More Dog Morons

Sari from our Asia Group sent me a link to this (nearly) unbelievable story about New Guinea singing dogs.

It begins: “The New Guinea Singing Dogs are the rarest in the world. Just 150 were known to exist before the bust at Randy Hammond’s home. Now there are 235.”

So they “rescued” and neutered them.

Was their owner abusing them? Even the idiotic story suggests not:

“The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture describes Hammond as a hoarder, and he’s been charged with animal cruelty, among other offenses. Despite the 85 dogs living in 27 small enclosures, Wendt describes these fox-like canines who can climb trees as “pretty healthy…In the last two years, Hammond turned all his attention to care for his wife, battling cancer…Wendt says Hammond has been very cooperative with his group and law enforcement, and that he truly cares about the dogs, who are attached to him… The number of dogs “just exploded. It went from 50 to 85 dogs in two years,” Wendt says. “That’s when it turns into chaos.”

First they were going to rescue them by– what else? — putting them down. (Vicki Hearne used to say ARists preferred all animals to be either cute or dead). But (the “caring” warden who arrested the owner, one Georgia) “…Martin wouldn’t allow that. As Wendt writes in a note of thanks on the New Guinea Singing Dog International Yahoo site: …(She) realized that these rare and special dogs needed a chance to survive…”

With no descendants– genetically and evolutionarily dead. Sorry, I don’t buy “too inbred” either– why not breed out to some of those other rare dogs?

But the fix is in. No dissent mentioned in the story. Four “choices” to make about it– “This story makes me happy/ inspired/ laugh/ intrigued”– why not disgusted, appalled, murderous, depressed? And you can only comment on (Evil) Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg being a private arm of Big Brother…

When Big Nanny, AR, and moronic institutionalized “compassion” meet there are no civil rights and no fertile dogs. (Re)read Vicki Hearne. Me? I’ll defend my own genetic gold. Molon labe.

Gun Deal

“Nowadays the shooter who has passed his physical zenith has a double
inducement for handing in his 30″ barrelled, full- weight, old thoroughbred, and going in for something lighter and faster- handling but in no significant degree inferior, ballistically. These old thoroughbreds are now fetching high prices– much more, in many cases, than they cost… True, the new gun may not be a best English side- lock, with all the refinements of the old, but it can be a thoroughly sound English box- lock…Meanwhile, the old thoroughbred could find a new, and perhaps younger, owner, and one better qualified to derive full pleasure from it”.

(From Gough Thomas, his Gun Book, back in 1969)

My 1879 Stephen Grant was definitely the best (Best) gun I have or likely will ever own, but its seven pound plus weight had made it nearly impossible to carry in our rough terrain.

Last year I had more jokingly than not discussed trading one of my other guns for Andrew’s unique 20 bore when he visited with his dogs.

Though it was a theoretically “lesser” gun with plain surfaces and an obscure provincial name, it was obviously of good quality and had many bespoke traits– striking wood with a lot of cast off but no toe out like a ladies gun (good for my broad face), unusual chokes (IC and bigger- than- bore “bell” for you tecchies), and five pound weight with no metal missing– I believe it last passed proof in 2002. Its most remarkable trait was its 30″ barrels; despite its light weight it swung smoothly. Though the highest quality Spanish makers are now making similar guns, it is the only vintage* smallbore I have seen with STEEL 30- inchers, though I have seen a few Damascus examples.

Andrew offered back that he would consider the Grant and we both laughed, but when my Parkinson’s diagnosis suggested a very light gun I wrote to him– he really had the only strong candidate, and by pure luck I didn’t really have a lot of money in the Grant. In the end we put together a “proposal” with ammo, a case, tools, and more including some surprises from him and a Hungarian Mongol bow and more ammo from me, and made the deal. It is the perfect example of the quote above. Andrew’s gunsmith has revealed that my intuitions are right– the Grant is in nearly incredible condition, safe for modern ammo (knew that– have shot it for years), and never had the barrels honed out or thinned. While with the slip- on leather pad he provided the “Sidley” fits me perfectly (I’ll have a leather covered recoil pad installed after the season). I should add that all my shots are at close range.

He also sent me a CD of interior photos of the Grant including its Brazier locks— a possible paying article there! So Andrew gets a London gun at an age I never could– and I? Well, Johnny UK wrote me after I mailed its specs that it was doubtless made for an opinionated older man past his greatest strength but still enthusiastic, with good taste and a limited budget. I rest my case.

