Old Days

The piece on the girlss playing somehow reminded me of an older incarnation.This would be the late Lashyn and a much younger Ataika, in the spring woods with us the day we discovered the remains of a very large old bear who evidently starved before he could den up . I still have his huge skull with its worn- down teeth, And I still carry a 1911 and 7 X 42 Ziess Dialyts., though I don’t know which is more reactionary. This would be 2005 I think…

UPDATE; Found more pics (bottom):

Healthy Dogs

Both Reid and Matt reviewed Ted Kerasote’s first dog book, Merle’s Door, here. His newest book, Pukka’s Promise:the Quest for longer- Lived Dogs, nearly got by me as I worked on my own dog book, and that would be a shame. Less a narrative than his previous book, it uses his present dog Pukka to examine all the odd modern attitudes to dogs that hamper our efforts to breed and live with healthy animals. Without being an exact parallel to Hounds of Heaven, it nevertheless is concerned with many of its issues: how to breed healthy dogs, how to feed them, how to let them lead good lives. He deals with everything from genetic diversity to cancer.

I  was intensely interested in his chapter on, and against, spaying and neutering. Even for stopping population growth, he argues, vasectomies and tubal ligation, which can be cheaper, are superior methods– dogs with intact organs are less likely to stress their adrenal glands, have fewer cancers, and are generally healthier. He puts a little less emphasis on genetic diversity and its loss, my chief worry, but he catches the cultish spirit behind universal spay neuter. Many people are actively hostile to him when they realize his dog is “intact”; one asks him “Don’t all dogs have to be spayed and neutered?”

“Why?” I replied.

“For their health”.

“Where did you hear that?’

“From my vet.” !!!!

It seems even with the struggles and arguments I have had, I have been living in a bubble.Kerasote goes on to state:”Intact dogs have almost vanished from ordinary family life during the last four decades and can now only be seen on a regular basis at dog shows and field trials, in some inner-city neighborhoods, and on Indian reservations. [emphasis mine SB] This is not a representative sample of dogdom, either behaviorally or genetically. But when I’ve remarked to people in the animal welfare movement that we need to be concerned about the narrowing of the canid gene pool, and its consequences for the health of dogs as well as our understanding of them, I’ve been called an egghead. As one person told me, “I can’t get exercised over long-term genetics effects when millions of dogs are dying in shelters.'”

If you want to have dogs, never mind healthy dogs, you had better think about this! Here are a few amusing links. Which dog breeds are closely related to wolves?” will remind you that Asian sighthounds are not greyhounds. Pedigree Dogs Exposed is a continuing expose of what limited gene pools do to animals. And “33 Healthiest dog breeds” was getting me angrier and angrier as it counted down, until I got to the last– and laughed aloud.

Some healthy dogs we know:

Curs On Coyotes

We parked the truck under the crest of the ridge and the two yellow female curs jumped from the cab to the ground, sniffing around unconcernedly for ground squirrels. Jeff quietly called the dogs back to the truck so he could snap electronic collars onto their necks. The girls remained quiet and seemed calm, but as I glanced at the seven-year old female, I could see the muscles of her back legs quivering in excitement. Although the collars can send electric shocks, for these seasoned pros, that would not be necessary. Instead, Jeff would use the collars to emit electronic beeps to communicate commands. There would be no voice commands in the field.

We spoke little, walking quietly with the dogs until we’d reached a rock outcrop perched at the end of the ridge overlooking a small pond, with sweeping views up several drainages along the face of the Wind River Mountains. We sat with our backs against the rocks, the dogs sitting patiently in front, as Jeff blew on a coyote call. We sat still, mosquitoes buzzing around us, sweat dripping down our backs, while the dogs slowly moved their heads from side to side as they scanned the hillsides for movement, occasionally adjusting their rumps for a more comfortable position. Plenty of birds, butterflies, and a few pronghorn antelope, but no coyotes, so we gathered ourselves back up for a hike to the next ridge, headed to check a location where a female coyote had denned the year prior.

