Finding Old Yeller

Carolina Dog / Bing Images

Read Part One: Outside of A Dog…

Gandy, a week before she died on Valentines Day last year, was able to jump into the back of my truck while we unloaded wood. She always helped by selecting her own piece to turn into wood chips. Then she lost ground rapidly. When the vet left the house after putting her gently to her final sleep, we vowed the pain was too much to think of having another dog in this life. A week later, we were less sure of that, and began browsing the animal adoption sites. We found Scout in April.

Months later, we were stalled mid-way between love and something else, so far as this wild-card rescue dog was concerned. He was not fitting in. We couldn’t get allegiance into his head. He certainly didn’t see us as the leaders of his pack. What would it take to make that happen? I frankly despaired, and will tell more about that in the third installment.

Who was this dog? What would it take to reach him, to keep him, to welcome him fully into our lives and love him like all his predecessors?

It was during this ambivalent wondering that Google lens spit back at me an image that was Scout. The caption: Carolina Dog. Wait. What? I never heard of the breed. But maybe if it helped us better know his pre-ordained disposition, habits, preferences and genetic tendencies, we could do better at winning him over. Or maybe not. 

And so I spent a couple of entire days reading everything I could find on Carolina Dogs–also called the American Dingo; or Pariah dog (a catch-all for barely or non-domesticated breeds in ancient times that have persisted in a semi-wild state.)

Scout’s first snow after coming to Goose Creek *click for short video

I compared pictures of other supposed Carolina Dogs (Yellow Dogs or Yeller Dogs) to Scout, and read about their temperaments and habits. More often than not, what I read described the mutt sitting next to me on the loveseat as I scrolled page after page on my iPad.

► Curved tail when alert, drooping horizontal when at rest: CHECK

► Snout Pits: CHECK (yet it seems it is usually females who do this.)

► Champion mouser: CHECK

► Coat soft, with dense undercoat. Immaculately clean, little shedding: CHECK

► Wary of Strangers at first: CHECK (especially MEN)

► Buries poop with the nose: Nope. He is inclined to bury any treat we give him with his nose in the snow or grass or soft dirt. He isn’t much for treats. More, anon. 

► Fiercely local to the pack, once bonded: Well the jury was still very much out on that one when we first began exploring Scout’s possible parentage.

And I’m not claiming that discovering his ancestry sealed the bond, but it helped us be patient with whatever legacy of biology or tolerant of prior abuse or failure of training he might have known, and give him space to BELONG to our pack. We despaired for months that this would happen. Spoiler: it DID!

So: Carolina Dog. Most have erect ears, while Scout’s flop most of the time. Most are smaller frame, but some are stouter. Scout was 55 pounds when we got him, and has gained a bit since, but still covers the ground just like the videos of American Dingos all over the Internet.

This is indeed a DIFFERENT dog from most other breeds, because it did not come over with the European settlers like most early American dog varieties. The American dingo accompanied the post-ice-age immigrants across the Bering land bridge from Asia some eight to 10 thousand years ago or before.

If you’re interested, rather than me reposting the wealth of information out there about Carolina Dogs, I’ll offer some of the links I’ve collected for your perusal. This was engaging, relevant and helpful reading for me, longing to make known as much as possible about this dog whose history was otherwise hidden from the other side of his crate at Angels of Assisi in Roanoke where we found him and fetched him home on April 19 of lsat year.

Seven months later, Scout was a dear soul inside the house, but still wanted nothing more than to escape if he accidentally got out the door or we let him off-leash outdoors, thinking every time, “this time he’ll want to stay with us.”

This dog needed to run—a lot, and every day. Maybe he doesn’t need to be the responsibility of two old codgers. There was no yard to be fenced, invisible or otherwise. He began to run down the road and bother the neighbors who have small children. This was making our lives miserable. The dog was to blame, even though it wasn’t his fault the Gum Ball Machine of life dropped him here on Goose Creek.

It was a long, grievous half year, I suppose for him as well as for us. At wits end, I wrote a couple of letters to humane shelters, asking if it were possible to “rehome” this dog, a creature that would never fit into our lives here. I never sent those letters.


Outside of a Dog

This could get complicated, seeing as how I have not spoken in public places about “the dog situation” in some months. I was forbidden to, so fraught with potential guilt in giving the dog-in-question back to Angels of Assisi should we fail, or otherwise not succeeding in the training to make him fit in, to bond with us and behave anything like the dogs that have been our companions, back to our first in 1981. 

