Threatening the dog. October 21, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: bad dogs, dog humor, dog owners, dogs, German shepherds, Shiloh
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have a big, bad, black German shepherd named Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special. (I wanted another golden retriever, but Silence found Shiloh online and informed me that she was going to be our next dog and her name was going to be Shiloh. Well, alrighty then. And when we found out that her grandfather’s name was actually Lucas von Shiloh Special, we just couldn’t resist adding it onto her name.)
But to get back to our by now very big, very bad dog. When she does something bad—deafening us with her barking, chasing the cats or putting them through the “catwash” (her tongue is as big as the rest of her), pulling on her leash, or just generally being annoying—we threaten her. Not, mind you, with physical harm. Being wordsmiths, we threaten her with a fast flight to Asia.
Silence once read a story about Koreans’ fondness for dog meat. The proprietor of Mr. Moon’s Dog Stew Emporium, which apparently was doing a booming business when the reporter visited, served up a delicious bowl of hot dog stew. His may have been the most celebrated, but was far from the only, dog stew emporium in the city.
After Silence read this, and of course shared it with our friend Ben with an appropriate amount of outraged commentary, we began threatening Shiloh at every instance of bad behavior with instantaneous exportation and being sold by the pound to Mr. Moon.
Since Shiloh weighs more than 90 pounds, we figured we could get a decent return on investment, especially if Mr. Moon was willing to pay shipping costs. Loud barking and destroying our rugs while rushing through the house brought pointed comments about how meaty Shiloh’s thighs were, and how succulent they would be in a stew.
Admittedly, these comments appeared to be completely lost on Shiloh, but they sure made us feel better about her outrageous behavior. Recently, though, we’ve had a change of tone in our threats. Silence read that the Vietnamese, who also love dog meat and believe that eating it brings good luck, have apparently recently begun to also embrace dogs as pets. Or, at least, high-end dogs; the rest are still consigned to the pot, and apparently the devoted pet-dog owners enjoy their lucky dog-meat dishes as much as everybody else.
Silence, a devout vegetarian, practically beat our friend Ben over the head with the offending article while ranting on (and on, and on) about how perverse people could be when deciding which animals could be sacrificed for meat and which were considered cherished family members. But she didn’t show me the article because of that, but rather, because it said that a pet German shepherd could bring as much as $40,000 (U.S. dollars) in Vietnam.
Okay, we’re not Einsteins, but we don’t think we could get that much from Mr. Moon, no matter how hefty Shiloh is or how much he’s paying per pound. So we’ve changed our threat to benefit our bottom line. Now, when Shiloh misbehaves, we inform her that we’re buying her a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and that we hope she’ll appreciate the contribution she’ll be making to our bank account.
Mind you, she pays no more attention to the latest threat than she did to our promises to sell her to Mr. Moon. But we don’t care. Every time we mention her future fate, we can sit back, relax, and imagine what we’d do with $40,000. And, once we feel totally cheered up, we can rub Shiloh’s belly and smooth her ears and enjoy the company of the best bad dog that ever was without having to shell out another cent. That would be the loving, happy dog with the huge smile and lolling tongue and bright eyes and waggily tail.
Not that she wouldn’t sell us in a heartbeat for $40,000 or even $40 worth of dog treats, or pizza and white Zinfandel for that matter. But that’s another story. (Don’t even think about giving her tequila; she’d sell you to Mr. Moon ASAP and claim you were a massive Bassett hound or something. One taste of spilled tequila on the floor, and the hilarious, horrifed expression and wrinkled muzzle, put Margaritaville forever on the back burner as far as Shiloh was concerned.)
Anyway, we encourage you to threaten your dog in the most inventive ways you can come up with. Even if the dog is oblivious, we promise, you’ll feel much better.
Shiloh to the rescue! October 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dog tales, German shepherds, guard dogs, pitbulls, Shiloh
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Shiloh, our friend Ben’s and Silence Dogood’s gigantic black German shepherd, is a wuss. Yes, her size and deep-chested barking do tend to unnerve FedEx and UPS men, not to mention the postman and water delivery guy.
