Archive for August, 2009
I did an unspeakably terrible thing today [hangs head in abject shame].
I wore a hat.
A tan baseball cap with a dog embroidered on it to be exact. It was a cool morning (52F) and along with the warmth the cap provided, I needed something to cover my unwashed hair. I put it on without a thought and I went out to the kennel where Charlie is staying.
Charlie likes me. In fact, he seems to like me a lot. But when I walked into the room wearing that baseball cap he saw me as some kind of ungodly, depraved beast. And he reacted accordingly.
Because he’s small and in a sturdy kennel and I’ve been around a rather large number of staring, snarling, slavering beasts I reacted to his castigation by calling his name out sweetly. He paused briefly, obviously recognizing my voice – then continued his tirade. ‘Cause, you know – I had done this terrible thing.
I took the hat off and calmly, quietly walked to the kennel door. I didn’t affect a passive or assertive posture. I was as completely neutral as I could be. When I got to the door I turned sideways and crouched down. I spoke softly to Charlie and let him decide when he was ready to approach and sniff me. In seconds he was the soft, happy, wagging teenager I know once again.
I stood up and gauged his reaction to my change in posture. Soft and welcoming. So I opened the door, went in, petted and leashed him and walked him out. When we were out of the kennel I made of show of picking up the Hat From Hell and presented it to Charlie. He stood quietly - but suspiciously – at my side and I calmly held it out to him. He slowly stretched his nose forward, feet still locked in place, and tentatively sniffed the rim of the hat. I remained motionless and said nothing. He sniffed The Evil Thing again, then sniffed my hand.
I saw wheels inside his pretty little head click into place as Charlie realized that the hat smelled like me. His posture softened and he grinned up at me with a look that said “Okay, I get it”. So I put the hat, which was now just an ordinary hat, back on my head and took Charlie for a walk.
In The Feeling of What Happens Antonio Damasio writes, “We are about as effective at stopping an emotion as we are at preventing a sneeze.” Like sneezes, emotional states are induced through classical conditioning processes where an innate, involuntary behavior (like an emotion or a reflex) becomes associated with a specific event or context. Their basis in these involuntary processes helps explain why emotional reactions are unpredictable and difficult to control.
In his book, Damasio introduces us to a man with extensive damage to his temporal lobes, hippocampus and amygdula. “David” suffers from some of the most severe learning and memory deficits ever recorded - he is unable to learn anynew fact. Despite this and in spite of the fact that he’s surrounded by people he is completely unable to recognize, David displays consistent preferences and avoidances in his day-to-day interactions with staff and patients. Intrigued by David’s behavior, Damasio designed a good guy/bad guy experiment to examine how David might develop these preferences under controlled circumstances:
Over a period of a week, we were able to engage David, under entirely controlled circumstances, in three distinct types of human interaction. One type of interaction was with someone who was extremely pleasant and welcoming and who always rewarded David whether he requested something or not (this was the good guy). Another interaction involved somebody who was emotionally neutral and who engaged David in activities that were neither pleasant nor unpleasant (this was the neutral guy). A third type of interaction involved an individual whose manner was brusque, who would say no to any request, and who engaged David in a very tedious psychological task designed to bring boredom to a saint (this was the bad guy).
After the week of controlled conditioning David was not able to recognize any of the ‘guys’ from photographs or in person. Yet, when he was presented with photographs of them and asked questions regarding hypothetical situations such as “Which one of these people would you ask for help?” or “Who is your friend,” David chose the ‘good guy’ over 80% of the time. While David’s conscious mind may no longer be equipped to give him an overt reason to recognize, much less choose, one person over another, he is still able to learn to correctly choose the person most likely to react positively with him with an accuracy far exceeding that of pure chance.
So it appears that we can develop preferences and aversions in a completely unconscious manner. This is fascinating and it may help explain why two- and four-legged creatures so often react in apparently inexplicable ways. While we are aware of the emotions we feel, we sometimes have no idea why we feel them. And this can make emotional reactions incredibly difficult to control – even for us allegedly big-brained humans. Because our emotions can be rooted in factors as diverse as previous experiences, health and our base line emotional state – and because many of these factors lie outside our conscious control – our emotions don’t always make sense to us. Or to those around us.
