Monthly Archives

January 2012


Poor boopie schmoopums

On Friday night I made tuna and rice for supper.


Geezum, I hadn’t even started the story yet. Hold on.


Anyway, Friday night I made tuna and rice for supper. I had lovely chunk raw tuna, and I fried it up in butter.

There were some chunks that had some harder edges from where they’d been cut off the fish, and as I was cooking I was handing those out to the dogs milling around my feet.

HORRORS! How could you?

No, we’re still OK. That’s what I always do and the dogs love it.

Oh, sorry.

Anyway, I handed a lovely piece to Godric, who happily carried it off.

All right, NOW you can scream, because Godric sure did.


Yup. Somewhere in that piece of fish must have been a very small bone, or a little piece of hard skin, or a microscopic gremlin, or maybe a fragment of a terrible thought. Because he swallowed and then tucked his tail and ran in huge loops screaming at the top of his lungs.

The other dogs, of course, said “HE’S LOST HIS NUT! HE MUST BE STOPPED! IT’S FOR THE GOOD OF THE PACK!”  and all tackled him at once. This made him scream even louder, and run even faster, so within two seconds of handing out an innocent chunk of fish I had five dogs in an enormous swirling melee of barking and screeching.

On the second turn around the kitchen I saw an opportunity and reached down and nabbed Godric, who was untouched and unhurt (the Cardigans don’t like insanity, but they don’t hurt it either), but who buried his face into my neck and sobbed and sobbed.

Dinner was put on hold while we grabbed flashlights and pried his mouth open and dug around his throat in very embarrassing ways and he snarled and squeaked and carried on in an awful song. We found nothing, so we snuggled him up during supper and then carried him off to bed.


All the next day, he refused to look anyone in the face. He sat on my bed and stared at the wall and darted speaking glances in my direction. If anyone approached him, he’d drop to the floor in a creamy floof of hair and slink away, eyes white. He would not eat. He would not drink. He was in the highest state of high dudgeon that has ever been dudgeoned.

Finally, at suppertime, Honour came to me and said she was getting really worried about him. I looked in his mouth one more time, carefully. I dosed him with an ounce of olive oil in case there really was something in there. He gagged olive oil in my face and ran away to slam the door and listen to The Smiths.

Clearly, it was time to break out the big guns.

Shaws will cook rotisserie chickens until 9pm, did you know? And soon a fragrant shopping bag was on my counter. A little piece was torn off and offered to our much-abused baby boy. He turned up his nose and sniffed dramatically.

“Oh, I am so, so sorry for you! How can this BE?” I asked him dramatically, and then dropped the hot chicken into the mouth of Daisy Poppy, who hadn’t realized that now was apparently the time of all good luck.

Another piece offered, refused, and given to an overjoyed fluffy dog.

The third piece he glanced at, then looked at me, eyes wide and watery, clearly weighing the options – this was pretty much the biggest funk he’d ever built up, and letting it go was a little painful. And then the eyes turned to watch a shred of chicken fall into brindle jaws.

The final piece, and, eyes still fixed on me, in excruciating slow motion he opened his mouth and put the chicken on his tongue. If he couldn’t maintain the bad mood, he was at least going to make me work for it. I crooned at him and brought out another piece.

A few minutes later, Honour walked in and said “Oh, poor baby, is he still sick?” I answered “If he is, it’s because of the three pounds of chicken he just ate.”

It’s five hours later. I just checked on him and he was curled in his usual spot at Honour’s feet; when I woke him all was forgiven. The dance of joy was danced and my ear was thoroughly licked out.

Now I just have to figure out how to get olive oil out of Papillon fringes…


Moving right along, footloose and fancy free

I am FINALLY, only two years late, moving my hosting to rufflyspeaking from blacksheepcardigans. Now the blog will actually live on the name it’s supposed to (yay!) and the photography business will be crawled by google (also yay!), but I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen when I try to move thousands of megs of data and images from one server to another (not so yay!). The new hosting should be up and running as of Monday, so forgive me if things look a little wonky while I shove things around. I am NOT changing the theme or behavior of the blog, so if after the obvious move is over you still see things that don’t work properly or that look different, please let me know.

