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I put out some sardines in oil in front of the Moultrie 1100i.  I dripped some oil down the trunk of this tree, and these two young raccoons came to visit.

I would say these two are siblings from last year’s litter, and it is obvious one of these raccoons isn’t into sharing at all.

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nadir

The domestic dog is the most successful subspecies of wolf in the world.  All other subspecies have generally existed in spite of man’s persecution, but the dog thrives because it exists at some level domestication. Western culture exalts the canine, and many dogs living in North America and Europe have much easier lives than many people living in developing countries.

The dog in the West has been bred to be useful. Selective breeding produced many specialist forms, but most of these became antiquated as the Industrial Revolution continued on.

Because of our dog obsession, we began to breed these dogs as pets for the middle class. The fisherman’s dog of Newfoundland was bred larger and larger in Europe and the United States until it was a great shaggy beast that would be more likely to sink a dory from its ponderous girth than ride in it. The great fowling setters of Britain and Ireland were bred so profusely coated that their feathers do nothing but collect thorns and burs. The dachshund outside of its German performance registry is bred with such short legs and such a long back that paralysis from disc slippage is constant worry.

Such developments could have only happened when industrialization had created enough wealth and technological advancements to allow dogs to be bred solely as pets and exhibition animals. The value of a dog could come solely from what its parentage was, not its absolute functionality as a working animal.

One has to remember that this development is not necessarily a bad thing. Dogs that couldn’t perform very often wound up shot or left abandoned, but life for the bulk of domestic canines got better.

But at the same time, the unintended consequence of dogs being valued for what their ancestry represented is that all sorts of weird fads and styles could work their way through breeds, often crippling or severely encumbering them as individuals.

The bulldog, for example, did not typically have the best life as a working dog. Bulldogs were bred to attack bears and bulls– and sometimes big cats, like lions and tigers– in baiting contests that were meant as reenactments of the days when mastiff-type dogs had to battle with any number of fell beasts in the wilds of Europe. In Britain, those beasts had largely been subdued by the time baiting contests became popular, and the dog was bred for the bloodsport.  These dogs did not live long, happy lives as gladiators.

In the nineteenth century, the sport was made illegal, and the bulldogs soon found themselves out of work. They could have had the fate of the modern otterhound, a breed of griffon bred for pack work in the rivers.  When the otter finally became a protected species, the otterhound found itself without a job, but the introduced American mink provided it a possible redemption– until pack hunting with dogs became severely curtailed. The otterhound now exists almost solely as a fanciers’ dog, a relic of a time when the otter was so numerous as to threaten trout and salmon stock and thus needed to be hounded and harried along the banks and marshes.

But enterprising dog fanciers and dog dealers figured out that the bulldog could be redeemed through crossbreeding with the pug. an import from China by way of the Netherlands, and a few of the smaller, more docile terriers.  The goal was to make a bulldog that wasn’t so big and fierce and scary, a bulldog as toned down and tame that a baby could pull its flews not receive even the slightest growl from the beast.

This experiment largely succeeded, and as the bulldog became more and more popular as a show dog, the fad became to breed for the so-called “sourmug” type.  This type is the basis on which the modern bulldog, usually called the “English bulldog,” was formed. Breeding for a more and more massive head and narrower and narrower pelvis did cause problems with reproduction, but as we’ve advanced as a civilization, the AI and the Cesarean section allowed us to push the limits further and further.

Bulldogs were a breed that was not particularly popular through most of the middle and late twentieth centuries, but as we’ve moved in the twenty-first century, the much of the West has gone bulldog mad.

The breed was much celebrated on reality television, and when it became known how gentle they were, the public was intrigued. When it became well-known that they didn’t have that much of an activity level– which is largely the result of their constricted airways–the overworked post-industrial middle class went gaga for them.

Over time, though, it soon became well-publicized that the bulldog had atrocious health. About the only condition they didn’t suffer from was matted fur, and the English bulldog is still a relatively large dog. The modern West is an increasingly urbanized world in which weight limits are now being placed upon what dogs can be kept, and smaller-sized dogs are much more convenient to keep in a small space, even if no limits exist.

For decades, North American breed registries have been dominated with Labrador retrievers as their top most registered breed. The same goes for the Kennel Club in the UK. This is a large breed that is noted for its intelligence, and although not all individuals are well-wired for gundog work, many of them clearly are.  Some Labradors do well in city. Others eat down the furniture in the studio apartments where they are forced to dwell.

But now, it looks like change is afoot.  With the amount of inconsistency in the activity level in Labradors, urbanites have gone out in search of a replacement dog. They didn’t find it in the English bulldog. They didn’t find it in the Chihuahua either.

