Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apologists, Your Decade is Done

Everyone will tell you, the history of the pit bull involves some bloody stuff. Some people will tell you, that to keep "the breed pure" you need to keep game testing the dogs. They mean that the only way to tell if a "pit bull" is a "pit bull" is to fight the dog. They mean that the only pit bull worth it's kibble is one that came from dogs that actively fought other dogs, or maybe once or twice removed. Maybe. I've been thinking about discussing my experiences with cock fighting, and now that 2009 is almost over, I'm ready to address it in the context of pit bull fighting apologists. I'm done with it. Fighting is cruelty. There is no valid excuse for fighting dogs. None.

For most of JQP, Michael Vick was the first exposure to fighting rings. They didn't know anything about dog fighting, and quickly realized that dog fighting was egregious. For more knowledgeable pit bull people, he was just a celebrity in the hideous business. But "hard core" pit bull enthusiasts would argue that Vick was somewhere between a wannabe and a sicko- he wasn't doing things the "right way." Here was a guy who drowned his dogs, electrocuted them, etc. "Real" dog fighters have methods of "putting their dogs down" and they treat the injured ones, know how to stitch wounds and proscribe antibiotics. JQP was pissed off about Vick: Sports Illustrated even featured the rescued bulldogs on the cover of the magazine, with a positive story for a change. Since 2007 there have been a bunch of big fight busts, with better and better outcomes for the dogs and less and less public outcomes for the owners/fighters/jerkwads. And last week, Vick was selected by his peers to win the Ed Block Courage Award. So people are getting a chance to talk about him again. Not the issues, but Vick: has he paid his debt? Is he an irredeemable scourge on society? But look at the dogs!? Etc, Etc.

Right now I'm stewing on the apologists. All along with Vick there was the "cultural" debate. Supposedly he was "raised" in a culture where dog fighting was the "norm." (Normative dogfighting? I'd like to see a psychological professional analyze the behavior or someone who tortures animals for a living.) In the animal law enforcement sphere, we are taught, and I have seen, that all different cultural groups participate in animal fighting. Reading back on those links from the pit bull history, you'll see England mentioned, and the US. Dogs (pit bulls and others) are also fought (and have been fought) in the Pacific Islands, in Mexico, Central and South America, Central Asia, Japan (see the Tosa Inu) and China (historical use of the Shar pei). The same is true with rooster fighting. All of these regions have histories of pitting animals against each other. In the United States, we have groups of people from all over the world who maintain varied cultural practices. The vast majority of these people and the vast majority of these practices do NOT involve watching and forcing animals to hurt each other for the entertainment of humans. White people, black people, brown people- all are frequent participants in both pit bull and cock fighting worlds. By saying things like it was Vick's "culture" what exactly does that mean? That his black culture is one of cruelty? Making money off of suffering? And if he had been Chinese, what would say about the culture? Again, this argument is specious to me: the vast majority of people in any group find fighting animals despicable.

I also do not understand the gambling aspect of animal fighting: I have seen dogs fight, not in an organized dog fight. In this business, it happens. I have seen dogs come into the shelter torn up from being attacked by other dogs while they were roaming, or while the other dogs were roaming. The dogs suffer immensely, and get professional vet care. This, for money? I have seen my dog attack another dog. It was terrible. Absolutely among the worst things I would ever have happen. People were drawn to it, to stop it. I could not intentionally cause my dog to kill another dog. I certainly could not watch my dog be almost killed by another dog. It boggles the mind: why raise dogs, condition them, feed them, say they are the only dogs worth feeding, work towards this goal, which is putting them in a "box": a box of pain. There's all this ritual involved, weighing them, putting hands on them to make sure they don't have stuff on them, and then turning the dogs towards each other, all lovey dovey, and then BOOM your dog is tearing another dog up? Or being torn up? And maybe you're just a spectator, but watching these dogs tear each other up? For what? The "good of the breed"? I just don't buy it. Money? Blood lust?

Some people will argue that since pit bulls were bred to fight, they actually enjoy the ring. They are tough, these people say, they hang in till the last breath- doesn't that mean they enjoy it? My experience with many many dogs, and observing lots and lots of dog behavior tells me, no, that's what apologists want to believe, and certainly want other people to believe. Most pit bulls will NOT seek out a fight. Most confident, stable dogs will not seek out a fight, and that's what people look for in a "real" pit bull (that is, people who don't just want to fight dogs because it's kool). A confident, cool as a cucumber pit bull may or may not like other dogs, just like any other dog. But that breed history (see above) is there, and pit bulls have that terrier in them, and they're tenacious, gripping dogs. When they fight, they fight hard and long, and with a gripping bite. That's a serious fight, unfortunately. And when you put a dog with a fuse towards other dogs in a small area, and face them off, and wind them up, and force them into a situation that's going to spark any dog, well, yes, they're going to fight. Does the combination of the fact that the dogs are in an artificially hyped up situation that triggers fighting combined with a never-say-quit bully attitude mean that pit bulls like dog fighting? Yeah, I don't think so. But that's a good try, apologists! (I'm sure the drugs the bulldogs are given help them enjoy the fight, too.)

And what if they *do* like to fight while it's happening? Mac liked biting the dog he bit. Maybe. He was in total adrenaline mode, eyes blown, out of his head. Nothing that normally stops him in his tracks (my hand in his mouth, water on his head) phased him all. This isn't because he has locking jaws of 103867472ppi, it's because he was in super arousal mode. I'm not sure Mac likes that mode at all. He's the laziest, most relaxed dog, who is aroused about once a month when we play tug. I don't think that type of arousal is particularly pleasant for any dog. And even if it WERE "fun" for a dog, it certainly doesn't make the outcome for the other dog ok (he's fine, by the way). At least Mac's victim got professional emergency vet care and wasn't thrown in a pool to be electrocuted, or done up by the "good" dog fighters with home made stitches and off-label antibiotics and pain meds.

And really, how can you keep pit bulls as pit bulls if you don't fight them? They'll be "pet bulls" or "pibbles" or some other terrible awful thing if you don't fight them and test their gameness In The Box. This is the only REAL way to guard against American Bullys, to guard against people like me with the rescue mutts that they pass of as pit bulls and let sleep in the bed. The only pit bull is a gamey, muscular dog who Never Says Die. Honestly, if you read those history links well, there was a lot more to the history than the fighting. Though no one is denying the fighting heritage anymore, no one (except pit bull haters) is denying the other heritage too- the family dog, the Army companion, etc. Pit bulls ARE athletic and enduring and gripping and wonderfully tough. But fighting them is obsolete, kind of like dueling for honor with pistols in the street (although sometimes I feel like I live in the Wild Wild West). If we want to make sure we're still breeding working dogs, there is plenty of work pit bulls can and DO do. And there's plenty of pit bulls. We don't really need to do nearly as much breeding as we're doing, I'm sure all the dogs that are being fought to justify breeding, well, we don't need to breed those, so there's nothing to justify. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of pit bulls to go around.

I may have believed little pieces of these nice excuses- that's what they are, excuses for really piss poor behavior. I never thought dog fighting was ok, or that we needed it to "save" my breed of choice. But, over a year ago, I busted a cock fight that was actually happening. Like, people scattering everywhere, hiding in the attic, cops with guns drawn. It was exciting and awful, and a learning experience- my agency is still figuring out exactly how to handle these large scale events. I now believe that people who defend dog fighting either haven't seen it and are glorifying what they "believe," or need to rethink their priorities and psychological health. All of the same possible excuses exist that I've just listed for pit bulls. Like pit bulls, I'm sure it could be argued that roosters like to fight each other. I'm not a chicken expert, but, you know, they're roosters. I believe they're flock protectors and all around mean little dudes, because that's their job. It could be cultural: many places have strong histories of cock fighting. And people who fight their cocks love these birds. I've seized many many many roosters that aren't actively being fought- they're being conditioned, like a pit bull, and they are sleek, shiny, well fed, handled daily, etc.

That fight was ... I don't know how to describe it without resorting to graphic words or gruesome, overused triteness. There were warm, dead birds piled in a hole. 37 of them. They were slashed torn hanging bloody. There were a few live, barely alive, birds. There were birds with spurs still on that could practically take off your finger. (Knowing me, they probably would have taken off my finger.) We found a gun hidden in the couch and lots and lots of porn. A man was selling food, and had already made $500. People were eating meat while watching birds kill and dismember each other. There were empty beer cans and bottles carefully placed in 2 oil drums for recycling. Filling two oil drums. The ring was not temporary- it was built into the floor. There were children there. The birds were slashed up. And there were at least 100 more roosters in box, "waiting their turn." Gambling chits everywhere.

I'd like to speak to apologists, at the scene, to have them explain to me what they're REALLY thinking. If, if they're trying to preserve the breed, what that means for the individual dog. If they're doing it because they were raised around fighting, if they ever questioned what they were doing. I'd like to know if they stopped fighting after one of their favorite dogs lost. Or if they actually let themselves get attached to the dogs, knowing the possible outcomes. If they really think that a rooster with his thigh with a 3" deep flesh wound is enjoying his fight. If the gambling money is worth it. If it's about the adrenaline: getting away with 50 fights, only to be caught the 51st time. If it's the excitement of getting away with a lie: knowing that the officers know you're involved and that they can't get you, that you'll go to jail for some charge about money, because that's what happened to Vick, or that if you drop your paraphernalia fast enough, all they can get you with is spectator, which is a minor misdemeanor. And I'd like to tell the internet apologists that this is real. Real animals suffering. Real children being raised in a culture: a culture of violence. Totally preventable, totally stoppable. A culture of torture is ridiculous and outdated.

