Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to all! We had a wonderful Christmas with about 14 family members at our house, and it was very lively and loud all day.

I would like to praise my dogs publicly for their exemplary behavior on Christmas day. Dozer was a bit excited at first, thinking everyone was here to play with him. Then we shut the dogs in the bedroom to keep them out of the way during mealtime, and that was greatly disappointing to them. After the meal and gift-opening, we let the dogs out to open their presents and mingle with the crowd, and they behaved fairly well. Dozer had a very hard time containing himself at the sight of his new toys and I did have to warn him a few times to calm down, but really the problem was the weather. It was too wet and muddy for him to go outside to play with his toys, several of which were really outdoor toys for throwing and chasing. So he had to play inside, very delicately, and that is very difficult for a rambunctious, clumsy, huge dog like him.

Felanie was actually quite interested in the toys while they were still wrapped, and she nosed the packages and sniffed them while I opened them for her. Then once they were unwrapped, Dozer, who had been ignoring us, suddenly realized that these things were toys, and he swept in to grab them all. Which was fine with Felanie; she promptly turned her attention to all the guests and went about sniffing them all and licking their socks.

Then when we began the family game time (we played Tripoley and Scattergories in particular) - which in my family involves an insane amount of good-natured screaming, bellowing, shouting, and clever rhetorical arguments - the dogs quietly went back to the bedroom all by themselves. Several people commented on how good they were, and I admit I was pretty surprised that they voluntarily avoided all the excitement. I know Dozer ate one illicit food item - a potato chip that had fallen on the floor - and also pulled one of his new toys, a rope toy, off the countertop (a serious rule violation) and snuck away with it. But I let that slide since he was otherwise very well-behaved and only bothered the guests when he needed to go out and potty.

The day after Christmas, the dogs slept soundly the entire day and expressed no interest whatsoever in doing anything.

My ICL Experience, Part II

I believe I have received the best Christmas gift anyone could get - the gift of unassisted sight. I can see almost perfectly without glasses or contacts. Yes, I have 20/20 sight in both eyes, though the left eye (which was the weaker one) is a tad nearsighted and has slight astigmatism as well. This may still be temporary. The second eye operation went even better than the first, and I can see through my right eye perfectly. I had no downtime at all with it, really, though everything was orange-colored for the first day (perhaps due to the sun-bright light that they shone into my dilated eye while the operation was going on).

It's a miracle to open my eyes in the morning and see everything around me as if I'd slept in my contacts. I can get up and take the dogs straight outside without bleary-eyed groping for glasses or stumbling over camoflauged gray blobs of dog toys and shoes. It's glorious to stay up late at night, laying on my side with my face pressed deeply into my pillows, watching television or reading - something I could never do when wearing glasses. For the first time, I want to go to the DMV, aching to wipe away the restriction on my license ("With corrective lenses") that no longer applies.

I thought I would sit and have a good cry about this newfound freedom after I received it - I certainly cried with joy and hope at the very notion of such freedom, many months ago - but it wasn't like that in the end. It is wonderful, but it's not a sudden and miraculous change of the sort that invokes tears of elation. It's slow and time-consuming, and I find myself asking, "Should I cry about it now? Is it over and done?" And I reply, "No, no, I'm still putting drops in my eye. My left eye is still improving. I need to go to the DMV. The miracle isn't over yet."

Edit 11/27/09: I've posted a three-year update about the ICL here: ICL Surgery Update: I have glasses

Saturday, December 09, 2006

My ICL Eye Surgery Experience, Part I

I recently got a relatively new eye surgery called ICL or IOL surgery performed on my left eye. I wanted to share my experience with others via my blog in case there's someone out there who's considering the procedure. ICL basically puts a contact lens inside your eyeball. It's a new option for people with terrible nearsightedness (like myself) who are not good candidates for Lasik (like myself). However, it is a bit more involved than Lasik because it's a surgery. Also, like any surgery, results vary and there are risks. It might really turn out great, or it might cause an eye infection or a cataract. Anyone who is considering this needs to do their homework. Please keep in mind that this is just my own personal experience. Your situation and your results may be very different.

For almost twenty years, I've been very nearsighted. My left eye was -12.5 diopters before the surgery and my right eye is -11. I have always been dependent on glasses or contacts, but lately I've become frustrated with both. With my glasses, even the thinnest lenses were still very thick and the area of perfect vision through the lenses was very small. The glasses gave me headaches, slipped down my nose, and scratched up easily. My contacts frequently dried out, blurred, or fell out. I got dust and dirt caught behind my contacts, and my eyes itched a lot. I preferred contacts anyway because they gave me perfect vision and good peripheral vision, while my glasses did not.

When I heard about the ICL procedure several years ago, it hadn't been FDA approved yet, but I liked the idea of putting the contacts inside my eyes. Then I could have good vision without the constant hassle and irritation.

FDA approval of the procedure occured last year. The ICL surgery is expensive (about $10K) and is almost never covered by insurance, so it is way out of the budget for most people and it certainly isn't something you can just get done on a whim. I talked to my eye doctor about it and he agreed to send me to a center in Houston (I live near Austin) to see if I was a good candidate. Scheduling the entire procedure was a bit difficult. The surgery requires lots of doctor appointments, like so:
  • First visit - tests and more tests to make sure you are eligible
  • Second visit - YAG iridotomy, which puts tiny holes in the iris. The contact lens (ICL) will block the normal flow of liquid in the eye, which could raise pressure in the eye and cause glaucoma. These holes in the iris provide an alternative route for liquid to ooze around, preventing pressure buildup. You must get an eye pressure check one hour after the YAG.
  • Third visit - Surgery to put a lens in the first eye. Must be one week after the YAG iridotomy. A few hours after surgery you must go back for a pressure check.
  • Fourth visit - A post-op check to make sure everything looks good. The day after the surgery.
  • Fifth visit - A one-week post-op check to make sure the eye is healing up.
  • Sixth visit - Surgery to put a lens in the second eye. Must be about two weeks after the first surgery. A few hours after surgery you must go back for a pressure check.
  • Seventh visit - A post-op check to make sure everything looks good. The day after the surgery.
  • Eighth visit - A one-week post-op check to make sure the eye is healing up.
  • More visits - as needed or determined by the doctor
Since Houston is three hours away, I needed to work with the Houston center and my Austin-based eye doctor to figure out when I would be in Houston and when I could go to my regular eye doctor. It was complicated! I had to set up two overnight stays in Houston at a hotel. I also had to find someone to come with me to Houston because I was not allowed to drive after the tests (they dilated my eyes) or the surgery (due to sedation and blurry vision).

Some people may wonder what a YAG iridotomy feels like. Let me tell you, so far that has been the absolute worst part. First, the doctor puts drops in your eyes to contract your irises. This gave me a horrible migraine and I had to take several aspirin. Then they numb your eyes with more drops. Then you sit in front of this machine and they put a circular lens coated with gel into your eye, aim a laser through it, and pull the trigger to ZAP your iris. The zap is very unpleasant and the doctor has to carefully zap each iris about six times - two holes, three zaps per hole. It was surprising, a bit painful, and caused me to flinch each time the laser zapped. If you have ever had laser hair removal on your body, then I would say this was very similar, except inside your eye and without the burning hair smell. The leftover gel was truly a major hassle since you aren't allowed to rub it out of your stinging eyes. I had to dab at my eyes for hours and hours as the gel slowly made its way out. I was squinty and my eyes felt sandy and irritated for days afterwards.

The surgery a week later was a piece of cake, though I had to fast overnight so I was pretty hungry. I went to the surgery center, waited for several hours in an icy cold, totally packed waiting room, then got called in to a bed. They stabbed an IV in me, got me hooked up to some crazy machines, put a star in black marker over my left eye, poured drops in my eye, and made me lay there for a while. Because I was cold and hungry and a bit stressed out, I was shaking a lot. When they wheeled me into the operating room, the anesthesiologist started the drugs flowing to get me to stop shaking, and it really pretty much knocked me out instantly. I vaguely remember any of the operation, though I remember a nurse telling me I needed to wake up and put on my shoes because it was time to go home. I went back to the hotel and slept for several hours.

