Saturday, January 20, 2018

America's Chief Game Keeper Is an Incompetent, Corrupt, Loudmouth Who is Drunk on Power

Writing in The New York Times, Timothy Egan details the very real threat that Ryan Zinke, the Mad King governing our public lands, is to the America we know and love:

The emperor of the outdoors rode into town on a horse named Tonto, and soon demanded that his own special flag fly outside his headquarters whenever he was in Washington.

He believes fracking is proof that “God loves us” and, despite being from Montana, doesn’t know how to properly set up his fly line when fishing in front of the cameras.

“He had rigged his reel backward,” Elliott D. Woods wrote of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a wonderful profile in Outside Magazine. “Seems like an inconsequential thing, but in Montana, it’s everything.”

As it turned out, it was quite consequential. When the magazine next tried to dial into an Interior conference call, it was denied access.

You may think that Stormy Daniels is in charge of the natural world under Donald Trump. And yes, the boorish behavior of the president and the porn star makes for better reading than an account of the quack running Interior.

But if someone were trashing your house, you’d want to pay attention. And Trump, using the very strange Zinke, is going after the sacred foundations of America’s much-loved public lands, brick by brick.

Zinke has been called the Gulfstream Cowboy for his love of using charter planes to fly off to the nesting grounds of wealthy donors. But he’s more like a mad king. And this monarch has control over the crown jewels of America’s public land.

They are not in safe hands.

Last month, the secretary attacked Patagonia, the outdoor retailer, after it protested the largest rollback of public land protection in our history with a website home page of a black screen and stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”

It is your land, all 400 million acres of it, though you wouldn’t know by the way the Trump administration has ceded control to the private predators from the oil, gas, coal and uranium industries.

It is also your water, the near entirety of the outer continental shelf that Trump is opening to extractive drilling. Almost a dozen states have protested. The waters off the coast of Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, were given an exemption after Zinke met with the governor, who said drilling was bad for tourism. Your public servant at work.

Zinke is upending a century of bipartisan values as part of a Trumpian culture war. When asked why the president shrank national monuments in the Southwest by two million acres, Zinke said it was a way to strike back against “an elitist sort of hunter and fisherman.” Huh?

Could this be the same regular guy who took a helicopter to ride horses with Mike Pence? The cabinet member who wants to charge $70 to get into our most iconic national parks? The man whose nomination was championed by Donald Trump Jr., elephant killer and dictionary definition of elite hunter and fisherman?

Defenders of public land have pushed back. This week, a majority of the nonpartisan National Park Service advisory panel resigned in frustration. The board, federally chartered to help guide the service, said Zinke had refused to convene a single meeting with the members last year. Silly bird-lovers. Don’t they know you need to charter a plane for Zinke if you want to get his attention?

A much less-connected group, the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, responded with an essay from a board member who lives in a 500-square-foot abode in the Rocky Mountains. “We hunt, gather, garden, can, smoke, dry, jelly and pickle as much of our own food as we can,” wrote Tom Healy. “According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.”

The writer is from Whitefish, Zinke’s hometown in Montana. Where have you heard that before? Ah, yes, a tiny energy company from Whitefish with two employees — three if you count Zinke’s kid when he was an intern on a side project — finagled a $300 million, no-audit, no-bid contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid. Zinke said he had absolutely, positively nothing to do with it.

Look, it could have been worse: Sarah Palin was an early favorite for interior secretary. Zinke is an ex-Navy SEAL, and looks the part. Enough nutty things come out of his mouth to make him a perfect Trump guy.

“The government stops at the mailbox,” he said at a rally last year, “and if you come any further, you’re going to meet my gun.” Note to Mr. Secretary: Don’t shoot the sheriff, or the census taker.

It took a bribery scandal to bring down an interior secretary in the Teapot Dome affair of the 1920s. Today, the corruption is all upfront. Energy Secretary Rick Perry gives bear hugs to coal barons while doing all he can to have the government prop up their industry. The Environmental Protection Agency is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the polluters it is supposed to regulate.

Over at Interior, they haven’t yet figured a way to charge Americans for the air we breathe. But the next time Zinke’s flag is up, something may be in the works.

The Westminster Kennel Club's Parade of Mutants

The American Kennel Club went out on Twitter using a parade of deformed dogs to hawk their ribbon-chasing eugenics club for diseased dogs.

The pug is a dysfunctional mess, as the skull pictures, below, make clear.  These are dogs that have massive eye problems, big dental problems, and are in respiratory distress every moment of their lives.

This is a defective dog being promoted by an organization that has lost its way and which has seen a more than 70 percent decline in registrations has a consequence. 

Picture of the Day

Orange Dog Got a Bath

Poor thing got bathed with dish soap as my $1 a bottle shampoo ran out; something I did not  notice because I have so little hair I never use shampoo anymore! 

The idea that dogs need expensive shampoo is nonsense. What dogs mostly need is regular bathing!

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Robot Dog Aibo is Back

First introduced in 1999, Sony’s AIBO robotic pet dog is back and improved, with better movement, tricks, touch response, and eyes that express virtual emotion.

The Owl and the Fox

No animals were harmed in the making of this movie.

Even a hungry owl knows when its eyes are bigger than its talons.

Even a hungry fox will go a long way to avoid injury, even when a tasty "snow chicken" is sitting on the ground.

Breeds and Types of Dogs in Classified Ads

These are the most popular breeds and types of dogs that appear in classified ads in the U.S. based on an evaluation of 783,645 total classified ads, excluding duplicates, to represent approximately 783,645 individual dogs offered for sale or adoption.

Pit bulls, by all names combined, were just 4.9% of the dogs advertised.

  • Related Posts:
** Counting Dog Noses
** Counting the Uncountable
** What the Hell is an American Staffordshire Terrier?
** Where Do Dogs Come From?

Counting Dog Noses

Data on U.S. dog demographics is somewhat squishy, and yet we know quite a lot.

Let's start with the total population of dogs in America. We don't have an exact number, but surveys park the number at between 79 and 89 million, which means "the replacement market" for canine mortality is going to be somewhere between 7 and 8 million dogs a year.

The American Kennel Club registers less than 500,000 dogs a year, and the true number is now close to 400,000, arrayed out over a total of 190 breeds.

Of all AKC dogs registered, more than half fall within the top 10 breeds, while the bottom 50 AKC breeds total less than 1.5 percent of all AKC dogs registered (which is only about 6 percent of all dogs acquired every year). 

Within the 2016 AKC ranking of 190 breeds, the American Staffordshire terrier ranks 81. For those who don't know, the Pit Bull and the American Staffordshire Terrier are one and the same dog.

What other data do we have?

