Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The eighth wonder of the world

Today I met an eighteen-year-old pug.

I know. It's the internet, you have no reason to believe me. I don't even have photo evidence. But I swear by the head of Horus it's true.

Interestingly, and possibly related to his longevity, he appeared to be poorly bred. And by 'poorly', I mean he has a waist, an incredibly long (for a pug) nose with an actual, distinguishable muzzle-like shape, and a lowish-set, barely-curled tail.

Other items of possible interest: he's had the same owners since he was a puppy, who have fed him various brands of kibble with occasional table scraps.

He is deaf and mostly blind, but what else do you expect from a creature who, according to our "age estimate" charts at work is, like, 500 in human years.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm just biased because I like cats

When I was little, my dad came home with two female kittens he'd picked up from a neighbor's barn litter. I got to name them and, being two years old at the time, named one "Deedah" and the other "Neenah". They would be just about the only ones of our many, many cats for the next few years who would ever get names.

This would've been around 1986. Back then it never even occurred to my parents to allow cats in the house, let alone to take them to the veterinarian. The dogs got their yearly rabies shot and got to sleep in the the kitchen during a thunder storm, but even that was pushing it. Neenah and Deedah were never spayed, of course. By the time I was six or seven, we'd lost count of the exact number of their descendants cats we were feeding every night. It had to be at least thirty. We went through a lot of cat food, but it was the cheapest you could buy so we didn't mind.

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It was common activity for me to dress up in long sleeves and heaving ski gloves and try to catch the kittens that always seemed to be in perpetual supply. Sometimes I'd catch one that didn't immediately try to rip my face off and I'd be delighted and would sneak it inside for a few hours to play. Later I realized these were probably the kittens that were so wormy and diseased they were too lethargic to fight.

If a cat got hit by a car, or got too sick from whatever disease was running through the population that week, dad would wait until my sister and I were distracted inside by a cartoon or something and then he'd shoot them with his .22 revolver and bury them next to the creek if they'd had a name or drop them in the trash if they didn't.

We didn't, you see, put much value on a cat. And most of our friends and neighbors in my small, rural town felt the same way.

Then, one day, my fourth grade class had a visit from a nice lady from a place called the "humane society". She brought in a dog that we got to pet, and handed out brochures for us to bring home to our parents, and told us about such strange things as "spaying" and "vaccinations" and "adopting pets". She didn't scold, she just... educated. I loved animals (what kid doesn't, really?). I couldn't have articulated it at the time, but I loved being shown a better way to care for them. I wanted to do the right thing for the creatures under my stewardship.

Coincidentally, this eye-opening lesson occurred about the same time that, through a combination of coyotes, horned owls, disease, and old age, we suddenly found ourselves with no more cats to feed. It took about a year of begging and wrangling, but my sister and I finally convinced dad to let us get some more cats. This time from the humane society.

When we adopted our kittens, we got even more pamphlets and brochures. We not only payed money to get the kittens (unheard of!), we spent more money to get them neutered and vaccinated. Suddenly, these animals had value. We worried about them getting sick, or running off, or getting eaten by a coyote. After more begging, they were allowed indoors whenever they wanted. They slept in our beds at night. They got a monthly flea treatment. And canned food. They had carefully-chosen names, and a file at the veterinarian with their picture on it. We started to take photos of them. (Seriously, I can count on one hand the number of photographs of Neenah and Deedah. Of Trouble and Henry, there are dozens).

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They were valued members of the family. There were no more barn cats, and visiting strays became rare. Just a few years prior we'd had what could have been classified as a feral cat colony. A Problem with a capital P. Although we never seemed to have a shortage of songbirds, lizards, frogs, snakes or any of the other wildlife that feral cats are supposed to decimate, but that's just the layman's observation of a kid. (Albeit one who spent a lot of time around the property chasing and sometimes catching these critters). And it was directly a result of putting so little value on our pet cats. It wasn't because we didn't like them, it was plain old-fashioned ignorance.

