Sunday, March 29, 2009

Giving Back

From Science, March 6, 2009, cover image. Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

Our voyageuring trip in the Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, was one of the last true adventure vacations Heather and I have managed to swing [1]: the better part of two weeks on our own [2], without resupply, paddling and portaging our way across a vast system of lakes that differed from each other in stunning ways. One portage away from a brown-water lake thick with reeds, waterfowl, and the occasional, terrifyingly close bull moose, we would encounter one that seemed identical from the water level up: but deep, with a bottom strewn with rectangular rocks that you could almost touch. Then you’d look back at the guidebook, and find out those rocks were boulders, a hundred feet below you, made visible and hauntingly close by absolutely glass-clear water.

It was a damned fine trip, but for one or two very early pieces of misfortune.

We had decided — wisely, it turned out — to take a water taxi to the longest portage available from our entry lake. It accomplished several things, among them being it got us away from a motorboat-legal area in minimal time. It also put a mile-and-a-half carry of a 17-foot canoe and two really heavy dry bags behind us immediately, which seemed the best way to buy solitude as quickly as possible.

As I said, it was a wise decision, though it didn’t exactly go as planned. First, the moment I stepped off the water taxi, a hornet tagged me on a Tevaed f00t (not, at that moment, treading the jeweled thrones of the Earth). It wasn’t just the pain that had me cursing — a few seconds later I’d have had my heavy backpacking boots on, and the little bastard couldn’t have gotten me in such a critical body part. Heather pulled out the Sawyer Extractor [3], got my paw bandaged up, and I pulled on the boots and just cowboyed up.

Well, next thing was that, trying to lift the 17-footer on my own, I immediately broke the piece-of-junk yoke. That, though, turned out to be good luck in disguise: we realized that the unusual top-of-the-frame cargo extensions on our JanSport pack frames actually were a perfect shelf on which to balance a canoe. Not only could we ferry the dry bags easily, by attaching them to the frames as we’d planned, but the canoe carry itself proved easy. We had to do the portage in two goes, but then we’d been expecting to do that anyway.

I don’t remember which part of the three-legged trip it was, but I do vividly remember the sight of the woman standing at the bottom of a downhill stretch of trail, waiting with a certain tenseness as Lilly led us over the crest. Lilly had topped the hill first, seen the woman, and then come back to tell us about it.

When she saw us, the woman relaxed visibly. She later admitted, “I thought she was a wolf.”

Now, if you’re going to encounter a 73-pound she-wolf on a trail, Algonquin is a pretty logical place for it to happen. They most certainly do have wolves, whom we heard just about nightly — or at least, when the loons would shut the frack up. And I admit that there’s something unmistakably wolf-like about an uncharacteristically [4] quiet, self-possessed, mostly black German shepherd with a dark face.

Heather pretty much summed it up, though, in her unique, kill-a-man-at-20-paces-with-her-sarcasm way, when she said, “Very few of the wolves around here wear red backpacks.”

Both the woman’s error and the mythical black wolf that lurks in our collective unconscious may be doubly ironic: black color is rare among wolves, and according to a report in the March 6 Science by Tovi Anderson and a cast of characters from Stanford and a bunch of other places, it may not be “natural” to wolves (or at least, those in North America) at all.

The researchers analyzed the DNA sequence of the K locus, which causes black color in wolves, in individuals on both sides of the tundra/boreal forest divide in northwest Canada, and compared those data with dog sequences. They found out that, when you look at polymorphisms in the DNA — essentially, mutations that build up over time — for either dogs alone or dogs and wolves together, enough changes have racked up in the gene to account for the black-color mutation being nearly 50,000 years old. [5] Which is provocative, because that starts to bump up against a couple of very interesting dates: The Great Leap Forward, when among many other things human art jumped from crude representation to works like the achingly beautiful high art of Lascaux; and the upper range of the more conservative dates for the domestication of dogs.

The stunner, though, was that when they analyzed the wolf data alone, the gene appeared to be much younger: as young as 12,000 to 14,000 years, which bumps against the human colonization of the New World through the Bering Straight.

Anderson & Co.’s conclusion: New World wolves appear to have lost the gene for black color, possibly before the domestication event, and may well have regained it by back-crossing with dogs in astonishingly recent times.

Now, I hear some of you saying [actually, it’s Heather, more or less over my shoulder]: “Makes no sense. The gene for black color predates fur, for Pete’s sake: you can find it in fish, birds, and, well, us. How could it only be 50,000 years old?”