Well, we know where people get their dogs from.  About 34 percent of dogs came from friends or neighbors, 26 percent come from animal shelters, 5 percent are found as strays, 3 percent come from a rescue, 2 percent come from a family member, and 2 percent are pups born to another dog in the house. Only 22 percent of dogs are reported to have come from a "small local breeder," with 7 percent from a pet store, and 3 percent from "the Internet".

A full 52 percent of folks have no idea where their dog lived as a puppy, signaling that MOST dogs are bounced about and do not end up with their original "puppy owner". Another 4 percent of puppies had come from an animal shelter, and 2 percent were found on the street as a stray. In short, 58 percent of all dogs started off life in a precarious or interrupted ownership situation, with about half of these dogs passing through an animal shelter.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Counting the Uncountable

Back in 1986, I was the organizer of a session on census adjustment at the annual conference of the American Association of Science. The topic of the panel had to do with census reapportionment for congressional seats. If the courts decided to exclude illegal immigrants from the count, how could that be done? How did we count permanent resident green card holders? Did we count them at all? And what about the millions of young black men who, for whatever reason, were always missing in census counts? Was a deep sample survey actually more accurate than a nose-by-nose count?

All good questions, but before we got too far into the thicket, I wanted to prick a few balloons.

I began the panel by noting that in 1980 the U.S. Census Bureau had counted exactly 226,545,805 people, but that the margin of error that the Census Bureau freely admitted to was 2.5 percent.

In short, I observed, the one thing we had some confidence in was ... wait for it ...  wait for it .... that only the first digit of that big official number was probably right. All of the other digits in the apparently precise official count were subject to change based on the Census Bureau’s freely admitted margin of error.

I tell this story to stress that folks who do not work with numbers, day in and day out, tend to fall in love with false specificity. 

We don't have an exact count on a lot of things.  The good news even if we do not have a precise count, we have direction and velocity data, and some ballpark numbers which, in turns out, are good enough for most policy purposes.

"Counting the uncountable" is a problem we struggle with in the illegal immigration arena, the illegal drug market arena, the nonpayment of taxes arena, and the fraud arena -- all areas I have spent several decades working in here in Washington, D.C.

I bring this up, because we have the same problem when it comes to counting dogs, and yet it does not matter as much as some would think, because we can gauge direction and velocity.

If numbers are going up or down, that's one thing, and if they are going fast or slow, that's another.

What we know about dogs, for sure, is this:

  1. We have more dogs in the United States than ever before;
  2. We are killing far fewer dogs down at the pound than we used to;
  3. We are spaying and neutering far more dogs than ever before;
  4. We are adopting more dogs from rescues and shelters than ever before;
  5. The number of puppy mill dogs being sold in pet shops has fallen off a cliff due to the rapid embrace of legislation banning that sales practice and the parallel rise of chain pet stores that are afraid of pickets and boycotts from concerned citizens and consumers, and;
  6. The number of new puppies being register by the American Kennel Club has fallen from over 1.5 million a year to under 450,000 -- a decline of 70 percent.

His Kick Is Worse Than His Bite

South Carolina landowner Steve Hipps has a grass pasture in his backyard that’s guarded by a donkey named Buck. That donkey does not like coyotes. (Thanks Lucas M!)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Jack The Ripper

"Jack Russells are genetically programmed to react to small animals that make high pitched noises and jerky movements -- the exact stimuli associated with very small children."

A December 14, 1991 article entitled "Dogs That Bite" in the British Medical Journal, reports on 146 patients referred for primary treatment of dog bites.

Authors P.C. Shewell and J.D. Nancarrow found that that 54% of their patients were under age 15, and that males and female humans were about equal in their chance of being bit.

The two most common biting dogs were Staffordshire bull terriers (15 cases) and Jack Russell terriers (13 cases).

Of the biting dogs, 85% were male. Most bites occurred in the owner's home or in a friend or neighbor's home. Over 40% of the bites were judged "unprovoked." Of the 146 bite cases, 32 bites were identified as severe, and 11 attacks as sustained.

Conclusion: Most victims are bitten by male dogs which they either own or have had frequent contact with, and the bite occurs in the dog's home.

The injuries consisted of 76 puncture wounds and 304 lacerations, 81 of which involved loss of tissue. One hundred and twenty six of the 146 patients had injuries to their face or head.

Though no explanation is given for the relatively large number of Jack Russell bites, the reason is not hard to tease out if you know very much about small children and working terriers.

The simple fact is that our dogs are genetically programmed to react to small animals that make high pitched noises and jerky movements -- the exact stimuli associated with very small children.

Parents often see a Jack Russell terrier and think "safe poodle-sized dog" without having any knowledge that in fact these are hunting dogs bred for several hundred years to tackle wild game head-to-head.

Almost all Russells are fine 100% of the time with children, but a small number of ALL dogs have a genetic code for fear or prey that is so strong they cannot control it when certain stimuli are cued. The result: a child with a facial laceration. It is not surprising that Jack Russells, a relatively common small breed with a very high drive for prey and hunting, is a frequently-cited dog-bite offender.

Indentifying Individual Foxes

These are five or six different foxes that visited the back yard last night.  Look at their tails for obvious bits of distinction, but also coat color, body weight and mass, face structure, and other markings.

One State Is Not Like the Others

West Virginia's population peaked in 1950 with the rise of coal, and it's never recovered. With little farming land, a relatively poorly educated population, and a legislature that is owned and operated by big extractive and predatory-business interests, the state remains the fourth poorest in the nation.

Deep Thinking That Goes Into Making a New Breed

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pipe Cleaner Dog

Let There Be Light

Dog poo is powering a street lamp in the Malvern Hills in Yorkshire. Ten bags are sufficient to provide two hours of light. Creator Brian Harper said he wanted to find a use for it after seeing poo-filled bags being left at the area of outstanding natural beauty.

Dog Eat Dog

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Thorstein Veblen on Canine Monstrosities

In 1899, Thorstein Veblen published a book
entitled The Theory of the Leisure Class, in which he coined the term "conspicuous consumption."

Veblen's thesis was that America was aping feudal Europe (and England in particular) by separating itself into low-caste people who did the manual labor and trade work, and the "leisure class" who owned the land, preached the sermons, ruled the military, owned the factories, and never got their hands dirty.

In this country, for instance, leisure-class tastes are to some extent shaped on usages and habits which prevail, or which are apprehended to prevail, among the leisure class of Great Britain.

“Conspicuous consumption" was important because flaunting spending without any sensible purpose, was how you demonstrated that you were not a member of the working or "productive class" but were in fact part of the "leisure class" or "predator class."

When casting about for perfect examples of conspicuous consumption, Veblen cites yachts, racing horses, country estates, and pedigree dogs ruined by show ring pretenders.

