Monday, July 19, 2010

RE: Ridgebacks in a dry and arid land.

allard has left the following comment in response to  "Ridgebacks in a dry and arid land":

            Lawrence, I enjoyed the vignette of you and the dogs on a hot night in the urban wilderness. I say 'urban,' because it's rare to find Poe and Cheever in the wild——although who knows?——there are probably dozens of copies of Paradise Lost at the Everest Base Camp.
            In the 1980's we had a Bouvier; they're large, sturdy dogs with tough, protective coats which allow them to stay out in the cold and guard sheep and cattle, although these days there's really not much for them to do except sleep on their owners' beds.
            We then had two Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, the oldest of whom died in 2008, at the age of fifteen years and six months. Wheatens have abundant, silky coats, and they do well in the cold, but do not thrive when the temperature nears 80. Then they mostly lie on the cool tile floor and zone out.
            I'd imagine Ridgebacks, because of their origins would do better in hot weather than would most breeds, but you and your dogs seem to have a healthy sense of prudence.



            LAWRENCE'S RESPONSE:  There is plausible evidence that homo sapiens and canis familiaris evolved together in a symbiotic relationship.   I read recently that canis familiaris has the most malleable of any genome.  In a very few generations we can create a new breed for a wide variety of purposes.  In recent times, as you indicated, the chief quality we desire is someone to "sleep on [our] beds" or "mostly lie on the cool tile floor and zone out." 

            A humorist a few years ago defined the dog as the most successful "parasite" that has ever lived.  He chews up our shoes, poops on our floor, keeps us awake with his barking, humps the legs of our guests and in return we feed him by hand, pay for his medical expenses, walk him when he wants, and feed him better quality food than we eat ourselves.  As a "survival strategy" the dog's is second only to our own.  Those who argue that the cat's is just as good should recall that only when man settled into towns and began storing grain did the rat-killing-cat become important.  But for eons before that the dog travelled with our hunter-gatherer ancestors on hunts, guarded the women and children when they went a-berry picking and guarded our camps at night.  The cat might be better at lying on our beds and lying on the cool tile floors of present-day man, but the dog can still do a variety of jobs and if mankind's situation changes, the dog will change with it.  Whether the will make the adjustment is more problematic. 

            Yes, the Ridgeback is better in hot weather than most other breeds.  I'd like to claim that I selected this breed for that reason, but the truth is that my wife selected the Ridgeback years ago because she liked its looks and personality.  That seems to be the way most modern people choose breeds.  While it would make better sense to choose a breed that suits our circumstances, most of us choose breeds reasons similar to my wife's. 

            Then, being in a symbiotic relationship, we accommodate our lifestyle to whatever breed it is that we have.   If we have an Airedale and live in the desert then we buy clippers and keep him shorn.  If we have a heavy-coated breed that doesn't lend itself to clipping, we make sure that our dog can stay in an air-conditioned room during hot weather. 

            It does seem as though the Ridgeback is ideally suited to my present lifestyle.  My girls keep quiet when I am reading.  They are large and off-putting to any potential muggers or robbers.  They can hike as long as I can down at the river.  And if we happen to discover that we are out in a day that is too hot or too cold, they can make it back to the Jeep as well as I can.  But it isn't clear to me whether I chose the dogs to fit my present lifestyle or my lifestyle to fit my dogs. 

            Before we got our first Ridgeback I had a sail boat and spent a lot of time free-diving.  I thought that if I ever got a dog it would be something like a Portuguese Water Dog.   But then Susan selected the Rhodesian Ridgeback and my plans changed.  I tried our first Ridgeback on my boat and he hated it.  He puked in the cockpit and skidded about on the decks.  I worried that he would slide overboard in any but the mildest weather.  I could have retired close enough to the sea to continue sailing and diving but instead I moved to a region much better suited to the Rhodesian Ridgeback.  Our weather here in San Jacinto isn't terribly different from the weather where this breed was developed. 

            I'm not complaining.  Maintaining a sailboat takes a lot of work.  I was glad to be free of it.  When it was time to retire, Susan and I considered a lot of different places and finally chose San Jacinto . . . sort of.



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