But that’s just because, seeing a huge black dog racing between the front window and door, barking enthusiastically, they don’t notice the huge, happy smile and lolling tongue, the furiously wagging tail, and the excited tone of the bark: “Look, we have visitors!!!” People who actually come into the house immediately realize there’s nothing to fear except an enthusiastic licking.
Shiloh proved her lack of guard-dog chops once and for all when we were sleeping soundly and, at 2 a.m., there was a loud knocking on our (very isolated rural) door. Silence, half-asleep, was completely terrified, since in her groggy state it didn’t dawn on her that a murderer was unlikely to knock, however loudly, on the door. “BEN! What are you doing?!!” “I’m answering the door.” “NOOOO!!! Here! Take this pepper spray! Get the baseball bat! Do you want ME to take the pepper spray?!!”
It turned out to be the fire police, informing everyone on our street that a garbage truck had crashed into a telephone pole down the road, breaking it and pulling over a connected pole across the street. (Mercifully, no one was hurt.) They wanted us to turn off our power so the repair crew could get to work safely.
So where was our fierce watch beast, normally up and barking loudly (if cheerfully) at every passerby—and every passing dog—during all this? Well, there was Silence cowering in terror on the bed. And there was Shiloh, having picked this up from Silence, cowering very quietly in the pitch-dark on her bed at the foot of our bed, doubtless thinking that no one would notice her way down there, blending into the darkness.
Let us stress again that Shiloh loves dogs. Shiloh loves all dogs. She lives to play with dogs (and try to steal their food and toys, but that’s another matter). Keep this in mind as you read what recently happened.
So, last weekend, a friend of ours came over. His job is to go into people’s houses and advise them on how they can weatherproof their houses. And he told us that we’d be amazed to know how many of these homeowners had pitbulls, especially in urban areas. He said that many of the pitbulls were perfectly friendly, but many were not, to the point where the owners had to cage the pitbulls while our friend did his evaluations.
In one house he recently visited, the pitbull was so vicious that it dragged its huge crate across the floor after our friend, growling, snarling and barking as it tried to rip him apart. Our friend was so concerned that he recorded the dog’s behavior on his smartphone, in case he or his survivors needed it for legal purposes. “See? Just look at this,” he said, playing the clip of the snarling, growling, leaping dog. It was certainly an unnerving performance.
But what was truly remarkable was the transformation it produced in Shiloh. Our normally upbeat, happy-go-lucky dog heard those threatening sounds and recognized them, and what they meant, immediately. She didn’t know where they were coming from, and assumed they must be outside, since there was obviously no other dog in the house.
Rushing to the deck door, she let loose with such a ferocious, deafening, menacing round of barking as we’d never heard in our lives. Her meaning was perfectly clear: “Try to hurt my people and I’ll tear you end to end.”
Our friend hastily ended his clip, and the second the noise stopped, Shiloh stopped barking and went back to being her loving, friendly, “Want to play with this squeaky toy, and if not, how about a treat?” self. But now there was no doubt in our minds: If we were truly under threat, from a dog, at any rate, Shiloh would protect us with everything she has.
Our friend Ben guesses that, ultimately, it’s just poetic justice. I wouldn’t (under threat of my life) dare to call Silence cowardly, but as the incident related earlier in this post might suggest, she’s not exactly fearless. However, the mere thought of someone laying a harmful hand on Shiloh turns this timid lamb into a raging lion. “If I ever found someone trying to hurt her, I would pound them into pulp! They might not live to regret the day they ever laid a hand on her!!!”
Gee. If only I could get her to feel that way about me…
Dogs you shouldn’t own. October 2, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets.
Tags: choosing a dog breed, disease-prone dog breeds, dog breeds, dog breeds most likely to end up in shelters, dog breeds to avoid, Dr. Marty Becker, vetstreet
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When you think of dogs you shouldn’t own, some breeds naturally spring to mind. Breeds like pit bulls, whose powerful jaws can deliver a bite that can break bone. Or Border collies, who were bred to herd sheep over long distances all day, every day, and are great for an active family or as working dogs but become destructive if left alone and bored.