2010: no more excuses.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Intact

The fine folks over at Pit Bull Patriarchy have a wonderful, thought-provoking post that I've been stewing over, about reproductive organs, and what it means to hack 'em off of our dogs, especially pit bulls. And even better, spotted dog farm finds a way to tie the awesome and quirky Antony and the Johnsons into the mix. There are two main points: the invasive surgeries used to sterilize pets are not necessary, and the less invasive surgeries like vasectomies are tubal ligations ARE possible. spotted dog farm writes:
IMO the seeming "need" for cutting out all these organs has more to do with vets making money, coupled with the typical pet owner's desire to infantilize pets, and along with that, an anxiety around sexuality that is triggered by our pets' all-too-visible genitalia.

She follows up with a statement that rings very true for me, as I'm totally guilty of it:
but those examples are nothing compared to the ugly stares you get if you walk an uncastrated male pit bull around town. apparently dog balls (and especially pit bull balls) engender a lot of horror, not to mention lectures from spay/neuter advocates. i just want to say, "what's the matter, you've never seen nuts before?!"

I look at the back of almost every dog, sometimes I even guess before I look. And I feel all kinds of feelings when I see balls, especially pit bull balls. There are too many of them. Way too many of them. And it's true, the balls annoy me. I wish they weren't there. This isn't about the balls, obviously, it's about me. About my job, about the numbers of dogs (especially pit bulls), about the people, that I see. And, it's about the balls. My sister is currently in possession of a possible future dog-to-be who is currently in possession of his balls. We had a conversation about his balls, which are primarily obscured by his hair, and how wonderful that is. We agreed that balls, unobscured by hair, were something we weren't interested in living with. Infantilizing? Probably. Not needing extra, non-human secondary sex characteristics in the house? Definitely. The behavior stuff, whether exaggerated or not, sure. I wouldn't want a female dog who came into heat, either. That's just too much.


When my parents came back from a trip in Europe a couple months ago, they told me they noticed two, seemingly conflicting things: that most of the dogs that they saw were intact, and that most of the dogs appeared to be purebred. In other words, although few dogs appeared fixed, it appeared that this was not causing the rampant irresponsible breeding that it seems to cause here. It is widely considered "common knowledge" in the blogosphere that Europeans "don't spay and neuter" as much, but I'm unable to find any policies or laws discouraging s/n. There is a covenant in place in the EU that bans docking/cropping/debarking/declawing, but does not include invasive sterilization procedures. (If you know of any policies in any EU countries AGAINST s/n, I'd love to see them.)

At this point, I'm professionally still all about s/n. I talk it and walk it, and explain why, without exaggerating or lying. There's no need for that. People are smart and should be told the truth. (And there's LOTS of lying and hyperbole when it comes to discussing why you should neuter your animal.) When it comes to mandatory s/n, well, I've lived that for two years, and I think that it's pretty ineffective, and when BSL comes into it, it's totally bunk. It's complicated, and a subject for another day, but I've never seen a mandatory s/n law that I liked. (The Santa Cruz ordinance worked fine for me- exemptions were so easy to get that the opponents of mandatory s/n would really have nothing to complain about, in my opinion). But really, it's about education and access to low cost clinics. (Seen all the hype lately about the overflow of chihuahuas in the Bay Area? Yeah, talk about not fixing your pets! I think this is mostly about lots and lots and lots of chihuahuas and small dogs of-non-specific-breeding running in and out of their fences and making lots and lots more small non-specific-chihuahua-type dogs. Not Hollywood, so much, but education and access.) But personally, I hear all the arguments, and I understand why a responsible person would want to keep parts on their pet. Well, intellectually I understand it. Personally, I'm going for the neuter.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

William Riviere: Echoes of War

Many of my books are hand-me-downs from my dad, and many of his books are hand-me-downs from his mother. I opened this book to a post-it from my grandmother that read something like "I liked this book, even if it needed some editing." My thoughts almost exactly. I'm just guessing that my dad didn't get through this book, and I only got through it because I still have trouble putting a book down, even a bad book down. I kept feeling like I had 300 pages left, even though I read for hours. I suppose she's right- the book probably would have been good, with some editing, but it really wasn't, without it. "Echoes of War" follows a family, a (not-very-very-normal, richer than usual) British family in the countryside that is tangled up in both World Wars. (The first two world wars?) Dad fought in the first, the younger men are in the second, and all the women are caught up in various ways. The adopted goddaughter hails from a hill station in Burma, and so the reader also follows the second war in this British colony. The reader hears from many points of view, but especially the Elder Mr Lammas, and the reader hears way too much from the Elder Mr Lammas- about 300 pages too much from the Elder Mr Lammas.

Dear self: for 2010, learn to put a book down.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not So Social, Pt 2: Being a Dog

Now that I've laid out Mac's story in gruesome (and I hope adorable) detail, I have a little more to add. In Deborah Flick's piece about Turid Rugaas, she recalls Rugaas mentioning that she "did too much" with her project dog, and that she needed to slow down and listen to her dog.

This is one of the hardest things about having a "not social" dog (I hope I clarified in my last post that Mac actually is an extremely social dog, a social butterfly loveslut whore, actually, in many many cases, but that I'm using this in the sense of one of Flick's commenters: "social dog envy.") I've talked here before about how we ask too much of our dogs, especially in the city. I believe that, and the blog about Rugaas reminded me really how much I ask of Mac, my not-so-social-all-the-time dog. I ask him to behave appropriately, and for him, that's extra hard, given his "shortfalls." They aren't really shortfalls- he's a dog with quirks, a dog for who city life up to Perfect Pit Bull standards is hard: he's supposed to have prey drive as humans have bred him for a bajillion generations. He wasn't properly socialized before I got him, to what degree I don't know, but to a degree. This is not meant as an excuse for his poor behavior, but as a statement of some understanding of his personality/temperament/behavior- I mean, humans go to therapy to understand this stuff, right? And I'm sure his parents weren't superb examples of solid dog temperament (I've seen enough East Bay pit bulls and pit bull mixes to make a very educated guess on this matter.)

So I do the responsible thing and manage him, and give him the best life that we can have together. Sometimes it's very small, and safe for him: my room, my house, my small yard, small walks in the neighborhood. Sometimes it's a little bigger- trips in the car with his buddies (Mac loves the car!), walks in semi-abandoned areas, walks to quiet neighborhood stores that he knows, and to my parents house on the beach. But Mac rarely gets to Be A Dog. I don't let him off leash because off leash areas are great areas for encounters with other dogs that he doesn't like, and I don't like to take him off leash in on-leash areas. I have been known to let him trail a long line, like, 5 times a year. This means he doesn't get to run. He doesn't ask to run, but he's a dog! He wants to run, whether the lazy dog asks to run or not. I think my dog is happy. I think Rugaas is right: a lot of dog people with project dogs "do too much" with their dogs, for the sake of safety, for the sake of management, for the sake of keeping their dogs under threshold, for the sake of their own peace of mind. I do the best I can to listen to Mac, to work together with him. We're a constant work in progress.

And another token Mac picture, this time from an urban exploring spot- that dog was practically pulling me into buildings- I think this is one of the times when Mac is at his best- being a dog. (A fake search and rescue dog?!)

partner in crime

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mac: Socialest, Social, Not Social At All

(warning: dognerd post ahead! Camera dorks, bookophiles, and pretty much everyone else may be bored to tears by this. There will be some touching MacMoments, but I can't promise anything else.)

Deborah Flick at Boulder Dog posted an amazing blog that was a followup from a conversation she was having with the renowned Ian Dunbar on Dog Star Daily. I highly recommend you read all of the blogs, in order, and check the comments, too. I'm not a good summer-er upper, but the short version:

Flick met with Turid Rugaas, who you may know without knowing her name if you've heard of "calming signals." She's well known, and I like what she has to say (check some of it out), but somewhat controversial. Flick and Rugaas shared some stories about some intensely fearful, stressed dogs that came to them after some damaging undersocialization. Flick left with the feeling that she had "done too much" with her dog, thereby damaging her more. Dunbar, the founder of Sirius puppy training, the first place to emphasize "formal" puppy socialization, wrote a response basically saying, no, the damage to Flick's dog had already done prior to Flick's arrival on scene, and there was no such thing as "too much socialization." Flick wrote back, agreeing with Dunbar that socialization is great, especially for puppies, and sharing her experience with a fearful, stressed out job, and how stressful this is for an owner. A bunch of readers chimed in about how much this resonated with them. (End pathetic sum up. Go read them for yourselves!)

So, I've sat with these posts for a few days, waiting to figure out how I feel, and what this all means to me. On an intellectual and professional level, I agree with both Dunbar and Flick (and I don't *really* think they're disagreeing). I see dogs every day, dogs that are skewed in some way, from minor to major, that could probably be awesome stellar dogs, if they had been socialized from an early age. I see owners every day that are scanning the horizon for things that they need to be vigilant about for their slightly skewed dogs. And I see adult dogs that would be perfectly acceptable dogs in an environment if their owners stepped up and were slightly more vigilant for the things that trigger the minor issues that are caused by lack of socialization.

