Archive for September, 2018

She didn’t even flinch, but she kept her eyes on me while they did it. She also knows her sit and down commands.

This dog has nerves of steel.

anka at the vet


Read Full Post »

River Wolves

Quest and Anka swimming in the Ohio River on Sunday.

anka and quest in the ohio river

river monster anka

anka river dog

river dog anka

water wolves 1

water wolves





Read Full Post »

I can’t believe I have such a nice dog.

anka posing

The eyes pretty much say it all.

I never thought I’d like a dog of this breed, much less consider one my best canine companion.

I think I’m always going to have at least one Deutscher Schäferhund in my home. They are that much fun to train and play with, and they are so clownish and loyal. Plus, they are great watch dogs that can easily be trained not to bark excessively, and the best ones are not vicious.

She is stable and attuned my mood. She is sensitive and eager and quite brainy.

Which is a good thing, because she is built like a body-builder, with massive muscles in her hind quarters and forelegs.

I would not want a dog like her if it was a crazed lunatic that went around randomly attacking people. She could do a lot of damage, but she’s docile and domesticated.

I have, however, seen that demure clowny coyote suddenly become all business when she thought her job was to be the protector.

Anka is what I like in a dog. I’ve always been looking for that perfect balance of drive, good sense, and intelligence in a dog, but it’s harder and harder to find in golden retrievers. It still exists, but it is something one must seek out with a great deal of rigor.

And even then, you may be turned away.

Working German shepherds are really common, and because people often don’t know what they are getting when they purchase a puppy– “I want one of them straight-backed ones” is a common idea in the public mind– they often are in need of good homes. What most people don’t get is those straighter-backed Rin Tin Tin dogs have far more drive than most people are accustomed to having in a dog, and they would be be better suited to buy an actual show-bred dog.

Living with both forms of this breed has given me a deep appreciation for each type.  I can’t say that I am as fundamentalist against the show dogs as I once was. I had to change my mind, because I was wrong.

And yes, we can have all these debates about functional conformation in this breed. We can post that image that shows the horse with the extreme rear angulation. We can show photos of Hektor Linksrhein/Horand von Grafrath all we want.

But i have changed my mind about what breeds I do like to have. One of these days, I’ll probably up my game with a Malinois or a Dutch shepherd, which are like five or six clicks more driven than a working German shepherd,  but for right now, I enjoy what I do have.

A good dog.




Read Full Post »


Man originated in Africa. The whole lineage of apes from which we and all the other human species descended was in Africa, a sister lineage to the apes that gave us the chimpanzee and the bonobo.

But man’s first domestic animal was not of Africa at all. The large pack-hunting wolf roamed the great expanses of Eurasia, and it was only when certain Eurasian hunters began to incorporate wolves into their societies that we began the process of domestication.

For nearly two million years, human ancestors and the ancestors of the wild dog lived throughout Africa.  There was never an attempt to bring these dogs to heel, and there was never attempt to reach out to that species.

The question remains of why African wild dogs were never domesticated, and part of the answer lies in their nervous nature. I am reminded of Martin Clunes’s A Man and His Dogs.  Clunes ended his two part documentary with a visit to Tony Fitzjohn’s African wild dog project, and at one point, Clunes is asked to pick up a tranquilized African wild dog, while making certain that the jaws are positioned well away from his body.  These dogs react and react quickly.

These dogs live as quite persecuted mesopredators in an intact African ecosystem that includes lions and spotted hyenas.  Yes, this animal that kills large game with a greater success rate than any other African predator is totally the underdog in a land so dominated by the great maned cat and the spotted bone-crusher.

Their lives must be spent hunting down quarry and then bolting down meat as fast as they can before the big predators show up to steal it.

The current thinking is the first African wild dog ancestor to appear in Africa was Lycaon sekowei. This species lived in Africa from 1.9 to 1 million years ago, which is roughly the same time frame in which the first human ancestors began to consume meat readily.  It was very likely that a major source of meat consumed by these ancestors came from scavenging.  Homo habilis has been des cribed as a very serious scavenger, as was Homo erectus.

Both Homo habilis and erectus were contemporaries of Lycaon sekowei, and one really thinks about it, these early humans would have been very interested in the comings and goings of the great predators. Of all the predators to drive off kills, it is obvious that a pack of wild dogs would be easier to drive off than just about any other predators that were evident in Africa at the time.