The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament. He is often spoken of, in an eminent sense, as the friend of man, and his intelligence and fidelity are praised. The meaning of this is that the dog is man's servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave's quickness in guessing his master's mood. Coupled with these traits, which fit him well for the relation of status — and which must for the present purpose be set down as serviceable traits —the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of expense, and commonly serves no industrial purpose, he holds a well-assured place in men's regard as a thing of good repute.

The dog is at the same time associated in our imagination with the chase — a meritorious employment and an expression of the honorable predatory impulse. Standing on this vantage ground, whatever beauty of form and motion and whatever commendable mental traits he may possess are conventionally acknowledged and magnified. 

And even those varieties of the dog which have been bred into grotesque deformity by the dog-fancier are in good faith accounted beautiful by many.

These varieties of dogs — and the like is true of other fancy-bred animals — are rated and graded in aesthetic value somewhat in proportion to the degree of grotesqueness and instability of the particular fashion which the deformity takes in the given case.

For the purpose in hand, this differential utility on the ground of grotesqueness and instability of structure is reducible to terms of a greater scarcity and consequent expense.

The commercial value of canine monstrosities, such as the prevailing styles of pet dogs both for men's and women's use, rests on their high cost of production, and their value to their owners lies chiefly in their utility as items of conspicuous consumption.

Indirectly, through reflection upon their honorific expensiveness, a social worth is imputed to them; and so, by an easy substitution of words and ideas, they come to be admired and reputed beautiful.

Since any attention bestowed upon these animals is in no sense gainful or useful, it is also reputable; and since the habit of giving them attention is consequently not deprecated, it may grow into an habitual attachment of great tenacity and of a most benevolent character. So that in the affection bestowed on pet animals the canon of expensiveness is present more or less remotely as a norm which guides and shapes the sentiment and the selection of its object.

Of course, one does not actually have to be rich to insinuate yourself into the upper class.

If you are an elementary school teacher from Peoria, or an accountant from Westchester, you can simply buy a pedigree dog and spend your weekends campaigning the animal at shows.

As I noted in post written over a decade ago,

In short, the attraction of dog shows was that people who themselves were as common as a turnip top could now fancy that they were among the social elite. They did not have to have real knowledge of animals, or have an important job or title or large estate -- they just had to purchase a dog from a "reputable" show breeder and put on airs.

Or as one character in Best in Show put it, "make Fern City proud!"

Friday, January 12, 2018

Hunters Give a Duck About the Environment

Over at Outside magazine, Wes Siler writes that:

If you don’t have a positive opinion of hunting it’s because you don’t know enough about it. Nowhere does that ring more true than in the case of ducks. These animals thrive in North America today for one reason: Hunters.

Siler goes on to note that American hunters have been a powerful voice protecting habitat and that hunters put up the money, through Duck Stamps, that makes our national wildlife refuge system possible.

Today, the federal duck stamp costs $25, and its design is chosen from an annual art contest that receives hundreds of entries. 98 percent of revenue from duck stamps goes to protecting duck habitat, of which it’s purchased and protected 6.5 million acres to-date. Duck stamps are largely responsible for financing our nation’s Wildlife Refuge system, and purchase of one grants you access to those protected lands for the year. Many people buy two stamps—one to sign up for hunting, and one to keep as an appreciating collectible.

If you care about waterfowl conservation, there is no better way to help than by purchasing a duck stamp. You don’t need to be a hunter to buy one, but 1.1 million of the 1.6 million people who do get one each year are.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mounted Hunts Helped Protect Red Fox

Some years back, Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance in the UK, wrote in Countryman’s Weekly magazine that "the ban" on hunting with dogs was going to transform fox from a valued quarry species into vermin.

The relationship between hunting and shooting has always been a delicate one with obvious clashes around both access and the status of the fox. Historically in lowland countries the huntsman and the keeper’s attitudes towards the fox were fundamentally different. The huntsman sought a sustainable fox population at a level acceptable to local farmers and land managers; the keeper to minimise predation by eliminating as far as possible foxes in the locality. In most areas the relationship between hunts and shoots meant that a balance just about prevailed and, whilst the hunt never had enough foxes and the keeper always too many, both were able to prosper. The exception is those areas where there is a strong tradition of grouse and wild partridge shooting. Keepers on moors and manors have never been able to live with the fox in any numbers because of the massive damage he does to ground nesting birds and in such areas the fox is a rare species.

Since 2005, of course, the status of the fox has changed. He no longer has the value of a quarry species and, whilst most hunts have continued to manage the habitat in woodland they control, the fox no longer has their protection. There is no reason for the keeper to ‘leave one for the hounds’ and, ironically, all that hunts can now offer in terms of fox control is the use of terriers below ground specifically to protect game birds from predation. This change in attitudes towards the fox has undoubtedly had an impact on its management and population. In one Leicestershire hunt country, which was part of a major population study in the nineties, it is suggested anecdotally that numbers are a fraction of what they were then.

So, in some areas at least, it is clear that more foxes have been killed as a result of the Hunting Act and the anti-hunt movement wriggles like a worm on this particular hook. It raises false arguments suggesting we claimed hunting was just about pest control, when actually we always argued for hunting as part of the proper management of the fox population. It says the point of the Hunting Act was to stop foxes being subjected to the ‘cruelty’ of hunting, but we heard them talking about ‘saving foxes’ and we also heard Lord Burns state there was no evidence that hunting is any less humane than other methods of control. As ex-LACS Director Jim Barrington has pointed out the last thing the anti-hunt movement, or their political friends, want is any proper assessment of the impact of the Hunting Act, because they know it has failed in terms of animal welfare and wildlife management just as clearly as in every other way. The impact of the Hunting Act on the fox, and the other quarry species, is yet another unanswerable argument for repeal.

Bonner was not speaking out of his hat; he knows the true history of fox and fox hunting in the U.K.  As I noted a few years back:

It should be remembered that [the Victorian era of John Russell] was an era of free-range poultry. Fox were seen as a threat to sustenance and treated accordingly by farmers. It did not take much effort — or expense — to bait rabbit entrails and chicken heads with strychnine, or set a few foothold traps around a chicken coop, rabbit hutch, or pheasant pen.

In the early 19th Century and through the Victorian Era, traps and poison were so brutally efficient and common that the Reverend Russell spent much of his early years trying to get people to stop killing fox so their populations would increase and he could find a little sport.

Russell was not alone in this endeavor.

In fact, fox protection was so deeply entrenched in the culture of the mounted hunts of the 19th Century that the concept made its way into the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "vulpicide" as "One that kills a fox other than by hunting it with hounds."

