White Tiger: The Color of Controversy

A great article regarding white tigers.

Doc Antle's Tiger Tales

Royal White Bengal Tiger ~ ©Rare Species Fund Royal White Bengal Tiger ©Rare Species Fund

White Tigers are NOT Genetically Defective
There is no evidence of a genetic defect inherent in the white color variant of the Royal White Bengal Tiger, notwithstanding the erroneous claims to the contrary by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). White tigers have a normally occurring, simple recessive genetic color variant known as leucism, much the same as the leucistic (white) deer common to the Carolinas. Leucism and albinism are not the same. White tigers are not albinos and do not carry the genetic weaknesses associated with albinism. According to a recent study published in Current Biology, the gene, known as SLC45A2, is a naturally expressed color variant that was common in wild tiger populations prior to extirpation by poachers, hunters and habitat fragmentation in the 1950’s.

White Bengals result from genetic mutations that are part…

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Palm Oil: Heart of Darkness

This is an excellent article on the impact of palm oil production on our world. In addition to driving multiple species to extinction, including the Sumatran orangutan, elephant, and tiger, all of which are critically endangered, as well the endangered Bornean orangutans and pygmy elephants, the massive deforestation of rain forest to convert it to palm oil crops is contributing significantly to climate change. We are literally killing ourselves along with them.

Doc Antle's Tiger Tales

RSF Orangutan ©Rare Species Fund

The Horror of Palm Oil Production
Fires raging across much of Borneo and Sumatra devour vast amounts of Indonesian rainforest. These fires which are now out of control, are believed to have been set intentionally by companies seeking to clear land for the lucrative production of palm oil crops. Unfortunately, approximately 50% of everyday products used in the west today, contain palm oil.

Habitat for thousands of species, including critically endangered Sumatran tigers, orangutans and rhinos, is engulfed in flames at the rate of about one million acres annually— deforestation on a cataclysmic scale for the purpose of unsustainable palm oil production.

Unless this ecological apocalypse is arrested, the biodiversity of the Indonesian rainforest, and all of the hope for our future that it represents, could be lost in our lifetime.

— a·poc·a·lypse
1. the complete final destruction of the world.
2. an event involving destruction…

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Great Expectations

Marcos & me, April 26, 2015.

Marcos & me, April 26, 2015.

I accidentally bought a stallion in December.  Not just any horse, he’s the kind of horse that little girls ride in their dreams at night.  I wake up in the morning counting down the minutes before I can ride him again.

I am a student of dressage, and I train with close friends of more than a dozen years now, Kim and Yvonne Barteau of KYB Dressage.  I met Kim and Yvonne in 2003 after working with a trainer for more than three years but never seeing the inside of a show ring or even knowing a single USDF test.

Gigar in 2004.

Gigar in 2004.

In the fall of 2003, I had purchased an Akhal-Teke stallion named Gigar, and by the beginning of the 2004 show season, I made my first salute to the judges in the box.  In the beginning, Yvonne read tests for me, and I remember coming out of the ring after the first one feeling rather full of myself.  Yvonne asked me, “What the heck was that?  You never made it to X on your trot loops; you only went to the quarter line. They are going to whack you for that.”  (At Training Four, the horse was required to touch the center line at X (center of the dressage ring) during the first trot loop.)   I laughed and told her, “Well, you’re the trainer.  How come he doesn’t know where X is?”  I was a pretty poor student back then and managed to show up for my first show without ever reading a dressage test for myself.

Marcos in December 2014.

Marcos in December 2014.

I became a better student over the years.  I now know where X is.  Working with people who are excellent inures a feeling of trust and a motivation for excellence.  In fact, I almost called this blog Blind Faith, except that it isn’t blind.  It is a faith that evolves over time after hours and years of lessons in which you are pushed to the limit of your ability and kept safe at all times.  It is not unusual for Yvonne to give me an instruction that is completely counter-intuitive to me and at the moment I feel a compelling need to grab onto the reins like a clutch monkey and cling for dear life, she tells me “donkey kick,” and when I do it, the horse drops onto the bit and gets ahead of the leg.  It’s a special kind of fairy dust (or perhaps schizophrenia) that I now carry with me even when I am not in a lesson, and I can actually hear their voices in my head when I find trouble riding on my own.

