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A New Direction

Poet and Quest

I made name for myself on this site once. I was an angry young man, Bolshie as all hell, and my target was the purebred dog fancy.  I allied myself with all sorts of angry people, and people came here to read my latest tirade.

The truth of the matter is that anger is not strength. It is my weakness. Some bloggers can maintain an angry outraged voice for years and years at a time, but I am not among them.

The topic that used to make me see red was conformation dog shows. I would rail against extreme brachycephaly in bulldogs, pugs, and pekingese, and I would attack German shepherds for having too sloped a back, which I was sure was causing them to have spinal degeneration and hip dysplasia.

Many people came to read this stuff. From my current stats, I see that some of my pug posts are really getting attention even now.

I thought I was part of a movement that was going to reform purebred dogs for good. I now no longer think that this movement, such that it exists, is going to solve much of anything. Yes, some European kennel clubs are trying reforms, but the problem isn’t the going to be solved through shaming people.

The documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed was something I greatly celebrated. I am not so sure that I agree with it now.  I initially thought that it would be used to bring about real reform in the purebred dog culture. I thought this because I misunderstood human nature, and I also totally misunderstood the nature of the modern animal rights movement

These errors led me into nearly a decade of folly. Every attack I made on a particular breed’s conformation just meant that the top breeders would ignore me and the lower tier would spend hours making asses of themselves in the comments section of the blog. The latter part was pretty entertaining, and I’m sure I made quite a bit of money off bulldog fanciers coming to this blog to insult me.

But did it change anything? Well, it added fuel to the fire for modern animal rights movement. I had no real understanding of what the animal rights people wanted, but it seems the most extreme elements of that movement want to create a fundamental change in how we relate to animals, even to the point that we destroy the human-animal bond that has existed ever since some Pleistocene wolves hooked up with people.

This movement has a real problem with breeding dogs for a purpose.  If you breed German shorthairs for field trials, they are as angry with you as they are with pug breeders who breed for the show ring. They will attack pugs for their extreme brachycephaly with the same venom that they will attack tail-docking and dewclaw removal in GSPs.

If there were no animal rights extremist movement out there, then maybe there would be some merit into having a discussion about dog breeding practices. But because there is one,  all this discussion does is create division. Divide and conquer, and soon, you’ll have all sorts of laws passed that make hobby breeding as difficult as possible.

This is not an academic discussion. Every serious pug breeder loves his or her dogs.  They don’t really respond well to campaigns that portray them as dog abusers. And all you’re doing is creating drama that will change little.

And the animal rights movement will make things harder for breeders to fix things. I can see legislation passed that outlaws crossbreeding, which would make attempts like the LUA Dalmatians and the Retromops impossible.

Now, that is the theoretical framework of why I have decided to go a different direction, but in my own life, I’ve had experiences that have changed my perspective. In 2017, I attended a dog show in Florida, where I saw the German shepherds being judged. I didn’t see any of the ataxic gaits that I expected from years of feasting on propaganda.

Instead, I saw dogs with sound temperaments that moved a lot like paso fino horses.  Every single one of them had intelligent, deep eyes, and one puppy that was being handled by an older gentleman who could not make him move out just right had the perfect look of canine joie de vivre as he tried his best to put on a show.

In the spring of 2018, I found myself sitting on the floor of a breeder’s dog room. Little sable and black-and-tan German shepherds cavorted around me. One of the sable males was to be living with us. My girlfriend had just purchased him, and we were awaiting a well-known judge’s evaluation before we were to know which one we were getting.

These puppies were full of joy and happiness. The sable males often would form the three-point stack on their own volition as they played. But what amazed me was how interactive they were. They wanted to be in communion with humanity. The drive was there at six weeks old, and I knew at that moment that there was something special about these dogs.

Our puppy moved in with us. Quest started out as a floppy creature with massive paws, but over the months hes matured into an amazing dog. His temperament is dead solid. He loves other dogs, and he will play fetch for hours. My girlfriend can train him to do just about anything. His hocks do not touch the ground, but he has that beautiful floating gait that I personally find aesthetically appealing. Experts in the breed think he is special stuff, which tells me that no one in the breed wants to produce dogs that walk on their hocks or have ataxic gaits. They want that sound flowing movement and a gorgeous three-point stack.

And the people I’ve met in the breed are the best dog people I’ve ever encountered. They are mostly down-to-earth and welcoming. They let you ask questions. They want you to  learn. They love the dogs so much that they know the only future is to work together and bring in new people. As a breed, they have a good understanding of how to health test and use those results intelligently so that they don’t bottleneck the breed even more.

And the thing that really shortens the lifespan of GSD is not related to their conformation at all. It is related to a recessive allele that puts the dogs at risk for spinal cord degeneration. This condition, called degnerative myelopathy, is a problem for the breed,b but it exists in “straight-backed” working dogs, backyard-bred dogs, and show dogs. We recently fostered a GSD cross that was three quarters GSD and one quarter “supermutt,” and he was found to be homozygous to be at risk for DM.  This dog was as straight-backed as a beagle, but in 7-10 years time, he could be paralyzed, and this is a dog that supposedly has hybrid vigor because of his mixed breeding.

