Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The San Francisco Apocalypse Dogs and the Plague

Today marks the 112th anniversary
of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

In honor of that date, I point readers to two old posts about The Apocalypse Dogs of San Francisco and how the earthquake helped bring the Bubonic Plague to the prairie dog towns of the American West

Unnatural Selection by Katrina van Grouw

Princeton University Press
is putting out a new book by Katrina van Grouw that looks very promising. If they want to send me a copy, I would be more than happy to review it! This is one of those rare occasions when I am quite certain I will have something good to say (not many have written more on this topic than I have), but the price tag is a bit rich for my blood considering how many other books I now have on my nightstand begging for attention.  From the publisher:

Unnatural Selection is a stunningly illustrated book about selective breeding--the ongoing transformation of animals at the hand of man. More important, it's a book about selective breeding on a far, far grander scale—a scale that encompasses all life on Earth. We'd call it evolution.

A unique fusion of art, science, and history, this book celebrates the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's monumental work The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, and is intended as a tribute to what Darwin might have achieved had he possessed that elusive missing piece to the evolutionary puzzle—the knowledge of how individual traits are passed from one generation to the next. With the benefit of a century and a half of hindsight, Katrina van Grouw explains evolution by building on the analogy that Darwin himself used—comparing the selective breeding process with natural selection in the wild, and, like Darwin, featuring a multitude of fascinating examples.

This is more than just a book about pets and livestock, however. The revelation of Unnatural Selection is that identical traits can occur in all animals, wild and domesticated, and both are governed by the same evolutionary principles. As van Grouw shows, animals are plastic things, constantly changing. In wild animals the changes are usually too slow to see -- species appear to stay the same. When it comes to domesticated animals, however, change happens fast, making them the perfect model of evolution in action.

Suitable for the lay reader and student, as well as the more seasoned biologist, and featuring more than four hundred breathtaking illustrations of living animals, skeletons, and historical specimens, Unnatural Selection will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in natural history and the history of evolutionary thinking.

Katrina van Grouw, author of The Unfeathered Bird (Princeton), inhabits that no-man's-land midway between art and science. She holds degrees in fine art and natural history illustration and is a former curator of ornithological collections at a major national museum. She's a self-taught scientist with a passion for evolutionary biology and its history.

Ms. van Grouw sounds like someone to meet, and the book one to read.

Dog Dealers Hate German Engineering

American and British dog dealers love to toss around the word "span" when it comes to working terrier chest size.

It's a term lifted from the world of horses, and refers to placing your hands around a dog's chest at its widest part, with thumbs touching and middle fingers at least touching. 

The problem is that "span" is so vague that it covers far too much sin when it comes to terrier size. Whose span?  A small woman's?  Wilt Chamberlin's?

When a dog cannot be spanned, the dog dealers always mumble that they have small hands!

The good news is that the Germans are not vague.  Known for precise engineering and quality construction, they define the proper chest size of their native working dog, the Teckel or working Dachshund, with considerable precision.

The term "Dachshund" means "badger dog" but despite that moniker, the Germans are very precise about chest measurements because they understand that for a dog to be a "gebrauchshund" (i.e. a "useful" hunting dog), it cannot be too big to fit into a tight den, nor can it be nose-dead and unable to find in the field.

What is most remarkable about the FCI working Teckel standard is how very precise it is about chest size -- perhaps a reaction to what happened in England and in the U.S., where Dachshund chest size was allowed to balloon up to the point that show dogs now have chests as deep as the keel of a boat.

As the FCI standard for Teckels makes clear, the ideal chest size of a standard working Dachshund in Germany is just under 14 inches in circumference (35 cm. or 13.78 inches).  The chest size of a miniature Dachshund (often used to work fox) is set at 30-35 cm (11.81 inches to 13.78 inches).  A third working Dachshund, for rabbiting, is even smaller in circumference.

This 35 cm chest size of a full-sized working Dachshund was not invented whole-cloth; it is about the size of the average red fox chest found the world over and it is the same 14-inch chest measurement defined as ideal for working terriers by Barry Jones in the UK and by Ken James in the U.S.

Does that mean European Badgers cannot come a great deal larger than 14" in the chest?  They can! 

The picture below is of five well-trained German Teckels doing a down-stay next to two just-dug European badgers. Quite a shot!

But badgers are built like groundhogs -- as squishy as a bag of water, and in the real world underground, that wide roll of fat and skin can squeeze through some very tight passages -- hence the 14" chest size of a working "badger dog".

Coffee and Provocation

A love story.

A Nightmare Hybrid Agricultural Pest?
The cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), which is widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe and causes damage to over 100 kinds of crops, has hybridized with the corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea), which is commonly found in the Americas. The new hybrid bug could be a serious crop pest of global significance.

Are Forests Coming to Iceland?
Iceland is growing new forests for the first time in 1,000 years. When the Vikings fist arrived, 25 to 40 percent of Iceland was forest. Within a few centuries, almost all of the island’s trees had been burned for fuel and to clear land for farming. The resulting deforestation resulted in massive soil erosion.