On a closer to home level, I totally understand why 28 people commented on Flick's follow-up blog. Checkout the comment about "social dog envy." On one hand, I'm not sure this mythical "social dog" exists- is it just a fluke that not a single one of my friends has one?- on the other hand, man, do I wish there were more of them. I started to type "I want one," but I deleted it out of loyalty to Mac. So I think I'll share Mac's story, in a poorly summed up version, and some of my pet theories (I'm killing me here), and why the back and forth between Flick and Dunbar and Flick again really hit home. Those of you who know me know this story back and forth, and reliving it will bring back ugly memories. Tune in for my next book review. Also, I feel I'm airing some dirty laundry, and wonder why I feel ashamed? Mac is not perfect. I own a less-than-perfect pit bull. So. There. I am not putting him down. All of you pit bull purists, I don't apologize.

I think Kozi, my family dog growing up, was one of those mythical "social dogs." She was a responsibly bred wheaten terrier, with appropriate socialization, and we may have even taken her to Sirius puppy classes. We did all the things you're supposed to do with a dog. Her biggest "issue" (gawd, it feels weird calling it that, where I am now) was her indifference to dogs. She didn't actively dislike them, but she had no need for them. She would politely tell them off, but as we liked to say, she didn't know she had teeth. She had no outward aggression or leash reactivity. She just liked people. When I went to college, I missed that scruffy thing terribly. So I started volunteering at an animal shelter. I fell in love with pit bulls, who, like Kozi, liked people. I was a dog rookie, thinking all dogs were social, like her. I knew pit bulls didn't always like dogs, but then was under the sway of people who believed "it's all how you raised them." I didn't know about genetics, or about the nuances of socialization. My understanding of dog temperament wasn't very refined, or maybe nonexistent. I knew I could recognize a nasty dog, and a sweet dog, and had a sort of intuitive sense of a "connected" dog, which is what drew me to pit bulls- they were the most connected dogs in the shelter.

Three years in, I met Mac. Here I was, devoted volunteer with some decent handling skills and some good practical knowledge about bringing a dog home. And I took one look at this dog and know he was mine. When I got him, he looked like a beagle pit mix. I was at the point where I still thought mixes, especially pit mixes, were better. So I saw this dog who would come to the front of a noisy, crowded city shelter, roll on his back on the cement and pee everywhere, begging to be petted. Sweet! A connected dog! A connected mess of a dog. He was mine. And he was a mess. Mac submissive peed on everyone he encountered- not met, because it was people he knew, too. He submissive peed on most of the people he encountered for the year after that. When I took him to dog parks (I know, right?), he didn't really play with dogs, he ran around, and occasionally engaged in chase behavior, as the chaser and chasee. He busted out of every crate I put him in, and I eventually took to working out my schedule so that he could come with me every single place I went- either in the car, or within eyesight, including to work.

Harbingers of things to come, I'd say. Mac grew into a pit bull mix, or a badly bred pit bull with hound dog ears, or a dog with a big head. Although his submissive pee issues subsided as I learned, with the help of training classes and private training and lots and lots of reading, to build up his confidence with obedience routines and socialization and working at his comfort level, Mac has always been a "soft" dog. In some ways, he's very confident in the world, and the somewhat bizarre and stressful situations I put him in: I've written about how he loves to explore and has never been afraid of strange surfaces. He doesn't flinch at fireworks (I think he sleeps through earthquakes, too) or other loud noises. Marching in the Pride Parade two years in a row was about the best thing in his life, he told me- talk about an overstimulating situation for almost any dog! He loves training, he is extremely connected to me, and learned to stay home alone as soon as I gave up on crate training (duh, training/behavior is not one-size fits all- took me a minute). He's great at the vet- sometimes I take him there on our walks, just for a treat. You can touch him anywhere, at almost any time, and he thinks it's wonderful (he probably didn't think the time I closed his tail in a Volvo door was wonderful, but he certainly didn't even think about biting me). Anyone can get in the car with us, or come into our house, whether he knows them or not, and he thinks they're his best friend! Oh, boy, the UPS man!

On the other hand, Mac is not the most stable of pit bulls, or dogs. I had to teach him to tug- he was so soft that he would almost cringe if I tried to rile him up by playbowing at him or waving a toy around at him. Now he can be pushy and demanding when he wants to eat or play, in a muzzle-punching kind of way. He has questionable dislikes of certain people, in an "unpredictable" way. I put set aside "unpredictable" because most dog nerds can tell you that there is some trigger in what bugs a dog. I've lived with this dog for 7 and a half years and I'm just not sure I can put my finger on a consistent trigger. He has developed a dislike of children, which makes me life difficult, and has shrunk his world. He used to literally lie down and take it: I remember taking him to one of his many dinners at a cafe, and watching horrified as a toddler kicked him in the face twice before I could stop the kid. Mac just laid there and wagged his tail while my friend gave his mom a piece of her mind. Five years later, I envision this scene and have nightmares of a mauling. Mac and I eat in public any more. Mac's prey drive, once a quiet, houndlike stalking and treeing of squirrels, complete with pointing, is now to a point where I feel lucky that we've only had one close encounter, and that that was due to faulty equipment. I thank the god of dawgs that this was our only encounter, and hate that it happened at all. Mac tolerates dogs now, but hates being touched. He's not leash reactive 90% of the time, but if he gets a chance to stare, the game may be on. I don't trust Mac not to seek and destroy. Mac guards his very very special stuff- a raw bone, a tug toy when he's aroused, etc. We worked trades, and he will give it up for me, but when he's in high drive (for him!) mode, I warn my friends away from his ropes.

My dog has more friends than I do. My friends ask me where he is when I don't bring him places. I bring him to the camera store (not a place where I'm likely to see small children) and when I don't, I worry they will kick me out. He is a crowd pleaser, especially in his outfits. He's great on leashed walks with other dogs, and has helped me help other dog owners teach their dogs to look less like freaks on a leash. And Mac can be about as naughty as they come, which leads me to "social dog envy." I wouldn't trade Mac for anything. But I miss a couple things. I miss the ignorance that came with owning Kozi, and with the first few months of having a dog that "just" submissive peed on everyone. (The time he peed on my thesis adviser's "little sister" was pretty awful, but I got over that.) I miss being able to walk him (onleash of course) on relatively quiet days in parks, and not having to worry. I wish I could let him out in my backyard and not worry that a cat would come over the (pathetic) fence.

This is not about having a pit bull. This is about having a special pit bull. This is not about being a responsible dog owner. I'm all about having a pit bull, and being responsible about it. This is not about regretting any of my decisions, or about thinking Mac is a "bad" dog. This is about agreeing with Flick and Dunbar. Mac was dealt a shitty hand. When I got him, at probably 8-12 months, he had already lived a lifetime of small (or big) setbacks that I will never know about. He has an ear that is smushed up, and multiple vets have told me it is due to some kind of trauma- maybe an older dog he lived with biting him. For a sensitive dog like Mac, even his short, week long stay in the shelter must have been torture. And a novice owner like me did the very very best, and socialized him, but we all make mistakes. Every moment was a training moment, like they say, for both of us. I trained Mac with a clicker, but also quickly got hooked on a prong collar. I didn't manage all of his interactions with dogs, or with children. I took one class a year, and should have done more with him, to continue to build his confidence, in appropriate times.

As I write this, Mac is spinning in circles, kneading my dirty laundry up, trying to get comfortable in the hamper and practically breaking my heart with cuteness. I wouldn't trade Mac for everything. I've made tons of mistakes, I've pushed his limits, and I've isolated him too much, especially for the 2 years that I lived in Santa Cruz where we lived on a dead end street full of off-leash dogs. I picked a dog that was a "project" when I probably wasn't ready for it. I didn't want a puppy, and I know that when getting an adult dog, you "risk" missing the opportunity to socialize the dog yourself. I didn't know how to "properly" pick an adult dog when I got Mac. I love Mac. He has taught me how to be a good dog person- I suspect many many dog professionals would attribute many of their skills and much of their knowledge to a project dog or two.

IMG_4459

Monday, December 14, 2009

Richard Grant: God's Middle Finger

I needed this book. I needed this book bad. A short, page-turning, nonfiction book that I read in about two minutes. Running With Dogs and I talked about some 50-books-a-year challenge we had heard about, and she said "of course you read 50 books a year," but I don't. I barely read 12. Probably because of all the long, strenuous, not-so-good-books that I won't put down books that I read till the bitter end, but also because I'm just not a super duper fast reader.

Anyway, this is one of those books that I picked up on a whim at a bookstore because I love reading about Mexico and anything about the border, and I don't regret it. It was awesome, exciting, and depressing. Richard Grant lives for excitement and decided the best place to get it was in the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico where the only law is pretty much the law of luck: "don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time" or the law of corruption: pay the right officials enough at the right time, or something along these lines. I'm not sure what Naomi Klein would say- if disaster capitalism hasn't found the mountains of Northern Mexico yet or if it's a prime example of what the shock doctrine does to a place. Either way, the book has a little bit of the "look at the exotic, corrupt, and untamable brown people" feel about it, but as a purely enjoyable read, Grant's got the travel memoir down.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Naomi Klein: Shock Doctrine

This is ones of the most infuriating and educational books I've ever read. Naomi Klein is my new Michael Moore: I can't watch those movies because they're so over the top, hitting you in the head with something you believe in, over and over and over, until you almost don't believe. "Shock Doctrine" was great, eye-opening, and convincing, until it wasn't anymore. It started to feel like propaganda, in a Moore-esque way. I don't know if I'd feel the same about "No Logo" if I re-read it, because I remember that as being one of my favorite books.

