Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Then I always feel I have to follow that by saying, "It's the North Carolina state dog." And so many people are surprised. (Not that I'm surprised -- I wouldn't have known if someone hadn't told me that factoid after we rescued Eve and had several people, including our veterinarian, confirm that she was mostly, if not 100%, Plott Hound.)
There are, of course, a few people who surprise me by saying, "Isn't that the North Carolina state dog?" or "I LOVE Plott Hounds!" or "I used to have a Plott Hound, they're awesome!" But most people want to know just what a Plott Hound is.
So, I tell them -- and in some cases, it's a fairly long story which leaves some people with glazed-over eyes and my partner Nicky looking at me as if to say, "Come on, we have places to go, can't you see these people are tired of your "What Is a Plott Hound?" lecture?"
Actually, I find the history of the breed interesting -- and don't mind sharing it. So I will, here, now. My knowledge is based almost exclusively on what I've extracted from the Internet -- from the AKC breed standards, from Wikipedia, and from various dog breed sites.
The Plott Hound's original ancestors came from Germany. Known as Hanoverian bloodhounds or Hanoverian Schweisshunds, these brindle boarhounds (akin to bloodhounds) were used to track down wounded boars in the king's woods because medieval laws forbade leaving a wounded animal alive in the forests. These dogs were famous for being able to follow a cold trail up to two weeks old, even if it had rained before the tracking started. Once they located their quarry, these dogs would either hold the boar at bay or fight it if it charged them (boars being extremely aggressive when wounded, some continuing their attacks even after dying -- their brains being slow to communicate this fact to the rest of the boar's body).
In 1750, two brothers named Plott brought 5 of these dogs to the mountains of western North Carolina -- Bute County, according to the AKC's story, though I've heard claims that they came to Madison County (just north of my own county of Buncombe). One of the brothers died, but the remaining brother, 16-year-old Johannes George Plott (later known as George Plott), started to breed his dogs. His son, Henry, continued the work and soon "Plott's hounds" became famous for their ability to track and hold at bay large predators such as cougars and bears. They later were also trained to hunt raccoons, placing them in the same category as blueticks, redbones, black and tans and other "coonhounds" -- with one difference. They did not owe their ancestry to the foxhound. (I discovered that there is another breed, the American Leopard Dog -- formerly known as the Catahoula Spotted Leopard Dog until recognized by the AKC -- that shares this distinction.)
Over the years, when outbreeding was necessary to revitalize the line and prevent too much inbreeding (remember, George Plott started with only five dogs), the Plott family chose hounds likewise named for the families that originated their line: the Blevins and Cable Hounds -- perhaps others, but I don't know any of their names -- at least not yet.
Gradually, the Plott Hound's reputation spread to other states -- Georgia, Tennessee and even to New England, the Midwest and the Pacific coast -- but their numbers have remained small.
Recognized by the UKC in the 1900s, they did not become recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1998, when they were placed in the "Miscellaneous" class -- a holding place for newly recognized breeds that needed to meet all the criteria for full AKC membership (i.e., a certain population in the US, a sponsor club, etc.). Before that, in 1989, they were adopted as the North Carolina State Dog. Finally, effective Jan.1, 2007, the breed, now renamed "Plott" instead of Plott Hound, was admitted to the Hound Group and allowed to compete in conformation competitions, such as the Westminster Kennel Club's annual dog show, the National Championships, etc. They had arrived!
I believe the AKC decided on the name change to distinguish them from hounds that did descend from the foxhound -- the Black and Tan Coonhound, the Bluetick Hound, the Redbone Hound, the English Coonhound and the Treeing Walker Coonhound.
So, this is what Eve is. A "what" hound of some distinction!
Monday, July 27, 2009
There is so much I want to do -- write novels, rescue animals, start a sanctuary for geriatric and problem animals, get out of debt!, finish unpacking from our last move 5 years ago! I keep feeling old -- and I shouldn't be. People my age are running for president and are considered young for the job!
