Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Greyhound Picnic

Last Saturday, Greyhounds had a picnic: The Great Big Greyhound Picnic at the Greyhound Adoption Center in Dehesa. Humans were permitted, too. John and I went back and forth, trying to decide if we would risk taking Bingley, our Very High Prey Greyhound. Bingley is relaxed and happy mingling with fellow Greyhounds, but his reaction to most other breeds is frequently indistinguishable from his reaction to other species--he thinks they need to be chased, and I suspect, "terminated."

Back and forth, back and forth. Bingley is lonely and loves to hang out with other Greyhounds. Bingley is High Prey and will try to chase other, smaller breeds of dogs who, no doubt, will come with their more accommodating Greyhound pack members.

We decided to take him. Bingley loves to "go with." We have been working on "sit" in the car, and he responds sufficiently to encourage us. Sometimes he thinks he is sitting when his backside is up against the back of the seat. We give him marks for trying. He is even beginning to lie down and relax (somewhat) in the car.

But, by the time we had driven the fifty plus miles from San Marcos to Dehesa, Bingley was alert and On Point. We were more than a little concerned when the dogs who checked in just before us were an Italian Greyhound and a Toy Poodle. The key always is distraction--keeping Bingley from focusing on potential prey. We waited until the IG and Poodle were a good distance from check in before we approached.

And then, we entered the field. Greyhounds were everywhere. On leashes and in ex-pens, dozens and dozens of Greyhounds. Bingley was in heaven. And he behaved perfectly the entire afternoon, giving and receiving sniffs and just hanging out with his kind of folks.

There were other Sight Hounds--Greyhound-Deerhound mixes, Greyhound-Borzoi mixes, Whippets, Italian Greyhounds and three Salukis. Bingley made no distinction among them. He was so enthralled that it was no problem to steer him clear of the Poodles and a Terrier, who, normally would have received his undivided attention.

It was a wonderful day for the Greyhounds' humans, too. Every Greyhound, every Greyhound mix came with a story. They had all arrived at Greyhound Adoption Center loaded with fleas, ticks, and internal parasites. Some, like Bingley, were near starvation at the time of rescue. Some had had broken legs that required expensive surgery and long convalescence. And here we were with happy, healthy dogs that we loved and loved to talk about.

Rescuing dogs is not for the faint at heart. Many--I am tempted to say, most--breeds are in serious trouble because too many dogs are being bred and there are too few responsible owners who understand what dog ownership involves. And that doesn't even touch the countless mixed breeds whose plight is desperate.

And so, seeing such a large group of dogs--in this case, beautiful, elegant Greyhounds, all of whom, without rescue, would have died a harsh death--enjoying their own picnic, was heart warming beyond description.

Bingley had such a good time, he was exhausted. John and I were happy that we had decided to take him. He rewarded us by sleeping in an extra hour the next morning.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Great Idea!

A concept whose time has come. A new way of dealing with leash law violations based on the model of traffic violations.

Responsible Pet Ownership Program

Presently, this program is available only to residents of the City of San Diego. There are plans to make it a county-wide program. It cannot come to North County soon enough, as far as I am concerned.

It seems to me that this model could be expanded to more serious violations involving attacks on humans and other dogs by off-leash dogs, using DUI enforcement as a model.

My bias is for stiff, graduated fines for these attacks, with the ultimate penalty of the loss of the right to have a dog, if violations persist.

Owning a dog is a privilege, not a right!

Monday, October 19, 2009


Most Thursdays, I answer the phone for Greyhound Adoption Center. From time to time, callers ask me to describe life with a Greyhound.

"I hear that they are so quiet, all they do is sleep."
Well, yes and no.

"I hear that they curl up in such a tight circle, they hardly take up any room."
Perhaps some do.

"Can I leave my Greyhound in the back yard while I'm at work?"
No! No! No!

