Epitaph to a Dog

Lilah (Golden Retriever, 2010-2022)

We released Lilah today, sending her along the path ahead of us. “You can run to the end and wait for us there!” The path feels empty without our companion, her coat shining white and golden and tail wagging to share joy and unconditional love.

The epitaph on the tomb of Lord Byron’s dog, Boatswain, captures a tribute I wish I had written of her.

‘Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the virtues of Man without his Vices. This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human Ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog who was born in Newfoundland May 1803 and died at Newstead November 18th 1808.’

Peppa Pig has missed a vocation

Large White Pig (Yorkshire)
Large White (Yorkshire) pig (Pixabay)

Starved of spicy stories or constipated by covid, the British media wrote about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bad hair day. In a speech to business leaders, he lost track of the message and, presumably to preserve poise, he ad-libbed about Peppa Pig World.

The pink cartoon character has become wildly popular. A child’s father told the Guardian newspaper how young superfans rushed to meet Peppa in an Hampshire amusement park, looking like an audience with the Pope. Peppa is an English creation but has become a worldwide phenomenon, nowhere more popular than in China where 2019 was the Year of the Pig. A porcine celebrity was as unheard of as a pig that can fly. No longer.

Turning animals into cuddly cartoon characters helps to forget the reality of real lives under domestication and in factory farms. Millions of pigs are raised in climate-controlled sheds, never seeing sunlight before reaching their destiny as chops and sausages. Is there a more ignominious end for a beast credited with superior intelligence to dogs?

I admit complicity and guilty feelings when chops sizzle on my grill from an animal I never knew but who, under different circumstances, might have become a beloved pet (not indoors). Our ancestors probably had the same ambiguous feelings. Where I grew up, families used to keep a pig given a Christian name and fed on kitchen scraps until sentiment evaporated in the autumn when the slaughterman drove up. When I used to visit a slaughterhouse to collect research specimens, I closed my ears (eyes and heart too) to the heavy slump after the bolt shot. After casual flirtation with vegetarianism, my carnivorous appetite restored.

Our relationships with animals wheel between affection and respect versus insouciance and far worse. Dogs are man’s best friend, yet no other animal receives more abuse at home. A donkey carried Jesus into Jerusalem, but countless numbers suffered in mines and as beasts of burden. A conservation symbol and most popular wild animal in Britain, yet badgers are shot, gassed, and even baited with dogs in illegal pits. I could go on … except to add that it matters not just for the sake of fellow creatures but because culprits of inhumane treatment are more likely to be cruel to children and spouses as well.

Toxic masculinity (not exclusively male) is often responsible for violence against vulnerable creatures. It erupts from poor anger control and frustration, treating victims no better than other property and to remind them who is boss.

Matters are not so bad now, thanks to legislation bolstered by science that reveals even invertebrates can feel pain (see post on lobsters). We pay more attention to the welfare of pets than herds or flocks of animals. Compassion is diluted by number. We prefer not to think too deeply that meat, eggs, and dairy produce, neatly wrapped and hygienic, came from sentient creatures raised and sacrificed for us under conditions we tacitly accept.

Perhaps that distance explains why (I’m told) Peppa Pig eats bacon without a pricked conscience. Sad to think the iconic pig works only as an entertainer and has missed an opportunity to teach animal welfare to children.

Yarns about Mountain Lions

Mountain Lion
Photo: Zach Key (Unsplash)

Ask local folk if mountain lions (aka cougars/ pumas/ panthers) still prowl the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia and you’ll likely get a nod or they might bend your ear to tell a tale. But if you visit the WV Division of Natural Resources  you’ll read the big cats were extirpated over a century ago.

Do people who live in the country know better than wildlife officers who patrol it? It’s a touchy subject. Firmly held convictions about a secretive native species are harder to argue against than belief in the Sasquatch of Canada or Nessie in Scotland.

Few people want an apex predator in their backyard, but we are a quirky species. We want to be in control of our environment, to make it safe and productive, yet at the same time we love to celebrate the romantic mystery of wild places. I dread the day, if ever it comes, when we know everything about every square yard on a tamed Earth or when science completes its journey of exploration. Better the joys of search and discovery that the end of curiosity, where boredom begins. Better the frisson felt on the trail when an unseen beast bolts from the brush into the deep woods than being blind and deaf to nature. Novelty and surprise are sauce for stories to bring home.

A gamecam photo of a mountain lion dragging a white-tailed deer posted on social media prompted the following string of comments from people around Pocahontas County. [My added remarks].

  1. Holy cow! [Perhaps the commentator thought the photo was taken recently and locally, but neither the case]
  2. I saw one in Randolph County 25 years ago and my husband and I witnessed two young mountain lions near Huntersville in Pocahontas County a few years ago ‘mousing’ in a field. Our son had one on his game camera last winter near Minnehaha Springs [nearby].
  3. Saw one at Clover Lick about 15 years ago [also nearby].
  4. We told the game warden about two in Huntersville. She said she knew a momma had a pair in the rocks at Beaver Creek.
  5. I’m surprised they said that. Any warden we ever talked to said it’s impossible. But maybe that’s changing [diplomatic].
  6. My daughter saw one up back of our trailer on Elk Mountain.
  7. If we have mountain lions why bear hunter never treed one. None has been hit by a car. No trail cam pictures. Been hunting here all my life but nave (sic) seen a track. Not calling anyone a liar, just like piece of proof.
  8. And didn’t the game wardens attempt to prosecute the farmer that killed it? It was after his sheep.
  9. I know what I seen. I stopped and looked. It wasn’t brown but black and wasn’t a house cat. [No definite records of wild black panthers in the US]
  10. Wow!
  11. Mountain lions were there when I was growin up. They were in the backyard.
  12. If you killed one ye go 20 years in federal pen [really?!]. That probably why ye never hear of one bein killed.

You don’t need to take sides in the debate about mountain lions roaming the county. Standing on both sides of the fence at the same time is perfectly comfortable.

Some sightings by the public are undeniable, although most cases are probably mistaken identity. Authentic reports are too rare to make hiking there more exciting!

On the other hand, the DNR is also correct insofar that no breeding population of mountain lions currently exists. Convincing reports of individual beasts are likely based on escapees from captivity or deliberate releases into the wild after kittens grow up savage.

I heard a persuasive story this summer by someone I know from four miles away. When she opened her door, she saw a big cat in the backyard menacing her pet cat. She screamed at the top of her voice so loud her father heard it a quarter mile away. Knowing it meant his daughter was in trouble, Keith Mace grabbed a rifle and ran down the mountainside. No one suffered harm that day but the event added another chapter to the ongoing debate.

Keith Mace in Pocahontas County

Today, I draft this post on the first anniversary of the passing of my friend Keith Mace, who died from a tractor accident at age 81. He was born and lived most of his life on Mace Mountain, named after his pioneer ancestors.

Next Post: Peregrine Falcon

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