Sunday, June 28, 2020

Thoughts on "condo collies" and other "apartment-inappropriate" pets

For a couple of years, I had two border collies, one of which was bred to be a cow dog. My partner and I both worked full time jobs and usually weren't able to come home at lunch, and for a while we lived in a two bedroom, second story apartment. Sounds like the worst situation for border collies, right?

Here's all it took to keep my condo collies satisfied: twenty minutes of fetch in the yard/field in the morning before work. Filled kongs for while we were gone. They had run of the house and, after we moved, a doggy door to the fenced yard for the nine hours they were alone. More fetch or an off leash walk in the evening when we came home. A few minutes of trick-training for their dinner, then hanging out with the family as we went about our evening housework, dinner prep, and relaxing.

They both slept quietly in their crates next to the bed every night, and rarely made a peep until we got up the next morning. They didn't destroy anything, they didn't bark or develop obsessive habits. Every indication was that they were content and happy to be part of our lives.

When I got pregnant, the routine started slipping. For three months I was nauseous from noon until bedtime, and the only relief seemed to be to sit or lie down, so the evening walk was the first to go.

Soon, the only evening exercise they were getting was a few minutes of fetch in the yard. By the second trimester, I was more tired in the mornings and was sleeping through my alarm more often, so soon they weren't getting morning exercise every day either. I started getting lazy about filling their kongs every day. I started feeling exhausted in the evenings after work. All I wanted was to lay on the couch until bedtime.

By the middle of the second trimester, the poor dogs were rarely getting any exercise during the week at all, and only one good long off-leash walk on the weekends. It's no coincidence that they both started counter surfing during this period. Some dishes were broken. We learned to puppy-proof in the mornings, so it still wasn't a huge issue.

We made it through pregnancy and the newborn stage with both dogs still happy in their living situation. A couple years later, we thought that it still wasn't fair to the farm-bred one to be cooped up so much, so we re-homed her to a sheep farm. Ironically, she turned out to be bad at herding, as well, so she continues as a house pet to this day.

I'm not saying that a working-bred dog is for everyone. But so often we find ourselves judging pet owners for the type of animal they've chosen. I certainly have in the past, but, especially in the year 2020, we could all learn to let go of that knee-jerk reaction to assume the worst about strangers we know nothing about.


Thing's I've learned on the job

Things I've learned from working at a vet clinic and animal shelters:

-You can't fix everything all at once

-There is no such thing as a "perfect" pet home

-You never know the whole story

-A person's bank account is not an indicator of how good of a pet owner they will be

-There is no such thing as a completely healthy bulldog

-People will lie to you. (It doesn't automatically make them bad people)

-People will make mistakes. (It doesn't automatically mean they shouldn't own pets)

-People really can learn from their mistakes if given the opportunity

-Many more people than you would think are able to successfully keep multiple, large dogs without a fenced yard

-People get way more defensive about their dog having fleas than almost any other aliment

-DVM's can succumb to observational bias just like anyone

-Landlords will always complain about their tenants no matter what

-I really need to take a refresher course in conversational Spanish

-You may not understand why someone feels the need to spend a couple thousand bucks to import a rare breed of dog from Eastern Europe just because they read online that the breed would "make a good jogging partner", but it really doesn't matter what you think. Not everyone needs a lecture on their decisions

-"Pit bulls" really, truly, are a popular type of pet

-There is a definite correlation between a dog's status as "outdoor only" and how likely they are to be leash trained

-There are a lot more people than you'd guess that have "outdoor only" dogs that are loved and receive regular vet care

-People in the thick of animal rescue do not give enough credit to members of the community who help animals in small ways


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Domestication Stories: The Death and New Life of the Guardian

The bear came in the dead of night, when the fire was low and everyone was asleep except one watchman. Later, his father told him the bear had been very thin, and had come out of hibernation too early. Drawn to their temporary camp by the smell of the fresh horse meat hung in strips from the drying rack.

All the boy knew is that he woke to a frightening weight crashing down on him and a roar so loud and close it seemed to shake the whole earth. For three terrifying heartbeats, he couldn't move or breath, or see. Then, just as suddenly, the crushing weight lifted, and he jumped to his feet, throwing off the blanket fur and looking around wildly. He froze. The weight that had pinned him to the ground a moment ago was a bear, and now its huge, humped back was now less than two arm lengths away.

Time seemed to slow. He was vaguely aware of the others around him, rising from their blankets and groping for weapons, and of the odd, jerky motions of the bear as it bit and clawed at a spear that protruded from its shoulder. He took one step backward, then another, and that's when the bear paused and turned its eyes to him.

There was nothing between it and the boy. He heard his father shout something, but it was too late, the bear, full of hunger and frustration and pain, swung his body around and took a single step toward him, lowering its head. There was no time to run, or to grope for his spear. The bear would maul him to death in seconds, before his father or the other hunters would have time to attack.

But then, a dark furry shape hurtled out of the darkness and rammed into the bear. A wolf, from the Pack-that-Follows. It clung to the bear's neck ruff and shook and scrabbled and snarled. The bear roared again and swiped frantically at the wolf with both arms. Attention diverted, the boy wasted no time and threw himself backwards into the bushes, out of the way.