Measles No More?
After 50 years of vaccination, measles has been eliminated from the Americas. In 1968, measles killed 10,000 children a year in Mexico alone.

An Ebola Vaccine?
It look like a new vaccine provides long-term protection from ebola.

Drugs from Bugs?
Bio-prospecting insects may be the next leap forward for pharma.

The Bleeding Edge of What They Call Progress
White Castle has become the first fast food chain to serve a plant-based "Impossible Burger" that bleeds.

Mostly Water and Barely Human
More than half of our body is not human, say scientists. Human cells make up only 43% of the body's total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists. Up to 90% of our body weight is water.

The Tequila Supply is Safe
A nectar-feeding bat critical to pollination of the cactus that makes tequila has recovered, and is being taken off the endangered species list.

"The Log" Over Nearly a Year

A log over a creek in north-central Pennsylvania had a camera trap on it for a year. This is "the director's cut" posted by Robert Bush.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Two Fox From a Shallow Dig

Both fox bolted; the dig was to winkle out a stuck dog. Needless to say it wasn't one of my wee tykes!

Obama Says: Stay Woke, Bitches

The Geometry Of Terrier Work

Gideon in a typical shallow pipe.

Dog weights go up a lot with a very little increase in size, due to some very basic geometry.

First, let's consider the geometry of a Red Fox.  

The late Barry Jones,
 professional terrierman to the Cotswold Foxhounds in Andovers Ford, and a former Chairman and President of the Fell and Moorland Working Terrier Club, and the founding Chairman of the National Working Terrier Federation, spanned an average of 300 foxes a year and said "I have not encountered a fox which could not be spanned at 14 inches circumference."

A dog with a chest span of 14 inches, the same as that of a fox, has a chest that takes up 15.59 square inches of space.

A dog with a chest of 16 inches, however, is a dog that is taking up 20.37 square inches of space.

A dog with an 18 inch chest circumference is a dog that is taking up 25.78 square inches of space in the pipe.

And what about an AKC or JRTCA go-to-ground tunnel?  Those have an interiour space of 81 square inches!

This is just square area. Cubic area gives you even more impressive numbers.

For example, something that is one yard on each side (height, length, depth) is one cubic yard, but something that is 3 yards on each side is 27 cubic yards (3 by 3 by 3). The same thing happens with dogs; as height increases, so too does length and width, and these dimensions compound each other.

In the end, it is not weight or height that determines a terrier's ability to work so much as chest size -- and of course a strong dose of desire, a big dose of nose, and a willingness to use its voice.

No matter how much desire a dog has, however, it cannot overcome too large a chest size. Flexability has nothing to do with it except at the margins. Nothing is more plastic than water, and yet you still cannot put a half gallon of water in a pint bottle.

A den pipe is anywhere from 10 to 40 feet long -- far too long for a dog to excavate except, perhaps, at a few tight spots. A dog that is digging a lot to get to the quarry is bottling itself up by pushing dirt behind it, and is likely to reach his or her destination exhausted and oxygen depleted, without the room to properly maneuver to avoid the slashing teeth of the quarry. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

The bottom line:  Few dogs are too little or too smart to work, but many are too large and too dumb.

Sailor, an 11-pound dog, exits a very tight pipe.

I Blame the Women

Dust Bowl on the Hill

On April 19, 1935, the Senate saw the Dust Bowl problem up close and personal

Four days earlier, on April 14, 1935, the biggest dust storm in U.S. history hit the prairie states, pushing a tower of dirt more than two miles into the air, and moving 300,000 tons of topsoil towards the east coast.

This was "Black Sunday" -- the day the wind moved more dirt in a single afternoon than was dug by an army of machines toiling for over seven years to build the Panama Canal.

On April 19, 1935, five days after Black Sunday, Hugh Bennett, the head of the Soil Conservation Service, was in Room 333 of the Russell Senate Office Building pushing for land conservation.

As Timothy Egan notes in The Worst Hard Time:

He began with the charts, the maps, the stories of what soil conservation could do, and a report on Black Sunday. The senators listened, expressions of boredom on the faces of some. An aide whispered into Big Hugh's ear. "It's coming."

Bennett told how he learned about terracing at an early age, about how the old ground on his daddy's place in North Carolina was held in place by a simple method that most country farmers learned when they were young. And did he mention—yes, again—that an inch of topsoil can blow away in an hour, but it takes a thousand years to restore it? Think about that equation. A senator who had been gazing out the window interrupted Bennett. "It's getting dark outside."

The senators went to the window. Early afternoon in mid-April, and it was getting dark. The sun over the Senate Office Building vanished. The air took on a copper hue as light filtered through the flurry of dust. For the second time in two years, soil from the southern plains fell on the capital. This time it seemed to take its cue from Hugh Bennett. The weather bureau said it had originated in No Man's Land. "This, gentlemen, is what I'm talking about," said Bennett. "There goes Oklahoma." Within a day, Bennett had his money and a permanent agency to restore and sustain the health of the soil. When Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act, it marked the first time any nation had created such a unit.

