Once upon a time, I lived in the suburbs with three salukis. Every evening, we walked several miles around the neighborhood with the dogs on retractable leads. I do not actually recommend this.
There is an art-form, a ballet of sorts, involved in walking three salukis on three flexi-leads. The dogs dart to and fro, the lines zing and zang, and the walker constantly exchanges leads and hands as the dog perform complicated pinwheels in opposite directions, like a cirque de soleil act. I don't like to brag, but I liked to think we performed like a well-oiled machine, a precision dance troupe, and made quite the vision walking along our neighborhood streets every evening.
Or maybe, quite the scene...
Now, to change hands and leads and keep your arms from popping out of joint, you have to constantly lift the lines and leads over your head. This is a good workout for the upper body, so walking the dogs is a full body workout. So it was, one dark and windy night, I was climbing the hill on the way home, the leads zinging and zanging overhead, when a) a car unexpectedly rounded the bend, spotlighting us, and b) a gust of wind picked up.
Did I mention I have long hair?
Turns out, when you call the dogs back to you, retracting the leads, while holding them over your head, as the wind blows your hair up in the air, several things happen. None of which are good. The dogs all fly back toward you, from various directions, but not by straight routes. The leashes retract---along with your hair. They suck your hair all the way to root, preventing you from unbraiding the tangle the dogs have made of the lines, and in fact wrapping one around your neck when one dog change direction. After that, things go poorly.
The lines keep retracting, retracting your hair along with them, pulling the dogs toward your head and toward each other until they all meet in a sudden impact sort of situation. This in turn causes more things to transpire: Your head is flung to dog head level in an attempt to not have your hair ripped out and your breath cut off. The dogs, all now stuck together and to your head uncomfortably close, blame each other for running into them and realize now is the ideal time to have a massive dog fight. OK, only two of them; the third one is desperately trying to run away, dragging my head, now in the center of a rapidly constricting cat's cradle, with him.
At least the car stopped. Who wouldn't, with that kind of free entertainment is their headlights? I think he may have even turned his brights on. Didn't get out of the car or anything rash like that, but he got a good show. I may have even seen a flash from a camera. Because, you know, being blinded also helped.
I wish I could tell you how I got disentangled. In case, you know, you find yourself in the same situation one day. I recall trying to separate the fighters, but this is not easy when your head is the main thing between them. Especially when your throat is being garroted by the third one who just wants to get the hell out of there! So---just because I am spoiled and like to breathe---I unhooked that one, knowing she would run home. OK, maybe not really knowing she would run home, but not really giving much a damn where she ran right at that moment. The others---I somehow got to my feet, bending over, and straddling one and unhooking both, holding them apart, one in each hand.
I am now in a position to tell you that retractable leads---or at least three of them---are really heavy when the only thing supporting them is your hair. They unravel so they are hanging by about a foot of line from my head, like some avant gard hair ornaments. I stand there, trying to figure what to do. And this is when the jerk in the car decides the show is over, and starts to blow his horn! We stagger to the edge of the road, the car guns past---thanks for the help---and I trudge home feeling like Medusa (that's the one with snake hair). Or maybe Methuselah (that's the one that was about seven billion years old).
I would like to say that once home, the dogs made up, the leads came out, and we all had a fine laugh. Well, the dogs made up. My hair came out. And my (now former) friends had a fine laugh as I explained the line burn around my neck.
Today's tenuously related tip: Don't you love the folks who shows up at the vet's office with their dog on a retractable leash? And then seem to forget how to retract it? "Oh, he just wants to be friends," they gush, as he bolts across the room to snuffle at your dog---no matter that your dog is at death's door, comatose or about to have a seizure from fear. I've tried to get my dog to sound like he's hacking up a lobe with kennel cough, but they seldom sound convincing enough, and the owners seem oblivious when you mention how contagious he is. But what does work is to bring a bit of whipped cream with you, and discreetly let you dog lap it up, making sure some sticks to his lips. Then declare, "I sure hope they can get his rabies under control!" Most owners, even the ones stupid enough to let their dogs wander about the reception room unretracted, seem to understand the word "rabies"--especially when your dog is foaming at the mouth. Zip!
I recently attended an event with several other dog writers, most of whom were a younger crowd who wrote blogs or published local pet newspapers. It was an eye-opening experience. As with any group of dog writers, we talked about our own dogs and shared their pictures. Almost every other writer had cute mixes and we all cooed over how cool they were. A few initially thought my dogs were also pretty cool, but that was when they still thought they were mixes. I could swear that once they found out my dogs were an actual breed the compliments and interest stopped. OK, maybe my imagination.
Or maybe not. I was interested in an article one writer wrote about a hairless pit bull. Because I'm interested in genetics, I was anxious to find out if the writer was sure of the dogs' parentage (yes, supposedly two fully coated pit bull parents) and if they'd had any DNA testing done or otherwise made the dog's DNA available to researchers. It was the last comment that led to indignation on the part of the writer, who proclaimed the owners had neutered the dog because they refused to allow the AKC to make another breed from it, and that they had been offered thousands and thousands of dollars by breeders but had refused because of their ethics. I tried to explain that AKC
doesn't make breeds that way, but that from a scientific viewpoint it would be interesting to know if the responsible mutation was the same as that causing hairlessness in other breeds (this dog also had dentition similar to that seen
in hairless Chinese Cresteds and other breeds thought to arise from the same mutation). I'd like to think I convinced her that no ethical breeder would be interested in creating a hairless pit bull (although I suppose some might think a toothless one might be a good idea) but I am not sure I fully succeeded.