Dona in 2005

Dona in 2005

In late 2004, I had just had a major surgery and was patched together like Humpty Dumpty.  About two weeks after surgery, Yvonne persuaded me to try out a three and a half year old Friesian filly that she thought I should buy.  The last thing I wanted was a young horse, and certainly not a fat, hairy Friesian.  I still have Dona, who will be fourteen this year.  In 2005, she was the USDF Region 4 Reserve Champion (Training Level AA), USDF All Breeds Award 2nd Place (Frieisan Horse Society, Training Level AA), and was ranked 18th place nationally for all breeds, USDF Adult Amateur Award.  By 2006, she was 3rd in the country, all breeds at Training Level for the USDF Adult Amateur Award (median score of 72.308%); she won first place for the USDF All Breeds Awards for the Friesian Horse Society for both Training and First Level, and she placed at Regionals as well.  In her spare time, she carried my eight year old daughter around like a basket of eggs and with her unfailing kindness, she taught her to ride.  She is the Lassie of the horse world.

Marcos April 26, 2015.

Marcos April 26, 2015

For the past several years, demands of my career have kept me out of the show ring.  Last June, Yvonne sent me an email with a video of an amazing Andalusian stallion, which I did not watch at the time.  In the fall, I was casually window shopping for a new show prospect and had ridden a different Andalusian stallion in a lesson with Yvonne.  At her encouragement (and by “encouragement,” I mean insistence), she had me see and ride a mahogany bay stallion at another barn that she had worked with previously.

One thing I have learned over the last decade is that when Yvonne makes a strong recommendation, she is always right.  She did, after all, write the book (literally) on the matchmaking of horses and riders,  Ride the Right Horse.  (If her passion were stocks instead of horses, we would all be billionaires.)  And now I have my Marcos, who is the most talented horse I have ever ridden.

Once again, I find myself in the happy anticipation of show season.   The twelve preceding years have taught me that if I put in the work, my greatest expectations will be fulfilled.  And by great expectations, I do not mean Horse of the Year Awards or the other trappings of the show ring that flow from riding a well trained horse well.  I mean this steady march toward progress in dressage – that exquisitely nuanced recipe of connection, balance, impulsion, and suppleness that is born out of an educated partnership forged with a horse.

Not all trainers are equal, and Kim and Yvonne are without equal.

Snakes Have Value

“Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince. “But why do you always speak in riddles?”

“I solve them all,” said the snake.

And they were both silent.

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

Snakes have value. Whether you fear them, love them or simply respect them, they never fail to inspire, or awe.  Snakes are animals of medical significance to human beings and their physiology holds many important clues to the world of medicine.  They are an integral part of multiple ecosystems and they have held enormous roles in culture and religion throughout human history.  Snakes are significant in literature.  Arguably the most important animal in The Bible, snakes have figured prominently in children’s classics such as The Little Prince to best-sellers and blockbuster movies such as Harry Potter.

In fact, the serpent is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols.  Snakes have appeared in art at least since the enraged uraeus snake in Egyptian pharaonic imagery (as can be seen in the mask of King Tutankhamun, c. 1327 BCE).  This has not precluded them from pop culture and modern art.  Richard Avedon’s portrait of Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent remains a pop icon from the 1980s.  Snakes are important to humans and we need them.

Photo © 2012 Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Some of the earliest recorded medicinal uses for snakes originated in China during the 1st century AD when the Chinese began using snake skin for treating hemorrhoids, eye infections, and sore throats.  In the 1940s, snake venom was used as a key ingredient to treat the symptoms of post-polio syndrome.  By the 1950s, Americans were successfully using cobra venom for treating post-polio syndrome.

