Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Man's Best Friend"

Not long ago, my mom's friend, Aunt Patty, asked if I could find out how the phrase "man's best friend" got started.  So I did some in-depth research, and I was shocked to learn that this phrase actually was invented right here in Missouri!  Not only that, but it happened in Johnson County, Missouri, which is just one county over to the east from Jackson County, where I live.  Wow!  Who would have thought I was living in such a famous place?

Well, anyway, the phrase "man's best friend" has a story that goes with it, and I am sorry to say that it is a sad story, just like some of the other stories I've told you.  But this fact will not keep me from telling the story to you anyway.

So what happened was that a long time ago, in 1869, there was this man named Charles Burden living in Johnson County, Missouri.  And he had a black-and-tan hound named Old Drum.  Mr. Burden loved this dog, and Old Drum was also valuable to him because he was a good hunting dog.

Meanwhile, on some land next to Mr. Burden's, there was a man named Leonidas Hornsby, and he was a brother-in-law of Mr. Burden's.  Mr. Hornsby had a bunch of sheep on his land, but they kept getting killed by dogs, which made Mr. Hornsby mad.  So he told all his neighbors that he would shoot the next dog that he saw on his property.  And the next dog he saw was Old Drum, so he shot him dead.

Then Mr. Burden got mad because his dog had been killed, so he took Mr. Hornsby to court.  There were three different trials, and a whole bunch of important lawyers got involved, so it was a big deal.  At the third trial, which was in the courthouse at Warrensburg, Missouri, a lawyer named George G. Vest made the closing argument to the jury.  Later on, Mr. Vest would get elected to the Senate in Washington, but that's not part of this story about Old Drum.

Anyway, Mr. Vest made a speech about how much dogs mean to people and how a dog will still be a person's friend, even when all his other friends have gone away and left him.  And the speech came to be called "Eulogy of the Dog."  And here's what the speech said:

"Gentlemen of the Jury, the best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith.

The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most.  A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the Jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and the sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains.

When riches take wings and reputations fall to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.” 

Maybe all the jury members had dogs, and that's why they really liked this speech, but anyway, they thought Mr. Burden should get $50 to repay him for the loss of Old Drum.  Which doesn't sound like much money, but back in those days, you could really buy a lot with $50, like for instance, a good hunting dog.

But Mr. Hornsby wasn't happy with the result of this trial, so the case went on to the Missouri Supreme Court.  And that court said that the other court did the right thing in giving Mr. Burden the $50 for his dog.  So that was the end of it all, except that the people of Warrensburg put up a statue of Old Drum on the courthouse square, and you can see it there today.

Of course, we do not really know if Old Drum was guilty of killing sheep or not.  It seems kind of suspicious that he was hanging out in the sheep pasture in the middle of the night.  And if he hadn't been there, he wouldn't have got shot.  Mr. Burden would have been smarter to let Old Drum sleep in bed with him at night, but people didn't much let their dogs do that back in those days.

Anyway, here are the lessons I think we can learn from this story:
   1.  If you are a dog, don't go roaming around in sheep pastures because you might get shot.
   2.  If you have a lawyer who can make a good enough speech, you can probably win your case, whether you                  deserve to or not!

Monday, March 29, 2010

That Movie I Told You About

Remember when I wrote in my blog about that Japanese dog named Hachiko who waited for his dad at the train station for years even after his dad died and never came home on the train anymore?  And remember that I told you they were making a movie about this story, except that it's set in America, and it has Richard Gere and Joan Allen in it?

Well, guess what!  The movie is out and now you can see it!  But they didn't put the movie in theaters.  Instead, they just put it on DVDs, and that's really better, I think, because dogs aren't allowed in movie theaters unless they are service dogs.  But dogs can watch movies at home on DVD, and cats can, too, if they are interested.  So everybody can watch this movie.

Mom bought us a copy from, which is where we do some of our best shopping.  And the movie is called Hachi: A Dog's Tale.  We watched it Saturday night, and it didn't take too long because the movie is only 93 minutes long.  And then there is a little feature thingy about how they made the movie, but that is only about 15 minutes long.