Interesting fact, though: that gene is for the Melanocortin 1 receptor, and causes black color through a slightly different tweak of the same biochemical pathway as the K locus. Different beast. [6]

So it appears that North American wolves had no black-furred individuals at all until people brought their homeys over the land bridge. But that’s not the really neat part.

Anderson et al. made another discovery, when they looked at the geographical distribution of the K locus: tundra wolves have the black version far less often then boreal forest wolves. It looks very much like the wolves who make their daily bread [7] in the dark of the pines are experiencing evolutionary selection in favor of black color.

So there you have it: domestication may not be a one-way street. Human activity can, sometimes, bring favorable genes back into wild populations. [8] It doesn’t change the devastation our footprint can bring in the slightest. But it does, perhaps, signal a glimmer of hope that our presence need not always be disaster personified.

And it feels good to know that our companions maybe gave something back.

[1] Responsibilities, time, and yes, some significant aches and pains, if you must know.
[2] Heather, me, and our two first SAR partners,
Lilly our steadfast anchor and Mel our superstar.
Debunked, as it turns out, as a treatment for snakebite, but to my mind still a credible tool for managing insect stings.
[4] Based on what’s being bred now, for the most part. Don’t get me started.
[5] Huge error bars here, as is often the case with these kinds of dates. But I’m using the mean because that’s where the probability maxes out.
[6] Dogs also have a second black-color gene, though wolves don’t share it.
[7] Well, sweetbreads anyway.
[8] Sure, we may be the threat that they need dark color to evade. What a cynical bunch you guys can be!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Rush to Judgment

I still have friends there, so I won’t say where or when. But I was a young dog handler, not operational yet, attending the first meeting in a certain state of a mixed federal-volunteer program that was later to become the FEMA task forces. [1] I did not, at the time, necessarily expect to be part of the developing system to make available volunteers capable of responding to 9/11-type disasters nationwide. [2] But I was hoping to get to know the folks in the SAR community beyond my team, and maybe see if I could be useful somehow.

I remember, vividly, introducing myself to a member of another team, saying that I was a rookie with XXX, my team at the time.

“Yeah, I know XXX, ” he said. “YYY runs that, right? You might want to consider changing teams. Some people don’t belong in search and rescue, and we’re going to make sure he’s out.”

Now, the awkward fact of the matter is that YYY did, in fact, turn out to be a crook. But significantly, at that point he’d done nothing wrong to the speaker or the SAR system in that state, and even when YYY did fall from grace his sin was against us, his teammates. Maybe more importantly, the quest to oust him, and sideline even the innocent among XXX, involved so much unethical and downright dirty behavior that these guys dug themselves a hole in the muck far lower than the high ground they thought they had.

I don’t think there is any situation in which I’d be so assured of my moral and ethical standing that I would put a young, 20-something dog handler trainee in that position. No matter how bad the team he thought I was on, the fact was that I might, someday, become an asset. And that possibility argued strongly against a display of asshole behavior, pretty much calculated to alienate me from interaction with the larger SAR community that is so important for young SAR responders to learn and grow and make their own teams better. [3]

It turned SAR into a zero-sum game that assured the biggest loser would be the lost person we’re all supposed to be concerned about. It’s a game I despise, and have tried to discourage throughout the 18 years I’ve been in SAR.

The point of the story, though, is that my own instinct is to shy away from judgment. I’ve seldom seen the person who’s so evil that I would feel comfortable condemning him wholesale. [4]

Today’s entry: a Feb. 27 Science study by H. A. Chapman and folk from the University of Toronto. They filmed the faces of people:

· experiencing a bitter, pleasant, or neutral flavor in their mouths
· looking at pictures, of things ranging from the pleasant to the disgusting
· being treated fairly or unfairly in an economic game

Then they measured changes in the relative positions of facial features — particularly the distance between the bottom of the nose and the top of the upper lip. And they found out that, for all the situations above, the only ones in which the distance between nose and lips predictably decreased were gustatory, visual, and ethical/moral disgust.

They weren’t taking a stab in the dark: there’s a longstanding literature suggesting that, when we say that a bitter taste, poo, and incest are all “disgusting,” it’s more than a metaphor. There seems to be a direct link between a physical feeling of revulsion and the moral judgments that a particular human behavior is unclean. Chapman and pals argue that we have constructed our higher-level sense of disgust using the building blocks that developed in the brain to help us avoid poisonous foods.

