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Archive for October, 2018

anka posing with green collar

Mankind what eventually became our domestic dogs could have been running together for over 30,000 years.  This early date is questionable and hotly contested in the literature, but no one thinks that the dog is younger than 14,000 years old. Even in that time, our species and theirs were living as wild hunting beasts, tearing at hides and the flesh of the great deer and wild and horses and occasionally engaging in dangerous hunts for mammoth.

Over the intervening years, man has forged new useful dogs out of that derived stock, selecting for all sorts of behavior and capabilities.  New forms of working dog graced the stage as mankind began to form new cultures and then civilizations, and all would have gone on much like this.

But the nineteenth century came,  industrial production put so many people out of traditional tasks.  It did the same with dogs.

Anka’s line begins to shift from its traditional role as German crofter’s sheepdog at about this time. In 1871, Germany became a nation out of all those principalities and fiefdoms, and then set out on a long industrial march in hopes of surpassing the British Empire. Unified under Prussian auspices, the intelligentsia of the new German Empire began to think of ways to beat the British lion.

One thing that set the British apart from all other nations at the beginning of the nineteenth century was a strong national promotion of agricultural improvement.  By the beginning of that century, massive livestock shows were promoted to encourage the cattlemen, shepherds, and swineherds of realm to engage in selective breeding of their stock. Much of this breed improvement was done through extreme tight inbreeding, and it became such a popular activity that dogs got swept up in the whole zeitgeist of improvement. That sweeping up of dogs into the breed improvement movement in Britain was the genesis of the modern dog fancy, and those ideas are what largely drive our concepts of a dog breed in the West.

It was not long after German unification that middle class Germans began buying collies from England and Scotland, and this development irked the chauvinists of the new nation.

But it was not until 1891 that the Phylax Society was formed. This society was a breed improvement and standardization club that sought to standardize the working sheepdogs of the nation. However, this club lasted only three years, because the members were constantly at war with each other about whether looks or working ability mattered more.

It wasn’t until 1899, when a retired cavalry officer named Max von Stephanitz and his friend Artur Meyer founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, which begin a systematic breeding program for the creation of what became Anka’s tribe of dogs. The founding “type specimen” sort of dog was called Horand von Grafrath, a Thuringian sheepdog with a sable coat. He was born Hektor Linksrhein to a breeder with the last name of Friedrich Sparwasser, who lived in Frankfurt.

Stephanitz had spent at lot of time at the Veterinary College of Berlin during his career as a cavalry officer, and there, he learned much about scientific breeding methods. The British were making a lot of hay with tight inbreeding, and so the early true German shepherd dog breeders did a lot of inbreeding off Horand and Horand’s offspring.  Dogs from Franconia and Württemberg/Swabia were also crossed in. These dogs were very often black and tan variants or recessive black, while the Thuringian dogs were usually either sable or solid white.

By the early years of the twentieth century, a breed was founded. Yes, the modern German shepherd dog is among the most modern breeds, and when one realizes that it was only 15 years between the founding of the modern German shepherd breed and the outbreak of the First World War, where these dogs served so admirably,  it becomes evident that these breeders achieved something rather remarking.

Yes, all this inbreeding at the base of the breed has left the population struggling with certain inherited defects and diseases, but it created a high quality strain that one could argue is possibly the most useful dog of modern era.

So Anka, despite her wolfy pelage and countenance, is of a new tribe of dog, and her specific part of the tribe, as far as I can tell, is the type that was bred for police work. She looks very Czech to me, though of course, I will never know. This is the type that gets imported from the Czech Republic and Slovakia in pretty high numbers to become part of police forces.

Her exact kind, if I am right, really got its start after the Second World War, when Czechoslovakia became part of the Eastern Bloc. This nation, forged from bits and pieces of the defeated German and Austro-Hungarian Empires,  had a strong connection to the German-speaking world. German shepherd dogs were fairly common in the nation in the interwar years, but after the war, they were in high demand by the state as working animals.

The communist government encouraged citizens to keep and train German shepherds for defense work, and like East Germany (the DDR), the borders to Czechoslovakia and West Germany and Austria were tightly guarded. The most famous strain of Czech German shepherds were the ones designated Pohranicni Straze or “Border Patrol.”  These dogs also patrolled the wild back country of the nation’s interior, and they were bred for athletic bodies and sharp minds.