So for at least 1.9 million years, African wild dogs evolved knowing that humans of any sort were bad news.  They may have inherited an instinct towards antipathy toward humans, and thus, there never was any chance for us to develop relationships such as those that have been observed with wolves and hunter-gatherer people.

I think this played a a much bigger role in reason why man never tried to domesticate African wild dogs. One should also keep in mind that wolves in Eurasia were also mesopredators in that ecosystem. Darcy Morey and Rujana Jeger point out that Pleistocene wolves functioned as mesopredators in which their numbers were likely limited by cave lions, archaic spotted  hyenas, and various forms of machariodont. They were probably under as much competition from these predators as the ancestral African wild dogs were under from the guild of super predators on their continent.

What was different, though, is the ancestral wolves never evolved in an enviroment which scavenging from various human species was a constant threat, so they could develop behaviors towards humans that were not always characterized by extreme caution and fear.

We were just novel enough for wolves to consider us something other than nasty scavengers, and thus, we could have the ability to develop a hunting symbiosis as is described in Mark Derr’s book and also Pierotti and Fogg’s.

It should also be noted that African wild dogs do not have flexible societies. In wolf societies, there are wolves that manage to reproduce without forming a pair bond, simply because when prey is abundant, it is possible for wolves other than the main breeding female to whelp and rear puppies. These females have no established mates, and they breed with male wolves that have left their natal packs and live on the edges of the territories of established packs. In the early years of the Yellowstone reintroduction, many packs let these females raise their pups that were sired by the wanderers, and one famous wolf (302M) wound up doing this most of his life, siring many, many puppies.  I think that what humans did in their initial relationships with wolves was to allow more wolves to reproduce in this fashion, which opens up the door for more selective breeding than one would get from wolves that are more pair-bonded.

In African wild dogs, one female has the pups. If another female has puppies, hers are confiscated by the main breeding female and usually starve to death.

The wolf had the right social flexibility and the right natural history for humans form relationships with them, which the African wild dog was lacking.






Read Full Post »

Little puppy has big ears

He is gonna be a stallion of a dog.

quest ears up

Read Full Post »

Ball dog

This is a German shepherd a millisecond before the snap.

ball dog anka

Read Full Post »

shackleford ponies

I used to go to those islands all the time. When I was a kid the Southern Outer Banks were my summer isles. We used to drive down across the Alleghenies, the cut through the Blue Ridge, and then wind our way around the North Carolina Piedmont for what seemed an eternity.

And we’d get all giddy and silly when we crossed the first causeway that went over saltwater. Children from the interior are certainly easily amused.

The sandy isles are made to weather and contort with the currents and the wind, but they aren’t likely going to withstand the king tides of climate change.

And this coming hurricane, which they are calling Florence, will be a disaster, of course. I hope the Neuse and the Cape Fear Rivers don’t swell up in the storm surge and decimate all those little cotton and pulp mill towns.

I hope those old banker ponies will still roam Shackleford Banks, and little kids will fight over who saw the first feral horse when the family drives over to Beaufort.

Blackbeard used to use the islands as his pirate haunts, and The Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on a sandbar near Beaufort. And the old pirate met his demise at Ocracoke.

But when you listen to that Jimmy Buffet music on the beach, you feel that pirate’s presence in the hot salty air.

And you feel the hospitality of these saltwater people, whose lives are made during the tourist season if the shrimp and oyster boats don’t bring in a good profit.

They know the storms, but the bad ones are still pretty bad.

And I cannot tell you much but a piece of me aches for what is coming.  I hope that all will be okay in the end, but I know that every one of these storms takes a bit away. It takes life. It washes away a whole beach. It floods out a little town.

Nature builds the hurricanes over the warm late summer seas. We just now help in the process by making the seas stay a little warmer a little longer.

Those island towns have made fortunes off of West Virginia coal miners’ vacation funds. The carbon released from the burning of coal has made the earth retain the sun’s heat, as did the burning of petroleum in air-conditioned cars of all the tourists coming down  And so the force that made the islands ultimately will bring them down a peg.

Nature gives. Nature takes, and humans can never accept the unjust mismeasure.

But the storm is coming to the islands and coast, and let’s hope when this passes we can think about the warming seas and burning of fossil fuels.

I hope we can, but I wonder if we will do anything about it.

Because it may not happen this time, but someday– and someday soon– the Outer Banks will slip and slide away into the frothy waves of the Atlantic.