What really puts a hook in me is the side issue that, as in all things, human beings exist on a continuum. Some of us are far more easily moved to disgust than others; and some evidence suggests that our proclivities along these lines push us toward our political and religious affiliations. In short, the most (socially) conservative of us may be that way partly because we are more quickly and completely moved to real, physical disgust when we see something that disgusts us conceptually. On the other hand, the social liberals (including libertarians, on this issue) are slower to reach this point, keeping the moral and ethical on a more intellectualized level.

I would argue against a rush to ... judgment on this idea, since it isn’t immediately clear that either side is either practically or morally “better.” To some extent, I buy into the conservative argument that liberals are often so in love with exploring both sides of a moral argument they dither. I also hold with the liberal belief that conservatives are often so in love with acting on their gut feelings of right and wrong that they stumble into debacle. Pick your favorite example from recent history, both sides have plenty of ammunition.

Now, humans, like all mammals, never do anything for just one reason. And there’s evidence that, even among conservative religious groups, we may be experiencing significant shifts in exactly what defines of morality: Barack Obama had a surprisingly strong showing among young Roman Catholics and Christian fundamentalists. [5] Even if the link between conceptual and physical disgust is real, it can attach different sensibilities of what constitutes the unclean. In addition, a commentary on the Chapman study in the same issue of Science pointed out alternative explanations for their results to a real, biological link between physical and conceptual revulsion.

But it all does suggest that we split ourselves into ethical tribes because we’re literally put together differently. And that allowing voice to both outlooks helps us with the difficult balance of thinking things through vs. trusting our guts.

Of course, maybe that attitude itself marks me as fundamentally liberal — though I hate the term, and am far more conservative on some issues. No matter: my old team is still there, if transformed by time, and I’m certainly still here. Being able to see both sides doesn’t necessarily make you a pushover: so next time you judge, do so carefully.

[1] Since I’ve found some people associated with the FEMA system to be a bit ... ahem ... thin-skinned, I’ll just say that the state wasn’t Pennsylvania, and at least avoid antagonizing my neighbors. For the record, and for many reasons, I’ve never even tried to become part of that system.
[2] Though this was long before 9/11.
[3] Some of my current team’s best members came to us after concluding that their prior teams did not meet with their personal expectations and standards of quality and behavior. Gotta give people the chance to come to that conclusion on their own.
[4] Seldom doesn’t mean never. Yeah, yeah, Hitler, bin Laden, Saddam, Kim il Jung. I’m not a pacifist. Interestingly enough, though, I’ve only encountered one person in my SAR years that I have no interest in ever working with again — and it’s not the guy in this story.
[5] Deep water: our religious affiliations don’t parallel this phenomenon any better than our political affiliations.
There’s certainly a strain of refusing to judge others in christianity; still, I think most of you know what I’m talking about. Point being, the Obama votes from a new generation of traditionally right-wing voters was about more than just the economy: the definitions may be changing.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unable to Dance, I’ll Crawl

There may come a day when I’ll dance on your grave
Unable to dance I'll still crawl across it
Unable to dance I'll still crawl
Unable to dance I'll still crawl
Unable to dance I'll crawl.
– “Hell in a Bucket,” The Grateful Dead

There’s a certain individual Heather and I know through SAR — he’ll remain nameless for today’s purposes — who really tried to fuck us over, once upon a time. It led to many hard feelings and the kind of mutually assured destruction that almost always follows a feud. I think we wound up losing less from the exchange than the other party did; a public fight with more-established personality in the SAR community probably gave us a stature and notoriety [1] that we probably didn’t otherwise merit.

Still, it was an upsetting and intense time, and I have it on good authority that bad feelings persist to this day on both sides, many years later. Heather, for one, looks forward to pissing on a certain grave; I’m less sanguine, and suspect this person may in fact be immortal. So the piss may fly in the opposite direction, at least where my final resting place is concerned.

Heather’s emotion — known, hilariously enough, by a German word, schadenfreude — is pretty much a human universal: that dark but satisfying feeling of joy we get from viewing another person’s (usually someone we dislike or envy) misfortune.