I think I've made it clear that I'm a fan of the No-Kill movement. Some people dislike that it promotes Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) of feral cats. There are various arguments against TNR, some of them valid. I don't think it will work in all areas, but few people who promote TNR actually think that anyway. I think it would have worked well on my family's little colony, had we known about it back then. Some of the kittens could have made fine pets with a little socializing, the rest could have continued living their lives after being sterilized and died of natural causes (which is what they did anyway). Was it the best life a cat could have had? Heck no. Do I think they'd have preferred to live it than be dead? Yes. Did they kill wildlife? Yes. Did they decimate local wildlife populations? No.

TNR isn't perfect, but unfortunately, for most areas, it's the best we have. I think there are a few things that anti-TNR people still don't get:

1) No one (except maybe a few crazy cat people) want there to be any feral cats. Really. We all agree: ultimate goal for everyone = zero feral cats. But we have some now, so we have to deal with them. There aren't that many choices: it's pretty much TNR or death.

Which leads me to misconception 2) killing them isn't going to solve the feral cat problem. Period. Sorry, it just won't. Sure, it might work in some places in the short term (and based on the comments from frustrated bird-lovers, killing them is also satisfying in schadenfreude-like way), but long-term we are only going to stop producing feral cats if we as a society put more value on the cat in general (feral or not).

The anti-TNR stance has a common thread: there is an attitude that killing cats is "down to earth" and "realistic" versus the "rainbows and butterflies" of the crazy, fluffy-headed cat people who support TNR. Bullshit. You want to talk "realistic"? I forced my way through my husband's textbooks when he was getting his business degree. You don't get more "realistic" (or dry) than freaking economics. After all, it's become pretty clear by now that healthy, adoptable shelter animals in general are being killed because of no more than a marketing problem. Cats are no different. And if your ultimate goal is to increase customer perceived market value, it seems pretty stupid to publicly devalue your commodity to the point that you're trying to get taxpayers to pay to destroy it.

Realistic means you don't take the sort-term, momentarily satisfying action. It means taking the less-satisfying, more frustrating and difficult long view. That, to one degree or another, is going to involve a whole lot of TNR.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Thanksgiving post I never wrote

If you'd like to know why I disappeared for a week, I was in California visiting family. Lots and lots of family.

My sister writes about it all on her blog.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Celebrate Shelter Pets Day

A man came into the clinic today with his dog Rex. There's a note at the bottom of Rex's chart. "Muzzle!!" (with two exclamation marks and highlighted in orange).

The warning was hardly necessary; Rex walked in the door growling and didn't stop until his owner carried him out 15 minutes later. Eyes bugging out of his head, he shook, he cowered, he tried to climb inside his owner's jacket, he lunged when we got too close.

The owner was very patient with Rex, holding him gently but firmly so we could work on him. He told us Rex is a wonderful dog at home. He just suffered abuse when younger and is now very wary of strangers. When with those he trusts, he's a normal, happy dog.

"I wouldn't trade him for the world," he said.

I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if Rex had ended up in a typical animal shelter instead of with this family. He probably wouldn't even have been given a chance to fail a "temperament test"; he'd have been killed after the first, fearful growl. Assuming that he'd take too much time and effort to rehab, he'd have probably been killed to make room for something considered more easily adoptable.

Luckily, Rex never had to go through the shelter system. A family gave him a chance, and that's all he needed.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except it seemed a good occasion for yet another endorsement of the No-Kill Movement. It's perfectly understandable why a shelter worker used to working under the old system would write off a dog like Rex, or spend time focusing on the abusers of his past instead of his prospects for the future. What I like about No-Kill is he would have a better chance to become that pet that someone wouldn't trade for the world.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilema

I finished this book awhile ago. Here are some things that have been percolating in my mind. (Yes, I'm the type that highlights and puts tabs in my books.)

Page 7: "...linking us, through what we eat, to the fertility of the earth and the energy of the sun."

One of the more memorable learning moments I had when I was little was my dad explaining that everything we eat and use ultimately was either dug out of the earth or grown on top of it. It's obvious when you think about it, but it was a profound moment for my little brain.

Page 23: "...indeed, there is every reason to believe that corn has succeeded in domesticating us."

Hah hah, yes.

