Monday, August 30, 2010

Situation Wanted: Puppy Labor Is NOT Illegal

Belle wants more than to be the Belle of the Ball.

Further Pupdate: Belle is going home this Saturday. Belay request below. That is all.

Breaking Pupdate: We are trying to get Belle from North Carolina to a forever home in Texas (Dallas/Ft. Worth area). She's going to be too big to fit under the seat in about ten minutes, and her adopter isn't willing to fly her cargo -- too hot in Texas.

Can you think of anyone who is flying from NC to TX in the next, say, week who would be willing to take her as a carry-on?

Alternatively, anyone know a trucker who drives that route and could care for a puppy hitchhiker?

NESR has had quite a puppy summer. We had one small litter born to a young bitch we took from a rural pound after a "breeder" dumped seven ES there, and we recently took on the remnants of another young litter of well-bred black-and-tan ES when their breeder suffered a sudden medical setback that made it very dangerous to his health to try to care for the pups. (I can attest to how physically taxing it is to chase after young puppies in the best of times.)

The last time I remember Rescue having young puppies to place was several years ago, when a litter of maybe ES pups was dumped by the roadside in the Midwest, and they found their way to us. Those pups went on to great homes, where they have been very successful.

One of those foundlings became Judy Hase's Dylan:

Dylan is Judy's SAR dog; he has passed operational testing, and has at least one find to his credit. Judy and Dylan live and work in Oregon.

Not every dog has the stuff to be a top-level worker. Most handlers seek out pups from breeders who have taken great care to stack the odds, choosing breeding stock with proven working genetics and great health, and raising pups with the utmost attention to their little developing brains and bodies. Very few rescue dogs combine the happy genetics and the early enrichment that fit them out for this kind of challenging work.

When they do, who are we to deny them that chance?*

When they do have All That, it is a disaster when they are denied a means to use it. Such dogs make bored, unhappy pets. Locked out of legitimate employment, they turn to selling drugs on the street corner menacing the neighbors through the fence and forming boy bands buggering the cat.

One of our born-in-foster-care pups, Briar from yesterday's cookbook post, was one of these. It looks as if Briar has found herself a sinecure as a ranch hand paw. It took a little longer to find the right place for her than it did for her more laid-back siblings.

Now we have another candidate, from the well-bred litter.

Here's what her foster human, whose animal-sense I fully trust, says about her:
I need you to help me find this pup a special home. I have NEVER had a puppy blow me away with her intelligence like this one! She's an "old soul" kind of puppy. Nothing bothers her. She's barely 12 weeks old, had been in the house for less than a week and was completely housebroken, even rings the "bell" to ask to go out. She has a steady "sit" (learned in a few minutes), and working on stay. She knows what is and is not a toy and can be chewed. Was crate trained in 15 minutes and slept all night by the third night. She is reliable (so far) with the chickens, doesn't get too close to the horse, and wasn't afraid of the lawn mower when I started it the first time. She's not afraid of anything, as long as the other dogs stand their ground. She needs a home with something to do, a working home of some sort. She will get herself in a lot of trouble if she goes to a home where she just entertains children or keeps another dog company. This pup is an extreme case of "she'll find something to do"!

I know most ES are smart but good grief!

So -- SAR handlers, ranchers, farmers, service-dog users, serious dog sports competitors with a lot of time to spend keeping up with a pup -- someone with the ability to meet a brilliant young dog's mind -- here is a rare opportunity to acquire a pup from a rescue who has both the genetics and the early environment to qualify her for a challenge. Belle was well-bred, well-raised, is one of those rare single-trial learners who you do not want for a pet, has solid nerves and great courage. She is in Rescue because of her breeder's personal misfortune, not human negligence that has deprived her of her puppy birthright.**

Belle is fostering in North Carolina. You can inquire about adopting her here. I suspect she is a once-in-a-lifetime dog ready to bloom for the right person.

* Believe it or not, there are "rescues" of working breeds that refuse to place dogs in working homes. Apparently "ornamental love object" and "toe warmer" are the highest functions to which a dog should aspire. It is "mean" to "make them work."

Now, I may have a bit of sampling bias here, but it seems to me that NESR takes more "failed" pet English shepherds and adopts them out to become successful working partners -- mostly farm dogs -- than ever the other way 'round.

Everybody is happy.

** In my fantasy world, that is what Rescue does -- steps in when people have genuine misfortunes, when their resources suddenly cannot cover their commitments, and helps them by looking out for the welfare of their animals so they can handle their other challenges with no worries on that front.

Not, say, clean up the colossal mess left behind by a profiteering felon.

Macro Monday: Prairie Grasshopper

Here, there is a constant creak, hum, buzz and chirp of insect noise throughout the growing season. Not to mention far-away traffic on I-79 and frequent aircraft.