"Are Greyhounds expensive to keep?"
What do you think of as expensive? When you take a dog to the vet, what is the first thing they do? They weigh the dog. All treatments and medications increase in cost with the size of the dog. Most of the Greyhounds I know are closer to 80 pounds than to 70 pounds. Sweet little Ruby might not weigh 60 pounds, but that's unusual in an ex-racer. Wonderful Zephyr was 97 pounds in her prime. Greyhounds weigh more than Beagles and less than Great Danes. So their meds are usually costlier than Beagles' and cheaper than Great Danes'.

Then there is anesthesia. Greyhounds will die if they are given the wrong kind or an excessive amount of anesthesia. They have no body fat to speak of. With little or no body fat, there is nothing to absorb too much anesthesia. The cost of Greyhounds' streamlined design is little margin for error. If you are too timid or too careless to make sure that your veterinarian is familiar with the unique needs of Greyhounds, your Greyhound could pay for your timidity or carelessness with its life.

And skin. Greyhounds have what is called Zipper Skin. A wound that would be insignificant--not really worth a visit to the vet--in another breed, must receive prompt veterinary attention in a Greyhound. There will be stitches or staples and, perhaps, drains.

AND THEY MUST BE ON-LEAD OR IN A SECURELY CONFINED AREA AT ALL TIMES! Like all sight hounds, Greyhounds see much farther than you do; centuries of breeding push them to run after any moving object in their line of vision. "By the time you call their name, they're out of sight."

Why then, do Greyhounds inspire such devotion? Why are they said to be like potato chips: "You can't have just one."

Every Greyhound devotee would answer that question differently. But, for me, their appeal lies in their embodiment of paradox.

Greyhounds are Serious Dogs. They can run down prey at the speed of 40-45 mph, and "dispatch" the prey before the hunter arrives--traditionally, on horseback--to congratulate them on the kill.

And yet, when we take them into our homes, these Big Serious Dogs trot around with stuffed bunnies and duckies in their mouths. They tuck their "stuffies" under their chins when they sleep, like a small child with its treasured bear or blankie.

Greyhounds are inherently elegant, both moving and still. But they can get themselves into such amusing poses, one must laugh. Bingley, my Very High Prey Mighty Hunter, crosses his "wrists" in a most delicate manner when resting. Zephyr, Portia, and part Greyhound or Whippet Daphne, slept in Dead Cockroach position, on their backs, long thin legs stretched straight up.

But perhaps what attaches people most to rescue Greyhounds is their quiet dignity in face of all the indignities they have endured and the uncertainties that they face. When we adopt a rescued Greyhound, we know that their lives have changed permanently for the better. We know that, never again will they be fed goop made out of parasite-laden, lowest grade beef. We know that they will receive the medication they need, plus flea, tick and heartworm preventatives. We know that they will have routine physicals and dental care. We know that they will take to lounging on sofas and cushions almost as naturally as they chase critters. They have no way of knowing all that.

When ex-racing Greyhounds initially enter our homes, they enter a world as strange to them as Byzantium would be to you or me. Stairs, windows, furniture--and mirrors--are all brand new. Some know about riding in vans. But few know anything about getting into a car. And yet, they look to us, not with suspicion, but with trust, and they learn the rules and policies of their new digs with amazing alacrity.

And the best part is yet to come. After they figure out the lay of the land, after they settle down to their new routine, when they understand you are going to be their friend, they begin to reveal their true nature. They let you know Who They Truly Are. Zephyr was Queen of All She Surveyed. Portia was a Mischievous Beauty Who Wanted To Be Loved For Herself. Bingley is an Aw Shucks, M'am, Cowboy

I feel honored to have these elegant creatures trust me. The house would seem empty without one of them lounging on a sofa or draped over a cushion. And, I must say, they really add to the ambience of the place.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Loose Pit Bull

Last week, Zoe was walking Bella, her rescued Aussie-Chow mix, when they encountered a loose, intact Pit Bull--no tags, no collar. If you do not feel a frisson picturing such an encounter, check to be sure you have a pulse.