Czechoslovakia is no more. The Czech Republic and Slovakia now stand as part of the European Union. The dogs are now sold in the West, and dogs of these communist strains are now quite common in the US.

So when I look into Anka’s soft, intelligent eyes, I see the sagacious beast, the one that started hanging out around the campfires of those megafaunal days, then became the pastoral dog Central Europe. Later, that beast was forged into the working dog the new German Empire and then became the dog of the New Socialist Man in Czechoslovakia.

And as we skitter on into this new millennia, where mankind once thought he knew it all and now knows nothing as he is lost in a sea of information and misinformation, the beast come with us, brown-eyed and willing and loyal to a fault.

We can hope the future holds a era of enlightenment and peace.  We hope that possibility, despite evidence that all seems wrong and topsy-turvy.

But we do know that man in his final hour on the planet will gaze deep into the dog’s eyes and weep. He will weep for the sadness of having committed enough atrocities upon the planet and the creatures and ecosystems and knowing that only the dog stands by him now.

But it is the dog that grounds us in the electronic age to the world of nature from which we descend but battle so hard against.  They remind us of that essential animality, that side of us that is still wild beast of prey.  It is this side with which we modernes struggle against but still deeply know when we look into a dog’s eyes.

The beast that stares back at us with soft eyes reminds of what we were and what we should never forget. Even as enlightened as we think we are, we must never lose that understanding that we are not above nature. We are merely forged from it.

And the dog tells us every day that we should not lose site of this immutable fact.

 

 

 

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Beautiful  N Red

Beautiful N Red at turn out at Derby Lane. St. Petersburg, Florida, on Christmas Day 2010.

I am not known for my conservatism. Indeed, I am definitely on the other side of the spectrum, but on some issues, I am not an ideologue, especially those issues that deal with animals that have a purpose.

What I am about to write might cause me to lose some readership, but I feel I have to say what I do think about this issue. This issue is the continued existence of commercial racing greyhounds in North America.

Many states have banned wagering on greyhound. My native state of West Virginia is still one that is very much into greyhounds and wagering on them. The former governor’s family was a devotee of greyhounds and greyhound breeding, and his successor has made a point to keep the hounds subsidized in the state budget.

But West Virginia will not keep the practice alive. The real market for greyhound racing is in Florida, and now Amendment 13 is on the ballot for this coming election.  My guess is that Florida will ban it. Democratic voter enthusiasm is way up in Florida, which is a good thing for 95 percent of the things I care about, but the odds that the typical Democratic voter is going to see through the nonsense that everyone “believes” about greyhound racing are not particularly high.

Greyhound racing may have been cruel in the past. They may have shot the racers after they couldn’t run anymore. They might have let the dogs run live meat rabbits that would be hung down from the lure.

I saw all these things on tabloid news shows when I was a kid, but I didn’t assume that the entire enterprise of greyhound was immoral. Even at that age, I thought they should just ban cruel practices, and I thought that greyhound adoption was just a great idea to stop people from shooting their retired dogs.

star in a crate

Star enjoying her spacious crate.

In the end, that’s what most states did for a while, but big money wanted the practice to end entirely. Casinos didn’t like having their revenue tied to racing, and many states had requirements that casino licenses be tied to greyhounds. Ban the practice, and the casino licenses would be liberated from the dogs and whatever fines and regulations go along with them.

I have come to know several track insiders, including my current partner. I’ve heard stories about the old trainers, true dogmen of the highest order. These were men who could tell which muscle was pulled simply by how the dog was limping and could tell you the bloodlines of the greyhound simply by looking at it.

They were not like the horse trainers who make massive salaries training their racers. These were men who made money on the dogs, but they lived mostly austere existences. The dogs were their passion, and the skillset was passed on from generation to generation. Whole families devoted themselves to breeding for and caring for the dogs.

If this Amendment 13 passes, the biggest state with legal greyhound racing will end this whole culture. All this knowledge and all this passion will be dashed away.

And all because people simply believe that greyhound racing is inherently cruel. I’ve been told by my friends in Florida that many dishonest political ads are filling the airways. Some are making claims of mass fatalities at tracks, with no supporting evidence given.  One wag even put up a Halloween display showing greyhound tombstones with the names of greyhounds that supposedly died at the tracks.  Strangely, people on social media who owned the dogs wound up sharing live photos of the dogs named on the fake monuments, showing that the dogs were not dead at all. They had been adopted.

