Monday, June 27, 2016

The First "International Pageant of Pulchritude"

Did you know that organized annual doggie beauty pageants are older than human ones?

Apparently true.

Wikipedia gives the history of the human beauty contest:

In May 1920 promoter C.E. Barfield of Galveston organized a new event known as "Splash Day" on the island. The event featured a "Bathing Girl Revue" competition as the centerpiece of its attractions. The event was the kick-off of the summer tourist season in the city and was carried forward annually. The event quickly became known outside of Texas and, beginning in 1926, the world's first international contest was added, known as the "International Pageant of Pulchritude." This contest is said to have served as a model for modern pageants.

Circus and freak show promoter P.T. Barnum apparently tried to hold a human beauty pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest, and he substituted dogs instead.

"Fitter Family" beauty contests were started at the 1920 Kansas State Fair, and grew out of a confluence of the dog show world and the eugenic movement, as I note in The Eugenics Man and the Kennel Club.

A formal system of beauty pageants started shortly after that.

Wounds, Scars, and Terriers at Battle of the Somme

The battle now known as the Somme Offensive began on July 1, 1916, and continued through November 18 of the same year. In the preliminary artillery bombardment at the start of the Battle of the Somme, British artillery fired 1.73 million shells on the German lines. Despite the massive artillery pounding, the British suffered over 57,000 casualties (killed and wounded) on the first day of battle.

This was trench warfare at its worst, with more than a million men wounded or killed. The Somme saw the first use of airplanes and tanks in warfare.

One of the combatants at the Somme Offensive was a young Adolph Hitler who had with him a pet terrier he had captured in 1915, when the dog ran over from the British side.  Hitler very much loved this dog, which he described as a "proper circus dog" because it knew so many tricks.

Hitler was wounded in the left thigh during the Battle of the Somme in October of 1916, when a shell exploded at the entrance to the dispatch runners' dugout. He was transferred to Munich and took the dog with him.  He and the dog went back to the front in early 1917, but the dog was stolen from him in August of 1917, probably by the train station manager who had tried to buy the clever dog off of Hitler earlier in the day.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fort Frederick at 260 Years

Fort Frederick was built out of stone between 1756 and 1757, and served as a base of operations for soldiers protecting English setters from French and Indian raids. The French had allied with the Indians to gain the new lands of America, and the Indians wanted their own lands back. Southern Indians made their way to the Fort in the spring of 1757, and 62 Cherokee agreed to teach American soldiers how to "fight after their manner" -- i.e. the basics of the guerilla warfare that later helped the Americans win the Revolutionary War.

The fort is shaped for maximum defense, with the four corners jutting out into arrowheads to provide a platform for shooters to defend against anyone attempting to scale the walls.

From 1786-1783, Fort Frederick was used as detention camp for British prisoners during the Revolutionary War, and from 1861-1862, it was occupied by Union Troops.

Downward Dog

Austin sits on the electric skateboard while running Lucy.  It's almost like a little car!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Running Lucy on an Electric Long Board

My son has been having a lot of fun running his Pit Bull, Lucy.

Austin rides a "Boosted" electric long board, which can go over 25 piles per hour and zip for as much as 15 miles, and Lucy either runs on a leash (where required) or with an e-collar from E-collar Technologies.

Today I went along on my folding Tern bicycle, and filmed it "old school" with a hand-held iPhone.

The Continuing Crisis

Eggs Past and Eggs Future

The picture above is a shot of a Victorian-era museum collection of wild bird eggs. These kinds of fantastic collections began around the time of Darwin, with egg collection an outgrowth of egg collections gathered for scientific purposes and a spontaneous outgrowth of curiosity about the diversity of the natural world coupled with the kind of relative (and conspicuous) wealth that allows people to travel to collect, buy and display curiosities that otherwise have no useful and practical purpose.

Bird egg collecting proved to be such a fad that collection of rare bird eggs threatened to tip certain rare birds over the abyss into extinction. In 1954, the Wild Birds Protection Act in the U.K. made it illegal to posses or own any wild birds' eggs taken since that time, and today it is illegal to sell any wild bird's egg, irrespective of their age -- a fact that is now true in the U.S. as well.

Ironically, old bird egg collections are an important resource for scientists studying bird biology, enabling them to track the rise of pesticides and other contaminants in the food chain.

The eggs, above, are a couple of odd ones I had around the house.

The dark one is an emu, the largest eggs is an ostrich, and the other two are chicken eggs that I had for breakfast.

I include the chickens eggs to show the scale of the other two, but also to show the diversity of what eggs can look like. Egg identification, without benefit of a nest or provenance, can be pretty hard, as bird eggs can change shape to some extent. Coloration and markings may also shift from bird to bird as well. Egg identification is an in-egg-zact science, especially where speciation is not complete (a surprisingly large number of birds) and the number of look-alike eggs are quite numbing.

Another small thought: We have pushed a lot of birds over the edge to extinction and near-extinction, but I am always struck by the fact that we never give credit to the fact that a lot of species (or what we would call species if they were wild) are now being created by man.

Chickens alone present a startling array of expressed diversity, to say nothing of cattle, roses, corn, broccoli, etc. We are already creating new species of birds (falcon and parrot hybrids are examples) and fish (hybrid trout, salmon, pan fish, etc.). to say nothing of the many odd things being done with recombinant DNA to make animals and plants grow larger, be more resistant to disease, and ship better.