In dog years, I would be nearly 8 years old -- the probable age of my Plott Hound Eve, for whom this blog is named. Eve carries her age with grace and at least some dignity (she IS a hound, after all) For anyone who has never seen a Plott Hound, here is a picture of her:
This is the picture that is on her dogster page, too, and is one of my favorites because it shows her noble profile! When we first found her, she did not have nearly as much grey on her face, although she did have a little around her mouth and on her feet -- which is not uncommon in the breed.
I love her brindle coat, which is, I think, the doggy equivalent of tortoiseshell in cats, though torties are usually exclusively females while brindle dogs occur in both genders. I love the color because it reminds me of sunlight shining through the woods in autumn.
My favorite dog person, Cesar Millan, says that dogs live in the moment, that they do not fear death, nor do they worry about what the future will hold. This is a lesson I have yet to learn, but one which I think I need in order to stop feeling old and useless. I don't think Eve feels either old or useless!
She is needed to let us know whenever anyone "suspicious" appears outside our house -- or if the neighbors come out of their house. Sometimes she quiets down if I say "Thank you," and sometimes she keeps barking! (or baying -- there is a difference)
She provides an essential anchor for our "pack" of cats -- making sure that the older two cats (Mu Mu and Per Per) come in when they go outside with her, taking care of her "puppy," (YinYang, who we found as an abandoned kitten in the lot next door and who Eve immediately decided was her "puppy!"), and trying not to scare the semi-feral Pooka and Sprite who live under the furniture in our house and come out late at night to be petted by my sister and me.
I should take my example from Eve, who sleeps when she is sleepy, plays when she feels like playing, and doesn't care if she is getting older. After all, she's getting wiser -- and I should be, too!
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I hate to re-cover old ground, but the subject comes up often enough that I feel an obligation to respond -- and this is both about learned helplessness and Cesar Millan.
First, besides being an admirer of Cesar Millan, I am also a great fan of Dr. Temple Grandin, the autistic professor of animal science who is the author of Animals in Translation and several other books about either her own highly functional form of autism or about the relationship between the autistic mindset and the mindset of animals. Regardless of what you believe, please please read Animals in Translation, which is a remarkable book in and of itself for its observations on animals and on our autistic brothers and sisters.
Grandin has watched, by her own admission in an interview with Traci Hotchner (I think), most of the DW episodes on DVD. She has also read Cesar's books. While she does not think he does a good job with fearful or anxious animals, she does say that he does have a good handle on how to work with aggressive dogs. This is someone who is an animal scientist and who both agrees and disagrees with parts of Cesar's methods. I find her comments much more accurate than those who throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss Cesar entirely.
Five years ago, before I heard of Cesar, we rescued an emaciated Plott hound who, because of her starved condition, developed severe food aggression and resource guarding. A woman we were staying with because we were between houses used her knowledge and her 3-dog pack to help us socialize Eve using a combination of corrections and rewards. Then we discovered Cesar's show and realized that we were doing what he was demonstrating. Today, Eve is a well-balanced, albeit somewhat stubborn and crafty 60 pound Plott Hound who has no food aggression issues and gets along with our five cats, who she considers her pack. (My blog is called Eve and the Cat Pack.)
Positive, reward-based training works well if you have the considerable time it takes to change an animal's behavior. When the life or death of that animal is on the line, however, sometimes corrections work best. And I also think that people confuse corrections and punishment. Leash pops do not equal beating a dog and they don't cause a dog to shut down. Cesar uses them to redirect a dog's attention -- and I have found the idea of redirection a good thing. (It doesn't work too well with cats, though... but then, neither does positive reinforcement because cats learn to take control of the situation all too easily!)
Cesar has saved the lives of dogs on the brink of euthanasia. With more and more shelters and counties and states committing to a "no-euthanasia of healthy animals" policy (my county of Buncombe in North Carolina being one of them), many different ways are needed to work with dogs that might otherwise be euthanized because of behavioral problems. Positive reinforcement helps to teach desirable behavior to dogs, but sometimes corrections are needed to unteach serious behavioral problems. This is where Cesar shines.
More than that, his philosophy of calm assertiveness has been a Godsend to me, helping me overcome my low self esteem and get beyond my depression to become an active volunteer for my local animal shelter (which uses +R training, by the way).
