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Archive for the ‘animal welfare’ Category

cecil

The story of Cecil the lion is one I’ve avoided.  I absolutely abhor stories that involve one animal cause celebre, be it Marius the Danish giraffe or some abused dog.

I dislike animal cruelty. I dislike poachers even more.

So you will not be getting any defenses of Dr. Walter Palmer from me.

But we’ve been dealing with poaching in Africa for a long time now, and that is not the part of the story I find disturbing.

What I find disturbing is that social media has turned into a giant lynch mob.

Vox reports:

When an American dentist named Walter Palmer killed a beloved lion named Cecil, the social media platforms that allowed outraged web users to spread the story also enabled them to do more than just fume. It gave them the power to act on their anger, to reach into Palmer’s life and punish him for what he’d done, without having to wait for the wheels of more formal justice to turn.

Web users uncovered Palmer’s personal information, including about his family, and published it online. They went after his business, a private dental practice, posting thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and other sites. The practice has since shut down. Users also went after professional websites that host his profile, leading the sites to remove his information. On Twitter and on his practice’s public Facebook page, people made threats of physical violence.

This should look familiar: It is the same set of tactics that has been used in online harassment campaigns such as the “Gamergate” movement that targeted women in technology, or the seemingly endless online harassment conducted against female journalists. It is a growing trend of internet mob justice, one that often bleeds into real-world harassment with real-world consequences.

It’s actually pretty similar to Gamergate.

This is the mob, and because the mob has projected onto Dr. Palmer the worst possible evil, it is totally okay to be an asshole to bring about justice.

Of course, this also gets mixed in with calls to ban all lion-hunting, and at the risk of getting the same treatment as Palmer, I’m going to say that this is a very short-sighted reaction.

Let’s get some facts on the table first.

Lions are not easy animals to live with. They are huge predators that have killed people, but they also do enjoy eating cattle.

If you’re a poor farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa, you are not going to like lions very much. You’re not going to be sitting by the campfire at night in awe of the roaring lions. You’re not going to be proud that all these Westerners love lions so much that they will raise an internet lynch mob to get someone who poached one.

Instead, you’re probably sitting by the fire with a gun or a spear, hoping that the damned things don’t show up an take a calf.

And you certainly hope they don’t kill your children while they sleep.

Most of the people engaging in the lynch mob who are also excoriating hunting have never lived anywhere near large carnivores. Even those of us who live near black bears in the East Coast honestly don’t have a clue. Black bears are timid creatures that have killed very few people in recorded history of this continent.

We have no clue what it’s like to live with large predators. Predators would be a constant worry for our ancestors living in hunter-gatherer camps, and even in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, predation by wolves was a constant worry.

Most Westerners live in cities, and the city has an insulating affect. Most people have never seen an animal kill anything, unless they see it on television.

And what most people see on television is pretty sanitize. Sir David Attenborough readily admitted that the most gory parts of predatory sequences had to be clipped from his documentaries.

Most Westerners think of lions as being really big cats.

Which is exactly what they are.

However, even a domestic cat can be a fierce predator to a mouse or a songbird.

And when you scale up a cat to the size of a lion, you are the mouse or the songbird.

We have a very distorted view of what lions are about.  The Lion King posits that the lion cub gets presented by the mandrill on top of the big cliff and all the subject animals, which are mostly things that lions eat, are just elated to see their new prince.

In truth, most of these animals would be avoiding a lion with cubs, and in the case of African buffalo, they would be actively seeking out the cub to trample it to death.

It is certainly true that lion numbers have dropped in recent years.

In 1975, there were an estimated 250,000 lions in Africa. There are now 25-30,000.

Were those lions all killed by trophy hunters?

Even if we accept that some were, there is just no way there are that many trophy hunters in the world who would kill that many lions.

No, what really got the lions is that in many countries where they are found populations are on the rise, but the economies are not growing fast enough to keep up with the population growth. Millions of people are being forced to farm and raise stock in the last redoubts of lions, and the lions start to cause problems.

If your’e a poor person living in Africa, you have every reason to want lions dead. Lion poisoning is becoming quite common in Kenya and in other parts of Africa. Poisoning does in entire prides of lions, but it takes care of the problem from the perspective of the poor farmer.