Fast forward to dinner talk---and another writer who proclaimed show breeders were responsible for shelter dogs. Huh? Yes, she said: In their quest for a dog with some perfect trait, they bred litter after litter, and sold the rejects for $5 to $15 each. These rejects then ended up in shelters. She knew this was true because for one thing, look at the dogs on Petfinder.org. Most are purebreds, but not show dogs---obviously breeders' rejects. With the help of another experienced writer I explained that the dogs on Petfinder are usually labeled with a breed name to increase their exposure and interest level to browsers, and very likely to make them noticed by breed rescues that may take on a dog that is partly their breed. (I just visited Petfinder and found 36 Salukis or Saluki mixes listed. Of them, one is a saluki---anyone in New Jersey want a 7-year-old black and tan female Saluki? http://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/22844275
---and one other is a very cute sighthound mix: http://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/21871898 . Just because a dog is thin or has a brush tail does not make it Saluki or even part Saluki). We also pointed out that simply from a financial viewpoint it would be stupid to
sell puppies for $15; the same money goes into creating a pet puppy as a show puppy from the same litter. And finally, we explained that reputable breeders love their dogs and often place show quality puppies in pet homes because they want the best homes and lives for their puppies. Again, I suspect we failed to convince her, but perhaps we at least planted some doubts.
Purebred dog breeders are fighting a bad reputation. We've blamed the mainstream media for that, but the problem may be more insidious. When our own writers---the people who purport to know about dogs, and
who the public rely upon to inform them in turn---are so terribly misinformed about purebred dog breeders, we've got a problem.
I am a dog person in turmoil. I have always considered myself an outsider in the dog show world: sure, my dogs do well in the ring, have even won a Best in Show or two---but my bragging rights have always been that they're more than just pretty dogs. For more than a decade, I've belonged to several e-mail groups that spurn the foolishness of breeding for conformation over function or health, and I agree with them. But lately I've had second thoughts...
No, I have not decided that breeding for beauty trumps breeding for health. But as I wrote in an earlier blog, I have come to wonder what degree of health perfection we can realistically expect. If a dog is in pain---that is not acceptable. But at what point does "discomfort" become "pain?" I've had allergies all my life; I have certainly experienced "struggling to breathe" and ocular as well as nasal discharge. My knee hurts most of the time. My neck hurts all of the time. Like most people, my life is not discomfort-free. Yet I wonder if I would pass the Fit For Function, Fit For Life veterinary exams if I were to win at a KC championship show? And I wasn't even bred for show!
There's a difference between chronic pain and lack of health perfection. And here is where the tests fail. Evidence that a hairless Chinese Crested has a razor nick or burn? That's something the conformation judge should worry about, not a veterinarian. I've nicked myself with a razor before (well, actually I've looked like I was attacked by a wolverine at times) yet I did not need a blood transfusion nor was I in agony---actually, I scarcely felt it. Yet evidence of a single nick can be used to disqualify a Chinese Crested based on health reasons. Anyone who's ever used a clipper on a dog has probably goofed and caused some clipper burn at times; not optimal, but again,
reason to disqualify for health reasons---but only in Cresteds? The judge may fault the dog for improper coat...but is that a health problem?
The same goes for skin problems: again, there's a difference between a dog with oozing sores and one that has some reddened folds. I've been clearing woods the last few weeks; I have plenty of poison ivy and chiggers causing lots of itching, reddened skin and worse right now! Irritating? Yep. Painful? Nope. But I sure wouldn't be passing that vet exam.
Most dogs that failed the health check did so because of eye problems, and since we don't have access to their actual paperwork, we can only surmise it was due to tearing, corneal irritation or eyelid conditions. The Bulldog is said to have failed because of a scar on her cornea from a puppyhood injury. She apparently has no signs of irritation or pain or present problems. I had a toy rhinoceros horn stuck in my eye as a kid; I think I have a scar. Whatever, it doesn't bother me now. But again, I would be striking out at the vet exam.
The veterinarian checks also include lameness. I thought the judges already did this. At least at AKC shows, I've seen dogs excused for lameness where you could barely see that the dog had a slight hitch, and the dog didn't seem to have any problems coursing or doing agility. Judges are trained to look for movement; chances are, they've keenly observed thousands more dogs trot than the average veterinarian has. So it seems peculiar that a
veterinarian is now needed to oversee the judge's evaluation of movement. Or is it that some breeds are labeled lame because they are not the efficient movers that most purebred dogs are supposed to be?
I admit: I love a dog that can move. I couldn't handle showing a Neapolitan Mastiff. Bulldog movement doesn't excite me. And I'd be urging that Peke to run, run like the wind (or at least a gentle breeze)! But just because they don't float effortlessly around the ring doesn't mean they're lame or in pain. We humans aren't all track stars. And even weightlifters make lousy sprinters. Most of the rest of us would be challenged to do the runway walk, much less finish a walk-a-thon. Some of us shuffle, some of us sway, and some of us even limp, but here's the thing: we may not be fit for function, but we are fit for life!
To be continued...
Many years ago I was living in the suburbs with seven salukis. So I saved my dimes and bought my first house in the country, the one with 15 park-like acres so the salukis could run (semi) free and happy. I saved more dimes and worked like a manual laborer to fence and cross-fence the property so again, the salukis could cavort and enjoy their freedom.
Shortly after getting the fencing up I was driving along a nearby dirt run when a chicken ran across it. Why did the chicken cross the road? Inquiring minds wanted to know, so I stopped the car and followed the chicken to an abandoned farmhouse, where it was sitting on some eggs in a nest. The chicken was panting, and there was no water or anything chicken-friendly around. I took the chicken, eggs and nest home. My first chickens!