To force prices up enough for farmers to make a living, Roosevelt had the government buy surplus corn, beans, and flour, and distribute it to the needy.

Over six million pigs were slaughtered, and the meat given to relief organizations.

Crops were plowed into the ground — like slitting your wrist, to some farmers. In the South, when horses were first directed to the fields to rip out cotton, they balked. Next year, the government would ask cattlemen and wheat growers to reduce supply in return for cash. Hoover had been leery of meddling with the mechanics of the free market. Under Roosevelt, the government was the market. The Agricultural Adjustment Act created the framework, and the Civilian Conservation Corps drummed up the foot soldiers. They would try to stitch the land back together. Build dams, bridges. Restore forests. Keep water from running away. Build trails in the mountains, roads on the prairie, lakes and ponds.

In May, Roosevelt signed a bill giving two hundred million dollars to help farmers facing foreclosure. Now, before some nester's land could be taken to satisfy a bank loan, there was a place of last resort.

That summer, FDR launched the Second Hundred Days, signing into law the Social Security Act so that the crushing cycle of old age poverty that had bedeviled mankind since the beginning, might end.

Next up was the Works Progress Administration to fund the building of roads, schools, bridges and parks, and the National Labor Relations Act, which enshrined union rights in the workplace even as it outlawed wildcat strikes that could cripple the

And what was the result?

Things turned around. Farm economies began to improve with incomes 50 percent higher, and crop prices up 66 percent since Herbert Hoover's last day in office.

Money flowed back into the banks. People slowly returned to work.

Roosevelt took credit, and the American people gave him credit, but the Supreme Court disagreed, stepping in to say that government control of the American farm economy was unconstitutional. The government could not be the market.

Sound familiar?

Of course, today we do have price supports and market-making for all kinds of agricultural products.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers every year to leave over 30 million acres fallow -- land that supports fox, deer, quail, pheasant, sage grouse, and turkey, as well as scores of millions of song birds.

Social Security is the primary source of income for most Americans in retirement. If you are lucky enough to have gone to college, it's probably because your parents had a little money set aside now that they no longer had to provide economic sustenance to their parents (your grandparents) in old age.

The over one million acres of Dust Bowl land that the government bought from broken farmers in 1935 for $2.75 an acre, is now almost four million acres located in 20 publicly-owned National Grassland parks administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

And in the end, even the Republicans admitted it was all due to the good sense and steady hand of FDR.

When Kansas Governor Alf Landon, who had run against Roosevelt in 1936 saying he had no idea how to fix the Great Plains, was asked about the New Deal and its lasting effect on the country, he said it "saved our society."

And, of course he was right and the American people knew it. Alf Landon lost every state in 1936 except Maine and Vermont,losing the Electoral College by the largest margin ever, 523 to 8,

As for Hugh Bennett, the Big Man that Saved the Plains, he died in 1960 at the age of seventy-nine, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery just two miles from my house. On Saturday I may bike over to lay a flower on his grave; a great American not enough of us have ever been told about.

The Red White and Blue of American Debt

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Few Notes on a Modest Predator

I have dug on fox, measured them, released them, and photographed them.  These two pictures are from my yard. Here's the short story as far as size and food: this is a very small predator.

Fox mostly eat mice, but really will kill your free-range chickens and ducks if you leave them out at night or fail to maintain a fox-wire surrounded coop (not chicken wire, fox wire!).

Fox will generally ignore a cat, cannot kill a sheep, and outside of mice, they mostly live on scavenged berries, bird seed, roadkill, frogs, snakes, and the occasional bird (they are called a cat-like canid for a reason).

Fox have a chest size of about 14 inches or less, and larger weight fox tend to be longer, but not much bigger in the chest.

A dog that has a 14 inch chest will be about two inches shorter in stature than a fox, which is mostly leg, with a bone structure closer to that of a bird than that of a dog.  Look for a small-chested 12 inch tall terrier (or less) and you will never regret it.

The far-and-away biggest killer of fox is disease (distemper, mange), parasites (roundworm, hookworm, heartworm), exposure, flood, and respiratory illness (as kits), starvation; and happenstance (ripped by barbed wire, caught in brambles, accidental poisoning from antifreeze or rat bait). Encounters with farm dogs prune off some sick fox, and vehicle impact kills many others. Trappers and hunters have almost no impact on fox numbers at the national level.

These Designer Breeds Are Going Too Far

Judas Snakes May Be Key to Python Eradication

In just three days, a male python named Argo, who had a surgically implanted tracking device inside him, lead researchers to the largest trove of pythons found yet in Collier County, Florida.

The eight snakes, called a breeding aggregation, were the most found in one place in Southwest Florida and the western Everglades, where the pythons have been steadily spreading for years. It matches the largest aggregation found in the known hotbeds of the central and eastern Everglades, where the invasive and elusive predator has decimated entire populations of small mammals.... “You look at some 250 pounds of python and you just think, what did it take to make that?” Bartoszek said. “How much native wildlife did it take to produce those?”

