Monday, January 31, 2011

Morton the Wonderdog

From the age of 3½ until the week before I returned home from my freshman year in college, I shared my life with a mutt named Morton.  Now Morton was an interesting dog for many reasons, but mostly because she was our dog. That’s right.  To begin with, Morton was a girl.

Aah - the 70s.

From all accounts, Morton was a terrier-beagle mix who liked her Gaines burgers and Liv-A-Snaps a little too much if you know what I mean. She was medium height, white with a brown patch over one eye, two brown ears, and a large brown spot on her back near her tail. She shed like nobody’s business, hated the newspaper boy, and was deathly afraid of fireworks. And even with these detractions, I’m pretty sure she was the world’s best dog. She’d have to be to live with my father.

Sure, as a kid, I dressed her up, hated brushing her, generally used her as an all-around playmate when it was convenient for me, and my mother, who wanted nothing to do with that dog when my father brought home the scrappy puppy ended up being her best friend.  But my father, who brought the mutt home, really had her earn her keep – starting with bearing the name of his favorite boss. 

As a sign painter/artist, my father liked to use Morton as an experiment in media.  Driving home from work one day, my mother noticed the bright sweater someone had given to Morton. Nope. Sorry, Mom. That’s not a sweater, Dad spray painted the dog blue and yellow.  Or the time he used her as a walking bill board to sell herself “Dog for Sale, call…,” in permanent black marker - also true.  

But Morton had a good life. No leash. No fenced-in yard. Just a house, a yard, then a new house, and a new yard, and the ability to negotiate between the two neighborhoods on different sides of town when she got scared.  Whenever we couldn’t find her, we drove to the old neighborhood.  Nine times out of ten we found her doing her “businessman walk” down the sidewalks of town.  She had somewhere to go (lord knows where – we didn’t live there anymore!) and she wasn’t going to let anything – or anyone – distract her.  She was a quirky little dog.
Morton of the Jungle in our backyard.

But this is a story of my wilderness adventure with Morton the Wonderdog, or How My Dog Abandoned Me in the Woods in My Hour of Need!

One winter afternoon, my friend Suzanne and I went for a walk to the playground which wasn’t really in our little neighborhood, but one of those city parks at which you make gimp bracelets and plaster of Paris maracas out of old lightbulbs in the summertime. Because we come from northeastern Massachusetts, we called it Castle Hill Pahk, and that day Morton came along for the walk.  That’s how Morton rolled.  She heeled without ever being taught and while she had a leash, she never needed it.  She decided if and when she would go somewhere. Anyway, my friend and I were about 11 or 12 at the time and even though there was snow on the ground the day was nice and we decided to see what was going on Down The Pahk.


Other than the eerily empty playground equipment, the only thing there was a dumb Irish Setter, Eric, that lived in one of the five houses along the entrance to The Pahk. Morton and Eric passed each others’ sniff tests, so, we walked around all together.  Those of us with opposable thumbs probably attempted to cross the monkey bars, we scanned the hills of the nearby golf course (best sledding in town), shrugged, and headed home. We were getting a little cold and decided to take the shortcut through the woods.  For some reason, Eric, just as bored with The Pahk as we were, decided to follow us. First mistake: don’t let a strange dog follow you.

As we trudged up the granite cliff (really, the outcrop of rock is why there was woods between the two neighborhoods), Morton easily managed to climb alongside us as Eric hung back a little.  I kept thinking he would go home soon.  When we got to a little clearing at the top of the cliff, Eric bounded up the rest of the way and starting circling us.  It was weird dog behavior that I had never seen before.  Why was he suddenly getting so close to us? When his circle got too close for comfort, we starting waving our arms and yelling at him to go away.  Then he started to nip at our fingers. What?!  When we moved or spoke, he started to bark and nip at us.  He kept circling us. We stopped moving.  Second mistake: just keep going like you’re not afraid.

So, if you’re still reading, you may very well be wondering, what the hell is Morton doing during all this.  She stood outside Eric’s circle and looked at us a little while, wouldn’t sit because of the snow, and finally decided that we were playing a game she didn’t understand and walked home by herself, leaving us at the mercy of Eric the Red!

There we were, me and Suzanne, being herded by a lunatic Irish Setter who thought it was a border collie and worse – that we were its sheep.  We changed from laughing to crying pretty quickly when it seemed like the dog would not give up his herd and our toes started to get numb. It was bad enough that this doofus dog had managed to terrorize us, but my own dog has just left me there playing a literal game of freeze tag.  For a moment I had visions of my father saying, “What is it Morton? Lynne has fallen in the well?” but I knew better.  Neither one of them was overly concerned.