We stand in the door of one of the largest booms in species creation ever, and yet when was the last time anyone gave that idea a nod? And yet, take a look at the two chicken eggs, pictured above. Would any birder claim these eggs were from the same species?

Omelettes for Breakfast

Friday, June 24, 2016

Next Generation Dogs, Batteries Not Included

Not only will the future give us more robots
doing tasks now done by dogs (herding, retrieving, pointing, bomb and drug detection), it is likely to give us both robot pets (no poop, easy to program human-interaction software), and also give us better dog training thanks to "Skinner in a Box" robotic dog trainers with perfect timing that can give the dog endless walks and ball tosses.

If You "Brexit" You Must Buy It

Free Brexit Thoughts

  • If the bunny-huggers in the UK had allowed fox hunting, Britain would still be in the EU. 
  • If Cameron had restored fox hunting as it was, he would still be PM. 
  • In the UK, fox hunting is not about the fox any more than the gun debate in the US is about guns. These things are cultural dog whistles. They are about identity and tradition, and yes both have deep roots in the history of class warfare. 
  • For the Dems ion the US, the winning hand is to lose on guns, just as it was the winning hand to lose on fox hunts in the UK. 
  • Scotland will split off now. Assured. 
  • If the Dems win on guns, the only saving grace is Texas may finally secede.
  • Simmer down and buy stock. Here's why: nothing has really changed with Brexit other than Britain has said 'no' to open door immigration. Trade between all countries will be as before, the Chunnel is still open, the Brits were never on the Euro, the earth still goes around the sun, and the tides have not shifted. Cameron's quitting is a child's hissy fit, which will do more to harm the markets than Brexit, but it all means BUY STOCK as this is a window for buying, at least until the market sobers up and corrects itself.

Fish On Friday

"Dog Training" the Invertebrates

Discover magazine reports that "Slime Molds Show Surprising Degree of Intelligence"

Single-celled slime molds demonstrate the ability to memorize and anticipate repeated events, a team of Japanese researchers reported in January. The study [pdf] clearly shows “a primitive version of brain function” in an organism with no brain at all.

In their experiment, biophysicist Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University and colleagues manipulated the environment of Physarum slime-mold amoebas (near right). As the cells crawled across an agar plate, the researchers subjected them to cold, dry conditions for the first 10 minutes of every hour. During these cool spells, the cells slowed down their motion. After three cold snaps the scientists stopped changing the temperature and humidity and watched to see whether the amoebas had learned the pattern. Sure enough, many of the cells throttled back right on the hour in anticipation of another bout of cold weather. When conditions stayed stable for a while, the slime-mold amoebas gave up on their hourly braking, but when another single jolt of cold was applied, they resumed the behavior and correctly recalled the 60-minute interval. The amoebas were also able to respond to other intervals, ranging from 30 to 90 minutes.

The scientists point out that catching on to temporal patterns is no mean feat, even for humans. For a single cell to show such a learning ability is impressive, though Nakagaki admits he was not entirely surprised by the results. After working with the slime mold for years, he had a hunch that “Physarum could be cleverer than expected.” The findings of what lone cells are capable of “might be a chance to reconsider what intelligence is,” he says.

Over at Science Clarified, they have a few notes on training plants:

The instinctive behavior of a plant depends mainly on growth or movement in a given direction due to changes in its environment. The growth or movement of a plant toward or away from an external stimulus is known as tropism. Positive tropism is growth toward a stimulus, while negative tropism is growth away from a stimulus. Tropisms are labeled according to the stimulus involved, such as phototropism (light) and gravitropism (gravity). Plants growing toward the direction of light exhibit positive phototropism.

Charles Darwin wrote a book that details his exploits training earth worms.  In The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Actions of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits, published in 1881, Darwin explains that he tested the brain power of earthworms by placing fat-soaked paper triangles on the ground and observed how the earthworms carefully pulled them into their burrows, always grasping them by the pointiest end, which was the most efficient way to pulling the fake "leaves" into a hole.

Planarian Flat Worms can also be trained.

In 1962, a fascinating and seminal paper was published by James V. McConnell of the University of Michigan. In it, he describes his pioneering studies with planaria in 1953, when he began wondering what would happen if he ‘‘conditioned a flatworm, that cut it in two and let both halves regenerate.

Which half would retain the memory? He found that “the tails not only showed as much retention as did the heads, but in many cases did much better than the heads and
showed absolutely no forgetting whatsoever. Obviously memory, in the flatworm, was being stored throughout the animal’s body ....”

In 1957, two groups of “worm runners” hypothesized that memory could be transferred from a trained animal to an untrained one.

They tried grafting the heads of trained flatworms onto the tails of untrained planaria. They tried grinding up the trained worms and injecting the pieces into the untrained worms. Finally, they decided to take advantage of the factthat under certain conditions, one flatworm will eat another. They conditioned a group of worms,
chopped them into small pieces, and hand-fed the pieces to untrained “cannibal” worms.

They found that the cannibals which had eaten trained worms gave 50% more conditioned responses than a control group of cannibals which had eaten untrained
worms. This demonstrated that a chemical substance being stored throughout the worms’
bodies -- probably RNA -- was responsible for memory transfer.

And then there is the training of snails, a task accomplished despite the fact that snails have a decision tree in their brain made up of all of just two cells.