Part of what makes pythons so hard to track is they leave virtually no trace of their prey. The animals are swallowed whole, leaving no carcass to find, and excrete very little. The only way to know what they're eating is to catch and dissect them, and to watch what species are disappearing from the wild.... The Conservancy estimates that 61 percent of the diet of pythons found in Collier County are small mammals such as rabbits, opossums and raccoons. Another 29 percent are rodents and birds.

“But if you go to the east coast, you’ll see those percentages flipped,” Bartoszek said. “There they’re eating almost all birds and rodents, because the rest are gone. You’d be very hard pressed to find a rabbit now in the east.”

Judas goats and Judas pigs are routinely used to find and locate feral goats and pigs for eradication, especially on mountainous islands. A goat or pig is captured, radio collared, and then released to rejoin whatever herd of pigs and goats it can find. Radio locators are used to pinpoint the movement of the animals, which are all shot except for the Judas which is released to join up with whatever remains.  The program is repeated until all the feral goat and pigs are gone.

How to Go to the Vet

Pound signs in the shadows.  Art by Kevin Brockbank for Dogs Today.

One of the things every dog owner has to do is go to the vet, but it only takes a few hours of sitting in a waiting room to come to the conclusion that most dog owners do not know how to go the vet, and, as a result, they are paying a lot more money than they need to.

What do you need to know before going to the vet? More than you think!

Here’s a small skein of advice that, if followed, might very well save you thousands of dollars (or pounds) over the life of your dog.

1.  Know why you are going to the vet.
The average dog needs to see a vet two or three times in his first year in order to get a full array of vaccination shots, but does not need to see a vet for a vaccine ever again. Read that sentence again. The fact that core vaccines last a dog’s lifetime is not new information – it is more than 30 years old – but it is information that the veterinary trade associations are not eager to share with the public because vaccines and health check-ups are the primary source of income for most vets. If you are going to a vet every year for a check-up, an annual teeth cleaning, and vaccine boosters (other than for rabies, if you are in the US or mainland Europe) simply because you got a card in the mail saying it is time for these procedure, then you are simply being ripped off. What about leptospirosis – the one vaccine that wears off after a year or so? What about it? This is a “non-core” vaccine that is nearly useless, is more dangerous than any other vaccine offered up by a vet, and which provides only imperfect protection against a very uncommon problem. My own dogs have spent many lifetimes ratting and going in and out of dens of every type, and I do not bother with a lepto vaccine. My advice, if you want something to worry about, is to forget lepto and focus on socks lying about the house, stray pills that have fallen off the medicine cabinet, and antifreeze in puddles. They are far more likely to kill a dog – even a dedicated ratting dog -- than leptospirosis!

2.  Be wary of new vet clinics that have just acquired expensive new equipment.
Veterinary clinics are like everyone else – they want the latest and greatest new piece of equipment, regardless of whether they need it or not. The problem for dog owners is that once a vet gets expensive new equipment, the pressure is on to use it – whether it’s necessary or not. A simple country vet is going to be able to handle 98 per cent of all your problems, and for the more complicated stuff, you are going to want to see a specialist anyway.

3.  Don’t confuse the relationship.
Your vet is not your friend – he or she is simply a person being paid to do a service. Of course, some vets would like to blur that fact, knowing that if they can position themselves as your friend then you may come to see them more often, you will respond to check-up postcards more often, and you are less likely to push back when medically unnecessary goods and services are suggested.

4.  Receptionists and nurses can bill pad.
While a vet may have ethical qualms about pushing unneeded goods and services, they rarely feel any compunction in having the receptionist or nurse do this bit of dirty work. In fact, the job description of these employees may require them to push nail trims, grooming, ‘specialty’ foods, flea and tick medications, and unnecessary medical tests. Do not be shy about being very clear you are not interested in such add-ons, and do not hesitate to pull out a pen and cross out such additions on your prospective bill.

5.  Know something about the problem or procedure before you go.
If your dog has a health problem, spend some time on the Internet doing a bit of research. Some problems, such as ringworm, can be fixed with over-the-counter topical medications, while other problems may have multiple solutions and your vet may have a financial incentive only to offer the most expensive. The more you know going in, the better armed you will be as an advocate for your dog and yourself.

6.  Avoid junk-billing and upcoding.
What’s junk billing? Annual vaccines are junk billing, and so too are tests for Lyme disease in asymptomatic dogs. What’s upcoding? It’s simply taking a modest health issue or incidence and inflating it into a big bill. For example, after a routine spay-neuter, does your vet want to keep the dog overnight? Why? Is someone going to be at the vet’s surgery all night long? In most cases, the answer is ‘no’. Your dog will do just as well - and get much better monitoring - if he or she simply comes home with you and spends the night in a crate.

7.  Every limp and lump is not a cause for panic.
Go to any emergency vet on a weekend, and you are sure to find several people in the waiting room who have come in for expensive care for very minor problems. But every limp and lump is not a cause for panic. Most canine limps are caused by the same thing as most human limps – a pulled or strained muscle that will self-correct with rest and time. As for lumps, most are simple cysts or non-malignant tumours – no reason to rush to an emergency vet on a weekend.