After what seemed like hours, Eric finally found our statue game boring enough to abandon us as well. When we finally arrived at my house, I said to my father, “Didn’t you notice that Morton got home a long time before we did?” Nope. After the cries of relief, frantic explanations, toe counts, and hot chocolate, we were over the ordeal.

But not the trauma.

I learned a few things from the experience.  Besides the two mistakes I made and have already shared with you, I learned that I hated Irish Setters and the name Eric. I didn’t say it was terribly rational, but it stuck with me for a long time.  I mean, Irish Setters are about as aloof as Afghan hounds and half as smart – and that’s saying something.  (I had an Afghan hound for a while and not even two-couch Tara – so named because she literally ate two couches – was as dumb as that dog.)  An interesting note, another dog that lived in one of those houses at Castle Hill Pahk was the Pig Dog: my first and lasting impression of a bull terrier – until Rufus. To date, there is no Irish Setter that has changed my impression of the breed. But they’re pretty, you might say – pretty stoopid, I’d say with all the bitterness of my twelve year-old self!

I call this one "Go sit by Lynne in her leisure suit".

Most importantly, I began to suspect that my little mutt was smarter than I was. I like to think of her leaving us in the woods as a kind of doggie decision making: she didn’t know what was going on and was going home.  Yes, she abandoned me but she never abandoned her own senses.  She was a wonderdog, all right, and – let’s face it – she was probably hungry. 

Morton 1968-1983

Why has my blog gone to the dogs?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wilderness Adventures

You remember the ill-fated nature walk of Charles Gough I told you about last week, right?  Well, Gough’s fall and subsequent attendance after death by his dog is not a singular event.  There is no doubt about it – some dogs just won’t leave their owners in the woods – dead or alive.

Much later than Charles Gough’s hike in the mountains of the English Lakes District, in January 1990, Graham Nuttall went on a train ride and then a walk in the Welsh mountains with his constant companion – his dog, Ruswarp (pronounced Russup). Unlike Gough, when he didn’t return that evening, his neighbors immediately called the authorities.  Sadly, no trace of Nuttall was found, until eleven weeks later when his body and his badly emaciated border collie were found near a stream. The dog was given medical attention and survived long enough to attend his owner’s funeral where, it was reported, the dog let out a loud moan.

A statue commemorating Ruswarp now sits at the train station he and his owner helped to save. To see the complete story, go to the sculptor’s blog where you can also find a cool progression of the statue.

In July of 2001, Graham Snell went out for a hike in the hills of Altnaharra (Scotland) with his dog, Heidi. He fell and died and Heidi, his little Jack Russell terrier, stayed with him for the two days prior to being found.

While there are many more stories about the loyalty of dogs, what I find so compelling about these stories is not that the dogs stayed with the bodies of their owners, but that they stayed AT ALL!

My awe comes from my personal wilderness experience with my own dog, Morton.

I’m going to save that one for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I leave you with these two bits of wisdom: if you’re going to hike the mountains alone with your dog, make certain there are plenty of painters, poets, and sculptors in the culture you leave behind – this way, in the possible event that you die there, your misfortune can be memorialized across multiple art forms; and, if you live in the British Isles and your name is Graham, don’t even risk it. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coveting a Cane Corso

One of the new breeds showcased at the WKC dog show this year will be the Cane Corso, and it’s a beauty. A well-muscled, big-boned, light molossian dog, popular in 19th century Italian art, whose history includes it among the Roman dogs of war, the Cane Corso has made a comeback from the edge of extinction, not only in its native southern Italy, but across the world.

WKC photo.

As a big game hunter and farm working dog, the Cane Corso fell out of favor when its work was no longer valued. Loss of game and new farming methods made its skills unnecessary, and the breed, all but obsolete. Through the dedication of a few Cane Corso enthusiasts, the breed is rebounding in popularity as a guard dog (its name Corso, probably comes from the Greek KOHORS for protector). 

I found several sites dedicated to this magnificent breed, but this breeder’s site is my favorite. Its write up on Cane Corso Security Systems is quite entertaining.

·          Voice Activated and Controlled.
·          Easy to Understand System Instructions.
·          Simple and easy to use operation.
·          No keypads to punch and codes to remember.
·          Completely Wireless Security System!
·          Comes with a variety of audible signals to alert you to emergency conditions.
·          Responds instantly to any type of emergency (fire, intrusion or personal).
·          Portable Personal Security System.
·          Simple, Clean, Fast Installation!
·          The completely wireless system needs no installation.
·          No mess*, No wires, No dust or imposition.

*(Housebreaking is required)

But its dogs are what really sold me.

This is Chaos. Isn’t she gorgeous? I don’t recall ever having seen a more fearsome and beautiful guard dog.