My eye felt just fine, though. After I woke up, and over the next couple days, my eye felt like normal, and I could even see out of it almost as well as if I had a contact in my eye (which I guess I did). It's been three days since the operation and my eye feels just fine. It's a bit blurry because the surgery causes temporary astigmatism and some swelling, but the doctor said that should go away in a few days. My vision is getting better every day. I have to put lots of drops in it throughout the day and I wear an eye shield in bed. I'm not allowed to bend over, pick up heavy things, go jogging, or do anything that might put pressure on my eye or jolt it. The worst part, though, was that I couldn't wash my hair or face for two days after the surgery! Bleah!

I'm wearing a contact in my right eye so I can function. The difference is noticeable, though. My right eye gets itchy and irritated by the end of the day, but my left eye is happy as a clam. On the other hand, my left eye's vision is somewhat blurry, so I am depending on my right eye to confirm what my left eye can only suspect. I am hoping that the difference between the two eyes will narrow somewhat as my left eye heals up and the astigmatism goes away.

In three weeks I will post Part II, which will be after the surgery on my right eye. We'll see how my left eye turned out and what I can expect from both eyes in the end. Will I still need glasses or contacts or have I finally been set free?

Edit 11/27/09: I've posted a three-year update about the ICL here: ICL Surgery Update: I have glasses

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Apparently Pit Bulls Aren't Allowed to Behave Like Dogs

I saw a clip on Youtube today that showed a pit bull "attacking" a child. I think this was from SpikeTV, but I'm not sure what television show it was. A narrator described the whole event as it unfolded. He used incredibly sensationalized language throughout, leaving the audience under the impression that this poor child was going to be torn to pieces by the rampaging maneater.

Meanwhile, what was really happening in the clip was 100% human error. The dog was obviously just playing; at first it jumps up on the child, wagging its tail in greeting. The child panics and runs (and if this kid had ever had any dog safety education he would have known better) and the dog sees this as an obvious invitation to play chase. The dog chases the child over several vehicles, bounding playfully, tail wagging. The panicked kid then tries to hide behind an adult. The adult swings at the dog wildly, and the dog sees this as a fun game too and dances around just out of reach, still trying to get at the kid, who is clearly, to the dog, playing a fun game of hide-and-seek. The dog grabs at the kid's pants several times.

Then the most "vicious" part of the attack. The kid falls down, and the dog manages to bite the poor kid's head. Yeah, that probably hurt, but have you ever seen dogs playing? They bite each other on the head all the time. This is just a dog having a great time with a playmate. The dog immediately lets go and bounds off. The kid's clearly not too badly hurt; he starts running again!

Finally a policeman intervenes, but things just get worse because the cop's an idiot too. The dog grabs the kid by the pants and drags him down. The cop grabs the kid and starts pulling against the dog, and wow, now the poor kid is a tug toy. The dog's still having a great time, tail still wagging. The cop, like the other adult and the kid, is apparently terrified of this dog because he won't touch it. Instead, this guy decides to shoot the dog. So he pulls out his gun and fires it at the dog's head... which is attached to the kid's pants which are inches away from this child's leg. One sudden tug on the pants in the wrong direction and the bullet would have hit the kid, not the dog.

Obviously, once the dog is hurt, playtime is over. The totally confused and injured dog seeks comfort from the humans it was playing with, but the cop points the gun at the dog, and it wisely decides to go away. The video ends there, with the smug announcer thanking the fates that the heroic police officer was there to save everyone's lives.

The whole thing nauseated me. The three humans in the video were flat-out stupid. If anyone who knew the first thing about dog behavior had been present, there would have been nothing to videotape. The kid started the whole thing by running away. The adult (parent? dog owner? not sure) should have swallowed her fear, grabbed the dog by the collar, and established control, not waved her hands limply at the dog. The police officer should have grabbed the dog, not the kid. And someone should have called animal control! At least they (usually) know what they're doing.

And someone in the media needs an earful for the absolutely propogandist narration. That's right, scare us and shock us, make us believe we're actually seeing a child get mauled, but god forbid you actually use this opportunity to educate us about dog behavior and how to avoid situations like this.

I am positive that this whole incident happened because the dog was a "scary, evil, vicious" pit bull. That's why the kid ran away in the first place, and that's why the adults were unwilling to touch the dog. If the dog were a Lab or something like that, then everyone would have been calm, and the dog's behavior would be "cute", and everyone would have had a wonderful time. Idiots, all of them.

Why I'm a Dog Person

I caught this strange article online today...

Dog saves owner, dies trying to save cat - Yahoo! News

Here's the summary.... The cat starts the fire and, to make matters worse, won't leave the burning house. The dog, on the other hand, saves her owner and apparently tries to get the cat out too (though I'm not sure how the dog thought she was going to do that). Sadly, both cat and dog die in the fire.

Stupid cat. Although, if the dog was so clever, why didn't she just leave the cat and get out while she still could?

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate cats. I'm just not a "cat person". When I tell my pet to get off the bed, I want it to remove itself from the sheets the way a flea leaps to a new host... not the way cold molasses clings to the bottom of the jar, and not with a dirty look that would make my sailor-tongued husband blush.

We had four cats for a while (fostering homeless kitties until we could find them permanent homes). They were fine, but not nearly as fun or cuddly as the dogs. Sure, Percy enjoyed a good cuddle and he was really into the feather stick... but Dozer loves a good cuddle, plays fetch, and cares about everything I do and everywhere I go. The cats wouldn't have cared if I had never come home from work - as long as they still got fed somehow. If the dogs were in it for the food alone, I doubt they would come running every time my chair squeaks. I doubt they would follow me to the laundry room or eyeball me sideways while I take a shower ("Oh my god, is she really doing that voluntarily?"). And why on earth would they linger just outside the room I'm vacuuming, with a mixture of fear and devotion in their little doggy eyes, trying to stay close to me without getting too close to that monstrous machine?

The dogs make me feel worthy and worshipped. The cats made me sneeze.

Yes, I love animals. (Roaches excluded. They know why.) I love snakes, ferrets, bunnies, rats, alligators, bats, and bees. I love cats too. Animals are cute and interesting and unique. But there's only one kind of animal that I really want to share my life with. I want a pet that will cuddle with me, play with me, love me, and obey me. Yep, I'm a dog person!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dog Fur

My head hurts. Bad. It hurts every night. Well, every night after I've spent the entire day on the computer. And today I spent the entire day writing a four page midterm on rhetoric. So you get nothing clever from me tonight. Instead, I'm going to comment on dog fur.

Dozer is not a purebred "pit bull" of any sort. There's no freakin' way. His fur is too damn... furry. Felanie's fur is nice and short and bristly, and she only sheds a little bit. Dozer is a totally different story. His 1.5" long fur is nothing but misery for me. He sheds. And sheds. And sheds. I could brush him for hours and he'd still shed. When we bathe him, his white fur clogs the drain in a rat-sized ball. When I brush him - outside, always outside - it looks like snow (we live in Texas so it doesn't take much white ground cover to get us excited about snow). When I vacuum our tan carpet, it gets darker as the white fur peels off the surface.

Don't get me wrong, I love Dozer to death. But I wish, oh how I wish, that his fur was more like Felanie's. I love to pet Felanie. I know I won't end up with dog fur all over my shirt and in my mouth. Whenever I hug or cuddle with Dozer, I get dog fur painfully embedded in my corneas. When I get out of the shower, Dozer loves to press up against my legs. He has spent the last half hour worried that I'm never going to come out of the Shower of Torture. I spend the next three minutes cursing and picking dog fur off my damp legs and out of the bath towel.