Dogs with emotion-based problems like fear of thunderstorms, fear-based aggression and separation anxiety are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate. The dog has no idea why it’s behaving the way it does. He’s much like David, classically conditioned to react to a situation – and utterly unaware of why he behaves the way he does.
This is why the popular idea of ‘psychoanalyzing dogs’ - collecting obsessively detailed case histories in an effort to discover exactly what events in the dog’s past led to the development of it’s emotion-based problems – drives me crazy. Because these kinds of problems arise from classical conditioning processes – there is likely no single event or simple chain of events that led to the dog’s problem. And, like David, the dog likely has absolutely no idea why he feels the way he does.
Trying to analyze the basis of an emotionally-based behavior problem in a non-verbal species like a dog makes no sense. It’s like parsing a sneeze.
Young Charlie, (aka DickHead, alias Johnny Mac) arrived here yesterday. Charlie’s here for an extended vacation attitude adjustment after spending seven months of his young life at Operation New Beginnings in Billings, Montana.
Charlie and his littermates were born a month or so before the dogs were seized. Their mother was either already dead or got separated from them when he and his littermates were rescued from the Kapsa property, so they grew up as a small, motherless pack. In a perfect world they’d have been put in with an experienced, older female dog who would have whipped them into shape showed them the ropes, but as Charlie knows – we don’t live in a perfect world.
So, Charlie has a few issues. He’s snarky with other dogs and pushy and rude with people. He’s not the least bit house-trained. He’s seen very little of the world and he has a tendency to flight. He’s a poster pup for the abused, neglected dogs you read about in humane society pleas for money.
But the thing is – Charlie doesn’t know this. He’s not aware that he probably wouldn’t have survived his first winter on this earth if he hadn’t been seized as a “feces-covered” piece of evidence. He doesn’t have a clue that he’s the least bit different from any other dog. All he knows is that, after spending an annoyingly long, crappy day in a crate he ended up in a clean, roomy place where really interesting things happen.
Charlie isn’t a victim, he’s freakin’ brilliant. He’s a natural retriever and in a stunningly short period of time he learned to sit before I threw his toy. In twenty-four hours he’s gone from pulling like a freight train while orbiting rapidly around me to walking comfortably on a leash. In ten minutes he learned to wait until I released him with an “OK” to take bits of food I set on my shoe.
But it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses. This morning he decided to try to muzzle punch and intimidate me when I went in to feed him. Note to dog: do not, under any circumstances, try to fuck with a tired, crabby, sleep-deprived, pre-menstrual, caffiene-deficient alpha bitch in a hurry. I took Charlie’s pushy, crappy, annoying energy - multiplied it by ten and tossed it back at him with nothing more than a vile look and threatening posture. The little poser jumped back three feet and stared open-mouthed at me in WTF wonder.
Since then, a raised eyebrow makes him salute.
I think Charlie and I are gonna have a great time.
Do you get a terrier,
Or a carnivorous plant?
Popular Science reports:
Deep in the jungle primeval, Nepenthes attenboroughii awaits its furry prey. But N. attenboroughii isn’t a stealthy cat or poisonous lizard. It’s a plant, and it eats rats.
Scientists recently discovered this new species of pitcher plant on the verdant face of Mount Victoria in the Philippines. It is the largest carnivorous plant ever discovered, and has been named after the famous naturalist and TV personality Sir David Attenborough.
Meat-eating pitcher plants were first described by science in the time of Linnaeus, but the previously discovered Nepenthes species stuck to small prey like insects and spiders — if an unlucky mouse or bird became a meal, that was a rare treat. But the giant N. attenboroughii is a vertebrate specialist.
The plant lures in the rats with the promise of sweet nectar. When the rat leans into the plant to drink the saccharine liquid, it slips on the pitcher’s waxy interior, and gets stuck in the gooey sap. Once it is trapped, acid-like digestive enzymes break down the still-living rodent.
The plant was is named after Sir David Attenborough who is a keen enthusiast of nepenthes. If I had discovered it, I think I’d have named it Nepenthes audreyii.