I may have to write an Ode to a Devil Dog (not to be confused with my Ode to a Yodel), but for now, I can appreciate, from afar, the apparent strength and temperament of these working dogs as I hone in on my future dog-owning plans. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Fun: When Dogs Fly (In Inclement Weather)

Ready for Takeoff

A Mid-Air Scare

Experiencing Some Turbulence

Cruising Altitude

Preparing to Land

A Ruff Landing

(All photos found on BuzzFeed.)

And here’s what happens when they don’t wear their seatbelts. (via NoodleFood)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Objectivist Round Up #185

I am pleased to be hosting this week’s edition of the Objectivist Round Up.  This blog carnival is a collection of posts written by individuals who are advocates of Objectivism: the philosophy developed and defined by Ayn Rand.

If you are new to Ayn Rand and would like to discover more about her philosophy, I recommend you read her two greatest novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.  If you are interested in her non-fiction, I recommend my two favorite essays, “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government.” The Ayn Rand Institute and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights provide relevant information and commentary.

Roberto Sarrionandia presents The Experiment That Failed Twice posted at Roberto Sarrionandia, saying, “Prohibition failed, twice.”

David Lewis presents Arbitrary Retirement Plan Rules, Part 2: IRAs posted at A Revolution In Financial Planning, saying, “Saving for retirement? Lots of folks use Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA), but should you? What the government giveth, it may taketh away. Discover the arbitrary rules governing these plans and be prepared to hack and slash your way through a maze of government favors.”

Ari Armstrong presents 'Citizens' Budget' Points Toward a Wiser, More Frugal Government posted at Free Colorado, saying, “A Citizens' Budget starts with sensible spending restraints and moves in the direction of respecting each individual's right to his own income.”

Zip presents The Canadian Farce of Rights and Freedoms posted at UNCOMMON SENSE, saying, “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a document that chains the people of Canada to a contradiction riddled and unapologetically statist perversion of the concepts of individual freedom and liberty.”

Zip presents The Canadian Farce of Rights and Freedoms #2 posted at UNCOMMON SENSE, saying, “If you are a classically liberal thinker like myself you probably believe in the notion of unalienable rights, which is to say Rights as a precondition to living ones life as a man; To me and those like me rights are an intrinsic necessity to living as opposed to merely existing in this world. Well, the talking heads that wrote and lawyered the Charter don't believe in Rights like that. As a matter of fact I don't think they believe in Rights at all, only the power of the state.”

Julia Campbell presents pork tenderloin with spicy blackberry sauce + asparagus posted at the crankin' kitchen!, saying, “A simple, yet kinda fancy sauce for pork tenderloin.”

Thomas Hochmann presents Crybaby Metaphysics posted at The Objectivist Voice, saying, “In this woman’s mind, crybaby metaphysics is how the universe works: if you put your hands on your hips and make a scene, the universe (or the exasperated people around you) will give in and contort itself to your stubborn will.”

Diana Hsieh presents Two New OLists: OGeeks & OLeaders posted at NoodleFood, saying, “With the help of some generous pledges and their new managers, I've just created two new OLists: OGeeks and OLeaders.”

Jared Rhoads presents Four brief observations about repeal posted at The Lucidicus Project, saying, “A few thoughts penned before last week's vote to repeal the health reform law.”

Hanah presents A Chair for My Mother posted at Charlie's Bookshelf, saying, “This is a heartwarming story that manages to teach about the importance of work, saving and budgeting, and a benevolent community all at the same time.”

Rachel Miner presents An Awesome Blog and an Awesome Site posted at The Playful Spirit, saying, “Sharing two quick recommendations for websites that I have discovered through my Autism learning. These two are resources that I think would be useful for adding more zest to learning for any kiddo.”

Gene Palmisano presents The Referendum Against Pragmatism posted at The Metaphysical Lunch, saying, “If I hear another politician, political pundit or talking head, glorify pragmatism, prudence, political expediancy, or "pragmatic" as a virtue my head is going to explode.”

Kate Yoak presents Martin Luther King day posted at Parenting is..., saying, “A joyful and heroic perspective on Martin Luther King day I shared with my son.”

Stephen Bourque presents Let's Pretend posted at One Reality, saying, “Capitol Hill strategy: 'tiptoe' past the mess they created.”

John Drake presents Purposefulness posted at Try Reason!, saying, “The habit of purposefulness in a nutshell. Good times to be had by all who are. ”

Stella Zawistowski presents Drug dealing by the federal government posted at ReasonPharm, saying, “The federal government is trying to get into the business of discovering drugs. It won't work.”

Kelly Elmore presents Boobs in the News posted at Reepicheep's Coracle, saying, “People freak out when an underwear model posts a breastfeeding photo; a great article, which I link to, is written about how totally lame that is; and I rant about boobs, puritanical ideas about sex and moms, and the ridiculous negativity about public breastfeeding.”