The eggs hatched. The house had eight kennel runs that the dogs didn’t use so we fenced the whole kennel in and put the chickens in it. Alas, this was not good enough for the chickens. As chickens are wont to do, they wanted more. Soon the chickens had the run of the 15 acres. Bobby (one of our salukis) killed the first one. By the way, tying a dead chicken to the dog by a rope, as suggested by Albert Payson Terhune, does in no way disgust the dog or cure him of chicken killing, but instead provides him bragging rights and moreover, provides immense entertainment to the other dogs when the chicken-dragger runs. I know this from first-hand experience. It also does not work well with doggie-doors or indoor-outdoor dogs.
The dogs continued to chase the chickens. This was no casual chicken chasing, but all-out catch-a-chicken-or-die-trying chicken chasing. Soon we had a dwindling chicken population and the dogs were confined to the house yard. The chickens had the run of the remaining 13 or so very expensive chicken acres. Even then, the chickens were not safe, as evidenced by the time I heard squawking and ran out to discover Patia lying down in the house yard with Rusty (the rooster) pinned beneath her paws as she methodically plucked him while he screamed.
This was not working out as planned.
So we put an ad in the paper to find the chickens a good home. We did not get many calls, but we finally found the chickens a home where we were assured they would live free and be pets. They lived nearby, so we could drive by and see them after we placed them. They were in a small coop at first---just until they acclimated, assured the new owners. But after two weeks, surely they'd had time to acclimate.
Thus it was we knocked on their door one day and demanded our chickens back because "they were not being kept in the manner to which they'd become accustomed." Yes, we actually used those words. The man stared as though he had to translate what we'd said, then blurted out, "They're chickens!" To his credit he helped us catch them.
We probably should have thought ahead a little more before pulling in and demanding our chickens. But we had not. So we loaded the now down to eight chickens into our mercedes sedan, where they fluttered about the back seat (and everywhere else) until we got home and let them go in the yard again. Regardless, a sedan was better than a coop.
Life returned to normal, with the dogs restricted to the house yard and occasionally killing a chicken until we found the chickens another home. This home did keep them as pets and they lived free and--um, well, kind of short--lives, as they were picked off by owls and raccoons and such.
People ask why we don't breed much. I just tell them the chicken story.
I've been working on my latest Dog World column, this month concerning the controversial vet checks at Crufts. I haven't rushed to write anything here because, to be honest, I've had mixed feelings. And well, I finally posted them yesterday on an Internet canine genetics list I'm on, as follows:
"I think most of us--at least those who don't own the high-profile breeds--initially nodded and thought, "Good move--let's make them stop breeding those snuffling bug-eyed droopy-faced caricatures--for the good of the dogs!" Yet all it takes is a look at one's own breed to wonder what's next. Looking at the next group of watched-breeds, I see Borzoi with "too much rear angulation" and I wonder what dreaded discomfort that will cause; I see Sloughis with "underweight" and wonder who determines how thin or fat a running sighthound must be. Then I think ahead of giant breeds, with decreased longevity, and realize that a size and weight limit may be next; toy breeds, with their propensity to patellar luxation, and off they go; deep-chested breeds; we'd better get rid of them because they're predisposed to bloat---short-legged dogs, either because of back problems or because they simply can't enjoy running as fast as other dogs---and on and on until we're back to wolves or pariah dogs. Right now the exams were rightfully only on the basis of current (or past--and I'm not sure I agree with that) evidence of disease/discomfort, but how long before it advances to predispositions to disease/discomfort? Then why stop there--let's move beyond physical features to breed-related hereditary problems such as heart problems because Dobes or Cavs or whatevers are predisposed to DCM or MVD and there's no DNA test for them...
"I agree, no dog should be purposefully bred to live a painful or struggling life, but I am not sure that actions such as the Crufts one are not throwing out the puppy with the bathwater in an effort that seemed to be a good PR move, but ultimately I believe will prove to be just the opposite."
It didn't get much attention, although a couple of members did respond. One reads this blog, so I'll let him have a go at responding via the comments (be sure to read what Rod says). Another focused on the fact that Borzois with too much bend of stifle have an overly steep pelvis and are not efficient gallopers. That may be true, but at that point aren't we getting back into judging function, not health?
Unrelated to my post, one of the members opined that in the scheme of things, if a dog needed to have its eyes tacked because of entropion, it wasn't the worst thing in the world, especially compared to serious disorders such as bloat. And he has a point; I'm surely not one who would purposefully advocate breeding dogs that needed eye tacking, but in the grand scheme of animal cruelty--with all the horrors we see even inflicted upon dogs, not to mention other animals--really? A couple of stitches under anesthesia? Why, nect thing you're going to be saying is dogs should never be spayed or neutered...oh wait. Animal rights activits tell us that is painless and justified and in fact, should be required. So if females need surgery to remove their reproductive organs, and males do too, does that mean neither sex should ever pass a vet check? Or if they fail, they shouldn't be spayed or neutered? I'm getting confused...it's late...
But anyway, given my Westminster Whine post, I figured some of you would be surprised.
Visit to Hill's, part 2: I could tell you all about nutrigenomics, which is really pretty cool, or all about ingredients and safety...I could even tell you about the laboratories, the in-house veterinary facilities, or the credentials of the scientists, veterinarians and animal techs who work there, blah, blah, blah---but when it comes down to it, it's all about the animals. And we all want to know what goes on behind closed doors at an animal research facility. I mean, we've heard stories...dingy cages, forlorn lab animals, unfeeling caretakers---after all, pet food companies are out to make money, and that is BAD.
