Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Ruth and Latrobe Carroll, il. Ruth Carroll
1943, Henry Z. Walck, Inc.

There wasn't anybody in his family for him to play with. His brother and sister were older than he was. They had left home to earn their living.

A playful little puppy is sent to school to learn what work he's meant to do, and samples a range of careers owing to his mixed ancestry.

A nicely done picture book with an amusing dog's-eye view of the world. Various dogs have different jobs, from Scuffles's brother working on a fishing boat to his mother caring for a little old lady, and all subscribe to the theory put forward by Dr. Noseworthy, the elderly St. Bernard who runs the school: "the happy dogs are the busy dogs." When Scuffles washes out of herding and running classes, he ends up in pet class, where puppies are taught games to play with their owners, and tactics for training their owners.

If your master forgets to give you water, pick up the water bowl in your mouth and carry it to him. He will understand. If he forgets to take you for a walk, go get your leash and show it to him. If he doesn't go out with you even then, talk to him. Speak right up. Be polite, but firm.

I believe my dog attended this class.

Scuffles - puppy
Dr. Noseworthy - old St. Bernard
Professor Scentry - Rough Collie
Professor Swift - Greyhound
Professor Paw-Spring - Poodle
Miss Curl - Cocker Spaniel

Other Books
Salt And Pepper
Tough Enough
Digby The Only Dog
Tough Enough's Trip
Tough Enough's Pony
Tough Enough And Sassy
Bounce And The Bunnies
Tough Enough's Indians
Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog
The Bumble Pup
Managing Hen & The Floppy Hound
Hullabaloo The Elephant Dog

Saturday, April 18, 2009

AKC to Mutts - Your Money's Good Enough, But You Still Aren't

The AKC has announced a new program for mixed-breed dogs. From their website:

The mixed breeds program will be implemented in three phases. As of October 1, 209 owners can begin enrolling their pets and receive an AKC ID number.

Then beginning April 1, 2010 enrolled dogs will be eligible to compete in mixed breed classes at stand-alone AKC Agility, Obedience and Rally events. Soon after they will have access to benefits such as discounted AKC Companion Animal Recovery Lost and Found service, a free AKC Canine Good Citizen® certificate for dogs passing the CGC test, a free initial veterinary visit, a trial offer of pet health insurance and discounted coupons for dog supplies.

The third phase will offer a dedicated Web site where dog owners can interact via an online community with discussion forums and access dog care video downloads, advice from experts and the most up-to-date news on canine health and welfare. The site will be continually enhanced with new features and benefits in order to respond to the changing needs of pet owners.

I was excited when I heard, last year, that the AKC was mulling allowing mutts into AKC events which measure skill instead of conformation. I was disappointed to learn they'd decided against that. And now I'm just disgusted. The first and third phases are worthless - an ID number and a website, what riches. The second phase sounds good, but you have to realize what it really means - a pointless political separation. To make it even more desperately pathetic, there will be mutts in the regular rings - if you have a dog who strongly resembles a known breed but have no papers, the dog can be registered with the AKC as an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP). So Buddy the AKC-registered Labrador Retriever will be running against Sally the AKC-sanctioned ILP-registration Labrador Retriever who is really a Lab mix whose Spaniel parentage isn't visible, and Rex, is a Lab/Spaniel mix whose spaniel parentage is evident in his silky leg feathering, will be in the next ring over.

I'm sure some people will say this will prevent the unscrupulous from breeding mutts for performance sports (agility and flyball, for example), but that's already happening.

Dogbreedinfo.com - the Border Stack page (Border Collie/Pitbull/Jack Russell mix)
And the Border Stack here (Border Collie/Jack Russel mix)

Kellen Kennels page

And from the poorly named muttpuppiesontrial (nothing wrong with mutts, it's people who create mutts deliberately for cash that should be on trial) blog, a comment on the Border Jack.

