Friday, April 30, 2010

Taking Dogs to Outdoor Public Events

The season of farmers' markets and open aire markets is swinging into being here on the Olympic Peninsula. We have farmers' markets in Port Angeles and Port Townsend and an open aire market in Sequim, and this weekend marks the start of the annual Irrigation Festival, a huge deal that goes on for 9 days, with plenty of outdoor activities.
So that got me to thinking. What is the accepted etiquette for bringing dogs to outdoor public events? I encounter plenty of dogs at the farmers' markets and, dog lover that I am notwithstanding, I don't think most of them should be there. Their people generally are paying no attention to them other than to hold onto the leash, and wouldn't know if they peed on a display or pooped in the street, or even bit someone (until the screaming started). The dogs are sometimes okay with it all, but sometimes are overwhelmed by all the activity and totally unsupported by their human, and generally looking for a place to hide. Other times, later in the season, they're wilting in the heat of the street or burning their paws.
I used to bring my dog Nestle to the farmers' market to help socialize him. But all of my attention was focused on him. . . I wasn't shopping or visiting. He was afraid of many things, and I had to be ready to take him away from a situation at a moment's notice, or reward him for relaxing in less trying circumstances. I have a trainer friend who brings her rally dog to the markets to practice amid distractions.
But by and large, the people on the end of the leashes appear to be pretty clueless. I've heard a few vendors complain from time to time (probably after something they were hoping to sell was ruined by a dog), but by and large the public doesn't seem to say much.
I have brought my dogs many times to the open air concerts that take place in both Port Angeles and Sequim during the summer. There, I can choose not to be in the center of the action (or too close to the loudspeakers) and can settle down and relax with the dogs. They seem to have quite a good time. Whether or not the appreciate the music, they like my attention and the occasional pat from a stranger.
I just wish people would give a little more thought to the situations into which they're venturing with dogs. I hate it when other dog owners give the whole group a bad name.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Greyhounds Hunting Coyote

There was an article in Sunday's New York Times about a "sport" in Oklahoma of using greyhounds to hunt and kill coyotes. This was one I'd never heard of before. I'm well aware that ranchers hate coyotes for their predation of livestock. Coyotes have proven highly adaptable to changing circumstances, and dwell everywhere from countryside to city. But they are accepted hardly anywhere. I receive New York versions of the main tv networks, and there was near-hysteria not long ago because a coyote was spotted frequently in some NYC park (I think it was smaller than Central Park, and thus the coyote was turning up on the streets from time to time).

We live with coyotes here on the Olympic Peninsula. I see them fairly often. In fact, I've named one "Gorgeous" because he or she has the most luxuriant coat I've ever seen on a wild canid. I keep chickens, sheep, and llamas, and yes, I've had my share of losses. The first flock of chickens, which I was allowing to free-range during the day, was mostly killed, but the perpetrators were raccoons. We lost two sheep in the past two years, but because they utterly disappeared without a trace -- something a coyote or even a pack of coyotes simply could not accomplish -- I put that down to either cougar or aliens. (I mean, even cougar should leave a trace of blood or a footprint or something!)

I know people around here who hate coyotes because they prey regularly on house cats. Well, if you want to keep your cats safe, then keep them indoors. I know that our feral pack is at risk, but at least I've given them a shed they can access through a cat hole, and our open hay shed, where they can hide among the bales.

But to get back to the greyhound/coyote hunting. It is described as "a regional pursuit that is part of the area's lore, like the cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail." Doesn't that make it sound pretty?

One of the perpetrators of this "sport" states "This is exactly what they're born and bred to do," referring to the Greyhounds. But further on, the article notes that shock collars are used to train the dogs to pursue only coyotes. Otherwise, they would be running after rabbits or antelope or deer, which are actually more their historic target.

The article also notes that the barbed wire fences common to the area tend to tear up the Greyhounds' thin skin, and of course, the coyotes put up a fight for their lives when cornered. So the Greyhounds are injured or killed regularly.

I'm happy to read that this practice is banned in Washington state, by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Their reasoning was that canines killing other canines was too close to dogfighting, a felony in all 50 states. But apparently, Oklahoma does not subscribe to that view.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Animal Cruelty and the Supreme Court

By now, you have probably heard about the Supreme Court ruling striking down the law on which the case (and conviction) of a man who was selling videos that included dog fighting was based. Several of the dog lists to which I subscribe were immediately filled with messages of indignation. People were disgusted that the Supreme Court could rule in favor of dog fighting!

