubs no longer present themselves at the service entrance and tug their forelocks while handing over the sacred studbook for scrutiny. Yet AKC keeps trying to make up for lost registration revenues from the Labrador and fox terrier columns by grabbing up rare breeds and declaring them "recognized."

It leaves a foul taste in the mouths of even the most die-hard pageant fanciers. Some object only to the untrustworthy pedigrees and opportunities for fraud. But most see how shabbily their Overlord treats those who don't get with its program.

1. Institutional Arrogance

The AKC cannot make up its mind whether it is a Most Anciente and Exclusive Order that has charged itself with governing a small, fanatical, and timorously obedient cadre of social-climbing dog-pageant addicts, or the divinely-ordained Government of Dogs in all of America.

One identity is primarily insular and snobbish. The other is primarily totalitarian and expansionist. They commingle gracelessly into something resembling a Stalinist Switzerland.

Virtually every disastrous decision the organization has made traces back to one of these two identities, or to the grating disharmony between them. But both identities are grounded in over a century that fanciers spent cultivating institutional arrogance -- starting in the dark-wood-and-leather smoking rooms (No Girlz Alowd!) where men who needn't work for a living decided How It Was Going to Be over cigars and sherry.

Arrogance underlies the presumption that "just a registry" has the right to tell the owners of dogs of every breed which dogs are worthy and which impermissible, whom they may breed to, from where they may import an animal.

It defines the conceit that what is important, exciting, and worthy about a dog of any breed is what can be seen in a few seconds by a man in a penguin suit or a matron in sequins who has never owned a dog of that breed, never worked one, never seen one work.

It is indispensable in maintaining the unsupportable faith that purebred dogs are exempt from the principles of genetics that apply to all living beings, and that the answer to the disaster of the closed-registry systematic inbreeding "experiment" is more of the same purge-and-purify insanity.

It drives the see-want-take impulse behind almost twenty years of hostile takeovers of breeds and the imperious treatment of the unconsenting human beings who own the actual dogs and the ephemeral creature that is "the breed."

It governs the institution's imperious dealings with its core constituents as embodied in its own delegates -- and even the previous presumption that their puppymiller gravy train would roll over and keep sending the munneyz when the paper-peddlers no longer winked at the wholesale fraud and unconscionable animal abuse that has paid for so many silver cups and Landseers.

It underlies the transparently grabby attempt to take credit for the achievements of working dogs. ("To qualify, the purebred dog must be AKC registered or an AKC recognized breed ...")

If the AKC wasn't fueled, steered, and simultaneously blinded by its own stupefying arrogance, not only would it avoid the consequences of its own oblivious decisions, it would be much less susceptible to the loss of respect and revenue that has been driven by cultural evolution.


* Total about 70,000 young pups in 2006. No hard figures given for prior years. So no way of knowing a baseline (say, 1992) figure for puppy imports. Some of these pups -- I think a lot -- are English and French bulldogs bred in Russia or other Eastern European countries. That's a new phenomenon; most of these pups aren't going to be AKC registered. Some will be German shepherds and other working-breed dogs born in Germany and imported by private American buyers or pretty much legitimate brokers. Many of those will be registered with the AKC -- probably many more than are native-born GSDs for the neighborhood pet market. That import market has been around for a long time. Some are dogs bred by fanciers or working breeders in Canada and Mexico, sold to private pet and show and working buyers in the US -- again, a well-established practice along those porous borders. Just as likely to be AKC registered as a comparable native-born pup. Some are like this guy. Definitely registered.

I don't think there's any damned way that 70,000 imported pups, many of which ultimately
are registered with the AKC (which presumably knows the exact number), and which may or may not represent an increase in imports, account for much of the > half a million fewer dogs registered in 2008 v. 1992.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Rocks & Ice

AMRG teammates Bill Evans and Chris Ruch. Improvised rescue training at Ohiopyle on Saturday.

When I was in high school, my idiot friends showed me how to rappel using two carabiners with some gold line threaded through them. Somehow I survived the experience. (Survived driving around in cars with the same maroons, which is a somewhat greater miracle.)

This week, I left my mini rack, my mechanical ascenders, and most of my heavy stuff down in the parking lot. Re-learned how to rappel using one carabiner on the rope with a Munter hitch, one prussik loop as a spacer for the biner, and one French prussik as a self-belay. In other words, less gear than the suicide rigs of my tenuous youth.

My first descent was a little slow, so on my second descent, I took one of the wraps out of the French prussik to speed things up.

Not only did this speed it up, but the 35# pack hanging from the back of my harness may have contributed to the contractual claim that gravity was making on me; additionally, the loss of one wrap made it just long enough to jam into the biner once I was free hanging. Ruh roh.

There were several ways out of this pickle that would have involved breaking out additional prussik loops for feet and harness, and some tedious rigging and de-rigging. So in the spirit of the day's exploration of minimalism, I made a clove hitch out of the main line for my left foot, stood up, an got 'er done. Lesson learned, again, until I forget, again -- check lengths whenever making a change of any kind in the system.

Even though I brought the wrong crampons for my boots, or wore the wrong boots for my crampons, this was probably my favorite technical rescue training in a long while.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Our own Perfesser Chaos takes a reporter from The Allegheny Front on a tour of of the graves of our old hunting grounds.

We cavers have a grim category of stomping ground known as the "sacrifice cave."

A sacrifice cave is easily-accessible, near a road. It does not require an extended hike to reach the entrance, and the cave itself is non-technical in nature, requiring no special equipment or technique. It generally has a long history of local exploitation and "recreational" visits, often going back for centuries.

And it has already been trashed.