Anyway, we thought the movie was good, but it was sad, which we knew it would be because we already knew the story of Hachiko.  Mom doesn't usually cry during movies, but she started crying in this movie, and she cried like all the way through the last third of it.  She had to keep blowing her nose, which was distracting for the rest of us who were trying to watch the movie.

I didn't cry because dogs can't really cry.  At least, we can't cry with tears, like people cry.  We just whimper and whine, which I didn't do during the movie.  After we finished watching it, I looked at some reviews on the internet, and I found that most of the reviewers either really, really liked this movie or else they hated it.

Everyone said it might make you cry, but the reviewers who hated the movie said that they wanted to cry because they were "bored to tears."  I think these reviewers are the kind of people who probably only like movies with lots of action and chase scenes and stuff blowing up all the time.  I don't like that kind of movie because it is too scary.  I like to see a nice, simple story about a dog's devotion to the human he loved.  That is the best kind of story of all, in my opinion, and if you agree, you should go out right now and rent or buy Hachi: A Dog's Tale and watch it.  Oh, and be sure you have plenty of tissues handy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Adventures While Walking, by Mel

Piper asked me if I wanted to write about some Adventures While Walking, because Barry and I usually walk farther than Piper and Gabe do, so we have more adventures.  And I was flattered to be asked to write in Piper's blog again, so I said yes.

First of all, I will mention that a week ago today we could not go walking at all because there was too much snow.  Here's a picture of me in the snow in our back yard.  We had almost 7 inches of snow, and it was very wet, heavy snow, so when it melted, it made the yard into kind of a swamp.  But the good news is that the weather warmed up quickly, and all the snow melted really fast, like in only about 3 days.  And since it wasn't icy, we could go out for walks a whole bunch of days this week.

One thing we saw a lot was daffodils because they are starting to bloom.  Mom's daffodils haven't bloomed yet because they are slow daffodils, but lots of other people's are blooming.  I like daffodils because they are good to pee on.  Tulips are also good to pee on.  The tulips have come up, but they haven't started blooming yet, which doesn't matter to me because all I need for peeing purposes is the leaves.

So anyway, besides daffodils, here are some other things we have noticed lately in our neighborhood:  

The people across the street have started flying a Tibetan flag and some prayer flags.  We think this means they want Tibet to be free from Chinese rule.  These neighbors are very nice.  They have two dogs and some cats.  Sometimes their dogs bark at us, and Barry and I bark back.

Here's our old friend St. Francis.  He only has one gnome now.  We don't know what happened to the other one.  The gnome that is still there has turned all dark-colored, except for his red hat.  He is playing a ukulele or something like that, so maybe he prefers to perform in blackface. 

The bunnies are out, but not all of them are real.  Luckily, it is easy for Barry and me to tell if a bunny is real or not.  I hope I can find another bunny nest this year like I did last summer.  That was a very special day for me when I found that nest!

The spring soccer season has started.

And finally, here's something very alarming that we saw Friday when we were out walking.  This big, scary machine was tearing down a whole garage!  It just smashed the garage into little pieces, and then it picked up the pieces in its big mouth and put them in a huge truck.  Barry and I kept trying to drag Mom away from this scary thing, but she wanted to watch and take pictures!  Can you imagine?  Mom is just nuts sometimes!

Well, anyway, that's all the adventures we have had lately.  We thought we would see some Easter decorations, but we haven't really seen any at all.  Mom said she saw some giant colored eggs in people's yards in another part of town, but we didn't see anything like that here.  Which is fine with me because I wouldn't want to run into a bird that was big enough to lay giant eggs!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mom Gets More Culture

Yesterday Mom went to the art gallery to get some more culture, and sure enough, she got some!  And she even took her camera with her so she could take pictures of the culture and bring it home to show me.  Except that she didn't get to take pictures of all the culture she saw, and now I will explain why she didn't.