Fast forward to this morning, when I saw our Sophie, lying in the living room, going to town on a cow bone as big as her head. Just outside the sliding doors stood our Moe, whom Heather had let out for a restroom break. When I caught him watching her intently, I wondered how and whether what was going on in his head mapped to what a person goes through when he or she feels envy.

If you have multiple dogs, you’ve seen that they experience envy. The possibility always exists, though, that it’s in some way more primitive, or at least less conceptualized, than ours.

Which brings us to a Feb. 13 Science report by Hidehiko Takahashi and buds at a number of institutions, including the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, Japan; Tokyo Medical and Dental University; and the Japan Science and Technology Agency in Saitama, Japan. They wondered what relationship the abstracted emotions of envy and schadenfreude had with the basic biological sensations of pain and pleasure, and decided to test the question with functional magnetic resonance scans of people’s brains as they experienced these emotions.

The answer was, “more than you might imagine,” with a side order of “can of worms.” Through a clever series of scenarios, they got their (human) subjects to imagine good and bad things happening to folks with whom they identified fully; whom they envied; and with whom they had little in common, reducing the tendency to envy. The idea is that if you see someone who reminds you of yourself, or even who’s different enough from you that you can’t make a comparison, you’re likely to vicariously share their good and bad fortune. But when it’s somebody you envy, then by Gaad you’re going to rue everything good and enjoy the hell out of everything bad that happens to them.

Their results stunned me, in that way that something you should have guessed but didn’t does. When their subjects experienced envy, the scans [2] displayed activation of areas of the brain’s periaqueductal gray, anterior cingulate cortex, and thalamus. These brain areas are known for their activation when a person is experiencing physical pain; they’re also associated with social exclusion, grief, and the experience of injustice.

When the same folks experienced schadenfreude, the brain areas that lit up were the ventral tegmentum, ventral striatum, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. Think, physical pleasure, the feeling of virtue, experiencing a fair exchange, cooperation, and altruism.

Let’s stop for a moment to think about that last one: the parts of the brain that activate when we get jollies out of seeing some bastard receive what’s coming to him are essentially the same ones that light up when we rescue a baby from a burning building.

How messed up is that?

I suppose one valid observation would be the amazing way with which our complex minds have been cobbled together out of basic, even primitive components. It speaks to my earlier point that maybe we humans are special for a combination of otherwise biologically unremarkable features that, when united, create an awesome synergy. Certainly, there’s little new under the evolutionary sun; but oh, the amazing things you can unlock when you turn the tumblers to the right sequence.

Of course, we also have what Freud called the superego: that nanny-of-the-mind who comes along and scolds us into doing what society expects. A very interesting follow-up experiment would be to catch the subjects in the throes of schadenfreude and make them aware of what they’re doing. Shame in failing to uphold our own universal self image of being the good guy in the story, I’d suspect, would knock us back to activating the pain centers of the mind. And what next? Would atonement bring the pleasure centers once again online?

Me, I’m all too human; by no means have I gotten over our old resentments. But I suspect that, if our nemesis checked in before I did, I’d go to the funeral and keep a low profile. Because that would, at least, respect the brotherhood of SAR responders.

It may well be just another change of the pain-vs.-pleasure guard in my brain, deriving an ultimately petty charge out of offering props to someone not because he deserves it, but because I want to feel superior. But I’ve given up on worrying about what’s going on in people’s heads — it’s what we do that counts. The one person you have to try to respect, after all, is yourself.

[1] Note the etymological commonality with the word notorious.
[2] Of course, right now there’s an eye-gouging fight going on over the meaning of brain areas lighting up in an MRI scan. Functional MRI shows us which brain areas are receiving blood flow, which mostly equates to which are active. But recent reports suggest that the brain will also fire up an area that it doesn’t need quite yet but might need soon — so we can’t take these scans as gospel. (Sorry, for the life of me I can’t find that reference.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Darwin, Finally
in which DACSIH? finally recognizes the 200th anniversary

I once made the mistake of visiting Alan Lattimore, a good friend from Wire Mommy Alma Mater, when he was living in Baltimore. In the summer.

Now, don’t take offense if you’re a fan of the town; I like the place. But you’ve got to admit, it can be a miserable, humid, hot environ in the summer.

Anyhow, one time of day was nice, and that was in the evenings, when it started to cool down. We could repair to his apartment’s mercifully shaded, cool, brick front porch, lay back, and sip lemonade.