On the prairie, the legions of bugs are far too busy eating, and there is sometimes a break in the noise of machines.

For a few minutes, I could hear only wind and a single songbird. Spectacular.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Call for Recipes

Homeless baby Briar says she is hungry. You can help!

You say you want my marinara recipe?

The one that I spend September cooking up and canning, imprisoning the tangy essence of summer in glass jars of goodness that nourish us two or three times a week all year?

The recipe that is so fantastic that my Sicilian husband uses it as a base for almost all his Italian cooking -- tomatoes grown and transformed by his Irish wife? (There has got to be a word for shiksa in Italian.)

Well I'm not going to give it to you.

But you can get it.

Heads up, I'm sending it in to the National English Shepherd Rescue cookbook project. NESR will start taking orders for this communal cookery tome at the end of September.

Meanwhile, you can help homeless English shepherds by contributing your favorite recipes to the cookbook. Our peerless editor, Dianne, writes:

National English Shepherd Rescue is an all-volunteer, non-profit breed rescue group working to place English shepherds in need of new homes. We are currently collecting recipes for our second edition cookbook. We're looking for everything from appetizers, soups and salads, to main dishes, side dishes, desserts, canning and preserves, crockpot ideas, and special treats for dogs. Basically, if your family likes it, we want it! Please include your name, city, state/province/country, and the name(s) of your dog(s) so that we can give you proper credit for your submission.

We've already started work on the layout, so please don't wait until the September 30 deadline to send your recipes in! Submissions should be emailed to: (We will begin taking pre-orders at the end of September!) For more information about NESR, please visit our website:

I know there are some talented cooks and some keepers of old family recipes reading here. Pass the torch and help some deserving dogs in need! There is no limit to the number of recipes you can send.

I'll also be providing my recipes for chocolate chili, hot pepper jelly, Lilly's Choice dog biscuits, Dijon vinaigrette, coq a vin, and perhaps a few more as they occur to me.

Dianne told me about a simple cheese-based dessert that caused me to invoke several deities in vain when she merely described it. Wouldn't you just like to know? I swear, bring this thing to a holiday party, and people will gnaw their way through Santa Claus to get at it. It will be in the book, but I won't tell you anything more. You just have to buy it.

And if anyone has a recipe for really crispy dill pickles, there is an entire collective of English shepherd-owning wimmin who will bow down before you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Photo Phriday: Jedi

At the Remote Polar Lair, Zip the Kelpie works on the frisbee.

Do, or do not. There is no "try."

Oh screw it. Just throw the damned thing already.

A Quick Thought, California

A field-bred Labrador makes a great pet for anyone who bought a raffle ticket on a lark. God told me so.

The California assembly is once again using The People's Time and The People's Money (of which they no longer have any) to give unwarranted parliamentary benefit to a hairbrained scheme to sterilize every privately-owned dog and cat in the state. It could even pass the assembly.

You can read about it here.

And here.

So here's a thought, Californians who claim to love animals and have their welfare at heart while ignoring every data point about what happens when the gubmint mandates the surgical sterilization of privately-owned animals ...

Why not use some of that misplaced energy -- the time and effort you put into trying to get into your fellow citizens' private bidness, and their pets' very private gonads -- to make puppy raffles illegal.

The way they are in every other semi-civilized place. But not California.

This kennel announced in this Facebook post that they are raffling off a pup.

When questioned on this choice -- a curious one for a self-styled "premier breeding, boarding, and training center" that specializes in field-bred Labradors -- the proprietor responded that

I have never been of the attitude that it is my responsibility to vet people to see if they meet criteria set by us to be worthy of owning a dog. Over the yrs. I have seen kids helped by sympathetic adults win a puppy they otherwise couldn't afford at a DU dinner. In the past our dogs have always went to not only good people but the best! I believe it is God's duty to sort out people.

I wonder if The Almighty has consented to be unilaterally assigned that "duty" by this kennel owner. Most Judeo-Christian scripture seems to place the duties of animal husbandry and animal welfare firmly on the shoulders of the earthly owner of the animal. I am taking a risk here and assuming the proprietor is not a Jain or an Animist or something.

So what say you, Californians? This should be a no-brainer. Outlaw puppy raffles in the next session of the assembly, bringing California into line with 1970's-era animal welfare standards. It literally costs the state nothing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Photos Phriday: Reunion

Just about a year from the day most of the ONB dogs were released from their status as living evidence, and able to be adopted, several score of them gathered in Red Lodge Montana, along with their new owners, their former handlers, and other friends.

Just somebody's dog now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Big Door Prize

You don't volunteer for charity work with the expectation of getting something fungible or material in return.