Maybe a breed like the chow springs to mind, fiercely protective of his family but often just plain fierce towards others, or the Akita, bred to hunt bears and strong-willed, a great dog for a seasoned dog owner who is willing to put the time into training, a disaster-in-waiting for an inexperienced or timid owner. Then there are the breeds that have been overbred, typically the mini-minis whose bones are so fragile they break spontaneously or who’ve become known for anxiety disorders.
So when I saw an article on Yahoo’s home page called “5 Worrisome Dog Breeds,” I clicked on it at once. Which five would turn up on the list?
The answer proved to be heartbreaking. The article, which appeared on the VetStreet website and was written by renowned veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, was about three dog breeds that have become most notorious in the veterinary profession for terrible diseases and disorders, plus two whose popularity landed many of them in animal shelters, where their days were numbered.
Of the latter two, one was the pit bull—not exactly a surprise. I’ve been seeing pit bulls dominating shelter populations for years. The poor dogs apparently are discarded because someone wants to look tough, then finds that his dog is “too much dog” for him, or because the person really is tough, and the “scary” pit bull he ended up with turns out to be a mild-mannered sweetheart. As Dr. Becker notes, people are afraid to adopt pit bulls, so once they reach the shelter it’s usually their last stop, despite the ongoing efforts of animal rescue organizations and no-kill shelters to save them.
The other dog on the shelter list was a complete surprise: the chihuahua. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a chihuahua at a shelter, but then, I live in a rural area where I haven’t seen that many chihuahuas out and about, period. Apparently, in more urban areas, the Taco Bell/Paris Hilton phenomenon resulted in a wave of chihuahua breeding and buying, which then resulted in a wave of dumped chihuahuas clogging shelters.
This is confusing to me. I’m not a small-dog person, so I’ve never understood why anyone would want a chihuahua in the first place, but if you did want one, I can’t imagine why you’d want to give it up. Dr. Becker says they’re a generally healthy breed with larger-than-life personalities. Certainly, they don’t take up a lot of space and they’re not terrifying. I just don’t get it.
These situations are unfortunate in the extreme, but it’s the final three that I find most heartbreaking. The first dog on Dr. Becker’s list is the bulldog, to which he adds pugs and French bulldogs—you know, those poor animals that have been bred to have hideous smashed-in faces. How anyone could do that to a dog is beyond my wildest imagining (or to a cat, for that matter—think Persians). How horrifically cruel to the poor animal who can no longer even breathe and is prone to collapse if given exercise in hot weather.
Dr. Becker says many of them must have their nostrils surgically enlarged and/or their soft palates shortened to permit them to draw in the breath of life. How could anyone justify breeding an animal that can’t even breathe?!
The last two on the list really broke my heart, since they’re our favorite breeds: German shepherds and golden retrievers. The beautiful, lovable goldens made the list because they’re so terribly prone to cancer; in fact, Dr. Becker says that among vets, they’re known as “the cancer retriever.”
No one knows why goldens are so prone to cancer, but our own dreadful experience certainly bears it out: We lost our beloved Annie to cancer at just 1 1/2, and our adored Molly at age 10. When our neighbor’s golden recently got the Big-C diagnosis, his vet congratulated him, saying that any golden who made it past ten without succumbing to cancer was a rare sight indeed.
As for German shepherds, Dr. Becker presented a regular laundry list of potential health problems: “epilepsy, vision problems, bleeding disorders and digestive problems, as well as bad hips and degenerative myelopathy, an incurable condition that causes progressive paralysis.” Oh, joy! That’s something to look forward to with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh.
So be warned. After enduring the agony and heartbreak of Annie’s and Molly’s decline, suffering and death from cancer and cancer treatments, we’ve decided that, much as we would love another golden, we won’t get one unless fate literally drops one of these incredible creatures in our laps. Our neighbor, also a big-time golden guy, says he thinks he’ll risk it after his beloved Jackson is gone.