Once I’m back up and running, job one is tearing down and rewriting all the photography instructions, so look for new stuff to start raining down pretty soon.


A little port in a storm

I started school again this week, meaning that my life suddenly and forcibly moved outside our safe tiny house. It’s always a wrenching event, though I know it’s good for me. In the winter I spend days on end nestled in the big chair with the kids, kissing foreheads absently, looking up research on some detail of silver chemistry or elbow dysplasia or a good recipe for stew while they lean against me and draw or tell stories. It’s a sweet, slow time that draws me in until I am convinced the worst thing that could ever happen is to put on shoes and go to town.

But put on shoes I did, and headed to advanced darkroom photography, where Biff promises to pummel me with new knowledge all semester and force a good portfolio out of me by March. We’ll see – for tonight at least I am under a soft cotton quilt that is ragged from being chewed on by generations of puppies, curled back up in the chair, listening to my babies sleep.

Responsible Breeding

Five things you think know about breeding (but you’re wrong)

1) Linebreeding is better than outcrossing.

I’m sorry, but that is the biggest piece of total crap on earth and if I could change ONE thing about dog breeding that would be it.

This is population ecology 101: A diverse population is healthier (and this means REALLY healthier, not whether your meerkat passed his hip tests) than an inbred one. You know what one of the very first and most important things scientists do when they’re trying to determine whether a population is going to become extinct? They look at inbreeding. If you have two otherwise identical populations – same numbers, same food source, same conditions and natural disasters, if the diverse population would be extinct after ten years, the inbred population will be dead after seven.

Linebreeding reduces genetic diversity. That’s why breeders like it. You get more consistent results when you linebreed. However, you are hamstringing the ability of your population to thrive over time. You’ll do great in the show ring during your lifetime, which is why linebreeding has been so lauded. But it’s making the typical mistake humans make, which is forgetting that anybody exists before or beyond them.

Think about it – if all but two of your dogs had been wiped out by a fire ten years ago, would you just breed the two of them and the daughters back to their father and now, ten years later, say you’re OK? Of course not. Now think, if you could somehow live for three hundred years, which means the period from WWII from now would be just a small part of your breeding effort, would you still be linbreeding the populations that came out of the 40s with seven or eight individuals?

But that’s what we do, and that’s what is said to be the “best” breeding. Make no mistake. It is the BEST breeding only for producing show winners during your lifetime. If that’s what you care about, if that’s what your legacy is, then go on doing it. Otherwise, forget what somebody told you the best breeding was and breed for the longevity and survival of your entire population. That means sound to sound, then preferring outcrosses, then preferring very loose breedings, then preferring tight breedings, and avoiding inbreeding unless there is absolutely no other choice.

2) If you health-test, you’re producing healthier dogs.

If you health-test, you’re looking at a certain aspect of your dogs. LOOKING at a CERTAIN aspect of YOUR dog. You are not changing anything. You have not yet improved anything. You may, in fact, go on to torpedo the longevity of over a thousand dogs throughout your lifetime; I have no idea and neither do you, and that’s the truth.

A health test is a data point. Hundreds and hundreds of health tests over ten or twenty years are just data points. They have nothing to do with you. Where you come into it is if you can understand those data points and use those data points to make decisions that change things.

I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of breeders health-test their dogs. I know of probably ten thousand more. I’ve seen a bare handful who have genuinely made a positive difference in the health of their breed. The majority of them are not known for “health testing.” I know a slightly bigger handful who are famous for producing or buying a dog who radically injured the overall health and longevity of a breed or variety. In that bigger handful all of them “health tested.”

a) Understand the data points.

b) Use the data points to draw conclusions that are supported by evidence.

c) Make decisions that are based on that solid evidence to turn things in the right direction.