The crime of vulpicide was seen as a crime against the aristocracy. God forbid that individual farmers, for the sole purpose of putting food on the table, threaten the weekend pastime of hundreds of wealthy aristocrats!

If hunting with hounds is curtailed and this economic engine is disengaged, then land owners will find reasons and means to reduce fox numbers if they become a problem.

While the mounted hunts once lead the campaigns to ban leghold traps and poison, shooting and snares are still legal in the U.K. With the mounted hunts unable to promise fox control, farmers seem to be taking matters in their own hands, with fox numbers declining 39% in the last 20 years as the old prohibitions against "vulpicide" have fallen away.

Aldo Leopold on Gadgets and Fox Hunting

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold, who was born on this day in 1887, was one of the most important people in the history of U.S. conservation. A 1909 graduate of the Yale Forestry School, Leopold wrote the first book on Game Management (it is still in print and it is still used at a text book), and was the first person to predict that the widespread extirpation of wolves through poison and trapping would result in an explosion in the deer population that, in turn, would wipe out much of the understory of American forests. Most famous for his eco-philosophical journal A Sand County Almanac, about his Wisconsin farm, Leopold also explored the role of wilderness and hunting in American culture.

In an early essay entitled Wildlife in American Culture, Leopold noted that even in the era before World War II, "the gadgeter, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer," was dominating the sporting press and warping America's understanding of the outdoors.

The phenomenon is very easy to see today, with hunting and fishing magazines centered less on wildlife and wild places than on the Quad Bikes, scent sprays, lures, bait, and expensive guns, rods, and reels that we are told we will need before we even think about going into the woods.

This ethos has now expanded into the world of camping and hiking, where everything has to be rip-stop, multi-fuel, Goretex, and composite construction. Not only must everything be lighter weight, there must be more luxury and options than ever before. As Leopold noted in this 1940-era essay, describing the beginning of the modern ethos:

"Then came the gadgeteer, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer. He has draped the American outdoorsman with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them. Gadgets fill the pockets, they dangle from neck and belt. The overflow fills the auto trunk, and also the trailer. Each item of outdoor equipment grows lighter and often better, but the aggregate poundage becomes tonnage. The traffic in gadgets adds up to astronomical sums, which are soberly published as representing 'the economic value of wildlife.' But what of cultural values?"

The great thing about fox hunting and terrier work is that, with the exception of the locator collar, the equipment we use to today would need no explanation to Jaques Du Fouilloux (1560) or Sir Walter Scott (1810). Nothing much has changed, and very little has gone "high tech," in large part because the intervening variable -- the dog -- is immune to mechanical intervention.

At its core, the fox hunter is a primitive hunter and the dog is a primitive animal. As Leopold noted about mounted American fox hunting (which has never included killing the animal being chased):

"Fox-hunting with hounds, backwoods style, presents a dramatic instance of partial and perhaps harmless mechanized invasion. This is one of the purest of sports; it has real split-rail flavor; it has man-earth drama of the first water. The fox is deliberately left unshot, hence ethical restraint is also present. But we now follow the chase in Fords! The voice of Bugle-Anne mingles with the honk of the flivver! However, no one is likely to invent a mechanical foxhound, nor to screw a polychoke on the hound's nose. No one is likely to teach dog-training by phonograph, or by other painless shortcuts. I think the gadgeteer has reached the end of his tether in dogdom."

When Breeders Select for Defect

If this was done surgically, the perpetrators would be sent to jail.  The animal in the back is a dingo -- the wild dog of Australia.

Vicious: Wolves and Men in America

Despite a lot of talk and unfounded rumor, there is only one record of a non-rabid wolf killing a human in North America since the arrival of Europeans.

Yet humans have killed wolves wholesale, using poison, traps, clubs, rifles, and even laying out mackerel hooks inside lumps of meat and fat. Nothing was too brutal in the quest to exterminate the wolf, and by 1880 a large part of America was wolf-free.

The wolf hung on into the 20th Century, however, in large part because the bounty system did not pay enough for people to spend months tracking down the last western wolves which were smarter and more trap-shy than most. When the Government began paying a professional cadre of wolfers to exterminate the last of their kind, however, the fate of the wolf was sealed.

Ironically, one of the last Government wolfers was Aldo Leopold, whose birthday it is today.  Aldo was a wolfer when he was a young man working for the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico. Leopold went on to write the first book on Game Management in the U.S., and became, posthumously, an icon of the modern environmental movement with his memoir, A Sand County Almanac.

Buried in that little book is an essay called "Thinking Like a Mountain," and within it a section in which Leopold observes the dying of a "fierce green fire" within a wolf as it bleeds out on on rock after being shot.

Up until that hunt, Leopold had thought what he had been doing was good for deer and the mountain, but after seeing the wolf die he suspected neither the deer nor the mountain agreed with that view.

In time, as deer overgrazed sections of the West and East, Leopold began to fully understand the importance of keeping top predators in the eco-system. "A thing is right," he wrote "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of a biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

But Leopold came to this conclusion many decades after shooting out the last wolves of New Mexico, and in his youth he was among the cadres of Government wolfers who told stories about wolf hunts in order to help raise cash to support the public extermination effort.

Government-sponsored wolfers created traveling displays of wolf pelts and wolf skulls. These displays and stories memorialized the last of the western wolves and gave them names: The Custer Wolf, Old Three Toes, Old Lefty, and Old Rags the Digger, among them.

By giving individual wolves names and personalities, Government trappers helped break down the wall between wolf myth and wolf reality. The wolf, which had once seemed threatening, dangerous and mysterious, now became the outlaw hero of the story, and an emblem of the last days of the romantic (and dying) American frontier.

This is the essential plot structure of Jon T. Coleman's book "Vicious: Wolves and Men in America."

The book is not a text on wolf biology, but a history book that analyzes the gaps and nexus between wolf myth and wolf reality. Though well-written, it is more than a little burdened by the weight of being overly-academic and spending perhaps too much time on folklore and not enough on basic wolf biology. No matter -- if you have ever wondered how the wolf went from pariah to paragon in the space of 50 years, this book tells the tale.

Coleman suggests that the wolf reintroduction efforts of the 1990s (which have been quite successful) occurred because America is now mostly urban and has little contact with farm animals which now come from protected feed lots rather than the free-range forests and fields where wolf, ranchers, farmers and livestock once battled.

"Human predation has become so technical and abstract [in the lat 20th Century] that the consumers of animal protein no longer feel emotionally connected to the beasts they ingest...
Reintroduced wolves have thrived in a cultural environment that accepts the scientific extermination of millions of domestic animals but rejects violence towards a handful of wild creatures."