First the team had to train their snails to remember a specific event. They used a technique called conditioned taste aversion, where snails are fed a yummy treat – sucrose or carrot juice – followed by a horrible taste, in this case bitter potassium chloride (KCl) solution. If the snails have learned, they will avoid the same sweet treat in the future, knowing that it is followed by a bitter aftertaste.

To see how well the snails had learned, the team tested their trainees 9 min 30 s after training, counting how many bites they took of sucrose solution. The team found that 42% of the snails were good learners, not feeding on sucrose. The remainder fed on the sucrose solution, showing that some snails had remembered the bitter aftertaste, while others had not
The world has trained Fleas for a pretty long time:

The flea is taken up gently, and a noose of the finest 'glass-silk' is passed round his neck, and there tied with a peculiar knot. The flea, unfortunately for himself, has a groove or depression between his neck and body, which serves as a capital hold-fast for the bit of silk.

Crickets have been trained.

In China, cricket fighting is an ancient sport with gambling stakes at some matches exceeding a million yuan. Masters try to pick the strongest warriors and then train them using mouse whiskers or yard grass to be even more aggressive. To promote prowess and focus, a cricket needs to have sex before combat, and the fighting space must be free of pollutants like perfume, smoke and alcohol fumes.

The Limits of Free Dumb

Fox Versus Peregrine: Red In Tooth and Claw

Over on Facebook, Alan Ward writes:

Thought I would go and see if the peregrines had fledged this evening, good news they had but bloody bad news came along as I was watching... follow the images and you will see what happened... the last image only shows 2 youngsters.. the third was on the feeding table with mum not far from where the vixen came in.. Mr peregrine came in and attacked the vixen on the head..( I missed the shot as it was so fast).. vixen disappeared behind the rocks and I am fairly sure she went with the youngster for dinner.. Just a shame but that's nature for you.. hopefully I will report back with seeing 3 x youngsters tomorrow..
I love to see the nexus of photography, conservation, and hunting.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lucy and Austin Today

Austin and Lucy went to the mountains. I went to work. Guess who had a better day?

Amazing Sparrowhawk Footage

Brexit and The Liberal Case for Immigration Reform

The "Brexit" vote is today.
However, it goes, it is likely to change a lot fewer things than most people imagine. That said, one of the chief issues has to do with immigration policy.

Here's the liberal case for immigration reform:  Drawing the Line at the Border for Wildlife's Sake. This was written more than 10 years ago.  The numbers need updating, but they have not declined.

America is a compassionate place. But having a heart does not mean you have to lose your brains. The United States cannot take all of the world's displeased and dispossesd, nor can we move all of the people of Somalia (or Indonesia or Guatemala or Ireland) to the United States. We have to draw a line somewhere and decide who we will take, how many we will take, and how we will enforce the law. These three questions underpin all immigration policy.

For 25 years I have listened to those on the Far Left and the Far Right answer the first two questions thusly: "More people that look like me."

It is with sadness that I note that the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Ancient Order of Hibernia, and the Ku Klux Klan all find common ground in that one answer.

I do not.
Read the whole thing. I apologize that my views do not fit into neat idelogical boxes. I also authored The Liberal Case for Gun Ownership.

Actors Studio Dog Training

Dog Men 100 Years Ago

Hunter is the Hunted

Icon Truck Vintage Rebuilds

Vintage exterior with modern mechanicals for daily driving. I want this in a 1946 Chevy "waterfall" truck.

Rien Poortvliet Was a Master

The Christian Science Monitor, one of our finest small papers, once wrote that "[Rien Poortvliet's] painting is as skilled and accomplished as any painter, certainly any illustrator in the world today."

That was not an exaggeration.

Poortvliet produced a unique body of truly excellent art that shows a love of land, wildlife, dogs, people, hunting, and history. He also leaves behind a small museum dedicated to his work.

Poortvliet was entirely self-taught -- a self-conscience act which ensured that his his style was entirely his. Born August 7, 1935, Poortvliet was the son of a Dutch plasterer and began his artistic career as a graphics artist for magazines. His most famous (though certainly not his best!) work is a book called ''Gnomes'' which continues to sell well. Poortvliet was always somewhat flummoxed by the fact that The New York Times Best Seller List included the book in the "non-fiction" category. ''Why?'' he asked, ''Do they think there really are gnomes?''

Poortvliet spent two years in the Dutch navy and, as soon as he was old enough, he visited America. "What I learned about America, was that I wanted to go home."

Home was Soest, a village 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam where he lived with his wife, Corrie Bouman, and their collection of rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, and farm stock.

Poortvliet worked exclusively in water color -- a medium that allowed him to produce fine works at great speed and with the depth of color and texture needed to capture fur, feather, wood, dirt, and the grinding cogs of history. "Sometimes I work with much water," he said. "Sometimes with a very dry brush. Sometimes with a little spit."

Poortvliet's eye for detail and his intuitive understanding of wildlife, dogs and landscape was without parallel, but he was somewhat deficient at observing the modern world. "I can paint for you any animal you want, including humans," he said. "I can paint an elephant from underneath, as if it were walking on a plate of glass above us. I have never seen this, but I can paint it. But, if you ask me to paint the dashboard of my Volkswagen, I would have to go out and look at it in the yard."