If you are not absolutely solid on all three steps, you are not making any good changes except by bare accident. You’re just flailing. And if you’re going to flail, it might be a good idea to not base your decisions on those factors. Base the decisions on data you CAN see, CAN understand, and that DO have a basis in solid evidence. Unsurprisingly, that’s pretty much the way all good breeders have been breeding since the beginning of time, and why so many do so much good completely without the existence of x-rays and DNA tests… and why you can do so much wrong when you forget what you’re looking at in real life and decide to breed based on those things.

3) Lots of show homes mean you’ve succeeded.

Lots of show homes means you convinced lots of people that you had show puppies. The word “convinced” should not be taken lightly. Sometimes it was your effort, sometimes their effort, sometimes their mentors’ effort. Sometimes it was the pedigree, your reputation, your lack therof, sometimes the dog or the bitch. Sometimes it was based on solid evidence; often it was not. Sometimes it was based on nothing more than the fact that you’re convinced that show homes are better and so you held on to a ton of puppies until you found people who were willing to tell you they would show the dogs.

There’s nothing wrong with lots of show homes. But there’s nothing particularly right either. It’s an adjective, not a medal.

4) Dogs who can’t make it in show homes are usually great performance prospects.

You have to be harder on performance prospects than show prospects. Show dogs, while beng shown, live a pretty soft life. If they get somewhat injured you’re likely to not even know it. Performance dogs, on the other hand, are athletes. Poor biomechanics leads to lifelong pain and compounded injuries.

I very much prefer the idea of separating puppies into performance and pet prospects, THEN subdividing into show picks. If it’s a show+pet (which certainly does happen), be honest about it. If it’s performance-minus-show, celebrate.

5) Breeding for the “pet market” is wrong.

Breeding for the “pet market” is the only market that matters. Every single one of us SHOULD be a pet owner 99% of the time and a show owner 1%, and every single one of us, even if we don’t act like pet owners, relies on a pet market. They’re where we put our failures, which end up presented to the world in a much, much more effective way than our successes.

If you realize that, if you really internalize the fact that we’re putting our rejects out there, effectively on TV, while our successes may be seen by a few of our friends but usually by nobody in the “real world,” you realize that there is no more important group of people than our pet buyers.

Pet buyers are also the ones who keep us sane and humble. They don’t care if you’ve finally succeeded in getting an entire litter of round feet. They will NEVER know, their entire lives, what round feet are. They care if the dog lives a happy normal life in the suburbs. They also, regardless of what you may think, very rarely care about health testing and they don’t know a lot about longevity. The meteoric rise of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the enduring appeal of anything involving a Golden Retriever is incredible evidence of that. Those are not dogs who are going to live a particularly long life and they’re not dogs who are going to have no issues diagnosed by vets. They are dogs who are delightful and easy to live with and who adore their owners and everyone else. If you are selling pet puppies, THAT is where you will be seen to succeed or fail by 99.9% of all humans.

It places a huge burden on us to educate owners when we have a breed who has a hard time doing those things and should not be penalized for not being able to do them. But even with education we rely on a steady supply of NON-breeding, NON-experienced homes so our breeds can survive. The overwhelming majority of all the dogs you ever produce will be in those homes. Forgetting that and thinking your responsibility is to your show-breeding peers is to your great detriment.

When you breed, you must breed first for your breed AS A WHOLE. Then for yourself, with your conscience and your good mind, your understanding of evidence and solid decisions. Then for your pet buyers, knowing that you have responsibility to support them forever. Then for your peers – because at three in the morning, your peers are the only ones NOT in your bed, on your phone, or as a still small voice in your heart.


Our first bred champion

If you haven’t yet heard the screaming coming from the East Coast, here’s the news:

Magnum, Clue’s son from her first litter, finished recently with four majors, the last a 5-point and a BOB over a ton of specials. His first day out as a move-up special (what you call it when you arrive early to the show and tell the show secretary that the dog needs to be in Best of Breed as a champion rather than competing from the classes) he took another BOB and got a major toward his Grand Championship.

