Archive for August, 2014

Morphology—is the dog what it looks like?

August 29, 2014
This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not  grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

This is a Maltese I groomed in a puppy trim. They do not grow like this .naturally. they need haircuts.

I usually don’t even think about it.  I look at a dog and assign a type and it works for me.  I got to thinking about it because of a study I read by the National Canine Research Council, titled How Long Before  we Discard Visual Breed identification ?    The gist is that they feel veterinarians and shelter personnel will ‘better serve’ clients by not assigning breed to mixed breeds based on morphology:  that is, how they appear.  No reason is given in the paper, but I bet a lot has to do with  prejudices about certain breeds held by the general public. The past decade or so, genetic testing has become quite popular—but in reality, we really have no  idea how accurate these tests are.  I mean—do they really have a  gene pool for Beuacerons or Boykin Spaniels?  How about Black Russian Terriers, which have been around  as a pure breed less than 50 years?  I have read reports that  the genetic tests are only about 35% accurate.  The issue then becomes:  why even  bother if you’re not going to breed the dog?  And why would you even consider breeding a mixed breed dog with no  factual genetic information?

I was going to  get my last  Saluki tested—-but for what?  I trusted the integrity of the  breeders of this dog—as well as the breeders of his ‘ancestors’.  That’s what really counts—not  a genetic test by some lab somewhere where we have no idea how accurate THEY are!

No–the point is—the reason we assign ‘breed’,is so our  database records, we DO have some idea of morphology:  size, coat type, temperament.  As an example:  we have a Cairn mix that comes in for boarding.  Maybe it’s not a cairn. No matter. That’s what it looks like, Actually, it looks like a Podengo Piqueno.  No joke, but more of my co-workers know what a Cairn is.

We have Malinois come in that are classified as shepherd mixes, and some  Doodles that  look like Portuguese Water Dogs…and do the Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs look like a purebred dog?  or the Berger Picard?

I have to remind people that not every dog that looks cute, is, and not every dog that doesn’t look cute is not.  You have to get to know individual dogs.  Salukis and Afghans are generally going to be aloof…maybe even shy.  The terriers are generally going to be in your face.


Book Review: The Spirit Catches you and you Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman

August 21, 2014


I graduated high school in 1971, as  the ‘Viet Nam War’ was winding down.  It had been a good part of my life since my earliest memories of watching news on TV.  My uncle was in the navy then,  serving just off the coast.  Everyone knew someone either serving or who had been killed.  We were fighting communism, or so we were told.  We were fighting there so it didn’t spread to here.  What did we know of communism except the Soviet Communist bloc—which of course was very repressive…and China?

We didn’t really know  how much racial discrimination affected  non-white people in the USA.   At that time, we still believed everything our government told us.  Our government would never lie to us, because we had the best government in the world.

That mindset is relevant because we also believe that  our educational system is the best on the world, too (in spite of evidence that it is not).  We believed  things were black and white, and whether you went to a private or a public school, you were shaped to be a good American.  My country right or wrong.

Of course, developing my adult self, I became a more cynical and skeptical teenager. I heard Rennie Davis speak about the Viet Nam war, and was a follower of the Conspiracy 7 trial—held right here in Chicago.  In the underground press, we were getting reports of soldiers in Viet Nam not knowing who the enemy was, and finding the South Viet Namese arrogant  and prissy.

We knew nothing of covert operations in Cambodia and Laos until we exited the war, and it wasn’t really until the 1980’s that we found that we were  fighting all over southeast Asia.  After the war, Viet Nam and Southeast Asia faded from our collective interests.

There were rumors that turned out to be true:   that the CIA was  helping the south Viet Namese sell heroin to our own American soldiers.   Yes, we were and remained on the wrong side of history.

I was mentally ill for years, and plodded through my own life….marrying for the wrong reasons and later divorcing.  I took a break from grooming dogs  to coordinate a project to provide free English classes to immigrants and refugees.  It was then that I started learning about different ‘world views’.  I went to Africa, and everything changed for me because  traveling broadens you so much. I returned to college to study anthropology.    I learned more about myself and how to know  other people.  I became less sure of what the truth was , and, if possible, even more cynical.

My geographic concentration was always Africa, but but I realized I knew nothing about India or Southeast Asia. This book was suggested by a tour guide when  I visited Viet Nam (as a tourist) in early 2014.

Heart breaking.  That is my gut reaction.  This story involves a little girl, her family and  community, and medical anthropology, and  our our history manipulating a society not really for freedom, but for capitalists markets. Embarrassing.

Fadiman does an outstanding job of not just narrating what happened to Lia Lee, but the context.  Misunderstanding after misunderstanding, but also horribly cruel exploitation of a whole society, in the name of fighting communism..