I don’t remember whether our unexpected guests were Saints or Jehova’s Witnesses. But they came walking door-to-door, and in an Antebellum kind of way it seemed only natural for two ex-College Know-it-All Hippies [1] to invite them up to take a load off, drink some lemonade, and shoot the breeze for a while. It soon became obvious that nobody was converting anybody that day — but we had one of those civilized, respectful exchanges of ideas that human beings are supposed to be able to manage but somehow often can’t.

I don’t remember how we got onto the topic of evolution, either. But I do remember the question one of them asked me, and which encapsulates a lot of the confusion over the issue:

“If humans evolved from apes, why aren’t we still evolving?”

The second part was the easy one, if the answer had a bit of an “all of the above” feel to it:

  • evolution is so incredibly slow with a species that takes the better part of 20 years to mature that it’s very hard to see within a human lifespan
  • there’s some reason to suspect that the way our technology allows us to assist each other may be slowing or at least changing the way we evolve

But the first clause of his conditional question carries a mammoth misconception that many even of evolution’s defenders, including the teachers who teach it, consistently get wrong: human beings did not evolve from apes. We and apes each evolved from a common ancestor, which was neither one nor t’other.

That idea takes some getting used to. It’s relatively easy to imagine the common ancestor of a fish and a lizard looking something like a newt or a frog. It’s much more difficult, with the exceptional place we humans hold in our own minds — and, in terms of our impact on our surroundings at least, clearly have — to imagine a more “primitive” ancestor that shared some orangutan characteristics, say, and some human characteristics. It involves, perhaps, breaking through a wall of Mary Douglasist taboo to even think of such a creature, let alone to accept that it would pre-date anything as “primitive” as an orangutan.

The flaw in the above statement is the casual use of the word “primitive,” which in evolutionary terms doesn’t quite mean what we usually take it to mean. In the realm of evolutionary biology, a bacterium and a shark are in many ways every bit as “modern” as a human being. In some ways their forms are more perfect than ours, as they have survived, with remarkably few changes necessary, for 3 to 4 billion and 420 to 450 million years, respectively, to our measly 250,000.

Still, as mistakes go, it may be that regarding humans, evolutionary biologists have been making the biggest one of all — one that they’ve only recently recognized. Enter an article by Erika Check Hayden in the Feb. 12 issue of Nature. [2]

We make much of the fact that humans and chimpanzees, our nearest surviving relatives, share 94 percent of our DNA sequence. The simple explanation for that was that six percent of our genes are so important that they can make the vast difference between a very intelligent but still “natural” animal and the hyper-tool-using-communicating-building-environment-altering phenomenon that H. sapiens has become.

Only, it didn’t turn out to be simple at all.

For one thing, most of the differences lie in what molecular biologists are increasingly embarrassed to have nicknamed “junk DNA.” The majority of the DNA in eukaryotes (organisms with complex cells that include a nucleus to contain the genetic material) tends to consist of sequences that don’t encode genes or anything else of known function. Even the scientists who originally coined the phrase probably knew that it wasn’t going to be accurate — in some ways, it’s an ironic reference to our inability to figure out what much of the genome is doing. We’re pretty sure it ain’t junk; but it isn’t genes or anything we really understand, either.

For another thing, the fact that two DNA sequences are different doesn’t necessarily mean that they act any differently: many of the differences may be essentially meaningless silent mutations.

Finally: a couple of these DNA differences — such as those within FOXP2, associated with human speech, and ASPM and MCPH1, associated with brain size — do fall within genes for proteins associated with important human characteristics. But researchers are increasingly coming to realize that most of the differences that do mean something nevertheless may be acting only marginally. All told, they just don’t capture what makes us human. [3]

You see, we’d left out culture.

As amazing as it seems, human culture has had such a profound effect on our evolutionary path that it has completely redefined what human evolution means.

Consider: about 50,000 years ago, the human race experienced “The Great Leap Forward” — when our technology began to change and improve radically, in an accelerating fashion. Our genetic evolution took a turn soon after: based on current human genetic diversity, our SNPs — one-base changes in the DNA sequence — expanded noticeably about 40,000 years ago.

Now, none of these numbers is etched in stone just yet: but note that the genetic change seems to have come after the cultural explosion, and certainly not well before it.