If we Westerners truly value lions, then we have to think of ways to make the lives of people living in those regions better. One way to do this is to create some sort of economic value for lions, and the best way to do this is to allow some limited, managed hunting.

Now, hunting like this can be abused, and it is certainly true that a lot of the money spent on this kind of hunting doesn’t stay in the communities, but it is still enough of a payment to give people incentive to keep lions alive.

Managed hunting, by definition, is not the same kind of hunting that seeks to make animals extinct. It is a kind of hunting that we’d recognize in our own country, especially if we paid some attention to the conservation policies of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt began a conservation revolution in this country. Before his time, we saw wild animals as either commodities or nuisances. When we began to conserve them as game animals, they were seen as creatures with value that extended beyond that animal’s life.

Using this conservation tool, we’ve seen all sorts of species rebound from near extinction. The cougar that was wiped out in the East is making a strong comeback in the West, where it is still hounded with strictly regulated hunting (except in California, where the cougars carry off dogs on a pretty regular basis).

But the US is rich country, and most of Africa is not. Land and resources are being stretched.

If we do want lions to exist, we either say that the lives of Africans don’t matter or we say that we have to use trophy hunting as way of generating funds and adding value to the people who otherwise would be better off without them.

No country in Africa would ever set up such a draconian conservation policy that would deny people the right to graze their cattle on public lands or on private property. They might deny it in a park, but outside the park, they are much more likely to look the other way if a lion gets killed.

Westerners look upon the lion situation with self-righteous ignorance. We can’t be bothered to elect politicians who will actually do a thing about climate change, which is driving extinctions left and right, and we can’t be bothered to stop having children or curbing our rapacious desire for new stuff.

But we can tell the poor nations of Africa that they must save their lions– just don’t ask us to pay for it!

Cecil the lion was named for Cecil Rhodes. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you’ve heard of the Rhodes Scholar program at Oxford that was funded through his estate. Rhodes was champion of British imperialism and a diamond magnate in Southern Africa. He was instrumental in getting a chunk of southeastern Africa added to the British Empire which were called “the Rhodesias”. Rhodes wound up ruling that region as a part of the British South Africa Company. Yes. It was essentially a corporate colony, which Rhodes as the CEO. The region of  the Rhodesias became a land of white landowners with large numbers of landless native Africans working on the plantations and mines.Southern Rhodesia became independent under the racist regime of Ian Smith. Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, would pose with two flags on his jacket. One of these was Ian Smith’s Rhodesian flag, and Rhodesia, Ian Smith, and Cecil Rhodes have long captured the imagination of white supremacists

So Westerners have named a lion in honor of a brutal imperialist.

The West has grown fat off of Africa. First with the slaves. Then with the gold and the ivory and the diamonds.

And now when the Africans try to live in basket-cases we’ve left behind, we excoriate them for killing lions. We excoriate them for poisoning them, and we excoriate them when they try to raise money for conservation by selling a few tags to trophy hunters.

The West has forgotten what it’s done to Africa.

And the West is now so far removed from that natural world and its processes that it cannot have a reasoned moral discussion about how to best save the African lion.

It’s all turpitude masquerading as morality.

Cecil the lion was a killer. He killed game animals to survive. When took over his pride, he killed his predecessor’s cubs in order to bring the lionesses into estrus again.

He was not Mufasa or Simba.

He was a great cat who lived by the tooth and the claw, and he was magnificent. He lived a life far better than most dogs in North America, who spend their days pacing behind closed fences. He lived, breathed, fought, and fucked.

A poacher killed him, but if a poacher had not, he probably would have been killed an in an even more horrific manner. Male lions don’t rule over their prides forever. Soon or later, another male lion or a coalition of males would have overthrown him, and he would have either been killed by them or died from his wounds. Or he would have starved to death as he tried to eke out an existence on the edge of pride territories.

He may have been already a victim of an overthrow, and maybe that was the reason he was so easily lured out of Hwange National Park so easily.

The poacher may have actually done the old boy a favor.