Page 55: the author describes BT corn as "corn genetically engineered to produces its own pesticide"

A technically correct but loaded description. He must know well that 99% of his audience considers 'pesticide' a bad, scary word. Inserting BT genes into corn should be at the bottom of our list or worries about risks from chemicals or industrial agriculture, and it doesn't deserve all the bad press it gets. The BT toxin is practically non-toxic for humans. Which can't be said for most other pesticides used on food crops. It doesn't deserve to be lumped together with the other pesticides we use. It can even be used in organic agriculture.

Page 63: "Cargill is the biggest privately held company in the world."

holy shit, didn't know that.

Page 69: Pollan drily describes the begining life of a beef steer. Although his description is dry, his disapproval of the impersonal nature (not just the pain) is implied.

Some things bother me about farming animals, some don't: AI doesn't bother me (heck, some cows would probably prefer it, given a choice), not giving animals true names doesn't bother me; you could argue that it's the first step on a slipperly slope of thinking of living, breathing, thinking creatures as objects that can't feel pain, but I knew plenty of 4H kids growing up who named their steers "Burger" and "T-bone" and names didn't seem to make a difference in the (excellent) quality of care.

Page 71: the cattle rancher in South Dakota tells the author that in his grandfather's day, slaughter age for a cow was 4 or 5 years old, in the '50's it was 2-3, and now it's 14-16 months.

Page 126: Reading the description of Polyface farm - 100 acres that produces an abunadance of food (both plant and animal) in harmony with nature.

A good place to start with revamping our food system is to have more farms like this. Now, please.

Page 132: "If I said I was organic, people would fuss at me for getting feed corn from a neighbor who might be using atrazine...There are a whole lot more variables in making the right decision than does the chicken feed have chemicals or not."

I love Polyface farm. I have a rant on "organic" standards.

Page 139: he describes ultrapasteurization as "a high-heat process that damages [milk's] nutritional quality"

I quibble, sir. Where is your data on that, exactly?

Page 144: this 'brown foods' movement at the begining of the organic movement I've never heard of before. Intriguing.

Page 148: "...so that when the synthetic nitrogen fed to plants makes them more attractive to insects and vulnerable to disease... the farmer turns to chemical pesticides to fix his broken machine." and "on a healthy farm pests would be no more prevalent than in a healthy wood or pasture".

Um, no. Farmers have been using pesticides to reduce crop loses for thousands of years. We've always been (and always will be) in competition with bugs and weeds for our food, and will always need some kind of pest control. Industrial agriculture may be worse, (and as much as I support the idea of holistic farming) but I don't buy it that 'nature' will take care of all things. Nature is a bitch, and her only goal is to keep balance. Trying to grow any kind of crop represents an unbalance of delicious food, which will always bring the pests to eat it. No matter how healthy your soil and robust your micro ecosystem.

Page 156: Pollan sums up Kahn's philosophy about industrial organic: "If the consumer wants an organic Twinkie, then we should give it to him."

Page 157: the description of Horizon Organic milk's dairy farm in Idaho: thousands of dairy cows milling around a dry lot eating 'organic' feed shipped in from thousands of miles away and collecting manure in ponds.

Yep. The public asked for an organic twinkie, and they got it, didn't they.

Also, the excuses of Horizon's execs about why they must farm dairy cows this way just makes me roll my eyes. Tillimook Cheese Factory milks thousands of cows every day, and they do it with pastures and grazing cows and without an organic label. Tillamook easily falls under the definition of 'industrial' farming yet they keep a small farm feel. If they can do it, so can others.

Page 164: He has a point about industrial organic. It's not perfect, and there are far too many compromises, but if nothing else it's better than before. Just that one large company in California has 25,000 organic acres, probably eliminating 270,000 lbs of pesticide and 8,000,000 lbs of petrochemical fertilizer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I took a class on that in college

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Of all the memorable quotes from my flamboyantly gay college evolutionary biology professor one sticks out in my memory. The first day of class, he told us that giant pandas are going extinct. There's no way to save them now. It's too late, their genetic diversity has, and I quote, "gone to shitte" (he was British). They're not only being coddled in captivity away from natural selection, but we've imposed a genetic bottleneck that will be impossible for them to live through as a species. It might make us feel good to breed a few pandas every year to gawk at in zoos, but as a viable, wild species they est kaput.