There’s a similar pattern, if more tightly grouped, around the Neolithic Revolution about 10,000 years ago. Consider the following:

Now, many of those dates wobble compared with each other. And it isn’t clear which do so because we just don’t have them accurately pinned down, and which do because they happened at different times. They didn’t have to have changed all at once to uphold the point we’re discussing: clearly, ’round about 10,000 years ago, everything changed.

Oh, and that 40,000-year estimate of the initial burst of SNP changes in H. sapiens? That’s based on a more-precise calculation of an explosion of 3.9 million SNPs that researchers looked at in modern humans from Europe, Africa, and elsewhere.

Care to guess how many years ago that burst happened? 10,000 years ring a bell?

Again, the DNA changes did not happen before the cultural changes. At most they were simultaneous, and even may have followed — may have been caused — by the technological and cultural changes.

Why? That comes back to my second answer to our Baltimore visitors: technology, culture, how humans interact and adapt their environment to their needs rather than the other way ’round, makes it possible for us to start collecting new traits that would mean a nasty, brutish, and short life as a pre-hunter-gatherer, but which allow for the kind of specialization of abilities and aptitudes that a complex society needs. It also lets us collect a bunch of behaviors that are learned rather than inherent, and maximize our flexibility of lifestyle because someone will teach you what you need to know, so you don’t need to maintain behaviors in your genes.

Note I said “pre-hunter-gatherer” above, because by the time you get to a hunter-gatherer society your technological and cultural levels are already very complex. As an example, once Heather made the observation that a person we knew who was no good with dogs wouldn’t have survived as a hunter-gatherer. I had the perfect counter: not if, along with a lack of ability to empathize and work with dogs, came a knack for chipping out the best flint spearheads. Somebody like that would more than pull his weight in a hunter-gatherer society, because others could do the dog work.

In real life it probably isn’t quite that pat, but clearly the cultural complexity can and probably did drive the genetic diversity. Increasingly, evolutionary biologists are working this insight into their work as a fundamental property of human evolution.

I mentioned above that I would get back to the 14,000- to 17,000-year date for genetically and anatomically distinct dogs. Dogs, that is, that we can be sure were dogs, because their skeletons or DNA were different from those of the wolves that almost certainly started to hang around human settlements for the bonanza of yummy garbage (and the occasional kid). Many folks — my better half is certainly one of them — suspect that dogs that were distinguishable from wolves by their behavior but not their bodies (i.e., a wolf that sleeps with you and doesn’t eat the cave-bear-rugrats) arose much earlier than that.

When? Well, we don’t have a very good answer for that one; we’re not even all that sure when wolves and coyotes split. So the range of estimates for the earliest possible domestication — 15,000 to 140,000 years — is so broad it isn’t of much help to us. But that range does bracket The Great Leap Forward, and that makes me wonder:

Two events? Dogs as hunting partners 70,000 years ago, before The Great Leap, and as pastoral and agricultural partners 15,000 years ago, before the Neolithic Revolution? Could our dogs have helped trigger the cultural changes that in turn directed our evolution?

There’s no doubt we’ve directed our partners’ development in profound ways. Has the relationship been more mutual than we ever thought? Is domestication co-evolution?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But it’s something to think about, sitting on your porch, sipping lemonade, with your best friend curled up beside.

[1] God help me, one of the South Park characters looked exactly like me.
[2] While normally I start with primary sources, or at least peer-reviewed review articles, this news piece brought together so many important ideas that I’m making it a special case.
[3] Human exceptionalism is a trap, of course. We move from characteristic to characteristic — language, tool use, empathy — desperate to find one that makes us unique. But maybe the old saying about German shepherds is more to the point: “They’re not number one at anything, but they’re number two or three at everything.” Many little differences, none of them unique, adding up to more than their simple sum.
[4] Scientific observations of teaching among primates, orvids, and canids notwithstanding. Not to mention common experience among dog owners with freely interacting packs!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Vote for Moe!

You may notice the ruggedly handsome fellow to the right, in the place where Pip is usually getting familiar with our barn cat, Gollum. Well, this is Moe, Son of Pip, and Director of Homeland Security at our farm. He’s in the running in a photo contest that could, if he wins, put a whole buttload of money into National English Shepherd Rescue. Most of you probably already know about the Montana English Shepherds, as well as, unfortunately, the pinheaded viral email about that rescue operation that’s making the rounds; but suffice it to say the organization can dearly use the funds, with over 200 dogs that may soon need homes. Please click on the doggie, and vote now; the balloting is over after March 10.