Think carefully before adopting a dog who’s notoriously disease-prone, a dog deliberately bred to be miserable, or a dog that’s not suited to your personality and your lifestyle. Nobody wants their dog to suffer. And if I never saw another sad, bewildered, abandoned dog in a shelter, it wouldn’t be a moment too soon.
Dogs (and cats and all pets) are not disposables, they’re living, loving beings like us. So do your research, talk to owners, breeders, rescue organizations and vets about the personalities, traits, and needs of various breeds before you buy or adopt. Spend some time at shelters getting to know the individual dogs (or cats) there. This is one time to truly look before you leap.
Our cherry tomato is doomed. August 1, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, pets.
Tags: cherry tomatoes, chipmunks and cherry tomatoes, container tomatoes, container water gardens, tomato hornworms
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood adore cherry tomatoes. Every year, we plant ‘Sungold’, ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Yellow Plum’, ‘Sweet 100′, and ‘Pink Quartz’ cherry tomatoes in our raised beds. Yum!!!
But this year, in addition to the plants in our beds, a good friend offered us a container-grown plant of our all-time favorite, the orange ‘Sungold’. Why not, we thought, we’ll put it on our deck and be able to harvest cherry tomatoes from our kitchen door! We were excited. The tomato plant looked lush and was furiously flowering and setting fruit.
Then disaster struck. This past weekend, I noticed that all the new foliage had been consumed. Sure enough, there were two young tomato hornworms, green caterpillars that bear an uncanny resemblance to tomato stems, on the plant. In our garden beds, if I find hornworms on our tomatoes, I always leave them. That’s because, inevitably, they’ve been colonized by parasitic wasps (you can tell because of the white pupal “egg” cases running down their backs). This is organic pest control at its best.
Unfortunately, these two young hornworms hadn’t been discovered by braconid wasps. Figuring that they’d still make a succulent meal for birds, I tossed them into the backyard to fend for themselves as best they could.
But then there was today. This morning, I saw that half the ripe orange cherry tomatoes I’d been looking forward to enjoying in our salad were gone! I was tempted to ask Silence if she’d eaten them, but hey, this is Silence Dogood we’re talking about. Frankly, I didn’t dare.
This afternoon, the mystery was solved. I saw our cat Layla stationed by the deck door, staring out with total concentration. So I came over and stared out myself. Sure enough, there was, of all things, a chipmunk in the tomato container, and every last ripe tomato was gone!
I’m not looking forward to sharing this discovery with Silence. But at least there’s some good news to offset the bad. I was sitting out on the deck with our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, this evening when I heard a loud “Bleep!” coming from the direction of our half-barrel water garden. Trying to be as casual as possible, I turned my head and thought I might see some eyes sticking up out of the water.
I took Shiloh back inside, then sidled up toward the water garden. Sure enough, there was a pickerel frog in our deck’s water garden! This is the first time an amphibian has chosen to grace our water garden with its presence. Silence and I love frogs and toads. Perhaps she’ll be willing to accept the loss of our container cherry tomatoes in exchange for a new friend.
Checking in on Shiloh. July 15, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets.
Tags: choosing a dog, dogs, German shepherd dogs, Pioneer German shepherds, Shiloh
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I have been blessed to have our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), for four years now. Shiloh’s name is “von Shiloh Special” because she’s the granddaughter of Lucas von Shiloh Special, so who could resist? But she is very special to us: beautiful, funny, smart, loving, big, bad (in a comical way), and above all, happy. Seeing her huge smile and lolling tongue is enough to bring someone back from the dead.
Our friend Ben and I had lost two beloved golden retrievers to cancer when I started the search for Shiloh. Just this morning, I read that one in three goldens now loses their life to cancer, and the numbers are expected to rise. OFB has been hoping that one day, we’ll have another of these beautiful, laid-back, joyful dogs. But having seen our two beloved friends suffer, I told him that there’s no way we’re getting another golden unless researchers can break the cancer conundrum; I can’t face that heartbreak again.