In case you weren't aware, there's currently a bit of a kerfluffle happening in an internet microme about genetic diversity in dogs, lack thereof, and the consequences (or denial of consequences) of inbreeding. It's interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the social aspect of the relationships among and between dog breeders and breed-lovers.

What facinates me about this current 'debate' is the tendancy for the "pro-inbreeding" crowd to treat dogs as if they are a special case in nature.

"Inbreeding depression" is a thing. It is a well-studied phenomenon. It has the name it does for a reason. Why are breeders trying to deny that it can effect dogs, too?

Others have already said this, but it bears repeating: You can't inbreed your way to a healthier population. You can't even maintain a species if it's genetic diversity becomes too compromised, even if you have enough individual animals to breed with. That's why the pandas are screwed.

It's apparently a common belief among dog breeders that you can somehow improve the breed by removing diversity. This doesn't make sense. If you fart in a sealed room, you can't make the smell go away by farting more. You open a window for new air.

Likewise, the fear of outcrossing confuses me. Why is this even a debate? The dalmatian outcross project is the most obvious example of the potential of this time-honored breeding technique. And yet even that raving success story, instead of inspiring other breeders to follow suit, is met with fear and revulsion.

If a new, untouched wild population of pandas or condors, or whatever, was discovered, conservation biologists would be peeing themselves in glee to have new genes to add to their captive breeding program. And here we are with domestic dogs, throwing away genetic diversity left and right, even when there are proven alternatives. All my science-loving brain can say is, "WTF?"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the lost files of summer

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We got Zelda a life vest. Because, while she is an earnest swimmer, she has little body fat and a very short coat. A labrador she is not, and her hind end sinks alarmingly far under the surface when she swims. Also, a life vest means I didn't feel bad about coaxing her to jump off a dock for my amusement.


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Vintage photographs of working dogs

Courtesy of the Flickr Commons.

(Click on a photo to go learn more)


Huskies pulling sledge

Huskies pulling sledge in the first Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914





Tracker dogs, 1967

Tracker dogs and handlers, 1967. Used to sniff out Viet Cong fighters during the Vietnam war.





messenger dogs and handler near Villers-Bretonneux, 1918

The caption reads, in part:
"Informal portrait of 3133 Corporal James Coull with dogs of No. 3 Messenger Dog Section. Left to right: War Dog 103 Nell, a Cross Setter; 102 Trick, a Collie; 101 Buller (sometimes referred to as Bullet), an Airedale. All three dogs were very efficient in message carrying and saw service with the 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions, also with Divisions of the British 8th Corps (Imperial). 102 Trick was particularly efficient and was well known by all Brigades of abovenamed Divisions. He was specially mentioned by Signal Officer of 2nd Division for good work at Rubimont, near Heilly"

Remember how last post I was saying how Brave Dog stories choked me up? Yeah. The description of the duties of messenger dogs in WWI does that to me.

Here's another photo of a trio of dogs with their handler, with another interesting description.

British messenger dogs with their handler, France, during World War I

"A British soldier holds three dogs which were trained to carry messages between the lines and command during World War I. Usually the dogs had been strays, so one particular breed of dog could be not preferred. Generally, however, traditional working breeds, such as collies, retrievers, or large terriers, were chosen for messenger work. Messenger dogs were based in sectional kennels near the front lines. On average each sectional kennel had 48 dogs and 16 handlers, a ratio that indicates how important the dogs' work was at the front. Before being shipped to France the dogs were trained at the War Dog Training school in Shoeburyness."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

some confusing links for a confusing week

"Meat... you're right in liking it"

I can't believe I missed this earlier

Dogs in science fiction. Two of my favorite things, better together.

Well, OK, it rarely is good together. Animals in general, and dogs in particular, tend to get short shrift in fiction. Especially movies. They're usually used as cheap plot/character development (where human character develops by the dog's death), and/or nothing but symbols for something that doesn't involve them being real animals. I wish they would make more Dean Koontz books into movies. He reliably has the dog not only play an important role in the plot, but live at the end.

On a side note, when we went to see I Am Legend in the theater, I started crying at least ten minutes before the dog actually died. I could see it coming a mile away. And nothing chokes me up faster than a Brave Dog story, true or not.

that's unexpected

Yesterday I gave Zelda her monthly heartworm pill. It was the last of the supply I brought with me from our last vet before we moved. Like the dutiful pet owner I am, I went to my new vet (now also my employer) and asked to buy some more.