What irks me most, though, is that we now live in this bizarre world that combines ignorance of wildlife management issues with the disgusting behavior of a lynch mob.

It’s more sound and fury, but this does signify something.

Western man is a totally adrift in this world.

He will either burn us all up or blow us all up, because he’d rather be self-righteous than think critically.

And that scares the hell out of me.

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Scottish terriers by the tail

Crufts always brings about controversies, but this year, I truly do dream of the days when best of breed bulldogs and Clumber spaniels failed mandatory health checks and dog fancy had a collective meltdown all across the worldwide web.

This year, the big controversies have largely been outside the general interests of this blog. There are reports that an Irish setter was poisoned at Crufts, but this is such a serious accusation that I will leave it alone. We don’t know all the facts. If we were dealing with a dog poisoner, then we’re dealing with a vile person.

And I’m not really interested in talking about truly vile people. Individual malevolence is certainly worthy of scorn, but I’m a structuralist. I’m much more interested in the collective evils that plague society, and in this case, I’m interested in the collective problems with the dog fancy.

Crufts didn’t give us much of that this year, but at the Best in Show judging and presentation, two things happened that got large numbers of people riled.

The one I thought would be more consequential was when a PETA activist stormed the floor with a sign that read “Mutts Against Crufts.” If this had been Westminster, I’m pretty sure we would all still be talking about him. I am not a big fan of PETA, and I’m not sure that this publicity stunt really put the purebred dog reform movement in a good light.

But PETA is not interested in having a rational discussion. It is interested in the theater.

Now, the reason I say that this PETA demonstration would have stolen show if this had been Westminster is because it was overshadowed by another scandal.

This scandal never would have raised the slightest bit of attention in the North American dog show world. That’s because this second scandal involved a handling practice that is so common in North American dog shows that most people don’t even notice it.

When terriers are judged in North America, most of the smaller breeds of terrier are lifted up with one hand on the tail and one hand just beneath the jawline.  Supposedly, it is a way of testing to see if the terriers still have their sturdy tails. If a terrier gets in a bad place, it could be useful to be able to grab it by the tail and pull it safety.

You see this everywhere in North American dog shows. I don’t think it’s he worst way to handle a dog like this, but I don’t think the dogs particularly like it. I’m not someone who is prone to picking up dogs in this fashion, so I honestly don’t what the science is behind the welfare issues involved. I am officially agnostic on the issue.

The dog that won Best in Show was a Scottish terrier. This is one of the smaller terrier breeds that is generally lifted up in this fashion at American shows.  The handler of this winning terrier, Rebecca Cross, is an American, and I’m sure she’s done the tail lift scores of times in the show ring.

And no one said thing.

But when she did it at Crufts–in front of all those cameras– uproar quickly ensued!

100,000 people signed an online petition to have the terrier stripped of her win.

This, of course, created outrage among the show set. The claim pretty much goes that lifting them by the tail gives the judge an idea if the terrier has a sturdy enough tail. If this terrier happened to be deep in the ground battling with a whole clan of badgers and the only thing that the owner had to grab was its tail,  then that sturdy tail would be a life saver.

The problem with that claim is that Scottish terriers are actually working earth dogs.

In Scotland, terriers were used more to bolt the badger and the otter than their English counterparts. Both the badger and the otter are now protected species. The rural Scottish culture that created these terriers doesn’t even exist.  The Scottish countryside was once full of crofters.  In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, the Clearances depopulated the land in much of rural Scotland. The crofters were driven off the land in favor of sheep, grouse moors, and deer stalking grounds.

The working man’s terriers became show dogs, and the general prick-eared terrier from Scotland became the West Highland white, the cairn, the Skye, the Paisley, and the Aberdeen. The Aberdeen type is the basis behind the breed we call the Scottish terrier.

Now, terriers are still widely used in the United Kingdom, even though “terrier work” is quite controversial over there. There are still plenty of working red fells, Patterdales, Lakelands, borders, Plummers, and Jack Russells. There are even working strains of Bedlington terrier, which is a breed that North Americans think is only for the show ring .

But there are no working strains of Scottish terrier. You will not find them anywhere. A lot of Scottish terriers still have the temperament needed for this sort of activity. George W. Bush had a Scottish terrier that loved to dig out armadillos, but no one can honestly say that there is a great demand for an armadillo dog.

