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Mountain Story

quest in a mountain stream

We came to the mountains from the south.  For two days, we rose out of the heat of Florida into the rolling hills of Georgia. We spent a night in Greenville, South Carolina, and then began our ascent into the Blue Ridge.

We came into the woods with a van full of dogs. The two whippets, the greyhound, and our German shepherd were ready and steady, yearning for a good run. So after climbing up into the land of the rhododendron, we eased onto a forest service road and let them rip.

The sighthounds hit the ground running. Double-suspending in their gallops, they seemed to float over the trail But it was Quest, our maturing German shepherd, who came to into his own in the mountain forests.

His meaty wolf paws carried him over the rough country, as did his sound gait. He leaped wildly, cavorting as if he were a young stallion just racing out from his band in search of new territory.

For a tossed stick, he dived into the clearest mountain stream. Any little brook trout that might have been lurking in the depths would have shot back under their fallen log redoubts, for they were under an aerial assault of the canine kind.  Young dog leaping into the  cold water,  ecstatic joy that our own species either cannot experience or ever hope to tap into.

The whippets and greyhounds are the speeding luxury cars. They would be made by some Italian manufacturer to zip around the highways of Rome, but the German shepherd is all-terrain and amphibious.  What it lacks in speed, it holds up better when the terrain turns rugged and muddy.

For decades, so-called experts, especially self-appointed ones, have told us that the German shepherd is a catastrophe on four legs.  They are all hock-walking and broken and dysplastic. They are no longer the true working dogs of Central Europe.  They just cannot do all the things normal dogs can.

But watching this creature charge about the forest, leaping over logs as if they weren’t there, I now know even more that much of what we read about these dogs is just rubbish.

Experiencing a rugged Appalachian woodland in Western North Carolina with one of these dogs is certainly eye-opening.  This is a dog bred for the show ring. His ancestors have been bred mostly for that purpose for decades. From what we all think we know about this breed, one would assume that he would have such a hard time being a mountain dog, but he covers the land with power and grace and, yes, simple elan.

And so we trundled away from our time in the mountains. Our hearts were filled with sorrow of leaving, but my mind was on the stolid nobility of this young dog when he stops to stare back at us on the forest trails.

He is a creature meant for this world of long forest hikes and cool dips in mountain springs. He is natural but still domesticated and cultivated and fancy. He is a contradiction, a paradox of sorts, but a magnificent one nonetheless.

He is a youngster just coming into his own. He has a lifetime of running and swimming ahead of him. Many adventures are yet to come. Much is unwritten, but stories that will unfold will be rich ones.

So we left the mountains. For a little a while.

But we will be back. And the young dog will get his chance to cavort in the woods and water once again.

 

 

 

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raccoon

Europe has no living native Procyonids.  Germany and the countries on which it borders do have a well-established population of raccoons, but the British Isles were thought to be raccoon-free. In fact, I refused to watch one version of 101 Dalmatians because it featured raccoons in England. Every English person knows there aren’t any raccoons running around.

However, the same cannot be said of Ireland. Rumors of errant raccoons have been filtering through the internet for quite some time. I got wind of it in 2011, when raccoons were sighted in County Cork. 

I didn’t think it was possible that there could be a breeding population in Ireland, but in recent months, a raccoon was hit by car in County Clare back in September.

In November, a raccoon was live-trapped and humanely euthanized in Cork.

These might be errant escaped pets, but errant escaped pets are the basis for a potential breeding population. And if you think that sounds far-fetched, well, Germany has a growing population of raccoons that were introduced in the 1930s.

Ireland has a much milder climate than most of North America, and this species of raccoon lives where the winters can be quite harsh.

These sightings could very well be the start of a real problem in Ireland. Raccoons are the ultimate mesopredator in that they relish raiding bird nests and even killing ground-nesting birds and poultry. Their numbers have flourished in North America since the widespread extirpation of wolves and cougars, and in Ireland, they would likely find a paradise. They would have to compete with badgers and red foxes, but because they are such adept climbers, they would also have access to food sources in trees.

We can hope that an established population of raccoons isn’t being founded in Ireland right now, but I almost wouldn’t bet against it.  They do very well on the continent. Ireland is ripe fruit, reading for the clawed hands to pick.