The first thing Mom looked at was an exhibit of really old photos, like from the 1850s.  And these photos were taken in Egypt so they could be put in books to show people in Europe and America that it might be fun to visit Egypt because it was an interesting and exotic place with lots of ruins.  But since the photos were so old and fragile, they had to be shown in a very low light.  And since you're not allowed to use a flash to take pictures in the art gallery, Mom didn't think she could get any pictures that looked good, so she didn't even try.  But I borrowed one from the gallery's website, just so you could see it.

After Mom looked at the photos of Egypt, she looked at an exhibit of glass, and the glass was really pretty, so Mom started taking some pictures.  Then the guard came and told Mom she couldn't take pictures of the glass because it belongs to a different art gallery, so there is a problem with the copyright or something like that.  So Mom only has two pictures of the glass, and she said I couldn't use these pictures in my blog because if I did, we might all end up in jail.

Then Mom ate lunch in the Rozelle Court, which is where people eat when they are at the gallery.  And Mom took a picture there because it was allowed.  And what Mom had for lunch was half of a Mediterranean chicken wrap and also a really huge chocolate cookie with caramel chips in it.  I wish I could have had the chicken out of Mom's sandwich, but she ate it all herself and didn't bring any home for me, which is typical of how selfish she can be sometimes.

Oh, and guess what!  Mom saw a SERVICE DOG at the gallery!  Mom has never seen a dog at the gallery before, but there he was, just wearing an orange vest that said "Service Dog" on it.  And this dog was mostly like a yellow lab, but smaller and with a different shaped head, so he must have been mixed with something else besides lab.  

Mom could not figure out what kind of service the dog was doing.  The person who had the dog was not blind or deaf, and she didn't have any trouble walking, so there must have been some other reason that she needed a service dog.  Mom wanted to take a picture of the service dog, but she didn't get a chance to do that, so I can't show you a photo.

Okay, well, after Mom ate lunch, she looked at some European paintings that were called Rococo, which is a silly-sounding word.  And also there were some paintings called Neoclassical.  Here's a Neoclassical painting by an English painter named Guy Head.  And you can tell it's Neoclassical because it has a Greek lady named Iris in it, and Iris was a messenger of the Greek gods, besides also representing the rainbow.  The name of the painting is Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By, which is a really long name.  And it has something to do with Zeus, who was the king of all the gods, and he made the other gods swear to obey him.  Anyway, I think it would have been a better painting if it had a dog in it, but that's just my own personal opinion.

Mom tried to find some paintings with dogs in them, but she did not have much luck doing this.  But she did find this one painting by Thomas Gainsborough, and it's called Repose.  This painting shows a bunch of cattle and horses in a field.  Then down in the corner of the painting, you see the guy who is supposed to be herding the animals, but he is sleeping while the dog does all the work of watching the cows and horses.  Which doesn't seem fair to me, but basenjis are not in the Working Dog group, so what do I know? 

Anyway, the last thing I'm going to show you is an ancient Greek lion statue.  It is really, really old, like from 325 B.C.E.  It was made to be a guard in a cemetery.  Mom always liked to see this lion when she was a little girl and went to the gallery with her mom and dad.  I like the lion, too, because he looks happy and friendly, like he is smiling, and not like a guard lion at all.  Still, I wouldn't trust him not to eat a basenji if he got the chance!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Orangutans with Cameras

In Austria there is an orangutan named Nonja, and she lives in Vienna, in the Schönbrunn Zoo, and she is a photographer.  After she takes pictures, there is this wi-fi thingy that posts them on her Facebook page, and people can see them there.

Nonja is 33 years old, which is 231 in dog years.  Nonja used to paint pictures, but now she takes photographs.  And the reason why she does this is that some people at the Samsung Company, which makes cameras, thought it would be good advertising if an orangutan was using one of their cameras.  So they made this digital camera especially for Nonja, and it can't be broken as easily as a regular camera.  Also it gives out a raisin whenever anyone takes a picture.