And a nine-banded armadillo is nothing like a European badger or otter.

So if no one is really breeding a working Scottish terrier, the entire ritual of picking it up by the tail is just playing make believe.

At the most charitable, it is a hypothetical abstraction. It’s not a real adaptation on a real working dog.

This year’s big controversy, which I’m calling “Tailgate,” is more revealing about the culture of the dog show than it is about welfare concerns.

My guess is that the Kennel Club will make a very strong stand against picking up terriers by the tail at its shows.

And that will be it.

Meanwhile, Scottish terriers will continue to have very high rates of cancer and von Willebrand disease. They will continue to suffer from their own peculiar disorder called “Scottie cramps,” and they will continue to have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

Which, for a terrier, is pretty pathetic.

And it is a shame. This breed does occasionally have a reputation for being a bit surly, but a lot of these dogs are real characters, very sharp and responsive and clever creatures.

They are known for the deep loyalty to their people, and it is a real shame that people have allowed this breed to go so far downhill.

They have come a long way from the badger setts and otter holts, but now they must be looked at more realistically.

Playing pretend about the sturdy tails isn’t helping the discussion at all.

All of this rancorous debate over the ethics of terrier-lifting isn’t going to amount to much.

It’s just going to continue on. One camp will say that it is causing the terriers too much pain and stress, while the other is pretending they are evaluating real working dogs.

There is no real room for a discussion about the issues raised by closed registries and popular sires in this debate, and as this debate rages, much time and energy is being wasted.

Such is the tragic condition of the dog world in 2015.

Side-tracked by Tailgate.

 

 

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Liam Neeson narrates:

Source.

These horses have a five weeks of vacation mandated every year. They have a full retirement plan.

They can’t work when it’s too hot or too cold.

How many human workers in New York have those benefits?

Go to http://www.savenychorsecarriages.com/ for more info.

 

 

 

 

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Another duck has gone broody. She’s very small– Phil’s little sex toy.

IMG_8715

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Jemima Harrison Neapolitan mastiff

Photo by Jemima Harrison.

The above image comes from a 2011 post on Jemima Harrison’s blog. It is a part of series of photos she took at Crufts, most of which would make any rational person with any sense of empathy wince.  Why is such unnecessary suffering celebrated in the world of dog?

In it she writes:

These pictures were taken today at Crufts.

This should be the moment the Kennel Club realises that if it wants to be seen to have any shred of integrity, self-respect – or humanity – that it has to ban the Neapolitan Mastiff.

This is cruelty.

No ifs. No buts. Ban them. Now.

These dogs were produced by “responsible breeders.” They were “bred to standard,” but when we really think about it, a dog with open loose eyelids, constantly infected skin, and terrible structure suffers far more than any animal that is hunted. The animal that is hunted suffers only in the last seconds of its life– if at all. A dog like these Neapolitan mastiffs suffers through its entire life.

I should note that she is not calling for banning the breed as pit bulls are in the UK. She calling for them to be removed from the Kennel Club’s registry.

I pretty much said the same thing a few days ago. Until saner, more rational people take the helm in this breed, it should not be given any legitimacy by any major breed registry.

When breed registries allow dog breeds to be bred like this, they lose all moral authority.

It is enabling people with absolutely no empathy.

The only difference between these people and dog fighters is that at least dog fighters don’t make up nonsense about how loose skin makes the dogs better in combat. Game-bred pit bulls and even traditional shar pei don’t look like these Neapolitan mastiffs.

The Neapolitan mastiff as we know it now is just one giant flight of fancy. It was created by a Swiss science fiction writer, then mass-produced by Italian con-men trying to sell the “true Italian dog” to ignorant Northern Europeans and North Americans, and finally wrecked under the guise of “breed improvement” as it entered the international dog fancy.

It is perhaps the most pathetic dog story ever told.

Of course, it’s not the only one.

But it is so obviously messed up that any reasonable person can see it.

And it also tells you that by and large, the people who breed this dog in this way are not reasonable people.

They’ve bought into something that defies reason and logic which they will defend against any and all criticism.

