Archive for January, 2014

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Maddie and Timmy

All photos courtesy of Laura Westfall Atkinson.


  Timmy was a nice little dog. I spent many, many hours walking him on the beach between Atlantic Beach, North Carolina and Fort Macon.

Maddie was his mate. Both very nice dogs. Maddie and Timmy had several litters together.

Maddie was his mate. Both very nice dogs. Maddie and Timmy had several litters together. 

Maddie with Catie. Catie is now a chemical engineer in Baton Rouge.

Maddie with Catie. Catie is now a chemical engineer in Baton Rouge. 

Good ol’ dogs.

Just memories now.



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One of the few stories on the blog in which he have real photographic evidence. This was in the November of 2007, when my uncle decided to turn  my grandpa’s land into a game bird preserve. (All photos courtesy of Laura Westfall Atkinson).

pheasant stocking

Nice cock!

pheasant stock with maddie

“I want to kill them!”


maddie wants the bird

She would be on it like white on rice.

Maddie's owners, Jeanne and Doug Westfall. Doug bought the birds in Ohio the day before.

Maddie’s owners, Jeanne and Doug Westfall. Doug bought the birds in Ohio the day before. 

Willie doesn't think much of the damn birds.

Willie doesn’t think much of the damn birds.


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Ice ducks

They have a house in which to shelter, but it’s more fun to be out on the ice.



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fox defending its kill

There is a certain amount of ignorance that exists among urban dwellers, especially those in the United Kingdom, a nation that has killed off all its large predatory mammals and left the countryside to the red fox and the European badger.

This ignorance sees animals like red foxes as noble creatures on the same level as dogs, which means that it is inherently immoral to kill them for any reason.

Anyone who kills a fox in the UK is automatically demonized to almost the same level as a pedophile.

I find this utterly shocking.  I have never killed a fox, but members of my family certainly have. During the ’60’s and ’70’s, my father’s family made a decent income trapping and shooting foxes for their fur. These foxes financed long industrial strikes, which I thought most of the socialist Brits would support. These actually were red foxes, whose pelts uplifting the plight of the working class, which also financed my grandfather’s relatively generous retirement, a lot of which was actually spent on improving habitat for wildlife.

My grandpa knew the red fox inside and out.  He knew just where to place his traps, and he also knew how to modify them to hold the fox as humanely as possible. It was not about the torture of the fox. It was about catching and holding it as soundly as possible.

When fox numbers were so strictly controlled through this profitable culling, there were plenty of game birds around. Ruffed grouse existed in numbers that I cannot even imagine today. Now, it’s certainly true that ruffed grouse prefer early succession forests to mature ones, and because timber prices are so low, most of the forests have been allowed to mature beyond their optimum harvest date.

But I don’t think that having uncontrolled fox numbers is actually a good thing for ruffed grouse numbers.

Of course, red foxes are being controlled through coyote predation, and coyotes don’t really waste their time on ruffed grouse– too hard to catch and too small a meal.

If coyotes control fox numbers, then it will be likely be a good thing for ruffed grouse.

What I’ve just described to you is something that is well-understood in the ecological literature. This particular case, of course, has not been confirmed in any study, but I certainly do think it’s worth examining. (It has been confirmed with ducks, coyotes, and foxes, however.)

This phenomenon is called the mesopredator release hypothesis, and it is actually been confirmed time and again in the wildlife management and ecology literature.

The hypothesis goes like this:

Historically, our ecosystems were full of large, slowly reproducing predators– wolves, tigers, cougars, great whites etc. These are the so-called apex predat

And these predators hunted big game, but they also hunted smaller predators that reproduce relatively quickly, like foxes, raccoons, stingrays, etc.

These smaller predators evolved to have very high reproduction rates. It was the only way they could keep their numbers going through a constant onslaught of predation from the bigger predators.

The smaller predators hunted smaller prey, and these prey animals were often too small for the bigger ones to waste time chasing.

So the bigger predators kept the smaller ones under control, just as the smaller ones had evolved to produce more and more offspring. Smaller predators did not significantly reduce populations of smaller animals because their numbers were controlled by the big ones.

Over the past 10,000 years, man has waged war against the bigger predators. We’ve killed off nearly all the lions in Asia, as well as almost all of the cheetahs. Wolves are gone from much of Europe and the United States. Both wolves and Eurasian lynx are gone from Great Britain, and since foxhunting has been banned, the only thing controlling foxes are cars and shooters. And mange, of course.

