Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last trip of the season

I'm leaving tomorrow morning for a 3-day trip to look for chukar in the moutains east of Bishop, CA. The bird numbers are way down - I have not even shot at a chukar in California in the past two years, but for a few years before that I had pretty good hunting. But I really like to be in the field on New Year's Day, just to set the tone for the year. I would watch USC in the Rose Bowl if I were home but I'd rather be up in the high, lonely places.

Take care all, and may the new year be good to you.


Garmin Astro -technology and tradition collide

As is inevitable with new technology (what Ester Dyson would call 'disruptive technology') the collar mounted Garmin Astro tracking unit is stirring a lot of discussion and head scratching in field trial circles.

Hunters love it. I love it. But field trialers are of mixed opinion. So here is the current situation as I understand it - along with my opinion and a few choice observations from others.

The major field trial organizations - AFTCA, American Field and AKC have all established maximum weight limits for electronic tracking aids. The reason for this is that they are concerned about collar mounted devices that would emulate the weight of an electronic training collar, which is banned for use in field trials. 

These organizations have recently weighed in with decisions about the use of the Garmin Astro in the events that they sanction.

AFTCA - I spoke with Linda Hunt, Secty of the AFTCA, yesterday. She said that they will not allow the use of the Garmin Astro in their sanctioned amateur trials due to the receiver and collar exceeding the established maximum allowable weight. When asked if she had heard any philosophical arguments against the use of GPS tracking collars, she said no, it is just the issue of weight.

American Field - The AF has decided to allow the use of the Garmin Astro in OPEN stakes. The AFTCA and AF are usually closely aligned on these issues, and it is expected that the AF and AFTCA will try to 'get on the same page' during the annual Summer meeting of the Trustees.

AKC - Has decided against allowing the Astro in their sanctioned trials, stating that the weight exceeds their allowable limit.A website has been established to petition for a reversal of the rulings of both the AKC and the AFTCA: Astro Petition website.

Meanwhile, the new field trial website/blog, Strideaway, has weighed in with an editorial - The Best of Intentions, the Worst of Results. In the editorial the authors (unsigned, but I assume the primary blog authors - Chris Mathan and Mazie Davis - wrote the piece) put forth the idea that the GPS based device, beyond opening the door to abuse, would somehow undermine the sovereign principle of subjective judging. 

My response to the Strideaway editorial is that, minimalism and 'purity' would best be attained with just grounds, wild birds, dog, shoe leather, and handler. I understand the thrust of the argument, which is motivated by traditionalism and concern over the possible use of technology. 

Planted birds,radio telemetry tracking collars, 4 wheelers, mounted scouts ... all these have made a departure from 'purity' and have added complexity to the game. Limiting the employment of technology at this point seems to be a little like acceptance of the idea that one can be a little bit pregnant.Is a GPS locating collar somehow less pure than a radio tracking collar? Does it really threaten to compromise judging or ethical handling? It's up to the club, participants, and the judges, isn't it? 

I posted this thought on the Coverdog Trial BBS, Chris Mathan wrote: 

I don't know how much judging you do Mike, but try if you can to put yourself in this position:

You have just judged an all-age championship with a large entry. You looked at many fine performances. You and your fellow judge made your decisions based on...what judges have based their decisions on since the beginning of field trial history. After the trial, an owner of a dog, make it three owners, march over to you, all three with their GPS receivers in hand. One guy's dog, according to the data, ran 700 yards (official all-age range!) to the front, (beautiful pattern on that LCD screen) and had two finds, the other two guys then show you their dogs' data and all three ask why their dogs didn't win. They are pretty mad and decide to post all this stuff on the internet on their favorite chat board. Do you think you will take the next judging assignment you're offered?

The editorial goes to some length to distinguish between the two technologies. The GPS collar can and will be matched to any number of hand-held devices which will be on even if the receiver the judge has is turned off. How could that be prevented? They are small and will get even smaller and more sophisticated in a short space of time. The exactness of the data and size of the handheld receiver will certainly make it easier if someone wants to cheat while scouting but the key issue is that it will gather data that should not be gathered in the first place. The editorial was written and posted on Strideaway because, regardless of what your feeling is about the GPS, the issue should be carefully considered. The GPS is a huge departure from what we currently use to safely retrieve a lost dog. 

Frankly, if I were judging and someone showed me a Garmin Astro track of their dog's performance I'd disqualify their dog and toss them out of the trial... it's illegal to use an electronic tracking device in a trial. It may only be employed after a dog is declared lost and is 'out of judgement' and the judge is the only person allowed to carry the tracking unit.

A few sample responses in the same thread:

"The answer to the 3 wise men would be simple. Maybe your dog ranged further, or maybe it was faster but I could hardly look at your dog as It was braced with the winner. The winners running style, style around game, and everything about it totally outclassed the dogs you wise men are complaining about. Oh bye the way I will be judging again at Blankity Blank. You can stay home if you wish, as I will use my discretion again. And if the same thing happens, results will be the same." - J.M. 