(I've heard the arguments for the breeding of non-AKC or non-conformation dogs as long as the breeders were trying for 'working' dogs. I have reservations about those arguments, but that's irrelevant. None of the arguments apply to hobby sports like flyball and agility. Simply put, the desire of Jim Smith to win an agility class is not important enough to start creating a race of agility dogs when thousands of solid agility prospects die in shelters every day. This is not Thoroughbred racing, this is not a ranch filled with sheep who need a herding dog, there is no business and no livelihood to be protected here; this is a hobby.)

So, to get back to the original issue - thanks for nothing, AKC. And a question - if, as you always say, you're "just a registry," without any sort of moral authority or responsibility to the breeders you serve, then how is it that you've arrived at this decision? If you were truly only a registry, you'd be happy to register a Persian cat as long as the owner sent in the fee. God knows you've registered mill puppies sight unseen for decades. And you've been winking at ILP mutts for years too. I wonder if this decision was to protect the good breeders of AKC dogs, or the millers, who use the word 'pure' more often than your average Klansman.

Amigo's New Hope - the new First Dog

So Malia and Sasha Obama finally get their dog! And he's adorable. And because dog people are insane, there is actually a debate about it. The dog is a purebred, from a breeder, not a shelter mutt, which Obama had claimed to prefer. Edward and Victoria Kennedy gave the children the 6-month-old puppy, a purebred black-and-white Portuguese Water Dog, after learning that the Texas breeder of their own dogs had had a littermate of their pup returned.

Right there is the reason this controversy is misguided. Bo's breeder had a contract with each person who bought a puppy from her; the contract said that if the pairing didn't work out, the puppy would be returned to the breeder. That is one very big sign that a dog breeder is ethical. Puppy mills don't do that. Large-scale breeders, by and large, don't do that. They can't afford to. Ethical breeders don't just produce puppies, they compete their own dogs and work hard to improve their breed by careful health and temperament screenings. Bo's breeder is a Martha Stern of Amigo Portuguese Water Dogs. I know nothing of her or her dogs, but the signs are good that this is a legitimate AKC breeder.

I love shelter dogs too, and all mine were second-hand, but I dislike the implication that getting a purebred puppy is somehow immoral. Immoral is buying a puppy from a large-scale commercial breeder (aka, a slightly cleaner puppy mill) like Vice President Joseph Biden, who purchased his German Shepherd Dog puppy Champ from Linda Brown's kennels in Pennsylvania. But more about this later, as I don't want to drag that ugliness into this post. Buying a purebred from a good breeder is a perfectly legitimate, ethical and moral way to add a pet to the family. I do kinda wish the Obamas had adopted a shelter dog, but this was fine.

And in case you were wondering, there is a book angle to the story. Bo is going to be the star of a children's book. The book, Bo, America's Commander In Leash is due out on April 30 from Mascot Books

And one of Edward Kennedy's PWDs already has his own children's book, My Senator And Me: A Dog's Eye Of Washington, D.C.

Related links
The Obama Dog Blog
Mascot Books
Portuguese Water Dog Club of America

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sheep (2006)

Valerie Hobbs
2006, Farrar Straus Giroux

My name is Jack, but it wasn't always. I've had so many names I can't even remember them all. Some names were good, some were bad. Some I don't like to remember. But I like the name Jack just fine. It's the one Luke gave me, and he's my best friend.

Clearly, Hobbs can establish a distinct voice. Her young Border Collie narrator looks back on his varied life with a consistently distracted tone that fits the breed quite nicely; border collies, for all their famed intentness, are oddly distractable. They don't miss anything. I've had two mixes, and they were both that odd blend of focused action and scatty reaction. I don't think either of them thought of their sire as Dad, though, or cared two damns about human musings on Hope and Dreams. Where Hobbs' voice goes wrong is that she anthropomorphizes her dogs beyond simply having thoughts and words. Her hero is just a furry boy - eager to prove himself, briefly infatuated with a baffling girl, determined to help a friend, etc. There is no mention of smells or tastes, the two senses that dominate a real dog's life. The author clearly doesn't trust her audience to read the dog's story as a dog's story, allowing the human plots to unfold largely through action and implication. Instead, she overuses exposition shamelessly. Luke, the sulky orphan the dog befriends, talks incessantly to make sure the audience gets the storyline. And the dog has a human understanding of everything, even rousing a couple to choose his Luke as their new son. This neurotic understanding of human affairs, not dancing, is demeaning to dogs.