8.  Ask for a prescription for a generic medication, and buy that medication at a pharmacy.
Many of the medications we give our dogs were made for humans, many are available in generic form, and most can be acquired for very little cost from your local pharmacy. If your vet will not write a prescription or charges extra for it, change vets and tell them why!

9.  Know how to say “no” and be prepared to say it.
The more you know about your dog’s health, the better prepared you will be to have a sensible discussion, and the more empowered you will feel when it’s time to say “no”. Of course, pushing back is easier said that done! The trick, I find, is to know how to push back. If the vet is pushing a new round of vaccines on your adult dog, tell him you have read Ron Schulz’s work on vaccines (he is a world authority) and surely the vet knows that vaccines in adult dogs that have gotten all their puppy shots are not needed? You may be surprised at how quickly those vaccine charges wither away after that!   Teeth cleaning? Sure, but not every year – once every three or four years after the age of five. An overnight stay? Why does he think his surgery will provide more attentive care than you will at home? Other tests are recommended? Why does he think they are necessary?   Really?  And what will happen differently based on what he/she finds.  Is the test actually more expensive than the treatement which otherwise causes no harm?  In fact, that is often the case, especially if the vet is asking you to come for a test for something like worms ($90 or more just for the visit), while treatment is less than a dollar with over-the-counter medications that do the dog no harm.

Of course, all of this advice is predicated on the fact that you have not acquired a dog that is a complete and utter health wreck, requiring constant attention for a chronic problem.

Vets, of course, do not see such animals as problems, but as business opportunities.

In the world of veterinary care, the breathing problems of Bulldogs, the eye problems of Pugs, the cancer problems in Bernese Mountain Dogs, the wrecked hips of German Shepherds, and the collapsing hearts of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, are what help put a new wing on the house.

No wonder, then, that in half a lifetime of going to vet clinics, I have yet to see a pamphlet on diseased, defective, and deformed breeds to avoid.

Where’s the money in that advice?

This article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Dogs Today.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Fox and Terrier Size Comparison

With working terriers, chest size is what matters most. The dog, above is my BIG terrier at 12 pounds and 10 inches tall.  The wee bitch is 10.75 inches but lighter, coming in at only 9 pounds.  My perfect dog is 11 inches and 11 pounds.

Fox in the Bamboo Grove

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bald Eagles on the Nest

The babies are growing fast.  We had three, but it looks like we may have lost one, probably due to fratricide.

Wildlife in the Back Yard

A rabbit on the path down by the pond. We don''t get a lot of rabbits in the yard as there is not much for them to eat, and the fox population is pretty thick.  My property is only a half acre, in a very urban suburb, so the fact that we have so much about speaks to value of the many small woods in this part of the County.

Deer and raccoon have nothing to fear from fox.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Bottle Necks, Sire Selection, and Disease

The University of California at Davis
has a nice post entitled How a Genetic Mutation From 1 Bull Caused the Loss of Half a Million Calves Worldwide

A bull born in 1962, by the name of Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief, produced 16,000 daughters, 500,000 granddaughters, and more than 2 million great-granddaughters. His sons were also popular sires.

As a result, Chief’s chromosomes account for almost 14 percent of the genome in the current Holstein population in the United States. It seems Chief was the source of a haplotype (a group of genes that are inherited from one parent) on chromosome 5 of Holstein cows that was associated with lower fertility rates and embryo loss.

Because Chief was such a popular sire, his genes alone were responsible for over 100,000 cumulative Holstein calf losses over 30 years in the United States alone, and about half a million worldwide.

What does this have to do with dogs?
A bit. As I noted on a post on this blog more that a decade ago:

When pressed about the poor genetic quality of today's "pure bred" dogs, most Kennel Club breeders parrot the Kennel Club apologia: "We only register dogs, we don't breed them."

In fact, the line is pure bunk.

The Kennel Club does far more than register dogs -- it sets the rules that guarantee more and more dogs will suffer serious (and often painful) genetic problems.

The problem, in a nutshell, is the closed registry system.

With all Kennel Club breeds, the "founding stock" has always been small in number, and often fairly inbred going in, since breed creation is a product of inbreeding and line breeding to "set" the look of a dog.

Because a closed registry never adds new blood, it becomes progressively more inbred over time.

Genetic diversity is never increased in the Kennel Club -- it is only reduced. In practice, it is often reduced quite rapidly due to the fact that show-winning males are in great demand to "cover" as many bitches as possible -- the so-called "popular sire effect."....

How did the Kennel Club come to embrace a closed registry, and why does it maintain this system?

The adoption of a "closed registry" by the Kennel Club is an artifact of its history, while the continuation of this practice is driven by the economics of dog breeding and the political construct of the Kennel Club.

The Kennel Club was created in Victorian England in 1873, at a time when new theories about genetics were being promulgated by learned men who did not yet have a very good idea of what was going on in the natural world.

As noted in American Working Terriers, the "speciation" of domestic breeds of livestock began with the work of Robert Bakewell in the 18th Century, and the control of sires. Bakewell's work helped speed the rise of the Enclosure Movement, which in turn led to large estates, fox hunting, and the rise of terrier work.