So, Klein's point is well taken, and new to me. There's this dude, Milton Friedman (not to be confused with Thomas Friedman, who's a New Follower of the Old Friedman, although he pretends to be something else), who pretty much invented this "Chicago School" and "Disaster Capitalism." Klein traces all kinds of historical versions of implementations of this "shock" capitalism, from Chile and Argentina to New Orleans and other places, especially Iraq. Basically, the Chicago kids (boys, to be exact) come in and create or work off of a disaster, which involves totally crushing the economy, disappearing and torturing dissidents, and then "rebuilding" by making the majority of the population dirt poor and giving all the previously nationalized or centralized infrastructure to megacompanies through no-contest contractors. These companies are usually closely tied to the head guys in the government (think Cheney/Halliburton) and so the ultra-rich get ultra-richer, and everyone else gets tortured, literally and figuratively. It's disgusting, and it's true (although I started to get skeptical in that Michael Moore way because it just seemed so... propaganda-ish). It's scary, and it's happening here, and it's not just George W.

Klein left a lot of obvious questions unanswered: what about NAFTA and CAFTA? That wasn't W, that was Clinton, and they were sort of obvious "free trade" (and the other Friedman, the "good" Friedman) examples of "shock doctrine". Where'd they go? No one talks about them anymore, but according to Klein, that's sort of the point- the population gets shocked into accepting egregious economic policies. And one point that REALLY bugged, and was left unanswered was the "whiteness" of the whole thing. So, these white guys from the Chicago School come in and tell these countries in South America, Asia, Iraq, and New Orleans what to do, how to do it, and how to make their companies richer, and Klein never discusses the racial implications of this, or, the racial backdrop of this. I'm just guessing that there was a whole lot of racial impetus for these programs, whether Klein cares to discuss it or not. She totally ignores the race/gender/class matrix, and writes a 600page book as if economics live in a (white) bubble. I expected more, and got more and more frustrated as the book wore on. The whole project is neo-colonial, yet was treated as if it was "purely" economic. Really?

The book raised a lot of questions, and when I thought about this blog post, I had lots more to say, lots more about Oakland and the current US economy, and how W got us here, along with his Friedman-esque ways. Then I went to Santacon and yeah, the blog went out the window. But Klein was successful in educating me, and in adjusting my views on what's REALLY going on behind the scenes. She did a lot, and not enough.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mac, I Have a Feeling We're not in College Any More

A few weeks ago, I met a man at a formal event who was probably about my age- late 20s. He was white, with his girlfriend, and wearing a long ponytail and a mid length skirt and birkenstocks. This was the most formal event I've been to in years, and he was decidedly under dressed, as well as being dressed in a way to make a statement. Although the event was held in San Francisco and was a wedding of two women, the statement was still a bold one. I spoke to him for awhile and he told me he was staying in San Francisco for awhile for an "anti-racist school." I was compelled- maybe by the nervousness I feel at events that compel me to make small talk, and maybe by the warmness I felt at talking to someone who reminded me of people I used to hang out with- to tell him that I try to live with anti-racist praxis in my life, in my law enforcement world, with it's decided potential for racism. He looked at me skeptically and blankly, like he either didn't believe me at all, or didn't really care.

This event was almost exactly 2 months ago, and the conversation is still with me. His remarks bugged me as pompous, and my replies bothered me. And I find myself becoming more conservative, and wondering why. I went to a very liberal liberal arts college on the East Coast that felt like a transplanted mini-Berkeley. We were famous for our clothing-optional dorms, and the curriculum and the students challenged each other to move further and further left. I loved that stuff- ate it up. I even had dreadlocks for awhile. Men in skirts would have been no big thing- I remember thinking my boyfriend looked hot in my skirt at Queer Prom. So when I saw the Dude in the Dress at the wedding, and heard he was doing anti-racist work, I was surprised at my internal reaction that this guy struck me as a white guy trying too hard to provoke, too hard to NOT be the man, and having all of his intentions backfire into standing out at someone else's party. I mean even I wore a dress.

I'm not in college any more, is what I've decided, partially due to the recent/ongoing protests at the UC system over the ridiculous tuition hikes. These kids CARE- they're blocking buildings, they're protesting, they're organized. And they're kids. In college, we are young and motivated- the civil rights movement and the Vietnam protests led by college kids come to mind. When the (2nd) Iraq war started, we took to the street. Why? What's up with this? I've come to a few conclusions: rebellion, surrounded by like minded people, being out of high school constraints, exposure to new literature, etc. And why the movement back to the right when we "grow up"? Were we rebels without a "real" cause?

For me, college was not exposure to new ideas in the sense that I was raised with more conservative ideas: I was raised in the Bay Area, in a liberal family at a liberal school. I was encouraged to think for myself, and to form my own opinions. I was a vegetarian who had traveled nationally and internationally and thought I knew a whole lot about a whole lot of different "causes." When I went to college, I found a whole bunch of people who thought like me, some who felt stronger than I did about the same things, and some people who felt nothing like me. And I read books that helped me articulate some of the things I felt, question the things I believed in, and learn about power. We organized protests and letter writing campaigns, though we were mostly preaching to the choir. We hated war. My parents approved of my actions, but many of my peers were fighting the good fight against their parents, which probably strengthened the passion in their beliefs.

Some people were so passionate that they graduated and continued their fights. They became organizers or went to work in relevant non-profits or graduate school. And then there are people like me, who went to work in something mostly totally unrelated. I care about the same things- I still abhor war. I still think we're fucking with the environment, and think that society tramples on anyone's rights who can be defined as "other." I continue my education as much as possible through reading and discussions. But I don't march in the streets. I don't go to meetings, I don't belong to organizations, big or small. From the outside, I've become apathetic, the person I hated when I was at school. A few years ago, my mom suggested that I had lost interest in everything but pit bulls. This stung, but she was right- pit bulls and their plight was all I talked about- a far cry from the 3 year old who was upset about apartheid. But at least then I was doing something; I was active in a pit bull advocacy group (don't laugh). Now, I'm "just" a civil servant. I still care about so many things, but I don't "do" anything.

I got sick of all of the talk in college- all this talk about movements, change, and power, and problems, and all I wanted to do was "do." Now, my doing is my life, my job, my choices. I wasn't lying to the Dude in the Skirt: I do live my life as consciously as I can. I try to treat everyone as an individual, with respect, and with an awareness of how society might have influenced his actions. Civil service is not just a "just": it's hard and for me, rewarding, but not always. But at the end of my day of my not-so-important job, I'm too tired to do anything perceived as more meaningful. But I don't think it's just that I'm tired: I think that as we grow older, most of us get more conservative. How many baby boomers are still out there protesting the government, or even fighting against the current totally unjust wars? My grandmother, one of my heroes, a white woman from Missouri, all gungho about civil rights, could never quite catch up with "politically correct" terms, sticking with things like "oriental" and "colored." Again, as we grow older, we grow more isolated: we live in or single family units, and we grow into a routine. We're not forced to share space with thousands of people, challenging each other to work on our perceptions, and to move forward with them. Our media comes from mainstream, or conservative sources. And our passions as young adults shape us: I still care, I just don't have a lot of fight in me now. I have to work, and a fear of getting fired for my outspokenness unfortunately hangs over me. I never thought I would say that, and I certainly never thought I'd work for a police department. But I do, and what I do and say and protest represents my workplace. There is a pressure to conform. To wear a dress. To keep my passions in reasonable bounds.

Mac, we're not in college any more. We're grown-ups.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sharon Kay Penman: When Christ and His Saints Slept

I'm not sure what keeps drawing me to these long, long and longer books, but I should have known, right? I mean just looking at the cover of "When Christ and His Saints Slept" should have told me this was a saga. And sagas are long: physically and in the way they twist and turn and confuse the reader. I don't know Sharon Kay Penman (and probably won't pick up anything else she wrote, since I gave up this kind of historical saga when I was about 12) but it appears she writes historical fiction/sagas of the middle ages: kings and queens and knights and vassals and castles and England and Normandy, and oh, so romantic! The first and last parts of this book were quite interesting, but the middle half, where the knights and lords and queens and kings fought back and forth and killed and pillaged and never quite seemed to finish their war, while probably realistic, got really dull. I'm sure there wasn't really much suspense in the middle ages, although I would be practically a constant panic attack if I was waiting 3 weeks for a letter to be hand delivered to find out if my husband had conquered a territory for me, but I felt I knew what was going to happen before it happened. If you like sagas, I think this is probably a good one. If not, it's an airplane read- if you're traveling the world 6 times.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Thoughts On "Oreo"

or, Another Open Letter to Nathan Winograd.

There has been a lot of recent hubbub about a pit bull that was thrown from a roof in New York about 6 months ago. This was pretty much the epitome of a cruelty case by commission: someone literally took his dog and threw it off a roof. Every day animals are subjected to all kinds of cruelty- from the worst, like dog fighting, to things like what happened to Oreo, to more subtle, but still bad, things like being tied up and left in the yard and undersocialized with poor shelter from the element, or left with matted hair and some kind of untreated ailment. If they weren't, I would be out of a job (and I wouldn't mind being out of my kind of job.)

Very few of these acts of cruelty make the New York Times. This story originally made the Times when the dog owner was first charged. I'm not sure why the story was news, but it was. Maybe it was news because pit bulls are always news (usually when they attack someone or something, or a dog looks like a pit bull when it does anything wrong), and recently they're semi-positive news due to some of Michael Vick dogs making it. Maybe it was news because many people saw this dog fall. Maybe the ASPCA made a big deal of the rescue of the dog. But speaking from someone who deals with human beings' shitty acts every day, let me tell you, this stuff doesn't normally make the news. And that's probably a good thing, because usually it doesn't have a happy ending.