Yet another reason to love pit bulls - nice short fur and minimal shedding. I guess I'm fortunate that Dozer isn't 100% Lab (or whatever). I'm sure it would be worse.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Our Digital Poltergeist

My misery knows no bounds. I'm stuck using my ancient laptop, the one that takes twenty minutes just to boot up. I've lost years worth of emails, photos, files, research, writing, and school work. The digital poltergeist ate my desktop computer. Not once, but three times in the last month... and counting.

It started a month ago on a Sunday. My computer shut off abruptly in the middle of a game. The power button no longer worked. The poltergeist had moved in.

Three weeks, two motherboards, two CPUs, two memory sticks, two computer repair centers, a power supply, a video card, a hard drive, a new case, a backup power source, and over $1500 later, I finally had a brand spanking new machine, custom built by my loving husband and given the thumbs-up by a repair center. It ran beautifully, and it was fast!

One week later on Sunday - yesterday - in the middle of a game, the computer shut off. I smelled burning. It refused to turn on again. My husband replaced the power supply. The machine came on - and something popped so loudly I yelped and ducked. The machine turned off. I started to cry.

At the repair center they replaced the motherboard, the CPU, and the memory stick (for the third time). The machine booted straight into Windows. They sent it home with a very smiling, relieved me.

This afternoon, in the middle of a game, the computer gave me the Blue Screen of Death and a bewildering error message... then rebooted so fast I didn't have time to write the error down. When Windows reappeared, it informed me that it had just recovered from a fatal error. I clung to the word "recovered" and took a deep breath. It had recovered.

Five minutes later the machine displayed the Blue Screen, gave a totally different error, rebooted, and informed me that it had "recovered" yet again. I left the computer on and went to my temp job feeling extremely ill at ease. I would troubleshoot the software after work.

When I returned home, the machine was still running... but there was nothing on the monitor. I shoved the mouse, clicked keys on the keyboard... nothing. I hit the reset button. The computer died. I pushed the power button. By itself, the machine started up, died, started up, died, started up, and idled. Nothing came up on the screen. Nothing beeped. The lights glowed, the fans hummed busily, but nothing really happened.

I turned the power off, paused, cursed, prayed, then tried to boot one last time. Well, it might not have been the last time, except that this time the machine didn't power up at all. It was dead. Again.

I took my possessed computer, the parts boxes, and all the receipts and warranty info back to the repair center. It will be another week and another $75 before I even find out what's (theoretically) wrong (this time).

My friend plays a priest on World of Warcraft... Maybe I'll get him to come over to my house and sprinkle some holy water around my office. A nerdy problem deserves a nerdy solution, after all.

P.S. In the meantime, don't expect me to update my websites. It ain't happening on my decrepit laptop, that's for sure.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Karma in a dog's mouth

Instead of organizing my office, mowing the lawn, doing my assigned readings for class, or any of those other responsible things I should be doing, I thought I would take some time out (also known as procrastination) to tell a memorable story about Felanie. This story should be considered in light of the sometimes unreasonable "dangerous dog" laws that are becoming more and more common in response to a percieved national dog bite crisis.

Especially notable is a trend among the media to make a dog bite sound absolutely horrific, even if the victim suffered mere bruises and scratches. Terms like "mauling" and "vicious attack" are used to describe dog bites that barely break the skin. Dogs are labeled "dangerous" or "vicious" after displaying what is actually a very natural behavior. I am not trying to ignore or belittle the rare very serious cases where a dog really does go "overboard" and a person is seriously injured or killed as a result. However, the vast majority of dog bites are not the brutal affairs we make them out to be. Usually the victim's most lasting scars are mental, because dog bites are - to the naive especially - a shocking repudiation of the social folklore that gives dogs the title "Man's Best Friend". That is to say, we take threats from dogs - whether it be a bite or a growl - very personally. Such threats are a violation of the trust implicit in the relationship between the species which we romanticize at every opportunity.

If you have read anything about Felanie, you know the brief history that follows, but I think it's important to place this story in its proper framework. Felanie's previous owner was a real jerk. He mistreated her, failed to socialize her, teased her, and encouraged her to be aggressive. Felanie became a Nervous Nelly. Everything frightened her, even a sideways glance from a stranger. If something unusual happened, Felanie had two possible reactions. The first was to bark incessantly while maintaining a safe distance from the odd thing. The second was to run and hide. She was a very fearful dog, and constantly on edge, which was a dangerous state to be in. Despite all her owner's shortcomings, however, Felanie still clung to him. He was all she had.

Of course, Karma has a way of biting you in the butt, quite literally. The story as it was told to me goes a bit like this. Felanie's owner managed to lock himself out of the house one night. However, to his pleasure the bedroom window on the first floor was unlocked, so naturally he decided to enter the house in that manner. The bottom of the window was at about chest level, and rather than jump up and tumble inside head first in an unelegant manner, Fel's owner decided to go in legs first. He lifted the first leg over the sill, pushed himself upwards, and was lowering himself in backwards when he realized the dark bedroom was not empty.

Felanie had been watching this bizarre event from the corner of the room. In the darkness, she could only tell that someone was entering through the window, not the identity of the intruder. As the shadowy figure started to slink in, she jumped up and began to bark loudly. This was quite unorthodox! The intruder laughed a little and continued in, and Felanie finally did something that she felt would make her owner very proud, since it was a behavior he constantly encouraged in her and was disgusted that she never did it: she leapt forward and clamped her jaws down firmly on the intruder's buttocks. In the next second she realized that the clothing of this stranger smelled quite familiar, and the howling coming from this person actually sounded a lot like... her owner.

I didn't ever learn whether the bite actually broke the skin. I suspect it was just a little nip designed to frighten off the intruder, not to inflict serious damage. But it was a bite nevertheless, and as a result I can't honestly say that Felanie has never bitten anyone. But as far as I know, that jerk was the only person she has ever bitten, and I admit I'm a little proud of her for setting some justice loose on his behind - whether that was her intent or not. You reap what you sow, and Felanie's owner certainly got the behavior he so badly desired... perhaps not in the manner he expected, but certainly in the manner he deserved.

When I obtained Felanie by accident, I recognized her growling and barking for what they were: fear-based behaviors, potentially dangerous because of her low threshhold for fear. Through socialization and training she has completely turned around. For instance, during the remodeling of our house I took the opportunity to habituate her to people climbing in and out of windows and even walls. I can't say she is completely free of fear - small children are particularly terrifying for her and thunderstorms make her shake and whine - but her much smaller set of fears are highly manageable and far more acceptable.

Dogs that bite aren't all determined to do as much damage as possible. They aren't all dangerous or deadly. They are simply trying to tell us something: "Leave me alone." "Stop doing that." "This is my space." "I'm scared of you!" Most bites are merely warnings; they are not intended to do significant damage. As Felanie demonstrates, a biting dog is not necessarily a bad, dangerous, or vicious dog. It is a dog that has not been properly trained or socialized and feels that there is no other option except to resort to a natural reaction in an effort to protect themselves or defend their space.

When we discuss dangerous dog legislation, we must take care to differentiate between the truly dangerous dogs versus dogs who are not dangerous but simply need better care and guidance. Felanie was one of the latter, and upon transfering to an owner who actually cared about her and wanted a better future for her (me), she really transformed into a wonderful, sweet, loving, obedient dog.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Dog Language

See? I told you I would have trouble keeping up with this blog! I won't even promise to do better. I blame summer school, World of Warcraft, too many good books to read, full time temp work, volunteering at the humane society, and anime for my inability to find time to write in this blog. So there.