The remarkable Rien Poortvliet died in 1995 of bone cancer at the incredibly young age of 63, but his magnificent art lives on, a gift to us all. Along with his book on dogs, I recommend his book, The Living Forest: A World of Animals available from or

To see more art from Rien Poortvleit, see >> HERE.

Rien aimé est déjà perdu.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Joan Baez and David Crosby Sing ‘Blackbird’

The Peacocks of Italy

Thanks to Marjorie Wright for this wonderful video!

Food Bribery Works

The continuing racket known as the pharmaceutical industry has discovered that "click and treat" works to boost medically unnecessary sales of overpriced prescription drugs. As the good folks at STAT note:

Doctors who were fed meals costing less than $20 later prescribed certain brand-name pills more often than rival medicines, according to a new analysis of a federal database. And in most cases, costlier meals were associated with still higher prescribing rates for Medicare Part D drugs made by the same companies who provided the food.

As I have noted in the past, veterinarians
have been on the payola bandwagon for quite some time.

Bayer Veterinary made news a few years back by saying it was going to stop bribing vets, but Novartis, Pfizer, Summit, and Merial all say they will continue to pay kickbacks to veterinarians.

Want to know more?  Read yesterday;'s post: Is Your Veterinarian Clean? Don't Count On It.

Pups on the Prowl

We Has Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Driveway Visitor

Common Eastern Toad

Is Your Veterinarian Clean? Don't Count On It.

In 1847, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss, a physician working in a Vienna hospital, came to believe infections were being spread by doctors who did not wash their hands between patients.

Semmelweiss instituted a new procedure: all doctors and nurses had to wash in a chloride of lime solution after autopsies, and with soap and water between patients. Doctors also had to change into clean lab coats before examining patients.

The doctors protested: "Are you saying we are dirty?"

The protests were to no avail. Semmelweiss was a powerful hospital administrator, and the rule went into effect. As a result, hospital mortality rates dropped like a rock. Patients stopped dying.

I bring up this story as an introduction to the top of conflicts of interest in veterinary medicine.

Conflicts of interest? What are those?

Conflicts of interest are the unseen dirt that lead to sickness in America's heath care system, both human and veterinary. The most obvious examples are kickbacks, payola, and incentives from companies to doctors or veterinarians in order to get them to use their products, even when those products and services are over-priced, inferior, or medically unnecessary.

Conflicts of interest may be disguised as "Continuing Education" courses paid for by drug companies, paid vacations to the Caribbean for selling a lot of "prescription" dog food, and quid pro quo arrangements in the form of extra "free samples" (that can be sold to patients) if a certain number of "legitimate" prescriptions for a product are written.

Am I saying that America's health care system -- human as well as animal -- might be unclean?

Yes, I am.

And the lack of cleanliness is one reason health care is so expensive.

In the arena of human health care, people naively think patient-support groups must be honest brokers. Yet, in the area of diabetes, insomnia, mental illness, and heart disease, we find clearly corrupt and conflicted relationships.

Most folks are so oblivious to how human health care works that they do not even wonder why their doctor put them on Zocor rather than Lipitor for cholesterol, or why their surgeon installed a Zimmer knee rather than a Stryker knee. Why would a psychiatrist prescribe Zyprexa for psychosis, when another drug has fewer side effects and is cheaper? Why does the ambulance turn left to deliver them to Mercy General, rather than right to deliver them to Baxter Hospital Center?

The answer, in nearly every case: kickbacks, payola, and other unnamed "conflicts of interest."

And this is human medicine, which is highly regulated, and where kickbacks, self-referral, upcoding, and prescribing medically unnecessary services are clearly illegal and punishable by fines that can rise to millions of dollars.

Does this kind of stuff occur in veterinary medicine as well? Of course. There is no magic line between human health and veterinary health.

Veterinary health is far less regulated than human health care, and as a consequence there is even less incentive to do the right thing.

The American Kennel Club has now gotten into the veterinary referral business, and both vets and the AKC are now in the business of selling veterinary insurance.

The veterinary insurance industry pays a kickback to the AKC and to referring vets, while the presence of pet insurance softens the economic blow from rapidly rising veterinary costs.

In essence, what you have here is a feed-back loop, in which the customer may be triple-gouged; first by veterinarians who bill-pad, and then by the insurance industry which is making a profit by simply monetizing high veterinary bills into monthly insurance premiums. Finally, the very presence of pet insurance means vets have less incentive than ever to hold down prices and a ready-made rationalization to suggest more testing, and more extravagant health care interventions.

But, of course, a vet will not tell you this. Vets like paid vacation packages to the Caribbean courtesy of Science Diet or Novartis.

Vets like free pens, posters, literature racks, and "samples" that can be sold to their clients.

Vets like pharmacy-sponsored open-bar receptions at their conferences, and low-cost continuing education credits.

If you have the temerity to ask if there might be a conflict of interest here, they will express outrage that you even raise the question.

"Are you suggesting my medical opinion can be bought for note pads and pens," one human doctor asked me.

Yes indeed. And I am not the first. Jamie Reidy, a former rep for Pfizer and Eli Lilly, puts it this way:

“[Doctors and pharmacists] are like pigeons. Only instead of bread crumbs, you toss them pizzas and sticky notes.”

As Newsweek has noted,

"Almost every [human] doctor in the country has some type of relationship with pharmaceutical manufacturers, whose clear goal is to influence physicians to prescribe the company's newest, most expensive drugs. The companies offer physicians everything from scratch pads to trips worth thousands of dollars to attend medical conferences."