And Hill's is out to make money, but---they also look to be spending it hand over fist when it comes to dog and cat facilities. Heck, they might have done better just to throw dollar bills in the runs and use it for bedding, cost-wise. Grind some up for kitty litter. Oh wait, they had some other kind of special kitty litter.
But they foolishly instead had a new building designed about two years ago. You enter the animal areas through a long corridor---that sounds ominous already, kind of like that long corridor Dorothy et al had to go down to meet the Wizard once they got in the building. Or Wicked Witch. Something with a W. Whatever. No, that's not it...Anyway, down the corridor we went. On one side the wall was lined with pictures of employees---I think it was everyone from the president to the janitor---each with their pets. I think if you didn't have a pet you couldn't get your picture on the wall. Or maybe they made you borrow one. Or buy one. Or maybe you couldn't get a job. It seemed to be a prerequisite for working there. In fact, one of the head guys at the plant said (the next day) the most common reason their employees give when applying for a job starts with, "Well, I have a dog (or cat) and I really love him, and I thought it would be really neat to work here..."
Well, rosey posed pictures are one thing, but when would we get to the real thing, the lab dogs, obviously sequestered away---hold on, what's this? The entire right side of the corridor is glass, and on the other side is...Beagletopia! Beagles running, Beagles fetching, Beagles friggin' cavorting. As far as you could see, Beagles and people playing in grass-covered yards, complete with little obstacle areas and gravel paths. It looked like about five or ten per yard. It turns out this was their daily "Bark-Park" playtime, and each group had one or two people in there playing with them---the Kansas version of Beagles Gone Wild. I was waiting for one of them (the dogs, not the girls) to pull its shirt down, except, you know, they were already naked (the dogs, not the girls).
Onward we trekked down this hallway---which I might add, had to be the world's longest glass hallway---until we passed the grassy area and came to a smaller yard of astroturf bounded by concrete. And Beagles bobbing up and down at the window, heads appearing and disappearing as they bounced and barked. Their buddies ignored them (there's a token suck-up in every bunch), some snoozing in the sun, others playing with toys, some wrestling amongst themselves and others ambling back inside through a doggy door.
Now, it's true that the folks at Hill's could have staged this. The techs did look suspiciously like models. Or Stepford Wives. Stepford Techs? And the bouncing Beagles could have been cleverly designed automatons---only in that case, Hill's really needs to go into the business of selling those instead of dog food, because there is a fortune to be had there.
But automaton or real, why Beagles? Beagles eat anything; how can they do any taste discrimination testing? I first tried a bag of Hill's on my dogs about 35 years ago; I recall the bag label stating something like, "Put the food down, and when he won't eat it, put it down the next day, and when he won't eat it, he'll probably choke it down by the third day" or something like that. I think I went about one day before it became seagull food, and even they were spitting the stuff out. Well, duh, if they taste-tested it with Beagles! It could have been gravel and the taste-bud-challenged dogs would have been scarfing it up.
Turns out Hill's has a had big change of heart when it comes to taste. The top guy there admitted that years ago, their philosophy was that taste was of minor importance compared to nutrition. But as anyone knows, you can have the best nutrition on earth, but it does the dog no good if it remains in the bowl or goes down the disposal. So they say they now have placed a big emphasis on palatability, and in fact much of their research deals with taste preferences. Yeah, still with Beagles. I plan to give it a try myeself---or, well, let the Salukis try it---for the ultimate test. I'll report back.
They do admit they need to bring in some more breeds. But that will take some time since they have about 485 Beagles, and the place only holds 500 dogs. And we all know that feeling of just one too many dogs on the bed...
By this time I was ready for them to show me the sleeping suites with king-sized beds that the techs spent the nights on with 20 Beagles to each bed, the hapless tech bracing herself from being pushed off the sliver on the bedside allotted her by the "hand on the floor" technique. You know what I'm talking about. But no, turns out each Beagle gets its own Beagle-sized bed within a Beaglish-sized cubbyhole.
Here's the set-up: The dogs live in packs of 20, made up of dogs of all ages. Each pack has its own room, which is about the size of a double-car garage. Lining each side are five or so stalls, each about the size of half a single bed. One each side of that and in the rear are resting platforms. Beyond the rear platform are two cubbyholes recessed into the wall so each dog has its own little cave to sleep in if he wants privacy. During the night, and in two hour
shifts during the day, two dogs are closed in the stalls for rest time. They used to let all 20 dogs run loose all day, but they said the dogs exhausted themselves because everyone kept everyone else all wound up like kids at a
carnival; they said that now they separate them into two groups of 10, so while one group plays for two hours, the other group rests. The group at play has doggy door access to a sun porch outside, and from there to the yard that has astroturf in it.
Feeding time: Since this is what they're there for, they don't just get a bowl of food shoved at them. Each dog is microchipped, and when it's food time, he runs into a little stall that reads his microchip, which opens a door to his food bowl, and records every bite he takes out of one or often two, bowls. Each dog is allowed to eat a precise amount of food to maintain its weight; when he has eaten that much, a tone sounds and then a puff of air blows on his face, so he backs out, the door shuts, and feeding time is over. When everyone is done, they go out and play. The bowls are switched and sanitized; each bowl has a barcode on it to ensure it is filled with the correct amount and type of food. It takes about 4 1/2 hours to feed all the dogs there. They only eat once a day. Because, did I mention it takes about 4 1/2 hours to feed all the dogs there?
There were cats, too. They also lived in pods (prides?) of 20. Their room had lots of beds and toys and perches, including two large overhead platforms, as well as a plexiglass dual-level kitty passageway that led them past another cat room to an enclosed sunporch. Outside the sunporches are birdfeeders for their entertainment.