Bakewell had no real knowledge of scientific genetics, and his breeding program was largely limited to the control of sires (made easier by enclosures) and the admonition that "like begats like" and that success was to be found by "breeding the best to the best".

The first stud book to document the breeding of animals was the General Stud Book of 1791 which tracked a small pool of racing horses. A stud book for Shorthorn Cattle was produced in 1822.

As more and more farmers followed the tenets of Robert Bakewell, sire selection became increasingly prevalent and inbreeding and line breeding more common. By selecting the best beef and milk producers, and pairing them, rapid improvements in cattle breeds were made. 

What was different with farmers, than with dogs, however, was that down on the farm there was a clear axis of production.

Farmers inbreeding animals for improvement began to notice that fertility rates began to drop after a few generations. In some lines disease popped up, or defects such as weak hocks appeared. Inbred animals were not better if they remained increasingly inbred, and so hybrids or out-crosses began to become the rule.

Because farm herds are large and often kept by families for generations, farmers were able to "tease out" data indicating drops in production, increases in mortality, declining fecundity, and a steady rise in disease and illness.

Inbreeding, which had initially boosted production, now appeared to be reducing it.

Because farmers had a clear "steak and eggs" axis for evaluation of stock, they were ready and willing to outcross to achieve the best results for their needs and their land. Consumers, after all, do not much care what breed of chicken their eggs come from, or what "champion" bull sired their steak.

Through experimentation, farmers discovered that outcrosses and hybrids of two "pure" types produce as well or better, while remaining more disease resistant, more fecund, and longer-lived than deeply homogeneous stock.

What may appear to be a pure Angus (the most common breed of beef cattle in the world) is likely to have a wide variety of cattle genes coursing through its system. In fact, entire breeds of cattle are now kept solely for their outcross potential. On today's farms the cattle in the field may be Brangus (Brahman-Angus crosses), Braford (Brahmam-Hereford crosses), Beefmasters (a cross of Hereford, Shorthorn and Brahman), or any other combination or mix.

And so, once again, man learns and forgets, learns and forgets, but slowly, slowly we make progress.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pet Insurance for Dummies? Not Necessarily...

Among caring and intelligent dog owners, there is no debate about pet insurance:

Get some.

Having said that, do not misunderstand what I am saying.

I am NOT saying you should rush out and get corporate for-profit pet insurance.

In fact I have not done so, and I will not do so.

Instead, I have self-insured my dogs with a dedicated bank account.

Of course, most people have no discipline. For these people, and for those who are young and/or of limited means, for-profit pet insurance might be the right idea.

But it might not be too.

Why the hedge?

Simple: If you think human insurance is confusing and poorly regulated, I can assure you pet insurance is far worse.

As Consumer Reports notes in an article entitled Why Pet Insurance Is Usually a Dog:

The most important thing you need to know about pet insurance is that it is a form of enforced savings that almost never covers the entire bill. You can accomplish the same thing by paying the same monthly premium to your savings account.

The advantage: If your pet has little cause to visit a vet beyond annual checkups, the amount saved belongs to you, not an insurance company. The risk, of course, is if you run into unusually expensive veterinary needs...

The problem with pet insurance is all in its fine-print pitfalls. Indeed, buying a policy may end up increasing a pet owner's total expenditures on veterinary care by thousands of dollars, according to our analysis of five plans. That's because on top of deductibles required by all the insurers, plus any co-pays, un-reimbursed costs, and exclusions -- all of which you pay out-of-pocket -- you also pay premiums. Seemingly small $11 to $50 per-month premiums can add up to $2,000 to $6,000 or more over a pet's lifetime.

See the entire article to see how pet insurance plans make money, on average, by costing pet owners more money, on average.

To summarize the Consumer Reports example:

"Lucky" had 9 claims over 11 years -- a broken leg, an ear infection, a cut requiring stitches, an eye infection, hypothyroidism requiring years of drug claims, and a torn knee ligament. Total cost of care: $3,301. The insurance plans below would have cost Lucky's owners an extra $497 to $3,380 for care.

Wow. That sure sounds like pet insurance is the wrong idea.

But it's not that simple in the real world.

You see people are involved, and people are often a problem.

In the real world, as noted before, pet insurance may make sense if you are poor, young or (let's admit our personal weaknesses here, eh?) undisciplined.

Here's a test:

Do you have $2,000 cash in the bank right now, from which you could draw to fix your car's brakes and transmission? And NO, you cannot use a credit card or liquidate a portion of your 401-K to fix your car. Do you have the CASH?

Do you have $5,000 in the bank, right now, to pay for an emergency home repair (a new roof, a new boiler, or a new air conditioning system)? No, you cannot use a credit card or liquidate a portion of your 401-K. Do you have the CASH?

If your answer to these questions is NO, then you need pet insurance, because you do not have enough discipline to cover YOUR OWN emergency needs, right now, much less your dog's.

And the good new for your dog, is that while you cannot buy discipline, you can rent it .... for a price.

You might notice that the poor and undisciplined are going to pay more, and probably get less, than those who save and have cash on hand.