Any speleothems have been long-ago broken off by klutzes or thieves. Delicate habitat for troglobitic and troglophilic creatures is often beyond memory. There is trash. Graffiti. Miles of string. Party refuse. The remains of "campfires" lit by geniuses unclear on the concept of the chimney. And don't drink the water.

When someone new wants to try caving, we take him to a sacrifice cave. Ditto for kids -- cavers' kids, our nieces, troops of scouts whose leaders want to take them on an adventure.

When we train our SAR dogs for underground search, we almost always use sacrifice caves.

On the one hand, if the new guest turns out to be a klutz or a cretin, there is little harm that he can do that hasn't already been done. He won't be invited on a trip to a more remote, protected, hazardous and unspoiled cave.

On the other hand, the condition of the sacrifice cave becomes an object lesson and an inspiration for the sincere wannabe caver. Here's where treasure hunters took sledgehammers to the stalactite that took millenia to form. There were the delicate soda straws swept away by the leaden head of some galoot crawling around with a $3 flashlight in his teeth. Over there is the elfin corpse of a bat knocked from the ceiling last Saturday by a drunken frat boy. See what we have lost?

Later, when the initiate wriggles down a secret hole after a long hike along a remote limestone ridge, rappels two eighty foot drops, and traverses an exposed cleft to finally find herself gaping among grinning friends in a sparkling vaulted gallery of pristine speleothems, she will remember all those mud-smeared, battered and spray-painted sacrifice caves where she learned her skills and earned her invitation. And fiercely swear not here -- not ever.

Otherwise, it was no sacrifice, just another pointless atrocity.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dispatches from the Before Time

I recently jumped at an opportunity to acquire a well-worn, slightly water damaged, mildly smelly time capsule that has, however, miraculously retained all of its plates for 163 years.

The Dog, by William Youatt.

Mine is the 1847 American edition, edited and with additions by E.J. Lewis, M.D.

You don't have to save your pennies for an antiquarian keepsake to read it; it's available as a modern reprint, and online for free.

Mr. Youatt was a British veterinarian of wide renown who published on many species, but had a particular interest in, and love for, dogs.

He wrote this opus more than a decade before the first British dog show.

The overview of British dog breeds includes no reference to any "standards" or litany of "important" show winners and sires of show winners.

Yet there they were -- sheepdogs, cur dogs, lapdogs, esquimaux dogs, Newfoundlands and beagles, poodles and The Alpine Spaniel or Bernardine Dog.

Somehow human beings managed to develop and maintain distinct breeds without the authoritative oversight of a kennel club. No overlord to petition for, grant, or withhold permission!

Now one of the things that is explained to me from time to time is that all objections anyone has to anything on animal welfare grounds are a plot hatched last Tuesday by PeTA.

So I periodically learn, for example, that Ingrid Newkirk invented both the word puppymill and its imaginary business model some time in the 1990's. Nevermind that I can remember first encountering the term and the reality in a dog fancier magazine some years before I first encountered pubes.

One of the most adamant recurring lessons goes like this:

If I can't cut off my dog's ears and tail to suit my whimsy, then I don't really own him. They'll be coming to take him away any minute.

It is mandated in the Breed Standard because that is what is correct for the breed.

Having its roots in the Historic Vital Function Of The Breed and in The Inerrant Authority Of The Dead Breed Founders.

Only a whiny little dog-ignorant sentimental Bambi-loving vegan twinkie raises an objection to this practice, which is not cruel or painful at all.

Real Dogmen know that The Standard represents not only Knowledge Moste Anciente and Wyse, but the unanimous consensus of all the Founding Breedfathers and the Leading Men of The Day.

Men like Youatt, natch:

Cropping of the Ears. -- I had some doubt, whether I ought not to omit the mention of this cruel practice. Mr. Blaine very properly says, that "it is one that does not honour the inventor, for nature gives nothing in vain ... That must, therefore, be a false taste, that has taught us to prefer a curtailed organ to a perfect one, without gaining any convenience by the operation." He adds, and it is my only excuse for saying one word about the matter, that "custom being now fixed, directions are proper for its performance."

The owner of the dog commences with maiming him while a puppy. He finds fault with the ears that nature has given him, and they are rounded or cut into various shapes, according to his whim or caprice. It is a cruel operation. A great deal of pain is inflicted by it, and it is often a long time before the edge of the wound will heal: a fortnight or three weeks at least will elapse ere the animal is free from pain.


Mr. Blaine very naturally observes that, "it is not a little surprising that this cruel custom is so frequently, or almost invariably, practiced on pug dogs, whose ears, if left alone to nature, are particularly handsome and hang very gracefully. It is hardly to be conceived how the pug's head -- which is not naturally beautiful except in the eyes of a perverted taste -- is improved by suffering his ears to remain."
Ever see an ear-cropped pug?

Me neither. Add that to the list of things for which I am deeply thankful.

Guess that particular arm of custom was not entirely fixed. I don't know whether pinna amputation never made it into the sacred texts, or was later removed.

Lucky pugs. Left without a functioning respiratory system by mandate of their "standard" and those who serve it, they have at least been permitted to retain their ears.

Dobermans, schnauzers, pit bulldogs, boxers, Boston terriers, Danes, miniature pinschers -- not so lucky.

A practice that would likely have faded away on its own accord in all but a few cases (fighting pit bulldogs, some LGDs) was codified, regularized, and made either mandatory or effectively so because kennel clubs and the dog fanciers' breed clubs were looking out for the "purity" and cosmetic uniformity of the gene pools they captured from the original landraces.

163 years after Youatt, is it too much to ask that fanciers of show dogs who do no work acknowledge the butt obvious truth that the leading dog vets of the mid-19th century could spot and name gratuitous cruelty grounded in idle vanity very well, thank you?

Or does Peter Singer have a secret time machine?