Veterinarians are no different from family physicians, hospital administrators, specialists in cancer clinics, or the folks that run nursing homes. All of them consider kickbacks, price-gouging, upcoding, and billing for medically unnecessary services a core part of their business plan, and an important profit center.

And, for the record, I am speaking here solely of those items that are actually illegal in the arena of human medicine. And since these things are generally not illegal in veterinary medicine, you find them there as well.

In fact, veterinary ethics sit on such a slippery slope that what is considered criminal behavior in human medicine is actually treated as a normal business practice for pets.

Take the business of dog food and veterinary medicine sales. As The Wall Street Journal reported back in 1999:

Over examining tables across the country, more pet doctors lately are trashing trusted brand names like Purina and Kal-Kan, calling them 'junk food,' and directing people to shell out an extra $20 or so for a month's supply of super-premium 'high science' foods.

The biggest beneficiaries: Hill's Science Diet lines, made by toothpaste giant Colgate-Palmolive Co., and Eukanuba and Iams brands from Iams Co. of Dayton, Ohio. Sold only through pet stores and veterinary clinics, the designer brands pack more calories per bite and promise higher-quality ingredients based on "pioneering research in animal nutrition" tailored to a pet's "life stage" or age.

The result: Vet suggestions ringing in their ears, many pet owners have switched brands - and the life-stage category has amassed a Doberman-sized $2 billion chunk of the market.

But few pet owners know just how far premium-market-leader Hill's has gone to sew up the vet endorsements.

Borrowing a page from the pharmaceuticals companies, which routinely woo doctors to prescribe their drugs, Hill's has spent a generation cultivating its professional following. It spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year funding university research and nutrition courses at every one of the 27 U.S. veterinary colleges. Once in practice, vets who sell Science Diet and other premium foods directly from their offices pocket profits of as much as 40%.


And yet, most of these "super premium" dog and cat foods are the same old stuff, made in the same factories, as lower-priced grocery store dog foods.

Dog food sales by veterinarians are about more than profit-per-bag, however. They are also a way to keep you coming back to the veterinarian's office every month.

Each visit is a chance for the vet to "get you up-to-date on shots," to sell you more flea and tick medication, to enquire about teeth cleaning and grooming, and to "schedule an annual check up."

Vets know the more times you come in, the more they will be able to sell you, and the the more they will be able to "market the relationship."

And how about prescription drug sales by veterinarians?

As a general rule, human doctors in the U.S. are not allowed to sell drugs directly; they must prescribe drugs sold by a third-party pharmacist. The one exception is in cases where a drug is administered directly to a patient in a doctor's office or hospital. Most of these are cancer drugs such Zoladex and Lupron, and the markups here are phenomenal. In fact, at one point 60% of a cancer doctor's income was likely to be coming from kickbacks from drug companies "marketing the spread" on cancer drugs.

So what are we to make of veterinary drugs and foods sold directly by prescribing vets? Are we being price-gouged? Are we being sold brand name drugs and fancy dog foods when generic drugs and off-the-shelf supermarket kibble would do just as well? Are our pets being over-prescribed expensive medicines? Are we being sold medically unnecessary foods and services?

The answer is "probably yes." How often this occurs, of course, will differ from, veterinary to veterinary. No all vets sell "prescription" dog food. Not all vets load up on expensive tests for every vague condition.

But a lot do. And the number is increasing.

Of course, the veterinary trade will protest. Like the doctors in Herr Semmelweiss' hospital, they will protest they are not contaminated. They are running a clean operation.

But of course, the pharmacy and dog-food vendors know better, don't they? They know how easy it is for a doctor or veterinary to become self-deluded. As long as things appear to be clean on the surface, then it's only too easy for a doctor to believe he or she has not been contaminated.

"The trick is to give doctors gifts without making them feel that they are being bought," says former Pfizer salesman Michael Oldani. The trick is to make a gift feel personal so it does not come off as a bribe.

"Drug reps must try their best to influence doctors, while doctors must tell themselves that they are not being influenced. Drug reps must act as if they are not salespeople, while doctors must act as if they are not customers."

All of this, of course, is completely normalized. In the world of medicine, this is business as usual. And it's no different in the world of veterinary medicine.

For a new doctor or a vet entering an already established practice, it's hard to stay clear of the ethical traps. "This is the way it's done," they will be told. And the message is not just implied; often it is said overtly.

And so the new vet entering a practice that has swallowed the "let's rip off the patients" spiel of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has to go-along to keep his or her job. It's just that simple.

And so the new veterinarian learns that every limping dog must be billed for an x-ray, that every 10-week old puppy should get a heartworm test, and that every dog or cat should be encouraged to have annual vaccines.

Never mind if this is bad medicine, it is good business.

Similarly, the receptionist is instructed to pressure every owner of a boarded dog to buy "extras," from additional walks, to toe-nail paintings to baths and "updates" for all shots.

At some vets, any surgery, no matter how minor, seems to require an overnight stay. To hear some vets tell it, every dog, no matter where they live in the U.S., should be on heartworm medication year-round.

And the teeth? They will require annual cleaning, and with it expensive pre-anesthesia blood work.

This is how a veterinary career starts today.

Never mind that canine dentistry is a scam invented about 15 years ago, and that dogs do not need annual vaccines.