We are all so sure of what we know, what is true.  What is real.    We resent immigrants who don’t learn English, or who refuse to mix. They don’t learn to be Americans.  You read what this family has to say about how their lives got turned upside down, and how they had to adjust, and you just have to cringe.  Could YOU handle all this if it happened to YOU?  I don’t think I could.

This book should be required reading for every high school student born and raised in America, and every ‘medical pr9ofessional’, and anyone who  may need care for a chronic illness.   It’s a well written and edited history.

Dog Harnesses and Flexis

August 15, 2014

I have written  in the past about how  awful prong collars are for the average dog.  People keep commenting on the blog and  keep telling me THAT IF THEY ARE USED CORRECTLY….blah blah blah—when the whole blog was about them NOT being used correctly.  Now opinion is swinging the other way:  instead of  over controlling dogs, people are  putting their dogs into harnesses because they don’t want to hurt the dog’s throat!

The pet industry uses the word ‘trending’ to describe  the phenomenon (I can’t think of any other  description), of the craze for harnesses.  Awful, You can not control a dog if he is sweating a harness of any sort:  they are designed for the dog to pull you.

Only guide dogs and sled dogs—dog which have been trained to work, and make decisions on their own—should be wearing  harnesses. They are designed for the dog to NOT suffer any pain upon the pressure of leading you around.  Premier ‘no-pull’ harnesses—where the dog  has to turn around  and face you if he pulls too much?  Dog is still in charge, and isn’t getting any social cue from the handler.  I have to keep reminding  dog owners/stewards/guardians/pet parents that dog ownership is not a democracy.  If you aren’t in charge, your dog will be in charge, and that sets up a terrible dynamic.  Domestic dogs were bred to accept leadership from humans.  When you don’t take control, you force the dog to make a decision—a decision a pet dog is not prepared to make.  He pulls, but he has no idea where he is going.  He could pull you across a busy street,  into the path of a bicycle, or to an unfriendly dog.  In any case, you can’t control the  dog unless he is so small you can pick him up.  With  Flexis—the retractable leashes, you have even less control.

This is so dangerous.  I was at an event today where I saw about a dozen dogs—-only 2 of which were wearing buckle collars.  All the rest were on harnesses…leading their owners around.  Of course, at least  four of these dogs were  French Bulldogs (talk about  trending…).  The owners didn’t have a clue.

This didn’t bother  me until about the past  three or four years.  The reason it does bother me is that so many people dump inconvenient dogs.  They always indicate some sort of lifestyle change where the dog no longer fits into their life…and they lie. They lie about the dog being a good house dog.  The dog is spoiled, and very confused, and if the dog does find a new owner,  if that new owner doesn’t take  behavior shaping very seriously, we have another  out of control dog on our hands.

What’s better?  Either a buckle collar or martingale, on a  six foot leather (the best) or nylon (acceptable) leash—and teaching  the dog  to not pull by standing still and  pulling the dog back, or  walking in the opposite direction.  True—some dogs won’t  ‘get it’.  There are brain damaged dogs.  Most dog will get it, however, if you are consistent.

Book Review: The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

August 8, 2014

The first time I heard the  phrase counterfactual condition, I was at an academic conference.  A speaker was talking about how things might be different, say, if President Kennedy  hadn’t been assassinated.

We all think about the ‘what-ifs’, about coincidences, good luck, timing, and…”There but for the grace of God go I…”.

I had read Ben Mezrich’s book, Bringing Down the House , about how a bunch  of MIT math  wizards briefly  ran a great Blackjack playing empire that was so good, they got banned by the casinos. It was so well told, that I was eager to read this  book, published in 2009.  It is the factual narrative (at least from the point of view of Eduardo Saverin), of how Facebook emerged to be Facebook.  Essentially, Mark Zuckerberg was in the right place at the right time.  Of course, he doesn’t tell his side of the story, he has no need to.  He is obviously a brilliant programmer.  It took more than being a great programmer to turn this into a business, however.  This is really what this book is  about.

Many of us have heard about the Winklevoss twins, and that it was their idea, first.  Possibly.  They had an idea, and could not find a programmer to  bring it to fruition.  Because of their reluctance to look outside of the Harvard community, and trusting Zuckerberg because of what appears to be an implied understanding, they felt they were wronged.  Nobody need shed any tears for these guys.  They got a multi-million dollar settlement.  The guy we should really  sympathize with is Eduardo Saverin.  He really got squeezed out.  That’s it in a nutshell.  However Mezrich does a really good job telling it, from start to finish.

This is the book that Aaron Sorkin used to  develop the  movie, The Social Network.  It’s a good read.