It’s a faith-based position.

But it’s a faith-based position that leads to a great deal of suffering– but hey, it’s the only faith-based position that has caused suffering, is it?

 

 

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clint eastwood

It’s often said you can tell a lot about a person by who his or her enemies are.

Or to put it another way:

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

–Jonathan Swift

It’s no secret that I have exposed the dog fancy’s sins time and again on this blog, but generally the main perpetrators of  the crime have either been too ashamed to bother with my piddling piece of work.

Or they are of that generation that has no idea how to turn on a computer.

The only thugs I’ve ever dealt with are the bulldog mafia, but their arguments are so bad that they are nothing more than a minor nuisance.

If I had a dime for every time I got the following argument from bulldog owners, I’d be pretty wealthy man. It goes something like this:

My bulldog is entirely healthy! You’re mean!

Lots of data to work with there, eh?

I’ve written much more scathing posts on other breeds, especially Neapolitan mastiffs, a totally fantasy breed that its fanciers swear is the ancient war dog of the Roman legions.

It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It was created by a Swiss writer named Piero Scanziani (he was Italian-speaking Swiss), who wandered around Southern Italy after the War and began collecting farm mastiffs. As a writer of religious fiction, Scanziani wrote a fiction that these dogs were somehow connected to the ancient war dogs of Rome, and the ideas he expressed wound up gaining currency with many nouveau riche Europeans, who  began flocking to Southern Italy in search of a “real Roman war dog.’

And the Italians began to breed dogs solely for this market, and it wasn’t long before some of these local dog dealers began to select for very extreme traits– excessive skin, hanging eyelids, and massive size.

And moronic Northern Europeans and the North Americans bought into the delusion. The Romans actually had a freakazoid dog with a litany of health problems to serve them in war.

I don’t know who would think such a fiction possible, but the Neapolitan mastiff fanciers certainly do.

Which leads me to the attack I received today.

I woke up this morning to several bizarre comments that I absolutely would never approve on this blog.

If hell were frozen over, I would never approve them. They included several personal attacks on other people who had commented on the blog. I guessed that this person had watched too much Fox News and thought that was how we do business on this blog.

Wrongo.

I banned the comment-maker.

And it normally ends there. I probably have to do this maybe twice a year, but normally I don’t hear anything back from these people.

But not this time.

Around noon today, I received an e-mail threatening lawsuits and calling me an idiot, which is to me the sign of someone with a severe mental disorder or a chemical dependency problem.

The person in question was Anne Latimer Goetz, a Neapolitan mastiff breeder, a science-denier, and a Grade-A Moron.

I need to tell Ms. Goetz something.

Apparently, she thinks she can get her way by bullying other people and screaming like a banshee.

Others, I guess have cowered away from her.

Well to quote Walt Kowalski in Grand Torino:

Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have fucked with? That’s me.

Ms. Goetz has had the gall to ask me to retract a blog post.

For real.

Me?  Retract a blog post?

In your dreams!

This was the e-mail I received:

I have a photo of the internet posting that states that MY image of Magic standing on a rock by a river, is your original photo on retrieverman.whatever your blog is…..

Print a retraction.

Anne Goetz

Centurian Mastini

I’m sorry, Drama Queen.

We don’t roll that way.

If you don’t like what I write, then tough shit, Princess.

Not only does she have the temerity– that’s a big word for cajones– to demand that I retract what I wrote about freakazoid breeding Neapolitan mastiffs.

She has no moral authority to stand on.

None.

0.

Let me show you:

See, this crazy bint has her own blog.

A blog that, unlike this tome, has very little readership.

It’s called Neo News, and it’s very revealing about Neapolitan mastiffs and the culture of their breeders.

The most recent blog post is lamenting the death of a dog she produced. It died of osteosarcoma at the ripe ol’ age of three, and it’s full of woo and science denial.

We kept trying to get the pup back, and when we finally did, his joints were RUINED, btw, he was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia, by Dr Allen, who asked, as we had done, that the puppy be off the concrete! And, she advised high quality food, and medications, and supplements, and the Garcias ignored every one of her recommendations. So,this poor puppy stayed in these conditions for about 6 months. Outside, on concrete, Ole Roy food, no supplements.