Would the wolf have been reintroduced if Americans still lived on grass-fed beef?

Perhaps not.

Did cows have to fatten in feed lots in order for America to returns its large predators to their spot on the ecological ladder?


It is an uncomfortable kind of tradeoff.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Stock Brokers in the Woods


I live in a state (Virginia) where the majority of the land is in forest.  In fact, you could walk for  over 500 straight miles in Virginia and never come out of the forest, and I have done that.

The U.S. Forest Service defines forestland as being one acre or greater in size, with at least 10 percent tree cover. By that definition, the United States has about 766 million acres of forestland covering about 33 percent of the nation’s total land area.

America's Forests are split almost evenly between the Eastern forests (55 percent) and Western forests (45 percent). About 58 percent of U.S. forestland is privately owned — by individuals, families, Native American tribes, timber corporations, nonprofit organizations, and other groups. The other 42 percent is under the control of federal, state, and local governments.

We, in America, are a forest people. In his book Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into BattlegroundJim Sterba writes:
Where do most people in the United States live? The answer is... counterintuitive: They live in the woods. We are essentially forest dwellers.

....[I]f you draw a line around the largest forested region in the contiguous United States — the one that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Plains — you will have drawn a line around nearly two-thirds of America’s forests (excluding Alaska’s) and two-thirds of the U.S. population...

If you got in an airplane and flew from Albany to Boston during the day... you could look down and see almost nothing but trees from one downtown to the other. Fly the same route at night, and you see lots of lights — lights of people living in a huge forest.

In the eastern United States over two and a half centuries, European settlers cleared away more than 250 million acres of forest. By the 1950s, depending on the region, nearly half to more than two-thirds of the landscape was reforested, and in the last half century, states in the Northeast and Midwest have added more than 11 million acres of forest.

In the most heavily populated region of the United States, the urban corridor that runs from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland, Maine, with eight of the ten most densely populated states, forest cover varied from a low of 30.6 percent in Delaware to a high of 63.2 percent in Massachusetts. The corridor runs straight through Connecticut, the fourth most densely populated state, and one that is more than 60 percent forested. Three out of four residents live in or near land under enough trees to be called forestland if they weren’t there.

John C. Gordon, the former dean of the Yale School of Forestry in New Haven, made a similar observation in speeches. “If you looked down at Connecticut from on high in the summer, what you’d see was mostly unbroken forest,” he said. “If you did the same thing in late fall after the leaves have fallen from those trees, what you’d see was stockbrokers."

Running with the Fox

Field biologists are a little like hunters -- they spend inordinate amounts of time crouched in the weeds, or jungled up in thickets, plagued by gnats and mosquitoes, pounded by the sun, burned by the wind and wet to the bone. And all because of some critter.

David MacDonald is a hunter at heart, albeit a hunter equipped with a Yagi directional-antenna in one hand, and a pair of infra-red binoculars in the other. After more than 25 years of tracking red foxes through farm, fell, forest, suburb, desert and inner city, he is also the preeminent fox biologist in the world.

Running With the Fox is his masterpiece

MacDonald writes as someone who has spent decades studying foxes -- indeed, one wonders if he ever sleeps, as he seems to be out most nights searching for any of a dozen or more animals he has radio-collared.

MacDonald is a population biologist and his goal is to understand the dynamics of fox life, from food and mating to migration and mortality. Over the course of almost 30 years of study, he has raised many fox litters from whelps and has seen many of those same animals crushed by cars, snared by keepers, shot by farmers, accidentally butchered by combines, or perish from disease or abuse inflicted by other fox or feral dogs.

In the wild, few things ever die of old age or in their sleep.

Despite all, the fox not only persists but thrives.

How is that possible?

The simple answer is that fox are very secretive and very adaptable. Not only can they thrive on a hundred different food sources, but what foods they eat are rarely missed by man.

Combine that with a nocturnal lifestyle, a natural (and well deserved!) fear of humans and dogs, and an almost supernatural sense of hearing, smell and sight, and it turns out that fox are rarely seen, whether they are cruising the edges of farms, suburban yards, or small woods.

Sprinkled throughout Running with the Foxes are amazing tidbits of information gleaned from examining scores of thousands of fox scats and observing vulpines in every kind of habitat, from Iceland to Israel, and from downtown Oxford to the woods of Canada's national parks. A few summary points:

1. Foxes eat a lot of earthworms. To hear some folks talk, you would think a fox was the size of a wolf and largely dined on sheep and chickens. In fact, the average fox is just 12 to 14 pounds and lives on a diet composed mostly of mice, voles, insects, fruit, young rabbits, diseased birds, and scavenged food ranging from fried chicken found at parks to roadkill gleaned from medians, to bird seed spilled from garden bird feeders. Earthworms, it turns out, comprise 20 to 35 percent of fox diet in many pasture-rich areas where worms come up in high densities on moist nights with little wind. Previous studies of fox diet have missed earthworms as a key component because observers did not have night-visions goggles and did not do microscopic analysis of fox scat to find the thousands of tiny chatae which are the scale-like growths worms use to move through the soil.

2. Hunting foxes has increased their global numbers. As paradoxical as it sounds, no human action has been as beneficial to the red fox as the mounted hunt. The reason for this is simple: fox hunting has bestowed on fox an economic and cultural value, and mounted hunts are so terribly inefficient that they do not do much to suppress fox populations. Not only did the mounted hunts import red fox to North America and Australia -- where they have thrived in spectacular numbers -- but they also led the charge to ban efficient traps and poisons in the UK. Indeed, the highly pejorative term "vulpicide" specifically means the killing of fox by means other than with hounds and terriers. As mounted hunts gained in popularity, fox coverts were planted and maintained on UK farms and estates, artificial breeding earths were constructed, and fox were live-trapped and moved into areas where they had been depleted. The result is that across the UK -- and across the world -- there are now far more red fox running about than there were just 150 years ago.

3. Foxhunting is not the most cruel way to die. MacDonald notes that most kinds of "natural" death are cruel, and that immortality is not an option for the fox. Is "natural" starvation, disease or predation more cruel, or less cruel, than an "unnatural" death by hunting, which is likely to be swift and sure? MacDonald notes that "If hunting stopped, the same number of foxes, or even more, would be killed by people using other methods such as traps, poison, snares or night-shooting," as most fox that are purposely terminated in the UK are on bird-shoot estates where the fox is in direct competition with the "excess" birds released into the wild. As MacDonald notes, hunters are willing to pay £10 a bird -- fox are not.