"...I agree that the use of GPS collars does raise some questions, and they do need to be addressed. I'm not even convinced that the GPS units should be allowed... But let's talk about the realistic issues that will arise, and not theoretical ones born out of misunderstanding of both the new and old technology. And while we are talking about real issues, I find it sad that the editorial fails to address the health and safety of the dogs we are running. The health of the individual dog is paramount to the theoretical health of the sport, is it not? " - D.Q.

People objecting to the use of GPS technology have not mentioned the main reason to employ such a device - the health and safety of our dogs. A number of dogs have been lost at trials - veering off course and crossing busy roads and being killed by automobiles, or by simple being lost and never retrieved. Anything that prevents this tragedy should be welcomed.

Field trials have a 130 year history in the United States. Tradition is a good thing, but must not blind us to aids that will help guarantee the safety of our dogs. There will be more said on this subject before the dust settles, but I believe that GPS technology will be allowed by all three major sanctioning bodies, and we will wonder what the argument was all about.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I have been reading and watching the development of a phenomena. The term 'Purebred' applied to dogs is being transformed from a positive into a pejorative.

Since the airing of the BBC's exposé of pedigree dogs, an attack on the breeding of show dogs in the UK, the term purebred has begun to represent all that is bad in dog breeding and keeping. The BBC report showed that these bench bred dogs were being bred with high incidences of genetic diseases. It was illustrated with grisly and disturbing videos showing some very nasty stuff.

My dictionary tells me that purebred (when applied to an animal) means, “bred from parents of the same breed or variety.” Pretty innocent usage. But there is a potential threat when concerned people – knowledgeable and otherwise – suggest that something needs to be fixed and politics and regulation raise their ugly head. Animal welfare and animal rights organizations have joined in with condemnation and contempt for people who bred pedigree (purebred) dogs.

I would like to use this forum to try to sort the rat shit from the pepper.

What is a pedigree?

Simple – a record of an animal's ancestry showing it to be purebred. Without debunking this idea here, I'll simply say that in and of itself, a pedigree is meaningless – simply a tool for a breeder's use in tracking a dog's ancestry.

To get closer to the root of the controversy it is necessary to examine the breed clubs, registries, breeding pools, and, especially, the breeders of dogs, their practices and motives.

Breeding and breed standards

The AKC is a for profit registry for dogs. They codify breed standards that are developed by the member breed clubs. They maintain the registries for recognized breeds, and sanction shows and to a lesser extent, field and performance trials.

The standard for English setters, for example, states:

An elegant, substantial and symmetrical gun dog suggesting the ideal blend of strength, stamina, grace, and style. Flat-coated with feathering of good length. Gaiting freely and smoothly with long forward reach, strong rear drive and firm topline. Males decidedly masculine without coarseness. Females decidedly feminine without over-refinement. Overall appearance, balance, gait, and purpose to be given more emphasis than any component part. Above all, extremes of anything distort type and must be faulted.

It goes on to describe the desired physical attributes of an 'ideal' English setter. The standard was most recently ratified in 1988, after the breed had been in existence for at least 300 years. This suggests that the Breed Standard is subject to whim and revision.

What is missing? Any mention of function or capability – nose, endurance, intelligence, pointing and hunting instinct – the very things that motivated the development of the breed and allow it to do its job are nowhere mentioned in the AKC breed standard. A pity that the English setter's very reason for being has been so lightly discarded.

In this breed the bench (show) lines diverged from the field (hunting) lines long ago, and the gulf between them grows ever wider.

It has been seriously suggested that breed registries should be eliminated – that breed standards should not exist. Two different things, in my view.

If the goal is to breed healthy dogs, a registry is a critical tool in understanding and breeding sound dogs. It is the breed standards that need to be changed. The reliance on a physical description needs to be tempered, at least, with a minimum performance standard. The likelyhood of this happening is very low, indeed.

The Field Dog Stud Book is a registry of pointing breeds (open to any pointing breed) that has no breed clubs and no breed standards. This has been working well for the FDSB breeders for over 100 years, because these breeders are interested in a single goal – performance in the field. And field trials are the place where this performance is proved. That is their standard.

Open and closed book

Most registries are 'closed' – that is, they do not accept dogs of other breeds or unregistered dogs as breeding candidates. This is not harmful if the gene pool within a breed is large and diverse and breeders are working to breed sound dogs. If the breeding population is small and/or carries a heavy burden of negative genetic traits, it is not healthy.

