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


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.


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.