Thursday, October 29, 2009

National Parks

Any of you who travel with your dogs probably knows that national parks are not the friendliest places on earth, canine-wise. But there are exceptions.
I was delighted when, upon hearing that Olympic National Park (just about out my back door) was building a new trail behind park headquarters, I asked about dogs and they said yes, dogs would be allowed on the new trail. They are also allowed on an older, longer trail also departing from behind park headquarters. So those are two great walking opportunities just up the hill.
I remember touring the park with my parents before actually moving here, and noting that my dogs would not have been able to accompany me to any of the places we went, other than the parking lots. I was especially sad to think that they wouldn't be able to join me on the many beaches.
Well, to my shock and delight, I have just decided on a short break to the coast (where Olympic National Park has its "coastal strip"). Not only does the lodge have a "four legged friends" package, but the National Park Service website informed me that dogs are allowed on all beaches in the Kalaloch area. With a little further checking, I found that meant from Ruby Beach to South Beach, a distance of more than several miles. Ruby Beach was the actual beach I was on with my parents while thinking my dog wouldn't be allowed to set foot there. So this was a lovely surprise.
Now we're all looking forward to the trip with great anticipation. If it's stormy, as it has been for days, the lodge and cabins are perched on a bluff overlooking and Pacific, a perfect spot for stormwatching. We will be bringing cameras and art supplies to keep ourselves occupied (no phones or tvs at the lodge). And if the weather is fine, or even bearable, I've scoped out plenty of sights to visit.
But mostly, I am happy to see that at least one national park has loosened up a little when it comes to dogs. Maybe more will be on the way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Animals in Disaster

So I went to the local animals in disaster meeting and surprisingly, it turned out to be something of a bait and switch. Though the person from the Emergency Services dept. and the veterinarian did present a short slide show, mostly what they wanted was to get interested people in the room and get their contact information. You see, there currently is no plan, and they want to develop one, and they want those of us who turned out to be the development committee. That is actually pretty funny, as I have twice volunteered to serve on the animal issues advisory council and twice was rejected. But this is another group, and they seem open to working with people.
Animals in disasters is a particularly thorny issue for us here on the Olympic Peninsula, as any major disaster such as earthquake or wildfire is likely to cut off our one highway access on and off the Peninsula. An earthquake could also potentially take out our shipping docks and our airport. So we would likely be well and truly on our own for some time. So almost all resources for housing and feeding people and their animals will have to be local for several days at least. And the fact that we are semi-rural, and have many large animals as well as dogs and cats to consider -- plus a game farm and raptor center -- complicates matters further.
It was heartening to hear that the local hospital already has a plan for the workers who will be doubtless called in to work many overtime hours in the event of disaster to bring their companion animals with them to a prearranged area of the hospital. That was surprisingly forward looking of them.
But we all probably remember Katrina and people refusing to evacuate because they couldn't take their animals, or the dog Snowball being ripped from her young owner's arms.
So I'm happy to take part in trying to formulate a plan. I've already take the USDA course on animals in disaster, and made several suggestions at the meeting last week. But with the many complications involved, and the painstakingly slow pace of anything to do with regulation, I wonder if we will actually derive a workable plan before some disaster befalls the area. At least they are trying. And they do have some good programs already available, such as "map your community," where you and your neighbors get together, a facilitator comes to help, and everyone details what animals they have that will need rescuing, or health problems that require electricity in the event of a blackout, phone numbers where people work, etc., to try and be a little pocket of self-sufficiency. And of course everyone is urged to have a disaster kit prepared and ready to grab.
So it was a worthwhile thing, though not what I thought going in.
Is your area prepared to account for animals in the event of a disaster?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mixed Breed Identification