Some people are calling for open registries with the idea that this would be good for an at risk breed. Perhaps it would... the red setter breeders interested in reviving the field capability of their breed proposed breeding to the higher performing lines of English setters were met with a hailstorm of protest from the AKC breed club, and ended up going their own way and registering with the FDSB. But if I breed my English setter to an Airdale, what do I get? Not an English setter, but a largely unknown mix of genetics. I cannot see how this helps me get a better setter or a better Airdale. Of course, the bird dog world is rife with suspicion that so-and-so breed pointers into his German shorthair or setter line. And it happens.

Fix the problem, not the blame

My take on this is that dog breeding is subject to Mendelian genetics. Breed junk and that is what you will get. Breeding run of the breed dogs will only result in producing the mean of genetics common to all dogs in the breeding population, and the overall quality of dogs will tend to decline over time. But breeding within a line of dogs and outcrossing for strong contributions from outstanding individuals in the breed, and culling (removing from the pool of breeding candidates) for sound dogs with desired performance characteristics will result in dogs that have less genetic faults than the general breed population and that will perform better. Over time, this breeding ethic, an overhaul or elimination of breed standards, and a strict registry will raise the overall level of the breed.

Political fallout

I sincerely hope that there are no attempts to further 'regulate' dog breeding. This only plays into the agenda of organizations who would like to eliminate the private ownership of animals by making dogs more difficult to breed, obtain, and keep. And believe me, these organizations are working at all levels of government to make this threat a reality.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday food for thought

It's a breezy 78 degree Christmas day here in Discovery Bay, Jamaica.

I have long believed that, like the man said, "Just because we can, does not mean that we should." In this vein, my holiday thought - enough is as good as a feast

Of course, one reason that we hunt is to get the bird in our hand, and to reward the efforts of our dogs. But if we measure the success of our efforts afield based solely on the number of birds in the bag, we miss out on the many intrinsic rewards that make a day afield rewarding - the sight of October aspens, the smell of sage on the wind, and the sound of chukars on the far rimrock. These things matter.

Tom Chandler lives and fishes on the Upper Sacramento River in Dunsmuir, California and offers an entertaining and off-center blog - Trout Underground  In this essay on 'body counts' in fishing he presents the idea that 'counting' degrades the sport. An idea that I heartily agree with. Also applies, in my opinion, to bird hunting.  Here's a sample from Tom's essay...

Sport is a reflection of society, and there's little doubt that society today is largely a numbers game. We measure ourselves not by the quality of our lives or the experiences we take from each day, but by the digits on our pay stubs, the model number of our automobiles, the square footage of our homes - even the modulus of our fly rods. Higher is almost always better, and even those who might not otherwise play get sucked in by its brutal simplicity.

Merry Christmas! I hope that everyone's Christmas exceeds their hopes and prayers.

Photo by Clair Kofoed

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Traveling with bird dogs

Many hunters and trialers drive thousands of miles a year with their dogs. I am no exception. Some of you might find something in my experiences that you can put to good use. Some of you may have different ideas and practices – if so, please share them.

I travel in either my Ford Expedition or my Toyota Landcruiser. I sold my last pick-up truck some years ago. Traveling with dogs in an SUV has some good and bad points. Good points are that I can keep my dogs warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. I can keep a close eye on them in the event of a problem. Bad points – dog farts, and space constraints. One requires power windows, the other careful organization.

Pete Houser built a drawer system for me to hold guns and small gear (thank you, Pete!) in the rear portion of the SUV. Guns, ammunition, stake outs, dog gear and tools are handy from the tailgate without digging through gear or moving anything.

Every dog deserves a place of his own where he is protected during emergency maneuvers and feels comfortable. Dogs should be crate broke when they are puppies and will learn to love riding in their crates. The crates go on the top of the gun box. This puts dog crates up high enough that they limit the rear view significantly. My answer is to employ wire crates that allow me to see through to the rear window. They also allow the dogs to see out and they fold up for easy storage when not in use. While traveling (and for most of the season) the crates are secured to the gun box by a pair of ratchet straps so they will not shift or tip over.

For water, I carry a 20 litre water jug made of heavy plastic – a bomb proof product from Scepter of Canada. It is similar in design to a fuel jerry can, but made of plastic rated for potable water – no weird chemicals in the water. The can sits neatly on the floor at the rear between the gun box and the side of the truck. After trying many different designs and mopping up leaking water from lesser products, I have settled on this can as the best. I also carry a stainless water dish for each dog. Offer your dogs water at each rest stop.

I have seen a number of watering systems made of PVC pipe. There are possible risks using this material... PVC should be used for cold water only, or venting. CPVC can be used for hot and cold potable water supply. Connections should be made with primers and solvent cements as required by the plumbing code. No sense in putting harmful chemicals into your dogs.

Dogs need regular breaks to stretch and do their business. I stop about every three to four hours. The interval should be regular so that the dogs can anticipate when a stop will occur. When traveling, I recommend that you avoid highway rest stops with 'doggie areas'. These spots are used by many travelers and are a vector for disease pathogens. A lonely stretch of highway with a wide spot to park is a better bet.