Like many rescues, Bella has "issues." In the years that she has lived with Zoe's family, Bella has made great strides in learning to trust and in becoming less reactive. But the emotional scars of past mistreatment will never be totally eradicated. Like all dogs, Bella enjoys and deserves walks. Her safety, of course, depends on other dog owners observing leash laws and keeping their dogs properly confined. THAT is what leash laws are for.

Somehow, Zoe maintained her composure, slowly turned Bella to return home and calmly chatted to the dogs as the loose Pit Bull followed them all the way home and settled in their yard as Zoe carefully opened the door to take Bella into safety. And yes, Bella has been spayed, but I understand that intact male dogs do not always make that distinction.

Since Zoe and Bella live in San Marcos, their leash law enforcement agency is Escondido Humane Society. Do not bother looking for the EHS phone number in the phone book. It is not there. Zoe contacted the City of San Marcos for the number, but waited until 10:00 am to call. That is when a live person begins to take messages at Escondido Humane Society.

Upon learning that an intact Pit Bull was loose in Zoe's neighborhood, the EHS representative informed Zoe that Escondido Humane Society is more than busy because they are the animal enforcement authority for the cities of Escondido, Poway, AND San Marcos. So, there was no certainty that one of their officers would be available to respond to a report of a LOOSE, INTACT, PIT BULL--with no identification.

Think about that.

The City of San Marcos, the County of San Diego--indeed, every jurisdiction within the County of San Diego--have a SERIOUS problem with an over-abundance of unsocialized Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes. San Diego Pit Bull Rescue works tirelessly to ameliorate the situation, but there are limits to what a group of even the most dedicated volunteers can do.

Public shelters have more Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes brought into their custody than they can ever hope to place for adoption. One wonders just what priorities should take precedence for EHS's attention over a loose, intact Pit Bull--potential source for even MORE unplanned, unsocialized Pit Bull mixes.

San Diego County Animal Control is the dog-related law enforcement authority for most of San Diego County. However, the City of San Marcos, along with Escondido and Poway, has contracted with Escondido Humane Society to enforce their leash laws. Escondido Humane Society represented itself as capable of performing that job.

Frankly, I have my doubts.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Kathi has let me know that the owner of the dog who attacked her dog, Chantal, has gone back on his word and is not paying the veterinary bill for Chantal, as he had promised.

This leaves Kathi with the only option of going back to Small Claims Court in order to recover veterinary expenses. Small Claims does not grant court and filing costs to the plaintiff. So Kathi will be out double costs for subpoena service and probably other filing costs.

Kathi's dilemma underlines the need for MAJOR reassessment of leash law enforcement and penalties for violation. Dog attacks are traumatic and the results are expensive. Remedies for victims are difficult to come by and require considerable financial outlay to even begin the process of remedy.

It is still not clear if the owner of the attacking dog has been charged with a misdemeanor. It is my understanding that most leash law violations are misdemeanors. I do wonder if sometimes authorities are reluctant to file misdemeanor charges when "just dogs" are involved. And, I know from the case of the attack on Portia, Bingley and my husband, no misdemeanor charges were filed, even though my husband was attacked and Portia was killed--and the attacking dog was "on probation."

Over the years, having had five leashed dogs attacked by off leash dogs, I have given serious thought to the present status of leash laws and their enforcement. Both the laws and the consequences for breaking those laws need a fresh look, a reformulation using a different model.

It seems to me that a system based on tickets with graduated fines for second and third offenses is a place to start.

I welcome readers ideas about creating more effective laws and consequences.

Victims of off leash dog attacks deserve better protection and intervention.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Designer Dogs

"Designer Dogs" are all the rage. A woman told me that she had spent $3000.00 for her Poodle-Golden Retriever mixed breed--the so called Golden Doodle. I've heard of Boston Terrier-Shih Tzu mixes. Reportedly, at least one outcome of this experiment resembles an Affenpinscher. Just this week, someone told me about a Beagle-Cavalier King Charles mix--bred purposely, I understand.

Give. Me. Strength.