But of course that is a complete misunderstanding of just what is being ruled on here. The issue is actually one of free speech, the First Amendment. As I understand it, the videos were shot in a country in which dog fighting was at the time legal. The videos were not about dog fighting, per se, but about the Pit Bull and its heritage, or about hunting with dogs. The legislation on which the case was based did not specify "dog fighting" in any way, but was far more vague, with mentions of "animal cruelty" but without specifics of what that was.

If anyone remembers the debate about child pornography, before that law was brought into effect, and comments of "I know it when I see it," you might have some idea of the problems involved with vague definitions. I'm certainly against animal cruelty, but some of what I consider animal cruelty is actually broadcast of the National Geographic channel. . . and no legislators are crying for it to be taken off the air. In fact, while I would love to see it disappear from the airwaves, I would actually have to be AGAINST any legislation to accomplish that goal. Because it is subjective. And it is a matter of free speech.

Issues can get rather thorny when two strongly held beliefs run up against one another. Do I want to see videos including dog fighting available for sale? No. Do I want to ban some mushy, non-defined idea such as "animal cruelty"? Even more strongly no. Because if PETA got to decide what constitutes animal cruelty, my right to even own my dogs would disappear.

The Supreme Court justices indicated strongly that if the legislation is rewritten to be more focused and specific, they would have no problem with it. So there's really no big debate here. An unfortunate percentage of legislation is so broad as to have many unintended consequences, and that was the case here. Our lawmakers need to learn to understand the subtleties of a subject before they write laws about it. Then we'll all have more security and less debate about matters such as this.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paw It Forward Day

You may remember the book Pay It Forward. It is from a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, in which a 12-7ear-old boy does three good deeds for others and asks for them to pass on their own good deeds to three other people. The concept has become an international day -- April 29 is Pay It Forward Day.
This year, the organization has enlisted a dog, Ricochet, as the ambassador for Paw It Forward on the same day. Ricochet has raised money for several causes. You can see Ricochet's video about paying it forward at The Pay It Forward website is .
For the Paw It Forward portion of the day, you could donate to a special shelter dog who needs expensive surgery. . . help a friend who has suffered monetary or health setbacks care for their own dog. . . pay for the bag of dog food for the person behind you in line at the pet supply store. . . contact your legislators about how to pass effective and nondiscriminatory legislation regarding dogs. . . go and clean up poop from a park. The choices are many. In each case (well, maybe other than your legislators), as the recipient or anyone who notes your activities to paw it forward and keep the chain going.
You have some time to make plans. I intend to make one financial donation, one community work-oriented donation (boy, do I know a park that needs cleaning up!), and one personal donation, and seeing where that takes me. Please consider joining in. More kindness going out into the world certainly can't hurt!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Protecting Wild Dogs in Africa

I always thought I would visit Africa (that constantly thwarted vision of being a wildlife photographer is a big part of that), but haven't made it yet. But one of my friends visited Kenya. She went on several "safaris," where a group of tourists are driven around to spot wildlife. She says she enjoyed the lions and elephants and all of that, but she was nearly drummed out of the vehicle when they spotted African wild dogs and she wanted to stay and watch for longer than anyone else. African wild dogs are not one of the "big three" or "big five" or however you want to count the most desirous species of wildlife to spot. Heck, they're not even on the radar of most visitors. As such, they don't have any perceived value to the locals, and they are often blamed (unfairly) for livestock predation, so their numbers are declining rapidly.
Greg Rasmussen became a zoologist almost by accident (while relearning to walk after crashing a small plane in the African bush), but he specialized in African wild dogs. He's now one of the world's leading specialists on them, and he's determined to save them. His first effort is to rename them as "painted dogs." Their pretty spotting patterns lends itself well to the new name, and it's certainly more intriguing than "African wild dogs," which sort of makes it sound as if they're packs of feral animals.
His second initiative is to work with the local people. He runs the Painted Dog Conservation, a center that provides a refuge for the dogs from poachers and a rehabilitation area for the injured. The center also serveds as a children's camp for school groups, where the kids learn that painted dogs don't attack humans and rarely take livestock (hyenas are usually to blame).
The third strategy is to try and elevate the painted dogs to an exotic species that attracts visitors and generates income for the local villages.
You can sponsor a child to go to camp for $60. I think I will add this to my list of charitable donations.
(Information from New York Times article "Every (Wild) Dog Has Its Day")

Monday, April 12, 2010

International Search & Rescue Dog Day

April 25th is International Search & Rescue Dog Day. This is a young event, begun in Austria in 2008, but it is certainly worthwhile. You probably have some inkling of the enormous amount of work involved in training and being certified for search and rescue work, but did you know that teams almost always pay their own way to search or disaster locations. Not to mention having to take time off from whatever their paying work may be, and leaving family and friends for however long their services are required.