Yes, that's right.

As a general rule, the poor and undisciplined also have bad credit, need to borrow more, pay higher interest rates, and are more likely to pay the minimum on their credit cards as well.

Not for nothing does the Bible say the poor will always be with us.

The good news is that while you are the problem, you are also the solution.

All you need is discipline. Get some. It's the cheapest kind of canine health insurance there is.

When Shelter Workers are the Problem

The single greatest reason
so many dogs in shelters are killed is that shelters do a very poor job of trying to rehome dogs.

This is not just my opinion; it has been demonstrated time and time again by the folks in the No Kill movement, who always see a decline in killing, and an increase in dog adoptions, when real effort is put into lowering barriers, increasing advertising, taking better pictures, telling better stories about the dogs, and doing even the most rudimentary training.

And yet, as Dana McMahann notes in an article for NBC news, too often what folks face when they visit a rescue are black and white rules that seem divorced from reality or experience:

Katie (first name only used at her request), a longtime dog parent in Indiana, wanted to adopt a dog after her family's passed away. She went to a local rescue specializing in Labs and Golden Retrievers, the breeds her husband had while growing up.

"The application itself was eight pages long," she told NBC. "It asked some normal questions, like my background owning a pet. It also asked about any medical conditions we had, whether we were planning on having children, what our jobs were, and what our schedules were like. I thought those were a bit much, but I answered them."

Their application was rejected. Why? "The staff member told me it was because I was not 'a stay-at-home puppy parent,'" Katie said. "If we wanted to adopt a dog from this organization, I had to quit my job. That seems rather impractical, especially if we're going to be paying for dog food and vet bills."

So what's the solution?

From a prospective pet owner's side of the table, it's to simply go elsewhere; find a rescue where the folks in charge are actually trying to have a conversation, and are not on a power trip. And, to be honest, it is a power trip for some folks on the rescue side, many of whom actually know very little about dogs and are leaning on artificial check lists removed from reality as a consequence.

On the rescue side, not only do the hours of shelter operation need to conform to the real human schedules of prospective adopters, but so too does some nod be given to reality. People have jobs, not every yard has to be hard fenced (dogs have done fine on slide cable runs for a 100 years), and many of the folks coming to a shelter are not new to dog ownership.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

New Head of Humane Society Is Named Kitty?

The new head of the Humane Society of the U.S. is named Kitty Block, and that's not even the funny part

The funny part (as in strange, not laugh-riot) is that she sued HSUS for sexual harassment and financial impropriety more than 20 years ago.

Kitty Block replaces Wayne Pacelle as president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle, of course, had been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.

Ms. Block is being asked to make a lot of changes by major donors, including getting rid of anyone on the board who stood for Pacelle, including the Chairman of the Board. 

That does not look like that is going to happen, however.

The main problem at HSUS, of course, is the core business of the organization.  It's not about animals; it's about direct mail.  This is a direct mail mill with a long history of self-dealing and financial chicanery. 

Can Block fix that without killing the organization?  Probably not.

To be clear, this is not a new story.  More than twenty years ago HSUS was struggling with stories about executives getting free rent, big mortgage loans, and massive salary increases even as they paid prostitutes with donor dollars:

The society focuses on animal lovers, including "people living on fixed incomes," said Sam Bowman, a New York investment banker. Bowman left the society's board in 1988 after a bitter dispute, which remained largely internal, over some of the financial issues now resurfacing. "These appeals come in about animal abuse, and they send in $5 or $10," Bowman said. "And then it goes out in ways that one can't account for."

Yep, and that's still going on.  How many nonprofit organizations do you know that have had to pay over $15 million to settle a RICO lawsuit?

Who the Hell is Michael D. Cohen?

A year ago, I had lunch with a top producer at CNN, and I explained that Michael D. Cohen was the key to everything. His reply: Who the hell is Michael D. Cohen?

My reply: Exactly.

About a month later, I got around to writing it all down as a blog post which makes interesting reading this morning.

Coffee and Provocation

Men Want This
Men want more birth control options, and those could be coming in the next decade. A pill, a gel, and a nonsurgical vasectomy are making their way through clinical trials.

Bullet Proof Plants?
Scientists are making light-weight carbon fiber from agricultural plant waste instead of petroleum. That could change everything from cars and airplanes, to wind turbines.

Bathroom Hand Dryers
Hot-air handy dryers in bathroom suck in bathroom bacteria and shoot them straight at your hands.

Hans Rosling Was Wonderful
Hans Rosling's last book, Factfulness, is a reminder of how great he was (and is).

The Guns Came From Where?
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed an executive order directing his state to release a report every three months listing the states that are the source of guns used in crimes in New Jersey.  I suspect that Virginia will always lead the list.

Artificial Reefs Pay Dividends
Anglers catch 30% of the Gulf's Red Snapper in Alabama, despite the fact that that state has only 53 miles of coastline. The reason: Alabama has more than 1,000 square miles of designated artificial reef zones.

Vampire Bats in the US?
Vampire bats from Mexico and Central America are moving north thanks to warming weather, and may soon establish a toe-hold in Texas and Florida.

