Monday, August 24, 2015

Against the wind

A wee bit windy in Port Wing

Birding in Port Wing today was a little tricky. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

We started out this morning in eager anticipation of the UPS man. At 1:49, he arrived!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Thanks, UPS man!!

What could it be? Pip couldn't guess! 
Pip wonders what's in the box?

Even after we opened it, she wasn't sure. 
Ah! Binoculars are in the box!

They looked small in Pip's Photoshop picture. 
Pip the Birding Dog

But not in real life! 
They're almost as big as I am!

Laura put Pip's paw in the middle. Pip knows how to "stay" so she never even tried to put her paw or nose on the eye pieces. 
Puppies must never, ever touch the eyepieces! Pip knows how to stay, but she's a little nervous about touching new binoculars.

Then Laura and Pip went out to see some birds! Laura would not look through them at any bird until some chickadees finally came in. 
Worth the wait!

First birds through them are (in order of being seen) 
  • Black-capped Chickadee 
  • Downy Woodpecker 
  • Red-eyed Vireo 
  • Nashville Warbler 
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird 
  • Purple Finch 
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Mourning Warbler
Plus, one of those chickadees was LAURA'S chickadee—the one with the missing toes, who had the deformed bill.

Pip truly has the best Uncle Tom!!
Pip and Tom Kuenzli

And now Laura has the best binoculars AND the best dog AND the world's most generous and thoughtful friend!

Laura and her new binoculars!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why didn't I get a rescue dog?

Aren't there supposed to be birds in here?

In these polarizing times, people feel increasingly comfortable breaking everything into simple dichotomies and attacking people, even absolute strangers, online or in person, for being on the “wrong side.” I’ve only had a few people tell me to my face that I should have gotten a rescue dog rather than my purebred Pip, but yesterday I spent time with the happy owner of a golden retriever puppy and she’s having to deal with a lot of people trying to make her feel guilty.

Rescuing dogs in trouble and giving them a loving and permanent home is a noble, rewarding, and important thing to do. My daughter and son-in-law rescued a pit bull from a shelter in New York, and put in time, hard work, and commitment to ensure that Muxy is happy and secure, and that other dogs are safe around her. That last part of the equation has been the hardest—she’s both fearful and aggressive toward other dogs—but they understand their responsibilities and have worked hard, with professional trainers and on their own, to make Muxy’s life a good one without harming anyone else.

Michael, Katie, and Muxy
The time and commitment it takes to work with a rescue dog must be taken seriously, and should never be a requirement for pet ownership. Guilting people into adopting a rescue dog can lead to horror stories. Many kind-hearted people who do adopt a dog with health or behavioral issues end up with far more than they can handle, physically, financially, and emotionally. A great many of these dogs end up being “rehomed” again and again. And many people end up with a dog they truly love but cannot manage—people with the gentle, non-dominating personality most susceptible to being guilted into getting a rescue dog in the first place are often exactly the ones who end up with a dog who needs a much more domineering owner in order to be well-adjusted and happy in a world where they’ll be encountering lots of people and dogs.

Some of us simply cannot put the necessary time, effort, and commitment into dealing with the health or behavioral issues that land puppies and dogs in rescue facilities. It's best for every person who wants a dog to be realistic from the start about our needs and capabilities. There is nothing wrong with wanting a puppy that had an ideal start, of a breed whose temperament matches our lifestyle and temperament—indeed, people who have done the research and put in the time and commitment to choosing the right breed and breeder are to be congratulated, not condemned. 

We all should be supporting ideal breeders: those who work hard to ensure the safest genetic combinations, provide the best conditions for their breeding dogs and puppies, keep the puppies for a minimum of 10 weeks to ensure they have enough time with siblings to work them through their mouthing/biting stage and enough time with their mother to get them started on housebreaking, feed their adult dogs and puppies high-nutrition food, provide socializing and enrichment experiences for the puppies, make sure they have a gentle start on necessary vaccinations, get them microchipped, and make sure they don’t have any recognizable genetic defects that are going to give them a shortened or painful lifespan. These are also the people who make sure that the people adopting their puppies are going to be good, responsible dog owners.

Breeders who don’t guarantee their puppies’ health and who don’t guarantee that they will take the puppies back for any reason at any time are not likely to be ideal breeders. But some breeders who do take puppies back without questions simply send them off to a breed rescue group to be "rehomed." This is of course not bad in and of itself, but these rescue groups may cause more harm than good if they don’t keep track of the breeders shuttling dogs off to them and work to put irresponsible ones out of business.

It’s ironic that many of the people who feel morally superior by rescuing dogs are actually supporting the very system that makes puppy mills and irresponsible breeding increasingly lucrative. Most rescue organizations charge hundreds of dollars for adoptions, and more and more humane societies and other dog rescue groups have been working WITH the worst breeders to take their unwanted dogs rather than exposing them and putting them out of business. And the people adopting these dogs get saddled with a decade or more of vet bills and the heartbreak of seeing a beloved pet suffer from painful, crippling, and life-shortening conditions.

Looking at long-term, sustainable solutions to pet overpopulation, the very first step is to end puppy mills entirely. As long as the AKC collects registration fees for every pedigreed puppy regardless of whether it comes from a responsible breeder or a puppy mill, the AKC is a serious part of the problem—and one that profits directly from puppy mills.

I was thrilled to find the Havana Silk Dog Association of America, which broke away entirely from the AKC to ensure that their breeders all take responsibility for the health of these lovely little dogs. The Havanese is an old breed, originally from Cuba and popular in Europe since the 1800s (Charles Dickens had one for his children). It wasn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1996, but because of its small size, “hypo-allergenic” coat, and sweet and easy-going temperament, it quickly rose in popularity until now it’s #25 of all breeds.