Rational Jenn and Kelly Elmore present Cultivating the Virtues Q&A posted at Cultivating the Virtues, saying, “No, we don't quite yet have a new podcast up. We are collecting questions about parenting for future podcasts, so please ask us something!”

Rational Jenn presents Parenting Thoughts of the Moment posted at Rational Jenn, saying, “In light of the "tiger mother" article and my own recent parenting experiences, these are some of the parenting-related things I've been thinking about lately.”

And last, but by no means least,

Rational Jenn presents Why Blue's Clues is my Favorite Children's Show posted at Rational Jenn, saying, “My youngest child has recently become a BIG fan of Blue's Clues, which is a wonderful show for preschoolers.”

This one’s about a whole lot more than a boy and his animated blue dog.

For past and future carnival hosts, see here.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cave Canem (Beware of Dog)

Mosaic from the vestibule of the House of the Tragic Poet

It's generally thought that domestic dogs (Canis lupis familiaris), a subspecies of the grey wolf (Canis lupis) have been around for more than 10,000 years; the exact process of their domestication remains somewhat of a mystery. It could be the dog came nearer in search of food and shelter, or that man grabbed and kept a few of the more tame beasts, or a combination of both.

While plenty of pictorial evidence of them has been found to exist as early as 2000 BC, early written records are less prominent. As they began to appear regularly in the written record, dogs were categorized by their basic function: guardians, herders, and hunters. There was some discussion among the early Greeks and Romans of what made for the best dogs of each type.  Happily, among those people were writers who cared enough to put their thoughts about the matter down on papyrus. In his De Re Rustica (vol. VII), Columella, a first century Roman, gave some black and white details on what particular dogs should look like and how they should behave to best effect their purposes, paraphrased here:

An all-white dog is recommended for the shepherd to avoid mistaking it for a wolf in the half-light of dawn or dusk, and an all-black guard dog for the farm to terrify thieves in the daytime and be less visible to trespassers at night. It should not be too savage, so as not to attack the inhabitants of the house, nor so mild that it fawns over the thief. The farm-yard dog should be heavily built, with a large head, drooping ears, bright eyes, a broad and shaggy chest, wide shoulders, thick legs, and short tail. Because it is expected to stay close to the house and granary, a lack of speed is not important. The sheep dog, on the other hand, should be long and slim, strong and fast enough to repel a wolf or pursue one that has taken its prey.

Just for fun, I thought I’d try to pick out the paraphrased passage from the original Latin text

[3] De villatico igitur et pastorali dicendum est, nam venaticus nihil pertinet ad nostram professionem. Villae custos eligendus est amplissimi corporis, vasti latratus canorique, prius ut auditu maleficum, deinde etiam conspectu terreat et tamen non numquam nec visus quidem horribili fremitu suo fuget insidiantem. Sit autem coloris unius, isque magis eligitur albus in pastorali, niger in villatico, nam varius in neutro est laudabilis. Pastor album probat, quoniam est ferae dissimilis, magnoque opus interdum discrimine est in propulsandis lupis sub obscuro mane vel etiam crepusculo, ne pro bestia canem feriat. [4] Villaticus, qui hominum maleficiis opponitur, sive luce clara fur advenit, terribilior niger conspicitur, sive noctu, ne conspiciatur quidem propter umbrae similitudinem, quam ob rem tectus tenebris canis tutiorem adcessum habet ad insidiantem. Probatur quadratus potius quam longus aut brevis, capite tam magno, ut corporis videatur pars maxima, deiectis et propendentibus auribus, nigris vel glaucis oculis acri lumine radiantibus, amplo villosoque pectore, latis armis, cruribus crassis et hirtis, cauda brevi, vestigiorum articulis et unguibus amplissimis, qui Graece drakes appellantur. Hic erit villatici status praecipue laudandus. 

(I used this. Anyone know Latin? How’d I do?)

Also from old writings, four dog types appear to be called out distinctly: the Molossus (think mastiff), the Laconian (hounds from Sparta, which is interesting given the differences in the hounds – sleek herders and hunters – and the mastiffs – tough dogs of war), the Cretan (a combination of the first two – whose modern incarnation looks a lot like the Carolina Dog), and the Melitan (a smaller wirehaired breed from Malta that we’ll see again when I talk about Diogenes the Cynic). It hardly seems sufficient as a foundation to the variety of breeds we have now, but breeding cycles are short and I’m certain that many types were simply not recorded. 

There are now estimated to be between 300 and 500 distinct breeds of dog in the world, depending on your definition of breed. This variety represents the unique ability of man to change his environment to suit his needs (terrier ratters, mastiff load pullers, etc.) as well as his desires (human-faced Pug, and possessed hassocks). It's a pretty unique interspecies relationship. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Twa Dogs

In honor of Robert Burns birthday (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), I am posting the beginning of his poem The Twa Dogs (the remainder and modern English translation of which can be found at the link – you’re welcome). Mr. Burns wrote the poem in honor of his beloved dog, Luath, who was killed the night before Burns’ own father died.  He wanted to memorialize his friend as he knew best.