Tonight I only have a little time for a short but interesting story about my recent experience with dog/human communication. Let me set the scene first. My best friend, who I'll just call "S", was over one day housesitting for me while I was at work and our washing machine was being repaired. I'd just like to say, for the record, that it took Sears an entire month to finally repair our practically new front loading washing machine. More on this in another post, perhaps. Anyway, when "Uncle S" (as we call him to the dogs) comes over, he becomes Official Dog Entertainer because he's actually willing to go out in the hot, bug-filled backyard and throw a slimy, sticky, slobbery ball (albeit while wearing a rubber glove) for the dogs to fetch. Uncle S doesn't know a whole lot about dogs and is really more of a cat person, but I know he is at least interested in our dogs to some extent, since the vast majority of our visitors prefer not to play with two huge pit bulls.

Anyway, after I came home we set out to cook dinner since my husband and sister and cousin were all coming to eat, and while dinner was cooking we went out back and played fetch, but not for long. Within five minutes, since it's Texas and it's summer, we were covered in mosquito bites and extremely hot, and Dozer was panting as if he might keel over any minute, so we all went back inside. I got out the ice tray to put ice in the dog water bowl. The dogs don't particularly like to eat ice, unless it is frozen chicken broth, and in this case it was just plain, clear ice, so when I dropped some on the floor, neither dog went for it.

At this point I didn't want the ice to melt and get water all over the floor, so I shoved it toward Dozer hoping he would eat it. He ignored it completely; he was too preoccupied with breathing, which is hard to do when you have a red rubber ball crammed entirely into your mouth and you won't put it down! Anyway, seeing his rejection, I turned to Felanie, pointed at the ice, and said "Fel, since Dozer is too hot, why don't you go ahead and have that?" Felanie dutifully picked the ice up and chomped on it.

Uncle S commented with great surprise that my words seemed awfully abstract, yet Fel clearly understood what I wanted her to do. Never mind that seconds later, Fel dropped the ice on the floor and went off to find something more interesting to chew on; the point is that she had responded very accurately to a lengthy sentence that contained no trained commands. Did Felanie really understand all the babbling words I had said?

Of course, after I thought about it for a while, I realized that my body language had probably said far more than my voice in that circumstance. In fact, dogs are superb readers of body language (ours and other dogs). When I leaned over slightly and pointed at the ice, that was the cue that Felanie picked up on. Leaning and pointing means "I'm referring to this object" and my encouraging tone of voice probably led her to the conclusion that I wanted her to do something with it. And what else could she possibly do with a piece of ice except put it in her mouth? I don't think she understand a single word I said, except her name. If I had done everything exactly the same (same movement, same tone of voice) but I said "Felanie, do you like cheese as much as I do?", Felanie probably still would have picked up the ice, because that was what I was pointing at.

Yes, dogs are smart, but not in the same way humans are. We have complex verbal skills, but that gets us nowhere with dogs. Dogs read our body language and our general tone; they don't care as much about what we say as how we say it. A good thing to remember when we are interacting with dogs, don't you think?

And that's all I have time for tonight. Until next time!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Richard Stratton Is A

I reread Richard Stratton's pit bull books with great reluctance the other day because I needed to refresh my memory. The first time I read "The Truth About Pit Bulls", almost four years ago, I was still new to the pit bull scene and struggling to understand what I had gotten into. The book left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but Stratton had decades (five decades by now) of personal experience with pit bulls, which was far more than I had at the time. I couldn't understand why his books made me feel so uncomfortable, but I was in no position to argue.

The second time around, with several more years of research under my belt, I finally get it. I'm still searching for an appropriate analogy, but reading Stratton's books to learn about pit bulls is like asking a pedophile about proper child care. A pedophile can claim to be an "expert" on children ("been handling them for decades, now"), but do you honestly want to take his advice? Would you really raise him to a professional status, quote him in the paper, and use his "experience" to create public policy regarding childrearing?

Sure, Stratton knows about pit bulls, but his knowledge (and his interest in pit bulls) seems to be limited to an unrepentant glee for dog fighting. His books are filled with what can only be described as a macho desire to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the American Pit Bull Terrier can beat the tar out of any other dog breed or wild animal on the planet. His "charming" stories - the ones that are meant to persuade the reader that pit bulls are great dogs - consist almost entirely of tales about dogs managing to get loose and fighting with or killing another animal. Aww, how sweet. Stratton does not value dogs for their cuddle factor; dogs are only worthy of his love and admiration if they are capable of winning a fight.

The photos in Stratton's books are primarily purebred fighting dogs. The photo captions never fail to point out fight champions. In a handful of photos, the dog is being hugged or cuddled or played with, but the vast majority of the pictures are of a dog on a heavy chain, or "stacked" in a show pose, or straining against a thick leash. The dogs are not portrayed as sweet or clever or social. They are all faceless backyard kennel dogs churned out by dog fighters.

In one passage in "The Truth About Pit Bulls", Stratton hopes to "impress" his audience by describing a pit bull fight with a ferocious wild animal (a lion if I recall correctly but I'm not going to dig into the book again until I start writing my own book). Upon reading this passage, I did not feel impressed at all; rather, I felt nauseous. What kind of audience is attracted to pit bulls by hearing tales of animals tearing each other apart for human entertainment? Violent, sick, antisocial individuals - and Stratton, apparently.

Needless to say, Stratton has done serious damage to the image of the pit bull breed-type. He has managed to gain a respected "expert" status despite his loud support for the cruel and illegal act of dog fighting. His books have been used time and time again to "prove" that pit bulls are inherently vicious and different (stronger, more dangerous) than other breeds or types of dogs - even though Stratton's writings are clearly geared toward an audience of dog fighters and lowlifes (or at least, people who are "impressed" by fighting). Using Stratton's words as evidence that pit bulls are somehow different from other dogs is like using a Ford commercial's script as scientific proof that Fords are "the best in Texas". Are we really so blind that we cannot see past the bias and the sensationalism?

Stratton claims to be an expert on pit bulls, but he's not the kind of "expert" I will ever take seriously. His beliefs about proper care of pit bulls - and treatment of dogs in general - are, for lack of a better phrase, totally whack. Anyone who judges a dog's worthiness based on its willingness to beat the crap out of another animal should be considered a criminal, not an expert.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Old But Still Good

Since my last post was pretty depressing, I'd like to share some good news in this post. The "bump" on Felanie's head is not a tumor! It is a tiny cyst of some sort, and it's harmless. This is great news, especially considering the expenses we have already incurred (and the panic we felt) when she had two little tumors removed last year, one right after the other.

When this little lump showed up on Fel's head a few months ago, all I could think was "Oh no, not again!" It's funny that Felanie, who has been through a lot of torture at the vet (ears cropped, spayed, tail docked, two tumor removals, nail trimmings, teeth cleanings, etc.), still really loves going there, while Dozer, who visits the vet only rarely - usually just for the yearly checkup - absolutely despises the place. Felanie dances in circles and waggles her stubby tail and kisses everyone and whines happily... and Dozer just moans and trembles and slinks around as if the vet office was a haunted house.

At any rate, the little cyst is apparently a sign of aging and nothing more - much like the proliferating brown specks on Felanie's skin, which is apparently the canine equivalent of elderly humans' "liver spots". Felanie is almost eight years old now, and she has the gray-haired muzzle and "little old lady" grace to match. She even moves around like an old lady - sort of slow and dainty - albeit an overweight old lady since she currently has what I call a "hot dog" body style. (Her waistline is barely noticeable.) Fel's hips are slowly going bad, aggravated by hip dysplasia, and this slows her down even more. And I honestly think she is starting to lose her sense of hearing. My recent offhand comment to Dozer about "foodies" (our term for dinner time) did not bring Felanie out of the bedroom until I practically shouted "foody!". Meanwhile, Dozer looked puzzled: "Um, you don't need to yell, I totally heard you. Didn't you see me do the happy foody time dance? Maybe not... let me do it again just in case..."

Still, Felanie's age, if anything, makes her more fun to be around. She knows the household rules and is content to abide by them. She knows our daily routine. She is quiet and calm, not clingy or overbearing or pushy. She's even catlike enough that my mom, who doesn't like dogs in general, loves Felanie. I have fond memories of agility and obedience classes with her, where she was truly a star. At her age, though, Fel is content to sit around and sleep most of the day, and she doesn't need or demand exercise the way Dozer does. Her day is made with plenty of hugs and pats and cheerful praise.