But after years of looking for that perfect urban pet, the perfect candidate has started to materialize. In the UK, the Kennel Club reports that the French bulldog is about to replace the Labrador as its top registered breed. The French bulldog is also the top dog registered with the American Kennel Club from the Los Angeles zip code.

The French bulldog is an offshoot of that original British dog dealer scheme to produce a nice pet from bull-baiting stock. This type of bulldog became popular in Paris (hence the name “French bulldog”) and Vienna, and it did have a bout popularity in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, when its close cousin from Beacon Hill was the AKC’s most popular breed and the French dog came along for the popularity ride.

Its health is somewhat better than the English bulldog, but that isn’t saying much.  But it is smaller, and it has a short coat and a lower activity level. And it has been bred for docility.

Docile, small, smooth-coated, and phlegmatic. These are the desired characteristics of the post-industrial pet.

These dogs are so much removed from what I understand a dog. To me, a dog will always be a hard-runner who glories in the chase and whose coat is anointed with burs and foul-smelling substances. They are domesticated but not debased.  They are relics of a time when man lived right as part of nature and not some entity that is under the delusion that it can be separate from it.

Post-industrial society with postmodern values has pretty much set itself on creating a post-dog canine. If these trends continue, we might long for the days of the big, fat Labradors that their owners believe are just “big-boned.”

At least the Labrador is still a dog, but the post-dog canine, like French bulldog, is but a facsimile of what came before. Through its veins courses the blood wolves that were first forged into the hunting and war mastiffs of yore and then into the brawny bullbaiters of Elizabethan times, which now lie in this bizarre permutation of an extreme brachycephalic toy with the ears of a big-eared bat.

If this breed does replace the Labrador as the most popular dog in the West, then I think we can say that the dog species has reached its nadir. No longer can the fit, active dog thrive in our societies. Domestication will finally end with this sad debasement.

I say this not as someone who hates French bulldogs but as someone who wishes that we were more aware of what we were doing to dogs through our casual selections for pets. If French bulldogs were bred for smaller heads and longer muzzles, I would not have much of a complaint, but then there wouldn’t be much separating the French dogs from those proper Bostonians.  And dog breeders like to accentuate the differences between related forms.

The post-dog canine isn’t something that should be celebrated. It is to be lamented.

Lamented, for it will mean that our kind has made yet another step toward denying our own basic animality. No longer are these creatures from campfires of old. They are merely distorted pets for our own convenience, no longer beings in their own right but caricatures of what a dog once was.

They are caricatures of the canine in the glow of the city lights and neon signs.

The campfires have long since burned out.

They aren’t the most genetically distant canids from wolves. That would be the Urocyon species.

Reproductive technologies in domestic dogs will lead the way.

I have this bizarre fantasy of someone setting up a ranch in the Southwest for the purpose of rewilding maned wolves. The oldest fossil remains of maned wolves actually do come from the Southwestern US,but the species is now confined to South America.

 

VGP test

The VGP is the highest level test for a German versatile hunting dog. This one is focused on a black roan Deutsch-Drahthaar with the unfortunate name of Laika (which is an entirely other kind of hunting dog!)

Yes, these tests are performed in the US and Canada. It is the only way North Americans can maintain German versatile hunting dogs that are fully equivalent to those in Europe.

 

Almost black skunk

This is a striped skunk smelling some sardine oil.  Striped skunks vary greatly on how extensive their white stripes actually are.  This one just has some white on its head.

Out with eagles

Amazing footage from the eagles!

Also, check out the wire-haired vizsla-DD cross dogs.

The Land Left Feral

feral-land

My roots are deep in central West Virginia.  I am not many generations removed from people who truly lived off the land as subsistence farmers.  They were hill farmers like one would find in the North of England or the Harz Mountains of Germany. They ran rugged dairy cattle and woolly-backed sheep and turned out hogs into oak groves to fatten them on acorns before the November slaughter.

Though I grew up in essentially the same location as my ancestors did, their world is not mine. I didn’t grow up hoeing acres of corn on rocky soil. I didn’t go out with a scythe and cut hay and brush. I am high tech. I use the internet. I grew up watching MTV and The History Channel.  I am a product of industrial America evolving into the information age.

I was lucky to have grown up just down the road from grandparents, who could remember the days when everyone farmed, and areas that always seemed like virgin wilderness to me were actually places where many families lived.  My grandpa told me stories of hoeing out corn for pittance during the hard days of the 30s, of feeding his foxhounds shot groundhogs and rabbits, and of times when there were great coveys of bobwhite that moved through the pastures and cornfields.