"We don't sell anything for heartworm. We could special order it for you, though."

What?! Heartworm preventative is one of those things, y'know? Everyone who's a good pet owner keeps up on preventative, right? It's almost as basic as food and water. It doesn't make sense that a vet won't sell it.

Except here it does, it turns out. There is no heartworm. Google "heartworm map" and this is what you get:



I live in a white zone. I didn't even know there were white zones. Anywhere. It never occurred to me to look or ask. It's freakin' heartworm.

I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around it.

Oh, and I will be special ordering some. We travel to some of those pink and orange areas often enough. All it takes is one mosquito bite.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

maybe it's just your 'culture'

Look, while it's all well and good to make a clear statement like, "If you think that everyone who is Mexican sucks, you're an asshat", it loses all meaning if you then go on to basically say "Mexicans suck because..." and then go and allow and even somewhat encourage others to say similar things in your comment thread.

See also: "I knew a Mexican once who did (something bad). It's therefore logical and totally non-racist that I now don't trust any Mexicans and feel the need to share this story anytime anything Mexican-related is brought up."

I'm sure it's fun to pick on the Amish and Native Americans, too, but can we maybe not do that anymore? Thanks. Glad we cleared that up.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Agility trial results

3rd place novice weavers


We qualified for three out of seven runs and ended up with 1st in Novice Regular, 3rd in Novice Weavers, and 4th in Novice Jumpers. This without practicing at all in three months. Yay, ribbons!

We would have had a 1st in the other Jumpers course, but we went off-course and didn't Q. Even taking an extra jump, Zelda had the fastest time of the entire Novice group for that course.

And, even better than ribbons, Zelda had a perfect down stay the whole weekend.


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And this is a blurry but humorous photo of my dog in action. She loves the jumps almost as much as the tunnels.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Links

~Humanely move a rattlesnake

~The Big Picture: Animals in the news

~Two historic photos for you today: one photo from 1905: "Bulldog" on the beach with children and one from 1927: Gas Menagerie

~The Pink Dinosaur Project

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coloney Collapse Disorder: still inspiring anti-science tirades

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This response to a recently published study on the causes of CCD is flat-out asinine.

The scientific study itself is pretty cool. They basically threw bees in a blender and then used a super-cool military analyzer-thingy to find out what all the viruses and microorganisms were mixed in with the bees. They had intriguing results: 100% of the CCD-affected bees they studied were infected by a specific virus-fungus combo.

Some ignorant snot, from Fortune magazine of all places, (which might make me forgive his ignorance about science and biology, but not about his lack of journalistic integrity), doesn't like these findings, however.

In his op-ed article-thingy, titled, "What a scientist didn't tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths", he complains that the NYT article that first reported about the new study didn't report that one of the authors of the study once got funding (for a different project) from a pesticide manufacturer. He claims this is cause for bias that effected the outcome of the study and that the study is therefore worthless, and also pesticides are evil and there's a giant conspiricy SOMEWHERE AAAAAGH PESTICIDES R SCCCERRRY!!!1!

OK, that last part was my interpretation.

So much mis-information it hurts. HURTS.

a) Scientists receive funding from industry. There I said it. The best-kept non-secret in science today! It doesn't mean the work they do with that funding is bad or biased. It's certainly something to keep a close eye on. Which is why there are safeguards in place, like GLP's and journals requiring some kind of statement of conflict of interest, university review boards, and, yanno, other scientists). An automatic assumption of crippling bias when the data is solid is ridiculous.

b) There were eighteen authors involved in this paper from multiple disciplines and funding sources, including the military, universities, and other corporations (all of which are clearly stated in the paper itself). One of the authors receiving a grant from Bayer once for a different project doesn't somehow taint everything he touches.

c) Mr. Op-Ed, like a few scientists and a whole lot more non-scientists, wants to blame CCD on pesticides with little evidence but the gut feeling that PESTICIDES R SCCEEERY.