In this world, mesopredators are still reproducing at the same level they always were, but nothing is controlling their numbers.

Small prey species suddenly find themselves experiencing high levels of predation, and their numbers begin to drop.

At this point, we are never going to have the same ecosystems that we had before. We are not going to have vast populations of wolves controlling the fox numbers any time soon.

So the solution to this problem is to cull them.

And that’s why I don’t denigrate the fur trade. It’s why I don’t cry about foxhunters and foxhounds. It’s also why I don’t worship at the altar of feral cat protection. Feral cats are part of the mesopredator problem as well, and they might actually be the worst offender after the red fox.

There are valid scientific reasons why we must control the numbers of mesopredators, and being so squeamish about controlling foxes or cats or raccoons is being more of an animal rights fanatic than it is being a conservationist.

Animal rights is actually not about ecology, and the way it is logic falls,  the right of any animal to life trumps sound wildlife management.

That’s insanity.



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Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait Currier and Ives Wild Duck Shooting A Good Day's Sport

This painting was done for Currier and Ives, and if you want to see romantic portrayals of America from the nineteenth century, look up Currier and Ives prints.

The dogs are the traditional American retriever– the retrieving setter. I know American water spaniels and Chesapeake Bay retrievers are technically American retrievers, but they were regional dogs. And Chesapeakes were often just called “Newfoundland dogs.”

The ducks are a species called a redhead, but I think are better called “American pochard.”  They are very closely related to the pochard duck of Europe.

The British often complained that American setters weren’t as staunch to a point as their dogs were, and they blamed it on the dual purpose function of our setters.

In fact, it has been claimed that the popularity of the retriever in Britain largely resulted in the desire to have setters and pointers hold their position.   They could breed and train for a dog to hold the point very tightly, while another dog did all the retrieving.

But Americans used our setters just as the Europeans used their HPR’s, and this is why outside of those two regional breeds, retrievers did not exist in significant numbers in the US until after the Second World War.

Our setters did the job.

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Smelling the quarry

A rabbit is hidden in the brush pile. Or maybe a grouse.


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Maddie has gone to ground

16-year-old Madeleine has passed.  She was a Jack Russell belonging to my aunt and uncle in North Carolina.


She was born in Arizona to English parents.

And she was the mother of three litters of pups, and she was a great surrogate mother to both Cammie and Rhodie and to Willie.

And she was good dog.

When she would come to West Virginia to visit, she could be trusted off-lead, and she was very close friends with Kizzy, the golden boxer. I remember watching young Maddie follow the big black dog around as if she were something to be admired and emulated.

I also remember stocking pheasants with Maddie. I couldn’t get them out of the quail cages fast without her trying to grab the bird as it came out.

She was a good dog. She was generally gentle and well-behaved, but if another dog trifled with her or one of the puppies she was caring for, she would fight like a small grizzly bear. I remember when Willie was a small puppy, another Jack Russell tried to pick on him, but Maddie would have nothing of it. She sailed on the other dog, who was a male JRT and somewhat larger than she, and soon had him routed.

I will miss her.

She is the last of that dynasty of Jack Russells that I came to know in my teenage years. They were not these hard-driving, game dogs of the JRTCA-type, which are much more common around here. These were dogs that were scrappy, but they were still good companions.

She is sort of the end of an era.


Many Jack Russells from England have a bit of other blood in them. I’ve always suspected that she had a bit of border terrier in her– just from her head shape and her hard, thick coat. When she was younger, she had the border terrier’s markings, too.

That’s the thing about “Jack Russells,” there is still of lot of anarchy among them.

But even now, they are slowly turning into closed registry breeds.

Both Cammie and Rhodie are technically “Russell terriers,” a breed that didn’t even exist until just a few years ago. In the 1990’s, they would have both been called Jack Russells.

Maddie lost her eye to glaucoma a few years ago, which made her look particularly vicious.

But I will always remember her gentle face and tenderness with young puppies.

maddie smiling

It doesn’t matter if they live to be 16 years old.

Dogs just don’t live long enough.

Please keep my aunt and uncle and their two daughters in your thoughts this week.

This is absolutely devastating.


Maddie’s final resting place will be next to her mate, the much celebrated and perhaps legendary Timmy.







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