Ever since I attended the lecture at the AVMA conference that tested the whole room on their ability to identify the breeds in mixed breeds (from video clips), I have wanted to have my own dogs analyzed. I am fairly certain that I know what Nestle is, based on his behavioral tendencies rather than his appearance. But our small dog, Diamond, remains mostly a mystery. She was listed at the shelter as a Maltese/Poodle, and while I can buy the Poodle part, the Maltese part doesn't seem to fit at all. This is a little surprising, as she came from an entire litter that had been surrendered, and you might have thought that the irresponsible people who had let the puppies be created might have known the mother and father involved.
Anyway, I've been toying with the idea of doing genetic breed analysis, and now I think I really am going to take the plunge. It's pricey, but hey, I can write it off as a tax deduction because I intend to write about it. And I would like to prove myself right or wrong in Nestle's case and discover the mystery of Diamond's heritage while we still have her (she's 16 and a half).
I will be using the Wisdom Panel, as they cover the largest number of breeds and only involved a cheek swab rather than a blood draw. Cheek swabs seem to be realiable, as that is what every CSI program shows being done routinely.
This is a pretty new area in the world of dogs. I wonder how many mixed breed people are opting to have their dogs' DNA analyzed, and if it will have any far-reaching results, such as proving that a dog is NOT part Pit Bull. (Wisdom Panel does include Pit Bull, I think, but I would have to ask them if they are meaning UKC registered Pit Bulls or something else.)
Would insurance carriers accept the results of a DNA analysis and allow a "banned" breed to stay in a home and still let the owners keep their insurance?
I think this is an area that will have some significant ramifications for legislation regarding dogs in the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dog Licenses

I live in a fairly rural county. The latest estimate I saw said that a mere 10 percent of dogs in the county were licensed. The county commissioners, at the behest of the sheriff's department, recently uncoupled the license from proof of rabies vaccination, hoping that would encourage more people to license their dogs. The area veterinarians were firmly against this move, but it went ahead anyway.
As I see it, the problem is a bigger one on a lot of fronts.
My current dog is unlicensed for a peculiar reason -- before I got Nestle, the rules on licensing were that if your dog were neutered, microchipped, and had a CGC certificate, you could pay a one-time fee and the dog would be licensed for life. This was an excellent reward of positive behavior, and I licensed my dog at the time. But by the time I acquired Nestle, they had taken away all the benefits. Now the only break is for having your dog neutered, and everyone has to license the dog every year. This represented a huge step backward. I'm sure they're doing it in an effort to increase revenue, but they lost my dollars in the process. I don't like having my rewards taken away.
But the more general problem is general lack of responsibility. Dogs run loose all over the county. I've picked up several turned them in to vets or the shelter or whatever was available. I think one found her way back home via the vet.
I've seen people park on the street next to a lovely shady park, open the car door, and let their dog out to do his or her business, with no intention of picking it up, and no control if the dog should decide to charge off somewhere or attack someone or something. I've even been at a yard sale where a lady was walking around with her small dog on a leash, letting it pee on merchandise and starting to walk away after the dog pooped (I smiled, handed her one of my poop bags, and said "don't you hate it when you forget your poop bag." She glared at me for forcing her to pick it up.)
I wrote recently about the loose-running dogs killing sheep and goats.
Despite pretty much everything in life having changed, people seem to hold relentlessly onto the notion that in the country it's okay to let your dog run loose.
I will be attending a meeting on animals in disaster later this week. I'm approaching it with some trepidation as to what the local authorities think comprises responsible measures for animals during disasters.
Will write about that later this week.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Singin' in the Rain

We are in the midst of our first big rainstorm of the fall/winter season. And that brings up a thought -- do you still take your dog for an outing when the weather turns foul?
Well, living on the Olympic Peninsula as I do, if the answer to that question were no, I'd have some mighty antsy dogs by the time spring rolled around! So yes, of course we venture out into the weather. It just makes the consideration of where to go a bit more involved.
Today, I would love to go to the beach. I actually like walking on the beach in the rain. I like the patterns on the water and the sound raindrops make hitting the sand, and it tends to mean the beach is deserted. Unfortunately, in the fall/winter season, the low tides generally occur after dark. So I can't vist our two closest beaches because there would literally be no beach. I would have to drive farther west, to where the beach is wide enough to provide walking surface even on a high tide.
Walking in the woods is good in the rain. Everything looks so clean and fresh. But quite a few of our favored woodland trails suffer from muddy patches once the rains come. I don't mind the dogs getting a big muddy, but I don't like the hazard of slipping and sliding.
A good choice is our Olympic Discovery Trail. It runs for many a mile, with some pats graveled and some parts paved, so it stands up to rain well. And rain does cut down some on its use, though it seems to be the favored choice for dedicated dog walkers and dedicated runners. Because it is so long, we can choose a different segment for a different visit, so it stays fresh and exciting.
What makes us venture out into the weather just so our dogs can have some exercise and entertainment? That's one of the terrific things about dogs -- we do things we might not otherwise do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wells Fargo and "Jack"

I'm sure you've all seen the Wells Fargo stagecoach used in their ads. But you may not know that there's a dog that goes along with the story as well.