No one has produced a scintilla of evidence that American-bred German shepherds suffer because of their conformation, and because the breeders of these dogs have taken hip dysplasia quite seriously,  many dogs from these lines have OFA excellent and OFA good hips.  I can’t say that about the non-AKC English shepherd, a type of collie,  which is bred solely for work and has a semi-open registry. These dogs have real problems with hip dysplasia, but they have never received much scrutiny from the purebred dog reformists.

They are working dogs, and they get a much more vaunted status in that community. Blame Donald McCaig for creating that illusion that has created this exculpation. He thought that working dogs were just exempt from that scrutiny.

So yes, living with these dogs and becoming part of this community has changed me. And yes, it is profound.

And at the same time, I am as troubled by the hypocrisy of the reformers, who turn a blind eye to extreme behavioral conformation and even health issues in working strains and breeds. It doesn’t matter that real working-bred German shepherds are dogs with so much drive that the average person has no business having one. And yes, I do love working German shepherds. They are great dogs, but if you don’t want a dog that is about as smart as a border collie and about as active that also may engage in protective behavior, you really don’t want one. You’re better off with a more chill show dog.

Every single breed and every single strain of dog has its problems. Breeders can fix those problems, or they can ignore them because they like other traits. Accepting that this is a reality is quite hard for some people, but accepting this reality is the first step towards understanding. Yes, there are problems. And yes, people really do care.

I am now of the mind that I want to support hobby breeders. I want to support a movement that gives them power to produce dogs that are wonderful in their eyes.  I want to be able to have a saluki that is half desert-bred and half Kazakh, even if the official kennel clubs will never recognize him as a saluki. I want to be able to breed AKC German shepherds that have sound flowing movement, sound temperament, and high intelligence.  And I want other dog lovers to have that freedom. I don’t oppose crossbreeders. I don’t oppose show breeders. I support dogs and dog people.

That’s why I am leaving this older movement that has empowered animal rights fanatics too much. It is bittersweet that I am stepping away. I am sure that I’ve lost a few readers since I’ve changed my mind on German shepherds. I will probably lose more after this post. But this post had to be written. I couldn’t live with myself any longer.

What drove me to this movement was a deep sorrow. I missed a working-type golden retriever that I had known in my youth. This dog haunts my psyche. She haunts my prose.

But in some way, I was being held hostage to the past.  I no longer am.  Golden retrievers will never be my breed in the same way again. I will love those old dogs. I will still celebrate their history, but I’ve given up the fight to keep them lithe and wiry and smart and dark. That was an uphill battle that was lost long ago. My prose kept that hope alive only in my mournful delusions.

So I’ve gone a new direction. I am different now. Someday, I’ll show you my litter of German shepherds that I’ve bred from titled, tested parents, and they will only exist because I was willing to admit that I wrong.

The dogs changed my narrow mind.

 

 

 

 

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poet snuggle

I must admit that I never really new sighthounds other than retired racing greyhounds until these past few months.  I knew that Jenna had a special relationship with Zoom, her cream and white whippet, and when we moved in together, she had just brought in a brindle and white whippet puppet.

I figured that the puppy would wind up being her dog, and although I was quite aware that whippets were quite trainable dogs, I never really thought I’d become attached to one.

As Poet has matured, though, he and I have drawn closer to each other. It was he who made the first mood.  A few months ago, he just sort of declared in his subtle sighthound ways that he was my dog, end of discussion.

And I’ve accepted the arrangement. I have found him to be as biddable as any golden retriever, and I have trained him to sit, heel, lie down, stand, and speak. He fetches the ball like a demon, which is to be expected. His father is a Frisbee nut.

He likes to go with me everywhere, and because he’s smaller and innocuous, I generally don’t have a lot of trouble taking him places.  He is genteel and kind, but he is not demonstrative with strangers.

Through one family line I trace to the rugged counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the same counties that spawned the modern whippet as a rag racer. I suspect my Quaker ancestors in that part of the world may have had little greyhounds much like whippets, perhaps to fill the pot with rabbit stew on cold winter nights.

So we are now attached to each other. I have a nice little whippet with a show and coursing career ahead of him, and I now know the full appeal of this breed. Once they choose their person, you are it.  No one else really matters.

And that is strange and moving feeling, especially when you’re used to golden retrievers that are so socially open.

Poet is my little boy. My little whip. And I am his person.

 

 

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erika the red

Erika the Red is our new racing greyhound bitch We do have a litter planned for later this year, and the puppies will be available for sporting homes.

We picked her up at Wheeling Island yesterday,, and with greyhound racing fading away, we’re going to try to keep these lines alive for the future.

She is a very gentle dog. Think giant whippet, and you’ll come close to describing her.

She gets along with all the whippets. Poet wants her BAD. And the Static thinks she is his mommy.

 

 

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One of my favorite films when I was a kid was The Bear. It was roughly based upon James Oliver Curwood’s The Grizzly King: A Romance of the Wild, and although it was supposed to take place in British Columbia, it was filmed in the Dolomites of Austria and Italy.