We sent a friend to meet Mr Garcia when he finally decided to return our puppy and wait for another litter, (yes, I told him I would replace Blue. I would have done anything to get my dog away from these assholes) And, Mr Garcia met my young, pretty young female friend, and he was so sexually suggestive in his convesation [sic] and interactions with her, that she was frightened. And, the vet records he supplied, were actually, the vaccines we had given Blue prior to our shipping him, to them!!! He received no vet care at the Garcias, until we insisted he be taken to Dr Allen.

Blue is no longer with us. I blame the Garcias. I have to wonder if they are to blame for Moose’s death, also.

So, no, we did not supply them with another male to ruin. And, it won’t happen. Yes, they did take us to small claims court, and we told our story, and the court found against us.

The object of this post, is that we are warning anyone with a litter of neo pups to avoid the Garcias of New Jersey, like the plague.

In that blog post, she blames a dog’s death of osteosarcoma– a cancer with a very strong genetic basis— on vaccines, diet, and keeping the dog on concrete.

But the truth is the reason why the dog died of osteosarcoma is because it was the breed it is.

And a breed is only produced by a breeder. Concrete, vaccines, and cheap dog food won’t make a dime’s worth of difference.

And anyone who tells you otherwise is not a vet.

And it’s not just people like me, who hate the dog fancy, who have problems with Ms. Goetz.

It turns out that she is a dog dealer of the worst sort. On the Spanish Mastiff blog, she is attacked for being an inbreeding apologist and a person who crates her dogs too much. She also produced a litter of Spanish mastiffs, and she found out that she couldn’t sell them for exorbitant prices, so the poor mastinos would be living in cramped cages without enough access to food or water.

Now, it can be debated on what kind of condition the mastinos were in, but I can tell you that Neapolitan mastiff breeders, who are “breeding to standard,” as if that were some sort mission from God, have absolutely no moral authority in the world of dogs.

They continue to produce dogs with ectropion and entroprion. Dogs with bad hearts. Dogs with a very high incidence of cancer. Dogs that spend their entire lives in misery.

Dogs that die before they are 7 years old. It’s very telling that there has never been a dog longevity study on this breed, but most vets will tell you that these dogs are not long-lived. The Kennel Club (of the United Kingdom) did perform some longevity studies on its breed. The median age of death for Neo mastiff is a ripe old 2.33.

That’s pathetic.

But don’t blame the dog breeders, like Anne Goetz.

They are doing their best to “improve the breed.”

By “improve the breed,” they mean “win dog shows.”

And the other part of winning dog shows is to truncate and concentrate the gene pool as much as possible.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone with two or three functioning brain cells that Neo mastiff conformation isn’t healthy, but when you start paring away all that genetic diversity– not that there was much to start out with– you’re playing with fire.

This is the tragedy of the modern dog fancy, It allows scum like this to thrive, when they should be ostracized as much as possible.

In fact, if the AKC, KC, and FCI were worthy of the name of institutions that truly cared about the future and welfare of dogs, they would deep six the entire Neapolitan mastiff breed until someone with a bit more empathy or brains takes the helm.

This is a breed created because of fantasy, and its breeders live in a fantasy world in what is objectively objectionable is celebrated as virtuous.

There is no moral authority here. There is only claimed authority.

And there are too many totalitarians in the world of dogs for this sort of authority to go unquestioned or allowed to run amok in the already compromised gene pools of our domestic dog breeds.

So Ms. Goetz, my advice to you is to find another hobby.

You can continue to lambaste me on Facebook. Among the other things this child attacked me for was the fact that I am single.

I am single by choice.

I am happy as a single person, and I cannot think of anything lonelier than to be a relationship with a person who is totally wrong wrong me.

So if my regular readers can forgive me for my somewhat stroppy post this evening, please understand that the dog fancy has too many people like this.

They very rarely get to me. Otherwise, I’d stop writing about these issues.

But in the face of a cowardly internet bully who argues like a Fox News commentator, I have to turn upon the jackal as a good leopard must.

And do a bit of savaging.