His message that animals live in the moment is one we, as beings with instincts, could follow. It would save us a lot of unnecessary worry and anxiety. To say that a dog lives in the moment does not mean that a dog forgets -- it means that a dog moves on. Cesar teaches us not to insult our animals by treating them as babies or dress-up dolls; he teaches us to respect them as a species different from us with whom we choose to co-exist. If we then decide to baby them or dress them up because it's fun for THEM, then it's a different situation.
I also suggest that learned helplessness is a negatively connotative term for one of the ways we have developed in order to co-exist with animals in our society. We don't teach animals to be helpless, but to respect authority -- whether that of a pack leader or of a parent. When we pet a cat, we are acting as that animal's mother did when she washed her kittens on the head with her tongue. We encourage our cats to return to kittenhood (through petting and play) so that they will not run through our houses as the wild predators they are. With dogs, it is the same. Detractors call it learned helplessness, but I see teaching a dog to respond to a pack leader or a parent-dog as how we socialize dogs so that they can exist in a human world that imposes certain conditions on animals.
In a perfect world, we would all be wild and free. The world is not perfect and we choose to share our imperfect world with the animals we bring into it. So we must somehow help them conform to our world. Cesar has some very good ways of helping problem animals do that.
I just with I could find a way to successfully adapt some of his methods to cats! :)
Part of my commitment to my endorsement of Cesar Millan's philosophy and methods consists of answering blogs that criticize him. This is one of my attempts.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I liked the long haired dogs, just as I prefer the long-haired cats -- and so, of course, we have three short-haired, one medium-haired and one long-haired cat. I had fallen in love with Kirby (Loteki's Supernatural Being) the diminutive Papillion who won Westminster Best in Show in the late 1990s. Nicky had had a Cocker Spaniel when she was growing up.
Then we found Eve. We didn't choose her. We didn't spend hours agonizing over whether she would be the right dog for us or temperamentally suited to us. We didn't know if she would get along with cats -- and she was the ugliest dog we had ever seen! She was also dying of starvation and was too weak to walk very far on her own.
She needed us -- and that, for us, became our definition of the "perfect dog." She learned to get along with the cats -- she still lives in fear of Mu Mu, but Yin Yang is her "puppy." She pulls way too much for us but she has tracked down and eaten three gentle leader collars -- to the point of finding them in drawers and getting them out and destroying them.
For goodness' sake, she's a HOUND! A big, galumphy, 60 pound brindle lady with a bawl, chop and bay that sound like a set of mezzo-soprano bells ringing out in the valley (if she's outside) or echoing in my head, if she's in my face and wants me to get out of bed and either feed her or let her out!
Honestly, though, there are fewer prettier sounds than her howl. She is alive and healthy and confident. She loves sitting or lying on the couch with us to watch television. She sleeps in the bed with me or lies at my feet. When Nicky is not feeling well, Eve is there to put her chin on Nicky's leg as they lie on the couch.
She is recovering from her fear of thunderstorms -- instead of making her "go away" in her head and shake like she has a fever, she now either lies on the bed with me and goes to sleep during thunderstorms or she goes into my closet, where she almost fits, and lies down to sleep in the dark.
In other words, she is the perfect dog -- and we had nothing to do with choosing her. All we had to do was say yes to her when we found her.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
This is the first of many posts talking about Cesar. Right now it is very very late at night -- early morning -- and I have not been to bed. An upper respiratory cold/infection has kept me out of it most days and I have been spending a lot of time sleeping and just feeling miserable. Thankfully, I have one large Plott Hound sharing the bed on one side of me and a large (for his species) black long-haired cat lying between me and the edge of the bed! Now, Eve and Mu Mu don't really get along -- Mu Mu is so bonded to me and so jealous of any other critter that comes between me and him that he automatically gets his alpha up and running! (and, yes, Virginia, cats DO form bonds with people!)
