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.