So the orangutans like to play with it because it gives them raisins.  They don't really think of themselves as photographers.  Mostly, they just like to eat raisins.  Also orangutans like to play with stuff and wiggle it around and make it do whatever it will do.

I wish I had a camera that would give out treats, because if I did, I would find a way to take lots of pictures, even though I don't have opposable thumbs, like orangutans do.  But a camera for dogs should not have raisin treats because raisins are POISONOUS for dogs, at least if you eat a whole bunch of them, like a boxful or a cameraful.  So the treats inside a camera for dogs should probably be freeze-dried liver or something like that.

Anyway, I think probably anybody can go to Nonja's Facebook page and look at the photos.  At least I hope that anybody can.  Mom and I went there and looked at them, but Mom has a Facebook page, so she didn't have any trouble seeing Nonja's page.  Nonja has more than 83,000 fans, which means she is very popular.  And now Mom is one of her fans, too.

Orangutans are what's called "great apes."  They live in Asia, in the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia.  They have really long arms, and they can hang onto tree branches with their hands or their feet.  In fact, they like to spend most of their time in trees, and they even sleep in trees at night.  The word orangutan is made from the Malay words orang, which means "man" and hutan, which means "forest."  So an orangutan is a "man of the forest."

The thing that orangutans mostly like to eat is fruit.  They especially like fruit with sugary or fatty pulp, like ficus fruits.  Besides fruit, they also eat leaves, shoots, bark, insects, honey, and bird eggs.

Orangutans are some of the smartest primates, which is why they can be photographers.  Also they sometimes make and use tools, which is another thing that shows how smart they are.

There are not a whole lot of orangutans left in the wild, and that means that orangutans are ENDANGERED.  Of course, they are not as cute as humans, but they are interesting to look at, and they can do clever things, so I think it would be good to have them around for a while!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Wolves Became Dogs

There are a bunch of scientists who keep trying to figure out how some wolves turned into dogs, and when it first happened.  And the answer is that nobody knows for sure.  But that doesn't stop the scientists from trying to puzzle it out.  And the way they are trying to puzzle it out is with something called DNA.

DNA stands for some really long words that I don't want to have to look up, so I will just tell you that DNA is little tiny stuff that we all have inside us, and you can't even see it unless you have really fancy equipment of some kind, like way fancier than a magnifying glass.  And DNA is all part of the genes that you inherit from your sire and dam, and it's genes that mostly make you the way you are.

So these scientists have been trying to untangle these strings of DNA so they can see what's in them, and then they compare the DNA of one species to the DNA of another species to see if they have some stuff in common.  And when they first started doing this with dog DNA and wolf DNA, they thought that dogs all evolved from wolves in east Asia.

But now some scientists did another study, and they decided that most dogs have more in common with wolves from the Middle East, so that must be where wolves first started hanging out with people and became dogs.

Of course, not all the scientists agree with this latest news about the canine ancestors from the Middle East, so there are still a bunch of arguments going on.  And these arguments will probably go on for a long time to come because nobody really knows for sure how wolves turned into dogs.  If people back in the old days had kept better records, we wouldn't be having this problem, but it's too late now to go back and make them write everything down.

Anyway, the dog breeds that are the very oldest of all are the ones from Africa and Asia and the Middle East.  Which means that basenjis are one of those really, really old breeds!  And some other ones are shar-pei and chow-chow and saluki, just to give you some examples.

There are several theories about how wolves might have got to be tame and turned into dogs.  One idea is that the wolves followed the human hunters around and ate the remains of what they killed.  Or maybe wolves hung out around people's camps and ate the bones and other garbage.  And they might have started being sort of like watchdogs and letting people know if there was danger.  So in that way, wolves and people might have started being friends.

Another theory is that people might have adopted wolf puppies and raised them.  This would have made the puppies get used to humans, and they would have learned to depend on the people for food.  And the more the wolves were around humans, the more they got to be like dogs, because dogs can read people's faces and gestures, and wolves can't do this.

