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

Bangor Campus 31

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


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.



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.