Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

bassano pointers

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago:

Why is that people who keep fish and exotic pets are so open to new scientific knowledge about their animals?

Why is that the innovative ways of keeping these animals quickly gain acceptance among their owners, while in the world of dogs, the bulk of the culture has stagnated around a bunch of tired ideas (particularly dominance behavior models and the closed registry system)?

I think the answer has two parts two.

People have been keeping dogs for longer than we’ve cultivated fields, while fish and exotic pets are often only just a few generations removed from the wild.

The best ways to keep these animals are often in a somewhat experimental state, and it’s not always guaranteed that the ways that those who came before had the best way of caring for them.

Caring for dogs is pretty much cut and dry, or at least, that is how it seems.

But the world of dogs, unlike the world of exotic pets or aquarium fish, is very much caught up in some sort of tradition.

When you buy a breed, you buy into a  breed history, which may or may not be true, and you also buy into a culture that pays a lot of homage to those “greats” who came before.

Now, maybe those greats had some insight about the animals at hand, but there often gets to be a sort of cult based upon that great’s ideas– even if what that great happens to believe absolute garbage.

Take German Shepherd dogs and the worship of Lloyd Brackett and his cute incest formula. Brackett was an anti-Semite eugenicist who happened to win a bunch of dog shows, so in the world of show GSD, his ideas are treated as if they were wonderful. Of course,  I doubt that very many people in GSD’s share his views that the Jews were a “superior race” because they were inbred, but many people who show GSD’s hold onto that same logic.

Of course, it’s garbage.

But if you follow Brackett, you might win a few dog shows. Never mind that the bulk of the show GSD population is slowly deteriorating into a bunch of ataxic-gaited hyenas.

This never gets questioned, of course, because Brackett leads to success within  the culture.

And when you buy a dog breed, you’re buying into a culture. You’re also buying into a brand, and within a brand, there are all sorts romantic ideals about what that brand should be.

It is not just within show dogs  that people get caught up in the branding. One of the things I’ve always found amusing about the border collie is a belief that this is a traditional farm dog and that its abilities as a farm dog have been made better through trialling. Except that the original collie-type farm dog was not nearly as strongly-eyed or obsessive as a border collie, and in my part of the world, this sort of “collie” still exists in the form of English shepherds and farm collies, neither of which would ever be able to win a border collie trial in the first place.

A border collie is actually a dog created to manage very large flocks. It was never a dog for small farmers, and what’s more, it exists in its current form largely to win sheepdog trials.

But if you buy into the culture, then you accept that sheepdog trials are “traditional dog work,” when they really are something pretty new in the grand scheme of pastoral dogs.

If a dog person wants to think as an aquarist or exotic pet owner does, then one must be willing to go against the grain.

To accept new ideas is blasphemy in much of the world of dogs.

At some point, you almost have to deny the breed brand and also deny much of the wisdom that came before.

Because science tells us that dogs are organisms. All dog breeds are part of the same species, and special beliefs about dogs– like those that deny heterosis exists within crossbreeds– simply aren’t true. No matter what misrepresentations or jun science studies people come up with, the rules of population genetics still work in the world of dogs.

Further, we don’t now everything there is to know about dog behavior, but it is pretty clear that we were wrong in assuming that dog societies and behavior can be modeled on decades-old and somewhat discredited studies on captive wolf packs.

But if you’ve bought a breed where the people most successful in training it in the past have all adopted some form of  what might be called dog abuse axioms, then to question the way the dog is trained is also to blaspheme the breed.

But if we are to do what is truly right by dogs, then we have to be willing to blaspheme.

And if you blaspheme, there are countless numbers of people who will come after you. If your breed exists only as a specialists’ dog, then you might very well be run out of it– just for questioning shibboleths.

The sad thing about the world of dogs is that rationalists and skeptics exist in a very small minority within the various dog subcultures.

To question is to deny.

And to deny is heresy.

We have allowed our relationship with the domestic dog to stagnate.