You want a mixed breed dog? Check out Petfinders. They list tens of thousands of dogs in rescues and shelters in need of homes. These tens of thousands of dogs include thousands of mixed breed dogs.

The most I have ever heard of a private rescue charging for adoption is $350.00.* Public shelters charge much less. For $3000.00, you could shop every shelter and rescue listed on Petfinders, buy a two-way air ticket for yourself and a one-way air ticket for the dog and still save a packet, even if you traveled cross-country to find your Designer Pooch. If you NEED to tell people that you spent $3000.00 for your dog, round up your costs to the nearest thousand.

News Flash! Designer Dogs are Pure Bred Dogs. You want a Designer Dog? Go to the American Kennel Club website and click on Breeds. Spend a few hours reading comprehensive descriptions of the 150 breeds listed there. If you MUST have something rare and trendy, check out Foundation Stock Service Breeds (FSSB). These are breeds in the process of demonstrating that they are stable, distinct breeds that reliably pass predictable traits from generation to generation. Added bonus: I have no doubt that you can find a breeder who will accept $3000.00--or even more, if you insist--for one of their puppies. And since your willingness to consider spending Big Bucks for a mixed breed clearly indicates that you are not interested in the Show World, the breeder can sell you one of their Not Show Quality puppies for top price. Now THAT'S what I call a win-win!

What is being mislabeled as a Designer Dog is, in reality, the product of a random breeding between two dogs of different breeds. If the breeder truly believes that the product of such a mating will be a dog whose physical and personality characteristics can be predicted, that said dog will display 50% of the attributes of one breed and 50% of the attributes of the other breed in a desired order and relationship, you can add ignorance to greed to the attributes of the breeder.

A genuine Designer Dog is a breed that has been developed slowly and carefully by people who know dogs, know their history, know the parentage and ancestry of the breeding pair, and know the purpose of the breed.

The established breeds have been around for a very long time--in the case of Sight Hounds, centuries. Their physical characteristics, and even some temperament tendencies have been honed to GREAT predictability.

It should come as no surprise that I consider Greyhounds to be the epitome of a Designer Dog. Think about it. You want the Fastest Dog In The World. You want a dog who isn't a nuisance hanging out with you in your Silken Tent or Marble Palace, doesn't have doggie odor and doesn't pay much attention to your drunken guests, but adds to the ambience of the place. What would that dog look like? How would that dog behave? The truth is, that if Form Follows Function is your standard, there is nothing "modern" about it. It is centuries old and it is exemplified in the Sight Hounds whose beginnings are in very ancient history.

Or, take the Spitz group of dogs. Strength, endurance, all wrapped up in a double layer fur coat with a ruff for good measure.

I heard that some genius, trying to breed the Fastest Sled Dog, crossed a Greyhound with a Husky. The poor, pencil legged creature that was the result of this cross, sank in the snow on its slender, high knuckled feet under the weight of its heavy fur coat. Which was fortunate. If it had also inherited an absence of body fat from its Greyhound parent along with its long legs and slender feet, it would have frozen to death before it had run a mile--in spite of its spiffy fur coat.

So. If you long for a Labradoodle, Schnoodle, Cockapoo, Maltipoo, or Golden Doodle, check out the listings of Poodle Rescues. They are well supplied with all of these mixes. Pay the $300.00 fee. Donate $2700.00 to the rescue organization. Then you can brag to all your friends that you paid $3000.00 for your "Designer Dog."

* Today, Saturday, October 10, 2009, I heard of a rescue charging $470.00 for a dog. It is a Canadian rescue that ships in dogs from Louisiana and other Southern States. This puzzles me. I am confident that Canada has an ample number of homeless dogs in need of placement. Perhaps we have a trend here--people bragging about how much they pay for a rescued dog?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Greyhound Racing

The most important socio-economic trend in 19th Century Europe--and particularly in Great Britain--was the gradual erosion of the power of the aristocracy because of applied science and technology--The Industrial Revolution.