Alice Wang’s “Hand Leash” …
Inspired Janeen McMurtrie’s “Death Grip Leash“
Or (Hebrew for light) is a truly pampered pooch. The eight-year-old boxer’s owner recently booked the entire business section on a Paris to Tel Aviv flight so that he could ride in the cabin with her. USAToday reports:
The woman said her dog experienced extreme anxiety after being placed in the cargo hold on their last flight together, which was in 2006. For this trip, she is quoted by UPI as saying she thought it would be a better idea just to buy out the entire business class section so that she and the dog could enjoy the four-hour flight together. As for El Al, the airline allows pets in the passenger cabin, though it’s unlikely that a full-grown boxer would fit within the size requirements for that in a typical situation.
Flying dogs on airlines really stresses me out. It stresses me out enough that husband and I, who rarely travel without dogs, drive even on long cross-the-country trips. That said, even if I had 30-odd thousand dollars to spare, I don’t think I’d use it to charter an entire section on a passenger flight for the beasties to share with us.
I am surprised that the airline allowed her to do this. Though given that that the airline was El Al, I’m sure there were plenty of security-related hoops for Or to jump through. I wonder if a private charter flight would have been a cheaper option…
On Sunday, a terrier mix named Max celebrated his 26th birthday in New Iberia, Louisiana. Max’s owner, Janelle DeRouen has contacted the Guinness Book of World Records so they can verify that Max is, indeed, the world’s oldest dog. According to MSNBC:
Born in 1983, the “active” geriatric dog hasn’t had many health problems over the years, says DeRouen, who first told her story to the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. “The only time I had to bring him to the vet for something serious was for a tooth to be extracted. But that’s it,” she says. In recent years, he’s had a few expected aliments. “He is starting to get cataracts, a little arthritis, but otherwise he’s healthy.”
Max is a fit, trim dog who has lived on a diet of non-premium dog food and the occaisional biscuit. He was never given table scraps and only has a few toys. He’s a laid back dog who “likes to keep life simple”, was never spoiled and plays nicely with children. Mrs. DeRouen said that she and her husband did spoil Max just a bit on this birthday, “Me and my husband [got] him his own little sofa bed. He has his own little couch now.”
The DailyMailreports that Max has visited the local Robichaux veterinary clinic since he Mrs. DeRouen acquired him as a puppy. His only health problems are cataracts and arthritis.
So – a mutt (who was the runt of his litter) raised on Puppy Chow and Kibbles and Bits, in town, without fancy toys sets a world record for canine longevity. Somehow I doubt that kennel clubs and pet product manufacturers (except perhaps for DelMonte and Purina) will be beating a path to Max’s door for endorsements. I suspect Max’s calm, laid back nature and his owners’ loving, no-nonsense attitude about pet care contributed much his exceptional health and longevity. I also wonder if his parents (he was reportedly purchased from a local farmer) were healthy, purpose-bred hunters. He looks like he might be a feist.
Happy Birthday Max – here’s to your continued happiness and good health!
Schadenfreude is a complex thing. It’s that scrumptiously malicious sense of pleasure we feel when we see bad things happen to people we don’t like. The sense of having escaped the danger heightens our feelings of comfort and happiness. Seeing someone we disagree with get the come-uppance we think they deserve feeds our sense of justice. And while we may recognize that Schadenfreude is a guilty pleasure - the added bonus of feeling smug because we weren’t the ones responsible for causing our enemy’s pain lends an added frisson of satisfaction.
Why do dog-related crimes whet our Schadenfreude so deeply?
Is it the enormous amount of divisiveness in the many worlds of dog? Conformation exhibitors who feel superior to obedience competitors. Show breeders who vilify performance breeders. Purely positive trainers who denounce balanced trainers. Competitors who feel superior to average pet owners. Toss in a few heaping helpings of envy and the widespread idea that “you’re with us or against us” — and it’s no surprise that the world of dogs is sometimes as combative as the Middle East. That divisiveness feeds our Schadenfreude and makes it awfully easy to turn us against each other.
Witness the big, ugly can-o-worms I opened last week when I posted about the story of the Murder Hollow Bassets. Is Wendy Willard an arrogant animal hoarder who taunted law enforcement or is she the innocent victim of over-zealous grundyism? I don’t care, because the thing is - her rights should be protected either way.
In too many cases today basic violations of noise laws, limit laws and sanitation laws are being confused with demonstrable animal cruelty. When we read stories of animal busts - especially when the perp is someone we don’t agree with (and in the world of dogs, we are bound to disagree with him in some way) - we assume that, of course, that horrid animal abuser must be guilty. In the rush to judge we forget that we are all innocent until proven guilty.