But no matter how it happened, the interesting thing to know is that dogs were the very first animal to be domesticated by people, even before cows or sheep or chickens.  Dogs were even hanging out with people before people started making farms and growing their own food.

Some scientists think that all this domestication of wolves stuff happened about 10,000 years ago.  Or maybe it was 12,000 or 15,000 years ago.  Anyway, it was about the same time that people settled down and stopped being hunter-gatherers.  And maybe dogs had something to do with the fact that people could stop wandering around all the time because dogs helped people and they guarded them and their houses and other animals.

And then eventually, people started picking out which dogs they wanted to mate with which other dogs.  And probably the first thing they chose was to make dogs smaller than wolves.  Then after that, they began to choose dogs for what they could do, like herding or guarding or hunting or running fast.  And this is how breeding got started, and it has led to lots of different breeds, including some really weird-looking ones.

But some breeds are still called "primitive" breeds, which means that people haven't messed too much with how they look and act.  I am proud to say that basenjis are one of these primitive breeds, and I think that is part of what makes us basenjis so clever and so very good-looking!

Monday, March 22, 2010

In the Doghouse!

Mom says I am in the doghouse, but we don't even own a doghouse, so what she means is that I am in deep doo-doo, and if we did have a doghouse, she would probably make me go live in it.  Here's the reason that Mom is not happy with me.  Except that actually there are two reasons.

Reason #1:
Saturday night I peed on Mom's bed while she was doing email, and I got her bedspread and blanket and sheets wet.  But I had a good reason for peeing there, and it was because on Saturday, like I told you before, it snowed all day long.  But I was a good girl and went out in the snow to potty several times, so at bedtime, Mom thought I didn't need to potty.  She knew that Gabe needed to potty, though, because he hadn't been outside all day because he is such a wimp.  So Mom stuck a leash on Gabe and just opened the front door, and Gabe went outside and peed on the front step.  But Mom didn't take me out to potty on a leash because she thought I would go out in the back yard on my own and do it if I needed to.  But I didn't go out there.  I peed on the bed instead.

Mom had been meaning to change the sheets on the bed anyway, but she kept putting it off, so really I did her a favor by forcing her to go ahead and change the sheets and wash them all, too, and what's so terrible about that?

Reason #2:
Sunday morning while Mom was doing email again, I chewed a hole in her new pink blanket that she bought at an estate sale and that she just put on the bed for the first time Saturday night after I peed on her other blanket.  Sometimes Mom is not sure who chewed something up, but this time she caught me in the act with the blankie between my paws.  And that's why I couldn't really deny that I was the one who made the hole.

So anyway, those are the two reasons why I am in the doghouse, and even though it's just an imaginary doghouse in Mom's mind, I hope she will forgive me pretty soon and let me come out again.

Last night I even got in bed with Mom and snuggled up with her, which I hardly ever do, but I needed to remind her how sweet and endearing I am, and how much she loves me, so she will let me out of the doghouse!

But while we are talking about phrases that have "dog" in them, I will also mention the phrase "It's a dog's life."  This is a very old phrase that was already being used in the 16th century, and it means that dogs live bad and unhappy lives.  Which was probably very true in the 16th century because most dogs didn't get to come in the house and sleep in bed with their humans and eat dog food out of a can.  But nowadays, lots of dogs have better lives, so "a dog's life" is not always such a terrible thing.

Mom says she would like to live a dog's life if she could live like the four of her dogs do.  But I think our lives are not as cushy and perfect as she seems to think they are.  For example, we have to go outside to potty, even if it's cold or snowing or raining.  If we really lived a nice life like Mom thinks we do, we could just potty in a nice place like on the bed or on the rug.

Anyway, as long as I am in the doghouse, I guess I had better not complain too much.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hey! It's supposed to be SPRING!

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and what did we get?  SNOW!  It snowed all day long and all night, too!  And that is just WRONG!  That is not how spring is supposed to be.  Spring is supposed to be sunny and warm and with flowers blooming and stuff like that.