This is something I struggle with a lot, and recently had an interesting discussion with a coworker about, in the euthanasia room, of all places. Each of us were going to put down one of our dogs- dogs we cared about. My dog was a cruelty case, one that will never make the news, and that no one would know about if I weren't blogging about it here. I went to post a picture, but it's on my work camera. I got a call about a dog in a kennel, in an abandoned house. I went out, and the house was empty. It didn't look abandoned to me, but it was messy, and maybe the people had just moved out. I don't know and will never know, because they never came in for their dog. The dog was indeed living in a kennel, if you can call it that. It was more like a cage, a 6x4 cage. The dog was a very large German Shepherd mix, maybe with husky or Akita. A VERY large dog, 80 or 90 lbs. The cage had a top on it and was closed up with a weird combination of wire and bungee cords. There was a build up of feces in it and the water was a bucket of green water. I was just looking at this situation, trying to figure out how I was going to get the cage open, and then, how to get the dog out, when the dog picked up one of the toys (toys?!) in the cage and started throwing them at me. Turns out, this extra large dog was actually quite happy to see me. So I took pictures, opened the cage, and walked the dog out. He was a NICE dog. He waited out his cruelty impound wait, 10 days in California, and was evaluated a week later. He didn't pass his evaluation. I had a friend who works with rescue come look at him, and he was really borderline. He was older than I originally thought, probably 3 years old, and he was very "doggy"- a term I learned from Diane Jessup- sort of intact male, interested in intact male things, and just not very social. He could be social for a minute, and tolerated handling, but didn't really have a place in an urban home. He was a backyard (well, a cage) dog, and couldn't compete with the adoptable dogs the shelter was bursting at the seams with. So his euthanasia day came, and I put him down.

I put a lot of dogs that I seize down. I keep a picture in the office of a puppy I seized that was about 6 months old and looked two months old. A pit bull puppy, so riddled with demodex that she had a secondary skin infection all over her body. There was not a spot on her body that was not infected and oozing and scabby. Every lymph node on her body was swollen- her ankles and jugular were swollen like they had tumors. Her hip bones jutted out. I put her and her sister down the day they came in, as they were suffering. What does it mean to put down dogs I seize for cruelty? It is not easy for me: I have *rescued* these dogs from some of the shittiest situations, some of cruelty by commission and some of omission, and then I kill them. Yes, Mr Winograd, I kill them. I euthanize them humanely, but at the end, they are dead. They aren't suffering anymore, but they're not living, either.

But no one is scrambling to place them, like they were scrambling to place Oreo. No one is following me around and writing up these dogs' stories. Thank Dawg. If everyone saw what I saw every day, they would be numb to it. They wouldn't care about every dog, or any dog. On the other hand, the three dogs I just described weren't aggressive. Why was everyone trying to save Oreo, a dog that a respectable organization, the ASPCA (read: not PETA or HSUS) deemed unadoptable? If Oreo was aggressive, why the clamour to save her? No one created a stir to save my shepherd and he was not aggressive, he just wasn't particularly awesome, either, and at most municipal shelters, only the awesome go up for adoption. No one clamoured to save my mangy pit bulls, either, and they certainly weren't aggressive. They were just very very sick, and needed so much medical treatment that it could have taken years to work them back to health. No local or national group took up their cause, and certainly not Nathan Winograd or the list of groups he gives.

Winograd is thrilled that a law is being authored to stop the "executions" of more Oreos. He says that this law is like the Hayden Law, which is in place in California. Interestingly, though, the Hayden Law only requires that STRAY dogs and cats (and rabbits and pigs) be made available to 501c3 rescue groups. (See SB 1785) And again, the Hayden bill only works if it's, well, working. My dogs were all SEIZED, not stray, and 501c3s are swamped. Would the Sanctuary that everyone was pleading for Oreo to be sent to have stepped up for my dogs if they weren't in the media? Honestly, my Shepherd would have been fine in a kennel at a sanctuary with daily play time. But for the pit pups and many other I seize, it would be another step in the wrong direction: they need an instant family, that would spend lots and lots of time and money. And what rescue group or family has room for all of that? Very few.

I hate that this is the truth. I hate that I "save" dogs and then "kill" them. It is one of the crappiest parts of my job. But I'm also distraught that an aggressive pit bull is the impetus for a bill that would make any dog available to rescue. Rescue is awesome. It's necessary. Cruelty is terrible, and the animals are not the ones that should pay. The idiotic, foolish, ignorant, and sometimes badly intentioned people should suffer. In the meantime, Oreo is the wrong posterdog, and I wish we could unite without pointing fingers at the ASPCA (armchair sheltering again) and rather work together to fight cruelty and to partner in rescuing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Everything I Know, I Learned on Twitter

I'm behind on my linking, and my Twitter favorites are really starting to pile up. I'm going to attempt to roughly organize these, but they're really worth checking out.

Womanist Musings has a great reminder that it's never JUST all about gender, or JUST all about race. (I thought I had written here before about my annoyance with the "whiteness" of the "feminist movement", but I can't find it.) On the other hand, a new book, "The Accidental American," about immigration argues that it's ALWAYS about race. I haven't read the book, but the review alone is compelling. And check out these mythbusters about race and immigration. A few more interesting immigration notes from racewire. And since I haven't given my monthly shout to Racialicious, you MUST read "I'm for gay rights, but..." which discusses black/gay civil rights.

There's been much ado about health care reform, of course, and La Frontera Times has an insightful look at the effects of HCR on both abortion and health care coverage for immigrants. And while we're on the subject, 2,266 Veterans died last year as a result of being uninsured. Another disturbing article on health care centers on Chicago's mental health system. Prepare for nightmares. If you're not depressed enough about mental health, check out Jessa Crispin's article about her relief about getting the hell out of dodge, I mean the US, for mental health care.

With Maine recently voting against gay/civil rights, and DC voting for them, queerness has been all in the news. The Catholic Church has decided to take the extremely progressive stance of stopping all services in DC until they do something about that infernal gay-marriage law. Mother Jones thinks "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" might be repealed next year (though I'm not sure I know any (queer or other) people chomping at the bit to sign up for a wartime military, it must be a relief for current gays in the military). And LOVING this post about missing the point of queer advancement.

Think that will probably tide you over for now. If you got past one or two links...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Official Definition of Seasonal Affective Disorder

I have just promoted myself to themacinator, PhD, MD, LCSW. Congratulations, and please pay me $2.60 an hour for the privilege of reading this blog.

For all of you doubting Thomases, Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. And I have discovered the root of all of the bio-chemical-feedback-loops that cause it (excuse me if my scientific terms are a little wobbly; my promotion has come very recently and I believe the diplomas may have been lost in the mail). Additionally, I am in the process of discovering a cure.

When standard time kicks in, many people start suffering from a vague malaise. They are hard pressed to define what this malaise is, or the root cause. There is more complaining: night comes sooner, and most people leave work when it is dusk or dark. This is something to complain about. Some people are able to compensate for this, but for many of us who are already sensitive to ... many things, are deeply affected, both by the complaining, and by the early nightfall. By the time we get home, it feels like nighttime. We don't want to go out again, it feels too dark to see our friends, too dark to walk our dogs or go to the gym, and driving in the dark is always dangerous and a pain in the ass. It becomes hard to motivate to do much more than our inside-the-house activities like TV, reading, sleeping. If we like to drink, we might drink inside (and alone) rather than out at dinner or a bar. Can you see where this is going? YES! Alcoholism, car accidents from driving at night, and TV addictions. Basically, nowhere good. Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real. And all due to short days and long, long nights.

For themacinator, the specifics are thus: we have the inability to go out and take pictures. I could patrol the environs with an ultra-heavy-duty flash, but I'm not so good at flashes, and the night is kind of a deterrent to leave the house, as aforementioned. I could just shoot in indoor locations, but many of these are semi-hostile to photography, and not nearly as fun as strolling the out-of-doors. Then there is the nervy Mac who loves to be walked but does not do well at night: every shadow is a cat or small dog, the better to be hunted. And finally, standard time always coincides with the end of baseball season. What is one to do for 2.5-3 hours when one can't listen to a baseball game? Sleep, I suppose, or read. But one cannot read for 2.5-3 hours without sleeping. And thus, one's social life suffers, one's exercise and creativity suffers, and one suffers in general.

