Jun 082016
 

Forest Image

In the Spring of 1998, I purchased a home surrounded by forestland. Having grown up in Southern California, Boston, and Santa Fe, I hiked through the seemingly endless trees on my land, feeling connected and renewed, at peace with the land, and acutely aware of my stewardship responsibilities.

I was a staunch environmentalist, conservationist, tree-hugger!  I had been a vegetarian most of my life, spent my evenings reading Rachel Carson and Peter Singer, and was reasonably well versed on the horrors man reaped upon the innocent earth.  I knew without hesitation that my trees would never be cut, but would be loved and cared for as nature intended… Everyone else might be greedy, selfish, short-sighted, and willing to rape the land for a few dollars, but at the very least I could protect my little piece…

It took about two years before I began questioning my assumptions. The conifers on my property were so prolific that they were destroying biodiversity! There had been meadows, clearings, margins, wetlands, savannas, even old dead stumps, all teeming with different creatures, but as time went by they were getting smaller and fewer.  Everything was becoming the same, and the number and type of animals and plants was getting smaller and smaller.  Little could grow in the deep shade, and mature conifers provide little food.  I started reading very different books, and soon I was yanking up baby trees like weeds!  I started thinking about the role of fire.  A few years later I bought my first chainsaw! A few more years, and I had foresters and biologists out to give me their opinions on where I should thin and where clear-cut to maximize healthy, diverse ecosystems.

I am still no expert on forestry, and I have not even determined the perfect plan for maintaining my own tiny forest! But what I have learned is that forest management is complex and requires balance, a huge amount of information, and thoughtfulness, not simplistic certainty.

I was not merely ignorant and uninformed about forest management—I was actively and zealously participating in a war without genuinely understanding the issue! This is the problem of passion and information without experience. When we love something, we are quick to dig in our heels and fight to protect it. Sentimentality and romanticism occlude reality and we sometimes refuse to participate in precisely those activities that might help us understand that big picture and the competing factors that make simple certitude so misguided. Reaching a conclusion without enough information to understand the issues is foolish. Advocating for that belief is one of the most dangerous actions a person can take.

What does any of this have to do with animals, the topic of this blog?  Whenever there is a fight about an animal issue, the people involved on both sides are generally animal lovers, but there are 2 distinct groups: those whose love of animals is largely theoretical and based on little experience, and those who have tens of thousands of hours of diverse animal experience.  And the problem is that the inexperienced sentimentalists almost always get it horrifyingly wrong. They advocate and support laws and positions that are profoundly destructive to real animals in the real world.

If you care about animals, and you want to be involved in making the world better for them, the first step must be accumulating enough knowledge and experience to be certain that your opinions are informed and valid.

And perhaps most importantly—do not pursue experience that will reinforce your assumptions, seek out experience on the other side of each issue, for that is how you develop wisdom. Think breeding is awful, find the best breeders you can and learn from them.  Think kill-shelters are evil, go volunteer at one and try to understand why they are making the decisions they are.  Believe wild animals cannot be happy in captivity, volunteer at a good zoo.  Think Animal Rights advocates are idiots, go spend some time with them and try to understand their perspective. Spend time around many experts with many different opinions, participate with passion and care, and listen carefully and critically and with an open mind, and you will become an expert. And spend time around many, many animals—in the wild and in captivity, and pay close attention, for there are few better teachers…

Until you do that, you are the problem.  You are the loud ignorant din that drowns out truth and progress.

But once you have spent a few thousand hours pursuing knowledge, whether you come to agree with my views or not, I relish hearing your thoughts.  The very best ideas and outcomes derive from a diverse set of intelligent and informed opinions being weighed and balanced. In many ways, humankind controls the fate of every animal—and tree—on the planet, and we owe it to ourselves and to them to do better. Doing better begins by recognizing that the difficult decisions must be made by those who authentically understand the issues, and each of us must either develop the knowledge to participate, or be quiet and get out of the way…

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Aug 312015
 

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Last year I wrote a blog suggesting that keeping a pet forever no matter what may not always be best for the pet: sometimes we need to swallow our egos and recognize that a particular animal might be better off in some situation other than living with us.

I did not intend to wrestle with this issue personally quite so soon…IMG_1184

London’s breeder, Scott, called and asked if I would consider sending London back to live with him. London’s father Tundra had recently died, and Scott really wanted to continue that line that had produced such excellent offspring. He had a female named Sierra that needed a companion and mate, and he believed London would be a really strong complement to her genetics.