The Biting

great white in the surf

The shark was a torpedo with teeth. She swam the seas in search prey. Her preference was dolphin meat, and she often pursued her quarry into the surf zone.

Bottlenose dolphins are wiser creatures than the great fish. They knew about her presence often before she knew of theirs. All she could do is slip around where the dolphins might be hunting and hope that one slipped up.

On this day, she was working them close to the crystal sand beach. Every time, she thought she might get the drop on a dolphin, another dolphin would raise an alarm and they would swim around her, mobbing her, almost taunting her, until she slipped back into the depths.

Hunger was starting to take its toll, and now she began to work the surf once again.  Her black eyes noted something whitish pink and smooth suspended in the rushing water.

Her shark brain asked “Could that be something to eat?”

And she swam over and tested the pink thing in her mouth. When she bit down, the blood gushed everywhere. But the meat had no fatty taste to it, so she let go when she felt the quarry slap her.

She then swam back into the depths, scenting the water again for that delicious odor of dolphin.

What she had not known on this first sultry day of May on this desolate beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks is that she had bitten a person, the son of a wealthy corporate lawyer.

The young man screamed in terror. He had been wading alone in the surf, hoping to make communion with the local pod of dolphins. He felt that thing brush up against him and then the hard pressure of the bite. Then the flowing of red blood.

His right butt cheek down to his right thigh was hanging open and bleeding, and how he managed to swim with that much blood gushing from his body no one really could fathom.

He made it to the foamy line where the white water splashes on the crystal sand.  He landed hard on the compacted earth and groaned in agony.

His girlfriend found him five minutes later as she came down to walk their obese golden retriever on their private beach. He was sent to the hospital. Hundreds of stitches and blood transfusion were his treatment.

In week, he knew that he’d met the sea monster and had lived.

The biting had happened. The great torpedo fish claimed a victim without knowing anything other than she’d bitten into something quite disgusting.

And she was two hundred miles away when the young man’s family finally got together and took stock of the situation.

The father believed he should sell the beach house and buy a nice cabin on a quiet mountain lake, were the largemouth bass rose in the April sun and the ducks sat fat upon the shore.

The mother believed they should keep the house at the beach, but under the condition that no one ever go into the water deeper than the waist.

The young man had no thoughts on the matter. He had not expected to be bitten. It felt like something so random, so strange, that he didn’t know what to think of it all.

Yes, the bite had harmed his hide. But he was going to live, and although he felt physical trauma, he was oddly at peace with the whole thing.

The shark had bitten in error, not in malice. He had seen enough nature documentaries to know this fact, and the odds of it happening again where somewhere in the winning the lottery category.

But the victim can try to reason with those who see the aftermath and still not be able to assuage their concerns.

The father had called up the department of fisheries in hopes that he a posse could be assembled to wipe out such large sharks from the waters. When he found that the great whites were protected in these waters, he was filled with bellicose anger.

He paid for that spit of sand, and now, the government was telling him he could not protect his property and family from sharks?

He called everyone he knew in the world of government. They listened as intently to him as they would anyone with potential to flip out some campaign money, but nothing was done.

The laws were the laws, and what’s more, every single expert told him that the shark was long gone.

Man has this odd tendency to take personally the banal violence of nature. The young man had come to the realization that this was not a personal attack at all, but just an accident of predation. The father never could accept this reality.

He put the beach house up for sale, but the sell did not go through until the July of the next year.

The young man didn’t tell his father what he was going to do, but on the last weekend hte house remained in his family’s hands, the young man went to the beach. He slipped on his rash guard and wandered into the surf.

He hoped to make final contact with the dolphins. Yes, that was certainly a goal.

But he also wanted to make peace with the sea monsters, the ones that still stubbornly hold onto their domains despite ourselves.

The dolphins came at high tide to cavort among the surf and hunt baitfish. He felt their echolocation against his skin once again. He felt at peace in the saltwater.

And he felt the true humility of a human in the sea. The ocean suffers the onslaught of our civilization in such horrific ways, but it still exists undominated, uncontrolled.

And that briny wilderness is an affront to those who worship in our domination, but it beguiles those who see it as the last redoubt of unblemished life.

And the young man felt that sublime beguilement and felt the warm water rushing around him.

