The Way of The Pack: Building People Every Month!
Saturday, October 27, 2018
Saturday, October 13, 2018
THE FUTURE OF LGD USE:
ASSETS OR LIABILITIES?
The Way of The Pack: Understanding and Living With Livestock Guardian Dog through Amazon.com is available now through all books. Here's a chapter for one of the famous books. Read it about it, and I dare you to think...
“But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”
— The Grail Knight, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
I could not believe my eyes – or my ears – as I watched the Oregon news station interviewing the sheep producer. He stood petting two of his Great Pyrenees for the camera. Without a pause, he tearfully named off the three dead LGDs that had been shot and killed by mistake. But I knew something the public did not. As an expert witness hired in the high-profile case, I had read depositions and court documents that the press and public were not yet privy to.
Under sworn deposition, when asked repeatedly to name his guardian dogs, Gordon Clark could not name them. He hadn’t a clue what their names were. When pressed for details on how the dogs were trained, his replies were muddled, vague and as time wore on, increasingly surly and terse. Later in the newspapers his story morphed into a version of the dogs being born in his garage and hand raised by Clark alone as if they were pets. Now in front of rolling cameras and a public hungry for blood, there he was, naming off the three dead LGDs names for the photo op: Elvira, Tony and Jackie Chan. Under oath he couldn’t name them. Now? Suddenly, no problem. Although I was supposed to keep an emotional distance from this melodrama, I could barely contain myself. I was livid.
In terms of LGD knowledge, a totally clueless press corps engaged in pseudo-reporting of a trial centering around the tragic shooting of three Livestock Guardian Dogs by two elk hunters in Oregon wilderness. Only one side of the story ever made the press. No one questioned the bonafides of the LGD owner. Most of the public wanted the hunters hanged, drawn and quartered. And that was just for starters.
But as I waded through depositions and stacks of court documents, I saw the darker side of this litigious beast: the underbelly of what really was at stake in this matter became clear, and that was why I went to work for the defendants, notthe owner of the LGDs. At stake was the difference between raising using LGDs wrong and raising and using them right. LGDs as liabilities - or assets. What was on trial was more than two hunter’s error in judgment. What was really on trial was LGD management that could possibly dictate the future of LGD use on public lands in this country.
What made this case even more frustrating for me was the fact that the sheep operator was not only well known, he was extremely well liked in the sheep industry. When I mentioned his name to commercial sheep folks and wool industry mucky-mucks, I got the gushing pie-eyed rave reviews. As I had many large commercial sheep producers as guardian dog clients, this put me in an awkward position. This guy had practically had become a poster child for the wool industry. The nouveausheep man had been rewarded for his agriculture efforts with industry awards and praise in local newspapers. In an ironic twist, like me he was an expat Southern Californian. In fact, he was a former, very famous SoCal businessman with an interesting but very marred and controversial, past.
Years ago, Clark had suddenly, overnight, shuttered his long-time surfboard foam blank manufacturing plant after the suspicious death (reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere) of a 36-year-old employee due to long-term exposure to a deadly chemical in the plant; his widow sued for wrongful death. But that was not all. The newly minted sheep rancher had more pending lawsuits against him including one from another worker’s widow whose husband died from cancer. In his one public statement, quoted by The Times, the foam manufacturer admitted “…I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits and even time in prison."
* * *
Well now, I thought as I poured over archived newspaper reports on the employee’s death, pending lawsuits, allegations of price cutting to stifle competition, and monopolizing the market. I looked at photos of Clark arrogantly flipping off the camera. One photo had him gloating next to a stuffed Mountain Lion that he claimed he had to kill to save his sheep - probably I chuckled to myself - because his dogs were no where around doing their jobs.Gossipy rants in surf magazines and online blogs and ‘zines cited his troubles with the Environmental Protection Agency.So we are not the innocent Boy Scout after all. Amazing how none of this juicy press made the Oregon newspapers during the trial, but considering the jury and the area he ranched in, I had to wonder if it would have even made a difference.