My solution, which is still in the works, as my PhD, MD, and LCSW degrees were very hard to complete and I am still working on my engineering degree (what's that called?) is a very very large flashlight. Those SAD lights are fabulous, but my research shows that SAD is not actually a deficiency in light or vitamins in total, but rather, a deficiency in daylight time to do activities, see people, and get moving. Thus, this very large flashlight will project daylight blocks at a time, thus allowing people to do their normal outside activities in these heavily illuminated blocks. Photos can be taken, driving can be done, dogs can be walked, and friends can be seen, all due to this handheld, but extra strong flashlight, brought to you by themacinator. You heard it first here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Scott Anderson: Moonlight Hotel

I guess Scott Anderson is a fancy war correspondent and knows how these things go down: who better to write a satirical novel about a fake war in a fake country that the very real US messes up and then ... "fixes." Though the novel starts off slowly, it picks up steam until it's extremely hard to put down. It's the early or mid-80s and David Richard and his unlikely cohorts get stuck in Kutar, the fictional country (something like Iraq or Afghanistan), after Richards is almost done with his two years of a foreign service tour. During the two years, it's all the State Department can do to even get the US to acknowledge Kutar exists. Although there has always been inter-country-strife (the borders were artificially created by colonial parties, of course), the Pentagon takes sudden interest and manages to create a mountain of trouble for everyone involved. Though "Moonlight Hotel" takes place in the '80s, Anderson writes with post-9/11 insight. The book nicely complements all of the nonfiction about the deceptive government policies in Vietnam, Central America, and for decades in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Doggy Jailer

Another thing I hear all the time when I'm out and about at work (are you sick of hearing about this, yet?) is something along the lines about how I must be out "picking up bad dogs." Or when people come into the shelter, how they're there to get their dogs out of "jail." Along the same lines of the lines of the comment about not being able to do my job that makes me bristle, is another: something about how my job is so dangerous because of all the horrible, vicious animals I must have to deal with. I've started to just tell people that actually, my job isn't really about dealing with nasty, bad, or even very dangerous animals. For the most part, it's about dealing with owners, and their poor decisions.

Here's a scenario: A dog bites someone (or another dog) while loose, severely enough to cause the person (or dog) stitches. Animal control gets a report of the bite, and a day or two later figures out where the dog lives. The dog (if the dog bit a person) must be quarantined for 10 days. If the dog bit another dog, or has a history of being at large, or if he is not securely confined, must be impounded for public safety. I show up at the address, speak to the owner, impound the dog. The owner, and the nosy neighbors, see me "jailing a bad dag."

Here's another take on the same situation. Not all of these factors may have happened, but they are factors I see every day, and for the sake of argument, I'm going to chain them all together to show that ownership is the main factor in the majority of cases I deal with, and to demonstrate that I'm more of a bad-owner-social-worker than a "doggy jailer."

Let's start two years before the date of the bite: An imaginary person (not the dog owner) gets some dogs. In this instance, I'm going to say they're pit bulls. If you've been paying attention to my blog, you know I'm not trying to malign pit bulls. I'm using them as an example because of the law of large numbers, and because I'm familiar with this particular ownership problem. So, Joe Jones gets two pit bulls. He gets one, and a couple months later, he gets another, this time a female. They're awesome, and he's sure he has homes lined up for them. So he breeds them, at about 8 and 9 months of age. He doesn't really know much about the two dogs, except that they are from "Champion" lines. They look healthy, and they have all of their shots. They stay in the yard, but they are nice dogs. They've never really left the back yard, but his kids play with them, and they've never gotten into a fight. The litter comes out pretty healthy- one seems kind of small, and one seems kind of growly, and the mom develops some hairloss during the litter and won't let people get too close, but other than that, the breeding experience is pretty smooth. Joe sells the first 5 puppies for 500 dollars each, which is some good money. By the time he gets to the last 5 puppies, they are 6 weeks old and the female's hairloss is getting worse. Joe's ready to be done with this whole thing, so he sells our dog owner his dog for $100.

Back to our dog owner. Our dog owner, John Smith, is a friend of a friend of Joe. He lives in a decent neighborhood in a city that is struggling with crime, bad schools, the usual. Basically, his neighborhood is going to shit. He is 21, and has a kid, and really, just needs a dog because he's always had one (his last one ran away, but it was just a dog he found anyway) and because there's some crime in his neighborhood. So a friend of his tells him that Joe has a few puppies left that he's selling at a discount. He picks up the puppy from Joe who says the dog has had a shot, but doesn't have any paperwork to prove it. The mutual friend says you can trust Joe, so the new puppy, Pirate, goes in the yard. John doesn't really have a doghouse set up for Pirate, but his tool shed is open to the yard, so John clears some space and puts down a nice blanket for him and buys a huge bag of food at the grocery store. He and his kid play with the dog every day. The puppy is super cute. The neighbors love him, so they leave the wrought iron gate open like they always do. They have to move their car in and out, anyway, and this way Pirate can go chill with Jr's friends.

Then Pirate gets a little bigger and starts knocking Jr's friends over, and the parents start getting annoyed. One of the neighbors who doesn't have kids calls animal control one time because of the "vicious pit bull" that's out in the street. Animal control comes out a couple days later but John is at work and the wrought iron gate is actually closed. Pirate barks and growls and sticks his head through the gate. Animal Control leaves a notice on the door that tells John in order to comply the dog must be confined and licensed. John comes home and is pissed off about his grumpy neighbors. He considers buying a chain for Pirate, but decides he'll just tell Jr to stop leaving the gate open, but Jr is only 5, and John forgets after about a week. Yeah right, animal control will take Pirate over his dead body.

Pirate becomes big and rather obnoxious. John doesn't walk him because even though he got him a choke chain and tried to walk him once or twice with that, Pirate is just really strong and pulls on the leash a lot. He barks when he's on the leash, and though he's just trying to greet people, dogs, and other animals that he sees, he's now 80 pounds of intact pit bull, and scares everyone, including John, though he'd never admit it. Pirate gets used to some behavior that most people consider rude, or disobedient: because he was separated from his mom and littermates at 6 weeks, he hasn't learned a whole lot of bite inhibition. When he jumps on people, he tends to do it with an open mouth, and he often combines his over-enthusiastic greeting by biting any available piece of clothing, and sometimes even humps a leg. When he gets pushed away, he feels like he's received an invitation to play and jumps and mouths even more. Sometimes he jumps on John and John yells at him or hits his but and Pirate hits the floor. But most of the time, Pirate tugs at people's clothing until he gets bored and walks away.

So one day, John leaves the wrought iron gate open when he goes to work. Pirate tosses a plastic 2 liter soda bottle around for awhile, sleeps for awhile, then when patrolling the yard for a good place to pee, sees the open gate. An older person walks by slowly on the way to the store. Pirate runs up to the older person and jumps on him, grabbing his shirt. The older person flails his arms, trying to get Pirate off. Pirate gets more excited, and rips the old man's shirt, and punctures the old man's arm in 3 places in the process. A neighbor sees that something is wrong and hollers at Pirate (everyone knows Pirate from when he was a cute puppy) and Pirate gets distracted long enough for the old man to get away. Pirate goes back to his backyard and sunbathes. Life continues for John and Pirate.

After the old man goes to the hospital for his wounds, the hospital reports the bite to the local animal control, as they are required by law to do, as every state is concerned about rabies. The old man describes Pirate and tells the officers where he thinks the dog lives. Animal control comes out to John's house. John tells the officers that Pirate never gets out, and is not happy when they take Pirate for his mandatory quarantine. When he comes into the shelter to find out about reclaiming Pirate and they quote his fees and explain that the dog will be neutered by law, he tells them he wanted to breed Pirate, because he comes from championship lines (remember Joe?) and because Pirate is so good with Jr. He tells them that Pirate has all his shots and that he is part of the family. When he hears the total fees, he tells them he will go get the money. John never comes back. Pirate is put to sleep: he is a pit bull with a bite history. He probably also had hairloss as he was the product of a female pit bull with hairloss (probably demodex). He may have ended up in a shelter that didn't out pit bulls anyway, or had too many. Odds are, John will have another pit bull soon.

It's likely that John thinks animal control "stole" his dog, and "just wants money." He thinks his dog "had all his shots," even though he only "had" the one that Joe claimed he gave the puppy. It's likely that many of John's neighbors feel the same way, as they are used to Pirate being in the neighborhood and doing what Pirate does. They may have dogs in similar situations. There may be a few neighbors who are glad to see Pirate go, as he was always jumping on their fences, or chasing them with his over-exuberant mannerisms. Jr will grow up thinking that dogs are expendable, and that animal control is a place where dogs go to die. He will think that dogs just act like Pirate acted.

So many factors played into this dog "being bad" and "ending up in jail." Dude got 2 pit bulls just to breed them. He bred them without knowing what they were about, health or temperamentwise. He bred them before they were mature. He sold them to pretty much anyone, without knowing where they were going to live. Another dude bought a dog without researching the breed, or the breeder. He put him in the backyard, which may be fine (topic for another day) but essentially turned him into a resident dog. He did not care for his health or training. He allowed him to roam the neighborhood and turn into a bratty, rude teenage, intact dog with no manners. The dog had no exercise than what he could manufacture for himself. This was a dog-problem waiting to happen, created by a people-problem.

I'm not suggesting that this is what happens in all bite cases, or that all pit bulls are owned like this, or that all pit bull owners are irresponsible, or any sort of generalization at all. I am suggesting, however, that there is a lot more to any given scenario that animal control deals with than a "bad animal." There is the breeder (and the breeder before that, and the cultural issues that come with "breeding") and the buying (and the cultural issues of "buying" and "owning") of the dog, and then the manner of ownership. There are issues of confinement, of training, and of stewardship: shots, health, and dogs/children. It's not about a vicious or dangerous animal, although many of our laws are worded in such a way so as to make the dog sound dangerous, not to make the owner sound irresponsible (California has a Potentially Dangerous Dog Provision). It is about choices we make, whether by omission or commission, that make my job about humans, rather than animals.