I am really annoyed about the snow, in case you can't tell.  Mom says I should just relax and enjoy it because it's probably the last snow of the season, but I cannot see anything to enjoy about snow.  Well, except the fact that Mom stayed home all day yesterday instead of going to the dog show with Aunt Barbara.  So that was kind of nice.  And also we didn't have to go for a walk, which was also nice.

The weird thing is that we had really pretty, sunny weather for two days, and all the crocuses were blooming, and the sun was shining, and it was very nice outside.  Mel and Barry kept going out in the yard and rolling in the grass, and Gabe and I sat in the sun on the patio.  That is how spring is supposed to be, if you want my opinion.  This business with snow is BAD.  It's just cold and icky and now all the poor little crocuses are covered up with snow and so are the daffodils, which haven't even started blooming yet.

Anyway, it's supposed to be sort of warm next week, so maybe the snow will melt and go away in a hurry.  I hope so because I want it to be spring in the way that spring is supposed to happen.  I want it to be warm and sunny and for there to be baby bunnies that I can try to catch and eat.  That's what I want, and I want it NOW!  Is that so much to ask?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Sad Siberian Tigers

Well, here it is the Year of the Tiger, but the Siberian Tigers don't feel much like celebrating.  And the reason why they don't is because they are ENDANGERED, which means there aren't very many of them left anywhere in the world.  So even if they wanted to get together and have a party to celebrate the Year of the Tiger, it would have to be kind of a small, sad party, and who wants to go to a small, sad party?

Nobody knows exactly how many Siberian tigers are left in the wild, but there are probably about 300,  and 50 of those are in China.  There are a bunch more Siberian tigers in zoos and wildlife parks and on farms, but some of them don't have very nice lives.

Last week I read in the newspaper that 11 Siberian tigers had died during the last 3 months in a northeast province of China, and the reason they died was because they starved to death.  What happened was that the Chinese bred more tigers than they could afford to take care of, so at this one place called Shenyang Forest Wild Animal Zoo, they were only feeding the tigers chicken bones.  I think a diet of chicken bones would be pretty yummy, but it's not enough for tigers to live on because tigers are really big, and they need like 20 pounds of meat a day.

The people in charge of the zoo said the tigers did not starve.  They said the tigers got some diseases, and also that the winter was really, really cold this year, and that is how the tigers died.  But the people who investigated this situation said that the tigers had to live in little cages and didn't get much to eat, and that is why they were stressed and got sick and died.

Last November two tigers got so hungry that they attacked a man who was working at the zoo, even though Siberian tigers don't usually eat people, like Bengal tigers do.  The tigers hurt the man, but he got rescued before they could kill him.  And a couple of years ago, four tigers killed another tiger so they could eat it.

You may be wondering why the Chinese have been breeding so many Siberian tigers if they cannot afford to take care of them, and the answer is that they are probably selling the tigers at someplace called a black market.  And the reason people want to buy tigers at this market, even though it is illegal, is because tiger parts are supposed to have important powers like being able to heal you if you are sick or making you better at having sex.

Anyway, now I will just tell you some interesting facts about Siberian tigers, starting with the fact that they are the biggest of all the tigers that are extant.  Extant means the opposite of extinct, and it's a fine word that my friend Zest told me about.  So this makes Siberian tigers the biggest cats in the whole world.  Some of them can weigh 660 pounds, which is a lot!  When there used to be more than just 300 wild Siberian tigers, they lived all over the western and central parts of Asia and also eastern Russia.  But now they are just in the most eastern part of Siberia.

These tigers like to eat things like wild boars and deer and gazelles and sheep and cattle and dogs (!!!!).  It all kind of depends on what time of year it is and what they can catch.  Also they eat wild horses and Manchurian wapiti and moose and fish and Asian black bears and Ussuri brown bears.  So you can kind of see why a diet of chicken bones would not make a tiger happy or healthy.

A long time ago, there were tons of these tigers living in the wild, but then they got killed off by people, especially during the Russian Civil War.  And also there was a lot of hunting of the tigers, plus their habitat got destroyed.  So that's why the tigers ended up being so endangered.