About the same time, Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease with similarities to post-polio syndrome.  Dr. Murray Sanders began studying the use of cobra venom in the US and its successful effect on ALS patients.  He was later nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine.

Today, independent laboratories are investigating the use of snake venom to treat not only ALS patients, but also patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), in addition to multiple other neurological and autoimmune disorders.

 Snake venom has also been found to stop excessive bleeding during surgery or after major trauma. Components of Malayan Pit Viper venom has shown potential for breaking blood clots and treating stroke victims. Enzymes from cobra venom may be instrumental to finding cures for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  An enzyme derived from copperhead venom is being researched as a potential treatment for breast cancer.  Snake venom is sometimes even used in a commercial wrinkle cream!

In England, snakes are being used in hospital environments as therapy animals to treat depression and they have been used as therapy animals in the United States as well.  Research has shown that when choosing between a puppy, a rabbit and a snake, a statistically significant number of at risk children responded most favorably to the snake.

But snakes are in a world of danger. In a world of diminishing habitats, they suffer from the same effects of environmental degradation as other animals, but with the added burden of being targets for persecution and antipathy.  Endangered species of snakes and other reptiles are often overlooked when it comes to conservation efforts.  They do not engender the same level of human sympathy as mammals.

Healthy ecosystems depend on these animals. Reptiles and amphibians are often the barometers of habitat health. The survival of mammals, then, too is affected by maintaining healthy wild populations of reptiles and amphibians.

Spoliation of habitat is a fact of the modern world.  U.N. specialists estimate that 60 acres of tropical forest are felled every minute. Clearing habitats for agriculture is the principal cause of habitat destruction. Other important causes of habitat destruction include mining, logging, trawling and urban sprawl. Habitat destruction is currently ranked as the primary cause of species extinction worldwide.  The irresponsible raiding of natural populations of reptiles and amphibians for the pet trade is also a form of spoliation.

Captive breeding has become integral as a conservation tool for animal species of the world. On the horizon looms a future where much of the world’s wildlife will depend on private citizens to maintain it for perpetuity. This vast project is far too immense for zoos and government agencies.

Herepeteculture is the captive breeding of reptiles and amphibians.  The herpetoculture community has already laid a solid foundation for the captive breeding, and therefore, conservation of multiple species of reptiles and amphibians. Herpetoculturists have spent 30 years learning how to maintain and propagate reptiles and amphibians in captivity, quietly accomplishing one of the greatest conservation projects ever attempted, and all privately funded. A significant percentage of scientific research that has been published about reptiles has been based on captive populations of snakes and lizards.  The continued success of herpeteculture is necessary to ensure species survival.  Failure equals extinction.

Legislation based on emotion, opinion, philosophy, and junk science is having a potentially catastrophic effect on biodiversity. Extremist animal rights agendas seek “total animal liberation” and nearly all animal rights organizations seek to end keeping all reptiles as pets. This campaign is based on lies and fear.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) claims that in 2009, there were 13 million reptiles living as pets in the U.S., with 2 million reptiles imported each year and 9 million exported each year.  Although HSUS is fond of saying that Boa constrictor and pythons are second only to large cats in terms of human death in this country, even their own statistics show only 17 human deaths from constrictor snakes since 1978.  The risk from constrictor snakes is therefore something less than one one thousandth of a percent.  That is less than the risk of being killed by a vending machine in this country. (According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, between 1978 and 1995, vending machines caused 37 deaths and 113 injuries.)

 HSUS claims that there are 74,000 cases of salmonella each year allegedly from reptiles and amphibians.  According to the CDC, there are 1.4 million cases of salmonella each year, which means that 95% of salmonella cases come from other sources, mostly in our food supply.  For example, there are 142,000 cases of salmonella each year from egg consumption alone.  Reptiles are safer than eggs.

If captive populations of reptiles and amphibians are outlawed and disassembled, many species of reptiles and amphibians will be forever lost, lost in captivity, lost in the wild, lost for all future generations.