For several weeks I agonized over what is best for London:

London is a remarkable animal – sweet beyond words, extremely smart and willing, possessing some of the best dog skills and language I have ever observed. He loves to train and play, he is good in the house, loves riding in cars, has no resource issues. He has liked every person he has met. London is simply beautiful, perfect in almost every way. The only flaw I ever saw in him is that he sometimes finds new situations overwhelming, and it takes him a while to get past his initial cautiousness. Large movie sets are almost always challenging, with lots of strange sights and noises. While he might have done well on some sets, I felt the odds were too great that London would eventually encounter situations too intense for him to enjoy.

IMG_2720-EditThere is no compelling necessity for London to go anywhere: he absolutely can stay here forever. He has abundant space, lots of animal playmates, a comfortable climate, a pond he loves to splash in, people he adores, and lots of tranquility. He need not ever again go to set, and can simply stay happy at home and be a much-loved pet.

Alternatively, he can go to Scott’s place where he will have a mate and the opportunity to sire splendid pups and will perpetuate a lineage that has produced excellent animals. He will still enjoy adventures if he wants, and he will not likely ever encounter the types of super-intense situations that make him uncomfortable. I can go visit him whenever…

There is no wrong answer here. Both of London’s paths forward are wonderful. But nonetheless, I had to decide…

A few days ago, London went to Scott’s. I love him so very much, and will miss him dearly, but I believe there is a real chance that London will be happier with a mate than without, and if he is ever not happy, we can always bring London back to our place.IMG_5528

He has been at Scott’s for a few days now, and is doing great! Eating well, adoring Sierra, going to the mall, and generally having a great time. He seems to have quickly accepted Scott, and has exhibited no issues at all: Scott is doing a great job of making London feel comfortable and welcome. Is he happier? I cannot know. But so far he seems very happy, and Scott and I will reevaluate frequently and make sure we both believe London continues to know a great life. If in a week, a year, or 10 years we feel that London would be happier back with me, he will always be welcome and cherished. I remain grateful to Scott for trusting us to care for London as we did, and I look forward to meeting the superior pups I hope a thriving London sires!

 

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 August 31, 2015  Posted by at 10:10 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Apr 262013
 

I thought some of you might enjoy this video highlighting a few of the adventures from Quest’s first year of life:

 

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 April 26, 2013  Posted by at 6:53 pm
Mar 052013
 

TTTruck-1A woman left her dog in a crate in her car while she went into a store. A drunk drove into her car, breaking open the crate and smashing out the window. The woman returned to find her dog missing.

She posted about the missing dog in many places, and the vast majority—not one or two, but most—of the responses suggested that it was her fault for having her dog in a car.  That her dog was better off dead, roaming the streets, or finding any other home, than it was continuing to live with someone who would treat it so inhumanely as to leave it in a car.

This should send a chill down the spine of every informed animal lover: not only is it absolutely insane, it is a tangible demonstration of how devastatingly effective the animal rights movement has already been in making it socially unacceptable for anyone to have a dog:

They started with a reasonable assertion:  cars can get dangerously hot if left in the sun, and anyone leaving a dog in a car needs to be aware of the temperature and take appropriate precautions to ensure their dog is safe and comfortable.  Of course, everyone agreed!  They began passing laws mandating that dogs were not left in hot cars, and while a few wise individuals foresaw the risk in such statutes, most people cheered and voted yes.  Then they began lowering the recommended temperature until almost any day was ostensibly too hot for a dog to be in a car.  Then they suggested that cold cars could be a problem.  Then they suggested that dogs needed to be restrained in crates when in cars.  Then they suggested that dogs should never be stuck in crates because it is inhumane.

BAM!

There you have it—dogs should not be in cars! Not ever.  It is un-natural, unsafe, inhumane.

Of course that it is absolutely untrue:   Most dogs love going places, love hanging-out in the car.  Love the awesome adventures and enriching fun in which they get to participate by going in the car.  Even if this means they have to nap in the car while mom runs some errands. Most dogs, given a choice, will get in the car and go almost every time.  Most dogs spend a huge portion of their time lounging about anyway, and doing it in the car is as good as anywhere, and if it means they get to go for a swim or a hike or even just hang with their mom all day, it is even better.  Most cars can be kept at a safe temperature on most days with a modicum of effort.

Yes, this means that a teeny-tiny percentage of dogs will die in car accidents or overheated cars or whatever.  So will some people.  Animals die every day out in the natural world, because life has risks. We must constantly be wary of invoking regulations that would save a few animals or people from harm by grossly diminishing the lives of millions.

It is stupefying that they believe dogs should not be in cars.  But what is truly scary is how easily most well-meaning animal lovers have been convinced to accept this propaganda.

For many years, pet lovers have shrugged their shoulders about the animal rights movement—sure, they are perfidious loons, but they are no real threat.  They may outlaw exotic species, or chickens or cows, but surely they would stand no chance if they came after dogs and cats.