Modern science has been relegated only toward a celebration of health testing, as if breeding out genetic diseases within increasingly inbred populations is the best way to manage them. As soon as someone who knows better points out that this is not a good long-term solution, it is automatically denounced as animal rights issue or “socialism.”

It’s very sad that so much of the world of dogs resembles a religion, and in the past, I’ve actually called much of the world of dogs a series of ersatz religions.

One of the things that religion often does is it puts mental blocks when understanding is not complete or when accepted truths are contradicted with obvious facts. In the former case, dogma will fill in the gaps, and in the latter case, facts will be denied or dismissed (often in a vast conspiracy theory).

I have had very stupid people post things to my blog and to my Facebook page like “If every time you breed it’s a crap shoot, then shoot the crap you breed.”  The “if” in this case is what you have to accept if you allow for a certain amount of genetic diversity in a breed– some dogs aren’t going to be winners or have the preferred conformation or temperament one wants in a breed. But if you inbreed, you will get lots of dogs that look and behave alike. Of course, such animals might be fine or even quite healthy, but if an entire population of a breed gets subject to such consanguinity, then the chances for higher levels of genetic load will be heightened and the chance of a real inbreeding depression is almost certain.

But no one cares about that when you’re winning the prizes.

You will be rewarded for pissing away the genes, and it will be successive generations who will have to deal with the consequences.

And it will continue up and until one of two things happen:

The real animal rights agenda comes to power and pushes upon dog breeders a ton of regulations.

Or there is rationalist revolution in the world of dogs.

My hope is for the latter, but I am not holding my breath.

There just isn’t enough blasphemy.








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The too free dog


The very notion that a dog ought to have some autonomy over itself is an anathema to many self-styled “dog experts.”  Many have been raised with the mantra that the dog must be subordinate at all times to the whims and often mercurial desires of man in order for it to live a nature existence. They have taken the ethological term known as “dominance” and stretched it into a kind of “drapetomania for dogs.” If a dog tries to assert itself against the absolute wishes of man, then it must be dominated at all costs in the same way that the runaway “suffering ” from Dr. Cartwright’s “affliction” deserved a good flogging.

The sad thing is that humans are prone to being egomaniacs, and far too many egomaniacs have dogs. In some ways, the fact that dogs can be submitted to human desires makes them the perfect objects for such egomaniacs to act out their pathology. Of course, they don’t just do it to the dogs themselves. They also do it other dog people. I have seen the dark underbelly of “dog people,” and although one wishes not to dwell on negativity, I have seen a lot of things that are utterly lamentable and are very difficult to expunge from my consciousness.

There are people who want to take away the things that actually give others joy. There are people who cannot appreciate an unleashed dog running about an autumn forest, who have never seen how happy a golden retriever is when she’s covered in mud, and who cannot accept the fact that not all dogs like doing what their ancestors were bred to do.

Some dogs are like Ferdinand the bull, Though descended from long lines of Spanish fighting bulls, all that Ferdinand the calf ever wanted to do was to sit under the cork oak and smell the sweet flowers. One day– which just happened to be the day that the men who selected the fighting bulls came by to evaluate the young bulls for fighting prowess— poor Ferdinand moseyed over to hit favorite cork oak for a good flower smelling session. As he lowered his haunches to the shaded ground, he just happened to sit on a bee, which of course stung him. Ferdinand raced around in terror and pain, and the bull fight men thought he was a great fighting bull and hastened to take him to the bullfight.  The day that he was brought to be fought, everyone thought Ferdinand was going to be a holy terror, but all he did was sit down n the middle of the arena and smell the flowers in the women’s hats.

A dog may be of a certain breed. It may have nothing but trial champions in its ancestry, but all it wants to do is something else.

People hate this. If you buy a certain breed, it’s like buying a brand. And if one buys a particular strain, it’s like buying a particular model.

If you bought a car that didn’t do what you expected, you’d return it quickly or have it worked on until it finally started running the right way.

Many dogs have exactly this same problem.

People want them to be a certain way, and they aren’t. They send them to trainers, who do all kinds of “training” to rejigger the dog until it realizes why it was created in the first place. Or at the very worst, they get sent back to the breeder as a “defective model.”