Arboreal Jaguars?
Researchers have discovered Jaguars living in trees without touching ground for months on end when the Amazon rainforest floods.

An Inordinate Fondness for Wasps
It seems that every species of insect is targeted by at least one species of parasitic wasp.

Okay, OK
This place exists and it's growing.

Ironic Flames
No one really knows who invented the fire hydrant, as its patent was destroyed in a fire at the U.S. Patent Office in 1836.

Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates

Life is like a box of chocolates.... It kills you.

Monday, April 09, 2018

A Metaphor for Our Times

Kids continue playing basketball as a building burns near them. East Harlem, New York City, 1975

Donald Trump Killed someone on Fifth Avenue earlier this week and no one even asked about it at the White House press briefing.

From The New York Times:

Todd Brassner, who died in a fire at Trump Tower on Saturday, loved fast cars, electric guitars, expensive watches and making long, erudite pronouncements about art and art history. He was an art dealer with health problems and a 2015 bankruptcy that listed his apartment as the location of more than $3 million worth of artwork and other collectibles, including a 1975 portrait of Mr. Brassner painted by Andy Warhol.

Friends of Mr. Brassner said he had been trying to move since the election of President Trump in 2016, which brought increased security and activity to the building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, but he could not sell his 50th-floor apartment, which he estimated to be worth $2.5 million in 2015.

“It haunts me,” said Stephen Dwire, 67, a musician and music producer who had been friends with Mr. Brassner since they were 14-year-olds in Harrison, N.Y., in Westchester County. “He said, ‘This is getting untenable,’” Mr. Dwire said. “It was like living in an armed camp. But when people heard it was a Trump building, he couldn’t give it away.”

Mr. Brassner, 67, lived alone amid a collection of about 100 vintage electric guitars, 40 guitar amplifiers dating to the 1930s, 150 ukuleles and artwork by Robert Indiana, Mati Klarwein, Jack Kerouac and others.

Trump personally lobbied and bought off politicians so that his building did not have to have sprinklers. He said he couldn’t afford them.

Happy Birthday Tom Lehrer

Mathematician Tom Lehrer found minor fortune and considerable fame as a satirist singing comedic songs. He is 90 years old today.

Defeating Treason and Hate

America's largest group of traitors and haters bellied over and raised the white flag of defeat on this day in 1865. This was their final flag of rebellion.

Pearly White Profits From Teeth Cleaning

This is how a Jack Russell Terrier smiles. A repost from 2009

The cover of the February issue of Veterinary Economics features an article entitled Pearly White Profits in which veterinarians are advised that canine and feline dentistry are great profit centers.

Tips are given on how to get the receptionist to bill pad suggest new services such as teeth cleaning, and the article says every veterinary practice should have associates "devote two to five minutes of every 15- to 20-minute office visit to talking about dental care."

The article says everyone in the practice should "make a list of the top 10 things you can do to increase the number of dental procedures your practice performs."


But you know what this article never says or even suggests? That there is any scientific evidence to support the notion that there is any medical benefit to annual teeth cleaning.

Absolute silence there!

And you know why? Because no such evidence exists.

And, here's the kicker: that's not just true for dogs, it's true for humans too. As the Journal of Evidence-based Dentistry notes, there is "insufficient evidence to understand the effect of routine scaling and polishing".

And that's for humans. For dogs?

Well, do you really need to know which way the wind blows?

Think it through for a minute. What's the main difference between the teeth of a human and the teeth of dog?

That's right! The human can be expected to live 80 years with adult teeth, while the dog will generally be dead after 12 or 13 years.

But there's more.

You see, human teeth cleaning can be done with the human wide awake and sitting up in a chair, while canine dentistry has to be done with the dog completely knocked out under general anesthesia.

That's a big difference!

And the reason that's a big difference is that anesthesia is risky for both humans and dogs.

In fact, complete general anesthesia is so unsafe that today, when a human heart stent is put in, the patient is almost never put completely under. The sames is true for laser eye surgery, most small tumor removal, and carpal tunnel surgery.

In fact, veterinary anesthesia is so dangerous your vet will insist on doing a full run-up of blood tests before it is done, and even then anesthesia complications and fatalities are fairly common.

And yet, your vet cannot show you a single scientific study that shows that dental scaling and polishing on a dog or cat has the slightest medical benefit.

Not one.

Bottom line: Annual teeth cleaning is not about canine health care, it's about veterinary wealth care.

The entire field was invented, approximately 20 years ago as a way of bringing more money into veterinary practices to replace money disappearing because of changing vaccine protocols for dogs and cats.

Go ahead and brush your dog's teeth. Home-based prevention is good medicine. But when it comes to an annual dental cleaning at the vets, just say NO.

Does that mean there is no place for canine dentistry?  No, not at all.  I recommend taking in a dog when it's about five years old for a teeth cleaning, and then again when it's about 10.  The cost is high, and the benefits are not clear, but a good scaling of the teeth may make them look a little better and may reduce doggy breath a bit (but do not count on much change on either score).