A check cord is essential when you stop for a travel break. A 15' or 20' check cord with a quality brass swivel snap should be handy whenever you open the tailgate. I never let a dog out of his crate without a check cord, leash or other restraint. They know this and are trained not to step out of the crate unless they have the check cord secured to their collar. There are too many things that tempt a dog that has been confined for several hours. Hazards include traffic, barbed wire fences, road killed wildlife, and rubbish (you name it... from broken bottles to used disposable diapers!) along the road side. Maintain positive control of your dog during travel stops.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

In Jamaica

After the usual travail of international travel, I am in Jamaica or a few weeks. Had a nice dinner of rainbow parrot fish and snapper - cooked with country (scotch bonnet) pepper, onions, allspice and vinegar. This a  classic Jamaican dish, prepared by scaling the fish and frying whole in oil (usually coconut oil) until crisp. The fish and oil is then removed and the vinegar, sliced peppers, sliced onions and allspice grains are added to the pan to deglaze and meld the falvors. The pan sauce is then poured over the fish and it is chilled and served cold. Usually served with roast breadfruit or roasted white yam. Amazing!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

John Yates on Ed Soph's Crockett setters

Crockett's Capriole - Owner, Joe Kormuth of Pennsylvannia

John has provided some interesting information (along with his point of view - TBE) about Ed Soph and his Crockett line of setters. I will quote his contribution - with minimal editing - below:

Ed Soph was one of the truly great setter breeders, and his Crockett dogs (along with the Commanders and Wonsovers) played a major role in restoring setters to competitiveness in all age stakes following the decades of domination by pointers since the 1930's.

Ed, while of modest means, devoted his entire life to improving setters. He is a great example of the importance of truly dedicated breeders.

He developed his own line of dogs by linebreeding on Eugene M, which possibly was the most prepotent setter sire in history.

Joe Kormuth became one of Ed's early disciples, and Joe's breeding program focused on Soph's ideas and linebreeding from Soph dogs for several decades. Probably Joe's best known dog was Hot Cell Man, which racked up roughly 50 horseback shooting dog wins around 1970; he was an all age dog, but Joe could get him around as a shooting dog.

Crockett dogs were noted from extreme toughness (both mentally and physically)and endurance. They were big dogs, as a rule, 60 pounds-plus. To be blunt, these dogs probably were far too tough for most people, and few people kept pure Crockett lines.

I started out with Crockett dogs, and loved them. But I wanted a more biddable dog, while retaining the toughness, and a somewhat smaller dog (50-to-60 pounds is what I shoot for). While Crockett dogs were my anchor, I also mixed in Sam L's Rebel lines (Crockett and Wonsover) through Sam L's Sequoia, Nabob and Rawhide, and Johnny Crockett (about a quarter Crockett, with more Wonsover). I also used Wonsup and Woncount.

Joe and I parted company about my liking for Johnny Crockett. Joe was utterly opposed to breeding to a small dog. Actually, I agreed with him, but saw true greatness in Johnny Crockett, and bred him only to big bitches.

Except for my use of Johnny Crockett, Joe and I maintained fairly similar bloodlines in the 20 years after Ed Soph's death.

Many of my dogs from this line wound up in the "too tough" category in the 1990's, and some were downright renegades. When I was younger, I liked this kind of dog. I've mellowed considerably with old age. I searched around and mixed in Tekoa Mountain Sunrise to give me gentler dogs that had a desire to please (but, of course, I couldn't resist mixing in more Johnny Crockett through Crockett's New Horizon).

I almost bred to one of Joe's males about five years ago, and, in retrospect, I think I made a mistake by passing up this opportunity. I had planned on breeding two Passenger's Blue Shadow b###hes to Joe's dog, Crockett's Capriole. Blue (which was about a quarter Soph-line Crockett)was as tough of a dog as anyone could ever want, and I was worried that breeding his daughters to Cappy would create beasts.

When I think of the setters I have had in for training over the past 10 years, especially from several grouse trial lines, I think we all could use a lot more toughness in our setters. We need a few beasts.

I can't resist posting this...

Seen on Craig's List for Twin Falls - 

"Crockett Breed English Setter; male; DOB 2/3/04; 58lbs; black & white. This dog would make for a good stud dog. Does not hunt well."

Yep. That's the dog I want to breed to... 

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thoughts on hunting and food

A lot of good discussion is going on about hunting, what it means, how to explain hunting to non-hunters. If you haven't already done so it is enlightening and refreshing to read what's on at Stephen Bodio's QuerenciaHunter Angler Gardener Cook, and Fat of the Land. Great stuff.