But now it's illegal to kill Siberian tigers, and also there's this Siberian Tiger Project that started in 1992.  And this project has helped the tigers stay extant because it kept people from poaching tigers and cutting down all the forests and stuff like that which is bad for tigers.

And besides that, there are several hundred Siberian tigers in captivity that are part of the Species Survival Plan.  These tigers have been making lots of tiger cubs, and this is good because it makes the tiger population get bigger.

So that's the story of the sad Siberian tigers.  Maybe by the time the next Year of the Tiger comes around, there will be a whole bunch more of them, and they will have plenty of nice, fat boars to eat instead of just chicken bones.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Dog Named Strongheart

I thought Strongheart was just a kind of dog food, so I was shocked to learn that it was named after a real live dog whose name was Strongheart.  And I also learned that Strongheart was a German Shepherd Dog who was actually born in Germany in 1917.  His German name was Etzel von Oeringen, and he came from a famous line of show dogs and police dogs.  His first job was as a police dog, and then he was a war dog, and after that, he went to Hollywood and became a famous movie star.  Not many dogs have a career like that, but Strongheart did!

The way that Strongheart went from being a German dog to being an American dog was that he got "discovered" by an American movie director named Laurence Trimble and his wife, Jane Murfin, who was a screenwriter.  The two of them went to Europe looking for a dog who would be good in movies, and they found Strongheart and decided that since he was so smart, he could be taught to be a good actor.

But Strongheart had been trained to be an attack dog, so Mr. Trimble had to work with him for a long time to teach him that people were mostly nice and that they shouldn't be attacked unless they were bad people, which was something that Strongheart was smart enough to figure out for himself.

Then after Strongheart got trained, he starred in his first movie, which was named The Silent Call.  Strongheart was a big hit in this movie, and he became famous right away.  This was in 1921, when nobody talked in the movies, so Strongheart didn't have any lines he had to learn.  After that, he made five more movies, and they were called Brawn of the North (1922), The Love Master (1924), White Fang (1925), North Star (1925), and The Return of Boston Blackie (1927).  And besides that, a man named J. Allen Boone wrote two books about Strongheart.

Strongheart's leading lady was named Jule, and the two of them had several litters of puppies.  Some of these pups went on to make movies, too.  And dogs that descended from Strongheart and Jule are still around today.

Whenever he made a movie, Strongheart traveled all around the country in a train so his fans could meet him.  He was very, very popular, and lots of people wanted to have a German Shepherd Dog.  So many people went to see Strongheart's movies that his movies ended up making more money than movies made by any other actor at that time.

The Strongheart dog food was invented back when Strongheart was making all those movies, and it is still being made today.  Mom remembers seeing this kind of dog food in the grocery store when she was a kid, but she has not seen any for a long time, so she thought they didn't make it anymore.  But I did some in-depth research, and I learned that they sell Strongheart dog food at stores call Sav-a-Lot.  We don't think there are any of these stores around here, which is why Mom hasn't seen any Strongheart dog food around.  The cans used to always have a picture of Strongheart himself on them, but now they look different.

I asked Mom whether eating this kind of dog food would make you a movie star, but she said it wouldn't.  She also said she didn't think it was probably very good quality food because it is even cheaper than Ol' Roy dog food.  So I guess we won't be eating any Strongheart dog food.

Well, I guess the only thing left to tell you is how Strongheart died, and how it happened was that while he was working on making a movie, he fell against one of the studio lights and got burned.  And after that, the burn turned into a tumor, and the tumor killed him.  I don't exactly understand how a burn can turn into a tumor, and Mom doesn't understand it either, but we did not go to veterinary school, so what do we know?

Anyway, Strongheart was the first really popular doggy movie star, but he was not the last.  There have been a lot of famous movie dogs since then.  But I can tell you this:  you will never see my name up on the movie posters because I don't want to make a movie.  I would much rather stay home and take a nap!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish-American President and His Dogs

Today I am going to tell you about the First Dogs that were in the White House when John F. Kennedy was president.  And there were a whole bunch of them because Mr. Kennedy and his family really liked dogs.