As the story goes, Mr. Wells and Mr. Fargo built Wells Fargo offices in mining towns to exchange gold for money ( aswell as to receive mail). Their stagecoaches made shipments between the mining towns and the cities. John Q. Jackson opened a Wells Fargo office in Auburn, California. A puppy befriended him in the street one day, and he took him home and named him Jack. Until he grew up, Jack just greeted people in the Auburn office. But once he was a full-grown dog, he went with Jackson to pick up gold shipments and deliver them to San Francisco.

They traveled to towns such as Yankee Jim's, Rattlesnake Bar, and Whiskey Bar, delivering packages and adding gold to the strongbox on top of the stage. One day a bandit on horseback stopped them and demanded gold. Jack jumped down and rushed at the horse, spooking it and scaring off the bandit. After that, Wells Fargo trained dogs to ride on their stages and guard and strongboxes.

There is a photo from 1894 of Jack sitting atop a Wells Fargo strongbox. He looks much like an American Bulldog.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nose to the Wind

We are having the front edge of our first big storm of the season right now. My home is in a sort of low spot, so I didn't realize until I drove out to run errands just how windy it was. Cancel the mentally proposed trip to the beach, which is windy on a calm day. Instead, Nestle and I took a walk around a pond. Even though it's a bit protected, the wind was stiff, and stopped us in our tracks once or twice.
I have a terrible sense of smell. One reason is I'm allergic to dogs yet choose to live intimately with them. But I do try from time to time to get some sense of how it is for a creature who lives through their sense of smell. So I did my best to face into the wind and breathe in what it was bringing me.
The maple leaves (the big leaf maples are in almost full autumn color) didn't seem to smell like anything. But the small pine branches that were down smelled distinctly of pine, of course, but also sometimes something more. My sense isn't nearly sharp enough to quantify whatever it was, but Nestle found it fascinationg, so I conjecture that it is animal in nature. Eagles, hawks, and herons all hang out regularly around the pond, so perhaps that was it.
I got some dust from the gravel pit operation on a hillside facing the pond some distance away. . . something I'd never noticed via smell before. I got spurts of whiffs of livestock down the hill. It was an interesting experiment.
Can you imagine what life would be like if we had half the scenting power of our dogs?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dog Art

Okay, contrary to how I view dogs (not as "furbabies," but as wonderful exquisite animals), I am way over the top when it comes to dog art. I have a vast general collection, but a couple of subspecialties: crate labels featuring dogs, Rie Munoz art including dogs, and dogs on snuff bottles.
The crate labels I think is the most fascinating. Crate labels in general have become sought-after pop art. Some of the artwork is quite high quality, and you can still purchase most of them for $100 or less. Most are much less, but some of the best are now exceeding $100.
A couple of my treasures are Collie and Greyhound depictions, both, I believe from the San Dimas Lemon Growers Association (I'd have to go upstairs to check, as they hang in my bathroom up there). I'm still on the lookout for Ruf'N Redy Lemons from the Upland Lemon Growers Association, depicting what looks to be an Airedale (I have a tiny magnet image) and Shepherd from the La Habra Citrus Association, featuring a Rough Collie. (For some reason, the citrus growing associations seem to do the best artwork.)
I used to collect mainly on ebay, but it's gotten very annoying there, as the segment has been taken over by people making cheap copies of original labels and selling them as "art prints." You have to wade through a lot of that to find a couple of genuine labels.
The Rie Munoz collection started with people who know of my collecting affliction giving me gifts. I think I now have a baker's dozen of her works or more, most with either her iconic black dog or a section of Alaskan Huskies, one an Old English Sheepdog, and one a tan dog.
The snuff bottle collection is small -- good snuff bottles can be quite pricey. It started because I worked on promoting an expensive book on snuff bottles (not dog related) and thought they were lovely.
I also have a variety of cigarette cards. There used to be whole lines of dog breed depictions placed in packs of cigarettes, with descriptions on the back. I have some framed and some in their original collection booklets. Again, the artwork is quite good, and seeing how breeds used to look is interesting.
You could choose to collect by breed. Scotties and Greyhounds are popular, Keeshonden and Portuguese Water Dogs are relatively hard to find. Or by form -- metal sculpture, ceramic, stuffed, mechanical, plastic. Or by era -- Victorian, occupied Japan, whatever.
There aren't a lot of good references for anything other than fine art (thanks to William Secord for that much, at least), and that's a shame. Most people can't afford to plunk down thousands of dollars for one picture, though many do.
But the vast variety of dog art out there certainly speaks to the dog's long-time place in society.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When Dogs Attack