If you do, it's no longer charity, and you are no longer a volunteer, you are a poor businessperson or a disappointed office-seeker or a swindler or something else entirely.

At the same time, it is ungracious to refuse that which is spontaneously given in appreciation of your work.

Maybe just that enameled fifteen-year-service pin. A bottle of good wine. Souvenir t-shirt. Sixteen-year-old single malt. A sincere thank-you. A hug, if it's not the bad touch kind.

And that which just grows out of the work.


Adam Smith notwithstanding, not every human interaction is an exchange.

My training colleague and friend Douglas, rejecting my self-characterization as a relative non-geek, challenged me to produce one friend from the past ten years I had not first met online.

As it happened, I had several. I would, however, be harder-pressed to come up with many who did not in some way come my way in the context of volunteer work. A few clients-turned-friends, co-workers, and neighbors about covers it.

When my friends in NESR made the commitment to the Operation New Beginnings dogs in December 2008, we anticipated much of what was to come -- the time commitment, lost income, days and nights of worry, scraping for funds, even the still-ongoing harassment.

We did not plan for the way in which our lives would be enriched by the friendship of other volunteers, adopters, donors. This was a gift unlooked-for.

When we agreed to foster dogs whose needs were significantly greater than any "normal" foster animals, it was for the sake of the dogs.

Back in January of 2009, we anticipated a fast(er) resolution to the ONB dogs' fates. Everyone expected that Linda Kapsa would cut a plea agreement within a few months at the most. Everyone expected that, before that time came, other rescue organizations would step up and help with fostering, rehabbing, and placing dogs.

Neither of those things happened; eight months later it was NESR with full responsibility for all the dogs. Not until they were adopted -- until they were adopted and then forever after, if any dog needed a new home at some later time, or any owner needed help in order to keep a dog.

On my first trip to Billings, Susan, an ONB volunteer was asking about how adoptions might be handled, and I ventured that some would be handled locally by local groups, and NESR would take as many dogs as we could.

"So you will take the really promising ones and adopt them to people who want an English shepherd?"

I was taken aback, but had to remind myself that not everyone knows how rescue groups (should) work.

"No, we will most likely take the least adoptable, since we have the foster homes that can handle them. We're not as worried about the easy-to-adopt ones."

I think she was genuinely astonished.

As it happened, the most troubled ONB dogs were divided (for foster or adoption) between the most capable of the ONB volunteers and the most experienced NESR foster volunteers.

"Troubled" is relative. There were the dogs such as Harry and Barry White, who had been in the worst condition when seized and/or made the least progress in custody. Dogs who suffered such severe kennel stress that they were difficult to parse in our interviews. And any dogs who exhibited worrisome aggression that had not been resolved while they were in custody.

One of those came home with me.

Unlike his presumed brother Charlie, Cole was not aggressive towards people.

His pathological aggression towards other dogs started when he was about eight weeks old. I witnessed the three brothers from what we believed to be one litter try to kill one another, with commitment and enthusiasm, when they still had only baby teeth that were fortunately not up to the job. They were three of seven young pups whose mother(s) could not be identified at seizure, and they wasted no time establishing Lord of the Flies protocols amongst themselves.

Later, as a teenager, he'd latch onto another dog so hard that, picked up at the height of the fray, he'd bring his victim into the air with him. The mere sight of an empty food bowl could elicit a balls-to-the-walls attack.

Cole was in solitary for months. At the ONB reunion, one of his caretakers said something that I'd somehow not appreciated before now: Cole had lived alone in the dark for twenty-two hours a day.

It pained those who loved this cheery, cuddly, playful teenage pup to know that he was so troubled, and was not only unjustly confined like all of his relatives, but isolated for their protection and his.

Douglas and I saw something else, something besides his seek-and-destroy attitude towards other dogs and his snuggly nature with humans. We saw an inborn desire to partner up with a human for a goal, and the self-assurance to make it as a working dog.

So Cole came home with me in September.

Within three weeks, he learned to put his damned tail down and get along with the resident dogs. Who liked him -- the clearest sign that the young fellow did not want to be That Dog.

Within two months, he was politely meeting strange dogs on the street. Pip adopted him as her son -- as if she didn't already have enough of them.

Within three months, he was controlling Sophia, our gormless social-climbing German shepherd, and enforcing a good pack order. Also working as our designated turkey hound. Progressing with SAR training. Ummm ... sleeping on the bed. My side.

After twenty foster dogs -- short-term fosters, long-term fosters, fosters with medical needs, fosters needing extensive training, perfect fosters who needed nothing but the right family -- we experienced a foster failure.

