Saturday, October 25, 2008


In the enterprise that is canine husbandry, some of us forget that our dogs are living, breathing creatures. Conversely, others of us forget that our dogs... are dogs.

Many of my compatriots of the working dog 'ilk' are often annoyed, if not openly critical of people that 'pamper' their dogs. But we have to ask ourselves, "Is there anything inherently wrong with pampering your dog?" The honest answer of course is that there is nothing wrong with it per-se, as long as it does not cross the threshold into "spoiling" the dog. I would define "spoiling the dog" as pampering which otherwise contributes to the dog's dysfunction in the human world. To see the dysfunction of the spoiled dog in action, see any randomly selected episode of "The Dog Whisperer" on National Geographic.

So what about the other side of that coin? Can we show too much disregard for a dog's needs, its relative comfort, that we can likewise contribute to a dog's dysfunction? Perhaps. But what is more likely to occur is that the houndsman who is want for quality husbandry is going to keep the dog in a manner which may become, quite subjectively and to varying degrees, inhumane.

The problem arises from the subjective nature of the concept. As a case in point, I'll share the story of this trailer.

I bought the rolling frame from Tractor Supply at a very reasonable price. I built up the deck and walls of the trailer from scraps from the shop at my work. I then used this trailer to move my small family across the country. Some time later, I noticed a friend had an aluminum dog box that was a bit "banged up" sitting behind one of his sheds. I asked about it, he said it had been in a wreck (no dogs involved) and had been promised to another friend many months earlier, but they had never picked it up. This was followed by "You can have it if you want it." I did.

I set out to fix and straighten the box, and then re-size it - it was built to fit against the tail-gate of a full size pickup with overhangs resting on the bed rails - it was large. Too large to fit inside a 4 foot wide trailer with high straight walls. So I had to make major modifications to the frame and to the left and right doors. All told it was two days work, but when I was done, the friend (whose opinion I value immensely) commented, "That'll make you a nice little hog trailer." Coming from him, I took it as high praise.

So is it the nicest hunting dog trailer ever built? Far from it. But do you think my hounds look uncomfortable?

I don't think so either.

The trailer is what it is... the best damn dog trailer the roadways have ever seen for the relatively small amount of money I spent on its construction. The same holds true for the 'Safari Basket' mounted across the top of the family wagon towing said trailer. I built the safari basket much more recently (you'll notice from the pictures I haven't even had it powder coated yet) but it was well built at relatively low cost. What it may lack in beauty, it more than makes up in durability and utility.

Interestingly, the softer touches among us may consider the safari basket's most recent use, more medieval in fact.
A friend recently harvested this doe.

I got the call to come by the place he was hunting and help pick it up. I neglected to hitch the trailer, and I didn't think to connect the hitch-n-haul in its place. So how did we get the deer to the house? You guessed it.

But this is not medieval either, not really... a bit tacky perhaps, but not medieval. In truth the basket is merely a tool, it has not character nor intent... no 'anima' - evil or virtuous. Here it simply, once again, proved its utility.

But the soft touches should also take note that while in route to assist this hunter, I only had myself in the car. No wife, no children, and their voluminous accouterments. So the dog I brought along in case we needed it for blood tracking, rode in the wagon, on four layers of folded comforter. She slumbered through the return trip in the same manner.

So why am I even sharing all this?

Last month I went to the Rhodesian Ridgeback National Specialty in Gettysburg, PA. While officiating at the hunting trials there, a friend (of the rather cosmopolitan, 'keeping up appearances', dog show minded variety) made an off-hand comment about my dogs being kept in "That medieval trailer."

I found this very troubling. Why? Well, it was, consistent with the typical dog show paradigm, all about how it looked, and not about how it actually functioned. I could make the trailer "medieval" for use as a canine conveyance... I could remove the suspension and weld the axle to the frame, or increase the capacity from 3 dogs to 4 and load them in tail first. But instead I built it for three dogs so each would have room, the suspension helps smooth the ride, and on longer trips, I line the floor with blankets to make it even easier for the dogs to catch some zee's.

The truth is that a genuinely utilitarian tool can be used for any purpose, malevolent, benign, or charitable.

During the course of the trip to the National Specialty I also agreed to transport the Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue fundraising merchandise to the specialty site and back to its storage site - an 1,800 mile round trip - and I had to use every bit of the trailer (including the dog bays) and the safari basket and a portion of the inside of the wagon - shared with one of my dogs.

This is why I found the "medieval trailer" comment so deeply troubling. It wasn't about the person that made the comment actually, because I know them very well, they are a dear friend and an intellectual/academic dog person who actually does seem to "get it" when it comes to working dogs. But it spoke to the dog show world mentality which is so troubling, so short short sighted and prejudiced, and ultimately, so hypocritical.

Several people at the National went out of their way to thank me for transporting Rescue's store. And yet several people looked down their noses at my trailer - '... those hunting people are going to be the ruination of our breed...'

One of those ruinous "hunting people" made the Rescue store a reality... and he did it using that medieval-looking hunting dog trailer.

In fact, the stress from the weight of that load, over that many miles actually broke my dog box.

I subsequently rewelded the broken portions of the frame - hopefully this time, making them stronger.

But don't get me wrong. I'm not attempting to paint myself as some beleaguered saint for rescue, or a martyr. Ridgeback Rescue reimbursed me for the fuel expense for the trip. And if asked to transport the Rescue store to future National or Regional specialties, it will be my honor and privilege to serve. In deed, I will happily jump at the chance to help.

My angst lay not with rescue - they are fighting the good fight. My quarrel is with the condescending and hypocritical double mindedness of the dog show culture.

The sad irony in all of this of course is that while mankind has certainly proven his willingness to cause the inhumane suffering of animals (by both neglect and/or intent) he has reserved the most diabolical, villainous, perverse and depraved expressions of inhumanity, for his fellow man.

An adequately spacious and well ventilated hunting dog trailer is not medieval. The bow hunter who goes afield for the purpose of exercising the acquired skills of woodsmanship, stealth, and marksmanship to effect the quick, clean kill of an early fall doe, the venison from which will help provide sustenance to three different families, is not medieval.

Mankind's treatment of his fellow man is medieval.