Their feeding trials work slightly differently. Instead of distinct feeding times, the cats can free-feed throughout the day from one of several stations. Each cat has a microchip between its shoulder blades; when it enters the feed station the chip is scanned and a door opens allowing the cat access to the food. When the weight sensors under the bowls indicate that cat has eaten its daily allotment, the door closes when the cat backs off and won't open again for that cat. Meanwhile all that cat's eating data has been recorded for the day.
And again, there were people in there playing with cats, playing with kittens, grooming cats, clicker training cats---and again, you know, I guess this COULD have been an elaborate hoax, but if it was, they should all go to Hollywood.
So---as difficult as it was for me to endure the horrors, here is my undercover expose' on the cruelties of pet food companies and their animal testing. These poor dogs were forced to eat dog food! And to play, and exercise, and have buddies, and people, and climate-controlled sleeping quarters. I've been to other animal labs; while the Hill's facility is top of the line, it's far from the only one that cares about its animals and does everything it can to enrich their lives while still maintaining control of their health and nutrition. Here's a surprise: Yes, dog food companies are in it to make money. But most people who work to produce dog foods take pride in their product, have animals of their own who eat the food they develop, and work with animals because they actually really like animals.
If you are wondering, yes, I do feed my dogs commercial food. I also cook for them (it hasn't killed them yet) to flavor it up. I don't feed Hill's, but was impressed enough that I will give it a try---at least the diet food for my fat Russell Terrier. I have no quams about pet food companies making money---profit does drive the world. And I caution those who think raw food advocates DON'T make money to do the math---sell 100,000 books, self-published, at a profit of $10 a book---you make money. That, too, doesn't make it a bad thing...
It wasn't exactly a golden ticket to the chocolate
factory---but to a dog writer who writes about dog nutrition, a trip to tour Hill's research lab and manufacturing plant was the next best thing.
So I donned my ruby slippers and set off in a whirlwind (get it? huh? get it? Yeah, I hate when people say that) to Kansas!
I'm going to skip the part about research and development and cats and dogs and kittens and puppies ---we'll come back to them in a later post---and get to the part that really fascinated me: making the stuff. Because I've seen research and cats and dogs and kittens and puppies, but I've never seen dog food made. Actually, if you know my cooking skills, you are probably shouting, "And you've never seen human food made, either!" which I think is really pretty mean of you, and wrong, too. I have many times watched the sandwich artists at Subway make human food. Artists. But I digress.
By the time of the tour, we'd already discussed the
ingredient list, and how the ingredient vendors are chosen on the basis of various tests and quality controls and ingredient requirements; how dog food manufacturers must meet all sorts of regulations and pass all sorts of inspections; and how chicken is the same as chicken meal before said chicken has all the water sucked out of him but chicken, not chicken meal, looks better in the ingredient list. So Hill's brings their chickens in pre-dehydration; I was pretty sure the chickens had already passed on to a better place before embarking on their trip, but just in case, I wondered if they would be subjecting them to little sweat boxes.
Just to be clear, I am not one who enjoys knowing what goes into my own food. If it looks anatomical, I don't eat it. I prefer the illusion that all my food grows on trees or in microwaves. So in anticipation of trucks dumping loads of chicken heads or sheep guts into immense boiling vats, I ate a light breakfast of fruit. Can't go wrong with fruit. Well, except for the part where I was starving, but...
At the plant---which looked suspiciously like Emerald
City in the distance---I donned rubber steel-toed shoe covers, hair net, safety goggles, hard hat, and lab coat. More visions of sloshing through animal entrails while dodging errant body parts danced through my head. But I was tough, I could do this. We made our way to the unloading area. I prepared for flies and slop and mayhem; what I found was...
One truck, inside an enclosed bay, with one employee and one truck driver, both hair netted as they watch the truck dispense rice into a bay, from which the rice was sucked up into a storage area. This wasn't the truck's first stop; it's load had to pass an inspection
station located well away from the building. It had to drive inside the unloading bay and have the outer building doors closed before it could start unloading. Computers regulated where the materials went; all ingredients, I learned, were bar coded and their containers were also bar coded so that only certain ingredients could be placed in or removed from the appropriate bins. Without the correct match, the bins refuse to open, so there's no chance of an ingredient mix-up. The ingredients aren't stored in silos, as I'd expected, but instead stored inside to protect them from moisture and other environmental factors.
OK, so the unloading area was a letdown. No flies, no
gnats, not a friggin' bollweevil. No blood, no guts, no smell. But there was still the processing part. This is
where I would surely see the vats of animal parts, heads bobbing, stirred into a porridge by workers who kept losing shoes, dentures and excess body parts in
But first, we had to pass through an air lock. And walk
through a shoe sterilizer. And wash our hands. Wait---an air lock? Turns out the building is really three buildings; they separate the building where raw materials exist from the building where the materials are mixed and sterilized and processed from the building where they are bagged and shipped. And from building to building there's an airlock, with the air always flowing from the more sterile building to the less sterile building (you can feel it when you go through the door). Nothing--- food, tools, trolleys, nothing---goes from less sterile to more sterile unless it's been sterilized. They even maintain separate maintenance rooms and tools for each building; whoever thought of a hammer as a potential pathogen vector, the dreaded Typhoid Toolbelt of the hardware world? Who knew?
But back to the vats of stewing parts.