But surfboards? Well, damn, if this wasn’t a coincidence. Now I remembered. No wonderthe name Gordon “Grubby” Clark rang a bell. In the early 1970’s I was growing up in the then still sleepy, hippie, flower child and surf-bum infested southern California town of Laguna Beach where my mother worked 13 years for the Police and Fire Departments. The surf scene was not all Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon frolicking and singing on white sandy shores; there was a darker side to it that most outsiders didn’t see. It was during the last wild days of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the international hashish trafficking, LSD manufacturing ring with ties to the Weather Underground blatantly run out of a seemingly innocent Laguna storefront. When a big swell came in and the surf was up, the high school emptied. Half the time the girl’s bathroom was so thick with marijuana smoke you practically got high just going inside to pee. Some of my track teammates were dating Black Panther Party members in Berkeley. Saffron robed Hare Krishnas banged cymbals and drums on street corners and tried to convert anyone who stood still long enough at the corner of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and Laguna Canyon road impatiently waiting for the light to turn green so they could escape the prospect of eternal bliss and a mandatory shaved head. John Wayne regularly drove by our Cliff Drive house on his way home to Newport Beach. The infamous LSD guru Timothy Leary had just been busted on pot possession in the canyon by my mom’s boss, “Super Cop” Neil Purcell. Ah, yes, Laguna Beach and the California beach and surf scene, like itusedto be. Like practically everyone else at Laguna Beach High School, I did my penance surfing, or as in my case, what passed as such. It was a sure bet that my battered old hand me down surfboard I paddled out and rode waves with, had been built on a Clark Foam blank. Back then, everyone’s was. Well, damn again.
After Gordon Clark abruptly closed his surfboard foam shop and split the SoCal surf scene, he headed north with bulging bank accounts and, with absolutely no previous agriculture experience, bought the historic yet struggling Hay Creek Ranch in Oregon. He proceeded to reinvent himself as a humble sheep and cattle rancher, and for a grizzled, cocky ex-surfer dude who once schlepped around the surf scene with his pants practically falling off, the Zelig did a fair job of it.
Of course, during the LGD trial, not an ounce of “Grubby’s” sullied California business history made it into the courtroom or the newspapers. I doubt the jury even knew. The news was all about the “poor” LGDs being killed by “bad guys” - it guaranteed a quick boost in readership and hits on newspaper websites. The press practically turned the hunters into a mix of Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer. They may as well have shot Lassie.
* * *
The attorney who contacted me represented the defendants: the men were both ex-law enforcement and experienced hunters. They had been bow-hunting elk in season when out of nowhere, three huge white LGDs came racing towards them. The dogs had been chasing elk. The signs that Clark claimed were present were not visible to the hunters. When they blew on their elk horn, the dogs came racing in, thinking it was an elk. Assuming the non-identified dogs were feral and chasing wildlife, and not seeing any herders present let alone any sheep, the hunters shot them. It was against the law for dogs to chase wildlife. As court documents showed, the dogs were actually nowhere near their band of sheep, but far away from them. The band was being run on a large forest allotment with heavy tree growth where the line of sight was minimal, and it was easy for dogs, herder and sheep to be out of each other’s view in a second. Depositions further showed that the band of sheep was being run by a skeleton crew of herders. No wonder they didn’t know where their LGDs were when the shooting began.
Something else conveniently never made the news. Sworn witness statements and interviews revealed this was not the first time the former surfboard blank mogul’s LGDs had aggressively approached people while supposedly guarding their flock. Hikers, hunters and recreational ATV riders cited repeated incidents of Clark’s guardian dogs coming up to them with teeth bared and snarling; one woman narrowly escaped being bitten while riding on her ATV. In every incident, no herder was nearby to control or call back the LGDs. The witnesses did not see any sheep near the dogs.No signage warning sheep were in the area; no herders around, no sheep camp wagon. The dogs lacked any visible identification such as collars and tags. In other words, the LGDs were being poorly managed - if managed at all. The locals knew who the dogs belonged to. But some claimed this was the norm: dogs running amok. In other words, it happened all the time. Of course, the press chose to ignore this little inconvenient truth.
When I proceeded to describe what responsible LGD ownership, use and management reallylooked like to the defense lawyers, and how Clark was using outdated training and use methods now roundly frowned upon by most responsible LGD owners, they licked their chops in anticipation. So there were cracks in the facade after all. Yup, there were, in that he appeared to be a very poor LGD owner and operator and was cutting corners by not having enough herders with his sheep in heavily wooded, brushy country. No signage, no markings on the dogs, no collars. It was piss-poor, slapdash management of working guardian dogs and sadly, much more common in the commercial sheep industry than the industry likes to cop to. In fact, it’s often par for the course.