We had an incidence lately, reported in the local paper, of two neighborhood dogs attacking and killing livestock. The dogs were a Pit Bull and a Great Dane, and they killed two sheep and one llama, and injured a third sheep so badly it had to be put down. They were running loose in their own neighborhood, and apprehended because they ended up in another person's house and charged her when she tried to get them to leave. Their guilt was fairly well proven because they both had blood from the livestock on them.
The Great Dane was a repeat offender, having killed a llama near his previous home in the next town over. The owner had him put down by the local humane society, which was holding both dogs. The fate of the Pit Bull has not yet been decided. The owner has the option of keeping the dog, but as a known "dangerous dog," with a plethora of legal restrictions. The dog will have to be kept in a kennel complete with floor and ceiling and will have to wear a muzzle whenever out of the kennel. The owner will have to carry liability insurance for the dog.
We live in a fairly rural area, and livestock is common. When we first moved here, before even acquiring sheep, a local free-roaming pack visited our property several times. Each time I went out after them, whooping and waving a stout stick. The apparent pack leader, a Siberian Husky or mix thereof, appeared to consider challenging me, but decided against it. After the third chase, I never saw them again. I don't know if the husky was hit by a car (a common occurrence with loose-running dogs, was surrendered, met some other fate, or just decided to visit someone less serious about defending property. But by the time we did have sheep and chickens, we were not being visted by any dogs.
Would I shoot a dog that was attacking my livestock? Possibly. The sheep and llamas are my pets, too, not just wool-bearing creatures. And it would be legal. But could I really pull the trigger on a dog? I'm just not sure. I hope I never have to make the choice.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Should Labs Have Toys?

This was the subject line on an email I received today. Being a thoroughly doggie person, my immediate mental response was something along the lines of "What? Who in their right mind would be against giving their Lab a toy?" But when I looked a little more closely and saw that this email was from Science magazine, it became a little clearer. We're talking laboratories here, not Labrador Retrievers.
Still, it raises a thorny question. In recent years, laboratory animals have been living improved lives due to environmental improvements. Mice have nesting materials and objects to graw and sometimes even outright toys. But now the question is rearing its head -- is this variability on enrichment details between labs leading to confounding results in research?
This is another tough one, akin to the Supreme Court case of free speech versus banning video depictions of dog fighting (which is now being heard, by the way -- and the justices seemed disinclined to abrogate free speech on this subject). Of course laboratory animals should be treated kindly and given ways to comfort and entertain themselves. . . but. . . they still are laboratory animals, and the reliablity of results obtained from their use is vitally important.
So what's the answer? Maybe there need to be specific guidelines for all labs to follow, so that all lab mice receive the exact same environmental enrichment. That would seem to be a simple answer.
And how does this relate to dogs? Well, as I've mentioned before, dogs are now often serving as research subjects because they naturally are afflicted with many of the same diseases as humans. And that research is made even more applicable because dogs share our environments, in all their variations. So the really far-out response to the question of enrichment for lab animals may be to make them non-lab animals, and place them in the homes of researchers as if they were pets. I realize that this is hightly impractical, as the numbers of mice in research are still astonishingly high. And I suggest it with a heavy dose of sarcasm. But in the constant balancing act of research versus animal welfare, thinking outside the box rarely hurts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You Eat What You Are

The subject of canine nutrition can be a contentious one. Though I would agree that commercial dog foods are not perfect, the quasi-religious fervor of some of the raw feeders frankly scares the bejesus out of me. And claims made on pretty much all sides reach quite a bit beyond the scientific. But what I find interesting is if you truly start to look at dogs at what they have eaten/been fed down through the years.