Snakes have value.  They have value to humanity and they have value globally. Don’t allow extremists to take snakes out of private ownership based on junk science and inflammatory rhetoric.  Snakes are medicinally, therapeutically and ecologically significant.  They are a key part of human history and culture and they offer far more to humanity than we are willing to credit them.  Help protect reptiles and amphibians for your future.

For information on how to impact reptile legislation in your community, please visit the 

He’s Back

Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”   ~ T. S. Eliot

He’s back.  The entire month of July was spent in Addison’s purgatory with Djingo.  I was sure he would die this time.  On Wednesday he seemed to turn a corner and began to eat some cooked barley and chicken.  I was hopeful until Thursday when he vomited what seemed to be everything he had eaten in the past 48 hours.  Then Friday he started eating again – couscous and hamburger, and right now he is eating like a champ.  It’s still couscous and meat, but if that’s what he wants to eat, then that’s what I will feed him.  Of course it’s couscous, Sloughis are, after all, Moroccan.

I am thankful to everyone for their good wishes and especially those of you who took the time to let me know you were sending him your support through phone calls, emails and text messages, especially my beloved friend, Ermine, Djingo’s breeder, who has lived this month with me.  I have the best friends in the world.  I am especially thankful to the best vet in the world, Dr. Kurt Klepitsch, for being an extraordinary veterinarian, professional and human being.  And I am thankful to Djingo, for deciding to stay.

My Letter to Djingo . . .

“And I believe that angels breathe;
And that love will live on and never leave.”  ~ Josh Groban

Djingo on July 19, 2012

Thursday.  Right now, you are sleeping at the foot of my bed, so weak tonight that I had to carry you up the stairs.  So weak that you could not take your tablets and I had to dribble water into your mouth from a bottle to help you swallow.  It has been three days since you’ve eaten anything.  On Monday you ate a little braised lamb that I made for you, but by Tuesday you wouldn’t touch it.  And not roasted chicken and not canned dog food and not jarred baby food.  We changed your prescriptions on Tuesday.  You should be responding by now, but you’re not.

But every time I think I should stop trying and let you go, you find some way to tell me that you’d like to try a little bit more. I wish you would stay with me, and I keep begging you to try a little bit harder.

Djordan (top) and Djingo (bottom) in 2006.

A friend of mine asked me a few weeks ago how I could be bonded to each of my dogs when there are so many of you.  I don’t know how, but I am.  I have a unique attachment to each one of you.  I suppose that the emotions that I don’t have so readily available in the majority of my human relationships I have in abundance for you, which is why I need you to stay.

This began on November 23, 2010, when one careless person could not muster enough effort to close the slide bolt on the barn door and your brother, Djordan escaped and never came home again. I was teaching in the city and no one bothered to call me until he had been missing for over two hours. Djordan was struck by a car two blocks from home.  Although he was wearing two collars with tags, the person who hit him left him like trash in the middle of the road.  It was two days before Thanksgiving and Ariel and I cried non stop for Djordan for four straight days.   I hope that failure to close a gate didn’t kill you both

Djordan (left) and Djingo (right)

that night.

The onset of Addison’s disease is almost always triggered by a traumatic event.  You had no way to know that your brother had been killed, but after a week, you started to crash.  Within thirty days, you were not eating.  You grew an entire layer of white hairs beneath your black coat, and you wouldn’t get up.  The vet confirmed Addison’s and it took several weeks to bring you back around, but you’ve never been the same. You aged so much from that event.

You have never been a quitter. You’ve overcome more adversity than any other dog in our household.  You were originally placed in a home not far from us with an older, spayed female named Batna.  When you were five months old, an intruder broke into that home.  Batna attacked him. but you both escaped and were at large for several days.  Then the couple that had you developed marital problems and the husband threw you out.  Animal control picked you up.  Your prior family refused to come and get you.  So I came and got you until I could return you to Ermine because she was having back surgery.  And you became my first “foster failure.”