MDMNM on Often Far Afield offers a discussion of hunting and the right to hunt and has this good thought, with which I am in agreement:

...The most promising group of hunting friendly (non hunting) folks I perceive right now are the cooks and chefs focusing on the source of their food, folks who read and talk about Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma". 

This is the time of year when a game dinner is most pleasing and possible. I seem to have quite a few birds in the freezer - doves, partridge, pheasant and grouse. In January I will review a couple of my favorite foreign books - from places where game is mainstream fare and garners respect on the table.

Heading off to Jamaica for Christmas early next week, but will remain 'plugged in'. Merry Christmas all!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How much is that doggie in the window...

I was in San Francisco today, and was walking back to my car from a visit to Leland's Fly Shop (on Bush Street) and passed by the Macy's store at Union Square.  In an otherwise sparse Christmas shopping crowd I noticed a crowd on the sidewalk. What gives? I soon saw that the San Francisco SPCA had puppies for adoption in several of the windows. People were looking, ooohing and aaawing.  Cute puppies.

I could not help but stop and think, "How many of these puppies will be adopted, and by whom? Will they have proper homes, or will they be back at the shelter in 6 months?"

I cannot fault the SF SPCA and Macy's for their desire top help dogs. But I wonder if presenting these animals as Christmas toys for the children of indulgent parents is the right thing for the puppies. Dogs are not disposable in the way that Christmas toys are... to be put up or given away when the fun wears off.  I am hoping that serendipity comes to the aid of these little pups and provides a loving and responsible home for each of them, but my skepticism tells me that they won't all win the lottery of life. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

reflections on a first fall season of trialing

After my first fall season of trialing, Mike suggested I put down a few thoughts. As folks who check out my other blog know, I have two vizslas -- one of whom is now 18mos old and who I always suspected might have the tools to both enjoy and do well in a trial format. I decided to take a half-step into the pool by entering him in a non-regular, vizslas-only Hunting Dog Stake at the end of June just see how he'd do against his peers – even if the two stakes offered were determined by skill-level rather than age. At 13mos, he was the youngest dog in the stake – and won it handily. That first blue ribbon is, as they say, addictive.

Since then we've been running in AKC events (because at least here in the northeast, they seem easier to access, especially since we're already heavily involved in the AKC hunt test format, too). Deciding to concentrate on finishing our older dog's SH hunt-test title first, we waited till early November to start trialing and have now run our younger dog in five stakes – three Amateur, two Open – with some nice successes. Our fall season just ended on Saturday. I can now relax. In the meantime, here are some observations:

*Whether hunt test or field trial, every event is only as good as its secretary and line marshal. This seemed especially true for the seven field trial events we ran in – some of which it seemed like were thinly veiled chaos, others highly oiled machines despite high numbers of dogs and limited daylight. This relates to my next observation, too, but there do seem to be a number of field-trial hosting clubs that have a high expectation of telepathy or refined intuitive learning on the part of its participants.

*People are friendly once you get to know them. All the sporting dog formats seem eager to attract newcomers – and certainly once folk had found out I was a novice, they were friendly as all heck. The two factors that kept me out of trialing at first were that it seemed pretty gear-intensive (meaning horses, trailers, tracking collars, and chaps) and that it was competitive. I've now heard and seen some of the petty horse-muck that sullies trialing (and to a lesser extent hunt testing) – and it's a shame that a few folk who can't separate their own egos from their dogs establish an uninviting stereotype. But I've also met far more really nice folk who will take my stupid phone-calls, offer horses, and maybe even scout for me when I need it. It seems to me that if trialing-focused clubs did as much outreach as some of the hunt test-focused clubs in terms of novice handler clinics then there should be plenty of folk eager to try it at least once. Being able to run in a non-regular stake and/or a breed-only stake is a great way for beginners to test their and their dogs' mettle; it would be great to see more clubs hold them.

* Trialing seems imminently more sociable. Maybe it's because host clubs wait till every stake is run in a day before announcing any placements, or because amateurs and professionals alike often run dogs in multiple stakes. Maybe it's because a good chunk of participants have hauled their dogs and horses off to the venue for the weekend -- and will be damned if they have to do that for just a day. In any case, in the hunt test world, people will very often wait around just long enough to receive their qualifying ribbons and then cruise.

*Even great dogs get beat. This is maybe all I need to say. A good dog can turn in a great run and simply get beaten by a better run. And if you're in it for the blue ribbon (or even the other colors), you're in it for the wrong reason. Believe me, I like winning a lot more – but even if it's only a fellow spectator who takes time to tell you your dog runs and hunts great on your otherwise birdless brace still makes it absolutely worthwhile. And if your dog genuinely blew it, you'll know it yourself. In which case, analyze the weak points, take heart in the strong points, train or plan accordingly and come back around.