As they say, age only makes a fine wine better. I love my "old lady" dog!

Deadly Wrecks and Depression

My precious husband is working on the highway at night this week, deeply ensconced in the nightmarish construction project at I-35 and SH-45. Since they have to close various lanes and pieces of the highway in order to get the work done, to keep traffic congestion and crisis to a minimum, this sort of activity occurs in the middle of the night... ironically when the "fewer" (not much fewer - it's I-35!) drivers on the road are most likely to be wasted and/or half asleep.

Clark, unfortunately, has seen more than his fair share of wrecks, including fatal ones, in his line of work. The strange traffic conditions provoked by construction (lane closures, traffic jams, machinery and workers everywhere), combined with the standard nighttime driving dangers, create an extremely treacherous environment where one mistake can mean catastrophe. Toss in a drunk or distracted driver and you are almost guaranteed a wreck.

Sometimes, Clark is one of the first on the scene due to his proximity to the road. He has seen horrific crashes. Once, he used a pocket knife to saw off a woman's seat belt in an attempt to extract her from her mangled vehicle and begin CPR; she was rapidly turning blue and ultimately died in his arms. Last night he saw a motorcyclist crushed by a drunk driver. The motorcyclist had stopped behind an 18 wheeler, but the woman coming up behind him was still going 60 mph on impact. I felt like crying when Clark reported impassively that the motorcyclist didn't die instantly, and rescue workers struggled to keep him alive for almost 30 minutes.

Clark's stories are always depressing, and the burdens he bears, the horrific things he has witnessed, build up inside of him and torture him. He doesn't like to talk about his feelings very much, and his pain comes out in angry outbursts, startling mood swings, statements of depression and worthlessness, and a look in his eyes that is difficult to describe... one that bears witness to suffering on a scale not experienced by many. Emergency workers and police officers can also become cynical and hardened... but in the name of resilience and health they have access to professional training and crisis counseling, things which are not made readily available to Clark. Clark is an electrician.

To add insult to injury, passing motorists often curse at Clark and throw objects at him and his crew as if they were solely responsible for the traffic jam, the closed lanes, and the construction. My husband and his crew may be blue collar workers, but they are out on the road risking life and limb to do their job, often in circumstances that most of us wouldn't dare attempt (you try fixing a traffic signal while hovering in a tiny bucket 30 feet in the air, with traffic roaring directly underneath you!), and often under adverse conditions like 100 degree heat, scorching sun, and sudden downpours.

Motorists, at least, have air conditioning and heat, air bags, seat belts, and tons of metal surrounding and protecting them. Motorists can listen to the radio and, even more importantly, they can sit down while they "suffer" through a little delay due to a lane closure. My husband and his crew are on their feet, sweating in the sun, dangerously close to fast-moving traffic, doing hard physical and mental labor all day (or night) long.

Before this devolves into some sort of preachy lesson about safe driving, I'll stop here. But I hope you will stop and think about my husband and his crew the next time you drive through a construction zone. Slow down and stay vigilant. Bad crashes affect more than just auto drivers and passengers; they take a heavy mental toll on everyone, from emergency workers to witnesses. I would give anything to see a flicker of innocence and freedom in my husband's eyes, but his dreams, hopes, and faith have been torn to shreds by the horrific images burned into his brain for the rest of his life.

Late at night, I lie in bed alone, the telephone at my left hand, and I worry. How long will it be before I get that fateful telephone call, the one that beckons me to my husband's side at the hospital? It is my worst fear... my worst nightmare. It is a totally unpredictable event and I will never be prepared for it. I can only hope and pray that it will never happen. Each night, I kiss him goodbye and say "Please be careful." Each morning, I sigh with relief when I hear his truck in the driveway. And when he tells me about the horrible car crash last night, the carnage he saw, the dead body and the spurting blood and splattered brains, I stay quiet and attentive because he needs me to listen, but my heart is weak and I want to cry and scream... Thank God it wasn't him lying there on the pavement.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Can Dog Food be Cheap and Healthy?

I recently switched dog food. The switch was inspired by recent readings that rated different brands of dog food. To my great surprise, the Costco brand - Kirkland's - was rated one of the best brands. If you are not familiar with high-quality dog food (shame if you're not!), well, it usually costs around $40 for a 40 lb bag. Kirkland's dog food only costs around $17. So it was a great surprise to me that Kirkland's could be considered so healthy yet still be so incredibly inexpensive.

Naturally I'm highly suspicious of the reading that gave Kirkland's such a high score. Was it a typo? An intentional sleight-of-hand? Or is it really that great? I couldn't resist the urge to find out; I decided to test the food.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, for me, my dogs both have sensitive skin and stomachs. The wrong type of food, as we discovered, results in itchy, gaseous dogs. High quality food keeps the dogs feeling (and smelling) good. For a very long time we have fed them Sensible Choice dog food - expensive but with results well worth the price.

Now they have almost finished their first bag of Kirkland's brand dog food. Is it going to be good enough? Will it keep them from irritated, itchy rashes and random acts of fart? I really hope so, because the price is fantastic. The money saved by the food change can be used on other initiatives, like my websites, my research, donations to the Humane Society, and so forth.

Recently, though, Dozer has developed some sort of rough, scabby area under his chin. Since neither of the dogs are gaseous so far, I'm waiting to see if Dozer's rash goes away after a bath, indicating some sort of environmental factor rather than food. Like many white dogs he has sensitive skin that can be easily irritated by things like grass, bug bites, and even too much sun.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Happiness is a Brand New Pillow

I guess I never realized how much influence a pillow can have over a person's emotional state. Our old pillows really weren't beyond hope. They were not torn to shreds by the dogs. They were not ripped the way our first and second fitted sheets ripped (Clark, somehow). They were not peed on by a foster puppy, or burned, or moldy. They were still quite functional.

But they were all several years old, flat as a pancake, and extremely yellow. They all had a distinct odor... not strong or unpleasant, but slightly musty. I'd attempted to wash one of them, and it came out of the machine as a lumpy, shapeless mutant. From then on the pillow was treated like the nerdy kid at tryouts, unwanted and rejected until there were no other options.

Last night, while changing the sheets, I became aware of my mental state as I peeled the pillowcases off. As if on automatic pilot, I put the case in the hamper and headed for the trash to throw the pillow away. It took me several moments of silence before I realized what I was doing, and a few more minutes to come to a conclusion: time for new pillows.

This morning we went to Target and bought two new pillows. They fill the pillowcases completely, like fat balloons. I spent the rest of the day dreaming about them. Tonight we get to try them out, and I can't be happier.

Update: The pillows were nicer to sleep on than I ever imagined. They weren't that expensive, but worth every penny. A cheap and effective treatment for the "blahs".

Monday, April 24, 2006

Will Classes Ever End?

This may have been my first semester back at college, but I sure seem to remember the semesters during my undergrad years lasted longer and ended with significantly less panic. This semester's end has crept up on me like a gigantic tidal wave. Now the bulk of it looms over me as I paddle frantically toward shore against a riptide. Will I drown? Stay tuned.

Needless to say, the work I want to do on my website and my blog remains untouched as I splash through the end of the semester. Even my day-to-day life is completely on hold. Our fridge is barren. Pieces of shredded dog toy litter the floor weeks after the dirty deed was done. Piles of clothes sway and quiver in the laundry room. Up until yesterday our lawn looked like we'd been on vacation for months. I finally conned Byrd into mowing after musing aloud that I might hire someone to do yard work. (I think the suggestion brought his masculinity into question.) I have spent the last week like a hermit in my office, working on projects and papers with sweaty hands and strained eyes. When will it end?

Over the weekend I wrote a twenty-page paper. I have one more twenty-page paper due by Thursday, plus a personal portfolio, a large website plus documentation, and a software documentation project. I need three or four of me.