The thing I like most about Cesar has nothing to do with techniques -- and everything to do with his encouragement of calm assertiveness. It's this attitude that allows me to become like the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China while I lie between Eve and Mu Mu without fearing that something fur-flying will erupt on top of me! I cultivate a calm attitude, trying to project my peaceful energy to both animals so they will mimic my calmness.
Cesar says that animals are our mirrors. They pick up on our energy and reflect it back to us. I have seen this in action. My high stress and anxiety attacks have made Mu Mu, who is my emotional sponge, sick -- requiring valium (diazepam) to de-stress him so that he wouldn't have urinary blockages!
There are so many aspects of Cesar's philosophy and techniques that I like. Some of his methods I simply can't use -- either because I don't possess the physical strength or because I can't do something as simple as snap my fingers convincingly (arthritis)! But I can let my animals know that I am their pack leader and that they don't have to shoulder that burden -- and yes, cats want to be pack leaders too, sometimes -- at least my Mu Mu does. I can try to live in the now and not worry about whether or not Eve is hanging on to the baggage of her suffering before we found her. I know that she's simply basking in the comfort of couches with warm blankees when she's cold, good food twice a day, treats when she comes indoors and praise for learning new tricks.
In short, Cesar has given me the confidence to believe that I can bring stability to the lives of my animals -- and that goes a long way to answering any negatives people who don't "get" him may express.
So, I hope I can post again sooner than my last post. Maybe someone will even read me sometime! :)
Jackie, Eve, and the Cat Pack
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
So here we go with an introduction to the animals in my household.
Eve: On New Year's Eve, 2003, we stopped at a gas station on our way from the house we were moving out of to the place we were staying until our double-wide arrived. The temperature was 24 degrees Fahrenheit, there was snow on the ground and the ugliest animal I had ever seen was hanging around the gas pumps. I got out of the car to stretch my legs and the dog crawled up to me on her belly, flipped over onto her back and gave me a pleading grin. She was emaciated. When I was in school, I had seen pictures of the victims of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Eve looked like she could have been in one of those pictures. She was literally a skeleton in dog's clothing. My adopted sister Nicky saw her and decided that Eve was sent to us -- or that we were sent to her. We brought her home, too weak to walk, and nursed her back to health. She was probably 2-3 years old at the time; now, 5 years later, we can only guestimate that she is between 7 and 8 years old at least. If you have ever seen a Plott Hound, you know what she looks like. She is a large-size (55-60 pounds) coonhound with a brindle coat, grey ticking on her feet and muzzle and white on her chest and on the very tip of her whip-like tail. She has what I think is a beautiful voice: a contralto or mezzo soprano howl that bounces off the mountains and echoes through the valleys. I will have much more to say about her later, but there are 5 cats clamoring for their time in the bloglight!
Mu Mu (aka Meriweather, Moody, Da Moo, Mr. Da Moo, Darth Mu and other variants): Eleven years ago, Nicky and I were in the process of saying goodbye to our group of five geriatric cats -- as, one at a time over a two year period, they crossed the Rainbow Bridge due to causes ranging from neurological complications to cancer to sheer old age. After our first elderly cat Seamus (Shay' mus) crossed the bridge, we found out that our alpha cat, our beloved tuxedo cat Ira, had terminal cancer in his hip. Since he was too old for the trauma of amputation surgery, we had decided to make his time with us as comfortable as possible for as long as possible, but we were sick at heart at the prospect of losing him so soon after Seamus.
We stopped at our vets one afternoon to see if Seamus's ashes had come back from the animal crematorium and the receptionist told us that they had not yet come back but that she had been trying to get in touch with us. She said that a man had brought in an entire litter consisting of five solid black male kittens whose mother had been killed and that the vets had immediately thought about us. She said, "we knew you girls were going through a really sad time and we thought you might enjoy seeing something to make you smile because they are so cute."
Like the suckers we were, we followed the receptionist to a small room in the back where there was a cage filled with five tiny balls of kitten-fur. We walked toward the cage to look at them when we heard the door click closed behind us. We were locked in!