NEWS FLASH: insecticides harm insects. Honey bees are very sensitive to them. It says so right on the label of the products that Bayer makes. This isn't a hidden fact. If you plop your bee hive in the middle of a tomato field after the farmer sprayed (which is unfortunately what many bee keeper do), then yes, your bees will probably get sick. However, there is very little evidence that chemicals are causing CCD. There is plenty of sound speculation that chemical exposure contributes to weakening a hive and making it more vulnerable to disease or other stressors. However, considering that there have been CCD-like die-offs reported before modern chemical pesticides were invented, blaming them now without any other evidence is poor science.

Implicit in these sorts of, dare I say, BIASED accusations, is that there is some kind of conspiracy to keep a dangerous chemical on the market. Imidicloprid (which, from what I could find, is the only neonicitinoid used in the US) has about the same LD50 as aspirin. It also doesn't take a lot to affect target insects, so application rates on crops tend to be low. By the time the food reaches our mouths, the residues are tiny or undetectable. A few European countries banned neonicitinoids because the people wanted them to, not because there's been some new, exciting finding about their safety. That's politics, not science.

d) Mr. Fortune Magazine complains that this current paper didn't study the effects of pesticides on bees. No shit Sherlock: they set out to study diseases. Scientific studies of this sort are supposed to be narrow in scope; too many variables and you don't get reliable results. Not to mention, the whole reason this study is so cool is because they methods they used are uniquely suited to finding viruses and microorganisms. Which, you may notice, are very different from pesticide chemicals, which would require a different process (actually, many different processes) to detect. Just because pesticides are your hobby horse, doesn't mean it is for everyone. You want to study pesticides? Get yer own funding (just not from Bayer, then your results would be ignored).

e) Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out to the anti-pesticide folks out there: honey bees aren't healthy, and they aren't treated very well by most bee-keepers. They're more inbred than an AKC bulldog, very disease-prone, and as stated above, there have been periodic die-offs reported as early as 1869.

CCD is scary, but bad press about good science, and emotional knee-jerk reactions, won't solve it.







Tuesday, October 12, 2010

an open letter

To the people who made this sign.


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That was lying in a ditch.

Behind some bushes.

Twenty yards from the actual parking area where people would stop to let their dog swim in the river:

REALLY? I'D RATHER NOT KNOW AT ALL.

Sincerely,

Me

PS: I especially enjoy the extra effort you took to screw the paper to the wood. Looks very sturdy. Using staples would have made it look like you weren't even trying.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Things that make Suzanne sad

1) Somewhere in the move, I lost my Photoshop disk. I take photos in RAW format, so now I can't even LOOK at them until I find it. Since this blog is apparently mainly about pictures I take, this sorta puts a cramp in my style.

2) My new job makes me so tired and footsore in the evenings that I don't want to look for it. Also, I'm lazy. Also on weekends I just want to play Borderlands until my eyes drain out of my skull. Damn you, addicting computer games! (OK. Not always true, since last weekend we decided randomly to go to Seattle. I'd love to show you photos to prove I'm not a shut-in geek BUT THEY'RE IN RAW FORMAT GGRRAAGH!)

3) My first day on the job I was handed a dead dog in a bag and told to go put it in the dumpster. That same day also involved two emergency life-saving surgeries on other dogs, so it works out on balance. But. Still.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sweet!

As of Monday, I will no longer be among the ranks of the unemployed.

Not that I've been without a job for that long, mind you. Not long enough to hear the wolf scratching at the door, but definitely long enough to get antsy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

If at first you don't succeed

One of the main reasons I'm still feeding my cats kibble is because there is small but noticable improvement in their teeth health when they eat their special 'oral care' kibble.

That is, until they went on a diet two months ago. They now think their two small rations a day is akin to torture by slow starvation; they scarf it down like inmates in a North Korean prison. I just noticed yesterday that this involves not actually chewing the damn stuff. Hence, defeating the only positive reason to feed kibble aside from convenience.

So, time to try yet again to home make the cats' food. It was probably only a matter of time, anyway, but this was the last straw. I'm going to try harder this time. And of course everyone says switching off kibble will help with the losing weight anyway (and reduce the risk of diabetes, and increase fluid consumption, etc, etc).

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yep

Goodreads is incredibly addicting.