He looked up in time to see the bear throw the wolf to the ground, but it had given the hunters time to grab their weapons and now they closed in on the bear from all sides. The fight was over in moments, spears and finally a stone club finished off the bear. and it lay limp right next to the fire. There was a round of shaky, tired cheers and then several family members set to work immediately to skin and butcher the bear. It would be bad luck to try to sleep with it lying there in the middle of camp.

But the boy had eyes only for the still form of the wolf. He crawled over on hands and knees and touched the wolf with a shaking hand. It didn't respond, the muscles slack in that familiar way of of an animal newly-dead. He carefully turned the head toward the fire light, and it was as he feared: The wolf's face had a striking dark stripe from forehead to nose tip. His favorite wolf from the Pack-That-Follows, one of the handful who had a name.

Uncle came up and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder as he began to weep. He stroked the wolf's fur for the first, and last time. Even the friendliest wolves like this one, the ones who would venture close to the fire for dinner scraps, wouldn't allow a person to touch them. So incredibly soft and thick. For a moment, the boy wondered what it would be like to have a wolf sleep next to you at night. How safe and warm you would feel.

"Stripey was so brave," he said. "He saved my life."

"Yes," Uncle replied. "He was Her gift to us, we must be thankful for the time he was with us."

The boy looked over his shoulder at the activity around the bear's carcass, then into the brush where the rest of Stripey's pack would be. He couldn't see or hear them, but they were probably watching, as they always did.

"We should give the Pack some of the meat," he said. Uncle nodded.

"I'm sure your father will agree."

"What will we do with Stripey's body?" It seemed to wrong to butcher it, even for the luxurious fur. This was not just any wolf.

Uncle seemed to understand. He went around to the rest of the family and told them to leave Stripey where he lay. None argued. In the morning, he and the boy wrapped an old blanket hide around Stripey's body.

"Come," he said to the boy, and picked up the wolf and walked out into the brush.

They walked for some time, pausing now and then to collect branches. By the time they reached an appropriate place - a low spot between hills, where stones peeked out of the earth to show it was a favored place of the Stone Mother - he was carrying an armload of branches so large he could barely see over it.

Uncle chose a place with a natural depression in the earth, next to a large boulder, and placed Stripey's body into it. He took out his knife and gently removed Stripey's head and set it aside. The rest of the body he re-wrapped in the blanket and together they covered it in all the branches and twigs they'd collected.

"How will he hunt without his head?" The boy asked, his tears returning. Uncle put an arm around his shoulders.

"He has a different job now."

A week later, when the hunting party returned to the Winter Caves with their bounty of food to share, Uncle also helped the boy clean up Stripey's skull and choose a place for him near the doorway to his family's dwelling. The boy had never paid much attention to the Guardian bones that others had placed in different parts of the cave. They were just part of his landscape. Now he realized that each one was significant. He made sure to listen more carefully when stories were told, and to tell Stripey's as well, and he also made sure to bring extra scraps to the Pack-That-Follows. As long as he lived, he would make sure no one forgot the bravery of this Guardian.


~~*~~


Notes:
125,000 years ago, a family of Neanderthals in what is now called England placed wolf skulls at the entrances to their dwellings. It was around the same time that an important genetic divergence event took place among wolves in Eurasia, (according to mDNA, anyway) possibly showing the beginning of the separation between wolves and wolves who would later become dogs. We don't know much else about that period of time. We don't know Neanderthal's relationship with wolves, or their rituals or spirituality, but placing their skulls near doorways implies a spiritual connection. I think it's possible those skulls could have been from camp-following wolves. Wolves who are physically identical to, but were just a little different, from other wolves. Just a little more likely to hang out close to people, and for people to start to recognize individuals and form favorites and attachments to them, even if these wolves weren't yet very "tame".

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My wine jug terrarium after 5 1/2 years

On September 24 2013, I tossed a pothos cutting and a chunk of lichen into a wine jug with some dirt:

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February 7th, 2019:


It went through a rough period in 2014, when my toddler knocked it over and pushed a ball point pen in there (which remains to this day), but it persevered.

Old Homesteads in Western Oregon

I grew up hiking and hunting in private timberlands in and around the coast range of Western Oregon. I've lost track of the number of homestead sites I've run across in the middle of the woods, in unlikely places. My dad worked for timber companies, and would show me different sites. Often the only way to mark them is the ancient apple or pear trees who remain, clinging to life as the forest grows up around them and shades them out. Or sometimes, an oddly-placed clump of domestic iris or lily that has no business in a wild Pacific forest.

Most of these sites I'm talking about sprung up in the last wave of land-grabber/white homesteaders in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Many of them lasted, at most, a couple decades before the occupants realized how hard it was to grow crops on a PNW hillside with thin, clay soil best suited for sword fern and douglas fir. Most of them were abandoned and the land absorbed by large timber companies who let the trees regenerate and the buildings quietly rot away. Or, like in the case of my childhood house, the majority of the homestead land is absorbed, while the house, outbuildings and useless-for-logging-purposes flat ground near the creek was sold as a residence.

In some cases, families clung to homestead lands for as long as they could, slowly selling land to the timber companies when they needed money. As the original houses rotted, they built new houses closer to the public roads and highways, often delegating the original home sites as garbage dumps (because even to this day in rural communities, it's much cheaper than a long trip to the landfill). 

So, if you're stomping around inside a tree farm and come across a spindly pear tree growing on a bench far from any road, or an old plow, or truck chassis, rusty artifacts like old water heaters or oil cans, someone once had a house there, and a few chickens, pigs, and maybe cows.

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