Further, the end of greyhound racing is also the end of greyhound adoption. Many people have relied upon a steady supply of retired racers to fill their homes with their favorite breed.

What likely will happen is that those in the know will buy up racing greyhounds from the trainers and kennels. NGA dogs can still be registered in the AKC, and these dogs certainly will be.  They will then be bred for amateur racing and dog sports, and because they will be bred like any other sport breed, you will likely be able get an eight-week-old puppy from a breeder. But you will pay a big price for it. The racing greyhound will become like the racing whippet, a dog owned by amateurs only, and not one easily procured at retirement.

derby land greyhounds

Fuzzface Monte counter-surfing at Derby Lane. Note the size of the crates in the background.

So people who own retired racers now are essentially setting up a situation where when their current dog dies, it will become so much harder to find another dog to fill the void.

I would urge Florida voters to vote down this Amendment 13.  I would urge them to speak to the real greyhound people, who are not the monsters portrayed in 30 second ads.  These are among the last of the true dogmen, and their ideas and thoughts and expertise are not to be laughed at.

And certainly not squelched because a well-funded animal rights campaign has deemed them and their livelihoods undesirable.

 

 

 

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red fox at night

Our motor vehicles speed away on ribbons of asphalt. We run along them as they cut along the cities and suburbs but also as they wind their way through the pastures and cornfields and the stands of forest that somewhat resemble wilderness.

Our roads intersect their trails. The wild beasts scurry across them when they cannot hear the whirring of tires and the humming of the internal combustion engines. They race across hoping almost as an act of instinctual faith that that vehicles won’t slam into them and take the great toll of impersonal and unintentional predation that we call roadkill.

And so one night this week, I found myself winding along desolate roads in Western Pennsylvania. The darkness of night enveloped all around me. Only the lights on my vehicle pierced this veil.

And as a rounded a bend in the road, my headlights scanned down upon what I instantly recognized as a deer. But as I motored in closer, the lights revealed a massive buck with a great crown of white rapiers. The rut is nigh, and this is the time of thick necks and grunting and long solitary perambulations through the darkness. Soon, the sensual scents of the does will cast into the wind, and the ancient rites of courtship and copulation will commence.

And the bucks that once wandered around as comrades in the oak woods with velvet headdresses as the deerflies tore at their ears in the July swselter are now turning into the worst rivals.

But by mid-December, the does will stop their sweet waftings, and the testosterone levels will drop in the bodies of the bucks. By January, the antlers will fall, and the rivals will bunch up as comrades again, ready for the long freezing time where the mast of autumn better be bountiful enough to see the deer until first green grass of March.

I shouted with elation from my driver’s seat:

“Look at that buck!”

The buck looked alarmed at my stopping then moseyed into the woods along the road. I motored on.

Jenna asked,  “Would you have shot that one?”

And all I could say is, “Yes.”

That same night, on another desolate road in Western Pennsylvania, I made a turn onto a crooked course that skirted along the edge of a uncut cornfield.

As I approached the edge of the cornfield, a red fox charged out of a hidden covert, and then darted into the tall corn.

He was a beautiful specimen, probably looking at a nice night of mousing where no one could lay eyes upon him, especially not someone with a nice little predator rifle.

We are not long before the days of the foothold traps set in for the red fox and all the other little fur-bearers of the forest and field. Those traps won’t fool many of the old veterans, the ones that have run that gauntlet for a winter or two or five or six,  but the young rangers of the year will surely fall.

But in the next spring, the vixens will whelp in their dens, and the fields will fill with young rangers again.

We watched the fox slink into the corn.

“That was the first red fox I ever saw!” Jenna shouted at me. I guess Florida is pretty depauperate of wild canids, for she told me that there are no red foxes in the lower parts of the peninsula. They are so common here outside of the subtropics. They appear as eternal as the hills and the rocks and the streams, but the truth is they were absent in this part of the continent until the Europeans came. Then, they wandered down out Canada and New England into the newly cleared lands. The legend goes that they were stocked here from England or Germany, a legend that goes in nicely with the repeopling of this land with people mostly of that ancestry after having driven off and subjugated the descendants of that first colonization from Siberia.

As we motored along back into Ohio, the deer stood along the road, almost daring themselves to jump in front of our vehicle. One stupid little button buck staggered out in front of us. He stared up at the headlights in the cliched expression and then turned his head to stagger around to the opposite side of the road.