One of the kittens, a long-haired little guy with a #1 marked on his ear in white-out, immediately stuck his paw through the cage bars and mewed plaintively at me, catching his tiny claw in my sleeve. Eleven years later, Mu Mu is still doing that only he has firmly attached his claws in my heart. Nicky and I played with the kittens for two hours, during which time, several of the veterinary staff and even the wife and daughter of one of the vets came in to see us and the kittens. "So, which ones are you going to pick?" they all said. All of them. Nicky and I began to feel that we had been blindsided.
Two hours later, we came out -- me clutching #1 and Nicky holding a short-haired black kitten with a #4 written in ballpoint on the inside of his ear. "We'll take #1 and #4," we said, and haven't looked back.
Originally we named the kittens Meriweather (for Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition) and Peregrine, intending to call them Merry and Perry. "Merry" would not answer to his name, but when we played with the name Merrimoo, he perked up at the "moo" sound. So he soon became Mu Mu. (His brother became Per Per for the same reason.)
Mu Mu is my soulmate, my emotional sponge. He is bossy, too smart for his own good, a biter, an attention getter, and the alpha animal in the house, a position he has held since he was less than a year old and has had to rule with an iron paw! Physically, he looks like a solid black Maine Coon and exhibits many of the personality traits of the breed. He is a velcro cat who has to be by my side whenever he can possibly take root there. (As I write this, Mu Mu is sitting on the other chair in the computer room next to me...)
Per Per (aka Peregrine, Mr. Slick, Bagheera, Peaches, etc.): While I was choosing the alpha kitten, Nicky was drawn to the shyest of the litter, a short-haired kitten that hung in the back of the cage. When she took him out to cuddle, he promptly fell asleep in her arms. We should have recognized a con when we saw it, because that's the quietest he has ever been in 11 years. Where Mu Mu looks like a Maine Coon or a black lion, Per Per looks like a black Siamese or a miniature Panther. He has a voice like Fran Drescher (of The Nanny tv series). I call him Mu Mu's "yes cat." He is Mu Mu's right paw, his enforcer, spy and confidante. He is beautiful and sneaky, where Mu Mu is beautiful and boorish!
Just as Mu Mu is my cat, Per Per is Nicky's special "boy." He is also the favorite cat of many of our friends. When my nephew Barry, who is now 20 years old, was about 9, he met the kittens for the first time. We told him their names and he got great enjoyment out of playing with both of them. The next time he saw us, though, he wanted to know how Mu Mu and "Peaches" were...(Peaches, Pear-Pears, whatever!). Per Per and Mu Mu have a great time double-teaming Eve, who has been taught never to retaliate against the cats and they take full advantage of that!
Pooka: About a year after acquiring Mu Mu and Per Per, Nicky & I drove out to a cloth wholesaler to meet with our friend Carla. When we arrived, Carla was standing in the parking lot, waiting to point out to us the pair of tiny white kittens that had been living in the woods next to the business and who had been subsisting on dry dog food and biscuits thrown to them by the ladies who worked in the building, as well as whatever they could scrounge for themselves from the woods. An hour later, I had managed to capture one of the white kittens, the male, who literally went from feral to love slut in 30 seconds! Try as we might, we could not catch his sister, who, when she wasn't running from us, would sit on a large rock in the sunlight, looking at us with a waifish expression that broke our hearts.
Reluctantly, we took only Pooka home with us and I promptly got out a glass of water, a few drops of hydrogen peroxide and a flea comb. An hour later, he was soaking wet, thoroughly miserable and sparkline white -- and there was a waterglass full of dead fleas! Because he had lived on his own from the time he was about four or five weeks old and was at least eight weeks old when we got him, Pooka has never become completely domesticated. He loves being petted, but panics when anyone tries to pick him up. He spooks at any sudden sound and has become the master of the "double-take" and the "back-peddle." He is the closest we have to a slapstick comic among our cat pack. And he is definitely low cat on the totem pole. His pale gold eyes resemble wolves' eyes and give him an eerie look that belies his often bumbling behavior. Strangely enough, he is so intimidated by Mu Mu and Per Per that Eve, the dog, bothers him not at all! Lately, he has grown more and more adventurous -- almost reckless as he matures. He still loves being petted and demands it with a pleading intensity that is impossible to refuse. He takes voice lessons from Per Per...