A Tale

'Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle, 
That bears the name o' auld King Coil,

Upon a bonnie day in June,

When wearin' thro' the afternoon,

Twa dogs, that were na thrang at hame,

Forgather'd ance upon a time.

The first I'll name, they ca'd him Caesar, 
Was keepit for 'his Honor's' pleasure:

His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,

Shew'd he was nane o' Scotland's dogs;

But whalpit some place far abroad,

Whare sailors gang to fish for cod.

His locked, letter'd, braw brass collar 
Shew'd him the gentleman an' scholar;

But tho' he was o' high degree,

The fient a pride, nae pride had he;

But wad hae spent an hour caressin,

Ev'n wi' a tinkler-gipsy's messin;

At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,

Nae tawted tyke, tho' e'er sae dudie,

But he wad stan't, as glad to see him,

An' stroan't on stanes an' hillocks wi' him.

The tither was a ploughman's collie, 
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,

Wha for his friend an' comrade had him,

And in his freaks had Luath ca'd him,

After some dog in Highland sang,

Was made lang syne - Lord knows how lang.

He was a gash an' faithfu' tyke,

As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.

His honest, sonsie, baws'nt face

Ay gat him friends in ilka place;

His breast was white, his tousie back

Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy black;

His gawsie tail, wi' upward curl,

Hung owre his hurdies wi' a swirl.

Nae doubt but they were fain o' ither, 
And unco pack an' thick thegither,

Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd an' snowkit;

Whyles mice an' moudieworts they howkit;

Whyles scour'd awa' in lang excursion,

An' worry'd ither in diversion;

Till tir'd at last wi' monie a farce,

They sat them down upon their arse,

An' there began a lang digression

About the 'lords o' the creation'.

The remainder of the poem (found here) is a dialogue between Caesar, a laird’s dog, and Luath, a ploughman’s collie, through which Burns reveals his thoughts on the differences between the character of the gentry and that of the working man.  I’ll give you a hint: the gentry don’t come off looking too good, and the common man, smelling like a red, red rose.

This is my favorite passage from Caesar, discussing how while the gentry don’t suffer from hunger or cold, they tend to make up their own crises:

It's true, they need na starve or sweat, 
Thro' winter's cauld, or simmer's heat; 
They've nae sair wark to craze their banes, 
An' fill auld-age wi' grips an granes:
But human bodies are sic fools, 
For a' their colleges an' schools, 
That when nae real ills perplex them; 
They mak enow themsels to vex them;

I felt certain that such a poem had some artwork associated with it.  Again, I was delighted to find this statue of Burns and his dog, Luath, not only existed, but more significantly, was right here in my own backyard

Monday, January 24, 2011

Falling Gough: A Romance

Sometime in 1805, a young man went out walking in the mountainous Lakes District in England with his dog. He never returned and no one looked for him. Three months later, a shepherd climbing through the same region heard barking and found the young man’s remains on a promontory, having clearly fallen to his death, still guarded by his faithful companion.

That’s how the Romantic poets Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth both described the scene in 1806, and how Edwin Landseer painted it years later.

While the truth of what happened to Charles Gough may have been far less romantic, it does not change the fact the Gough’s dog remained with his body for three months.


By Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)                          

I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn,
Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and wide;
All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling,
And starting around me the echoes replied.
On the right, Striden-edge round the Red-tarn was bending,
And Catchedicam its left verge was defending,
One huge, nameless rock in the front was ascending,
When I marked the sad spot where the wanderer had died.

Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountain heather,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay,
Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay.
Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
The much-loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.

How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?
How many long days and long weeks didst thou number,
Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?
And, oh! was it meet, that—no requiem read o'er him,
No mother to weep, and no friend to deplore him,
And thou, little guardian, alone stretched before him—
Unhonoured the pilgrim from life should depart?

When a prince to the fate of the peasant has yielded,
The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall;
With scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall;
Through the courts, at deep midnight, the torches are gleaming;
In the proudly arched chapel the banners are beaming;
Far adown the long aisle sacred music is streaming,
Lamenting a chief of the people should fall.

But meeter for thee, gentle lover of nature,
To lay down thy head like the meek mountain lamb,
When, wildered, he drops from some cliff huge in stature,
And draws his last sob by the side of his dam.
And more stately thy couch by this desert lake lying,
Thy obsequies sung by the gray plover flying,
With but one faithful friend to witness thy dying
In the arms of Helvellyn and Catchedicam.