*Derby dogs can break your heart. I'm sure this applies to all-age dogs, too, but because the expectations are a lot looser for Derby, it has been a lot less obvious to me what will necessarily carry the day for a win. And while my Derby-dog may be almost broke, and while that's not a requirement for Derby, every time I flush a bird and fire a pistol there's an adrenaline rush as to whether he'll keep standing till I can collar him off for his next cast-off – and how long it will be before he starts standing tall again with a bird beyond his nose. In a great post I re-read with frequency, Kim Sampson recalls judge Glen Wiese's rubric that "Slightly flawed brilliance should triumph over perfect mediocrity". This seems especially true for Derby. It's a roller-coaster ride, for sure.

*There's a thrill-ride to trialing that is much less obvious in hunt-testing. I am still an avid believer in the hunt-test format – even leaving aside the titles, it is a great training and testing guideline for those folk who are looking to train a finished gun-dog. And I don't believe that you have to choose trialing over hunt-testing; the skill-sets may be slightly different, but they aren't exclusive. The difference perhaps is that the hunt-test format has more of a check-list sensation to it as you progress up the levels -- 'Did the dog perform an honor?' Check. 'Did the dog retrieve?' Check – where the trial format is much more about speed, stamina, and style. And while I have seen and judged some hunt test dogs that performed beautifully, maybe it's the open spaces that come with a field-trial course that free up a dog's stride and drive its nose and its imagination. Or maybe there's a certain something else to trialing -- maybe that something that means that 'good enough' probably isn't, or the sharp contrasts between speed and stillness -- that means we'll be out again in the spring.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pocketbook Animal Rights

Pocketbook Animal Rights

The ‘Fart Tax’ and You

American Sporting Dog Alliance

As if there isn’t enough to worry about, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is telling us that cow farts are hurting the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

You can stop laughing now.

It’s true. EPA actually is proposing to regulate farmers and ranchers to protect us from emissions from flatulent hogs and cows.

The deadline for comments on the proposed anti-fart regulations passed quietly a week ago.

If the regulations are approved, farmers and ranchers with at least 25 head of livestock will be taxed at $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $20 per hog.

Preposterous, you might say, and you’re right.

But we would call it something else. We would call it calculated and deliberate.

It stems directly from the animal rights agenda, which is aimed at eliminating animals from American life, including animals that produce meat, milk, eggs and wool. The goal is to reinvent America as a vegan vegetarian society.

We imagine that you are still laughing.

Preposterous! America loves a good t-bone, Big Macs, milkshakes and eggs fried in sausage drippings. Yum.

You are correct in thinking that Americans will not allow meat, eggs and dairy products to be removed from our lives. Surveys show that more than 95-percent of us eat meat and love every bite we can get.

What you may not be thinking is that no one is planning to give us that choice.

The following analysis can be seen as a case study on how the animal rights agenda actually is being implemented in America today. While this example is about the planned elimination of meat, eggs and dairy products from our lives, slight variations in the same strategy also are being used to eliminate companion animals, circuses, rodeos and hunting.

The animal rights groups may be evil personified, but their leaders aren’t dumb. They know that Americans will not give up animal products voluntarily, and they aren’t going to try the direct approach. They’d lose, and they know it.

Their tactic is to indirectly and gradually take away our ability to choose to eat meat.

The logical tactic is to make animal products too expensive for people to use and enjoy regularly, and also to make farming unprofitable and more hassle than it’s worth.
Did you notice how the price of beef skyrocketed after the “mad cow disease” scare a couple of years ago? In about a month, most cuts of beef went up by about two dollars a pound.

The reason is that meat producers were assessed for the cost of a massive federal inspection and regulatory program, and for developing a way to track each animal from the slaughterhouse back in time to the place of its birth.

Suddenly, a half-decent steak costs $10 a pound. If you’re lucky, you can find it on sale for $6.99 or so.

How many people can afford that?

For most people, a juicy t-bone steak probably always has been only an occasional treat, perhaps once or twice a month. Now, it has become once or twice a year.

Have you noticed how small the meat section has become in most grocery stores? Have you noticed how small the portions have become?

I define a good steak as one pound or larger and marbled with fat. Most steaks in the grocery store are a little more than half that size today, and the meat looks like the cow was anorexic.

Part of the reason is the high price of beef. Another part of it is the health scare about cholesterol.

While cholesterol is a valid health concern for many people, the animal rights groups are exploiting this and other health issues to try to make people afraid to eat much meat.

I recall a billboard along I-35 in Dallas that was a photo of former President Ronald Reagan, linking his meat eating preferences with Alzheimer’s disease. Guess who sponsored this crude and tasteless billboard? It wasn’t the American Medical Association. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) paid for the billboard.

If Alzheimer’s doesn’t get you, “mad cow” disease or cholesterol will. That’s the message.