Sprite (aka Deedee, Deedle, Deedy-bee): After we brought Pooka home, all we could think of was his sister, left entirely on her own. We had tried our best to catch her but she eluded all our attempts. After speaking with a college student friend of a friend and telling her of the little kitten we had already named "Sprite," Wolf offered to take some of her friends and try to catch her. For four nights, she and her friends, including her fiance who she insisted was a "Dr. Doolittle" when it came to animals, tried unsuccessfully to trap the kitten. Finally, on the fifth night, there was a knock on our door around 10 p.m. Standing at the door were Wolf, her fiance Ben and a friend of theirs named Cat. All of them had huge grins on their faces and in Ben's arms, wrapped in a towel and looking exceedingly annoyed, was Sprite. She would be alone no more!
Because she missed the all important 8-week window during which a feral kitten can become fully socialized and domesticated, Sprite is still a semi-feral cat. As white in color as her brother, she has the soft fur of an Angora cat or a rabbit, a perpetually worried expression on her face, big green eyes outlined in what looks like kohl and a broken, tiny meow that pulls at your heart. Like her brother, she loves being petted, but hates being picked up. She panics easily and has shredded my skin several times when I've tried to put her into a cat carrier or give her medication in any form. She lives "under" things -- under my bed, under the couch and under my bathroom sink, where I've put a fleecy cat bed just for her. She gets along with none of the other cats except she tolerates Pooka, her brother, and is helpless against the charms of our newest cat (see Yin Yang, below). She is a little faerie spirit that lives in our house, coming out when she thinks it's safe and flitting back to shelter at the slightest provocation.
Yin Yang: With two black cats, two white cats and a brindle dog, we thought our household was complete -- that is, until the night Eve had her stitches removed from her spaying surgery. We returned home late that night from a meeting of our gaming club and as we were leaving the car to go into the house, we heard a loud, almost mechanical sound that we thought was a really loud mockingbird or else the yowl of a baby with extraordinary lungs. With the help of my nephew and a flashlight, we managed to track the noise to a fallen tree that occupied the empty lot next to our property. There, huddled in the space beneath the tree, was a tiny kitten -- black and white and obviously in great distress. When Barry, my nephew (see "Peaches" above) saw him, he said, "Oh jeez, he's only got one eye!" From what I could see with the flashlight, Barry was right. The kitten's left eye was a mass of encrusted material and looked non-existent. It was hard to get to him, but we were finally able to reach out to him and bring him inside. With the help of a q-tip and some warm water, we discovered that the kitten we were about to call Odin did, in fact, have both eyes!
Obviously, we added him to our household -- and since he was black AND white, and since Barry's current favorite musical artists were the Yin Yang Twins, we named the kitten Yin Yang, which has since become corrupted to YinnyPin, Ping Pang, Yinny and other fanciful permutations.
Eve was inordinately interested in this yowling little creature we brought in, so we carefully introduced hound and kitten, making certain that Eve couldn't inadvertently harm the tiny beastie with her big paws. One sniff of the kitten and her expressive hound's face went all goopy and her tongue came out and she tried to clean him. Her face became a neon marquee with the words "my PUPPY!" scrolling across her brow! Ever since then, they have been inseparable. Yin Yang is the mediator, winning the hearts of all our animals. Mu Mu took one look at him (as we held our breath) and declared "I shall call him "mini-mu" and he shall be my minion!" Per Per claimed him as his sidekick. Pooka saw him as a little brother and Yin Yang even started drawing Sprite out of her self-imposed isolation. With his innate serenity and his calm, assertive behavior, Yin Yang does the Dog Whisperer proud. And just like his "mom," he wags his tail wherever he goes.
Now that the main characters that will be appearing in this blog have been delineated, I'll go rest my tired fingers and decide what my next posting will be. The topics that I want to share with any readers include stories about Eve and the Cat Pack, my feelings on living with animals, why I love the Dog Whisperer, and lots of other stuff, including hillbilly life in the mountains of western North Carolina.
That's it for now, y'all!
Jackie (4 March 2009)