ChristmasComplaintWe got another anonymous note complaining about our livestock guardian dog’s living conditions again. It’s been a while since the last one. I logged another Sheriff report on it, and will keep the evidence, as usual, as the Sheriff has advised. That way, if anything ever escalates, we’ll have a clear history of harassment with handwriting samples and fingerprints, on which to prosecute.

The envelope said, in scrawling cursive, “To our neighbor” and was sealed with a cheerful Christmas sticker. 😉 Here is what the note said [sic]:

image Big Sheep Rancher!

I hope the few sheep you own is worth the abuse you reflect on your dog. I used to think you were just ignorant but now I think you are just stupid. Any dog deserves a dry bed and shelter at the least.

If I could cast a spell this is what I would cast on you.
A leaky roof
Frozen pipes
Your heat source to malfunction
No warm bed or covers to keep you warm
No one to talk to and no love to enjoy

You appear to have the ability to sleep with a clear conscience no matter how cold, snowy, rainy the conditions get. If this note helps get  your dog just a bit of comfort my efforts are worth while. You have no idea how many people are saddened driving past the deplorable conditions you force your dog to live in.

Signed: A very sad neighbor

I’m intrigued by the thought process of  the complainer on several counts, and it’s consistent with all the past anonymous notes. For one, the dog does have a dry bed and shelter, clearly visible from the road. She just doesn’t choose to sleep in it, probably because her incredible winter coat already keeps her comfortable, even in the rain.

We’re back to the bed-and-covers notion. Even if she lived in the house, I can imagine Bronte would have no part in sleeping on a bed with covers, it would be too hot for her tremendous coat. I think it’s just really a leap for people to realize how warm and dry animals stay at the skin, when they have an appropriate outdoor coat type that has been allowed to grow in response to the climate conditions.

And, the talking-to and love issue, I’m not sure where we’re failing there either. I’m out there every day, I pet her, talk to her and play with her, often multiple times a day. She  has toys. Always food and water. And she is doing what she was bred to do, guard, which she seems to love. I’ve been training and competing in dog shows and trials for over thirty years; and I have to say, Bronte is one of the happiest-acting dogs  I’ve ever worked with. And I’ve seen plenty of depressed and neurotic pets and show dogs in my years.

And yes, the sheep are a valuable asset and income provider, which only the dog can best protect. So, though we only have eighteen sheep now, in three months, it will be about fifty, and indeed, that is a ten thousand dollar investment worth protecting. So, the dog’s life and guarding effort isn’t for naught, she serves a very important role, of which she is only partly aware.

Again, no issue with the welfare of the sheep and llama, this is clearly a case where a person thinks that dogs require superior living conditions to other animal species. Our Animal Control officer stopped by a few weeks ago to let us know an out-of-towner person called him, concerned about the sheep being too cold. I asked if anyone had called about the dog, and he said no, not ever. So these theoretical teems of neighbors who are sad about Bronte’s life aren’t pursuing any legal channels to address concerns about the dog. He shrugged and chuckled, noted that all the animals were in good condition and had food and water, and went on his way. He says he gets calls all winter from people thinking livestock or dogs might be too cold being outside; so a big part of his job is public education about animals and their physical needs, and what the law requires.

LGsSome people kennel their dogs in a 6×10’ run all the time. Some people crate their dogs in the house all day while they’re at work. Most dogs probably get a sum total of thirty minutes a day, max, of direct one-on-one interaction with their owners. Most dogs live in a very small square footage area, with minimal stimulation much of the day. Is Bronte’s life, free to run and play in ten acres 24/7, really worse than many, or most, other dogs out there?

If I stuffed her in a 500 crate most of the day inside the house, would that be more ideal? Or just less visible to curious neighbors? Are the neighbors knowledgeable about how our other three dogs live and whether the conditions are suitable? And all the other neighbors? Are we sure we know how all of the neighbors are keeping all of their dogs?

We are just finishing up watching a Discovery Channel documentary on the Iditarod race. Those dogs sleep outside, on the snow and in whatever weather, with a flake of straw for bedding; and sometimes they don’t even get that. Mushers run them until holes are burned through their pads, they have bite wounds from fights, lacerations and shoulder injuries, and some of the dogs struggle with days-on-end diarrhea and complete loss of appetite from stress. The dogs are not rested much, and only get pulled from the race if they really start failing the team because their physical discomfort starts to outweigh their extreme drive to run. The conditions look pretty brutal, and I can’t imagine they’re much more luxuriant during the rest of the year when the dogs are in training to win this competition. But, it’s what the dogs are bred to do, and they love it; I’m not sure they’d be happier living as pampered pets in downtown Seattle.

So, dog welfare, and animal welfare in general, is complicated. All of us have to be uncomfortable, bored, upset, unhappy or whatever, some of the time in life; there are no guarantees of 100% lifelong luxury for anybody, man or animal. For those of us who eat meat, and buy it from the grocery store, we are probably inadvertently sending our consumer dollars towards truly deplorable animal welfare conditions in feedlots. And we should probably all look inwardly at this, to examine if we’ve done all we can to prevent this. For one, by buying meat from local farmers who pasture their livestock, despite the added cost. Have we ever discussed our concerns with our grocer, asked him if he knows where the meat comes from, and let him know we’d pay more if we could be guaranteed it was a humane channel?

But it’s easy to forget about this meat we eat every day or the leather we wear, since we don’t have to see the source. Egg consumers must know that commercial layers are not kept in what most people would consider humane conditions. And fish eaters- well, you can bet the fish didn’t have a pleasant last few hours, and if they were farmed fish, yep, not really a good life either. Even vegans aren’t off the hook. Because if you buy organic grain and legumes, chances are, those crops were necessarily fertilized with-you guessed it- manure from livestock. Either livestock living in a feedlot, or livestock like mine, that were probably handled and guarded by working livestock dogs that don’t have beds with covers. So, it’s funny how life works out, that things we abhor might be closer than we think to the millions of daily ethical choices we all make. It just depends on where we choose to focus our attention.