Meat already is being heavily taxed because of the brief “mad cow” disease scare. Now, EPA wants to tax it more because of cow fart emissions.

What’s next? A tax on meat because of its health risks similar to the extra taxes on cigarettes?

Yep. Give ‘em time. It won’t be long before some governmental agency proposes a big tax on every pound of meat to pay for “prevention” programs in the schools and social services agencies, mirrored after the tobacco use prevention campaigns. You’ll know the time has come when you start to see news reports about meat eaters driving up the cost of health insurance.

Enter the $20 a pound t-bone steak.

Exit meat from many people’s budgets.

That’s the plan, but it doesn’t stop here. The next big step is the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which currently is “voluntary” but is expected to become mandatory soon.

The NAIS plan is to license every location that produces poultry and livestock, and to assign each farm or ranch owner a unique identification number (that also applies to someone who owns a horse, or a couple of 4H goats). Then, at some point, every domestic animal and bird on American farms will be microchipped to determine its place of birth, and it will be tracked on computer all the way from the farm to the grocery store.

Guess how much that is going to cost? Guess who will pay for it?

Microchips can be purchased in bulk today for about $1.50 apiece. Suddenly the $3 frying chicken sold at the grocery store for $1.39 a pound has become a $4.50 chicken.

Add in the cost of bureaucracy and additional expenses for farmers, shippers and slaughterhouses, and it becomes a $6.50 chicken.

A lot of Americans won’t be able to afford to eat much chicken at those prices. It looks like a good time to invest your money in bean burrito company stock.

And that is precisely the plan!

The bureaucratic and compliance costs of NAIA will be enormous. Imagine what it will take to constantly track a truckload of 10,000 chickens individually on computers!

What’s the justification for these costs? “Bird flu,” of course, even though no form of this poultry disease that is communicable to humans has ever been found in the Americas.

The animal rights groups know exactly what they are doing. They find something scary about meat (Alzheimer’s disease, cholesterol, “Mad Cow” disease or “bird flu”) and then work quietly behind the scenes to exploit it. They have a lot of flunky newspaper and TV reporters in their pockets, and a lot of bureaucrats are smelling a lot of job security.

And a frying chicken will cost $6.50…for a small one.

The other side to NAIS is the burden to farmers and the rest of the food industry. Can you imagine the cost to a farmer of microchipping 100,000 chickens a month! How many employees will the farmer have to hire? How many fines will farmers face for microchips that come out? How many people will the trucking companies and slaughterhouses have to employ to scan a few million chickens a day for microchips?

Maybe it will be a $7.50 chicken, if we’re lucky.

“What’s for supper, Honey?”

“Two chicken McNuggets and beans, Sweetheart.”

That’s the plan.

NAIS will be applied first to cattle, hogs and poultry, but also to horses. A person who owns a couple of pleasure horses would have to report to the federal computer anytime they take a ride off of their property. Lord help them if they want to travel with their horses!

Many people believe dogs and cats will be next for NAIS.

Another prong in the animal rights plan is to regulate or eliminate what they allege are cruel “factory farming” practices, such as raising hens for egg production in battery cages. Farmers defend these practices, saying that all of the known needs of chickens are being met, and also that these methods keep the cost of food reasonable so that poor and working class people can afford to have better diets.

But the farmers lost a big battle last month with the overwhelming voter approval of Proposition 2 in California. Following this referendum, almost every egg farm in California will be put out of business.

Only free range chickens, or chickens kept in traditional henhouses, will be permissible. Expect the cost of a dozen eggs to jump to $3 or so. Make it $4 when you factor in NAIS, and $5 when you add the cost of “bird flu” insurance.

Don’t worry. You’ll enjoy bean McMuffins.

Look for a law resembling Proposition 2 to become nationwide within the next few years.

Of course, you can’t have a law without also having cops to enforce it. Every one of these programs will open up every farm in America to unannounced inspections, visits by animal cruelty officers and even vigilante spies from animal rights groups.

How much money will farmers have to spend on attorney fees, paying fines for technical violations (the chicken that lost its microchip), or rebuilding facilities, upgrading computer systems and hiring new employees?

How many farmers will say “enough is enough” and throw in the towel?

How many people will be able to afford to buy milk at $8 a gallon, eggs at $5 a dozen, steaks at $20 a pounds, hamburger at $10 or sausage at $12?

We saw the same thing happen in a different form this year, when HSUS exposed cruelty at a California slaughterhouse. A video showed a downer cow being pushed with a loader.

The firestorm of protest over that incident brought a host of new federal regulations and increased inspections of slaughterhouses, even though the incident was a clear violation of existing laws and regulations. The problem could have been solved easily and simply, but it wasn’t.

Instead, your steak went up another 50-cents a pound.

Dollars and cents is the most effective strategy the animal rights groups have discovered. Who cares if you want to eat meat if you can’t afford it!