Dogs are not machines, and there is a definite ethical consideration about dogs that simply does not exist for cars.

Dog culture celebrates the brand, not the individual, and it takes someone with a lot of intestinal fortitude to go against all the judgmental bromides and allow a dog to be.

Dog culture is not about letting a dog be. It’s about the dog being as a reflection of the human in his or her particular society. It’s in this respect that we have served the dog most poorly.

The dog that is too free is dog that is to be scorned. It exists beyond our human egos casting shadows into the ethology of dominance. It is unconquered. Still part wild, part savage.

It is the dog in its basic animality, still the ranging predator, still a beast.

And not a child or a slave.

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I am alone with the dog in this old pasture. The September sun is casting light at steep angles among the green,

And my mind starts to wander as it often does when I am outside alone with a dog.

In many ways, I’m a pariah.  I had this status cast upon when I was in school, and over time, I came to accept it– almost relish it.

Sometimes it takes me a while to open myself up to people. By nature, I am reserved and contemplative, but once I’ve allowed myself to relax my guard, I am open.

But not as open as I am  here.

Here, I feel connected with all the biotic and abiotic forces. I am not a pariah. I belong.

Man is a strange species. He spends all his entire life alienating himself from the natural world. We call it civilization. It’s really the most complex examples of denial ever expressed in the human condition.

People think there is an “artificial”and a “natural,” but the truth is that it all comes from nature. It is merely our processes of refinement that make things “artificial.”

But though I am not a man of nature, like the rustic “mountain men” of yore,  I am able to cast off the artifice for a bit. For a few short minutes, I can be Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett– and then someone deeper in the ancient past.

You see, I am engaging in one of the last ancient rituals of hunter-gatherer man that still remains with us:  I am out with a dog.

More than 30,000 years ago, there were people just like me. They were out with their dogs, which were then just very tame wolves.

My imagination makes me dream of these people and their first dogs:  What did they name them? What were they hunting? Did the dogs come when called?

These are my happiest times.

I remember long walks in the autumn woods with Goldie and Kizzy. It is the long fall break weekend at my alma mater, and I have returned to see the dogs.

I’ve come to bury my sorrow as the Senate passes the Iraq War Resolution and descends our nation into the madness of Mesopotamia .

Goldie flushed a grouse that weekend. Kizzy pissed where a coyote marked.

They were natural beings. As far removed from the madness of war based upon falsehoods as they were from the planet Mars.

I still dream of these two dogs:  a cat-killing melanistic bullenbeisser and one of Lord Tweedmouth’s finest retrievers.  They were two dogs that never would have been able to survive in the suburbs, but their memory casts a long shadow onto my prose.

They haunt my dreams even now.

I also dream of another dog, my uncle’s little bench-legged Jack Russell.  He was a soft-natured little dog, who never came when called, but reveled in long walks on the beach on his much-chewed flexi lead.

It was from him that I developed my hatred for flexi leads, for dear Timmy would grab the lead in his mouth when you weren’t going fast enough. Over time, his teeth did a number on the lead, and every once in a while the lead would break.  And he didn’t come when called, so you’d better know how to run if he should break free.

He was a dog that reveled in the scents that other dogs left on the sandcastles. He would smell them them, almost savoring their stench. Then, he’d cock his leg and leave his own stain.

We would walk along the beach together in those sultry North Carolina summer days all the to the old fort that once meant to stand as a one of the Lost Cause’s impenetrable redoubts but was soon captured and put to use in the blockade.

Little terrier dogs know anything about war. Nor do golden retrievers or demi-boxers.

They know nothing of the horrors their naked ape best friends inflict upon each other.

They know what lies before them. The smells matter. Some more so than others.

When I walked Timmy on the beach, I imagined that he was able to smell the traces of Bermuda or maybe the Azores or the coast of West Africa.

I imagined that he smelled these exotic scents and tried to parse in his brain what they might be.

That was my imagination running wild.

A dog’s nose might be good, but it’s not that good.