Dawn asked me why I hadn’t bragged earlier, and the honest answer is that I feel like it wasn’t “my” win. I’ve never liked it when breeders act like the success of the dogs they produced is about some kind of super smartness or remote-control effort on their end (or, worse, some kind of inevitability of success thanks to how fantastic the stud dog or bitch is). I am thrilled that I put the dogs together, and I pushed the socialization really hard, but since eight weeks he’s been Dawn’s dog and everything she’s done with him has been 100% her success. He responds to her in an amazing way and he’d do anything for her in the ring. I am nothing but a chubby lady somewhere in the background cheering.  Just, um, cheering extra loud this time :).

Congrats from the whole family to Dawn and her Smoking Gun!


Family, Photography

First snow outtakes (because I am a bad, bad mother)

Sweetie, your hair is in your face. Just shake it back.

If you fling your head back, that’ll do it.

OK, almost!

Yep, got it.

Oh, it’s all in your face again. Can you just…?

A little more.

OK, that’s perfect! I’m done.

Wait, why are you mad at me?

The blanket is there for a reason – I can run back into the house and hide before she can get it off and catch up to me.

Mystery puppies

And many happy returns of the day!


Two years ago they were Agatha, Emme, Trudy, Harper, Daphne, Dashiell, Poe, Kipling, and Ellery, and they had just been born. We tucked them in to a box beside the stove and spent all night staring at them in wonder.

Now they are show dogs, farm dogs, world travelers, beloved pets–and still pretty dang wonderful. Happy birthday Agatha, Emma, Juno, Harper, Daphne, Magnum, Hunter, Kipling, and Buzzy! We love you all.

Family, Photography

The first snow

We’re going to ignore the fact that we had that freak snow and ice storm in October that knocked out power for days and forced me to let my dogs poop next to my file cabinet, and call this the first snow of winter.

We’re big fans of snow here, as long as it behaves well – doesn’t get so deep that Doug comes in moaning about aneurisms and hernias, and makes the trees look pretty.

It also gives us a chance to measure how long Honour’s hair has gotten this year. That’s after I cut six inches off last week, by the way.

But most of all, it gives me the chance to watch Godric’s ears blow in the cold wind.

Once dusk fell, we got out the Insanely Cheap Ikea Tea Lights (R) and made up for all the snow we haven’t had for the last three months.

Good night, everybody – hope you had just as nice a day as we did.



Sammy has now been with us long enough that I would not want to imagine life without her. She came as Sambuca and is now Sam, Samantha, SAMUEL! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?, Sammy, and Blackie the Ottoman-Shaped Dog.

In all the time she’s been here, I have never once seen her lie down on the floor. She’ll hop lightly up onto a bed, and then curl up around your knee for just long enough to fool you into dozing. Then into your dreams will come an odd groaning snarfle and the overwhelming smell of corn chips as she shoves you over on your pillow and smashes her body around your head. If you dare to move, a paw will press itself against your eye and she’ll start licking your forehead until you submit and lie back down again; then she’ll snurfmoan at you approvingly and close her eyes. Pretty soon her head will fall back and an awful whistling snore will make its way around her lips, interrupted only by bouts of sneezing when it’s so loud that she wakes herself up.

The fact that we fight over who gets to sleep with Sammy should tell you exactly how much we love her. Because wow.

In other news, one of our roosters appears to be playing for the other team. He is a lovely Easter Egger boy who was actually a gift to us, and after seeing how well he did out in the mixed group, where Big Bottom the Jersey Giant rooster reigns supreme, and remarking at how how polite and kind he was, we decided to give him his own group of hens. So Molly and Polly, our black Ameraucanas, joined him in wedded bliss. Unfortunately, that bliss consists of him sitting on their sectional and giving them fashion advice and telling them to look at their choices. Molly and Polly are laying like gangbusters and not a single egg is fertile. And I keep catching him staring longingly at Big Bottom…