Now, back to your regular programming.

***

Ms. Goetz is also one of those dumbass breeders who thinks that “incest is best.”

Check out the pedigree of the dog above, which she bred.

Click to make larger.

Click to make larger.

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Photo from Robert Milner's Retriever Training Site. The golden is a Holway.

Photo from Robert Milner’s Retriever Training Site. The golden is a Holway.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has come and gone, and like most years, I thought we’d have no meaningful discussion about how dogs might be encouraging people to breed and select for unhealthy attributes in dogs.

However, this year, there is a bit of a viral story going out about how preferred phenotype in the show ring might be deterimental to a dog. But unfortunately, it’s very low hanging fruit.

The story started with this pretty good post from My Slim Doggy  about how fat the Westminster Labradors actually are. And I should note that yes, these dogs are fat, and the behavior of the dog show apologist set on that page is abominable. 

That’s a story in itself, but it’s not the absolute worst case I can think of.

The thing about Labradors is that they are the most popular breed in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and they are probably the most common “breed dog” in the world today. They are also arguably among the most useful dogs, for they not only are used for retrieving game, they are now the most common guide dog breed. They also great sniffer dogs, and they use to assist people in wheelchairs. There are many, many things this breed can do, and because the typical member of this breed is also among the most docile of dogs, they are very, very popular as family pets.

As a result, they exist in many, many different lines and what might be called “sub-breeds.” There so many different types of Labrador that it would take me too long to describe them all to you, and then I’d probably miss a bunch.

Labradors that are bred for the show ring are an extreme minority of the breed. And as a result, what happens in the ring really does not affect the survival of the breed as a whole.

And not only that, even if a Labrador has a tendency toward portliness, this problem can be easily remedied through a regime of diet and exercise.

So if the biggest problem that Labradors have from being shown is that the show specimens are a often quite fat, this is not such a big deal.

And the simple reality is that the Labrador breed is not a prisoner to the show culture. You can easily get a Labrador that is not a “labrabeef.” And it’s not that hard.

The real scandal is the countless breeds that are.

Within that Sporting group, there is actually very good example of a dog that has essentially been doomed to extinction through selection for a very exaggerated phenotype.

Unlike the Lab, it’s not a very common dog at all. In fact, unless you’re a dog nerd like me, you may have never heard of it.

The breed I’m talking about is the Sussex spaniel.

The Sussex spaniel is doomed. It cannot be saved. You can write it on a rock. It’s done.

The Sussex spaniel is the last survivor of a stupid fad that swept the early British dog fancy– the desire to breed extreme dwarfism in spaniels.

Sussex spaniel

The Sussex spaniel has an illustrious history as a land spaniel in the South of England, but then dog shows got their mitts on them and things haven’t been the same since.

The two most common fancy spaniels in the early British fancy were field spaniels (which were usually black or black roan) and the Sussex, which was liver. Both of these dogs are ancestral to the two breeds of cocker spaniel that exist today, both of which descend from a Sussex/field cross named Obo. Before that, all small sporting land spaniels were call “cockers” as a generic term.

The fad was to breed them as short-legged as possible, and in some situations while doing beating on relatively flat ground and in heavy cover, a dwarf spaniel would have have been of some use.

But the twentieth century has largely supplanted both the field and Sussex as gun dogs. English working cockers and springers are the sporting spaniels of the UK, and in the US, main sporting spaniel is the working English springer. Welsh springers are still worked, and they have a lot going for them, too. And if the right celebrity were to own one, they could suddenly experience a popularity rise that they might not be able to handle.

And there are even working strains Clumber spaniel, which have bred out most of the exaggerated mass and loose eyelids that you see in the ring.

Field spaniels have been saved through the addition of English springer blood, and they are no longer dwarfs.

But the Sussex remains.