As society oozes deeper into political correctness, increasing numbers of Grundy laws are being passed and enforced at all levels of government. Laws that make it easier for a neighbor that doesn’t like the way you look or an animal rights group that doesn’t like the way you live – to find a law they can use to harass you.
We don’t need these laws. We’ve already got enough dog-related laws on the books. Think about it. Is it the number of dogs kept on a property, their breed or even their sexual status that creates problems or – is it just a single, lazy, clueless, disrespectful or irresponsible owner? An owner who will be a problem even if he’s only allowed to have a single, loud, dirty, neglected obnoxious or abused dog in his care? If existing cruelty, sanitation, noise and related laws are enforced in a timely and lawful manner - and if we treat our neighbors with mutual respect – dogs aren’t a problem.
YesBiscuit wrote an excellent post last week illustrating how we all need to pay careful attention to the context of the reasons given for animal seizures. Be sure to read the comments – these make it stunningly clear that there but for the grace of doG walks every single one of us. Sure, you may be able to avoid things like limit laws by moving to a rural area - but Mrs. Grundy seems to live everywhere now and unless laws regarding the seizure of animals change - the Mrs. Grundys of the world will eventually be able to hold all pet owners hostage.
Now, even though I’ve been accused by some of being a black-helicopters nut job – I really do agree that we need laws. And I believe that the laws should be enforced. But I also believe that there is such a thing as too many laws – and that enforcement can be conducted too vigorously.
If were up to me, when should animals be seized?
- When their life or health is in immediate danger. Minor cases of parasite infestation, out of date vaccinations, temporarily unsanitary conditions and minor lapses of grooming do not constitute an immediate threat to the life or health of an animal.
- When an owner has been given written notice of an animal-related offense and not come into compliance within a reasonable, specified time period (such as 30 days). This warning must be given in person by an officer of the court or by registered letter.
- When an owner is arrested and there is no one else available to care for them.
- When they have been abandoned.
- When an owner voluntarily relinquishes them - after he has been read his rights and allowed to consult with legal counsel.
- In addition to the above, except under circumstances where their immediate health and safety can be proven to be at risk, pets must only be seized by, or under the direct supervision of, officers of the law.
How should seized animals be handled?
- If they are seized because their life or health is in immediate danger – they must be put under the care of a veterinarian.
- If they are seized as evidence in a case (such as limit laws, breed specific legislation, nuisance laws, etc.) they must be kept in such a way as to maintain chain-of-evidence requirements. I do not think that, in most cases, releasing them to foster care meets these requirements. Killing them, selling them or adopting them out most certainly does not meet these requirements.
- Intact animals must be kept their original reproductive state and even aggressive animals must be kept alive whenever possible until they are either released by their owner or he is found guilty.
- Puppies must be kept with their dam until at least the age of seven weeks unless there is a health-related reason to separate them from her.
I’m deeply concerned by the growing trend to grant police powers to private citizens who are then given the authority to enforce humane laws. Humane officers aren’t police officers yet they are granted the power to search and seize our property. Our living property. In some municipalities they even are even granted the power to charge us with felonies.
Humane officers are accountable to their supervisors and local boards of directors - not the public. In most areas there’s no internal affairs department or grievance board to file a complaint with that provides an external, civilian review of their actions – so short of filing expensive, time-consuming lawsuits (and risking the loss of our beloved pets while we wait to settle them) - we have little or no recourse when non-police humane officers step beyond the boundaries of their positions.
The issue here isn’t the Murder Hollow Bassets or the PSCPA per se. It’s the disturbing increasing trend for states and municipalities to farm out enforcement duties to private citizens. Citizens who, in some cases (not all!) are more interested in advancing a personal agenda than enforcing the law. The issue isn’t Wendy Willard’s guilt or innocence - it’s the need to recognize that animals need to be treated as living property. That animals need to be treated humanely - but so do their owners.
And if believing this makes me an ignorant, lying, right-wing loon searching for black helicopters - I’m okay with that.