And we motored on in the darkness. My mind was on the road, but I thought of the paradox of the blacktop. The road and the motor car have given us what appears to be unlimited freedom.  We can cross the continent in a matter of days, if we just get in our vehicle and go on the road.

But in that freedom, we are limited. We must follow that road, as does everyone else who travels.

But the deer and the foxes and all the wild beasts of the fields roam their trails. These paths might be ancient, but they are made through the inertia of instinct, always seeking the path of least resistance to get from the bedding areas to the grazing or hunting grounds.

The beast that thrive here now thrive mostly because of us. We have killed off the wolves and the cougars, and then modern agriculture has made Appalachian hill farming mostly unprofitable.  Farm families are rarer and rarer upon the land, and the thickets and coverts grow to hide the wild creatures more completely.

And so we’ve let these parallel worlds grow up in our wastegrounds.  Most of us never pay much attention to these worlds, but when we go upon our ribbons of blacktop at night, our paths meet. Sometimes, we slam into deer and crush foxes and raccoons. But more often, we just meet. Our headlights illuminate the denizens of that other world.

Perhaps we allow ourselves the chance to marvel at them, and maybe we can consider their plight as beings more deeply tied to the ecosystem. We can maybe consider them a bit, and then realize that we are also tied to it. We’ve built walls around us to insulate ourselves from the realities of the cold, heat, parasites, and hunger.

But these walls are but edifices of delusion. Nature’s laws still abide with us, and that our dominance is only temporary and maybe only illusory.

And when we consider their plight, their existence, we must ultimately fully consider our own.

At least, that is what I’d hope we’d do as the night draws in darker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is at a place near Beaver Creek State Park. Anka is the dark sable working GSD. Quest is the sable American show-line GSD pup. Jolene is the little black and tan GSD. Fontana is the little naked golden, out of coat after having raised a litter of puppies.

anka retrieve

fontana retrieving

crick wolf 1.jpg

crick wolves 2

anka and fontana.jpg

crick wolf

You can see the difference between the working and show type GSD here:

crick anka and quest.jpg

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It’s a weird thing. Not a gun dog at all. But I just feel a stronger connection with this dog than I have with any other in my adult life.

anka is blowing coat

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The Salukis

streamer

One week ago today, Jenna and I went to Pittsburgh to pick up some puppies at the airport. We found ourselves at some desolate warehouse place, but yes, they had our delivery from Albuquerque.

They loaded the shipping box into our van. Zoom, the old whippet, raised his head to watch the proceedings, and out of that crate rose of cacophony of primitive puppy barks.

The barker was the brindle named Streamer but called “Baz” at his breeder’s home. He had gone through enough moves and jostles, and to be face to face with that short-eared dog was the last straw.

Jenna quickly got both pups out of the crate. Streamer glowered at me from the passenger seat, but the other puppy, the cream and white Mango, stared up at me with abject suspicious. “You’re not gonna eat me, are you?” his eyes seemed to ask.

And I drove them home. Mango decided that I was his safety, and he began to follow me from room to room. Streamer, a hot-blooded Arabian stallion of a pup, decided to snap at the old whippet on the sofa, and he received a muzzle snap for his impudence..

Thus began my journey with an even more different sort of dog.  I should add that these are not normal AKC salukis, but they are a cross between a tazi with ancestors from Kazakhstan and Middle Eastern or “desert bred salukis.” Their sire is Tavi, a dog that has been featured on the Qurencia blog many times. Their mother is brindle and white, and thus controversial to the saluki purists. Both live with Shiri Hoshen in New Mexico, and this is the first litter produced between the two parents.

Mango is not ours. He will be going through a vaccine and titer regime over the next few months before he will be send to live with a good friend of this blog in Australia.

But right now, Mango is just learning about this foreign land, where the grass is green and spongy, and the rain drops from the sky regularly and make the air cool and crisp.

He is learning about wolf-like dogs with prick ears and intense eyes, and drop-eared almost Saluki-like things that carry things in their mouths. He will need much socialization to be made ready for that long trip Down Under.

But he has the softest, brownest eyes I’ve ever seen on a dog. He will be a great dog. I just hope to do him justice.

mango

Streamer will be staying here, and I hope will be reformed into a nice high status dog.

/And so I will learn a new breed once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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