More minor quibbles:

It can be a bit preachy and folksey:
Pg 1 - "I was giving up hope, which is about the worst thing you can do. Hope is everything."
Pg. 114 - "Truth is, a fellow doesn't need a whole lot to make him happy. A place to bed down, warm food in his belly, honest work, good company."

Language like "There was still a lot of hope left in this kid. He had to have some folks, that's all." is increasingly common in children's books. I'm not very enthusiastic about it, but that's just a personal dislike. Hobbs apparently moved from New Jersey to California in her teens, not to the ocean or to a city but into what was then a very rural region around Ojai. So at least it's authentic.

This book is intensely old-fashioned, more along the lines of the The Boxcar Children or Depression-era tales than a modern story. There is an orphanage, a crude dog pound, a broadly painted evil circus with vile low-class men who beat dogs to death. There is even the highly requisite train sequence where a boy flirts with disaster on a railroad track. Tonally, there is that desperate poverty emphasis on hope and dreams, and the sense that running away is the only solution to a bad situation because staying to fight would be too costly and dangerous. If this were a period piece, it would make more sense. Interestingly, one interview I found online quotes Hobbs as saying that among the books that influenced her growing up were Albert Payson Terhune's dog books. Now that makes sense; Sheep is very close in feel to Terhune's world. They share that sensibility of a desperately dangerous outside world, where the heroic dog struggles to survive and help his people against villains and hostile indifference. Terhune, whose books I adore, infused all his stories with an intense paranoia; every hand is always set against his heroes, the simplest situations are fraught with danger. Sheep also has that overblown terror. It seems more suited to Terhune's era than Hobbs's.

Author website

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Three Dog Winter
Elizabeth Van Steenwyk
1987, Bantam Doubleday Dell

Scott McClure reluctantly moves to Montana with his mom and new stepdad. After his dad's long illness, only his lead sled dog, Kaylah, is left of the team father and son used to train. Scott schemes to restart his racing, struggles to get along with new stepbrother Brad, and copes with a new school. A series of setbacks complicate all three situations, particularly when the miserably unhappy Brad runs away.

Scott glanced up at the low-lying range crouching on the horizon. Its look was totally different from the Sierra peaks at home. Rather than being pointed and ragged edged, these mountains looked as if they'd been shaped with a spoon, maybe a giant ice cream scoop.

A bare-bones style aptly communicates the very basic thoughts of a 12-year-old boy but isn't particularly inviting and doesn't really expand the book much beyond the immediate problems Scott faces in each scene. For a book very much about dogs, the four canines are seen only dimly. Kaylah, a Malamute who is male, has a feminine name and is seen largely as a means to an end. The stray setter Rusty is seen most clearly; both Scott and his mother regularly speak of how fond they are of him, but that ultimately turns out to be for plot reasons as well. Brad's golden mix, Bruno, is treated largely as a convenient team member, and the champion sleddog Chinook is pure plot device.

Scott's rather self-centered. When Brad's dog is badly hurt, Scott's upset but quickly focuses on how the accident has made him feel - scared to race again. When Rusty's owner appear, Scott shows no empathy for the elderly couple and their love for the dog. being preoccupied with how this ruins his plans for Rusty to be part of his dog team.

The book was turned into a movie, Kayla (1999), which appears to differ significantly from the book.

Kaylah - male black-and-white Malamute
Bruno - male retriever mix
Rusty - male brown setter mix
Chinook - male black-and-white Malamute

More books by Author
Van Steenwyk has written many books, but only a few about dogs
First Dog Fala (2008) picture book