I have good news, for those who might have been in on the story: Scout is still with us, and he belongs here and knows it. It has been a steep uphill battle, finally won. Mostly.

The story of that behavior mod remains for another time, perhaps. It is the discovery of Scout’s genetic roots I want to share briefly here this morning. 

The mug shot on the animal adoption website showed a pale-colored medium-sized 13 month old dog named Coco, and described him as “yellow lab / golden retriever mix.” Three of the four A-team dogs we’ve had under our roof over the last 35 years have been labs, Gandy the Ridgeback-Shepherd mix being the exception.

So we took the risk and brought him home—the first older-than-eight-week puppy in our pets lineup, and odd to think of it: He is likely the last dog we will ever have in our lives. Strange to think the dog is likely to outlive us, but there comes a time.

Regarding pedigree, I was convinced there was other blood involved. Scout (our new name for him) does not have the docile-tractable lab state of mind exactly. He shows a much more independent streak, with less drive to please and cooperate. But maybe that just has to do with his first home, about which we know nothing—only that he came to us knowing nothing. Sit. Stay. Come. Not so much. 

But the strangest physical trait was the tail hooked over the back. So I thought maybe husky; or Spitz. But Scout’s tail is fish-hook curved when he is intent on something out the window or in the field, then droops to horizontal when he is calm. What’s up with that?

Scout’s tendencies outdoors are not lab-like. Every lab we’ve ever grown to know has been an ardent and skilled MOLE extractor. I have pictures of Tsuga in the snow, tossing a mole high in the air, and catching it in his mouth. Our yard has always been pockmarked with mole diggings. Not anymore. 

Scout could care less about moles, but he is a champion mouser. He digs out a big tuft of shredded grass from the pasture a half-dozen times every time we take our walk there. More often than not, there is a protein snack inside.

And lastly in the list of pedigree puzzlers, in the garden (which has become Scout’s alfresco recreation space) he doesn’t help with the moles there like I wish he would. But he digs “snout pits” for no apparent reason. I think I have a picture somewhere of the results.

So here’s where the story takes a turn: Because it was new and I wanted to test it, I used Google Lens to take a picture of Scout, who was sitting there next to me when I had the notion to use this new tool. It came back with an identification of the object in the image.

And that is where the story picks up in the next blog post! 

BONUS FEATURE (or additional punishment, depending…)

Who originally made this quip:

Outside of a Dog, a Book is Man’s Best Friend. Inside of a Dog, It’s Too Dark to Read

I thought it was Groucho Marx. Maybe. Maybe not.

Who Thinks Up These Beings Anyways?

Once again, I’m taking the easy way out. I’m happy to share—need to, even—lest I finally accept the  eddys are good enough and just hush. So nothing fancy. No eye candy. Just the facts, m’am.

Not surprisingly, it is the fellow creatures we live with that draw my amazement, admiration and respect—not to mention the previously-intact ecosystems that gave rise to them, many of which are now on their way off the page of history occupied so completely and with such a heavy hand by our invasive species. 

You really should call in the children to see the spider-tailed snake and the gaping maws of Finches from Outer Space. 

For those who genuinely care for the sanctity of life, these “low” creatures and so many more marvels like them matter to the whole of life, far more than we will likely every know. The pity that many will never even be discovered to be observed and written about before their populations and entire species goes extinct in the very near term, perhaps.

What’s Up With the Weird Mouths of These Finch Chicks?

The Lure of the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper 

Seeking Superpowers in the Axolotl Genome – The New York Times 

The Root of All Weevil

Spontaneous generation?

They just are there–in the five pound bag of flour you just brought home yesterday. There, in the mixing bowl that was going to hold the biscuits for dinner, but now, in a puff of white smoke, ground grains with tiny hard beetles go into the burn pit out back.

But don’t blame the insects. They are just doing what they do to make a living, wingless though they are. They have learned to hitch-hike around the world over the past few thousand years as post-glacial humankind cultivated the land, then stored, then globally-shipped wheat products everywhere.

Read the details at NPR, and just go ahead and enjoy a little crunch in your next batch of pancakes.

New Book: Fifth Risk

We are lurching forward into an unknown and unchartable future where there are no rules or precedents in the halls of government. Where might we end up when uninformed democracy breaks down and unconstrained capitalism drives us to the brink?

“Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and downside to knowledge.

Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview. If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system—those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.”

Read more about and from the book…