But first, since it's St. Patrick's Day, I will say "Top o' the mornin'!" (whatever that means), and then I will share these nice pictures of Gabe and me that Mom took especially for St. Patrick's Day.  And what you will see in these photos is how cute and festive we look wearing the special shamrock necklaces that Mom bought last week at the grocery store for $1.69.  Mom wore these necklaces in the parade last Saturday, and then she decided she should take our pictures with them so that she could get her money's worth out of them.  Hahahaha!

Okay, so now we can talk about President Kennedy and his dogs.  Mr. Kennedy's great-grandfather, whose name was Patrick Kennedy, came to America from Ireland in 1849.  The Kennedys lived in the Boston area, and they were in politics and stuff, so most everybody knew who they were.  

John F. Kennedy was born in 1917, and he went to Harvard, and then he was in the Navy during World War II, and his boat got sunk, but he didn't drown.  Then after the war, he got into politics.  First he was in the House, and then he was in the Senate, and then he got elected President of the United States.  And when that happened, he was only 43 years old, so he was the youngest person ever to be elected president.  And also he was the first Catholic to be president and the first Irish-American.

A whole bunch of interesting and scary things happened while Mr. Kennedy was the president, like for instance the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis and the space race and the civil rights movement and the start of the Vietnam War.  But I'm not going to talk about any of that stuff because it's way too complicated to write about in a blog.  And besides, I only care about the Kennedys' dogs.

So here's a photo of the family when they were on vacation with their dogs.  That black German Shepherd in the back was Mrs. Kennedy's dog, and he was named Clipper.  And Caroline, the little girl in front, is petting her Welsh Terrier, whose name was Charlie.  And lying down right behind Caroline is the Irish Wolfhound, Wolf.  Then in the back, with President Kennedy, you can see the little boy, John John, and he is petting Shannon, the Irish spaniel.  And Mrs. Kennedy is holding some puppies which I will tell you about in a minute.

Charlie, the Welsh terrier, was the alpha dog of the family.  He growled at the other dogs if they tried to get in front of him at dinner time.  Also he liked to go swimming in the pool with President Kennedy.  And another thing that Charlie sometimes did was he would pee on people if they weren't paying enough attention to him.

Wolf, the wolfhound, was a gift from a priest in Dublin whose name was also Kennedy.  Shannon was given to the family by Prime Minister Eamonn deValera of Ireland.  And the dog with Charlie in the photo below is Pushinka.  Her name means "fluffy" in Russian, and she was a gift to Caroline from the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.  He gave her this dog after the Cuban Missile Crisis to try to make everybody feel happier and less afraid that there would be a war.

Later on, when he was all grown up, John Jr. said that one of his earliest memories was playing with Pushinka and teaching her to slide down the slide in back of the White House.  Then, guess what!   Pushinka and Charlie had puppies, and the names of the puppies were Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie, and Streaker.  And all the puppies were given away to people who could give them nice homes.

The Kennedys also liked other animals besides dogs.  Mrs. Kennedy had two horses, and Caroline had a horse and a pony.  John Jr. also had a pony.  And here is a list of the other pets that the family owned:  a cat, a canary, 2 parakeets, 2 hamsters, and a rabbit.  

Well, as you probably know, President Kennedy got shot in November, 1963, and this made him the youngest man to die while he was president.  Mom can remember when this happened because she was in the 6th grade then, but it was way before I was even born, so I don't remember it.  We are pretty sure that the Kennedys went on having dogs and other animals after that, but Mrs. Kennedy tried to keep the reporters away from the children, so there is not much information about their dogs after they left the White House.

Anyway, St. Patrick's Day seemed like a good time to think about Mr. Kennedy and his dogs.  And we should also remember that famous saying of his, which I have changed just a tiny bit:  "Ask not what your dog can do for you -- ask what you can do for your dog."