Of course, we got Shiloh four years previous to this morning’s revelation. OFB wanted another golden retriever pup then, too. But I was on a mission from God. I loved my goldens, but I’d always wanted a German shepherd. I’d tried to rescue one from a shelter as my first on-my-own dog, but the shelter refused to give her to me because I was single and worked. Better to euthanize the dog than send her to a home where she’d be cherished, apparently! I was and remain incensed about this, but I never forgot my dream of owning a German shepherd.
After our beloved golden Mollycule (that would be the gigantic Hawk’s Haven Molly, aka “the little Mollycule”) died, I went online and searched “German shepherds PA.” I knew the time had come for a female German shepherd; I knew her name would be Shiloh. The question was, where was she?
A few clicks later, I found her. Pioneer German Shepherds, a small family operation near Gettysburg, offered large, calm, family dogs. “Calm” was, of course, a necessary trait, and “family” implied that they would get along with everybody, including our cats and birds. But “large” was also important to me. I like big dogs and, despite their fearsome reputation, most German shepherds are medium-sized dogs. They were originally bred to herd sheep, not cattle, after all. They’re bigger than spaniels, but most are way smaller than rottweilers, sort of the size of Lassie.
Not so for Pioneer’s shepherds. Shiloh’s father weighed in at 135 pounds and looked like a lion; her mother was a respectable 90-something. (And in both cases, this was size, not fat. These are big dogs.) As it happened, Pioneer had two pups left from their latest litter, and had posted photos. I saw the photo of the adorable little black female pup and was lost. I knew she was my Shiloh.
But there was a problem: We couldn’t go down to get her right away, and another couple was coming to look at the two pups first. What if they chose my Shiloh over the other pup? Fortunately, they took the other pup. Shiloh was ours.
I still remember how quiet and calm she was in her carrier all the way back from the Gettysburg area to the Lehigh Valley, a two-hour trip. Her breeder called her a “thinking” pup, enjoying life while discovering everything she could about it. She instantly took to us, to the cats, to the birds, to her toys, to everything. She has given us four years of unmitigated joy.
Shiloh is the greatest. But so are her breeders. Just this morning, Shiloh’s breeders e-mailed to ask how she was. They remembered everything about her while she was with them, the way she loved to swing on the puppy gate, how smart she was. They asked if we could send an update and some photos. And this is four years after we brought her home! How often do you think that happens?!
I’d have said never, and I’d have been wrong. Dog lovers, if you choose a breeder rather than adoption, please choose responsibly. Do your research, trust your instincts, and don’t patronize puppy mills. How wonderful to find a breeder who loves—and continues to love—your dog as much as you do.
‘Til next time,
Where have all the amphibians gone?! May 28, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: amphibian disappearance, amphibians, amphibians warning toxins, save the amphibians
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Silence Dogood here, with apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary and their poignant war protest song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” I read a very alarming article in our Sunday local paper about the dramatic disappearance of frogs, toads and salamanders in the U.S. (“Amphibians fading fast, national report says,” The Morning Call, http://www.themorningcall.com, originally in The Washington Post.)
The report said that scientists had noted dramatic declines in amphibian populations decades ago, but that the rate of decline has now reached a point where half the population of seven species of frogs and toads will vanish within seven years, and half the populations of at least 40 other species, including spring peepers, will vanish within 27 years.
This is dismaying to amateur herpetologists like me and our friend Ben, who love studying and observing amphibians and reptiles. (As a child, OFB kept a pet toad that hopped along after him wherever he went, as well as anoles, native chameleon-like lizards that change color from brown to green when they’re excited. We’ve also had aquatic frogs in our aquariums.) But we realize that most people view amphibians with about the same degree of enthusiasm reserved for mice and tarantulas. Who cares if they become extinct?
Well, we all should. That’s because amphibians are early warners, like the canaries that miners took into the coal mines to warn them if the air was becoming toxic. If the canary died, it signalled the miners to get out of the tunnels and up into fresh air ASAP if they valued their lives. With their thin, fragile skins and dependence on water, amphibians are vulnerable to chemical pollution, and serve as an early warning that our water sources are becoming toxic.