Attachment by Edwin Landseer after Sir Walter Scott’s Helvellyn, 1829

Wordsworth’s poem, Fidelity, can be found here.  A snapshot of Francis Danby’s The Precipice, portraying the same incident, can be found here

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Be Not Afraid of Greatness:

some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them."

 - Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Act II, Scene V.

In considering the different lives dogs lead, I immediately thought of this quotation, but quickly rejected it. It’s near sacrilege to apply it to dogs; greatness, as in of character, is a term which should be used only for men. It is merely the conditions under which some dogs show their mettle that was relevant to my connection. Because Shakespeare did not actually specify “men” in this memorable one-liner, I trust you will indulge my use of it here to add to, rather than counter, my point.

It is the sheer differentiation between the man-chosen aspects of appearance, temperament, and behavior of purebred dogs that draws me to the dog show – these dogs are born to show their carefully bred characteristics. It is the long-term symbiotic relationship between man and dog that draws me to the species in general – we feed them, they work for us. It is the silly antics, early warning system, and perfect domestication of the animal that draws me to be a dog owner – they are a valuable addition to our lives and homes.

I began to think of all this is because I saw the book Oogy among the other dog books in a local store two days ago. The warped dog face on the cover intrigued me a little and the title is a word I like to use when I’m feeling not quite right. I looked up the book online and watched the video (linked above to upon them) and thought alternately, What an unexpected triumph, and What kind of twisted bastard would find joy in dumping a dog into a cage to get torn apart, and What a great story, let alone Who ever thought there’d be such a term as a bait dog?  I left it with a bittersweet feeling.

Yesterday, I showed the little video to my husband and daughter. It was one thing for me to think, Those bastards, and That poor gentle dog! It was another thing entirely to expose my daughter to the physical effects of that kind of brutality and my husband to that kind of indomitable canine spirit. (We have a Pug; the greatest hardship it endures is having to go outside to pee in the snow.) Apparently, the combination of the possible loss of innocence with the impossibly artless canine’s wonderful recovery despite its cruel treatment was too much for me to bear this time.

I couldn’t speak.

Okay, I teared up a little. Okay, I had to leave the room. 

But even with this story of sadistic savagery and the glaring difference between this animal’s seeming strength of character and those men of decidedly corrupt character, it is nonetheless true that a dog is not a man. It does not choose how it lives; It knows no alternative but to live.

Man, according to his nature, must be free to choose how he lives for himself. He doesn’t have huge teeth, sharp claws, or powerful jaws – his method of survival is his ability to think. So long as he does not interfere with another man’s ability to do the same, he must be free to act as he determines best. To force him to live otherwise is destroy his humanity wholesale.  This is the savage nature of “animal rights”: extending the man-made institution of government protection of rights to animals over men.  

Lest you think I would not punish the vicious men who would purposely cause such destruction to a life so in concert with our own, you should know that no animal abuser shall ever earn the pleasure of my company or commerce. That is not a joke. I trust that all reasonable men would do the same in abiding by the abuser’s self-selected pariah status among the enlightened by shunning him completely. 

Alas, the reason why dog fighting has existed since ancient Rome is because some men still enjoy watching this blood sport.  Why this is so, I can only guess, but my revulsion with the cruel activity and the deficient men who promote it, either through organizing or watching, is the only appropriate response. Such men who seek, enjoy, or crave this blood sport should not be detained by the state, but be indicted by other men who also see the use and destruction of man’s best friend in this manner for the heinous act it is.

Dogs have long been known as man’s best friend; we breed them to hunt for us, pull for us, herd for us, protect us, cuddle up with us, entertain us.  When that entertainment takes the form of watching them kill each other, the man who owns the dogs, has the right to provide it – no matter how much his behavior stretches the very definition of a man. He is still the only animal that requires the focused activity of his mind to live; he is the only animal that can actually achieve greatness.

Instead of speciously attributing rights to animals, we should concentrate on preventing man’s inhumanity to man: the constant drive to forcefully subordinate the rights of the individual to the whims of the state, tribe, or group. No matter the depth of our righteous indignation at those who would abuse animals, granting animals legal rights is among those whims.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Professional Phodography

In the midst of this pile of purebred poo, I realized that there is one thing that makes me stop and smell the daisies:  a really good photograph of a dog . . . being a dog, a rascal, a family pet, a loyal companion. If you can manage to get the owner(s) in there without ruining the image, so much the better – it’s just much harder to accomplish.

I am very impressed with the work of this one Montana photographer, Lauren Grabelle. I don’t recall how I found her, but her work is really fun to review. Check it out – if you love dogs, I don’t see how you could be disappointed. Another terrific photographer, Illona Haus , of Scruffy Dog Photography provides a little background to go with her clients’ fabulous photo sessions on her blog. I've always been a sucker for dog stories.