Never mind that a 10-week old puppy cannot get heartworm and does not need to be tested for it.

Never mind that no dog north of the Mason-Dixon line needs to take heartworm medication year-round.

Never mind that most limping dogs have nothing wrong with them that time alone cannot fix.

As one doctor observed, marveling at how fast he slipped his own ethical tenets when he began his own medical career:

"It’s kind of like you’re a woman at a party, and your boss says to you, ‘Look, do me a favor: be nice to this guy over there.’ And you see the guy is not bad-looking, and you’re unattached, so you say, ‘Why not? I can be nice.’ The problem is that it never ends with that party. Soon you find yourself on the way to a Bangkok brothel in the cargo hold of an unmarked plane. And you say, ‘Whoa, this is not what I agreed to.’ But then you have to ask yourself, ‘When did the prostitution actually start? Wasn’t it at that party?’”

Yes it was.

So what can you, the dog owner, do about it?

Well one thing you can do is forget about the veterinary trade reforming itself. As I have noted in a previous post (Veterinary Trades Say It's Time to Rip-off the Rubes), the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, all see their jobs as taking money from drug companies while instructing veterinarians on how to bill-pad, price-gouge, and recommend medically unnecessary services to customers. This is the core message of the veterinary trade associations today.

And, as noted, more and more vets are falling victim to this siren song. "This is the way you do it," young veterinarians are being instructed. This isn't fraud: this is a business plan.

So what can you do about it? Simple: Stop going to the vet so damn much. As I noted in a previous post:

The simple truth is that most of what a vet does -- and most of what they bill for -- you can do yourself.

Pet owners do not need to go to the vet for dog food, annual booster vaccines, regular teeth cleaning, routine worming, and "well puppy" checkups.

Not every mass needs to be biopsied, and not every limp needs to be x-rayed.

You can treat your dog yourself for ring worm and ear infections, and you do not need to buy flea and tick medicine from your vet at sharply inflated prices.

You are still in control of your own dog, and if you will only take the time to KNOW a few things, then you will soon know enough have a pretty good handle on when to say NO.

Let me make 10 recommendations right now that could save you many thousands of dollars over the life of your dog. Some of these are common-sense tips to help you avoid harming your own dog through carelessness or ignorance. Most, however, are simple tips to prevent you from being ripped off by the veterinary trade.

  1. Control your dog. The simplest step to avoiding a high-cost problem is make sure you have solid and secure fencing, a garden gate that is self-closing, a good collar and tag on the dog at all times, and an old-fashioned leash when you go for a walk. If your dog is hit by a car, the cost of veterinary care can skyrocket through the roof. If your dog is an escape artist, you may need to install a hot wire at the top and bottom of your solid fence, or else run an invisible fence (aka radio collar fencing) alongside the solid fence. Be sure to add a spring to the garden gate so that it is self closing and self-locking, and if you have small children in the area, a keyed lock on the garden gate is a good idea.

  2. Control what your dog has access to, especially when it is young. Young dogs will eat anything, and if you leave tennis balls, shoes, socks and plastic toys around the house, you are very likely to end up paying for surgery to get these same things removed from your dog's stomach. Not all dogs are chewers and swallowers, but enough are that veterinarians count this problem as a major profit center.
  3. Say NO to annual teeth cleaning. Because dogs have much shorter life spans than humans, they do not require the same type of dental maintenance. Annual teeth cleaning is expensive, and anesthesia is dangerous (especially for some breeds of dogs). Say no to annual teeth cleaning, while saying yes to hard kibble and a weekly tooth brushing, and you will pocket at least $2,000 over the life of your dog while not reducing its lifespan one day.
  4. Say NO to dog food sold by your veterinarian, and you may save another $1,000 or more over the life of your dog, and your dog will live just as long and just as well. As a general rule, avoid all the boutique-label dog food brands and simply serve a good bagged kibble from a company like Purina. And I speak as someone with working dogs. As Tony Buffington, a veterinary professor at Ohio State University, has noted, "The nutritional requirements of neutered, sedentary adult animals are so low that they could be met by anything." So stop feeding your dog like it's a race horse when it's actually a couch potato that sleeps 18 hours a day. Not only will your wallet be fatter, but there's a good chance your dog will actually be healthier as may be a little less likely to add on unneeded pounds.
  5. Say NO to annual vaccine boosters and "well dog" checkups, and you will save another $2,000 over the course of the life of your dog, and your dog will be just as covered from communicable diseases and will live just as long. "Well dog" annual checkups make your vet economically healthy; they do not do a thing for the dog.