Runoff from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides makes its way into our creeks, streams, and rivers, the sources that provide us with drinking and bathing water. (No, water doesn’t magically appear from your tap or a plastic bottle, just as hamburger doesn’t magically appear shrink-wrapped at the meat counter, as opposed to coming from butchered cows.) And when these chemicals interact with the delicate skins of amphibians, they die. As we will die, more slowly, if this toxic pollution isn’t stopped.
Amphibians, like that other unloved creature, the bat, are harmless to us and consume millions of insects a year, protecting our crops. Ironically, the overuse of toxic herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup deprives these creatures of both habitat and food, causing them to die out and the pest insect population (can you say “mosquito”?!) to multiply out of control. But no worries, folks, Monsanto will produce an even more toxic pesticide to wipe out the mosquitos, until they find a way around it and return, and meanwhile we and our children and pets can all get cancer from Monsanto’s chemical toxins.
My point is this: Rejoice if you find a toad, frog, or salamander in your yard. Try to set up a small water garden where they can enjoy a good soak. And, please God, don’t dump chemicals on your property. Your life, your family’s life, your pets’ life, all depend on it.
‘Til next time,
Can you vanquish fleas? May 4, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dogs and fleas, flea controls, fleas, fleas in history
Silence Dogood here. I expect all pet owners share with me a horror of flea infestations. A single flea and its offspring can apparently produce 8 million fleas in a single season. Yowie kazowie!
Our black German shepherd, Shiloh, receives her dose of Frontline, or poison as I call it, the first Sunday of every month to keep fleas and ticks at bay. I hate poisoning our best-beloved dog, but having experienced a flea infestation before, I know that I must subject her to this treatment. And by giving her Frontline, I don’t have to douse her two indoor companion cats with toxic chemicals every month, too.
I learned my lesson the hard way. When I bought this house years ago, the previous owners had a flea-infested indoor-outdoor cat, something they neglected to mention. I moved my two indoor-only cats in, and didn’t think a thing about it. Until they began scratching uncontrollably and my legs became covered with red lesions.
I tried spraying the house with organic controls. I took the poor cats in for flea shampoos, which almost killed one of them. The only thing that ultimately worked was the Frontline-like fluid that emulsified on their skin and killed adult fleas and kept juveniles from maturing. I can’t now remember what that pre-Frontline product was called, but it did do the trick. The cats, the house, and I were finally flea-free.
As an amateur historian, I’ve of course wondered about the flea situation in pre-Frontline generations. How did the courts of the kings of old, who allowed dogs into their great rooms, deal with the flea issue? How did the sentimental, pet-owning Victorians deal with fleas? Just this morning, I read that even the dinosaurs were infested with fleas, giant fleas with sharp, rasping mouthparts and clinging legs.
We now believe that we can vanquish fleas with our Frontline-like products, which keep juvenile fleas from maturing, making it impossible for them to breed new generations. Perhaps we can use these techniques to vanquish recurrent scourges like bedbugs as well. I’d just love to think that these toxic products wouldn’t have to be doused on our pets or us.
‘Til next time,
The cicadas are coming! April 10, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: 17-year cicadas, cicadas, periodical cicadas
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Our friend Ben was delighted to read that the periodical 17-year cicadas, which have not been seen in our area since 1996, will be emerging from the ground when it warms sufficiently, probably in May, given our unnaturally cold spring here in scenic PA. Admittedly, most poeple wouldn’t be thrilled to hear that dozens, perhaps even millions of the fat, 1 1/2-inch-long, red-eyed creatures would be emerging from the ground like the risen dead. But our friend Ben has a huge, nostalgic fondness for these particular cicadas.
That’s because they don’t emerge from the ground as the winged, black-bodied, red-eyed, shrieking insects whose mating cacophany can reach jackhammer intensity as they compete for females. Instead, they emerge as beetle-like nymphs, climb trees, and molt their shells, leaving the intriguing empty shells still attached to the trees. Sort of like butterflies emerging from the chrysalis, but butterflies are a lot better looking and the chrysalis is a lot more boring.