WAKE UP!  They are going to eliminate pets without ever having to say a word about it:  They are simply going to make it socially unacceptable to have pets in cars, in crates, or on collars. It will be stigmatized to take your dog with you, or to leave your dog home alone. To feed your dog unnatural kibble, or to feed your dog dangerous raw food.  To own multiple dogs which means you do not have enough time for each, or to own a single dog who should not be forced to live a lonely life without canine companions.  Nobody should have a dog that does not have a CGC. Nobody should have a dog of certain breeds.  No dog should live in a home that is not air conditioned and heated. Nobody should ever have an intact dog. Nobody should breed a dog.

These are not the paranoid imaginings of a conspiracy theorist. Oh, how I wish they were!   But every single one of these things has already been stated, many have already been legislated, and most importantly, they are, with alarming rapidity, becoming accepted social norms.

Well-meaning pet lovers show up in droves to support bills and regulations that seem designed to make life better for pets, without recognizing that these bills are quickly making it impossible for anyone to keep dogs in any manner without being vilified.

Make no mistake about it, pet ownership is under serious and immediate attack, and it is up to those of us who truly love animals to protect it.

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 March 5, 2013  Posted by at 7:33 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Jan 102012
 

A few weeks ago, I had one of the worst experiences of my life: my dog Sequel disappeared while we were hiking in the woods around our home, and he was missing for several days and nights.  Each moment he was gone was devastating, but daytime was more bearable—there was so much to be done running the search that it was easy to set aside any thoughts about him being injured or dead.  We had multiple teams searching the woods and updating the search map, people driving the roads and putting up signs, people going door-to-door, people calling all the shelters, vets, daycares, etc.  Busyness can be a real friend in times of anguish! Long after night fell and the searchers had gone, I would force myself to try to get a few hours of sleep, but how can you lie in a warm bed and fall asleep knowing that your dog may be lying somewhere near death hoping you will find him soon…

And so, instead of sleeping, during the long, dark hours agonizing about all the worst things that could be happening to my dog, I wracked my brain about what I should have done differently, what I would do differently when—if—I found him and brought him home.  And I returned time and again to the same surprising answer: nothing.

 

I love my dogs with every fiber of my being.  I love them enough that while it sometimes might make me feel better to wrap them in cocoons and cloister them away safely, I force myself to always try to make the best decision for them.  Insofar as it is possible, I try to give my dogs the lives I believe they would want, with the balance of safety and adventure that they would chose if they could fully understand the issues. Most of my dogs would absolutely prefer to run in the woods, to swim in the ocean, to wrestle and leap and herd and play, even if these things come with some risk.

Of course, judgment is required-knowledge of your dogs, their personality and fitness and training (I would stake my life on Sequel’s recall if he could have heard me, and as soon as I got on the right side of the creek where he could, he came immediately), and the area and all the hazards so you can make an informed decision about whether to keep your dogs on leash or a long line or a GPS collar or have them loose but call them back frequently. And no matter how careful you are, there will be some risk!  But for nearly 20 years we have taken many, many animals out to run, play, hike, and camp in our woods, and the tens of  thousands of hours of joy, health, enrichment,  fitness, and fun it has brought is more than worth the risks, and really the worst that has ever happened is a few scrapes, a few porcupine quills, and some lost sleep…Those are pretty excellent odds, and even if Sequel had died, I am certain I would feel the same.

 

Please understand, I am not advocating recklessness: I am amazed at how often I watch people let their dogs out of a car in a parking lot and then pay no attention, or whose dogs are left unattended in homes full of hazards, or whose dogs are meeting groups of large, intense dogs while the owner is 100 feet away. Vigilance and mindful awareness are almost always to be advised with animals…

 

My dog is at risk in a moving car. He is at risk fetching a stick or a ball or wearing a collar. He is at risk at home that my house could catch fire. He is at risk on a dogwalk, or running in a field that might have a mole-hole. He is at risk chewing on a toy or meeting other dogs at a park. He is at risk that some lunatic will put poison on a sidewalk. Heck, I knew a dog recently who was run over while walking on leash in town… The risks from wildlife to a healthy, medium-sized dog in most areas are statistically very, very low. (of course if you live in an area in which risks are greater, you would need to behave accordingly!)

There are undoubtedly a few dogs that die from wildlife encounters each year in this country, or that get lost while out playing in the woods, or slip and fall down a cliff, but there are millions and millions of dogs that die each year obese and bored and with their bodies, minds, and spirits atrophied.  And while you can never perfectly protect your pets from risk, you absolutely can save them from boredom.

Being a good dog owner is not about avoiding risk-it is about balancing risk with richness.  Life is full of adventures, opportunities, and experiences that make our dogs’ lives wonderful, but we must not be so afraid that we avoid them.  I certainly cannot tell anyone else how to find their perfect balance point, but I can say that for me and my dogs, we would rather be injured or die living a rich full life than sit safely at home growing old.