But that’s the thing about me and dogs:  They awaken within me that which is childlike and that which is, at its very heart, savage.

When I am with them alone in the sunshine, I am no longer the pariah. I am no longer me. I am just being. And just being is the beautiful feeling in the world.

It must be the closest thing to a religious experience that I will ever be able to know.

This banal but ancient ritual, man and dog in nature– Just being.

Lost in a simple reverie.

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I’ve written several posts about dog domestication and how the foundation of modern Western “breed” dogs has distorted our ability to figure out where dogs originated.  For several  years, it was strongly contended that dogs were derived from East Asian wolves and that there was only a single domestication event. Most of this studies that point to East Asia as the place of origin have used either mitochondrial DNA and–most recently– y-chromosome analyses. However, a study that examined the largest part of the genome of dogs and wolves found that most domestic dogs share genetic markers with Middle Eastern wolves.  And of course, the oldest of all dog remains are found in a region that runs from Central Asia to Belgium– the earliest, in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, dates to 33,000 years before present.

How can these different findings be reconciled?  I think the best way is simply that dogs were domesticated over a long process that involved several different populations of wolves.  Mark Derr in How the Dog Became the Dog lays out a very complex scenario in which humans and wolves associated with each other over tens of thousands of years.  For most of this time wolves living near humans had little morphological differences from wolves not associated with humans, but then, during the Last Glacial Maximum, the wolves associating with humans began to develop the morphological traits associated with domestication. These same forces created a general gracilization in humans, and they likely had the same effects on the wolves that were living with and relying upon humans for sustenance.  The shortened muzzle trait, which has been found in several specimens that are over 30,000 years old, is perhaps the earliest trait to have developed in the wolves that became dogs. Derr posits that the region running from the Carpathians to Central Asia would have been where the first anatomically distinct dogs would have been found– and that is precisely where the oldest dog remains to date were found. (The manuscript for How the Dog Became the Dog was submitted months before this discovery was published.)

For whatever reason, the dogs that descend from Middle Eastern wolves wound up contributing the most to modern dog lineages, though there is some influence of East Asian wolves in East Asian dog breeds, just as many Scandinavian dog breeds also descend from the a mitochondrial DNA matriline that originated in a European wolf bitch. When wolves were more common, they exchanged genes with dogs and the wolves that became dogs– and vice versa.

All of these issues are very complex and are often contradictory. And they are further exacerbated with a real methodological problem that exist in most genetic assays of domestic dogs:  they tend to include too many Western breed dogs. Western breed dogs are genetically depauperate compared to the village dogs of Asia and Africa, which have both proven to be quite genetically diverse. Because the African dogs are more genetically diverse than those of Asia and also possess Middle Eastern wolf genetic markers,  it is very unlikely that dogs were domesticated in East Asia in a single domestication event.

Now, what if we had a parallel domestication from which we could compare to the domestication process in dogs?

Well, it turns out we do.

Dogs are the oldest domestic animal. There is no debate about it.

However, the question of what the second domestic animal was has always been debated.  The debate is between two species:  the goat and the sheep. Evidence of domestication for these two species occurred from 9,000 to 11,000 years ago. I think the bulk of the evidence suggests that sheep were the earlier of the two species. The first evidence of domestic sheep appears  around 11,000 years ago in the Middle East, which means that sheep domestication predates the large-scale horticultural societies that would develop in the Fertile Crescent by about a 1,000 years.

We’ve known for a while that sheep are pretty genetically diverse even as domesticates, but the extent of that diversity was only recently revealed in a study that was recently released in PLoS Biology. This study examined over49,000 SNP’s in over 2,800 sheep from  74 breeds.

The study found that these sheep breeds had more diversity than most dog breeds. Many sheep breeds have effective populations in excess of 300 individuals.  The various breeds of sheep we have are the result of breeding for just a few traits, and the two most widespread traits, wool and hornlessness in both sexes, are the result of dominant alleles that are easily transmitted across populations. Sheep breeds were largely not created through inbreeding. They were mostly created through selectively breeding from a genetically diverse population. Sheep were likely domesticated over a large range over a relatively long period of time. There was no greater diversity in the Middle Eastern sheep breeds than those from other places, and what’s more, there was a lot of crossbreeding between breeds over the years.