Um...there weren't any. The ingredients were mixed in a separate place, with computers and machines doing the work, not workers or oompa-loompas. No vats. No measuring cups. No singing. No people! After being
heated to, um, I forgot the actual temperature but let's just call it "hellfire hot" and pushed into a tiny passageway at, um, I forgot the actual psi but let's just call it "squashed" the pathogens are all, um, let's call it "really dead." Then the food is extruded, dried and enrobed (my favorite new term, fancy for "covered in flavorants" as in "She was enrobed in chocolate.") All untouched by human hands. Or oompa-loompa hands, watch hands, or (probably) even the hands of God. I had a feeling I wasn't in Kansas any more...except, you know, for the part where I was...
Finally, a worker emerged! I'd started to suspect this
was all a vast front and no actual people or dog food were actually involved. He let some of the food escape and took a batch for testing--fresh and hot from the extruder! The nuggets were tested for size, moisture content, this, that--I forgot, so let's just call it "a bunch of stuff," and it was taken to a lab where all sorts of computer screens were reading out all sorts of stuff---this did not look like any kitchen I'd ever seen. Testing occurs at various levels of production every half hour. In other words, it pretty much never stops anywhere on the line.
So, now the food is dried---not too much, not too little.
If it's too much, the texture is bad. If it's too little, it could encourage mold growth in the bag. So it's tested again. It's whisked to the next building, where it's automatically dispensed into bags. The bags then go through a metal detector to make sure no foreign metal parts have somehow made it through and into a bag---if that were to happen, other instruments could be used to isolate the single kibble that may contain it so the source could be traced. And regardless, random bags are opened and the food tested yet again.
Okay, so all my preconceived notions about dog food
packing were, um, let's just call them "wrong." The dog food plant makes my kitchen look unsanitary by comparison, and if you know me, you know I have a clean thing going on when it comes to food.
But we weren't finished. The bags then went to the
warehouse, where they spend an average of five days. Finally, the oompa-loompas! There were people with forklifts and more people and more forklifts and food going here and up and right and left and the building was about the size of Cobo Hall, and certainly larger than where they had the AKC Invitational this year (the whole place is 585,000 square feet). But still, no singing. I really think there should be singing.
Finally, my tour was over and I was treated to lunch that had been brought in from a local eatery. I somewhat reluctantly ate it, my mind going longingly to the bags of dog food I'd just seen---because I had no idea where the food on my plate had come from, but I KNEW the food in those bags was clean!
I watched Westminster's Monday night groups with a certain amount of dismay. The group winners---all beautiful representatives of their breeds---weren't so much the problem as was the fact that their breeds were
perfect choices for the animal rights groups to attack.
And really, who could blame them?
I've been a lover of dog shows and showdogs since I was a kid. I've participated for more than 35 years---long enough to lose the rose-colored glasses about "improving the breed" and figure out that the race
to the Best in Show ring is sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a breed. But yet---I love the sport.
That's why I'm dismayed when things happen to give ammunition to those who hate it. Things that confirm what they've been saying: That we breeders and judges put exaggeration over health. So we started the
night with the Hound group winner, the Dachshund: poster breed for intervertebral disk disease. When Dachshunds first entered the show ring, they were shorter backed and longer bodied---and one would suspect, less plagued by back problems. To be fair, it's not simply length of back that causes the Doxie's disk problems; the gene that causes that breed's dwarfism also affects the nature of the cushions between the disks, making them more prone to rupture. But detractors of dog shows won't focus on the micro-causes of back problems: all they will see is a very long dog winning a very long ribbon.
Next up was the Toy group. Again, nobody could dispute
that Malachy is an incredibly typey Pekingese. But he is a Pekingese. Maybe---just maybe---the Cavalier could have given him a run (or waddle) for the money in the race for Toy Group poster dog of health issues. And I had to wonder what the Dowager Empress T'Zu Hsi would think. Malachy certainly conforms with
her description of the perfect lion dog---well, except, I hope, for the part about biting people (see below). But does he conform too much? The Empress' own lion dogs
looked more like today's Tibetan Spaniels in comparison---and almost certainly did not require ice packs to stay cool on warm days.
On to Non-sporting, where admittedly, it could have been worse. But only if the Bulldog won. Again, the winner was a fabulous representative of his breed. But one again, his breed was a poster dog for the effects of closed gene pools and the deleterious effects of breeding for points of type over health. No breed has a higher percentage of dogs with the gene causing high levels of uric acid in their urine---up until recently, that percentage in AKC registered Dals was 100%. That high uric acid causes Dals to have the highest rate f urinary stones of any breed. After a hotly contested battle, the stud book has been opened to allow in some Dals with the gene for low uric acid--a gene they acquire from a
cross to a Pointer many generations ago. But if the stones weren't enough, Dals are also the poster dogs for deafness. Their deafness is associated with their
extreme white color (the spots are a modified form of ticking, not patching). There's one easy way to decrease the high percentage of deaf Dals: allow patches. Dals with patches have a much lower percentage of deafness. And a really much lower percentage of show wins.
When people wish to lament the effect of dog shows on dog breeds, they inevitably bring up that dog show whipping boy, the German Shepherd Dog. So of course the judge pointed to the GSD for the Herding group.
No breed of dog can cover ground like a show-bred GSD; the breed was bred to be a sort of moving fence, trotting non-stop around vast herds in open areas all day. But at what point does wide-open side movement become detrimental? I disagree that the GSD's extreme rear angulation is correlated with hip dysplasia, as many detractors opine. The statistics don't support it. But it doesn't make it anatomically correct, especially when you see the big winners swaying back and forth on their rears when they come to halt. Can a rear like that hold up a dog in its old age? Maybe a moot point, since Shepherds don't seem to be living that long.
So much for Monday.