And that's why I haven't touched my site or my blog in weeks. See you in early May!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Put Tags On Your Dog, Dammit!

Imagine - your dog disappears through a hole in the back fence. How are you going to get it back? If your dog isn't wearing any ID, you will have to scour the neighborhood, put up fliers, make phone calls to local vets, and visit all the local shelters. While you're doing all this, where's your dog? Maybe at the local pound, mere days away from being offered for adoption or euthanized, surrounded by scary dogs and scary people. Maybe some kind dog lover found your dog wandering on the highway. They assume the poor dog's been dumped and decide to keep him.

Why go through all this hassle and misery when you could simply put an ID tag on your dog, thereby dramatically increasing the liklihood that your dog's finder will call YOU, probably within minutes after they have found your dog. Heck, your phone number is right there!

On Friday afternoon two little girls came by my house. They had a little white Lhasa Apso dog with them. "We found this dog. Do you want it?" asked one of them, offering it up to me.

"Was it running loose? Did you ask the neighbors if it's theirs?" I asked them. I didn't recognize the dog at all. It didn't have a collar. Damn.

"We don't know whose it is. We asked around." The girls left the little dog with me. I put it in the backyard in one of our escape-proof kennels. I think I have strays in those kennels more often than our own dogs stay in them. I promptly called animal control and left a message. It was late in the afternoon, and I felt sure someone was going to come home from work and wonder where their dog was. If animal control could come get the dog right away, the dog would probably be home by dinnertime.

After two hours and no response, I called animal control again. The little dog had barked nearly nonstop for those two hours, and I felt sure my neighbors would take matters into their own hands if I didn't do something about it. Animal control finally answered the phone. Their facility was full. They didn't want to come get the dog. They tried to guilt me into keeping the dog overnight. "We're going to have to euthanize some of our animals in order to make room."

I didn't want to sound cruel, but to be honest, I didn't care. They weren't going to make me feel guilty. Our animal control facility recently downsized despite loud protests from the public, and had the balls to proclaim their newly shrunken program a "success" by manipulating their euthanization statistics to an obscene degree. They have made no effort to educate the public on responsible pet ownership, which, properly implemented, probably would significantly reduce the number of loose animals they constantly have to house and euthanize. I wasn't about to let them dump their problems on me. "Well, that kinda sounds like your problem, not mine," I said. "I can't keep this dog overnight."

"Call your vet and see if they will hold it for us," said AC.

"I highly doubt it," I said, feeling irritated. I wasn't about to ask my vet to do a freebie for AC.

"Then call the emergency animal clinic off the highway. They hold dogs for us," said AC at last. I gave in and drove the dog to the emergency animal clinic. The clinic staff did not seemed pleased, but they gave me an AC intake form to fill out and took the dog.

"We just don't like to broadcast that we do this," said the clinic manager. Then he tried to talk at me about irresponsible ownership. Dude, do you realize I volunteer for two humane societies, rescue and rehome critters, and run a website about responsible dog ownership? You think I don't know all this already?, I thought, but I kept silent and nodded. Yeah, yeah.

All this hassle, all this grief, just because the dog didn't have any frikkin' ID!

If the dog had ID, I could have called the owner, and the dog would have been home by that evening. No conversations with AC about euthanisia. No exasperated emergency clinic staff. No going out of my way to drive the dog to the facility. The poor dog wouldn't have to spend days cooped up in a little stainless steel kennel, stressed out and scared. And a few dogs would probably still be alive, rather than euth'ed to make room for yet another stray. That pisses me off more than anything.

Today - Monday, three days later - a boy stopped by. "Did you find a little white dog?"


"Here, tell my mom." The woman was too lazy to even get out of her car until the boy waved at her. She came up to my sidewalk.

"Did you find a little white dog?" she asked.

"Yes. Some neighborhood kids found her and brought her to me. She didn't have a collar or tags so I didn't know who she belonged to," I explained.

"Oh," said the woman, looking surprised. "Oh, well, we only put her out in the backyard." Her tone of voice said You really don't need tags for that, sweetie! I'm sure the look on my face in response probably confused her more, since it was a mix of disgust, frustration, and irritation. "I guess she got out of a hole in the fence..." the woman tried to explain.

"Well, that's exactly why she should have been wearing tags, right?" I smiled. I was trying to be patient but couldn't keep a hard edge out of my voice. I explained that I had taken the dog to the emergency vet at AC's request, and now that several days had gone by, she needed to call animal control. And that was that. Off she went.

The more I think about it, the more pissed off I get. I was the one who AC tried to pressure into doing their job by making it seem like my fault that some dog would have to be euthanized to make room for this woman's dog. I was the one who had to sit through a lament about the dearth of responsible pet ownership, courtesy of the emergency vet. I was the one who let this yappy dog contaminate my kennel and piss off my neighbors for two hours, and I was the one who had to drive the dog to the vet in rush hour traffic. All because this lady couldn't go through the simple motion of putting a frikkin' tag on her dog.

What does this lady get? Her dog is safe and sound instead of dead or stolen. She forks over a pittance - maybe $50 - to get her dog out of the slammer. And despite her lazy thoughtlessness, she won't hear about the dog that died to make room for her dog, or the mess I had to deal with, or lengthy lectures on responsible dog ownership. I can only pray the monetary punishment is enough to inspire her to put a tag on her dog from now on.

Is your dog wearing tags? Don't make me come over there.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Five Days??

Has it really been five days since my last blog? Time certainly flies, even when you're not having much fun. As most college students are fully aware, the end of the semester is upon us. My three graduate classes are wrapping up the semester thick with projects galore. I have been doing homework pretty much nonstop for days now.

I admit, I wasted today. I spent a good portion of the morning working on my Happy Pit Bull website. I'm trying to revise the Shelter page to more accurately discuss the various methods of appropriate and inappropriate canine containment. It's not re-posted quite yet, but I hope to finish it soon, and quickly, since it's eating up so much of my time.

What else did I get done today? Clark and I went to Sonic for lunch. The toy in the kid's meal was a coroplast glider. I assembled it, put stickers on it, and then went outside to throw it for a few minutes. I went back inside and tried to read chapter 9 of "Writing Software Documentation", fell asleep for two hours, woke up, and went upstairs to work on my website for a while longer. Then Clark came out of his office and fell asleep on the couch for several hours. I moved into the bedroom and sat on my laptop reading headlines. Clark came into the bedroom and fell asleep on the bed. I played ZamBeeZee for an hour. And now I'm doing this. Next I will make some leftover spaghetti and try to finish my reading so I can start answering the homework questions.

The dogs have spent the entire day sleeping in whatever room I am in. When I was upstairs, they went to sleep upstairs in their crates. Now that I am in the bedroom, they are sleeping on the floor beside the bed. Felanie is snoring, but Dozer is keeping one eye on me. He knows dinnertime is fast approaching (8:00 pm every night). For a little while this afternoon I stood outside on the back steps and threw a Frisbee-like toy for Dozer. But there are nails in the yard after our roof was re-shingled, and the mosquitoes have also come out of hibernation, so the game of fetch was very short-lived.

What a waste of a beautiful day. Why do I always feel so miserable when I spend the day sitting around like this? The stress of unfinished homework and class projects is weighing heavily upon me, yet I resist and procrastinate. Perhaps tomorrow will be more fun; it's our first anniversary and we are planning to go to Enchanted Rock State Park.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Student journalist gets one thing right

An obscure article by Katie Bradford in the Henderson State University Oracle online newspaper dared to cover the topic of pit bulls and dangerous dog legislation. But her research led her astray, and she ended up making several false statements about the breed-type, including the persistent myth of the locking jaw.

Read the original article here.

Needless to say, she got feedback. And how. Her next article carried an undertone of irritation and frustration. She loved dogs and didn't believe pit bulls should be banned, she had tried to do research, and she had even solicited help via email from a couple of experts (didn't name names) on pit bulls and dog attacks, to receive no reply until after she had already published the article. Thus her article contained glaring factual errors despite her best efforts (or so she says).