4. Foxes do almost no damage to sheep populations. After spending countless hours observing fox in sheep country, often at night and through infra-red goggles, MacDonald concludes that fox are not very fond of mutton and that they do very little predation on live lambs. Given almost any kind of alternative food source -- rabbits, bird seed, worms, baby birds, fruit or roadkill -- a fox will give sheep a pass. When fox do eat sheep, they tend to focus on already-dead detritus -- sheep testicles that drop off into the field after castrating bands are applied (MacDonald notes that he often finds fox feces containing these same undigested rubber bands), after birth, and even sheep dung from young lambs -- the latter loaded with still-undigested milk products. MacDonald does not deny that fox may kill a few very young (and perhaps already fatally weak) sheep, but such attacks are so rare they have never been filmed and are statistically negligible. MacDonald notes that in the fell and upland regions, where fear of fox predation is highest, sheep mortality is often 25% with many lambs born starving due to over-grazing abetted by a government policy that subsidizes overly-dense sheep production. With ewes in poor feed, and lambs borne wet on cold and windy slopes without shelter, lamb mortality is very high without any fox participation at all. The fact that fox, on occasion, scavenge the already-dead does little harm to the living.

5. Fox control has very little impact on total fox population numbers. Fox hunting with hounds and terriers is not very efficient, and MacDonald believes it does no real harm to overall fox populations. While some very heavily 'keepered shooting estates may be able to knock down fox populations over a small area, so many young fox migrate outward to find new ground every year that, absent constant trapping, shooting and digging (which is done on some shooting estates) the population balance is quickly restored. In the UK, fox hunting of all kinds removes about 1 fox per 6.7 square kilometers a year -- enough to encourage more breeding, but too low a number to actually reduce the fox population. Notes MacDonald, "foxhunting is of minor significance to foxes in particular, or amongst wildlife issues generally." In short, almost any other environmental issue or impact is more important to fox welfare than foxhunting.

6. Fox hunting may benefit the environment. MacDonald notes that with the rise of mounted hunts, more fox coverts were planted and farmers began to be paid to not poison or trap them. The result has been an increase in the number of fox in the UK over the course of the last 150 years. In a survey of 800 farmers, MacDonald also discovered that those who were enthusiastic foxhunters had removed 35% less hedgerows than the average farmer during the 1970s -- apparently because of their desire to produce good fox habitat.

7. There is very little moral distinction between fox hunting and eating fish or owning a cat. MacDonald does not recoil at the idea of fox hunting, and finds it morally indistinguishable from such common activities as eating fish or owning a cat. He notes that "people's gastronomic enjoyment outweighs their concern for the consequences of harvesting billions of fish annually, as their enjoyment of their cat's companionship outweighs regret at the deaths of millions of hedgerow birds annually."

8. While fox predation on farm stock may do very little economic harm, hunting of foxes may present some economic benefits. While fox do very little damage to sheep, they do cut in to the number of "surplus" birds on lands where they are stocked for hunting. MacDonald is impressed by the economics of the shoots. He notes that "the game shooting industry is probably largely responsible for the frequently unpleasant deaths of 100,000 fox annually in Britain, but against these must be weighed the fact that this industry provides the major incentive for habitat conservation on farmland. In Britain, in 1982, it was estimated to generate more than £200 million worth of consumer expenditure and a game 'bag' valued at £17 million. There is an argument that game shooting is the greatest hope for conservation on modern farms, but that predators of game are the sacrifice required to secure the land." Against the economics of bird hunting, MacDonald weighs the economics of mounted fox hunting (which seek to protect fox in order to chase them), a pastime which, in the UK, is enjoyed by over 200,000 people and which results in over 2,600 full-time jobs, and many more thousands of part-time or associated jobs, ranging from farriers to vets. In actuality, it appears both bird-shoots and mounted fox hunts preserve land, and that the large estates can be managed for fox or birds without having much impact on overall fox or bird numbers -- a win/win for the environment, and therefore a win for fox and birds as well.

Running with the Fox is available (used) from Abebooks.

Coffee and Provocation

Dogecoin, a Joke Cryptocurrency, Is Now Worth $2 Billion
Dogecoin, a joke cryptocurrencey set up in 2013 by Jackson Palmer and Billy Markus, and inspired by the then-popular Shiba Inu “Doge” internet meme, has skyrocketed in value.

Real Fire Birds
Some Australian birds of prey pick up burning twigs and branches to start fires in other areas in order to drive out prey species. Black Kites (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and Brown Falcons (Falco berigora) have been observed engaging in the behavior.

That Cardboard Coffee Sleeve
The cardboard sleeve that your hot drink slides into is called a zarf.

Norway is Better Than We Are
In Norway, the government buys 1,000 copies of any new book, as long as it passes quality control, and distributes them to libraries. This keeps small publishers in business, and gives writers generous royalties. All public universities are free to attend in Norway, and the literacy rate is 100 percent.

An Island Larger Than the Lake It Sits In
RenĂ©-Levasseur Island in Canada is larger in area than the lake in which it is situated.  The odd geological feature was created by the impact of a meteorite 214 million years ago combined with man-made flooding.

The Jug Life of Tap Water
Tap water in a jug has a shelf-life of 6 months, after which chlorine dissipates and bacteria starts to grow.

Training the Trainers
Dolphins at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi are rewarded with food for cleaning litter out of their tanks, including the occasional dead seagull. In order to get more treats, the dolphins have taken to tearing up paper and other trash in order to get more rewards. Carrying the idea one step farther, they have also taken to hiding some of the fish they are given, using it to lure seagulls into the water, and then catching the seagulls for an even bigger fish reward.

Salmon Making Mountains
Scientists calculate that salmon nest-making during spawning may have moved enough gravel and silt down stream to have caused some riverbeds in the Pacific Nortwest to be 30 percent lower than if no spawning had taken place.

How Do Alligators Survive a Freak Freeze?
It turns out they stick just their noses above the freeze line and ice forms around their snout, with their body in torpor under water.  The result: their nose alone sticks out of the ice.

Time to End Welfare for Wildlife?
A new regulation requires all protected species to be actively looking for new habitat in order to receive funding.

Robert Smalls, American Hero

Robert Smalls escaped slavery by stealing a confederate ship and then sold the ship to buy his master's house. Smalls later served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Dog Snatched by An Eagle and Survives

Zoey, a 7-year old, 8-pound Bichon Frise, was picked up by a Bald Eagle and later found on a road 4 miles away near Bowmanstown, Pennsylvania.  Talk about flying the unfriendly skies!

The Demography of American Voting

The XKCD comic has put together a terrific map that explains American voting demographics. The bottom line is that "red" states typically have very few people in them -- a fact illustrated in the XKCD comic by the use of white space.  Click to enlarge.

Overpopulated Great Britain

Forest as a percent of land in European countries. As you can see, England is gut-shot with people; it is the most densely populated country in Europe.  Click map to enlarge.