Marjorie Garber: Symptoms of Culture

This is one of the dorkiest books I've read in awhile. It's been on my shelf since I-don't-know-when: definitely after college, but years. And I don't know why I picked it up, I must have been inspired one day to read some sort of college-like textbook. Don't get me wrong, the essays are right up my alley, but really? Even the cover is dorky. Garber directs the Center for Literary and Cultural Studies at Harvard, and seems to be an expert on Shakespeare and all things Fruedian. I loved the first half of this book- she deconstructs (I know, right?) things like "culture" "symptoms" and "syndromes." The first essay, on what makes "great" things "great" was really fabulous. She looks at the connections between Christianity and sports and gentility and Jewishness. It's just that at the halfway point in this book, she got into her main obsession (or fetish, to use a Garber-ian term): Shakespeare, and lost me completely. I started skimming, something I never do. But hey, this was a book I really have no idea why I was reading, so I feel absolved. Garber writes with a wit that belies the serious nature of her topics, and any of the first 5 or so essays is well worth reading.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Snug as a Bug in a Rug

My dog has a very rough life.

(taken by Running With Dogs while I was at work)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stewardship, Futility, Enforcement, Education

"Nature Noir," the book I finished last night or this morning, I've already forgotten, has really made me think about animal control, as a profession in general, and in my case specifically. I think a lot of my preconceived notions of park rangers are probably pretty similar in hue to those people have of animal control officers. And I imagine that I probably had some of the same illusions as Smith did when he joined the Park Services. These misconceptions are not quite the same ones as the general public has, because Smith and I both knew what we were getting into, for the most part (I had scooped plenty of shit before I became an officer almost 2 years ago, for example; I was no animal welfare rookie), but it really takes putting on the boots to get it.

I have been to a lot of national parks, and a lot of state parks, and I've met a couple rangers. I've met people in green and khaki that I assume are rangers. Some of them take money at parking kiosks and hand out little maps. I met some cool rangers in Yosemite that explained that they're basically federal police, and carry guns, and have to be able to do everything, including all kinds of first aid. But I have no idea what they do. I wanted to be a ranger once- how cool would it be to sit somewhere bucolic or picturesque and write books like John Muir? See how naive I am? Smith writes about how the work is seasonal, and you're constantly moving from park to park for work. In order to get job security, you have to go places where ranger work is year round, like Auburn. Which is a pretty sheisty placement. And you start over there. "Now, as a junior permanent, you're back at the bottom of the heap. So you gladly take what you can get. Then, to get back to the places that were the whole point of rangering in the first place, you begin to make calculated moves instead of moves of the heart. That's when the trouble begins." Here's how Smith cynically (or realistically) sums up his career trouble: "For most of us, our career prospects ended when we went there. The Auburn Dam site wasn't the kind of place that looked good on a resume. The department preferred to think of its rangers chatting with families in neat little picnic grounds or giving wildflower walks. Most of us were never promoted again. What we did there mattered only to us, and to the river."

I'm pretty sure lots of people have met animal control officers, or seen people they thought were animal control officers. What do they think we do? I've summed up some of the things I actually do, and some of the things I think people think we do, but I know there's a lot of misconceptions out there. There's the old stereotype of the bumbling dog catcher (sort of like my view of the toll taking kiosk ranger) and the glorified rescuer of "Animal Cops" (As Seen On TV). I think a lot of people think we love animals so much, and that we pretty much do cool animal stuff all day long, sort of like my childish dream of sitting by a bubbling brook and writing nature poems. In my case, like for Smith, animal control was a sort of career move (though I hate thinking in those terms- life plans stress me out): I did lots of "smaller" animal welfare jobs and wanted to do something a little more permanent, and with more impact. But every day I feel more like what I do matters only to me, and maybe to an individual animal.

The park that Smith worked in for the majority of his career was slated to be under water "sometime in the future" for the entire time that he worked the land. Though rangers are supposed to protect the land, there is an amazing sense of underlying futility in Smith's writing: how can you protect land that the government you work for is going to destroy? Stewardship becomes a moot point when the land being tended is about to be at the bottom of an artificial lake. This is a feeling I grapple with daily. My jurisdiction is not going to be under water in any literal sense, but some days I feel like it already is under water. Who am I protecting? The animals? From whom? Their owners? With what laws? If I enforce the laws, or seize the animals, who will prosecute the offenders and make sure that history is not repeated? I am also supposed to be protecting people, in my public safety role. But if people are going to continue to manage their animals irresponsibly (or not at all), how can I help steward a safe community? And if what is in existence is already broken, is it stewardship or plugging a dyke with a pinky finger? I often feel like my job is a juggling act, to keep the situation at bay, and the bar that has been set is very low. Futility.

Smith writes about one of his first postings that "I had learned a couple of things about human nature that wouldn't startle you much if you took a moment to think about them: When regular people leave the city limits, their behavior doesn't change much, and habitual criminals are seldom rehabilitated by pretty scenery." I'm not sure I've ever read truer words. When regular people have pets, their behavior doesn't change much, and regular criminals are usually regular criminals in all walks of life. A friend of mine who works in another jurisdiction once put it to me this way: "Where there's one felony offense there's usually another." Like the time I showed up at a cock fight and found a gun under a couch cushion. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, but human nature continues to amaze me. Although I chose to look the other way about non-animal-related-offenses on my calls, they're there, all day, every day (not the guns, I don't see those, and I wouldn't look the other way, but I'm there about the animals. Not the pot, not the expired (or stolen) license plate, not the fake ID). Smith continues: "Still, I believed there was one big distinction between me and your run-of-the-mill cop. I wasn't just slowing the inevitable decline of western civilization by arresting the guilty and carting off the wounded. I had been given a sacred charge: America's crown jewels, those special places legislatures had agreed were too good to ruin." Well, I'm glad he and the other rangers are there, and I'm glad that they're not "just" cops (although I'm glad "just" cops are there, too). These are cops with a mandate, and a special interest in stewardship and protection. I feel the same way about my job. I'm not "just" a wannabe cop (or a dog catcher). I have a special mandate, to protect and serve animals. It's not some cheesy "voice for the voiceless" thing, but there's something to the Mahatma Ghandi quote "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." When we're not on duty and the cops are handling our calls, they're handled. They're not handled with care.

And that's where education comes in. There's enforcement, and there's education. Smith cited and arrested more people than his fellow officers. He probably solved more serious crimes than his partners, too. There is a place for that, and maybe his park was safer for it, too. (The Auburn area sounds kind of sketchy, actually- I'm glad he was out there!) But he also was educated about the environmental issues about that dam- it wasn't just that he was going to be out of a job, he knew his park, and what it would cause. I'm also an enforcer, though probably not to the extent of Smith. I will write citations, and I will seize animals. But I prefer to educate, to speak to people, to appeal to reason. To talk about where we're coming from, to hear where we're coming from, to try and get to a point of mutual understanding. To explain the law, to teach, to listen.

At the end of all this is an overwhelming sense of futility. My life is not a reality show. It's not As Seen On TV. My town is screwed up, in many of the same ways that Auburn as described in Smith's book is (though maybe with less meth and less desert). There's also an amazing sense of doing the best I can, providing little bits of stewardship every day.
"For me, the bedrock of reality is my affection for wild nature, and I take exception to the idea that nature is nothing more than a cultural construction... Sentiment-call it love-for the wild is ultimately why Will and I became rangers. Sentiment is why any of us bother to raise children, who sometimes don't appreciate what we do; why we care tenderly for elderly parents after age has deprived them of the memory of our names. It is why we try to salvage the juvenile delinquent, the alcoholic, the drug addict. Without it, we are not human."

Jordan Fisher Smith: Nature Noir

This wasn't the book I was expecting to read, and I don't think it was the book Jordan Fisher Smith thought he would write when he joined the State Park services as a ranger. The cover of the book depicts some snow covered mountains, and the subtitle is "A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra." Doesn't that evoke visions of a modern "Monkey Wrench Gang" or maybe a John Muir? Yeah, no. Smith was stationed in Auburn, and it was no easy, remote, read books, sip from a canteen, isolated from modern urban life kind of career. Rather, he was law enforcement, only off of the beaten path. I found myself really identifying with Smith- he's alone out there, dealing with some serious characters. Just because he's in a pastoral park setting doesn't mean there isn't shady stuff going on. (Animal control is the same way: just because we enforce animal related ordinances doesn't mean we aren't dealing with the same people.) Smith has recreational areas to contend with, riverbeds where squatters take up residence, and rivers with day vacationers. The anecdotes he tells are real, and sometimes brutal. Behind all of this is the lurking fear of a park service that may soon be under water- the whole time Smith was a ranger, the Auburn dam was a real possibility, and his whole area was slated to be a man made lake. The futility he feels is palpable (boy, do I know that feeling!).

This is a strange, choppy book written in a way that dispels myths without necessarily intending to. The narrative is out of sequence and often lacks transitions. Near the end of the book, Smith recounts his battle with Lyme disease, a struggle directly resulting from the changes humans have caused the ecosystem and his time in the park that is a microcosm of the changes in California. The book hit home for me- his career is full of possibilities of danger, and isn't quite what he thought what he was getting into. But it's public service, and he seems fulfilled.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Things Mac Taught Me About Respect

While on our walk today.

There are multiple ways to earn respect. Here are some ways that Mac has helped me identify:

#1: Lead by example. Mac respects his uncle Mole, although Uncle Mole is approximately 1/8th his size and weight. (Mole is the bigger small dog, the one not totally obscured by Mac's head. I estimate he's smaller than said noggin.)