His Gotcha Day is Memorial Day. Best $200 I ever spent. A cheerful, loving, devoted, forgiving farm dog, SAR partner, and pack enforcer -- all for a couple of Benjamins.

This interaction with NESR may be an exchange contractually, but I did not get anything equivalent to my donation. It's as if I sent fifty bucks to the public radio and instead of a tote bag they sent back Tom and Ray in a wooden crate.

I went to the party to wait tables, and walked off with the biggest surprise door prize of all.

It gets better.

We took our first really big road trip. Perfesser Chaos, Pip, Rosie, Cole and me, two weeks with the popup trailer, to Montana and back.

Had I not had enough of Montana? I had not. Nearly six weeks in Montana last year, and I got out of Billings for one evening. I had never seen Montana.

And there was the occasion of the ONB Reunion, on the anniversary of the dogs' release from custody. So many human and dog friends who I'd never seen outside of the stress and deadlines of trying to do right by so many dogs with so few resources and so little time.

At Janeen's, part way, Cole got reacquainted with his brother, and declined to renew their nemesis relationship.

In North Dakota, he hiked the grassland, flushed grouse, and slept in the camper for the first time.

He was a Very Good Dog during the roadside emergencies occasioned by two trailer-tire blowouts. (Brand-new Carlisle brand Sport Trail tires, in case you were wondering.)

He got a stern lesson in campground etiquette from PC in the Custer National Forest after a serious lapse of judgment. I didn't say he was perfect.

And at the reunion, the boy who had been locked in solitary appointed himself the glad-handing Mayor of Dogville.

Now, no mistake -- when others offered to engage in hostilities, he was willing to return fire. I pulled or pressured him out of two scuffles, one directed at him and one between others, where he may have come to "support" me in breaking it up.

But overall, he stotted around the girl scout camp climbing into laps and offering play bows, depending on the species of each new or old friend.

He earned his CGC on Sunday, a clean and honest pass, no fudging. We had not prepared.

On Monday he advanced to a more advanced SAR task, in an unfamiliar and arid terrain, surrounded by cows, and working with PC, who is Not the Momma.

On the way home, we stopped at Janeen's again, and worked a bit with brother Charlie and maybe older sister Maddie, who each have their issues. After a few minutes, I took him off the leash. He continued to work, because I did.

And I finally saw that he is destined to be my next dog-training assistant. Not just a demo dog -- a job that can be done by any well-trained animal -- but a real partner.

He will step into the the massive pawprints left by Mel. Mel who used to bring clients to tears as she delicately calmed their fearful or ferocious beasts. Mel who thought ill of no one, but always had my back. Mel who could do her job without direction, while my full attention was riveted on our troubled student.

He will one day be that good. Not the same, but that good.

That day I got a call from a friend who had just been savagely ambushed by grief when she picked up her late dog's ashes. Listened and talked about the Old Man, these Great Dogs and what they do to us, requiring that we become better humans by believing we already are.

They create these magnificent places in our lives and hearts, and maybe one day, after they are gone, another Great Dog comes along and moves into that vacant space. Not to replace the maker, but to help fill the space with life rather than echoes.

And there was my Little Dude, romping on the lawn and flashing me a tongue-lolling grin that would make any other dog look like a dullard. On Cole -- who has shivered on a pile of frozen dogshit, who lived 22 hours a day alone in the dark, who once found an empty bowl to be grounds for attempted murder, and through it all has always believed that there has got to be a pony in here somewhere -- it just looks happy. All that knowledge, and he chooses happiness.

The biggest prize of all.

Macro Monday: Carnage

The radiator on the Honda after driving through South Dakota and Minnesota.

Shit. Is that Tinkerbelle in the upper right, next to the honeybee?
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: Meeting

We've just returned from the Operation New Beginnings dog and human reunion + English shepherd Gathering.

I'll be posting about it more this week.

Meanwhile, can anyone tell me who this dog is, and who these people are?

ONB folks, don't give it away.

The dog, as many have surmised, is Harry.

Petting him is Mark Wyatt.

Standing left is Kristen Wyatt.

Standing right is Sheila Ruble.

Mark and Kristen went to Linda Kapsa's to see about buying a puppy in July 2008. They were greeted with a scene from Hieronymus Bosch.

Thus began the Wyatt jihad that led to the seizure in December. Mark and Kristen saved Harry's life.

Sheila Ruble sat with Harry for months, convincing him that human beings would not make soup of him in the morning. While Harry lives now with Catherine Schaeffer, Sheila still conducts his rehab.

The Reunion was the first time Harry had been on an outing in the car since leaving the Metra. He didn't mind it. He did well at the reunion, no panic.

He sniffed my foot and touched my hand on the porch.

I would have driven to the ends of the earth for that.