And I will have lost a bit of the happy times of my childhood, and we will all lose the tern-filled beaches, the nesting grounds of the loggerhead sea turtles, and the place where the waves crash and the dolphins cavort.

A bit of America will be gone, another bit that we squandered away in our stupidity and ignorance as the cars and plants churned up the carbon into the sky.



Read Full Post »

He eats!

Mosiro ate his first fuzzy rat (pre-killed, frozen,and then thawed) in my care. It took all of 5 seconds for him to bite, and 30 minutes later he had a lump in his belly.

mosiro eats.jpg

Read Full Post »

The Flinty Rain

anka eager

Friday night, I took Anka out for her final run out. The wind was blowing a bit, and every so often, I felt a few raindrops splash against my skin. The week had been unseasonably hot for September, but on this Friday night, the air had a chill to it. And the rain that hit me was cold and flinty.

The whole weekend was a torrential downpour, and the temperatures dropped low and autumnal.

Yes, it is about that time everyone realizes that summer is about to ease its way off the scene. Sure, there will be still be a few days where the sun beats down enough that one will wish for cool drink, a cool breeze, or a nice little rain, but the ordinance of time says that those days are more finitely numbered.

I do remember what day this is. I remember distinctly having these exact thoughts on this same date in 2001. On that day, the air was cool and crisp in the morning. The sky was as pastel blue as I have ever seen it. The leaves on campus were starting to turn, and I knew then that summer was going away.

I had just started my third week of college. I was a freshman, and I was even more unsure of myself then than I am now. My schedule on Tuesdays (and yes, that was a Tuesday) was to be in class almost the entire morning.

I walked from my first class, which was my American government class, to my psychology class, and I let my mind roll around in the reverie of a what could turn into a lovely September day. I watched the robins on the campus lawn, and I made note of the lazy city squirrels that loped around without any fear in them.

When I made to my psychology class, one of my classmates said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought it was just a little private plane that some idiot had accidentally flown into a building.

It was beyond my comprehension that anyone would use commercial planes to act as weapons of mass murder. I had come of age in the roaring 90s. Those were the days of the great tech bubble, but at the time, it felt like the good times would go on forever. Clintonian technocracy had solved the problems of the world, and the election of George W. Bush was an anomaly, a simple accident of the electoral college. All would be made right soon enough, and the world would make sense again.

Every single one of those delusions was crushed on that day.  George W. Bush would use those terror attacks to recast himself as a war time president, and even the most mild of Democrats would be harangued as “soft on terror,” just for offering the softest critiques. Bush would lead us into the mess of Mesopotamia, and then he would be re-elected, foul up the response to Hurricane Katrina. And the sugar high of his tax cuts couldn’t put a band-aid on the casino economy that eventually came crashing to reality.

And so my summer ended with those terrorist attacks, and for the first time in my life, I began to think about my country differently. I became disillusioned by most of it, and I still pretty much am.

I also remember on this day that the plane that hit the Pentagon flew a course right over my college.  I bet if I looked up into that clear sky, I would see the jet trail pasting a white line in the blue sky.  I would see only the banality of airplanes in the bright sky, and I would think nothing of it. I would not know of the murder coursing the sky above me.

The sky above is like a dome covering us from the seeming infinity of the Cosmos.  It is a shelter that gives humanity a veil from which to hide from the stark realities of being so profoundly alone on this planet.

We don’t expect death to come sailing down upon us from the sky, especially in this country with it nuclear weapons and technically-advanced military.

But this time it did. This time we were vulnerable. This time we were scared, terrified, and bewildered.

And on that day, my 18-year-old brain was struggling to come to terms with it all.

So the past weekend was the falling of the flinty rain and not the clear skies of 2001, but the coolness of the air puts me in the right mind to wonder and mourn and take stock of what is to come and what has truly happened since then.

My life will be forever measured on 9/11s.  It is a date more profound for me than my own birthday, for even though I lost no one on those attacks, I feel that I did lose something, my own sense of invincibility.

And I also lost my sense that the world had been figured out by those in power. The next 7 years would prove to me that no one power really knew how to fix or manage anything. They were either too incompetent or too corrupted to do so.

I tried my hand at being politically active, and I still am in my own way. But the deep disillusionment meant that I would turn to animals and nature as my opiate to ease my suffering a bit. That’s why I have a blog like this one, and I don’t have my soap box blog, where I tell you how I would like the country run.