Your choices become a moot point.

No matter where you look, activists and social reformers want to use money to limit your choices.

Environmentalists want gasoline to cost $20 a gallon, so you’ll use less of it.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) wants a hamburger to cost $15 at McDonalds, so that you’ll eat your veggie burgers and shut up.

They want gasoline to be expensive, because this will drive up the price of corn used for animal feed and fuel to transport all of America’s foodstuffs, and thus the price of meat for consumers. If gasoline rises to $10 a gallon, you won’t be eating much meat.

HSUS wants to make you pay a few thousand dollars for liability insurance to own a gun, so that you won’t be able to afford to go hunting. Thus, hunting can be eliminated without any politician ever having to cast a vote to do it.

And they also want the price of a puppy to be about $5,000, so that only rich people will be able to afford one and the vast majority of Americans will forget what it is like to love and be loved by a dog.

Wars have been won without ever firing a shot.

And the animal rights war will be won in your pocketbook, if you don’t wise up.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New voice on the blog

I have invited John Yates of Oil City, PA to contribute to Living with Bird Dogs. His first post is just above this one.

John Yates has been involved with sporting dogs since childhood. He grew up in a hunting family that raised beagles and springer spaniels. He developed an interest in the pointing breeds, and worked as an assistant to a professional trainer to put himself through college; he graduated from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 1971 with a degree in English and psychology. He also has done post-graduate work.

He has been a professional trainer of pointing dogs for the past 40 years, and also breeds English setters. During this period, he worked for 15 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and was the managing editor of daily newspapers in Montana and Pennsylvania, before pursuing a kennel business full-time. He also has done significant lobbying work for firearms rights and dog owners' groups, was the co-founder of the Pennsylvania Gun Owners' Association, and has done public relations work for political figures and organizations.

A lifelong hunter, john has guided professionally in Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas and Canada. Over the years, he has trained every breed of pointing dog, handled dogs professionally in competition, developed several champions, and also has owned beagles, coonhounds, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Labrador retrievers and springer spaniels.

In addition to his expertise on dog training, John is the founder of the American Sporting Dog Alliance, which is dedicated to fighting against poorly concieved and punitive restrictions on the owners of sporting dogs of all types.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Steady to wing and shot... or not?

For field trialers, this is not a question - it is a must. But many people who have quality hunting dogs do not see value in breaking their pointing dogs steady to wing, shot and fall. Further, they question why it is required in almost all field trial formats.

I have seen many arguments over this subject. I have also seen almost no hunting dogs that were steady to wing and shot. Why? 

The reason that most hunting dog owners provide is that they want their dog to 'get a head start on the retrieve' by going with the bird on the flush, even before the shot. Others seem to feel that it is simply unnecessary and just don't train for it. OK, but I would like to offer a few reasons, valid for many hunters. I doubt that these reasons would change many minds, and I believe that how people develop their bird dogs is up to them. But hear me out anyway...

Primary among reasons for steadiness in a bird dog is safety. You would be horrified if your hunting partner ran ahead of you when birds were flushed! "What's the matter with you, you wanna get shot!?" I think our dogs deserve the same level of concern.

For hunters of covey birds, such as quail, Huns, sharp-tailed grouse, and chukars, a dog that chases at the flush invites chaos. A typical scenario would be when the dog points, the hunter walks up, a few birds flush, the dog leaves with the birds while the hunter fires his first, and maybe second shot, meanwhile the dog is now 30 yards ahead and runs through the main part of the covey, which also flushes - out of range - perhaps while the hunter has an empty gun. Even when birds are not scarce, this is frustrating and unnecessary. 

Contrary to what many believe, retrieving is improved when the dog can mark down fallen birds. This is why a retriever is trained to wait until sent - and the same applies to pointing dogs. If they are standing still they can better mark fallen birds for retrieving. This is a worthwhile conservation measure.

Lastly, there are bragging rights - the cool factor. Hunting with a completely finished dog is a point of pride and many derive satisfaction from the quality of their dog's birdwork and manners around game. Rightfully so, I think.

Of course, it is a fact that it takes some effort to maintain the discipline of training and keep a dog broke when hunting. This is especially true during the first year or two or if the dog hunts with a brace mate that is not steady. But if training is reinforced when hunting, the dog will maintain his training and the reinforcement needed will decline over time. 

A thought for modern life

"As to the abuses I meet with, I number them among my honors. One cannot behave so as to obtain the esteem of the wise and the good without drawing on oneself at the same time the envy and malice of the foolish and wicked, and the latter is testimony of the former. The best men have always had their share of this treatment, and the more of it in proportion to their different and greater degree of merit. A man, therefore, has some reason to be ashamed of himself when he meets with none of it."

Benjamin Franklin, 1767

Keep this thought in mind if you post on Internet bulletin boards.