Read the second article here.

But this is really beside the point. What I found interesting was one of her comments thus:
"Self-proclaimed canine authorities won’t leave me alone. I talked to several of them, and the more I listened, the more I realized that none of them could agree on a damn thing."

Bradford may have gotten a lot wrong in her article (and in her second article she still persisted with the locking jaw thing), but this is one statement she got hands-down, 100%, abso-freakin'-lutely correct. Wanna learn the truth about pit bulls in less than a week? It's not gonna happen. In fact, learning about pit bulls is nearly impossible unless you have months, even years, to devote to the study.

Experts about pit bulls conflict over just about every aspect of the breed-type. One expert will tell you that pit bulls make fabulous guard dogs. Another expert will tell you that they are so friendly to strangers that they are worthless for protection. One expert will tell you that pit bull jaws are super-strong and that they do not let go once they bite down (like a milder version of a locking jaw), and other experts will scoff at that notion. One expert will tell you the pit bull is highly resistant to pain, or that pit bulls get a "rush" from pain, while another expert will roll their eyes at the idea. Some pit bull enthusiasts love to assert that the pit bull can whip any other breed (or even species) in a fight ("purely hypothetically, of course, ahem") while others rub their foreheads and try to explain that such claims are merely a stereotype that certain ignoramuses perpetuate in order to boost their own egos. Some people say the pit bull is unparallelled as a companion dog, some say it is the most dangerous and vicious breed-type, and still others (like myself) say it is just one breed-type out of many, with a few special considerations (as any breed will have) but nothing extreme one way or the other.

I won't even discuss the zillions of different ways that novice pit bull owners are told to care for their pit bulls. What is the right way to raise and care for and train a dog? Do you use clicker training, positive reinforcement, choke chains, electric collars, treats, praise, punishment, "time out", or what? Knowing the "right way" to train a dog is hard regardless of the breed of dog you own, and even harder if you are a novice pit bull owner. The pit bull stereotype falsely singles out the breed as requiring special training techniques. I can't tell you how many emails I get from novice pit bull owners who wonder if there's a special food or training regimen or exercise regimen for pit bulls.

No matter where you go to learn about pit bulls, finding a straight answer is tough. Bradford is not alone. There are probably tens of thousands of people out there who truly believe the pit bull can lock its jaws. There are millions of people out there who believe the breed-type is fantastically different from all other breeds, whether to a positive extreme or a negative. One thing is for sure. The pit bull is set apart from all other breeds in one respect - our society's treatment of it. The myths and stereotypes that cling to the pit bull are hard to get past when you're just trying to do a quick journalistic piece - a snappy bit of research - on the breed-type.

Unfortunately, the more frequently the myths and stereotypes make it into the media, the more likely we are to see it again, as writers re-use (as Bradford did) these myths from other pieces of journalistic nonsense, gleaned from still other misinformed sources. Bradford may have learned a lesson about fact checking (or perhaps not, judging from the tone and excuses in her second article) , but the myths she presented as fact are now out in public for yet another "journalist" to "borrow" from. What's worse, her failure to retract the errors in her second article (putting quotes around the words "locking jaw" does not correct the factual error that she is presenting, the myth that pit bulls do not unclamp their jaws once they bite down) only legitimizes the myths in the eyes of readers.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hooray! A Shelter Manager Who Loves Pits!

I would just like to share my pleasure that the new shelter manager at the Humane Society of Williamson County (where I am volunteer webmaster) owns a pit bull and is a huge fan of the breed-type. She expressed interest in doing pit bull education activities and I could not be more pleased to hear it, especially since the previous shelter manager was less-than-thrilled about pit bulls and had no problem putting them at the top of the euthanasia list when space got low.

Of course, the shelter itself needs a lot of work in many areas, and I am sure the new manager will have her hands full for quite a while. Any special attention given to pit bull-specific education and outreach is undoubtedly low on the priority list. But I am excited that the pits at the shelter finally have a shelter manager who cares about them.

Readers - if you have not done so recently - please make a donation of time, money, or goods to your local pit-friendly animal shelter or rescue group. It is so easy to do and it makes a huge difference in the lives of homeless pit bulls. Donations don't need to cost a lot of money. For a while, my shelter had empty milk jugs on their wish list. Empty milk jugs, for crying out loud. I throw away three empty jugs a week! (Needless to say, they took that off their wish list because of me - I keep them well stocked.) Ask your local shelter or rescue group what you can do to help them. It's probably a lot easier than you think.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Relative Danger of Pit Bulls

Since I'm working on a book about pit bulls in society, I have to do research about... well... pit bulls in society. This happens to be an incredibly unpleasant experience in many cases, because so many people are so incredibly ignorant about pit bulls yet have no problem spouting stereotypes and myths without any factual basis... but I suck it up. After doing so much reading about pit bulls for so many years, I've become much more savvy about when it is and is not appropriate to "educate" others. Some people simply don't want education, and even if they do, the topic of pit bulls is not one that can be easily and thoroughly discussed within the confines of a message board or a chat room. The issues are deep and heavy, and it takes years of study and experience to truly understand the situation.

So my frustrations come out here instead. And tonight I feel the need to address something I saw repeatedly yesterday while reading through various blogs; namely that the plethora of news articles about pit bull attacks (and relative lack of articles about other breeds) is proof that the breed-type is somehow more dangerous than other breeds. The easy availability of media reports about pit bull attacks versus attacks by other breeds helped these clueless souls reach various conclusions, such as: pit bulls should be banned to reduce dog attacks, pit bulls are more dangerous than other breeds, pit bulls are more likely to cause serious damage than other breeds, and pit bulls attack people more frequently than other breeds. Anti-pit writers defended the media, saying "don't shoot the messenger" or similar comments - as if the media were a reflection of real life. As if we really are under constant attack by pit bulls.

This is, of course, an absolutely absurd way to "prove" something (like pit bull attacks) happens all the time. Stories in the media are nowhere near an accurate cross-section of our nation's daily events. News reports are overwhelmingly sensational. They are designed to grab our attention with quick sound bites and flashes of video. They are supposed to stir our emotions. What stories do we see on the news? Murdered children, gun violence, horrific accidents, scary new illnesses, drugs, legal wranglings, and angry people. Is this really "normal"? Are we really constantly surrounded by misery and death? I don't know about you, but my life is pretty calm and boring most of the time. Certainly nothing like what you see in the news. The media does its best to weed out only the most exciting, most interesting, most juicy pieces of abnormal behavior.

So what do we really see in the news? We see unusual events - events that will provoke an emotional reaction from viewers. Does a dog attack provoke an emotional reaction from viewers? Sometimes. If it's bloody enough and a child is involved, probably so. Does a pit bull attack provoke a reaction from viewers? You betcha! And it doesn't even have to be very bloody or involve children. This has become clear to me as I struggle to keep tabs on media articles containing the words "pit bull". Many of the articles I find are not even dramatic or interesting if you replace the words "pit bull" with that of another breed. I have found articles reporting pit bull breeding (oh horror), loose pit bulls (gasp), and a pit bull that chased a cat under a car (dear god, no). Imagine reading about poodle breeding (huh?), loose Golden Retrievers (cute!), and a Dalmatian that chased a cat under a car (typical dog, right?).

The mere words "pit bull" create an immediate emotional response - usually fear, followed closely by anger - in most people. This is exactly what the media is looking for. Key words, triggers - things that draw an audience to them. The media churns out article after article about pit bull attacks because audiences eat them up. Is the media making up all these stories? Hardly. Pit bull attacks happen, and in some cases they are extremely severe. But the media does show a distinct lack of interest in coverage of dog attacks committed by non-pit bull dogs. Compare the deadly attack on Nicholas Faibish by his family's two pit bulls (CA) with the fatal attack on Kate Lynn-Logel by her family's two Alaskan Malamutes (CO). The setup was almost exactly the same - a young child left alone with two large dogs, resulting in a bloody death. The pit bull attack story was on the front page of the CA papers for months, made the national news for weeks, and was resurrected every time the legislature's BSL activities were reported on (BSL prompted by the pit bull attack, incidentally). The Alaskan Malamute mauling ran in the local CO news for one or two days and then vanished without a trace. Why such a difference in treatment?