But would the jury see it the way we did? No, they didn’t. In the end, Clark once again, dodged a bullet. He got what he wanted: tons of feel-good press and a social media cheering section the size of Rhode Island, vindication for his dead dogs, awarded a hefty six-figure sum and a guilty verdict for the hunters. In a telling show of where their hearts really lay, sheep industry big wigs cheered the verdict of their wunderkindwoolgrower, and in doing so, praised bad LGD management practices. Whether or not Clark went on to continue using his LGDs in a less than responsible manner, with a minimal crew of herders, or improved his ways running his dogs, I cannot say. His three dogs paid the ultimate price for his unwise choice in how he reared them up and managed them in the end. The whole tragedy could have been prevented; instead, irresponsible LGD management practices were rewarded and politics won out. It made me very angry, yet I was not surprised.
A few years prior, the American Sheep Industry had rolled out a very well written and drafted paper on LGDs titled “American Sheep Industry Association’s Recommended Best Management Practices for Livestock Protection Dogs.”Done in mind to nip in the bud any mandatory government regulation of working guardian dogs that may have been in the works, the well-crafted best-use practices paper strongly advocated hands-on rearing of pups and socialization of working LGDs so they did not mindlessly attack people out of fear. It promoted using collars or means to identify dogs and posted signage. It promoted herder education in use of the dogs. Of course, I knew they were right. They were more or less advocating The Way of The Pack.It was sensible, responsible LGD use. I shared it on social media, printed off copies and pushed my dog customers to read it. “This is good stuff. Read it. Practice it.” I contacted one of the authors to voice my praise. They glumly told me over the phone that the general reception of their paper by commercial producers was “poor, lukewarm at best” and that most woolgrowers pooh-poohed the advice. The overwhelming inference was it was too much work. Why bother? The dogs were just disposable tools, anyway.
I went on the American Sheep Industry website, looking for the best management practices LGD paper to include a link to it in this book. It had been posted on the site for many years. Now, along with a link to a page of printable LGD signage and brochures, it was gone. Not a good sign.
* * *
The reality is, we live in a day and an age when ranching, agricultural livelihoods and our right to farm are under attack. But let’s look at the other side of the coin. Public lands users press for jerking allotments away from ranchers, and in some instances, who can blame them? We all know there are pockets in Ranching America where good ol’ boys wink and nod culture is the rule of thumb and “Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up” the mantra. Dishonest ranchers abuse the system by inflating calf loss numbers in order to be reimbursed by the government for faked “wolf kills.” Sheep industrymucky mucks oblige and conveniently look the other way at commercial sheep operations who starve their LGDs and don’t care for them. The last thing the sheep industry needs are dog bite lawsuits, but they are on the increase. The government would love to come in and tell us what we can and can’t do with these dogs. Closed minds and prehistoric attitudes in the stock industry that scoff at using best management and low risk use practices for LGDs will be the ones who spell the end of stockmen being able to run and use LGDs on public lands - and perhaps, even on their own properties.
Consider this dangerous dog case involving 21 LGDs in Massachusetts and the harsh, draconian restrictions - including mandatory put downs of several dogs - that were imposed on a less than scrupulous LGD owner who was using irresponsible management practices that included bad fencing and his frequent absence, while running high-risk LGDs: “Court date delayed in Richmond dangerous dogs case as farmer's attorney, town counsel seek possible settlement” : https://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/court-date-delayed-in-richmond-dangerous-dogs-case-as-farmers-attorney-town-counsel-seek-possible,545249 What we do not need is more like him.
The Way of The Pack promotes coexistence with predators by the intelligent use of LGDs. Rearing and using a dog you can trust, and daily socializing and interaction are profoundly important. A safe, low-risk, stable, trustworthy, thinking dog that will assess people, not fear them; a dog that stays with his livestock, not off chasing wildlife; a dog that has confidence, and does his job well, is the ideal.
What it comes down to is this: the choice in how you raise your LGD is yours: you can raise up and use an asset, or you can raise up and use a liability.
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