You weren’t even here for a month before you broke your leg being chased by Djordan in the back yard.  Because I love you, I am not going to try to recall how much it cost to have your leg surgically repaired with a plate and screws.  The break never healed correctly and now it has arthritis to boot.  But you get around okay.

Of course you hated vets after that.  You were not crazy about people in general.  If I said your name,

Djordan (left) and Djingo (right), playing in the snow.

you ran from me, so I started calling you Djingo instead of Dakir.

Back in those days, when I took you to dog class, you had to be muzzled because you were so fearful that you would try to nail anyone who looked at you directly and placed themselves within striking distance. Your temperament was so good, though, that when I finally persuaded you that no one would hurt you, you became the consummate show dog, the best show dog I’ve ever had the privilege of  accompanying in the ring.  You were a real showman, tail wagging the whole time and at the end of a class, you always jumped into my arms.

Finishing  his UKC Championship under Judge Jeanne Heger.

I have to brag about you a little.  You overcame your ring fears so well that you went on to become an all-breed Best-in-Show Winner, a multiple Best-in-Specialty-Show winner, the first UKC Grand Champion Sloughi in history; you won 13 Group Firsts, multiple Group Placements, and 28 Bests of Breed.  You were the #1 UKC Sloughi for 2006 and you were the UKC Top Ten Best of Breed Winner for 2006.  You were the #1 Sloughi in the US for 2007 in ASLA, UKC and ARBA.  And in 2007, your son won the ASLA National Specialty and your daughter was the UKC Top Ten Best of Breed Winner.  You never let me down in the ring, and you loved being a show dog.

Djingo on his second birthday in 2007.

But the best part about you didn’t happen in the show ring.  It never does.  The best part about you is that you are a smart, sweet, and loving member of our family.  You’ve been a great watch dog.  You’ve scared peculiar strangers off from Ariel and me.  (Sometimes you did so when we did not think we were in any great peril, but we trusted your judgment.) And you are my friend.  I don’t want you to go.

Saturday.  A couple of days have elapsed since Thursday when I started writing this letter.  It’s now Saturday night. You ate a little chicken on Thursday night and a little more on Friday.  Today, I got you to eat three meals of roasted chicken, but they are very small meals.  It’s not enough to sustain you.  Nonetheless, your eyes are a little shinier and you seem to have a tiny bit more energy.  I’m still waiting for you to pass that point when I know that you are heading with purpose out of the woods. I really hope it’s soon because I don’t know how much longer you can go like this. I am going to keep trying and I will write again when I know.

Djingo and Ariel napping.

One of my favorite pictures of Djingo.

Djingo in 2007 at the dunes in Michigan.

Say NO to the Overuse of Antibiotics in Animal Feed!

Did you know that 80% of the antibiotics made are used in livestock feed? Conventional feedlot animals are given antibiotics every day of their lives, primarily to enhance growth. This encourages the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This misguided practice has created a global threat to human health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seeking comments on the use of antibiotics in livestock. Will you please comment today?


Shelter Dogs, Purebreds, Westminster Kennel Club and Pedigree Dog Food

Westminster Kennel Club held its 136th annual dog show in Madison Square Gardens on February 13-14, 2012.  Amid the extensive press coverage of the event and the Best in Show winning Pekingese, much hullabaloo was covered by the press and in editorials regarding Westminster Kennel Club’s repudiation of its 24-year sponsor, Pedigree dog foods, because Pedigree’s ads, which encouraged adoption of shelter dogs, were deemed too depressing for the Westminster TV audience.  One of the advertisements Pedigree ran during past Westminster shows featured images of dogs sitting alone in shelters. Most of the featured dogs were mixed breeds, and the ads encouraged viewers to adopt dogs from shelters.

“The feedback we got from our primary audience was that they were seeing commercials that made them want to turn the channel,” Westminster spokesman and USA network on-air commentator David Frei told the Associated Press. He went on to say that the problem was with the Pedigree spots. “Show me an ad with a dog with a smile. Don’t shame me,” he said. “We told them [Pedigree] that and they ignored us.”