  6. Research limp and tumors a litte bit, and you may save $10,000 or more on your dog. Does your dog's cruciate ligament injury really need treatment? Probably not if the dog is under 40 pounds, and maybe not if it is over 40 pounds. Does that lipomas tumor really need to be biopsied and removed? Probably not. What happens if nothing at all is done?
  7. Buy your prescription drugs and your flea and tick medications mail-order and you can easily save $1,000 or more over the life of your dog or cat. If your veterinarian will not write you a prescription, change vets -- he or she is a price-gouger who clearly does not respect you as a customer.
  8. Do not let the receptionist bill-pad. Most veterinary practices instruct their receptionists to add a lot of nonsense to "prospective" bills. Go through that bill and cross things out. You are in charge of the bill. Look for double-billing, the addition of medications you have not requested, unnecessary blood and lab work, and non-requested services. This is especially important to do if high-priced emergency services are being rendered, as this seems to be a time for full-scale price gouging. I have saved more than a $1,000 at a crack by questioning veterinary bills, and I have done this more than once.
  9. Feed your dog less and run them light. Not only will your dog live longer and be more energetic, running your dog light will generally save you a lot on veterinary care as well since joint and ligament injuries are often weight-related, as are many kidney, liver, and heart problems. A higher quality-food is also not necessarily better for your dog, especially if it is a large breed. High-quality foods loaded with calcium tend to make large-breed dogs grow too fast too soon, and are implictated (along with too much weight, inbreeding, and slick floors) in the rising incidence of hip dysplasia. With small dogs, such as terriers, weight control is particularly hard and you may find you have to skip all meals one day a week; the dog will do fine under such a regime, I assure you.
  10. Make your peace with death. Spending vast sums of money to prolong the life of a very old and sick dog or cat is a bit like shoveling sand against the tide. Every pet deserves a good life and a good death. If you are spending $4,000 to keep a 15-year old dog or cat alive another two months, your emotions are running riot over common sense. Just as seriously, your are probably doing a disservice to the animal, who deserves to die free from pain, in peace, and with some shred of dignity left. A good death is part of a good life.

Let me close by saying that not all veterinarians are money-grubbing price-gougers. In fact, most veterinarians enter the field because they genuinely care about animals and people. Veterinary prices, in general, have risen less steeply than human health care costs.

That said, a full-court press is going on right now in the field of veterinary field, and price-gouging practices first pioneered in the field of human health care are now crossing over into the world of veterinary care.

Conflicts of interest are now "baked in" to every veterinary practice, and vets are just as susceptible to marketing and the chattering voice of greed as anyone else. If you think veterinarians are more honest than car mechanics, you are wrong; they are in the exact same business, and have the exact same economic pressures.

For you, the pet owner, the only good defence is a good offence. This means that you need to become more proactive and less passive. The more informed you get about basic veterinary care, the more you will be able to do yourself (at considerable savings), and the better you will be able to push back when price-gouging veterinarians begin to pad the bills.

In sum: When you KNOW more, you will be able to NO more, and the savings, over the life of your dog or cat, will be considerable.

Sugarless Gum Can Kill Dogs

The sweetener Xylitol poisons a lot of dogs.  

As little as 3 grams of Xylitol (eight piece of chewing gum) is enough to kill a 65-pound dog.

As little as two piece of gum could kill a terrier. The toxic dose for dog is between 50 milligrams (mg) and 100 milligrams per pound of body weight.

Common products with Xylitol in them include Trident sugarless gum and many sugarless candies, chewing gums, breath fresheners, nicotine gum, toothpastes, sunscreen, and even some vitamins and diet supplements.

Xylitol poisons dogs because human and dog sugar controls work differently. When a dog gets Xylitol, it causes the dog to go into hypoglycemia.

If your dog ingests Xylitol, get in on a sugar-milk mix FAST, and get it to a vet if it is anywhere near a toxic dose.

What Goes Without Saying Has to Be Said

If you are a going to be a Leopard trainer in a circus, you should probably not cover your manhood with the skin of that big cat's dead children. This was a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus promotion from the 1980s.

Before There Was An EPA

This was Huntington Beach, California. The picture, below, was taken in 1940.

Today Huntington markets itself as "Surf City USA".

Monday, June 20, 2016

Slow Life in Old Age

The wife is in Cleveland, the daughter is in San Francisco, the son is at work, and Mountain Girl and I are binge-watching "Ray Donovan".  This is how we roll.  I'm 57, and she's going to be 15 next month.

Leash Pressure

"Trencher Fed" Was Mostly Garbage Dog Food

Link to video

Contrary to what some will tell you, dogs ate relatively little beef in the "good old days." Terriers, lurchers, and hounds were typically trencher fed, a "trencher" being a flat slab of bread that lined a wooden plate.

Trenchers were, for want of a better description, a kind of medieval "paper plate," and the uneaten bits of the trencher (along with gravy, grease, kitchen scraps, and unusable offal) were tossed out to the dogs to finish off.

In the "good old days," bones were boiled white for soup, hides were tanned, fat was turned into soap and lard, and every bit of the cow and pig was used, from intestines (sausage casings) and blood (pudding), to tails (soup), and brains (fried in butter).

Unidentified bits and pieces like snouts, udders and shin meat became sausage -- sold as bangers in one country, and shnitzels in another, and choritzos in a third.

The idea that dogs were commonly fed slabs of pure beef or uncooked poultry wings is a modern fantasy.

At best dogs were fed kitchens scraps, and these scraps were often heavy with salt and smoke (the most common preservatives prior to refrigeration) and therefore not particularly healthy.

The term "trencher fed," is often used in 19th Century literature to refer to the old hound management system in which hounds (and sometimes terriers) were kept by individual farmers at their home and then brought to a meet to form a pack with other hounds on a hunting day.

A "trencher fed pack," then, was a pack of dogs assembled on the day of the fox meet, and raised on a catch-as-catch-can diet of table scraps and kitchen waste.

Today, the most common food problem a dog is likely to face is that it is very likely to be overfed and given too many vitamins.