The study is entirely about sheep, but I think it shows a real weakness in the genetic studies I’ve seen in domestic dogs. Most studies on domestic dogs do not fully account for the amount of loss in genetic diversity that exists in breed dogs. However, almost all dogs in the West are either breed dogs or derived from crosses between breeds. It has been calculated that modern breed formation may have taken away over a third of all the genetic diversity in domestic dogs, which are still a pretty genetically diverse population.

They become even more so when non-breed village dogs from Africa and Asia are included in the analysis.  Dogs from these populations actually suggest that dogs were domesticated in the way sheep were. However, because most dogs in the West derive from dogs that were intensely inbred and/or kept in closed registry populations, a lot of dog genetic diversity was squandered.

Sheep also show that breeds can be founded from genetically diverse populations. Inbreeding is not a requirement for breed formation or maintenance. In the oldest dog “breeds,” like the greater tazi landrace, there is still a lot of genetic diversity when the landrace as a whole is considered one breed. However, when one considers these dog to be separate entities, as they typically are in the West,  they don’t have much. These dogs existed for thousands of years with selective breeding from a genetically diverse population, just as domestic sheep breeds have been. But within the Western closed registry framework, they have lost a lot of that diversity.

Dogs were not created by inbreeding wolves. Sheep were not created by inbreeding wild mouflon.  Instead, through domestication, certain traits were selectively bred from animals presenting novel mutations. Inbreeding would fix these novel traits more quickly, but the genetic evidence shows that most of the oldest forms in dogs predate modern breed formation. That is, dogs like sighthounds, mastiffs, and mountain dogs that existed thousands of years ago didn’t appear by inbreeding but through selective breeding from diverse populations.

The intense inbreeding and linebreeding that exists within the closed registry system for most domestic dogs in the West has created a major distortion in our understanding of how dogs were created.  Dogs that exist within those populations are not very representative of dogs throughout their history.  But the dogs of Africa and Asia point to the possibility that was once there.

If sheep breeders can produce wool, milk, and meat animals that have produced so effectively over thousands of years without resorting to using genetically depauperate populations, why can’t dog breeders?

I think the answer lies in two places:  the Victorian blood purity cult that is the modern dog fancy and the traditions of how dogs are bred. Both of these things have almost metaphysical reasons for existing as they do, for both fly in the face of what modern science says about the importance of genetic diversity in maintaining sustainable, healthy populations.

The other problem that exists with dog genetic diversity is that the economics simply don’t work anymore.  When breeds were being founded, they weren’t as different from landraces. Wealthy individuals kept scores of dogs in their breeding programs, so they had large founding populations. Most people can’t do that today, which is one reason why virtually every breed that has been founded after the Second World War and then placed within a closed registry system has had severe health problems. Further, I don’t think most people want to do the intense culling that one must use to use very tight breeding effectively.  In those days, there was a lot of culling of the weak.

Today, we have situations where it is hard to maintain genetically diverse populations in dog breeds. Crossbreeding is not allowed in any of the established registries, and the blood purity cult won’t allow such heresy to go without fatwas. Dogs that are born through crossbreeding may only participate in competitions if they are spayed or neutered, and their genes never contribute to the next populations. There are some exceptions to the blood purity cult, like the Dalmatian backcross project and the use of Central Asian tazis in the UKC saluki. But in general, blood purity is seen as an ideal. Further, many dogs that are purchased from breeders are given spay-neuter contracts, and more and more municipalities are passing mandatory spay and neuter.

All of these factors are pushing dogs into more and more genetically depauperate populations that, over time, will become less healthy– regardless of what sort of culling and “selecting against disease” continues to happen within the system.