To be fair, Frei has often spoken of homeless dogs (including shelter dogs and mixed breed dogs) during his commentaries, and he has emphasized that the joy of any dog, purebred or mixed, is the companionship and pleasure it provides.  Nonetheless, his comments regarding Pedigree spawned a maelstrom of retaliatory editorials and press coverage condemning Frei and Westminster Kennel Club for being, at best, insensitive snobs, and at worst, elitists without compassion for millions of homeless animals.

I am in agreement with Westminster Kennel Club’s termination of Pedigree as a sponsor, not because  of any opinion on the ad campaign, but because Pedigree peddles an inferior quality, nutritionally suspect product that, in my opinion, should not be fed to any dog.  The first four ingredients of Pedigree’s adult maintenance dog food are whole ground corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, and animal fat (preserved with BHA and citric acid).   How many times on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom did Marlin Perkins ever show us wolves, foxes and coyotes stealthily hunting corn?  Corn is not a natural food of canids.  In addition, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) is a controversial preservative.  The US National Institutes of Health report that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.  Quality dog foods do not use BHA.  If Westminster Kennel Club is interested in promoting the welfare of dogs, Pedigree should not be its sponsor.

The plight of homeless animals is real.  This topic is too long to tackle in a single blog post, so this is going to be a series.  I will start with what the statistics say.

  • About 75 million dogs are owned in the United States (Pet Food Institute).
  • Approximately 2.5 million to 3.5 million dogs are relinquished to animal shelters every year.  25% of them are purebreds (NCPPSP).
  • Only 15% – 20% of dogs obtained by people come from reputable breeders (Ralston Purina and NCPPSP).
  • 10% – 20% of dogs obtained by people come from animal shelters and rescues (Ralston Purina and NCPPSP).
  • 2% – 10% of dogs are obtained by people from pet stores (Ralston Purina and NCPPSP).
  • More than 20% of people who relinquish dogs to shelters also adopted those dogs from shelters (NCPPSP).
  • The vast majority of dogs come from private individuals who are not breeders (acquaintances, family members and backyard breeders). (Ralston Purina and NCPPSP).
This means that somewhere between 50% – 73% of dogs obtained in this country come from backyard breeders, people who are not involved in the fancy (showing, obedience, tracking, agility, rally, etc.). These are the people advertising in the classified section of your local newspaper, on Craigslist and with roadside signs about puppies.  These are people who purchase Fluffy and Fido and decided to earn a little side money by breeding a litter of puppies whose parents have had no health or temperament screening and who have no idea what genetic defects they are foisting onto a new generation of dogs and owners.The problem is not responsible breeders (although the topic of responsible versus irresponsible breeders who are involved in the fancy will be the subject of a future post).  Responsible breeders screen buyers, have contracts, are always willing to take their dogs back and truly concern themselves with animal welfare.  They often work in rescue and take in foster dogs as well.

Even responsible breeders are not exempt from culpability.  We create the market that attracts people to irresponsible dog breeding for pecuniary gain.  Churning out puppies with low overhead for profit is the problem, and that is the problem whether it is a backyard breeder, a commercial breeder or a pet store.

Westminster Kennel Club should not shy away from those sad, little shelter dogs, because those dogs are our problem, too.  The fancy needs to take control of this dialogue and deal with the collateral damage we create while we run around Manhattan in formal wear to win a a giant, silver trophy with an impeccably manicured dog.  Dog people take great umbrage to the positions of organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). But it is our inertia that creates the place for them to operate.  HSUS is a 200+ million dollar per year legislative machine.  It runs almost entirely on individual donations, donations from animal lovers who want to see animals receiving humane care.  If the dog fancy is to survive, we must take control of this debate.  Responsible breeders are in the best position to define what is humane care and what is not, and we must define those standards and be willing to demand accountability.