*Apparently– thanks to gun scholar Doug Tate– it is a W & C Scott (good) action, possibly made in the thirties but left “in the white” and finished in the fifties.


Tom Russell would be too modest to say so but he might just be the best and most lasting singer- songwriter of my generation; while some annoyingly typecast him as a western or cowboy or border balladeer he is in all ways an American bard, a living link between cowboys and the beats and all manner of chroniclers and historians and poets of the “Old Weird America.”

He blew through town last week with his wife and Swiss father- in- law for a flying visit, posole and green chile, and intense conversation. We had fun (and I think “Poppi” was relieved that we ate cheese and drank wine in addition to chile, vodka, and maybe frozen quail). I’ll refer you to Tom’s vivid and flattering account at his indispensable blog. More to come I’m sure!

Rebecca O’Connor (buy her book!) came through too, with falcons and Brittany, to do some research and decide what rifle the heroine of her novel- in progress should carry through a post- apocalyptic but “re- wilded” landscape of the future. She had never shot so much as a .22 before, but with enthusiasm and only a hint of trepidation tried a Winchester .30- 30, a Mauser 7 X 57, and an SKS. Any guesses as to which she chose? She will be writing about it and sending photos– again, more to come.

Almost a review

Libby recently read Jeff Lockwood’s Locust.

Her letter to him is as good as a short review, and the last line could be a blurb:

“I thoroughly enjoyed Locust. My favorite period of US history is the opening of the west during the 1800’s. When I was a kid we took many family trips to the southwest and up and down the Rockies, passing through the dozens of Mormon communities along the way. We used to talk about the difference the irrigation made in settlers being able to sustain themselves and their livestock. In some of our reading there were references to the locust plagues and we wondered why they weren’t mentioned after a certain point. The link between irrigation and the life stages of the locust is fascinating, and explains a lot. And I always wondered about the place names like Grasshopper Glacier and Grasshopper Creek, far away from the plains that I associated with grasshoppers, which it turns out weren’t grasshoppers but locusts.

“Thank you for such a splendid account…history, mystery, and natural history: my favorite combination in reading!”

News (none) and some pix…

No real news good or bad– just BUSY, exercising– sometimes hours a day– to keep PD at bay, gathering wood, getting ready for hunting, lots of guests, cooking, bird training…

Still, the past month saw a serious shotgun trade, a new bird, interesting visitors and meals, some reviewable books, and more. I’ll try to blog most of it starting today. Please be patient– the physical effects of PD and (I suspect) the mental ones of the meds make everything ever- so- slightly slow…

One good thing for winter at Casa Q: the Vermont Castings wood stove that Paul Domski gave us is keeping the old stone house warm for what may be the first time ever. As this appears to be a “La Nina’ winter– open, windy, almost snowless, very cold– and because cold exacerbates my symptoms, we are grateful.

Another friend I want to thank is falcon breeder Bill Meeker. After seeing me struggle with the odd and recalcitrant red- headed falcon for a couple of months he offered to take him back and replace him with an untried female peregrine of the year. I am rather embarrassed by my long- time kidding about peregrines- I always called them “Labrador retrievers”. After watching her learn as much in a week as the rh did in 2 months I emailed to Bill: “Suddenly “easy” and “sane” look pretty good!” Age may bring me sense if not wisdom.

More to come after gym work…

Amarillo 2010

I spent last week hawking in Amarillo, Texas.  More pics to come as they filter in from friends, but here are a few from a jackrabbit hunt toward the end of the week.  This one flushed close in high cover, which is a good situation for a male Harris hawk like mine (jacks outweigh him about 7-1).  Ernie was on it before he knew quite how big it was.  I fell into the mix to lend a hand as fast as possible.  And shortly after, Chris Lynn’s female Harris came in to assist as well.  In one picture below we attempt to sort out the knot. (photos by Eric Edwards)

Spanish mastiffs

As many of you know, husband Jim and I recently traveled to Spain to interview livestock producers about their livestock protection dogs used in wolf country. Spain was one of three emphasis areas on our research trip, which was sponsored by the Wyoming Wool Growers Association and funded by the Wyoming Animal Damage Management board. We wanted to see working guardian dogs that are aggressive enough to be effective against wolves while not being aggressive to humans. I think we struck gold in the working Spanish mastiffs we encountered. The dogs we met had been proven against wolves, and we unintentionally provided the ultimate test of their human aggression (a story I share below). The photo above shows me with a yearling mastiff – that’s one big puppy.