Sheep were lucky.  Because almost every sheep that exists today has some practical purpose, there was never a big push to turn them into fancy animals. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, the bulk of dogs in the West were no longer needed for anything, except as sporting animals and objects of conspicuous consumption. And those factors led to the big push to “improve” them through “scientific” breeding, which was often little more than inbreeding or very tight linebreeding.

Perhaps the best juxtaposition of two dogs that can explain what happens when dogs from genetically diverse populations become “improved breeds” can be found in AKC salukis and tazis from Central Asia. Tazis from Central Asia can live into their twenties, but the average lifespan of a Western breed saluki is something in the 11 to 12 year range.

The tazi was developed from a genetically diverse population, while the saluki is a Western cutting off of dogs of that general type into something called a breed.

If dog breeds had been able to continue on as selectively bred from diverse populations in the West, the results would have been different.

For the very simple reason that large predators tend to exist at lower densities than their prey, fewer wolves would have been involved in dog domestication than would wild sheep have been involved in their domestication– at least in the initial stages. However, over time, we could be talking about a large number of wolves working their way into the dog population, so it may have been a wash.

But sheep very clearly show us that we don’t have to inbreed to create and maintain breeds.

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Tasmanian devil expert, artist, and conservationist Bill Flowers opines about the cat versus the dog.


I very much appreciate Flowers’s work with native Tasmanian fauna, but he’s way off base here.

He claims that dogs are inbred.

Well, they are.

But Tasmanian devils are even more so.

And devils are as an entire population.

Dogs are not inbred as an entire population.

Dogs are only inbred within closed registry breeds.

Dogs were not domesticated by inbreeding wolves. That’s something I hear all the time.

It’s not what happened.  Dogs were actually found to have retained roughly 94 percent of their genetic diversity through the first “domestication event.” However, the bulk of the studies on dog nuclear DNA strongly suggest that there was no dog domestication event. There was a dog domestication process that happened throughout Eurasia over tens of thousands of years.

Dogs are also not “retarded” or “developmentally delayed” wolves. This notion can be traced to Raymond Coppinger’s work on neoteny. Dogs are not neotenous wolves. All of their bizarre shapes come from selective breeding by humans, not some magical juvenilzation process. The same can be said about their behavior.  There have always been wolves that haven’t read the books and have behaved just like dogs when imprinted or otherwise socialized to humans. They are morphologically and genetically wild wolves, so neoteny can’t be used to describe why these wolves are friendly. And within certain breeds, there are feral dog temperaments– most notably in the azawakh. These dogs don’t look like wolves, but they bond to just a few people and are very emotionally reactive. They look just like regular azawakh.

Further, we have all of these cognitive studies that have compared wolves and dogs, and they have found that dogs have certain cognitive abilities that wolves lack.

Cats actually lack these abilities. A recent study showed that the cat species have focused upon evolving for great jaw strength and power, while dog species have focused upon developing more complex and larger brains in order to live in complex family groups.

From a biodiversity standpoint, cats are a bigger problem than dogs. Dogs can be taught to leave wildlife alone. It’s not difficult, but cats are much harder to work with. Dogs normally aren’t allowed to roam, but cats usually are. And cats kill $17 billion in damages to birds and other small wildlife in the United States.

In Australia, cats are much worse. In Tasmania, they are even more so, for Tasmania has been the last refuge for all sorts of birds, small marsupials, and other wildlife that has since gone extinct on the mainland. Tasmania has feline free zones for that very reason.

Of course, dogs do eat more meat, but what they eat is mostly leftovers from carcasses that we don’t eat. Dogs do attack native wildlife, and they are a problem in some areas. But I guarantee you that dogs are less of a problem to native wildlife around the world than cats.

Part of it is because dogs have to learn how to use their innate predatory motor patterns. With cats, it’s an instinct. That’s why dogs scavenge when they are abandoned, and it is very hard for them to maintain self-sustaining feral populations. That’s not to say they don’t, but in the United States, there aren’t as many feral dogs running about as there are feral cats– by a very great magnitude.

When I see a cat, I see an animal that is being domesticated. It’s really a little wild animal that happens to live near people, but now it’s a pet. It’s just like the Norway rat, which is also becoming a popular pet through selective breeding.