I’d rather revel in animals than wallow in that self-righteousness and in that idealism again. Both of those are a mud too redolent for this hog.

To write about animals is a luxury for some, who feel to compelled to write about the world in its horrors to avoid the very issue, but for me, it is the balm that keeps me sane enough to exist.

A robin on the lawn, a lazy loping squirrel, and an eager German shepherd wanting her ball thrown are all better to things for my prose to consider and dissect than the crumbling, broken world of man.

It is how this cynic keeps his romance of life going, and it is this romance that makes life so precious and sweet. That, and true love, of course.




Read Full Post »

Big Cat Wars


I was not surprised when I heard the news that “Joe Exotic” had been indicted for hiring a hit man to take out a “Jane Doe.”  I figured the “Jane Doe” would have to be none other than Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic’s bête noire.  This, I suppose, is the end of their long-standing feud. Joe Exotic is probably going away for a while, and he won’t be posting ranting Youtube videos. He also won’t be posting his professional wrestling videos either, and we won’t be seeing his country music videos either.

Yeah, Joe Exotic is a kind of renaissance man among psychos. When I first heard of him, he was known as Joseph Schreibvogel, and he was running a roadside zoo in Oklahoma. CNN, I believe, brought him on to discuss the Amur tiger that escaped its enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo back in 2007. I thought he was an interesting figure with his bleached-blond mullet and eye shadow, but then I found his Youtube channel.  It was quite an experience!

Now, I had known about Carole Baskin for a long time. Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a political science graduate student and Google had its own video streaming service that definitely was not Youtube,  I spent several evenings watching Big Cat Rescue’s videos about different cat species, which often featured an animal that was said to have been rescued from dire straits.

If two personalities were ever going to conflict when it came to the issues related to exotic cat ownership, it would be these two. Baskin is the heiress of a Tampa real estate magnate, and she initially got her start as an exotic cat breeder. She has since changed her mind and now actively campaigns to ban exotic cat ownership.

Schreibvogel, though, saw himself as renegade, who was going to fight like hell to hold onto his big cats and to defend the institution of the roadside zoo. This institution was legion throughout the country, especially in the flyover states, where little boys and girls first laid eyes upon their first tigers and monkeys. When I was a boy, one of my favorite places to visit was a roadside zoo near Parkersburg, West Virginia, where the owners kept several tigers and monkeys. I had seen tigers at “real zoos” before, but I sort of liked the idea that I didn’t have to go to Pittsburgh or Columbus to see a tiger up close.

So here we have two egos that were very likely to clash and class badly. Both believed they had the best interest of the cats at heart, but their interests were in total conflict.

I can see a lot of good reasoning on Baskin’s logic. When I was in high school, there was a lioness kept in a cage in an adjacent county, and it was common for people to make special detours to see the cat in her cage. Then, the floodwaters grew too close to her enclosure, and the authorities killed her to spare her from drowning.

Her life was spent in a prison, and it ended so ignobly for a creature thought of as royalty among beasts.

I am also sure that many big cats live lives that are totally horrific and inappropriate for their species. Baskin’s logic is simple. Big cats should not be in private hands, except in established sanctuaries or accredited zoological institution. Some people of this school of thought even oppose the zoos, because there are no realistic attempts to reintroduce endangered big cats to the wild.

But at the same time, I can see where this logic would become problematic. I, after all, own an exotic snake, a constrictor at that, and I’ve seen some groups push for the banning of all captive constrictors, even though it would be hard to make the case that a ball python would ever be a danger to a person.

And so we fall into one of those debates between personal freedom and animal rights/animal welfare issues. It is one of those debates that becomes instantly polarizing, and in my weird position, I can see the merits of both arguments.

The best expositor of allowing for a little more liberality in exotic ownership comes from the zoologist John Burchard, who wrote the following at Querencia. 

I firmly support the right to keep “exotics” in captivity and/or partial or complete liberty (our wolf lived free in the desert on weekends, and our coatis mostly lived free in our very normal residential neighborhood, for example). Much of my professional life has been devoted to the study of animal behavior (and its relevance to human behavior). One of my principal mentors in that work was the famous Austrian zoologist Konrad Z. Lorenz (best known to Americans perhaps for his charming books King Solomon’s Ring and Man meets Dog).