It should not come as a surprise that the fortunes of the canine companions of the aristocracy took a parallel hit from the same source--technology. In 1912, Owen Patrick Smith invented the mechanical rabbit. His motives were pure. He wanted to stop the killing of jack rabbits. Repeat after me: The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions.

By the end of the 1920s, Dog Racing--Greyhound Racing (Why bother with anything but the fastest?)--had shattered the fortunes of the canine companions of the aristocracy: Greyhounds. Bred on a massive scale, confined for racing life (five years max) in small cage-like kennels, and killed--frequently in the cruelest ways--the lives of all but a small number of Show and Amateur Coursing Greyhounds, descended into Canine Hell.

And there they stayed until Greyhound Rescue groups began to emerge in the 1980s, raising the awareness of the American public to the plight of thousands of beautiful, graceful, and trusting dogs.

Presently, Greyhound Racing is legal in 14 states and is being conducted in 11 of those states. Massachusetts is the most recent state to outlaw Greyhound Racing. It will become illegal there in January 2010.

As a lover of Greyhounds, I am eager for Greyhound Racing to become illegal in all 50 states. But I am not sanguine about the impact the process of winding down racing has on dogs now living in track kennels that are soon to be closed and the puppies that are still being bred.

Here in San Diego County, the closest Greyhound Track is Caliente in Tijuana, about forty miles from where I am typing. Although located in Mexico, Caliente is a track for American bred dogs. In every way, Caliente is the end of the line for hundreds, if not thousands of Greyhounds. A long fall from the palaces that were once home to their ancestors.

I love to talk about Greyhounds. I do not like to talk about What Happened To Greyhounds. But this is the basic story of most of the Greyhounds I know. Two of the Dogs of My Life: The Wonderful Zephyr and Beautiful Portia were rescued from Caliente. Bingley never made it to Caliente because he was sold into an even lower ring of Canine Hell. I have met other Greyhounds who have survived other Canine Hells made possible by the over-supply of intact Greyhounds needed to maintain the dog racing industry.

When I next discuss Greyhounds, I will talk about the dogs. But before I do that, I had to let you know Where They Came From.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pit Bull Encounter

Monday morning was the sort of morning when one remembers why, absent Santa Anas, Fall is the best season in San Diego County. Anne and I were sitting at a table outside Starbuck's when we saw a couple with a dog. The woman had a Pit Bull on a leash. Since neither Anne nor I shrieked and ran from the scene, the woman brought the dog over to greet us while her companion found a table and went for coffee.

Calm is too "busy" a descriptor for this dog--his name, we discovered is Bear. Bear was more than just calm. He was Perfectly Placid. Supremely Stoic. A warm, dark-honey fawn, he ambled over to me, and sniffed my proffered hand politely. He looked up at me to let me know he was available for pats and ear scratches.

Bear is one lucky dog. He was purchased as a puppy--he is an American Staffordshire--by a neighbor of his present owner. When he was about a year old, his first owner decided that he was more responsibility than she wanted and was prepared to dump him at the nearest Animal Control Shelter. Fortunately for Bear, his winning ways had charmed the couple next door, and he was spared days in a cage, followed by euthanasia.

The amiable, neutered--I checked--dog at Starbuck's was as unlike the terrifyingly aggressive dog who attacked Chantal as he could be, and still be the same breed. Bear is a living reminder of why, not too long ago, Pit Bulls were America's Dog, the first choice for children's movies and advertisements.

He also reminded me why, in spite of widespread misuse and abuse of Pit Bulls and the consequent havoc wrecked on both dogs and humans, I do not support breed specific dog legislation. Dogs--any breed--are not the problem. People are the problem

I have lived long enough to remember a number of breeds considered to be Inherently Dangerous Dogs. Eventually, the Weak-Ego Nasties of the World will find another breed to exploit, to use as a weapon.

Meanwhile, I thank Bear, and especially his rescuers, for a particularly charming encounter on a beautiful Autumn morning.