The morning was long past and it was 80 degrees by the time we reached the rugged bluffs above the Big Sandy River, checking on one last den site before calling it a day. I could hear lambs calling to their mothers from the riverbed below as we began hiking toward the den, the curs trotting out in front of us. It was far too hot for anything to be happening, but the curs quickly jumped an adult male coyote that had been lounging on a ridgeline away from the pups. One yelp from the dogs and the chase was on, away from us and out of sight over the ridge.

Within seconds I saw a dog’s head pop up on the skyline, as one of the dogs took a look to locate her human partners. A few barks and yelps later, the two curs came charging back over the top of the ridge, with the male coyote a few paces behind.

The coyote was agitated at the intrusion into his range, barking aggressively, and trying to get close enough to grab a mouthful of dog. But the curs were fast and determined, swinging back around and coming to a full stop to urge the coyote forward when he faltered.

The temptation was too much, and the coyote again gave chase.

 The girls brought him in at a run directly across a small draw from our location, where Jeff was waiting with his .22-250 Remington. The dogs slowed and stopped, as did the coyote, giving Jeff a clean and close view. One quick shot and the coyote was down.

The dogs raced back to us for praise, then returned to rough up the carcass a little before leading us back along the ridgeline. After a quick water break, the dogs escaped the heat by climbing back into the cab for a well-deserved nap.

Guest Quotes– Teddy Moritz

Teddy writes:

“Just finished a book by Christine Byl titled ‘Dirt Work, An Education in the Woods’. This woman worked summers on trail maintenance in Glacier National Park, and in several parks in Alaska. She talks about the grunt work, the digging and clearing and loading and discomfort of physical work. She loved it all. Money was not the reward, the work in a beautiful place and the physical satisfaction of tired muscles was. One conclusion she reaches is that ‘Labor is the process of birthing. If you push hard enough, labor delivers.’ Great quote if you’ve ever given birth!

“However, another quote anyone who has built anything, worked with tools or just cobbled something together can appreciate is this one:

” “Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten regarding upward mobility came from Joel, a co-worker in Denali: ‘Duct tape can get you through times without money a lot better than money can get you through times without duct tape.'”   Well said!

I assume you all know Teddy, who bred our Lilly, and other treeing dachshunds…

South African AfriCanis

We met these AfriCanis dogs in one community in South Africa. Their owners are devoted to the preservation of AfriCanis, and these dogs demonstrate the beauty and agility of the animals found throughout the rural countryside. Blood samples from desert bred Saluqis in the Middle East and the native African dogs in KwaZulu-Natal of South Africa indicate an “ancient genetic relationship between these dogs,” according to the AfriCanis Society of Southern Africa. To learn more, try these links: here and here.

Big dogs of Lesotho

It’s taken me forever to sort photos from our Lesotho/South Africa trip, but now I’m going to flood the blog with images of dogs we met along the way.

These are the bigger dogs or livestock guardian type dogs that we met in Lesotho. The primary predators in Lesotho are jackals, but these dogs have also been exported to other African countries for use against caracals, hyenas, cheetahs, and even lions.

The following image is of a traditional Maluti guardian dog taken from Lesotho and now housed in a private kennel in South Africa. This young male is a two-year old.

Of Dogs and Porcupines and the New West

David Zincavage’s tazi Uhlan (see below) and his basset got into a porcupine a couple of days ago in Pennsylvania, and the usual mayhem followed.

I never had a porcupine hassle here but had some pretty bad incidents in
Massachusetts and Maine in the old days; never lost a dog but I won’t
forget the trauma.

It put me in mind of an incident here in the early eighties, soon after Betsy Huntington and I arrived.