The liklihood of being killed or injured by an object - its relative danger - is not dictated by how many news articles it appears in. If this were the case, why is it so difficult to find news articles on the dangers of peanuts? More people are killed by peanuts than by pit bulls (or any type of dog) each year. Yet searching media reports for "death by peanut" proves to be a waste of time. Why? Because the word "peanut" does not strike fear into the hearts of readers. There's no shock, no anger, no hatred, no blood, no betrayal, no screaming. Only another silent death by allergic reaction.

Clearly, using the news to prove a breed's relative danger is unscientific, to say the least. In order to determine whether a particular breed is more or less dangerous than another, we have to use statistics gleaned from comprehensive scientific studies. Currently, I know of no such studies. Even the famous oft-abused, flawed CDC fatal dog attack study can not be used to determine a breed's relative danger, as the authors themselves pointed out.

How do you scientifically determine whether a dog breed is more or less dangerous than other breeds? First, remember that a dog's breed has to do with a dog's genes, not its environment or its upbringing. Therefore, all dogs in a test group must be raised and trained in exactly the same way, in exactly the same environment. This will isolate the dogs' differences in temperament to the genetics (i.e. breed) only, without environmental influences. Next, of course, we will need to make sure our test dogs are 1) purebred, 2) accurate representatives of the breed (did not come from breeding stock that was somehow tempermentally flawed), and 3) of a reasonable, meaningful population size (in other words, 2 or 3 test dogs per breed will not cut it).

Now, assuming all of our test dogs have met this nearly impossible criteria, we must now start pushing their buttons to see where they start to crack. If the dogs have all been raised and trained the same, and they are all being provoked in the same manner under the same circumstances, then presumably their behaviors will be dictated primarily by their genetics. I would imagine that this would give us data about which breeds would be "more likely to bite" than others.

This still does not tell us about a breed's relative danger. Some people have asserted that large-breed dogs are capable of doing more damage than small-breed dogs simply by virtue of their weight, or muscle mass, or head size, etc., etc. The ability to do more damage translates to higher danger. And yet, I would argue that a dog's size makes little difference in the face of their attitude. A highly aggressive Cocker Spaniel can do just as much (or more) damage as a laid-back Rottweiler. If a breed temperament study such as I have described above determines that Cocker Spaniels have a significantly lower bite threshold than Rottweilers (and mind you, this is just conjecture on anyone's part since there has never been a scientifically planned breed temperament study such as what I described), then which is actually more dangerous - a big ol' Rottweiler that probably won't bite or a small Cocker that probably will?

To determine relative danger of a breed, we would need to come up with some sort of algorithm that is based on a combination of both its typical bite threshhold (gathered as I have described above) and its size/strength (and it should be noted that within each breed, individuals vary in size and strength, so this is going to be a very complicated algorithm indeed).

And here is where I come full circle and ask, ultimately, whether this sort of experiment even matters. Sure, we may be able to pinpoint breed-specific bite threshholds. But in the end, in real life, the dogs we face are not just products of their genetics but also of their environment and their training. Our experiments may determine that Dalmatians have low bite threshholds, but outside those experiments, in real life, we may find that Dalmatians are being raised, trained, and socialized by responsible, loving, attentive owners. Meanwhile, the same experiments may indicate that pit bull-type dogs are remarkably tolerant to provocation... but in real life, many pit bulls are being neglected, unsocialized, or even trained to bite.

In real life, you can not isolate genetics from environment. They are intertwined. Even genetically sound dogs can be ruined by bad ownership. Even dogs with flawed genes can be managed responsibly by good owners.

At any rate, my three points here are thus. One, counting media reports of pit bull attacks in order to prove that the pit bull is "more dangerous" is incredibly unscientific. Two, there have been no scientifically valid experiments performed which would prove beyond a doubt whether any particular breed is more or less "dangerous" than another. Three, we should not be hung up on a dog's breed as the sole determinant of its behavior when in fact dog owners themselves have so much power, control, and influence over their dog's actions in the first place.

Having gotten this off my chest, I'm going to bed.

My Pit Bull is a Liar

Imagine - two dogs, one toy. How can Felanie possibly get her way with the King of Selfishness, Dozer? Physically, she doesn't have a chance against Dozer's massive 85 lb. frame. But mentally, she's a heavyweight.

Dozer isn't just selfish. He's really selfish. If Felanie is having fun with a bone, Dozer grabs it from her. If Felanie is drinking out of the water bowl, Dozer shoves past to get a drink. If Fel is sitting at my feet, Dozer squeezes his bulky body between us, usually smashing my feet in the process. If Clark (my husband) is petting Felanie, Dozer will ram his head into Clark's hand with a loud whine. Poor Felanie! As the smaller, older, quieter dog, she sits in Dozer's shadow a lot.

So I was floored by a new trick she recently acquired. How do you get a toy from Dozer? Why, just pretend like something else is way more fun, of course! The other day, Felanie wanted the Kong ball, but Dozer had it. He wasn't playing with it, just holding it in his mouth while half asleep. Fel hovered nearby for a few moments staring at him, but she knew she couldn't physically take the ball. Suddenly, she ran off crazily, found a Galileo Bone, and started playing with it enthusiastically (and noisily) in the dining room. She barked at it, jumped on it, shoved it loudly into the wall, pawed it, and chomped at it.

Dozer immediately perked up and ran over to see what was going on. For a few seconds, he watched Fel shove the Galileo Bone around, chomping on the rubber Kong ball in his mouth. Then, as if coming to some conclusion, he abruptly spit out the Kong ball and gruffly snatched the Galileo Bone from between Fel's paws. Fel grabbed at the Bone and pretended to struggle with Dozer for a moment, but he wrested the Bone away in an instant, and flew into the bedroom with Felanie, barking, in hot pursuit... or so it seemed.

A few moments later, Felanie returned without the Bone. But she wasn't dejected and forlorn; her eyes sparkled as she scanned the floor. There it was! She made a beeline for the rejected Kong Ball. After pouncing on it gleefully, but very quietly, she raced off toward the living room - the opposite direction of the bedroom and out of sight - with the Ball tightly clamped between her teeth. I could hear Dozer playing loudly with the Bone in the bedroom, none the wiser. He was under the impression that he had just won a glorious victory.

Felanie has since pulled the switcheroo not once but many times. Sometimes the trade is about equal (as in the case of Bone for Ball), but I have seen Fel trick Dozer by giving up things as boring as, for instance, access to the water bowl, a piece of string, and a dead fly. In all cases she manages to make the most dull and insignificant objects into fabulous, irresistable items that Dozer simply must have.

Felanie is a liar. A very clever liar.

My First Blog

Finally, I've started a blog. I decided to try it out, even though I'm not sure how well I'll be able to keep up with the demand on my time. I already write and manage the sites Happy Pit Bull and Stop BSL, and I am also the webmaster for the Humane Society of Williamson County.

So why start a blog? Many of my regular site visitors aren't looking for pit bull care instructions or ownership rules. They want to know more about what it's like to own a pit bull, or what sort of experiences I've had with my dogs, or how I'd handle a certain situation, or what my thoughts are about some news article. But my two informational websites, Happy Pit Bull and Stop BSL, can only handle so much content before they become disorganized, opinionated, and off-topic. I needed a place where I could talk about both personal matters and questions about pit bulls that don't quite fit with the theme of my websites.

Thus, it occurred to me that a blog might fit the bill.

So let's get started, shall we?