My daughters and I recently spent an icy afternoon scrolling and oohing and awwing through the images from these two photographers.

Some might balk at the expense of a professional photograph of a pet. It's indulgent!  I say, Hell, yes it is! and What took you so long to have my picture made? (That would be the dog talking.)

Glinda? Is that you?

As an occasional wedding photographer -- not to mention mother to two girls who are constantly trying to capture the silliness of our Pug on their digital cameras -- and full-time dog lover, I think that getting paid to creatively capture the warm vitality of a moment in time in the life of beloved pet could be a rewarding and exceptionally cool job.

Enjoy the links. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Fun: Four Know Your Breed Games

1. Odd Dog Out

One of these dogs is not like the others,
Two of these dogs are kind of the same,
Now you should guess which one is not like the others,
Before I finish my game.

Seriously, that one was pretty easy.  For extra points, name the breeds.

2. Doppelganger

Which of these breeds stars in Because of Winn Dixie? Which does not?
Hint: It’s the French relative of Jean-Luc, the other is Belgian, silly.

This one is much harder.

3. Swapping Spitz
Match the breed names with the dogs left to right:
Shiba Inu
Icelandic Sheepdog
Finnish Spitz

I often have a difficult time distinguishing between the smiling faces of these sweet spitzen. Spitzi? Spaetzle?

4.  Puppy or Papa Purebred?

When I grow up, I want to be a Groenendael, said the ____________________.

It’s easy to see which one is different, but it’s a little harder to tell me why.

Good luck!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maybe the Carolina Dog Ate Your Baby

It is just me, or can you also not hear the word “Dingo” without hearing Julia Louis-Dreyfus channeling  Meryl Streep while she, in turn was acting the part of Lindy Chamberlain regarding the disappearance of her baby in the Australian Outback?  Yeah.  I thought as much.

Say it with me now, Deen'gow'eh.

Anyway, this post is about the Carolina Dog, the Yaller Dawg, the American Dingo, thought to be a primitive dog found in America. 

Gigi, the Carolina Dog

Another American Dingo (Canis familiaris)

Some years ago, an ecologist from South Carolina, I. Lehr Brisbin, Jr., studying pariah*/feral dogs including the Dingo, and the New Guinea Singing Dog, was surprised to find a local stray at the pound that so strongly resembled that original Australian bad boy. Since he found that this stray was one of the types of free-ranging dogs that roamed the less populated areas of South Carolina, he theorized that the dogs in his own state, and those he studied in Australia and Asia were of the same, primitive dog ancestry.  They generally looked the same, some behaviors were similar, and while their DNA showed markers of being from the bottom of the dog development tree, the tests were inconclusive.

Australian Dingo (Alternatively classified as Canis lupis dingo, 
Canis lupis familiaris dingo, Canis dingo, Canis familiaris dingo.)

Through his research, Brisbin hoped to further explore the relationship between early dogs and man which could help us understand their development and domestication process. By purposefully isolating members of the Carolina Dog packs – because they run in packs – Brisbin thought he could breed the dog to ensure a wealth of participants for his future studies. This fascinates me because he took a functional landrace* and made it into a breed** in order to study pre-man’s best friend dog.  Seems counterintuitive.

Related to the earliest dogs or not, the Carolina Dog, or American Dingo as it is also called, is now recognized by the American Rare Breed Association.  From what I can tell, it looks like a fine family dog.

Furthermore, just to clarify my position on the coolness factor of the Dingo as the earliest known dog breed, as well as to harken Julia's snark, if I owned a Carolina Dog, I would definitely refer to it as an American Dingo. 

For more on the American Dingo

*Terms I have recently encountered as applied to dogs, about which I am quite curious, and shall explore in more detail later. 
**What this rare breed has to do with the WKC will also be explored in a later post. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Italian Job: When 16 is Old Enough

One of today’s big news stories regards the credentials of an Italian official. In this high stakes game, as we get incrementally closer to the final judgment day, we start to look more closely at the judges themselves. For the first time since the beginning of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the Best in Show judge is an Italian.

As released to the press by the WKC:

Paolo Dondina of Monterchi, Italy, will become the first Italian ever and the first person from outside of North America since 1930 to judge Best In Show at the legendary Westminster Kennel Club's Annual All Breed Dog Show when he takes on that assignment in 2011.
Mr. Dondina has had a number of breeds, and has bred Beagles, Basset Hounds, English Springer Spaniels, Lagoto Romagnolos and Jack Russell Terriers. He has had great success as an exhibitor, including as the co-owner of Brookwire Brandy of Layven, the Wirehaired Fox Terrier that captured Best In Show at the famed Crufts Dog Show in the United Kingdom in 1975. One of his Beagles was the top dog in all breeds in Italy in 2005.
If you, like me, read this and wondered, what the hell is a Lagoto Romagnolo, it’s a water retriever who now hunts truffles.  (Nice work if you can get it.) 