It’s this nymphal shell that brings back our friend Ben’s fond nostalgia for cicadas. When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a naturalist, someone who knew everything about nature. And of course, that included insects. Those empty carapaces clinging to the trees intrigued me no end, especially when I discovered that they could easily be detached, but that their remnant claws would attach easily to other surfaces. Such as my younger sister’s and brother’s clothes. Let’s just say that they were by no means as enchanted by these cicada overcoats as I.
Sadly, this tendency to use the natural world’s discards to my own ends did not diminish over time. One year at summer camp, I discovered to my horror that dozens of toads had been run over in the parking lot and had dried into black, leathery effigies. I love toads, and was crushed (so to speak) by their demise. But I was also fascinated by their leathery remains, and pinned several to the camp’s official bulletin board, to the officials’ and fellow campers’ dismay. (The culprit was never identified.) Strangely, I have never seen another toad in this condition since, and still wonder why it happened then.
Anyway, I have to say that I’m looking forward to this year’s cicada emergence, at least from the point of view of attaching a few empty carapaces to Silence Dogood’s clothes. But there’s one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to, and it’s not the deafening screeching: The expert entomologist interviewed for the article noted that the slow-moving cicadas are prey to everything from birds and squirrels to dogs and people.
Say what? Rip their legs and wings off and fry them up or sautee them, and you’ll have a high-fat, high-protein snack. Thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, dogs don’t rip their legs and wings off, they just wolf them down whole, as many as they can. And then, according to the researcher, they throw up and immediately wolf down more.
Our friend Ben can see our black German shepherd, Shiloh, intent on this very quest. I can also see Silence’s reaction when various cicada parts were spewed up in our house. To say that this would not go well would be to say that the Titanic encountered a small ice cube. I’ll have to try hard to make sure that no cicadas are consumed by Shiloh during their emergence.
For those of you who might be facing a cicada emergence but don’t have a dog-related issue with same, here’s what the experts say: You may not love the big, fat, red-eyed cicadas, but they’re pretty much harmless. The only real damage they can do is when the females lay eggs by ripping up branches to insert their egg masses. They particularly target fruit trees, so if you have any, cover them with bird netting for the couple of weeks when the cicadas are active. And by all means, crank up the volume on your boom box.
Keep your fish alive. March 15, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: aquariums, prolonging tropical fish life, simple aquarium tips, tropical fish
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Silence Dogood here. Tropical fish are notoriously short-lived, seldom lasting more than a few months in an aquarium environment. And if you love and have an aquarium, or would love to have one, this is very sad news.
But folks, it ain’t necessarily so. Without all the fancy, exorbitantly expensive equipment—the CO2 injectors, the undergravel filters, the halogen lights, the aerators—you can enjoy your tropicals for a decade or so, and revel in the tranquillity and beauty of your tank.
I know whereof I speak. I had aquariums at home and in my office for many years, and our friend Ben and I have one now at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. The secret to beauty and longevity is balance. Let’s take a look at what you need to have the perfect aquarium:
* Don’t forget the plants. Live plants are the secret to a healthy, beautiful, algae-free, balanced tank. Plenty of pants give the fish places to hide, so they feel safe, and oxygenate the tank so the fish can breathe. They also use fish excrement as fertilizer, which makes them healthy and removes potential toxins from the aquarium. When choosing plants, make sure they’re actual aquatics rather than land plants like “lucky bamboo” and the like that can live underwater for a short time before dying.
* Add a rock or two. Rocks provide additional hiding places for fish, as well as adding height and beauty to an aquarium landscape. And they’re far more attractive and natural than Disney-style castles and sunken ships!
* Don’t heat your tank. Shocking! This goes against conventional wisdom, but keeping the tank cool is what’s kept my fish alive long past their sell-by date. Tropicals don’t need a heated tank, but they (and their plants) do need light during the day. Make sure your aquarium hood is fitted with the appropriate lights for both fish and plants.