The film follows the story of a brown bear cub that becomes orphaned and finds an adoptive father in a massive boar, played by the famous Kodiak, Bart the Bear. Meanwhile, a pair of fur trappers and market hunters comes into the great bear’s range, and try as they might, they cannot kill the big bear.

In one attempt on the big bear’s life, one of the hunters goes back up the river and brings back a pack of hunting dogs. One of these dogs is an Airedale, and she is mortally wounded fighting the big bear in the rocks.

In the original Curwood novel, the whole pack consisted of Airedales. In the early twentieth century, the Airedale was promoted as the ultimate hunting dog for the American sportsman. Even if the dogs often failed to meet the high demands for hunters, Curwood would have been aware that this breed was promoted as a great big game dog.

However, except for that one dog, the pack consists of Beaucerons. When I first saw this movie, I was quite aware of dog breeds, and I thought it odd that North American bear hunters would use a pack of herding dogs.

I suppose the filmmaker who made this film, Jean-Jacques Annaud, wanted a dog that could be trained to show dramatic aggression on film. Most of the French hounds would have been out of the question for this role, but hot Beaucerons would not have been hard to acquire.

So for dramatic effect the Beaucerons were the hunting dogs in this film. At one point, the little bear becomes the captive of the two hunters and is tethered near a wounded Beauceron. The Beauceron realizes that the bear cub is that close, and the dog tears after its quarry. The dog is also tied up, and the cub and dog chase each other around trees, becoming quite tangled.

The two wind up tightly fast in their tangling that the cub and the dog are left facing each other. The Beauceron barks wildly in its protection-trained bark, and at that point, I realized the breed was a better choice, even if it strained my adolescent credulity.

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Photo by Alexander Badyaev

It’s no secret that I have a bit of infatuation the canids in the genus Urocyon. Not only are they considered the most basal form of extant canid, it is very likely that there are multiple cryptic species in the genus that need more molecular and morphological investigations to ascertain.

These canids are unique among North American dogs in that they are great tree climbers. Indeed, they are the most arboreal of all dogs. While the raccoon dogs of the Old World certainly do climb with their long hooked claws, the gray foxes take to the trees as readily as cats do.

A few years ago, I came across these images of some Southwestern gray foxes climbing in trees that were adorned with skeletons. I initially thought they had been placed in these trees to attract the foxes to the trail camera, and I pretty much ignored them.

But today, I was snooping around the web in search of the latest stories on gray foxes, and I came across the full story of these images. It turns out that the gray foxes of the Sonoran Desert often cache prey and scavenged food items in trees to keep them safe from coyotes. They use these “skeleton trees” as places where the whole family group gets together to groom and bond and rearrange their caches.

The most unusual photo from the series shows a gray fox standing on a branch where it has placed a dead collared peccary (javelina) “piglet.” The adults of this species are so much larger and so much more aggressive than any gray fox, and I cannot help but wonder how the gray fox managed to catch such a trophy. It had to have taken some guts if the fox caught it on the run, but the researcher who got these photos claims that the foxes do trail peccaries in hopes of snatching a little one.

Lots of research goes into wolves and coyotes. They are the charismatic canids of North America, and both North American and Old World red foxes have also been extensively studied.

But gray foxes don’t get that same billing, and that is pretty sad. They are not like the short-eared dog of South America, where they intentionally live as far from human settlements as possible and are quite difficult to study. Gray foxes are pretty common in North America, if you live south of Canada and outside of the Northern Rockies and the Northern Great Plains of the United States.

I think the name has something to do with it. The name “gray fox” has a connotation with something drab and bland, while “red fox” has a spicier feel.

One implication of the recent finding of the potential existence of two species of gray fox on the North America mainland is that the proposed Western species might derive from an Irvingintonian Urocyon that is not ancestral to the proposed Eastern species.

This analysis was derived from a limited mitochondrial DNA analysis and should be taken with a grain of salt, but it seems likely that at least two species really do exist on this continent. More work from the full genome needs to be performed, and my guess is this research is currently being performed. The article might be out in peer-review right now, and one day, we’ll know for sure.

But there is something mysterious about these little canids. They are move like little cat-dogs, and in the Southwest, at least, they are little dog-leopards, caching their prey in trees where the coyotes can’t go.

The more we know about these lesser dogs, the more they intrigue me. Indeed, the whole lesser parts of Carnivora have me a bit enthralled. The tiger is largely known, as is the wolf, but the mysteries lie with the Eastern spotted skunk in the High Alleghenies of West Virginia, with the long-tailed weasels of canyon lands of New Mexico, and with the bat-eared foxes of the Kalahari.

So now, we must consider the meek and the mild and drab. We must now come to know them, to let their mysteries be revealed in all their glory. We will be shocked, I’m sure

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Clive’s new digs

Clive got a new enclosure, a spacious, multi-level cat cage with his own cushion! Clive gets lots of time loose to play, but having a more spacious cage is certainly good for him.

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Air Quest

Show dog leaps to catch the ball.

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