That rise in popularity provided a lucrative market for puppy mills and irresponsible breeders. Several serious and life-shortening health issues are associated with some easily identifiable conditions, so the Havanese Club of America developed a system to encourage widespread participation of seven recommended tests for eye disease (CERF), congenital deafness (BAER), patella luxation, cardiac diseases, hip dysplasia, hip joint disorder (Legg-Calve-Perthes), and elbow dysplasia, and encouraged breeders to submit all their dogs’ test results to the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program. Testing required for a Havanese to receive a CHIC certificate includes OFA BAER, OFA Hips, OFA Patellas, and annual CERF exams.

A group of breeders and the Havanese Club of America tried to make passing those tests a requirement for a dog to be registered with the AKC, but the AKC simply doesn’t allow that—their only concern is pedigree. So the Havana Silk Dog Association of America broke away. My Pip passed all those tests before she left the breeder, and has provisional registration with the HSDAA, but she won’t be fully registered until she’s a year old and has passed the tests again. The AKC should be following this or a similar procedure with all breeds, but they get far, far more paid registrations, and thus profits, from they way they do it now.

As long as the AKC gets a fee for each registered purebred without consideration of health or the conditions of kennels, they’re directly profiting from the most egregious puppy mills, where the majority of pedigreed dogs come from. The burden is on those of us who buy purebred puppies to make sure the breeder we decide on follows best practices.

But as long as rescue groups sell puppies directly or indirectly from those very puppy mills and irresponsible breeders, they’re contributing to this unconscionable practice. They justify the high price of adoption as essential for continuing their operations, but without working to put out of business those puppy mills and irresponsible breeders, this will be a never-ending cycle. People who unquestioningly get dogs from them have no justifiable claim of superiority over those who buy puppies from good breeders.

In a perfect world, every puppy would be bred by a knowledgeable and responsible breeder to be healthy and sound, get at least ten weeks of proper and enriching care inside the breeder's home with its mother and siblings, and every person would choose his or her puppy based on a firm understanding of that breed’s unique needs and temperament. In that perfect world, the only time puppies would ever need to be rescued would be when an owner had to give one up due to death, serious illness, or other unforeseeable event and something had happened to make it impossible for the breeder to take it back.

That perfect world is far from what we have today, but we must keep our eyes on the long-term goal even as we deal with short-term solutions. Everyone who adopts a puppy or dog has a responsibility to investigate where it came from. “Rescue” organizations that work with puppy mills are perpetuating the problem. Meanwhile, responsible breeding today is the only way we will be able to ensure healthy, sound dogs with predictable temperaments and abilities for the future. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Birding on Big Pete Road in Port Wing

Pip birding in Port Wing
Big Pete Road has treasures at every level, from the spongy soil to the spires of the tallest white pines.
Every other week, I drive to Port Wing to take my mother-in-law to her card club. The game starts at 12:30, so Pip and I are there during the worst time of day for finding birds, but it's fun bringing her for walks in my favorite spots anyway. We always spend most of the time at my favorite spot of all, Big Pete Road. It's part of the Port Wing Boreal Forest State Management Area, and a wondrous variety of cool birds breed there thanks to the virgin white pines and other magnificent trees and boggy vegetation. When loggers went through Port Wing, Big Pete Road was spared thanks to the intercession of the head logger's wife. One by one, many of the massive trees have fallen over the years, but a few still stand.

Big Pete Road is a quiet dirt road, with two houses on it. Most of the time when I walk there I don't run into anyone at all. I put Pip on a retractable leash—I can pull it in if we see any people, dogs, bears, etc., but otherwise we can each walk at our own pace. She is wonderfully easy going, running ahead (never tugging at the leash) until she spots or sniffs something she wants to investigate. She's more comfortable than any other dog I've had with letting me pass her while she's sniffing something, but doesn't lag too far behind--she's too companionable for that. Once in a while she goes off the dirt road for a foot or two, but seems to prefer staying on the road.

Pip birding in Port Wing
Big Pete Road is nice and sandy.
Pip is starting to recognize when we get to the path that takes us to Lake Superior. I haven't gone in yet, and so neither has she, but in a couple of weeks Russ and I will take his mom there together, and we'll see if we can get her to try swimming. It's usually best to wait until this time of year so the water will be at its warmest. Meanwhile, she does love to run up to the edge of the water.

Pip: Lake Superior Puppy

Today things were very quiet--it was hot and a bit windy and early afternoon--a lethal combination as far as building a good day list goes. But we did have a real treat when we came to the end of the road. A female Golden-winged Warbler came out of the shadows in the dense vegetation to check us out. I think she was concerned about Pip--maybe suspecting she's a predator. We got great looks (Pip was even paying attention to her), and then she retreated and we went on our way.

Golden-winged Warbler on Big Pete Road

Friday, August 7, 2015

At what point...?

Pip chewing a bully stick
Pip chewing a bully stick
Pip is now over seven months old, and I've lived with her for more than four and a half months. At what point will I be able to look at her without melting? In the old Star Trek TV series, whenever Joan Collins or another of Captain Kirk's love interests appeared, she'd be filmed with a camera lens smeared with Vaseline, apparently an old film technique to mimic the way people's pupils dilate when looking at a love object, a baby, or something else seen as adorable, softening our focus. I know that happens to me every time I look at this adorable dog. Her prancing on heel in obedience school, her eager look when I ask if she wants to go birding, her snuggling when I need an afternoon nap, her sleepy greeting when I wake up in the morning and her curling up on her bed on the floor next to me when I climb into bed for the night, her contagious joie de vivre—will I ever be able to take anything about her for granted? So far, that doesn't seem likely.

Saturday, August 1, 2015