This, and this and this again

Via Smartdogs: "Let them eat meat - but farm it properly"

The author of this article, an outspoken vegan, is refreshing in his honesty and willingness to admit to changing his mind on a topic he obviously feels passionate about. I, too, feel passionate about this topic, and I quibble with him only about this bit: "...the ethical case against eating animal produce once seemed clear..." Perhaps to you, sir. But for me and my family, who have had the privilege to get most of our animal products from wild game and local, well-treated and humanely slaughtered happy farm animals, the statistics (made-up or not) on factory farmed meat didn't really didn't really hold much sway.

And curses, I now have yet another book to add to my already absurdly long reading list.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Here, have a 9/11 anniversary essay

Not mine. Writing about 9/11 is beyond me. But it seems like this anniversary especially needs some kind of acknowledgment. Summer's End.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm writing this because it's what Lucy would do

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The discussion about good science- vs. bad science-based dog training over at Retrieverman's got me thinking.

We're (and I mean me, too) constantly talking about dogs as if they were not just descended from wild wolves thousands of years ago, but as if each and every puppy emerges into this world with some kind of species memory of what it's like to be a wolf. I'm not talking instinct; many pet owners and trainers act as if each dog has a literal memory of everything a wild wolf is and they way they're supposed to act. And what's more, it's like we think all dogs long for that imaginary state of wolfness in a conscience way.

How many times have you looked at a content dog and said something along the lines of, "oh look, she's happy because she's with her pack."

When my dog barks out the window, we say, "oh look, she's warning her pack of danger!"

When dogs play, we constantly evaluate their technique, and the meaning behind every move: "Oh, Dot sure was the dominant bitch, there."

Puppies don't just play, they 'play fight'. When dogs dig, they're either 'digging a den' or 'hunting'.

I'm not trying to argue these things aren't accurate. Most are to varying degrees. But you don't see humans constantly comparing ourselves to our ancestors of thousands of years ago, or to our wild cousins. It does pop up a lot in our culture (nearly everyone knows basically what 'fight or flight' instinct means, for example), but we don't burden ourselves nearly as much with ancestral baggage as we do our dogs (probably partly because many of us, even if we don't outright disbelieve in evolution, like to pretend we're above its influence).

When my husband makes the bed, I rarely say "Aw, how cute, you're building your nest for the night so we can be safe from predators". When I'm preparing to cross the street, I (usually) don't try to find analogies in the 'natural' world ("is the speeding car a predator trying to kill me, or a mindless hazard like a falling tree?") I certainly don't use those analogies to make a decision about when it's safe to cross. I'm not constantly thinking, "what would Australopithecus do in this situation?"

So these sorts of ideas are based in fact (unless you're basing your philosophy of dog behavior on old, outdated misinformation about wolves, of course, then you're really just making sh*t up) . But I guess my question is, why the rhetoric? Why the CONSTANT need to compare our dogs to wolves? They may be very closely related genetically, but their lives and social structures and expectations are very different. We call them dogs to differentiate them from their wild cousins for good reason. Although there is a lot of grey area around the edges, most people know a dog vs. wolf when they see one. Why constantly load each and every twitch of the tail, and flicker of the eye with that wolf-baggage. Why can't we just let them be dogs?

Or better yet, individuals.

Some individual dogs would be perfectly happy hunting their food in a pack and living outdoors 24/7. Others, if let feral, would prefer scrounging human garbage dumps. Many dogs wouldn't make it a week without humans. Some dogs prefer the company of humans, and indeed seem to understand them better than other dogs, some only thrive when other dogs are around. Some dogs respond strongly to food, others to affectionate touch. Some can't stand eye contact with a human, some could stare in your eyes all day. Some dogs bark at everything, some never bark at all. Some dogs grow to 100lbs, have erect ears and a shedding coat; others never reach 10 lbs, have floppy ears and a snout so foreshortened they can't chew or breathe properly.

With all the flexibility in physical form and personality that dogs show, why would people try to constantly fit dogs into a sort of generic Wolf-with-capital-W stand-in.