 

One last happy thought: pursuing a full and rich life, will often have the magical side-effect of also maximizing health and longevity.  Our dogs spend their lives sprinting and swimming and leaping and playing as hard as possible, and they virtually all live well into their teens. Flint, our Belgian/Border Colli mix, lies at my feet as I write this, 18 years old. And I can hardly remember a day in his life that he did not fling himself into the unknown with utter abandon and sometimes crazy disregard for any potential risk…

I could probably write more about this topic, but Sequel wants to go for a hike now—back into the same woods, to his favorite swimming hole, and to the meadow to play a fast game of chase with Fig. We may die while playing our favorite games, but first, for sure, we are going to live…

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 January 10, 2012  Posted by at 10:13 am
Dec 192010
 

One day in September, it was quite hot here, and I was walking to my car when I heard a dog barking nearby, and decided I would walk by and just make sure the dog looked ok and was not overheating.  Now, before I go on, it is perhaps important to say that I am not one who believes dogs should never be left in cars.  Quite the opposite, I believe it is great if people take their dogs with them, and so long as they take care of the dogs and the dogs are happy about it, I absolutely support taking your dog with you.  I believe dogs can be very comfortable and safe in cars and am outraged at the growing movement to vilify anyone who leaves their dog in a vehicle.

I determined that the barking was coming from a minivan parked in the sun, and the rear windows were open only a few inches.  The dog appeared fine from a distance, but I was still a little bit concerned, so I walked a little closer, and I was pretty sure that the engine was running, presumably so the air-conditioner could work, and everything seemed peachy.  At about this point, as I was about to depart, I heard a woman’s voice very hostilely shout, “He WILL bite you.”  I turned to look, and there was a lady, talking to some other people a few cars away, glaring at me.  I smiled at her, and said, “Hopefully not, since I am ten feet away and he appears to be safely contained…”  She scowled and said, “If you get any closer he WILL bite you…”

I understood her anger: she assumed I was another busy-body who was coming over to pass judgment on her without knowing the first thing about animals or her situation.  She was afraid I was going to call the cops or animal control or PETA. She had no way of knowing that I had no intention of doing anything unless there appeared to be a genuine and immediate problem, and that if there was a problem my only interest would be in helping.

This exchange struck me as a perfect example of one of the truly harmful things that the AR movement has done: it has turned us all into adversaries.  She was so worried about someone attacking her that she could not imagine or appreciate that maybe I was an ally just walking by to make sure her dog was fine.  Not only have they divided us into little factions that are ineffective politically, they have prevented us from working together to make the world a better place.  This hurts us all, most acutely the animals…

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 December 19, 2010  Posted by at 8:07 pm
Oct 052010
 

A few days ago, I heard some sounds coming from the attic and began to suspect that a rodent had decided that our home would be a nice cozy place to spend the winter.

I live out in the middle of the woods, and cannot be too surprised if occasionally wild animals decide that the warm comfort of my home might be preferable to the challenges of the wilderness, but I am not very hospitable to rodents.  They are too dangerous as potential disease and parasite vectors to my animals, not to mention the fact that each year they manage to do thousands of dollars of damage to the hoses and wires in our vehicles.

My first thought was, “Seriously?”  There are more than a few rodent-eating predators in my house.  It just does not seem like a wise place to set up shop if you are near the bottom of the food chain…

For several days I engaged in a primordial battle—man against rodent…  Intellect against instinct.  Knowledge against cunning.  And for several days I lost.

Finally, I determined that he was, for reasons not entirely clear to me, going into my bathroom each night, so I left the door open only a few inches and rigged a live trap so that as soon as he ran through the opening he would be in the trap.  I put a delectable combination of apple, peanut butter, and dog food in the trap. At around 2am I heard the trap spring, and went to check, and sure enough had caught the largest bushy-tailed woodrat ever.  I decided to leave him in the trap overnight.  I dubbed him “Bright-Eyes,” and headed off to bed, smug in my evolutionary superiority.

This morning, I loaded him into the truck and headed out deep into the woods to release him.

I took the cage out of the back of the truck and walked into the woods and opened the trap (I always wonder why they do not design have-a-heart traps with a release mechanism that does not require you to stay there holding the cage open while the angry animal comes out…)  He shot out of the cage, took one look at me, and sprinted as fast as he possibly could around me and towards the truck, where he instantly leapt onto the axle and climbed up into the engine bay where he remained hidden despite my best efforts to find him…

So, to recap, I gave him dinner, took him for a nice drive in the country, and then brought him home.  I now feel considerably less confident in my evolutionary superiority.

Round 2 to follow…

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 October 5, 2010  Posted by at 6:13 pm