Col. David Hancock writes about the fate of the Sussex:

The history of the breed standard of the Sussex Spaniel tells you a great deal about show gundog fanciers. The standard in use in 1879 didn’t include words like massive, brows and haw or mention a rolling gait. In 1890, in came ‘fairly heavy brows’, a ‘rather massive’ appearance and ‘not showing the haw overmuch’. In the 1920s, in came ‘brows frowning’, a ‘massive’ appearance and ‘no sign of waistiness’ in the body. These words were approved by the KC, the ratifiers of all breed standards. In 1890 the breed’s neck had to be ‘rather short’; from the 1920s it had to have a long neck – in the same breed! The need for this breed to walk with a rolling gait is, relative to the long history of this admirable little gundog breed, relatively recent. Here is a breed of sporting spaniel, developed by real gundog men,subsequently, with the connivance of the KC, altered to suit show dog people, most of whom never work their dogs. It is a sorry tale, with echoes in other breeds.

The so-called ‘Chocolate Drop’ spaniels of Richard Mace have their admirers in the field. Originating in a cross between a working Cocker and a Sussex Spaniel, they are seriously effective working spaniels, strong, biddable and determined. In the last ten years, pedigree Sussex Spaniels have only been registered in these numbers: 89, 98, 70, 82, 68, 79, 77, 74, 61 and most recently 56. What would you want? A dying breed prized for its unique rolling gait, characteristic frown and waistline-free torso? Or a proven worker benefiting from a blend of blood? Gundog breeds which lose their working role soon lose their working ability and then the patronage of the shooting fraternity. I see much to admire in the Sussex Spaniel and long for a wider employment for them in the field.

I would love it if those “Chocolate Drop” spaniels became part of the Sussex breed and reinvigorated it.

But that is not going to happen.

Having written about Sussex spaniels before, I have rarely met with more obtuse dog fanciers than those associated with Sussex spaniels.

Too many of them are part of the blood purity cult, and the breed is also caught up in the double speak of “dual purpose” breeding that I so often encounter in gun dogs.

You will often hear people who have a rare gun dog breed brag about how their breed hasn’t split in type like golden and Labrador retrievers have.

The reason why golden and Labrador retriever have split so much is that they are actually used quite a bit, and the dog shows require parts of the phenotype that are largely antithetical to efficient movement on the land or water. The excessive coat in show goldens makes them easily bogged in the water, and the lack of soundness in many show Labs makes them easily worn out while doing retrieves.

These minority breeds, though, exist within a culture that is obsessed with the Delusion of Preservation.

Part of that delusion isn’t that you must keep the breed pure at all costs.  Within rare kennel club-recognized breeds, there is also a delusion that you have to show in order to breed. The standard make the breed unique, and if you really want to preserve it, you have to test it against the standard.

The problem with standards is they are like scripture:

They are written by fallible people and by devious people, and they are then interpreted by fallible and devious people.

So these very rare breeds become trapped in the show culture.

And though people are using the dogs at tests and working events, they aren’t selecting for those traits alone.

But working springers and cockers are.

And there is absolutely no way that Sussex spaniels can survive this situation.

No redneck hunter is going to go out and buy a Sussex when he can get a springer from working lines for third to half the cos and no waiting list.

But Sussex spaniel people are still trapped in the hope that it might change.

But it can’t.

This is now a show dog that is trying to be preserved within the show system itself.   Fewer and fewer people want this dog, and fewer people know that it even exists.

And whatever the merits the breed might have, it’s just not going to make it.

And then you have its very real problems as a breed:

Not only is it the gun dog with the rolling gait, it is also the only gun dog I know of that has problems with its discs (a common dachshund malady) and a very high incidence of hip dysplasia– 41. 5 % are affected according to the OFA.

Would a serious gun dog person go out of his or her way to get a dog with those sort of structural problems?

They would take their chances trying to slim down a fat Lab!

Obesity in show Labradors is discussion worth having, but it’s not the biggest problem with dog shows.

Labradors are not trapped. They are thriving as no other breed ever has.

But the dog fancy really is destroying breeds

It’s just that it’s not destroying those breeds that have a life outside of the fancy.

With this going on with breeds like the Sussex spaniel, it makes all the attention we’re giving to obese Labradors seem a bit trivial.

Dog shows really aren’t that important to the breed population of Labrador retrievers, but they are the main constraint facing the Sussex spaniel.

And this is where the Sussex will go extinct.

I don’t know when, but it is almost certainly going to happen.

It’s trapped, and no one is saying anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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