When I see a dog, I see a creature my species co-evolved with. It’s an animal that truly wants to be in our space and in our lives. It considers us to be its true social unit, and it wishes to live with people in a truly intimate way in which no other species can.

Cats can try, but although they are not truly solitary, they aren’t nearly as social as dogs are.  And that will prevent them from ever becoming dogs. They will always be ersatz dogs to me.

Personally, if were chosing an ersatz dog, I’d get a pet Norway rat.

They require less care than cats, but they are as closely bonded to people as any dog.


By the way, did anyone catch the irony of a Tasmanian devil lover calling domestic dogs inbred?

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The cat likely died from the shot.

Otherwise, the dog would be having real problems dealing with a wounded feline.

This is what you’d call “a good cat dog.”

Dachshunds can be very versatile hunting dogs, and if they are needed to control feral pests, they will do the job.

BTW, some of the comments call this action a “criminal offense.”

I hate to tell these people, but in most areas, you can shoot feral cats on your own property. My guess is it’s not illegal in Finland, where this was filmed. Or they wouldn’t have posted it.

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Most stories about war dogs are about dogs who actually served in combat. We all know the stories of the Dobermann sentry and sniffer dogs that the US Marine Corps used during the Second World War. We all know of the World War I messenger dogs, and those among us who know of Ancient History are aware of mastiff-type dogs being unleashed in battle.

But for those stories of dogs in combat, there are many more of the dogs of the barracks, the morale boosters, the company mascots, and friendly pets of the service members.

My grandpa served in the Korean War. Stationed in Seoul, he tended the messenger pigeons that were used to ferry messages from the combat zone.  He got that job through the luck of being able to best mimic a pigeon’s call– something someone learns growing up in rural West Virginia.

While stationed in Seoul, he had a dog.

All of the men there had dogs.

Although the men were there for just a tour of duty, the dogs were permanent fixtures.

When a man served his tour, his replacement would take the dog.

These dogs were not war dogs at all. They had no special training at all.

They were merely Korean street dogs that found it was easier to live with UN forces than take their chances on the streets. Koreans ate dogs, and the dogs knew which people they could trust.

They feared Koreans very much. I suppose they could tell the difference because differences in diet change the odor that humans emit.

His dog’s name was Paducah, named for the city in Kentucky.  He variously described her as a collie-type dog or a spitz-type dog. Whatever she was, she was his dog.

She was very streetwise. She knew how to forage in the city and avoid being taken as table fare.  That is a skill that many Korean dogs would have had to have taught their offspring, for at this time, dog-eating was a deeply ingrained Korean custom. It is still a custom, but it is far less common than it once was.  (Today, there are many Koreans who oppose dog meat consumption).

Through her wanderings, Paducah wound up pregnant.

But when it came time for her to whelp her litter, she had trouble.

One of the fellow GI had “taken VOAG,” and he offered his assistance.

Somehow, he procured some ether from the medics and put the laboring Paducah under.

He had performed a Caesarean on a cow before, making an incision through the flank to pull out the calf. How could it be different with a dog?

To everyone’s suprise, he pulled out six puppies. One of these was stillborn and clogging up the birth canal. The other five were healthy and screaming.

All went well, except that the VOAG surgeon sutured her incision a little too tight.

The result was that poor Paducah’s gait became stiffer and less fluid than it was before.

The puppies, of course, were hits with everyone at the barracks.

However, my grandpa left Korea not long after they were born.

He left Paducah and her litter for the next guy to care for.

Such was the lot of an unofficial pet.

But while they were stationed there, these unofficial dogs provided companionship. Many of these soldiers had never been out of the country before.  This was an alien world, and to be in it in the midst of a blood war was truly a shock to their systems.

These dogs reminded them of familiar places, where dogs were constant companions.

They were comfort in a time of war.

And in that capacity, they served both the United States and the Republic of Korea.

For that they should be remembered.


Disclaimer: This piece should not suggest that having VOAG qualifies anyone to perform C-sections or any kind of surgery on dogs.

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