Monday, January 08, 2018

The Terrier in the Trump White House

From page 100 of Fire and Fury, the excellent and well-written book by Michael Wolff about the first 10 months inside the Trump White House:

[White House Deputy Chief of Staff Katie] Walsh, sitting within sight of the Oval Office, was located at something like the ground zero of the information flow between the president and his staff. As Trump’s primary scheduler, her job was to ration the president’s time and organize the flow of information to him around the priorities that the White House had set. In this, Walsh became the effective middle person among the three men working hardest to maneuver the president — Bannon, Kushner, and Priebus.

Each man saw the president as something of a blank page — or a scrambled one. And each, Walsh came to appreciate with increasing incredulity, had a radically different idea of how to fill or remake that page. Bannon was the alt-right militant. Kushner was the New York Democrat. And Priebus was the establishment Republican. “Steve wants to force a million people out of the country and repeal the nation’s health law and lay on a bunch of tariffs that will completely decimate how we trade, and Jared wants to deal with human trafficking and protecting Planned Parenthood.” And Priebus wanted Donald Trump to be another kind of Republican altogether.

As Walsh saw it, Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was
running the Paul Ryan White House. It was a 1970s video game, the white ball pinging back and forth in the black triangle.

Priebus — who was supposed to be the weak link, thus allowing both Bannon and Kushner, variously, to be the effective chief of staff — was actually turning out to be quite a barking dog, even if a small one. In the Bannon world and in the Kushner world, Trumpism represented politics with no connection to the Republican mainstream, with Bannon reviling that mainstream and Kushner operating as a Democrat. Priebus, meanwhile, was the designated mainstream terrier.
Read the whole thingKindle and print editions available here.

Attacks on the Home Front

What Is a Terrier?

This is not a pipe. It's a painting.

President Lincoln was not much for hiding behind language or engaging in obfuscation, and he would sometime pose a riddle to new staffers to underscore the point.

"If you call a tail a leg," he would ask, "how many legs does a dog have?


"No, four.
Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

I tell this tale, because it is more than a little germane when it comes to the taxonomy of dogs.

If I point to a cross between a Dachshund and a Corgi, and proclaim it to be a "Shenandoah Mountain Setter," does that make it a bird dog?


If I pick up a Border Collie at the shelter and insist on calling it a "Black and White Swan," does that make it a bird?


And yet, there seems to be confusion among some people in the dog world, who think words mean nothing. Words do mean something. Take, for example, the word terrier.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Etymology Online, this is the origin and meaning of the term:

c.1440, from O.Fr. chien terrier "terrier dog," lit. "earth dog," from M.L. terrarius "of earth," from L. terra "earth" (see terrain). So called because the dogs pursue their quarry (foxes, badgers, etc.) into their burrows.


A terrier is a small dog that goes to earth and which pursues its quarry -- foxes, badger, etc. -- into their burrows.

I could not have said it better, though I might have given a bit more history.

For example, I might have detailed the fact that Dame Juliana Berners, writing in the Boke of St. Albans (1496) noted that there were 14 basic types of dogs:

"Thyse ben the names of houndes," she wrote, "fyrste there is a Grehoun, a Bastard, aMengrell, a Mastiff, a Lemor, a Spanyel, Raches, Kenettys, Teroures, Butchers' Houndes, Myddyng dogges, Tryndel-taylles, and Prikheridcurrys, and smalle ladyes' poppees that bere awaye the flees."

Later, in 1576, John Keys (who wrote under the Latinized name Johannes Caius) divided the world of dogs into five broad categories. Under the first group type, the Venatici, or dogs used to hunt beasts, could be found:

Leverarws or Harriers; Terrarius or Terrars; Sanguinarius or Bloodhounds; Agaseus or Gazehounds; Leporanus or Grehounds; Loranus or Lyemmer; Vertigus or Tumbler; and Cams furax or Stealer.

In an entirely different group (his fourth category), Caius noted that were various kinds of herding and guard dogs.

Canis pastoralis, or the Shepherd's Dogge; The Mastive, or Bandogge, called Canis Villaticus Or Carbenarius, which hath sundry names derived from sundry circumstances.

Prior to the 19th Century, there were very few "breeds" of dogs; most were just types.

This seems to be a point of confusion for some people who are a bit shaky as to what constitutes a "breed" versus a "type."

The Oxford English Dictionary says a breed is "a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities."

In the modern world, it is generally deemed to be an animal that "breeds true" for at least seven generations.

But what does it mean to "breed true?"

Good people can, and do disagree. The American Kennel Club, for example, splits breeds that other registries and countries lump together, and vice versa.

The good news is that the real experts -- the people who actually work their dogs on a regular basis rather than merely parade them around at the end of a string leash, are not too often confused.

A genuine terrierman knows what a true terrier is, just as a running dog man knows what a true sighthound is. And as for the houndsman, he will tell you a good dog is never the wrong color, and the same can be said of those who herd sheep for a living, or depend on dogs to carry them over 200 miles of open arctic snow and ice.

But, of course, these people are in the minority today, aren't they?

Instead of people who engage in honest work with types of dogs, we now have show ring theoreticians who are obsessed with breeds of dogs.

For them, a dog is not what it does, it is whatever the piece of paper says, and that piece of paper is all wrapped up in a romantic history cocked up years ago by an all-breed book writer penning paragraphs about a dog he never owned and never worked.

As a result, we have complete and total nonsense in the world of canine taxonomy.

Take the issue of terriers, for example.

Despite what some folks would have you believe, a "terrier" is not a universal catch-phrase that can be properly tagged to any type of scruffy-looking or game-bred dog. It is a dog that goes to ground.

So then, is a dachshund a terrier? Yes! It is included in all books about working terriers. A true terrier is defined by the work it does, same as a true collie or a true bird dog is defined by the work it does.

A 60-pound hound is not a terrier.

That would seem to be simple and obvious enough, but for some folks it is not. And so, in the topsy-turvy world of the early dog show world, a few odd-looking Otterhounds were once crossed with a working terrier and then called the "Bingley" or "Waterside" terrier, and then later renamed the "Aierdale" terrier.

But can a dog that is almost entirely hound, and which weighs 60 pounds be called a true terrier? Only if you would call a transvestite a woman!

An Aierdale is a hound in form, and it does a hound's work in the field when it is worked. A houndsman knows it is a hound, for it is found in his kennels, and not that of the terrierman.

Aierdales, in turn, were crossed with a herding breed (the Giant Schnauzer) and a molosser breed (the Rottweiler) and a few herding and guard dogs (Caucasian Ovcharkas and Eastern European Shepherds). The resulting cross was called a "Black Russian Terrier," despite the fact that there is no terrier in the breed at all.