On to Tuesday. I thought the Working group winner was a breathtaking Dobe. And truly, from a PETA ammo point of view, the breed choice could have been worse. It could have been...gasp...a Neapolitan Mastiff! Even so, the Doberman Pinscher is the victim of perhaps the highest rate of dilated cardiomyopathy of any breed, believed to be the result of the popular sire syndrome and a closed gene pool. Breeders and researchers are doing what they can---but it's like closing the barn door once the good genes already burned up. Or something like that.
I confess I was rooting for the gorgeous Irish Setter in
the Sporting Group. And here's a breed that can boast of its efforts to combat hereditary disease. Once the poster dog for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), it was one of the first breeds to tackle a hereditary disease head on. of course, the breed still has it hereditary headaches (figuratively, not literally), but considering its fad status in the 1970s when it was considered the ADDD (attention-deficit-disorder-dog) of the world, it's recovered and is doing pretty well. Well, sure, Emily did add a few barks to make sure nobody thought she was a pushover when it came to the self-stacking portion of the show, but she snapped back to work. And well, sure, I can't see that magnificent coat holding up too well in the field, and it is a breed in which the show and field types diverged long ago...
The news could have been worse in the Terrier Group. The Kerry Blue's cross to bear is progressive neuronal
abiotrophy, a progressive and fatal disorder appearing in puppies. Breeders have been working to eradicate it for decades, and are now pinning their hopes on a
It's true that no breed of dog is without its hereditary health burden. And I'm not accusing any of the group winners of having any of their breed's particular problems. Well, except maybe for the Peke, because a flat face is a flat face no matter what. So as the Best in Show judge began her Best in Show preamble, I had only one thought: "Please not the Peke!"
The Dowager Empress T'Zu Hsi's Lion Dog
Description (circa 1900):
Let the Lion Dog be small;
let it wear the swelling cape of dignity around its neck; let it display the billowing standard of pomp above its back.
Let its face be black; let its forefront be shaggy; let its forehead be straight and low.
Let its eyes be large and luminous; let its ears be set like the sails of war junk; let its nose be like
that of the monkey god of the Hindus.
Let its forelegs be bent; so that it shall not desire to wander far, or leave the Imperial
Let its body be shaped like that of a hunting lion spying for its prey.
Let its feet be tufted with plentiful hair that its footfall may be soundless and for its standard of pomp let it rival the whick of the Tibetans' yak, which is flourished to protect the imperial litter from flying insects.
Let it be lively that it may afford entertainment by its gambols; let it be timid that it may not involve
itself in danger; let it be domestic in its habits that it may live in amity with the other beasts, fishes or birds that find protection in the Imperial Palace.
And for its color, let it be that of the lion - a golden sable, to be carried in the sleeve of a yellow robe; or the colour of a red bear, or a black and white bear, or striped like a dragon, so that there may be dogs appropriate to every costume in the Imperial
Let it venerate its ancestors and deposit offerings in the canine cemetery of the Forbidden City on each new moon.
Let it comport itself with dignity; let it learn to bite the foreign devils instantly.
Let it be dainty in its food so that it shall be known as an Imperial dog by its fastidiousness; sharks
fins and curlew livers and the breasts of quails, on these may it be fed; and for drink give it the tea that is brewed from the spring buds of the shrub that groweth in the province of Hankow, or the milk of the antelopes that pasture in the Imperial parks.
Thus shall it preserve its integrity and self-respect; and for the day of sickness let it be anointed with the clarified fat of the legs of a sacred leopard, and give it to drink a throstle's eggshell full of the juice of the custard apple in which has been dissolved three pinches of shredded rhinoceros horn, and apply it to piebald
So shall it remain - but if it dies, remember thou too art
I know the link that was posted here worked about as well as capturing an action picture of a saluki puppy in dim light. But it's fixed now. And I have 133 responses so far!
So here's the blurb:
I am working on an article for Sighthound Review magazine about selling/placing sighthound puppies. As part of the article I am comparing typical prices. If you are a breeder (or even a savvy buyer) please go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/H3DSSFY
and fill out the survey. Please feel free to forward this to other sighthound breeders or discussion groups. Responses are anonymous unless you volunteer otherwise. The survey is aimed at U.S. prices, so please indicate if you live elsewhere.
I will be asking follow-up questions as well, so don't hesitate to contact me with your opinions or suggestions, or to volunteer to answer more.
When our story left off, Caroline and dogs (Omen, Prophet and Luna) had just survived flipping her van...that's the inside of the van above (after the accident---it was actually significantly neater before). The dogs were riding on the bed where all the cabinets are now lying. Note that I could no longer camp in it comfortably, what with the windows being blown out. And it being kind of messy. And in a junkyard.
We now resume our story:
The van is on its side, being sprayed by the firemen. We are directed to the fire truck. I have as possessions now three salukis and a camera battery (which for some reason somebody handed to me after they found it on the Interstate). They ask if I will need anything else, and I'm thinking, yes.
I make a quick mental list of what I need to survive for a day and come up with purse, dog food, glasses, cell phone. After the van is righted somebody fishes through it and hands me a small canister of dog treats and my dog grooming bag. This is not what I would have
chosen. But now I own three salukis, a camera battery, dog treats, and dog grooming essentials. Thank God the dogs will look good. I do finally locate my glasses (broken) and cell phone (dead) myself. Now I am set.
I bundle them together and we ride in the fire truck until they hand us over to the wrecking truck guy with the van on a flatbed. I see the new hot pink show lead I'd just bought hanging from the van's outside mirror. I snatch it and add it to my loot. Definitely set now.