Modern foods are often calcium-rich and vitamin packed. The result, especially in large dogs, is very rapid growth which can exacerbate pre-existing tendencies to dysplasia.

Is the "natural" diet of the dog prime beef and chicken?


As I note in a previous post, entitled Feed Me Like a Wolf,

The preferred diet of the wolf is not cooked backstrap from the pride of the herd, but raw flesh ripped from the diseased rectum of a downer cow.

You want to know what the "natural diet" of a dog is?

It's garbage -- what Pariah dogs are eating right now, the world over.

Chickens and Unintentional Consequences

A repost from 2010

Underneath every bird's feathers lies the quickening heart of a velociraptor.

And sometimes it shows. As the Associated Press reports:

As more states move to ban restrictive livestock cages, the campaign to free egg-laying hens from cramped cages and shift them to pens animal rights advocates call more humane could be poised to unintentionally boost deaths among those birds.

Researchers say decades of breeding to make the white leghorn hens that lay most of the nation's eggs more productive have also boosted the birds' territorial instincts, making them prone to pecking attacks so fierce they're often called "cannibalism."

Scientists and egg producers warn that deadly skirmishes that start with feather-plucking and turn into bloody frenzies when a bird's pecking breaks a flockmate's skin will increase if those same aggressive hens are moved from small cages with five to 10 birds to open pens that can hold dozens.

Animal rights groups want those pens to replace the small "battery cages" they call cruel because hens are so confined they can't even spread their wings.

Seven states have passed laws that will eventually ban or limit different types of livestock cages. Two of those states — California and Michigan — have passed laws that will eventually ban battery cages for chickens, as has the European Union.

The fact that chickens are vicious little bastards is not exactly news.

Cock fights are predicated on the idea, and yes they still occur the world over, whether in a ring and watched by betting men, or unseen in the gloaming light of the chicken coop.

And, of course, chicken cannibalism has always been with us.

The above ad is from 1939, and is trying to cure the problem by fitting chickens with little spectacles to block their vision when they raise their heads. The glasses were held in place by pushing a metal pin through the chicken's beak.

Of course these spectacles were rejected, as was the idea of keeping massive numbers of egg layers in "free range" houses where cannibalism was highest and where eggs were soiled, spoiled and smashed.

Instead, we went to individual cages, with a small number of birds in each cage, not because this was cheap or in a desire to be cruel, but because when raising 200,000 egg-layers, an investment in cages prevents chickens from being cruel to each other.

Of course, all of this massive chicken-and-egg production is predicated by a simple fact: We no longer live in the age of schooners and candles.

While backyard chickens may work for some, they do not work for most and never will.

Here's a fact: 70 percent of all Americans -- 210 million people out of America's population of 300 million -- actually live in urban areas which comprise just 2% of America's land mass, and 60 million Americans live in our core central cities.

And guess what? Backyard chickens are generally prohibited in those areas and not without reason. People don't pick up after their dogs; you think they are going to pick up after their chickens? You think chicken shit, chicken feed and chicks don't attract rats by the barrel? I assure you they do. So, yes, backyard chickens can work for some (generally folks who treat their birds as pets and who never actually take one to the pot for food), but they will never work for most Americans.

Meanwhile, out in forest and field, far from farm theory, it is the cruel season, as fox predate turkey chicks, goose nests are decimated by flood, fox kits are buried under the plow, rabbit scrapes are torn apart by bushhogs, and hawks pluck small birds while still alive to feed to their always-hungry chicks.

In Asia, where the wild chicken, called the jungle fowl, still roams, more than 65% die before they reach the age of three months.

Life is short and harsh, and rarely idyllic outside of the parameters of a farm yard.

Of course this is as it has always been. Chickens lay a lot of eggs for a reason -- they are supposed to die by the trainload, and yes most of those short lives are supposed to be miserable (i.e. death at an early age from disease, flood, weather, and predation).

This is not a matter of opinion, but of fact. Food chains exist for a reason, and so too do rates of reproduction, which are the response to the Call of the Wild.

If you know the fertility rate of an animal, you also know a lot about its mortality, and the relative "value" that Mother Nature places on any one of its lives. A whale or an elephant then, is more important than a human (and generally has a less miserable life), and so it goes down the chain to cow, chicken, and stink bug.

The job of a chicken, then, is not to be happy, but to be a self-sustaining food source for other animals. That is the purpose of the chicken and why it was put on earth.

And on that score, they are doing very well. In fact, they are doing grand.

Is there any animal in America that is more common than the chicken?

From a purely Darwinian point of view, they have been a great success. Not only have they taught man to house, feed and water them, but they have taught man to police their coops to mitigate chicken-on-chicken violence.

And when death does come (and it must), the death is as swift and as pain-free as possible.

Only a human would consider this failure. A chicken, I suspect, does not.

But don't take my word for it -- go to a commercial chicken house and open the door, and see how many chickens rush outside. Not a one, I will bet.

A chicken may be bird-brained, but they know where their bread and water is, and they know the value of staying with the flock, and they know the value of a roof in a world full of hawks.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Misto Chilling on a Log in the Woods

Dogs at the Marsh

Took the dogs out yesterday.  Still a bit early for serious hunting with Moxie, as ligaments take a long time to knit up, but she and Misto explored the berms along the marsh and were generally fascinated by the frogs which were in full chorus. Along with frog, the blue herons were eating small fish and crayfish -- some as big as baby lobsters.