One of the first people we met here (at the Post Office) was the legendary (and actually rather sweet) ranch heiress Wilma Huggett. She was a large mannish woman with a near- brush cut who looked like a combination of WH Auden, Slim Pickens, and Calamity Jane, smoked Camels without ceasing, and had taken up (and put down) any number of New Age pursuits like intermittent vegetarianism, reflexology, and Chinese medicine in her old age, all combiined with old fashioned rancher mythology and a belief in her own original conspiracy theories  (Szechuan restaurans were a “Red Chinese” plot to steal her and her mother’s land; the Dia Foundation Lightning Field art installation in Catron County was a landing field for Polish UFO’s…)

So one day she comes in cursing our lovely vet (for thirty plus years now) Terri Gonzalez for “putting damn chemicals” in her dogs (three usually noisy blue anklebiters, now snoozing in the bed of her pickup).

Bets calmed her down and bummed a Camel and after a shot of Black Jack Wilma told us what had happened. She had been on a Vegan kick and tried to hold her cowdogs to it (she saw no contradiction in keeping cows of course). So the dogs had jumped a porky, I think to EAT, and gotten severely quilled. At the time we had a Venezuelan Chinese acupuncturist, Simon Wong, who was pretty good even though he spoke no English– not a problem here especially 30 years ago; ranch Anglos like my friend  Sissy Gianera Pound Olney, younger than I am, spoke Spanish first, never mind semi- fossilized 60- somethings like Wilma. She asked him to anesthetize the heelers so she could take out the quills. I  believe he attempted it, but the dogs rebelled, and he told her he had no proper dog charts. So, over to Terri who anesthetized them with CHEMICALS and extracted the quills, leaving Wilma cursing everything but especially, quote, “that damn Chinaman.” (Wilma was odd but also like Jeff Cooper could have perished in the Cretaceous Extinction Event…)

Anesthetize them, mind you, with NEEDLES.

When she left we both fell into an uncharacteristic fit of hysteria– Bets was nearly falling down. “I feel so for the poor dogs. It’s not really funny but– first she feeds them vegetarian lasagna. Then they get stuck. Then she drags them to that hapless Chinese doctor. What did he think? And what must they have thought when “that damn Chinaman” came at them with NEEDLES?”

More on Closed Registries

Population geneticist Federico Calboli is a frequent and outspoken commenter at Q. I sent him the material below even before I blogged it. Here, with his permission, are his thoughts. As he is not affiliated with any breeding organization his freedom from bias is clear. If you believe that simply picking from two healthy parents will guard against the defects revealed by the ever- shrinking gene pool, you should read this.

Sadly, most people who follow this blog already know these things, and those committed to the 19th century fallacies of “pure breeding” are standing around with fingers in their ears hollering “LALALALALALAI CAN’T HEARYOU!!!” Still, you never know who you might reach. Take it away, Federico! (Emphasis mine)

“Assuming one is trying to produce pedigree dogs that are healthy (i.e. health is the phenotype we select for), the advice [in post below] is sound. 

“The elephant in the room (which is touched in the intro when landraces are mentioned) is that, no matter what, closed registry breeding will kill a breed, sooner or later.  Later if the advice in the document is followed, but that’s no silver bullet.  Keeping dogs cost money (no matter how little, it’s always more than 0).  Even in the ‘let’s just breed for health’ dreamscape, keeping the largest possible effective population would be quite costly.  Who pays?  This problem just by itself means that sooner or later genetic variability will be lost.  In the best case scenario this is a slow whittling away, but there is never any putting back in a closed registry model.

“Hence why either you breed for function (dog X does job Y well enough, dog X is a breeder, end of), and ‘breed’  becomes a synonym with ‘function’, or you need something else.  Hence why I recommend to reduce the number of breeds, merging similar one (say, all retrievers together, all sighthounds together) AND to have open registries. Merging breeds would increase genetic variability while keeping some guideline in terms of looks and function.  Open registries (keeping note of all ‘half bred’ animals, and fully registering those with 3 out of 4 grandparent registered, or something like that) would guarantee gene flow after the first ‘enrichment’ through breed merging has happened. 

“To cut it short, no matter how well managed, sooner or later closed registries will spell doom for a breed.  Having said that, there is more to say about canine health, but that’s for another email.”