Once again, you can call the dog whatever you want, but calling it so does not make it true. A Black Russian Terrier is not a terrier in any way, shape or form.

Going down the list, we have the Tibetan Terrier which is not a terrier (it is a spaniel), and we have the Schnauzer (it is a miniature version of its larger herding-dog relative), and we have the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Pit Bull Terrier, which are molosser (guard dog) breeds.

And then, of course, we have the Bull Terrier which is neither true terrier nor true molosser. It is, instead, the most common type of dog on earth today: the dog dealer's dog. This is an animal cocked up for the pet trade, and for no other purpose than to trot around the ring and lie next to the chair.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a dog being created solely for the purpose of being a pet. That is the work of most dogs, and it is the purpose to which most terrier breeds have devolved. But let's not kid ourselves that these dogs were ever bred for any other purpose, eh? A pet is an honorable enough occupation; let us not gild the lily with nonsense histories or contrived work.

And as for ratting, let me say this clear: any dog can rat. A whippet is a fine ratter. But it is not a terrier. If a dog is too large to go to ground, and has never gone to ground, it is not a true terrier, because it is not a dog of the dirt.

Patriotic Terriers

“Still More Bones Wanted for Salvage” poster, circa 1940. During World War II, bones were used to make fertilizer, munitions, and glue.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

A Brief History of Dog Food

The first commercial dog food was introduced in England about 1860. James Spratt, an electrician from Ohio, was in London selling lightning rods when he saw miserable street dogs ganged up along the piers waiting to being tossed mouldy hardtack biscuits and scraps of rotten food.

This was a very old type of feeding called "trencher feeding" that had existed in the U.K. since before there were dinner plates. A "trencher" was a flat piece of bread once commonly used as a plate or underneath a rough wooden plate. Food was served on this bread and the bread and the table scraps (along with spoiled food and boiled knuckle bones) were then "tossed to the dogs."

Spratt decided he could do better than bread and hard-tack biscuits, and he came up with a biscuit, shaped like a bone, made of wheat, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood. Spratt's dog food company thrived, and around 1890 he took it to the U.S. where it became "Spratt's Patent Limited" which eventually diversified into other feed stocks (such as fish food) as well as veterinary medicines.

In the 1950s Spratt's became part of General Mills, and in 1960 it was bought by "Spillers" dog food company (a UK subsidiary of Purina which is owned by General Mills). Today Spillers makes "
Bonio" bone-shaped biscuits which are very similar to those once manufactured by James Spratt.

Other dog food companies sprang up, many with paid endorsements from veterinarians who shilled for them just as veterinarians shill for Hill's "Science Diet" today. Right from the beginning pet food manufacturers discouraged their clients from supplementing with anything but food out of the box. A culture of dependence was being forged.

In 1907, F.H. Bennett introduced Milkbone dog biscuits as a complete dog food and a direct competitor to Spratt.
Milkbone and Spratt's Dogs Food and Cake dominated pet food manufacturing until the 1920's when canned dog food was first introduced by Ken-L-Ration.

Canned horsemeat was cheap after World War I as huge numbers of horses and mules were being replaced by cars and tractors. The growth in canned dog food really shot up in the 1930s, and by 1941, canned dog food represented 91% of the dog food market in the U.S.

Canned dog food fell out of favor (and supply) during World War II when a shortage of tin made canning difficult and expensive, and as the horse surplus dried up. By 1946, dry dog food was king once again, and it has remained so to this day.

The production of enormous bags of "kibbled" dog foods began in earnest in 1957 when the Purina company began marketing extruded dry dog "chow" through grocery store chains. Purina followed on with cat chow in 1962. Today most grocery stores in the U.S. devote more shelf space to canned and kibbled dog food than they do to breakfast cereal or baby food.

Ralston Purina created the soft-moist pet food category in 1971, and this category now includes such foods as
Purina ONE and Pro Plan.

The rise in kibbled dog food in the U.S. seems to coincide with a rise in canine skin problems arising from canine allergies to corn, wheat and perhaps other additives to dry dog food such as preservatives, coloring, and stabilizers.

Perception is not necessarily reality, of course. In fact, not all canine allergies are due to food. At the same that pet owners were switching to bagged dog food, they were also washing their dogs more (causing dry skin) and bringing them indoors where they came in contact with carpet cleaners, laundry soaps, room fresheners, and a host of other chemicals.

In addition, the aggressive line-breeding of dogs to create new types (almost all of which were created between 1850 and 1930), served to concentrate genetic defects in certain lines of dogs -- including genetic predispositions to skin allergies.

If you think your dog may have a food allergy, the only true test is to switch foods. This is a process, however, not an event. It may take several weeks on a new diet for a dog's skin condition to improve, so it's best to start an "elimination diet" right at the beginning. This can be as simple as feeding your dog table scraps for a few weeks (no salt, no bread) which will increase variety in the diet. Once your dog's skins problems have abated, introduce a new type of food and watch for any recurrence of skin problems.

Price, quality of food and skin allergies are not closely related. Dogs can be allergic to very high-quality ingredients. In fact, the most common food allergy in dogs is an allergy to beef! Whatever food you use, I recommend that all bagged foods be bought from supermarkets or other venues with high-volume sales so that they remain fresh as long as possible.

Above all, be wary of food fads, which are always more about the human than the dog. Your goal should be a balanced diet, a dog that has healthy stools, no allergies, sound teeth, and is on the thin side.

A great deal of what you read on bulletin boards and list-servs about dog food is nonsense. Today's pet food companies and executives are not going to risk their brands, reputations and personal credibility by knowingly putting horrific ingredients in dog food.

Remember, we are talking about companies that are producing 12 million pounds of food an hour (a real number).
This food has to look and taste the same every time that it is produced, which requires a great deal of regimentation, paperwork, inspection and quality control. Dog food companies are not using road kill for ingredients (as some hysterics have claimed), but entire train loads of cheap and readily available corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, soy and beef parts, as well as breathtaking amounts of lamb, chicken and "meal" made from ground up beef, chicken, lamb and turkey (including bones). To this mixture are added vitamins and various additives for color (to please you) and preservatives (because people prefer to buy dog food in big bags that will last several weeks).

For most dogs, bagged kibble supplemented with vegetables and a few special scraps from the kitchen (a few scrambled eggs, a bit of sausage, a few carrots) works fine. Most dogs do not have skin problems of any kind, and most canine skin problems are not food related. I prefer kibbled dog food over semi-soft because I think it is better for the dog's teeth, and because the high heat of the extruding process sterilizes the ingredients, while the dryness of the product discourages spoilage.