These days the media seems to be filled with stories of dogs seized from puppy mills, dog fighting operations, animal hoarders and abusive homes. Millions of average pet owners across America read these stories with a mixture of outrage against the animal abusers and pity for the abused animals. Relieved that the unfortunate animals were saved from a terrible fate, they move on to the next story, never considering that there might be more to the story than meets the eye…
I doubt that any of us thinks that we’re an animal abuser. While ideas on owning and raising dogs are at least as wide-ranging (and deeply emotionally driven) as those on rearing children, most of us feel that our ideas fall well within the mainstream and that we have little to fear from animal rights legislation. But if we remain content to sit back - silent and uninformed - will we find that our dogs are next in line to be seized?
The idea is not as far-fetched as you may think. Today, Never Yet Melted (go and read it all!) reports that:
The sort of people who go in for basseting are typically well-educated, upper middle-class animal lovers of a preparatory school sort of background. In other words, absolutely the last sort of people imaginable as dog abusers or law breakers.
But neither gentility nor middle-aged respectability was sufficient to protect the Murder Hollow’s master Wendy Willard from a full scale raid by Philadelphia police, nor did it prevent 13 hounds from being taken from their kennels and turned over to a private animal rights organization hostile to hunting.
At night, and without warning the SPCA of Pennsylvania showed up at raided Wendy Willard’s kennel and seized the dogs under the aegis of a newly passed law that allows no more than twelve animals to be kept on any property in Philadelphia County (note if they had just given her a chance it appears that Willard may have been able to get a waiverthat would allow her to keep her dogs). Not only were the animals turned over to (i.e. given away to) a private entity – some of the hounds seized were reportedly the property of another person and were only being kept at Murder Hollow temporarily. Apparently the jack-booted AR fanatics of the PSPCA didn’t give Willard a chance to explain that.
The dog seized have now been spread out among several local shelters and rescue groups (in other kinds of cases – do the police make a habit of giving seized property away?). Neither the dogs’ owners or other area basset pack owners have been able to get any information on the dogs’ location or welfare.
It may be a natural reaction to feel smugly self-rightous when we hear stories about dogs seized from those kinds of people (i.e. the ones whose practices we don’t happen to agree with) but it’s time to wake up and smell the dog poop. If a yuppie suburban basset fancier with no criminal record whatsoever isn’t safe from having her beloved dogs seized without notice - none of us is.
The goal of many of these raids – especially those featured prominently in the media – have nothing to do with animal welfare. I’m willing to bet dollars to dog toys that the hounds of Murder Hollow were healthier and happier than most over-fed, under-exercised suburban pets. The goal is the kind of publicity that fills the coffers of ‘humane’ groups who lobby for anti-pet legislation and don’t operate shelters. And the long term the goal is animal rights - and the end of all pet breeding and ownership.
It’s time. Time to take lobbying power away from the animal rights extremists who want to chip away at pet ownership until it’s gone. Time to tell our legislators and representative that animal seizures must be conducted in ways that preserve our rights – not as publicity events. That protecting the animals seized includes considering the possibility that they might be returned to the home they were taken from – and that, as with other seized property, this consideration needs to be given precedence. (I don’t understand why these kinds of seizures aren’t prohibited under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment – perhaps someone out there can educate me?)
UPDATE: Here’s Walt Hutchens post re this from Pet-Law. (Walt says all his posts can be cross-posted.)
Ms. Willard was raided by the PSPCA and police due to a first time noise complaint, and told that unless she released 11 of her 23 hounds to them they would seize them all, under a new 12-dog-limit city ordinance.
As my friend Shirly posted over at YesBiscuit:
I have no way of knowing the full facts of the case or whether the post making the rounds is accurate. But to my mind, even if we totally discount it as fiction, the scenario is at least plausible which is what concerns me most.
Exactly. I’m a huge fan of respecting the law. But even if Ms. Willard was not in compliance with zoning regs, didn’t have a kennel license – or even if she had a filty, nasty, disgusting kennel – she did not deserve to have her dogs, in effect, stolen from her. The right thing to do, if this was indeed a first time complaint – was to cite her and give her a reasonable time period to come into compliance with the law.
This is happening more and more and it scares the crap out of me. There but for the grace of God…
UPDATE AUGUST 10, 2009:
See new blog posts at Terrierman’s Daily Dose; Stephen Bodio’s Querencia; Never Yet Melted, Philly.com and YesBiscuit and the news story published by The Philadelphia Daily News - and make up your own mind.