First a little background. We were fortunate enough to have two wolf biologists as our guides in central Spain – including one whose job it was to ensure distribution of mastiffs to producers in wolf country, especially into areas where the wolf population was expanding. These two, Yolanda Cortes and Juan Carlos Blanco, organized all our interviews with producers, and got us to wherever we needed to be. I doubt our trip would have been so successful without their insights and assistance. I hope our first work together is only a start. We have plenty to learn from our Spanish comrades.

Ranches, farms and estates are called “exploitations” in Spain, which we noted with some humor. The mastiffs are not called livestock guardian dogs, protection dogs or simply dogs, but instead are always referred to as mastiffs. To the Spanish producer (sheep, goat or cattle) there is simply no other animal comparable to the mastiff.

Most of the grazing areas we visited are unfenced, so the herder must stay with the herd in order to keep the animals from entering grain/cereal fields in the area. The herder stays with the herd until he’s ready to eat lunch about 2 p.m. At that time, the herd is placed into a centrally located pen, which in some cases has been reinforced with electrical wire to keep wolves out. The herder goes away for lunch, and comes back to let the sheep back out after a few hours. The sheep continue to graze, with the herder alongside, until it’s nearly dark and they are most often penned again. Larger herds (we saw one with about 1,000 head of sheep and 11 mastiffs) are not night-penned, but stay out with their mastiffs. The herders are almost always the owners of the animals and the ranch (I believe we only saw one exception to that). We also saw herders with burros and cattle as well, again for the same reason. More cattle were kept in fenced areas, but most of the areas were unfenced.

The Spanish mastiffs are absolutely huge, and most producers allowed me to pet and handle their dogs. The dogs were very tolerant, but quickly went back to work. We met dogs that had actively fought wolves, including one female who was still healing up from a battle a few months prior, as well as a big male dog who had killed a wolf. Okay, so they work against wolves, and they seemed not to be human aggressive, but were they really no danger to humans? We were soon to find out.

Our last livestock producer visit one afternoon in Spain was with Paulino, who runs 448 goats and about 300 cows. There were six Spanish mastiff livestock protection dogs with his main herd of goats, but he had another 60 mother goats that were out grazing in a separate herd, away from their penned kids. Paulino reported there was one mastiff dog with this bunch that he thought we would like to see. We arrived at the pen in the evening, and the mother goats were nowhere to be found. We walked through thick brush “hara” covering the mountainside, trying to find the herd, but couldn’t even hear their bells. Paulino decided to drop down into the canyon below in attempt to find the herd and place the mothers back with their kids for the night in the safety of the 8-foot tall wire pen, so we were to wait.

As it started to get dark, and we could hear the goat bells coming in the distance, we (wolf researcher Juan Carlos Blanco, Jim and Cat) walked back to the kid pen, opened the gates to let the goats in, and stepped back out of the way. We realized that if the goats tried to approach the pen and saw strange figures in the darkness, they would never enter the pen. So Jim and I stood very still next to Paulino’s vehicle, while Juan Carlos stood on the other side. The goats began coming to the pen, but they approached from both sides, so Jim sat down on the ground so he couldn’t be seen. Afraid to move, I just stood frozen in place.

Suddenly a large mastiff male approached the pen with the front of the herd, so the goats began to enter. The male stuck his nose to the ground and wheeled around looking in my direction. I warned Jim so he could get up off the ground, and began softly telling the very large dog what a “good puppy” he was. The dog barked loudly at me and came directly for me, but when he approached close, he simply sniffed my hands, which I quickly used to pet and praise him. He raked my hands with his teeth, and then passed behind the vehicle to meet Juan Carlos. I could hear Juan Carlos talk to the dog before the dog continued his circle to meet Jim. The dog raked Jim’s hands with his teeth as well, but did not bite.

That was a miracle. We had created the worst disaster scenario in which I was fully prepared to be attacked by a guardian dog, yet the dog did not bite anyone, and only showed mild aggression. He was very nervous, and although Paulino was talking to us, as we approached the goat pen, the dog continued to rake our hands with his teeth, taking our hands into his mouth in attempt to redirect our attention from the goats to him. Understanding his body language and what he was attempting, we walked away from the pen. This increased the dog’s comfort level and he went inside the pen to his goat herd, with we strangers safely locked out. Here’s a photo of Paulino at the kid pen, before he went after the herd that evening.