I have never seen a wild bobwhite in West Virginia in my life, but I have seen many ruffed grouse and tons of wild turkeys.  The ruffed grouse and the wild turkey are creatures that prefer more forested habitat than the bobwhite.

My grandparents grew up in the pasture and the cornfield. I grew up in the woods.  Their sustenance came from the land near them. Mine always has come from the grocery store.

Their world had been tamed. The wolves were all trapped out and poisoned, and the cougar or the panther or puma or whatever you call the species known as Puma concolor had also met its fate.  The gregarious passenger pigeon and the loquacious Carolina parakeet were gone for good, as were the bison that roamed the Eastern forests and bugling herds of elk.

By 1900, central West Virginia had been tamed into landscape of hill farmers. Sheep could graze without fear of wolves tearing into them on some moonless night, and the hog-killing black bears had been driven to the highest mountains. Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian republic could now finally be realized here– but only for just a few decades.

Sooner or later, the industrialization of America and lure of good jobs “up in Ohio” began to take their toll. In the 1950s, a generation  of hill farmers was lost to the steel mill and the auto plant. Then, the dual forces of subsidized agriculture and the interstate highway system brought in cheap groceries at the store, and all but the toughest and most stubborn farmers held onto the plow.

Decades of rural flight meant that farms were left behind, and in a rainy climate that has always favored forest over grassland, it did not take long before the pastures became filled with brush, usually introduced pests like multiflora rose and autumn olive. But then the Virginia pines start growing, and sooner or later, an aspen colony gets founded. And then you’re back to the woods again.

Much of rural West Virginia now looks like primeval forest. It is almost entirely an illusion. Those forests are built upon the ruins of the old hill farms. If you take a long walk in virtually any of them, it isn’t long before you find rotten fence posts that still hold a few twisted strands of barbed wire. You make think you’re in an ancient grove of red maples, but you’re standing in old cow pasture or oat field just decades ago.

I call such lands “feral land.” When it comes to animals, we often talk of feral cats, which are descendants of fully domesticated animals that just happened to go wild long enough to raise kittens without human contact. These kittens grow into fully functional wild animals, superb predators of birds and small mammals. They live uncultivated lives without our direct control.

I don’t see why such a concept cannot be applied to land, for just like those cats, it was once tamed and now is pretty wild.  It is now home to things like Eastern coyotes, prowling bobcats, and a resurgent population of black bears. Bald eagles can be seen along the rivers, and ravens now drive crows off of road-killed deer. Every time I walk in the woods, I am amazed at the plethora of songbirds and woodpecker species, creatures that simply would not have thrived when the hills were pastures and the bottom lands filled with corn.

Probably no creature exemplifies this transition than the rise of the gray fox once again over the red. The red fox is a creature of the grassland. The gray fox is a creature of the thicket and the forest.

The red fox was not here when the Europeans arrived, and conventionally, it has long been argued that it came from England to give the wealthy planters of Virginia and Maryland some sport.  We now know through analysis of red fox DNA that our red foxes came from Canada and are not that closely related to those of England.

The gray fox, however, is a native an American dog as exists anywhere. Its lineage has been solely confined to this continent for the past 8 to 12 million years, a very distinct and very old form of wild dog.

The two species are enemies. Grays are known to run off red foxes if they encounter them. Even though they are typically just a bit smaller, they are much more aggressive.

The gray fox requires the forest to thrive. When it is hard pressed by predators, it usually shoots up a tree, and its prowess as a climber also gives it access to bird nests. When the forests are gone, it just does not do as well.

But when the land was turned into pasture, the Canadian red fox saw its opportunity and moved south. Because of its long association with England, the red fox was seen as a sign of civilization.

The gray fox’s extinction was event that at least one historian noted. William Henry Bishop, in his History of Roane County, claimed that the gray fox had gone extinct there in 1882. It was a lamentable step on the way to domesticating the county, but it had to happen as surely as the bison were killed off and the last virgin timber was cut.

But if you were to go to Roane County now, it would not be hard to find a gray fox. The return of the forest has meant halcyon days for its kind once again.

The old hill farms now stand in ruins. We pass the old barns and chicken houses and wonder about the people who built them. We wonder about the the livestock they kept and of the varieties of plants they grew in their gardens. We think of the shame that they are no longer being used. We become saddened that the culture that grew up out of the agrarian society is now holding on only with palsied fingers.

But to a gray fox scenting for cottontails along an old farm road lined in autumn olive the world couldn’t be better. The trees and the brush cover its movements as it slinks along in the feral land. Its lot in life enhanced because of our demise.

 

 

 

 

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