Lagotto Romagnolo

Kind of looks like a Labradoodle, but what I found most interesting about this as-yet-to-be-accepted-by-the-AKC-breed, is its life span!  Sixteen years is a pretty long life for a dog.  And it has a long and proud Italian history (the breed is shown here in a 1474 painting by Mantegna).

For more on this beauty, check out the clubs – the Lagotto Romagnolos Club of America, whose mission it is to have the AKC accept the breed, or the Lagotto Club of America, whose mission is to disseminate information about the breed. 

Somewhere, in its trip to America, a 't' was added to its name.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Politics of Barking

In surfing the dog blogs around the country, I was surprised to find the following:
OPPOSE MA: H344 passes house. Bill would end debarking in MA Goes next to Senate

Here is the actual bill and, sadly, despite the lack of support from the two major animal welfare groups, the MSPCA, and the Animal Rescue League, as well as strong opposition efforts of the AKC, Mass Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners, and the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, the bill passed in April of 2010.  So why did it pass?

Debarking opponents likened the procedure to slitting your mother’s vocal cords in one article, referred to as cruel and unusual punishment – for a dog?—leaving it barkless in another, and mostly portrayed as a cosmetic fix for people who couldn’t be bothered with behavior modification. While making for good press, it seems as though none of these is reality based, however.

Debarking, or devocalization, doesn’t slice vocals cords and the dog is not left barkless.  According to all the opposition, it is a rarely performed last ditch effort for dog owners who want to keep their beloved pets, but have been unable to keep them in a state suitable for living with others.

Worse than all of the above is the fact that it makes criminals out of veterinarians for performing the procedure unless a medical necessity is documented with the state. Some of the more egregious legislating as passed:

(b) Whoever performs, or causes to be performed, the surgical devocalization of a dog or cat shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years or imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years, or by a fine not to exceed $2,500 or by both such fine and imprisonment. In addition to this penalty, the court may order that whoever violates this section shall successfully complete a course of instruction relative to the humane treatment of animals or that such person be barred from owning or keeping a dog or cat or sharing a residence with another who owns or keeps a dog or cat for a period of time as determined by the court.
The one state representative who answered MassFed’s questions about devocalization had this telling response to its question regarding its possible motive for opposing the legislation: 

Q. Do you seriously believe that an organization dedicated to the care, protection, responsible ownership and support of dogs in MA, with a focus on responsible reasonable legislation would knowingly, intentionally put forward opposition to any bill that purports to be a reasonable piece of legislation that is “needed” to protect dogs from cruel and inhumane treatment?

A. As a dog owner I appreciate your passion and commitment to dogs and their wellness.  I believe your organization has the best intentions as do the many dog owners and groups who asked me to support the legislation.
So he played the popularity/re-election odds and based his vote to pass legislation against men on what was successfully painted as the emotionally repugnant act of cruelty to animals. Without proof.

Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association:  MVMA has come out with a position most all of us who are opposed to HB 344 agree with!  Basically:  the issue of whether or not debarking should occur is a procedure that needs to remain as between a veterinarian and the client on an instance by instance assessment.  It must not be a matter of state law.  It must not have draconian, ridiculous criminal penalties etc.  It must remain as a veterinary tool available as needed. MVMA opposes HB 344.  

Q. Do you seriously believe that the MVMA would take this position: opposed to what is allegedly a bill to stop cruel and inhumane behavior?  Can you seriously tell me that MVMA is in favor of a procedure that is cruel and inhumane?

A. I supported the legislation because it allowed debarking to occur if a vet felt it was necessary and needed for the dogs (sic) wellness.
If I may translate: Screw the dog owner! Screw the veterinarians! It's the dogs we have to protect from these mutilating fiends!

Here is a good Q&A with a veterinarian in the NYT, and a opinion piece from a local goat farmer who tries admirably to tackle the fallacy of “animal rights.”

What is most disturbing to me is that Representative Jennifer Callahan may best explain the problem when she said “"This (passage of the bill) shows that this issue is important to a lot of people, and puts Massachusetts ahead of the curve for animal cruelty laws."  [Emphasis mine.] 

Hurt a dog, we'll curtail your life.

No matter how repulsive I find cruelty to animals, it is not a matter for the state. Government, instituted among men, is to protect man's rights. That the supposed protection of animals would take precedence over a man's right to care for his animals as he sees fit - without state intervention - is more indicative of the loss of humanity than the widespread acceptance of animal cruelty would be.

To leave you on a better note (and not disappoint my children of the 80s readers), here is what you may have been hoping to find.