It was too dark for me to get a photo, but this was a typical massive mastiff, only one year and two months old. Paulino’s mastiffs were not friendly mastiffs like others we had met, and did not want to be touched by strangers. This is probably a reflection of Paulino’s belief that the dogs should not be petted while they are being bonded to livestock as pups. His largest and most valuable mastiff, Leon, was always nearby, but lurked in the brush where we could never even fully see him. Leon was the only dog wearing a spiked leather collar as a defense against wolves. The collars are often reserved for the best dogs.

I was extremely impressed with the working Spanish mastiffs we met in Spain, and will recommend that livestock producers in wolf country in the United States try this breed. My hope is that we can get support to bring pups from working lineages in Spain to the Northern Rockies. Our wolf biologist friend Yolanda would be a logical contact for such a project, and could bring both the dogs and the knowledge of their husbandry to share with us in the United States

Love and loss

Late yesterday afternoon, I asked husband Jim to put down my old ewe Friendly, the leader of my herd of sheep. She’s been trailing behind the herd the last few weeks, tired with old age, and yesterday she failed to rise from her afternoon bed. The guard dogs had stayed with her, keeping her company while they waited for me to find them. I petted Friendly’s nose, and propped her into a comfortable position before seeking Jim’s help.

Jim and I both shed tears as we reflected on Friendly’s life with us – at 14 and a-half-years old, she’d shared over half of our 25 years of married life. She was one of my original sheep, and looking into those beautiful dark ewes as I fed the tiny orphan lamb from a bottle is what got me hooked on raising sheep. Friendly was the smallest of the orphan lambs I purchased that year, and she quickly figured out that I kept the milk bottles in the fridge just inside the back door. When she would get hungry, she’d strike the door with her tiny front hooves, and if the door opened just a crack, she’d stick her nose in and race up the back steps to demand her milk. She had a startlingly deep voice, a hallmark sound that we’ve heard every day throughout the life we shared together.

We raised 15 orphan lambs that first year. Six months in, one snowy January day, the Great Pyrenees guardian dog they lived with took them under our back fence and into an adventure. They escaped onto the Pinedale Mesa, a big game winter range adjacent to our ranch; an area closed to human presence in winter and that also serves as a coyote refuge. Desperate to find them before the youngsters were all eaten by coyotes, Jim chartered an airplane to fly the Mesa, but failed to find them in the many folds and canyons of that rough sagebrush landscape. Finally, a week after their adventure began, they arrived at a cattle ranch seven miles away on the far side of the Mesa, happily munching hay in the ranch yard. Not one had been killed or wounded, and the guardian dog was still watching over them. Friendly happily jumped into the stock trailer when Jim arrived to retrieve them.

Friendly became the leader of my herd, leading the way out to new grazing every day, and leading the herd to that night’s bedding ground. When we moved the sheep, she was always first. Getting the herd to move through dangerous places, such as across a wooden stock bridge over the New Fork River, was only possible if the lead sheep was willing to go. As long as I had ginger snaps, crackers or granola bars in my jacket pockets, Friendly would lead that herd anywhere. She constantly rummaged around in my pockets for treats, and was rarely disappointed.

Friendly produced lambs every year throughout her adult life – two years ago she had triplets, and this year only a single.

Every day for more than a decade when I checked the sheep, I would call them and Friendly always answered in that distinct voice of hers. She would run to me, looking for treats and a pet, sniffing my mouth to learn if I’d been snacking on something interesting. I’d sniff her nose, and was often rewarded with the sweet smell of something delicious she’d been eating – sometimes it was rosehips, or wildflower petals, or sagebrush buds.

Friendly was remarkable, and our family’s life was blessed by our time with her gentle animal soul.

The loss of our sheep friend saddens me, but I’m melancholy and prone to tears this week. My best girlfriend, my crazy Indian compadre and former business partner Sheri, has waged a battle with Stage 4 breast cancer for more than two years. Her body is weary and her fragile life is now bearable only through her constant companion, the morphine pump. She’s spending this holiday week in a hospital 100 miles from home.

Two other friends are being released from their hospital stays to go home for the holiday. My sister-in-law Cindy, a beautiful and vibrant woman with advanced melanoma, will spend this week surrounded by family. Our friend Jody, a woman who defines a kind nature and gracious manner, will enjoy time in her own home surrounded by loved ones as her body wages war with brain cancer.

I weep this day for love and loss. I have been blessed to have crossed paths with such lovely people, and I am thankful.