* Choose compatible tank companions. I like to think of an aquarium as a multistoried structure. Freshwater clams flourish buried in the gravel at the bottom, taking in nutrients and filtering out pollutants. Corydoras catfish, those comical, lovable characters, perform garbage-collecting duties on the floor of the tank, helping it stay sparkling clean. Ghost shrimp and other algae-eating shrimp patrol the gravel and the plants, removing algae from the plants, gravel, and even the sides of the aquarium before it becomes a problem. So do a number of snails, including the beautiful golden snails that add such cachet to a tank. For the upper levels, I enjoy tetras, with their numerous colorful variations: Neon and cardinal tetras, bloodfin tetras, golden white clouds. But whatever you choose, make sure they’ll be compatible and won’t attack one another. Even some tetras will attack other tetras, as I’ve learned to my sorrow, and you never want to mix cichlids in with any other fish.
* Landscape your tank. Having plants in your tank fights algae buildup, too, since plants use up the nutrients that algae would otherwise feed on. And a landscaped tank, like a landscaped yard, can be beautiful, as long as you follow standard landscaping rules: Put the tallest plants in the back and progress to the shortest in the front. You can vary this by having “runs” of midsize or tall plants coming into the shorter ones, but never put a taller plant in front of a shorter one. Do the same with rocks and driftwood: Tall in the back, shorter in front. Use neutral-colored gravel rather than bizarre, brilliantly dyed choices. Eeeewwww!!!! And vary your plantings between grass-leaved specimens, those with spear-shaped leaves, moss balls, and floating plants like anacharis (which are perfect for fish and shrimp to hide in). And make sure you follow the ultimate landscaping rule: Plant in groups and in odd numbers. Plant three of this, five of that: never one of everything or in twos or fours.
* Put your fish on a diet. Overfeeding is a good way to kill fish fast. I feed very moderately during the week, and skip feeding altogether on Saturday, then feed a frozen spirulina block on Sunday before beginning regular daily feedings again dring the week. This weekend fasting routine has kept my fish strong and vibrant for years and years. Overfeeding pollutes the tank and kills fish prematurely, much as gorging on McDonald’s burgers and fries kills us. Undereating, however unnatural it seems to us, has repeatedly been shown to be the way to long life.
So give my techniques a try and let me know how they work for you. It’s a lovely thing to have a vibrant, colorful, diverse tank and to reduce tank maintenance and expense at the same time!
‘Til next time,
The good shepherd. March 12, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: German shepherds, shepherding dogs, shepherds, Shiloh
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I grew up with dogs and have now had three dogs together, and our pre-Shiloh experience has been consistent: Our dogs were wonderful, our dogs were loving, and of course we adored them, but our dogs had not one ancestral or breed instinct to share between them.
Our beloved black German shepherd, Pioneer Hawk’s Haven Shiloh von Shiloh Special (that’s just Shiloh to you), therefore came as a considerable shock. Shiloh is first and foremost a shepherd, and her breed instincts shape her behavior. Yes, she’s a happy, joyous, loving dog who adores romping with her toys, performing “tricks” for treats, and generally lolling happily in our presence. But, unlike all the other dogs we’ve had and known, she knows she’s a dog with a job, and that job is to be a shepherd, to protect her flock.
Shiloh is happiest when her entire flock—me, OFB, our cats, Plutarch the Parrot, and our parakeets—are all in the same room, so she can comfortably keep an eye on us. She herds her toys into a tight group where she can keep an eye on them as well.
But human life isn’t like that. If, say, I’m in our home office on my computer, and OFB is at the kitchen table on his computer, Shiloh will dutifully split the difference, lying in the living room where she can easily rush to my or OFB’s defense should the need warrant it. If OFB is outside and I’m inside, Shiloh will rush to every window and door, trying to locate OFB, and alternate her patrolling with rushing back to me to make sure all is well.
Shiloh does her job beautifully, the job she was born to do. She loves us, and we love her so. How blessed we are to be in the care of such a good shepherd!