With all the recent magnitude 7+ earthquakes around the world, I'm sure many teams have been busy. This event is one fine way to acknowledge their dedication. You can find the official website at

On April 25th there will be events at various locations (unfortunately, mostly in Europe) beginning at 10 am local time. At 3 pm GMT (that's Greenwich Meridian Time, i.e., London), all participating dog teams will have a symbolic deployment around the world and greetings will be read out by the highest ranking politician available. Some teams will be online via webcams. You can also find a list of participating rescue dog teams at the website, and new photos will be posted after the event.

When you are thinking about charitable donations, please consider your local search and rescue. We have one out here on the relatively small and isolated Olympic Peninsula, so there's probably one near you. They almost always need equipment and training and travel expenses. And they'll be ready to help if you ever need rescuing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pet ID Week April 18-24

There are a lot of pet-related events this month, so I need to get started on mentioning them early.
In honor of Pet ID Week, I want to talk about microchips. This has been on my mind anyway, as my niece has a new Rottweiler and told me that she isn't having him microchipped because she lost her previous two Rotts to cancer at early ages and "the only thing they had in common was being microchipped." Well no, actually, they had quite a large other thing in common -- they were Rottweilers.
This got me searching the Internet, and I came up with an excellent document put out by the American Veterinary Medical Association. You can find it on their website, and redistribution is okay as long as the source is identified. It's from October 2009, called "Microchipping of Animals."
It includes a section on adverse microchip reactions. They tracked reports of adverse reactions in the United Kingdom, where more than 3.7 million pets are microchipped, from 1996 through 2009. Migration of the chip was by far the most common complaint, with swelling, infection, and chip failure much more distant chances. There was one report of a tumor in 2003 and 1 in 2005.
The article then goes on to a specific section addressing cancer. It points out that the reports of mice developing tumors around chip injection sites have no correlation to dogs, as the strains of mice are particularly prone to developing foreign body-induced tumors. They also note that the site of chip implantation is often also the site for giving vaccinations, and thus the cause of any tumor is difficult to identify.
On the other hand, over the years, chips have become much more valuable and reliable as universal scanners have become available. They note that owners of unchipped dogs who searched for a lost dog were successful only 13% of the time, but a chipped dog turned in to a shelter was reunited with the owner 74% of the time. One of the recommendations put forth as a result of the 2006 National Animal Disaster Summit was that all animals rescued during a disaster be chipped if they weren't already, largely because after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, microships helped identify rescued animals. (Finding their owners in the aftermath of the hurricanes was another matter.)
We recently had a demonstration of how effective the universal scanners are, as Teddy was microchipped in Taiwan and our veterinarian's scanner read the chip just fine.
The odds of losing a dog are much much greater than the odds of a dog developing cancer because of a microchip. Do yourself and your dogs a favor and have them chipped.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Belated Happy Easter

We had a truly lovely Easter Sunday. First, Nestle and new dog Teddy started really playing together for the first time. They ran the racetrack around the house (our house path is round), chasing each other, tugged with plush toys, and wrestled. Lots of fake growling and smiling.

Then we walked the Olympic Discovery Trail to the foot of our property, where a bench is dedicated to my dad. We wanted to put up signs that the property is in the Land Trust and a certified wildlife habitat before an Earth Day bicycle ride of Land Trust properties that includes ours. While we were there, a board member of the Land Trust came jogging with her dog, so we had a nice chat. And then our two eagles appeared soaring not far overhead. They must have a nest somewhere nearby because we've been seeing them fairly regularly, but this was the closest ever.

After having my heart gladdened all day by pets and wildlife, it was a real downer to see a New York Times article that a class action lawsuit has been launched on behalf of Denver and Aurora service dog owners whose dogs happen to be American Pit Bull Terriers or mixes thereof (banned in those cities). The lawsuit is referencing the ADA, and the fact that the dog owners have been told to move or give up their service dogs. Sheesh! Will our stupidity never stop?