We can probably all agree that dogs did descend from wolves, but to take that heritage and make it the basis for how to feed a dog is beyond bizarre. I mean, we descended from proto-humans, who ate their meat raw and just harvested whatever nuts and berries were available. Would you like to base your own diet on that?

It is more instructive to look at dogs after they became dogs. For example, some rustic farm breeds in Europe were regularly fed on stale bread, milk, and eggs, because that's what was readily available on the farm. Even some of the current breeders of these breeds say that that makes an ideal meal for their dogs, as they have developed to use it to maximal advantage and may not cope as well with a more meat-based diet.

Feral dogs (or village dogs or dump dogs, as you prefer) have been studied quite a bit by Ray Coppinger, and he has found that they regularly dine on discarded spaghetti in dumps or human waste in villages. They do not attack and eat the village chickens, though they exist right alongside them.

Before the advent of commercial dog foods, the family dog was regularly fed solely on scraps from the human meals. Of course, that was also before the popularization of fast food, so scraps were a lot more nutritious.

The whole area of nutrition is extremely convoluted. I mean, the number of times we have been advised to eat/not eat eggs is enough to make your head spin. And researchers pay more attention to the human diet than the canine one, and we still don't really seem to know what we're talking about.

So it comes down to this - if your dog is in good health, maintains a trim weight, has good energy and a gleaming coat, you're probably doing something right, whether you're feeding a bag of kibble, raw, or a home-cooked meal. And don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Old Dogs

I am dog sitting my brother's dog today, so as I work at my desk I am surrounded by the furry presence of
Diamond, a 16-1/2 year old poodle/bichon mix
Ollie, a 14 year old Australian Shepherd
Nestle, an 11 year old border collie/sighthound cross
They all have their afflictions to bear. Diamond is close to deaf and takes gingko biloba to help ease the effects of doggie Alzheimer's. Ollie has incontinence problems, also eased by medication, is hard of hearing, and is getting wobbly in the back end. Nestle is getting hard of hearing and his badly built back end gets achier as we head into fall.
Yet they are happy. (Well, Ollie would be happier if her master weren't away in Canada.) They seem to note their shortcomings and move on. Diamond now is more conscious of keeping Nestle in view, so she can use him as her guide dog. Nestle is more conscientious about visually checking in.
They still celebrate wildly at the prospect of an outing, and a visit to the beach is still occasion for much sniffing and eating of crab parts or seaweed, and racing in the waves.
As I am still trying to adjust to the realities of my life post my second form of cancer, I wish I could be as accepting of the challenges. Just another time I should be learning from the dogs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

AKC Canine Partners Program for Mixed Breeds

Well, it's here at last. After much discussion, and some decisions that could have been better, the AKC has at last officially announced their program to allow mixed breed dogs and their owners to compete in agility, obedience and rally.
Unfortunately, the competitions have to be stand-alone events. . . that is, not connected to a dog show. That's okay for agility, as there are plenty of agility stand-alone competitions, but not so much for obedience and certainly not for rally. I don't know where I'll ever find a stand-alone rally event within a three-state radius of my home.
But it's a step in the right direction. And the benefits of joining aren't too shabby. For becoming a Canine Partner (and paying the $35 enrollment fee) you not only get a number that will allow you to compete, but a lifetime enrollment in the AKC CAR Pet Recovery Service, the collar tag to let everyone know your dog is a CAR dog, a yearlong subscription to Family Dog magazine, a certificate and a decal.
CAR is a good program that has always been open to mixed breeds as well as purebreds, so it was a nice touch to include it in the benefits package.
My last three dogs have belonged to the UKC simply because I wanted to support their acceptance of mixed breeds, not because we really wanted to compete. My current dog did compete in agility, but had to retire due to bad hips. So I can't take him in to AKC agility, with its higher jump heights. We would compete in Rally, but as I said, chances of finding an appropriate rally trial within driving distance are slim to none.
Still, I will probably sign him up, again just to support the concept. I hope that this new program percolates out into the public conscientious and encourages more mixed breed owners to get into dog sports with their dogs.