Running With Dogs have discussed the family dynamics in our house (I hesitate to call them pack dynamics because I question the "pack" thing and also because our dogs don't really run together except when we're on walks or other occasions like in the car) at length. Basically, Uncle Mole is the captain of the ship, while weighing in at a mighty 9 pounds or so. And it's always been that way, from the moment Mac and Mole met. Although Mac and Mole both like to do doggy things like pee on stuff, Mole always gets to pee first. In fact, if they go to sniff the same things, Mac backs off. The humans don't do anything to encourage this, it just is. Although I appreciate this behavior- Mac's head is awfully big to be engaging in any other behavior with Mole- it's just how it is. Mole is Uncle Mole. He walks around like he knows he is Uncle Mole and Mac walks around like the doofy nephew, respecting the Man of The House.

#2 Rule by Fear. Mac has quite serious prey drive. He would like to eat squirrels, pigeons, and most especially cats. His prey drive progressed pretty much in that order: as a young'un, he was very interested in squirrels, then moved on to pigeons, who jumped satisfyingly into the air when he lunged, and now he's pretty much a cat man. He'll give the occasional half-hearted leap at a pigeon if they do something really tempting like walk in his face, but the only thing that really sets him off is a cat. And they *really* set him off. The only thing that he absolutely positively respects, however, and will look at and look away from, is a Canada goose.

stampede

If Mac was faced with this picture, rather than lunging like an out of control freak on a leash, I think he might actually tuck tail or piss himself, or look to me for an answer (good boy!). Today, we were faced with about 10 geese. They didn't move at first. They honked, and hissed, as these nasty Canada geese do. I hate these creatures, by the way. My theory about Canada geese and their foul infestation of California can wait for another day. He looked at them and started to get "the look" that means trouble is coming. I barely even whispered "leave it." He seemed to shake it off, like "Oh, it's THOSE birds." He has never in his life looked twice at a Canada goose. We have walked by so close that they could be nose to nose, closer than we could with a strange dog, and Mac won't even look at them. I swear, he averts his eyes, and if he could talk would say "lalalala, I don't see that scary thing over there, it's not there, right? Is it gone? Oh, phew!" Rule by fear. Respect by fear. Wouldn't you fear a bird the size of you when you're normally the biggest living non-human thing on the block? That's willing to bite? And probably has teeth?

OK that's all the lessons for today. You didn't think Mac grew a brain, did you?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roberto Bolano: 2666

I would like to blame part of my non-blogging of late on this book, which has been eating away at my time, and my brain. To get a grip on the size of "2666," you can think of it this way: Bolano, who died right before the book was published, left instructions that the book be published as 5 separate, serialized novels. His wishes were disobeyed by his children, who strung them together in this one, very long book. To give you another picture of the length, heft and perhaps even density of this book, I recently saw "2666" for sale at Green Apple in two formats: the weighty version I have, and another, boxed version, of 3, smaller books. This is a book that was not meant to be read all at once.

And yet I read it all at once (and now I'm starting to speak like Bolano writes. Forgive themacinator, please, as Bolano's writing, while not necessarily appealing or endearing, is insidious, if not by its virtuoisity or its charm, but its very presence, through 1000 pages). I read it and read it and read it some more. Bolano writes in long, complicated, never ending paragraphs and pages and thoughts and I think I lost track of how many characters there were at about 100- when thinking last night, I think there were probably between 300 and 500 people introduced in this book. So you can't just casually read the book and set it down and pick it up later. You could, but you would miss the point, or worry about missing the point, since the point is buried in those long meandering paragraphs. And have I mentioned that this book is translated from the Spanish?

Why did I pick this book up? Well, I picked it up because of the part on the back that talked about the disappearing women on the Mexico/US border. I read everything I can get my hands on about the border, so I bought this book. Otherwise, this book is about as far as I can get from what I normally read: magical, wordy, translated, and long long and longer. I struggled, because it turns out the part about the disappearances/murders was the 4th of 5th parts, and this isn't a book you can jump around in, even though Bolano thought the parts would stand alone. So by the time I was mid-way through part 2, I was hooked. There is a bit of a mystery that happens in this book, or maybe mysteries is more accurate, and really, it's intriguing. And so, SO frustrating. The part about Mexico was the most wonderful, maybe because Bolano was writing more in his element- his discussions of Latin America and Mexico were as humerous as they were heartbreaking- and maybe because that was the part I really cared about. But as I told myself this week that I would finish this book and finally move on to the next, the end wasn't so bad either. In fact, for all the 8103637 characters, Bolano knew what he was doing.

This was a new journey for me- I couldn't read "100 Years of Solitude"- magical realism (?) has never been my thing. Translation frustrates me. The long sentence/paragraphs remind me of Faulkner, who I've also never been able to read. But this book forced my concentration, and it worked my imagination. It was crude and beautiful, magical and very very real.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

City Life is Hard, Country Life is Not the Easy Answer

(blog note: my creativity has been hit a low lately. I'm working too much, I'm watching too much TV on my computer, and I'm reading the world's longest book that I've vowed to finish today. It seems I now blog once a week. Which bums me out. Hopefully there will be more soon. I have more to say. I've just been too apathetic to say it.)

Dog people, rescue people hear this all the time: "I can't keep this dog, he really needs a home in the country." It's a different version of "this dog needs a one person house, a house with no kids, a house with no other dogs or cats, and a dog-savvy owner." But really, what does a house in the country mean? And will this be a solution for the dog?

City life is hard for a dog. Those of us who live in the city ask a LOT from our dogs, and a lot of what we ask of our dogs isn't really fair. City dwellings are often small, cramped spaces. Dogs live inside these small cramped spaces, or in small, confined yards. We walk them on leashes if we follow the law and care about the safety of our dog and of others. We want to respect our neighbors, so we don't want them to bark very much, and we're probably pretty busy, so we don't take them on lots of walks, or we walk them around our concrete neighborhoods. We expect them to cohabitate at close range with other dogs, on leash and off, in our houses and in our neighborhoods, cats in the street and in our homes, and all kinds of people, who do all kinds of weird things. We want them to live with our new babies, and not to react if our new babies do weird things. We want them to guard our houses so that we'll feel safe from crime, but we don't want them to guard our houses with their teeth, just by barking. We want them to have what we have what we think are good manners: we don't want them to jump on people, we want a leash to be loose when they walk, we expect them to know what "sit" means. I could go on.

In the city, we expect all of these things, and we don't get it why our dogs fail us. We don't realize that we are actually failing our dogs by expecting so much and giving so little. We don't realize that our dogs are living in small spaces and not getting enough exercize. We don't realize that our small houses and yards aren't providing very much stimulus for our dogs: their eyes, ears and noses, especially their noses. We don't realize that our dogs are stressed by the sounds they hear at close range that we can't even hear, or don't notice because we know and understand what they are: the neighbors' keys jingling, the raccoon on the fence, the garbage man in the early morning, the cat in the apartment upstairs. We don't understand that our dogs need to run, and that by keeping them on leash, or even strolling around the block off leash, our dogs are walking all the time. Dogs move quickly even when they're walking. They need to get tired. And they don't do this on a walk around the block. And when we take them to the small dirt dog run and run and pee with the other dogs that they may or may not have met before, there is adrenaline, and maybe some exercize, but not necessarily the exercize they need. We expose our dogs to good things, but we don't pay attention to see if the exposure is in a positive manner. We have preconceived notions of what is "fun" for our dogs: the dog run is a "fun" thing. And when the police officer, or common knowledge tells us that dogs are protective, and a deterrent, we don't think about how this is a huge burden for a dog, and that they don't know what we think is a "real" vs "perceived" threat. We expect them, unrealistically, to make this determination appropriately.

When our dogs fail us, we decide they need a home in the country. Where they can run. Where they won't hurt anyone. Where life is less stimulating: no freeway noise, no loud banging, neighbors are far away, life is slower and less scary. Read craigslist, or petfinder, or talk to your friend who does rescue or works in a shelter and ask them how many times you've heard about the dog who "needs a quiet home outside of the city." The scared dog, the dog with a bite history, or at least a history of nipping. I've seen the other side of this: rural shelters seem to have less "messed up" dogs than their urban counterparts: dogs that are spooked, or overly wound up, showing anxiety behaviors or just plain rudeness. But is a house in the country the answer? How many scared dogs can we ship off to the country? How many dogs that have bitten people will actually do better in the country? Will they do any better because they don't have neighbors? Will scared dogs unlearn their fear? Will a dog who bites unlearn his triggers? I'm not convinced that this is how behavior works. We owe our dogs more than a train ticket to the Sierras or the Berkshires or some other scenic place. We need to understand how to set them up for success, and how to work with them, rather than to exile them. Or, if they're not safe to be in the city, we need to understand this and deal with it honestly, rather than passing the buck to our rural neighbors.

Addendum: I live with a dog who could easily have been one of those dogs looking for a home in the country. She's not mine, you'll have to read Running With Dogs for the full story, but Abby was a puppy mill rescue who came to her owner in a round about, accidental way, and was so scared of the world that she was basically feral. She was lost for 6 weeks, and still basically feral. Now she has friends of the human variety, and is working on running agility. She could have found a fabulous home in the country, I'm sure, where life is quieter than Oakland. But instead, her owner has worked with her, at her speed and comfort level, to make her a dog who is (almost) comfortable in her own skin. Abby has things she likes to do. She meets people when she wants to. She gets appropriate exercise. She lives with dogs that she likes, even if they don't like her. I think that living in the country would actually terrify her- here, she has a safety net, and a "person." Her person leads her around the world, and breaks up the world into small, manageable, city-sized chunks.