And he then left the sea to the ancient struggle of dolphins and sharks, which he hoped would go on long past his mortal existence as a man on this earth.

bobcat

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, the cougar was the most widespread wild cat species, but in the modern era, after we have extirpated the cougar from most of the East, the most widespread cat is the bobcat.

It is found throughout the Lower 48, but it is conspicuously absent from most of the Midwest. In Ohio, they are found almost entirely within a short distance of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Kentucky. In the Northern Great Lakes states, they live towards Canada and the lakes themselves. But they are fairly numerous elsewhere.

The bobcat is a species of lynx, which is conveniently classified in the genus Lynx.  Four extant species roam across Eurasia and North America. The bobcat includes the smallest individuals of the genus, but they are the most variable in size. 13-pound queens can be found, as can toms that exceed 40 pounds in weight.

The lynx species likely evolved in North America.  The dentition of a cat from the Pliocene that has been called Felis rexroadensis suggests that it was the earliest form of lynx.  Some authorities now call this cat Lynx rexroadensis. Bjorn Kurten believed that this species is the ancestor of the Issoire lynx (Lynx issiodorensis), which is the likely ancestor of the Eurasian, Iberian, and Canada lynx.

The bobcat is either a direct descendant of rexroadensis or is derived from the Issoire lynx that came back into North America.

The latter seems more likely,  because our current understanding of the molecular evolution of the cat family finds that the lynx species last shared a common ancestor 3.2 million years ago. 

Ancestral bobcats appear in the fossil record of North America 2.6 million years ago, and the modern bobcat evolved from a population that became marooned south of the ice sheets 20,000 years ago.

So the most likely scenario is that bobcats have a deep evolutionary history in North America, but their exact line went into Eurasia and then came back.

It should also be noted that Felis rexroadensis has sometimes been placed into another species called Puma lacustris, which fits somewhere in the cougar lineage. The cougar and lynx lineages are closely related, and as you go back towards the common ancestor of both lineages,  the basal forms tend to resemble each other. However, it is well-supported now that the lynx lineage first evolved in North America and then radiated into Eurasia.

second major

Quest got his second major this morning. He was Winners Dog and Best of Winners both days at the Medina Kennel Club’s March show, which was held at Tallmadge.

He got six points out of the weekend. He has to have two majors and a total of 15 points to finish.

He’s on his way.

Thanks so much to Anya Dobratz for handling him and breeding such a great dog!

 

Quest got his first AKC conformation points, and it was a major!

I think he might finish. He’s only 10.5 months old.

quest first points

Congratulations to his breeder, handler, and co-owner Anya Dobratz for that great win! And this major makes his mother an ROM.

 

The sin of being happy

three boys on the run

A decade of experience in the “dog blogosphere” has taught me much. If you’re going to get a dog blog started, I thought the best thing to do was to be controversial. All the other successful dog blogs did this sort of thing.

If they weren’t trashing breeds they’d never own, they were going on and on with dog abuse porn.  I chose the  former route. I made a name for myself.

But I grew up. I had things happen to me that changed my perspective on certain issues, and I struggled with these issues over and over.

I’ve finally come to the point in my life where I can say that I am happy with where I am in dogs. It’s not the same place I started.

And in this, I have to accept that I am now a heretic. I don’t have to wallow in anger or post videos of poorly-bred and poorly-exhibited show dogs to stoke the fires of misery.

Too much misery already exists in the world. Dogs should not be an add-on to misery.  That is certainly not their purpose in the modern world.

I do like dog shows. Are they the most important thing in the world of dogs? Not by a long shot. But having lived with several show-bred dogs, I can tell you they have indeed undergone a selection for dead-solid, stable temperaments. Are all show dogs like this? No, but a lot of them are.

Are there problems with closed registries? Yes. Are there some welfare issues with conformation in some breed? Yes, but, most of these dogs are well-cared for, and their breeders are prepared for the issues that might arise.

I suppose at some point I lost my ability to be sanctimonious and full of shit. And that only happens when you are forced to be humble or when you get your ass kicked.

The dogs have humbled me more than any person ever could. And when you’re humbled, you have to check your ego and take stock. Otherwise, you’re never going to be happy. Or I’d be in my 50s and still writing pretentious twaddle about “real working dogs.”

And yes, I am now a sinner. But my sin is choosing to be happy.  I let the rest wallow in misery. And if you want to read that stuff, you know where to go.

And I’ll go on sinning, thank you.

 

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