There is definitely value in learning about dogs' and humans' evolutionary past. But I think it gets over-used as a philosophy. Much like evolutionary psychology. There's got to be a balance between seeing a dog as an individual, and as a Wolf . I think the best dog trainers understand this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DIY Haggis

My husband, who has Scottish ancestry and owns a kilt, claims to love the national dish of Scotland. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get authentic haggis in the US. When dad recently asked me to help him slaughter a lamb, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to procure some sheep guts and make this dish. Why waste a perfectly good pile of offal?

Play along with me (recipe adapted from here: http://www.gumbopages.com/food/scottish/haggis.html)

You will need:
1 sheep
1/2 large onion
2 cloves garlic
Spices (salt, pepper, parsley, whatever)
Whole ground oats
2 large turnips
3 large potatoes
1 glass Scotch whiskey

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First, obtain a sheep, or, in this case, technically a lamb, but you can see she's almost full grown. I recommend from a small local family farm. This particular farm is about as small and contains just about the happiest sheep you could find.

Next, procure from your sheep the stomach, heart, liver, and one lung.

The stomach is the most difficult part. First, separate it from the intestines. It will be packed full of steaming, half-fermented grass and the whole thing will likely fall out of the animal alarmingly fast, forcing you to catch it in your arms and cradle it like a babe if you don't want it to fall and explode on the ground. If you're wearing long sleeves, it will take several washes for the smell to come out. As quickly as you can (it'll be so heavy at this point that too much pressure on one spot will cause it to tear) cut a good sized hole at one end (if you can find an 'end' as it's a rather convoluted organ) and dump out the chewed-up grass. Turn it inside out and use a hose to spray out as much muck as you can. When it's mostly clean, it's ready to bring into the kitchen.

I recommend wearing rubber gloves when handling the stomach. Even when mostly clean, it gives off a stench like old man breath mixed with cabbage farts and it will cling to your skin tenetiously through a couple dozen hand washings. Learn from my mistakes.

Once in the kitchen, take the stomach to the sink and rinse it some more. As you rinse, use your fingers to peel off as much fat and membrane as you can. DO NOT let any of this crap go down your garbage disposal as it will make it smell like death for days afterward.

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Once you have the stomach as clean as you can make it, soak it in cold salt water over night (preferably in a sealed container so the smell doesn't spread - save that for the cooking part). If your spouse asks why there's a dirty dish rag in a tupperware of dirty water in the 'fridge, tell him it's a science experiment. That's not precisely a lie.

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Take the heart, liver and lung and chop finely (optional step: first rinse out some of the black, congealed blood and trim most of the greasy fat). I used a blender on 'chop' to get it about the consistency of ground meat. Plop this mess into a large skillet with half a diced onion and a couple cloves of diced garlic and some spices and about a cup of water or stock.

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Cook it until it's well browned and most of the liquid is gone. This will be the only point in the process that it will smell edible.

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Let cool a bit and then dump into a large mixing bowl. Add about a cup of uncooked whole oats and maybe some more spices like parsely or something. If it's too dry, add some stock or gravy.

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Mix it all together, and stuff it into the stomach loosely (the oats will swell as they cook, so leave room).

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If, like me, you tore an enormous hole in the stomach while cleaning it, sew it together with clean butcher's string. Poke a few holes in the stomach so it won't explode while cooking.

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Bring a pot of water to a boil. Open all the windows in your house, turn on a few fans. Put in the haggis, simmer for about three hours.

While that's cooking, (if you can stand to be in the kitchen with the smell) boil the turnips and potatoes and make (separate) mashes of each.

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When it's close to being done, tell your husband to get ready for dinner. And by 'get ready' I mean, put on a kilt, sit down, and pour some whiskey.

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Pull out the haggis, slice it open, and dump contents into a serving bowl. It looks like a loose meat loaf. I'm told you can eat the stomach (it's just tripe, after all). I, personally discarded it immediately.

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Apparently, you should serve haggis to the sounds of a bagpipe. We didn't have a bagpipe, or even a recording of one. So I put my dad on speaker phone and he played some Scottish fiddle tunes as I brought the tray to the table.

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Tom pronounced it 'delicious'. I don't know if that means I cooked it correctly or incorrectly.

Yes, I ate some. It's not bad. It's really just a type of sausage.

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Zelda also likes it. But she also likes cat poop, so that's not really an unbiased judgement on quality.