The tow truck driver takes us to a motel---no vacancy---and another---no vacancy---and we discover every motel in town is full because of the recent hurricane. The driver makes a deal to get an abandoned truck towed from a motel lot in exchange for letting me stay at a condemned motel in an "adventurous" part of town. Only when they discover I have dogs the motel operators are not so wild about letting me stay in their palace, even when I metion I will be staying an entire night, not just by the hourly rates. They demand a big deposit, which they state they will keep if the dogs get on the bed.
I offer the tow truck driver $20 to take us to Wal-Mart and park with the dogs for 15 minutes while I get stuff. The dog grooming bag turns out to be a life saver. In it is the sweepstakes money we just won, so I have cash to pay him. Also my credit card, because I had done some shopping at the vendor booths before I left the shows.
I run through the Wal-Mart snatching things from shelves: dog beds (I figure this will at least look like
I'm not letting the dogs on the bed), a sheet for the bed once dogs get on it, cans of pop-top dog food, paper bowls, milk bones and a phone charger. Food for
me: Somehow a good diet seemed like it would be Crunch n Munch, peanut brittle, bananas, apple and Pringles. This may have been the first sign I may have had a concussion.
The second, and most definitive sign I was concussed, however, was in my choice of clothes to replace the bloody ones I was wearing. I somehow thought a lime green shirt with purple shorts would be particularly fetching, not realizing that I would look like a Barney clone once I put it on. I would wear the Barney outfit night and day for the next four days.
Back at the motel room, I discover it is aimed at people who must be very concerned of their appearance, as there are low mirrors on three sides of the bed plus one above it on the ceiling. Omen is fascinated by the
I discover my appearance is frightening, as my hair is stiff with a solid mat of dried blood, and the back of my shirt is much bloodier than the front. Yet nobody let me cut in line at Wal Mart?
The other motel inhabitants are roofers who are busy dropping anvils on the roof above us all day. And are those gunshots once the sun goes down? Of course the dogs wait until 2 AM and 4 AM to just really HAVE to go out. There is more foot traffic out and about at this
time than there was when it was light. I discover my dogs are actually protective as we are approached by shadowy figures lurching down the roadway. Until they get close, then they just want to be petted by muggers.
Did I mention my door did not seem to have a lock? I try the chair-against-the-door-knob as seen on TV.
We're all going to die.
Yet we survive. The next morning begins the HUNT FOR A RENTAL CAR. After being led on by Enterprise (repeat
after me: Enterprise SUCKS) they finally say they don't rent to people with dogs. They take three hours to reveal
this, and I am being evicted from my motel room at 11 AM. The motel reluctantly agrees to let me stay another hour for $10 (below their normal hourly rate, they assure me).
Hour's up. Still no car. And the motel is banging on my door. I am homeless. I am wondering how I will look standing by the road with my salukis and Wal-Mart baggies and dog beds. Eventually they agree I can stay another night.
Finally I find a car in the next town (Hertz = good). Fellow salukite Cindy Najera, AKA the best person in the world, is on her way from Houston area to help, and she
takes us to get the car. We hide the dogs in her van, just in case they've been talking to Enterprise. We score! A rental car is mine! But now it is dark.
Cindy says I am not allowed to stay in the room by
myself. She spends the night at the scary motel with me! She is obviously impressed by the mirrors, which is probably why she wanted to stay. We get to eat my first non-peanut-brittle meal in almost two days: Taco Bell, nectar of the gods! Life is good. The next morning, Omen tries to bury Cindy's face in her pillow, his way of saying thanks.
Next morning we find my van's graveyard. I recall the propane is still own---something it would have been nice to remember before sitting in the shadow of the wrecked van on the interstate (there was no other shade and it was Texas in October) or letting the firemen and wrecking guys near it, but oh well, it didn't blow up, and all's well that end's well. I turn off the propane--and geez, the tow truck guy didn't have to look so stricken when I pointed it out. Like I said, it's not like it blew up or anything), go through it and salvage lots of stuff, Cindy takes pictures, we say goodbye, and I'm on my way home.
Note: New minivans have a door behind the driver that can open mysteriously, like when you are in the Taco Bell (nectar of the gods---yes, I know I said that but it bears repeating) parking lot for lunch, and people start yelling and pointing and that's when you happen to see your puppy sauntering toward the highway because the back door has taken it upon itself to pen. Apparently hitting random buttons on the key thing does this. But to continue...
Fall out of car yelling, try to get door closed so other dogs don't follow, run toward the six lane highway where Luna is now trotting between cars stopped at the light, peering in windows (a "friend" would later claim she was looking for a better driver. Yeah, haha, that's funny.) I'm running, I'm freaking, I'm calling, the light turns green...and every car stays stopped. They wait for the crazy person in the Barney outfit to catch the skinny dog before going--- a few drivers even wave (hey, it IS cheap entertainment). I make it back to the minivan and try to prevent myself from retching. Order comfort food (which is pretty much anything from Taco Bell).
Put leashes on dogs and hold them tight as I drive because who knows, maybe these doors can open when you're driving down the Interstate. Talk to somebody and find out no, that won't happen unless you hit the key thing when it's stopped. Make a note to self that I need a more modern car.
Stop again at Taco Bell for dinner. I deserve it. Keep fingers away from key thing.
That night at the motel half-way home, I trip over a parking lot thing, fall flat on my face and people think I am drunk. I would have to be, after all, to be dressed like Barney. This accident hurts more than the car
wreck. But the motel has only one mirror, and the door locks, so things are looking up.
The next morning I am freezing in my Barney outfit. I
try to stand next to a pine tree for cover from the wind, and of course ended up standing in a fire ant bed. I dance around a lot. I am pretty sure the same people from the might before were the ones staring.
I make it home. Can't wait for the shows this weekend!