I worked with Konrad in his Institute in Germany for seven years, during which time he shared a Nobel Prize for his work. None of that work would have been possible at all without being able to keep all sorts of “exotic” creatures under quasi-natural conditions and often at partial or complete liberty.

My own entry into that field would also have been impossible without similar childhood experiences – some of them, even then, probably already illegal under U.S. law. As a schoolboy I had all sorts of free flying, tame (because hand-reared) wild birds flying around outside our house. (Read King Solomon’s Ring to get an idea of what is possible, and indeed necessary, in that direction). My own childhood, thanks to exceptionally tolerant parents, was somewhat similar, though my most special interest was snakes. I gave my first public lecture – on snakes, of course – to the Rotary Club of Newport, VT – at the age of 7– 73 years ago next month. One of the snakes escaped, and slithered under the piano, during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the end. Highest marks for patriotic heroism of the lady piano player, who persevered wide-eyed but without a quiver while I rounded up the wayward reptile.

Watching animals on TV is not an adequate substitute for actually living with them. We now have wonderful, amazing natural history shows on TV. They are almost too good. And they are not the same as lying in a very small tent beside a remote Swedish lake, watching a moose pass within three feet of our noses on his way down to the lake to eat water plants. It’s not the same as walking through the forest with a tame Goshawk on your glove, learning (by watching the bird) how it constructs its world by remembering successes (a rabbit from *this* branch, at 4:17 pm) and failures (an empty field *here*, at 3:22 pm). You learn to see the world as they do.

Without that, you understand nothing.

Of course, I don’t think anyone would argue that Joe Exotic was engaging in the scholarship of John Burchard or Konrad Lorenz.  He made claims that he was submitting DNA to various studies, but I haven’t seen evidence of these studies, largely because I haven’t looked. He also defended breeding ligers and multi-generational lion-tiger crosses because they had hybrid vigor, and that they may have. However,  it is difficult to see what hybridization would do for the conservation of either species.

For Joe Exotic, keeping tigers was almost an exercise in becoming something more than he was. By his own accounts, he had a rather rough life as a young man. Growing up gay in Oklahoma 40 odd years ago must have been a horror of a life. He did drugs, and he lived an unmoored life.  When his brother died, he worked with his parents build the park, and in building that park, he found meaning.

The park was opened in 1999, and that was pretty much within the last two or three years that roadside zoos could operate without much public scrutiny.

So here, you have a man who lived a pretty troubled existence finding meaning in something and then suddenly finding himself in the storm of controversy. Lots of complaints about the park were circulated. Many investigations.

For whatever reason, Joe Exotic thought it was a good idea to set up a traveling display of big cats and call his show “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.” That led to the lawsuit by Carole Baskin’s organization, which is called “Big Cat Rescue.”  And there was a $1 million judgment against him for this infringement.

And that’s when things went really sideways. In 2016, Joe Exotic ran for president as an independent. He lost, in case you didn’t notice.  His husband was killed last year by an accidental gunshot.

And then he ran for governor of Oklahoma as a Libertarian, and he came in a distant third.

And while he was between elections, he apparently decided to spend $3,000 on a hit man to take out a Jane Doe in Florida. (I didn’t know hit men were so inexpensive!)

We don’t know that Carole Baskin was his intended target, but she claims that she was. It makes sense. Joe Exotic has done nothing but make threats against her for past few years, and at some point, he just lost whatever good sense he might have had.

If Joe Exotic is found guilty, which seems awfully likely, then this part of the big cat war will be over.

The debates that fired the passions of the two individuals involved, though, still rage on.  Are we willing to let a lion die in a pen along a West Virginia creek bed? Or are we more willing to take away a troubled man’s sense of purpose and meaning? Maybe it is better that children learn to leave the wild things in the wild, or maybe the exotic pet industry has a great value in keeping us alienated primates passionate about the other creatures on the planet.

I am struck by the need for nuance, a nuance I wish could have led to a better understanding before this tragedy hit.

We can all be passionate about our love for animals, but this story is an allegory for how it’s all going down. We have two sides that cannot compromise. Neither side sees the other as a human worthy of love and understanding, despite disagreement.

And the mania of the passions pushes us further apart, which leads to a man dehumanizing his opponent so much that he offers death threats in online videos and then goes full-out and hires a hit man.

At what point does that outrage and mania just consume a man?

For Joe Exotic was truly consumed, and it has ended with this indictment for something this heinous.








Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: