Monday, April 29, 2013

Stinging Caterpillers - Declaration of WAR!!!

Buck Moth Stinging Caterpillar
Last spring my front porch, back porch and agility training yard were rendered USELESS from mid April thru mid June by the presence of thousands of stinging caterpillars - of the Buck Moth variety.  We sprayed them, squashed them by the thousands, and cursed them when they stung us or the poor dogs, but still they came.  They climb the walls, up chair legs, under vegetation, on lamp shades, drawer handles, and all through the grass -- they are everywhere.  The dogs, once stung, refuse to leave the porch. All you have to do is barely brush up against those little spines on their back to get a jolt which feels like being electrocuted.  My friend and neighbor, Laura, took pleasure in slashing them in half with a machette by the hundreds last spring after one stung her 9 year old daughter.  I can still hear Portia's hysterical shrieking, indescribably painful at first and sore for days afterward.

My "new" dog walk gets a coat of paint
in March, before the caterpillars arrive.
On April 8th this year, I spotted (and squashed) my first one of the season, then declared war!  Dadgummit, I'm taking my yard back.  My new aluminum dog walk (new to me, that is, won in an auction and recently refurbished) beckons me, and I'm not going to sit inside with all this fabulous spring weather for training and a puppy who needs it, while the caterpillars are the only ones enjoying my yard.

The Buck Moth caterpillars live on oak and willow trees, and crawl up and down the trunks in long lines.  My yard is full of oaks, so my first line of defense was to wrap a band of aluminum foil around the trunk of the two oaks nearest my house and staple it in place.  Sure enough, the caterpillars can't hold on to the smooth surface so they turn around and go back up. 

Caterpillar can't hold onto the smooth tape.
Then I decided to try a smooth surfaced duck tape - a lot easier to apply -- it works just as well, and I can do a lot more trees for a lot less effort, but I still had to staple it in place to keep it snug in the many grooves in the trunks.  While most can't make it over the smooth surface a few seem able to.  I guess there are mutations in every species -- supercaterpillars with feet that can scale smooth surfaces.  But at this point 3 weeks later, the population seems to be far less than last year.  Have I interrupted their cycle somewhat?  Or are they just not as bad this year?

I can't find a website that explains their life cycle and how they spend their days.  All I know is they go up and down the trees, chomp on oak leaves all day for 8 weeks or so (we can hear them chewing) until they are fat, then they disappear. By then it's summer and too hot to go outdoors.  About all Wikipedia says is they are an especial problem in Baton Rouge, LA, (where I live) where so many public areas are planted in oak trees.

First Aid For Stings
This University of Kentucky website on stinging caterpillars, says there is no first aid for stings, but there absolutely is!  I discovered it many years ago studying herbs, from an esoteric book called Health Through God's Pharmacy, by German herbalist Marie Treban.  One little line in that book suggested Swedish Bitters as a remedy for bee stings.  I bought a bottle at the health food store, by Nature Works, and it immediately neutralizes the pain and reduces swelling.  Tried it on ant bites, wasps and stinging caterpillars, too, and it takes the sting out within seconds.  I now keep a bottle of it in my car, RV, purse, and medicine cabinet at home.  I've bought the prepared bottles, and also the dry herbs and made up bottles of the tincture as stocking stuffers. I've used it on kids and my dogs with immediate results.  Just daub some on a cotton ball and rub it into the sting.  Even if you are highly allergic, it works, but you have to do it right away for best results. It's hard to keep a dog from licking it off, though.  You have to hold their paw for a few minutes, allowing it to soak into the skin.

3 25' rows, tilled, covered and mulched.
Cucumber trellis in back, different varieties
of tomatoes and peppers, bush beans,
okra.  In another row, herbs
and pole beans.  Yet to go, the watermelon/
squash patch.
You can barely see it, but my dog walk
sits just behind this garden.
Despite these disgusting pests, beautiful weather in the 70's has enticed John and me outside to bask in sunshine, repair the garden fence, plant, and we have succeeded in laying in about 2/3ds of our spring garden.  But we must examine every single thing we touch, and are so angry at them we squash every caterpillar we see until their guts pop out.  Revenge is sweet against such a relentless foe that poisons our yard and threatens our babies.

Addendum on 5/26: In addition to squishing them, we also found a pet friendly spray for crawling insects that we use to kill them individually. This doesn't help remove them from the grass, and takes several minutes to kill them after which they hang on the trees or fences until removed. Still a pain to deal with.  Towards the end of the season I noticed a few caterpillars drowned in the dog's outdoor water bowl!  Aha!  So I set up jars haf filled with water in both yards, and instead of squashing or spraying, John and I use long metal spoons to pick them up then toss them in the water.  They squiggle a bit then drown -- so much easier than the other methods tried.  Here's our haul from the last 3 days in the front yard.  We have 5 other jars just as full scattered about.

Adult Buck Moth

Eventually the spiny caterpillars turn into these handsome furry moths, who mate and lay eggs in the trees. Supposedly if you spray the trees in November, it kills the eggs, but the sprayer only reaches up about 20 feet, not useful if your trees are 100 feet high.  Meanwhile, if you should see one of these moths, please do your bit for humanity and KILL IT!  Don't let them lay their eggs. Their offspring are pure evil!

Upwards and onward!

Brandon Agility Trial

Maxie, 6 runs, 2 Q’s, 1 QQ, 1 4th Place, 19 MACH points, 6 videos

Lucky Lucy, 6 runs, 4 Q’s, 1 QQ, three Places, 11 MACH points, 5 videos

I'm behind in my posting!  Been busy fighting off the stinging caterpillars, spring roundup in my huge yard and my neighbor's, and our club's agility trial in Port Allen, which I haven't even begun to analyze except we did terrible.  Not wanting to go there has made me more willing to take care of my yard!  Even defeat has its advantages!

This trial two weeks later ended up much better, but started out with me nursing the flu my husband brought home a few days earlier – packing the RV was such a drag I almost didn't go.  But I got to thinking about all that wasted trial entry money.  I sprayed Zicam Cold Remedy in my mouth and cheeks at  3 hour intervals 24 hours before hitting the road, and by the time I made it to Brandon (a 3.5 hour drive), I was feeling better. Used it all weekend and made it through.

Thursday night it poured down rain, I got wet setting up camp, and wind rocked the RV half the night. An ominous start. A shot of Zicam before bed and first thing Friday morning I was on the line at 8 a.m.  Running an 8" and a 24" in MS and MJ, I'm almost always bound to be one of the first on the line!  Maxie’s first run was one of his fastest and best runs EVER, with 25 seconds to spare and a full 8 seconds ahead of any other 8" dog, except the very last obstacle he took the wrong end of the tunnel!!! ACK! It seemed downhill from there for Maxie, with no Q's until Sunday, which was a QQ but neither run was fast.  I left worried about his health and my handling skills, then got home and watching the videos, realized we actually ran pretty well.  A few wide turns, he walked his weaves 4 times out of 6, popped out twice, and took the wrong end of the tunnel twice.  Other than that, good runs. What's with the sudden tunnel sucking, I don't know.  Only one error per NQ, though, all of them "nearly Q's", which I still find encouraging.  His stride seems to be getting shorter, which I will address in my Port Allen post where we saw a doggie chiropractor.

Lucky, I felt, was slow and sluggish and Bonnie McDonald, the judge, even remarked to me "Some dogs do agility because they want to, others because we want them to", implying that Lucky is the latter.  I left the trial discouraged for Lucky, dreaming of finding her a more suitable venue.  She came home, and next day jumped the 5' fence and with boisterous enthusiasm chased down and killed an enormous armadillo in the woods, exhibiting all kinds of stamina and focus, and despite a fierce 10 minute battle with a wild animal, got not a scratch on her.  Her skill amazes me. Then, reviewing her videos, Lucky actually looked pretty good and even enthusiastic on some portions of her runs.  Came home with 4 Q's out of 6 runs, 1 QQ, running under course time 5 out of 6 runs, and being the only 24” dog to qualify in both XS and XJ on Friday, got two 1st places! A wonderful change from our last trial where she never Q’d once, plodded through her weaves, and exceeded course time three out of 6 runs.  How can I make the "armadillo connection" with agility?  Do they sell armidallo juice?

Maxie and Lucky's composite videos, with my commentary, are posted at the end of this story!

Ring conditions on Friday
  • Ring conditions on Friday were HORRIBLE, with huge rutts and cross hatches across the entire arena left by the tractor tines and tires.  We all ran fearing twisted ankles.  Friday night, though, the course was cleared and BARK, the hosting club, hired a private firm to come plow and level, as the horse arena staff obviously had no idea what was needed for a dog trial.  By Saturday morning the ring was in great shape, though the crate area remained rutted all weekend and we had to walk around very carefully.
  • A weird thing happened to Lucky after her 2nd run on Saturday.  Within a minute after leaving the ring her whole back became covered with what looked like white snowflakes that I couldn’t rub off.  I've never seen anything like it. Alarmed, perplexed, I had Rosey, a vet, look at it and she said sometimes when dogs get stressed they blow a bunch of dandruff! Maybe ring stress, or she got into some poison grass or something. She recommended 25 mg of benydrill per 25# of dog.  I gave it with her supper and the next day the dandruff was gone, and no reoccurrance since then.  I don’t think it was ring stress because on the way home we pulled into the La. Welcome Center for a pottie break.  Just as I was about to let the dogs out the door this huge 18 wheeler pulls up and parks right alongside me, rumbling loudly and never shut down.  Lucky went into a fit of trembling that lasted 5 minutes, definitely stressed out, but didn't blow any dandruff.

Keeping Lucky in the RV instead of in the arena all day, running her to the start line without loitering around the ring gate, is making a difference in her speed and enthusiasm. She gets nervous standing around at the gate. As opposed to Maxie, who doesn't mind the ring gate at all because it means more treats.  He wants his turn to last as long as possible.

Reviewing the videos, it's clear Maxie reads hand motions far more than shoulder pulls and where my feet are pointing.

Maxie and Lucky will both nail this sport when they consistently RUN their dog walks and weaves, and will place higher when they learn tighter turns and I learn better placed front crosses. That's pretty much all I have to concentrate on to raise our Q rates considerably.  They both handle pretty well.

The puppy, Pepper, is another matter!  We are still working on him not bolting out of the crate, pulling on his leash so hard he chokes himself, and rear crossing the other dogs every 5 seconds on our leash walks.  He is an adorable but tangled up mess.  On the positive side, he follows me everywhere and is increasingly loyal to me, not just to food.  He is developing a very good recall.  He's fast and strong and loves to jump.  My tactic, I believe, is to love on him more, not show so much favoritism.  I'm becoming more aware, I've spoiled Maxie rotten and he has spoiled me rotten.  He is a hard act for anyone to follow.  With Pepper, I'm going to have to fake it til we make it.

Definitely can't let Maxie jump off the bed in the middle of the night as he's been doing the last 4 months or so.  Chiropractor says his spine was misaligned and shoulders may be injured, (will be covered in a post about the previous Port Allen trial, still not written).

I actually had no goals coming into this trial except to survive it as best I could with a bad cold and to observe how Maxie runs.  My mind was mush, too, because I've been mulling over how to scale back my commitments in my dog club.  Too much angst, not enough reward.   I like to contribute my talents to whatever I do and enjoy team work. Without that, I grow bored.  Overhearing other agility folks talk at trials, it seems to be a common problem in many clubs for the old timers to hold the reins tight, i.e., exclude newer members' ideas. Marsha Jones, the brand new Trial Chairman at this BARK trial was a breath of fresh air, though, sharing herself, listening intently, bouncing ideas off of others, greeting everyone (especially the newbies) like a gracious hostess does, gathering opinions, encouraging input.  Nothing done by rote  . . . . . yet.  She's a newcomer on the rise with a rapidly growing club, and my what a difference her effusive attitude and slathering of "thank yous" makes.  It was a delightful trial!

My stride is getting a wee big longer
and I'm leaning forward some.
  • I'm running better now that I have shoes with cleats, my ankles and calves are stronger and my stride a few inches longer with my leg exercises, and I didn't get lost or confused on course once, (without even looking at the course maps). I still run way too slow for my liking, but the trend is definitely UP! I didn't get nervous either.
  • Lucky bounced through (not walked) her weaves twice.  YEAH!!!!!  She got 2 jumpers Q’s with seconds to spare, leaving only three to go for her Master Jumper title. I no longer despair of her getting that title, maybe this year, and that's a heap of encouragement for me to keep her in the game.
  • I have some direction to improving Maxie's performance.  First and foremost, keep him from jumping off the bed and couch and doing further injury to his shoulders.  Second, pay more attention to my arm cues.
  • There is agility life beyond club involvement.  I've been noticing club members at this and other trials who don't invest much in their club, and attend trials without necessity of "hanging out" with other club members, putting in so many volunteer hours, nor concerning themselves with whether the club thrives or grows.  Their agility training and competition doesn't seem to suffer in the least!
Upwards and onwards!
One notices a lot analyzing and comparing one's videos, things you just simply don't notice when running the course. 

For example, Maxie doesn't respond to shoulder pulls and foot placement nearly as much as hand motions. His stride appears to be getting shorter, which appears to be due to less propulsion with his back legs, explaining his slower YPS averages.
Maxie's composite video - with commentary.

Lucky walks through tunnels instead of running.  I had not made sufficient note of that before.  Her stride over jumps is inconsistent, and her jump height is inconsistent, sometimes way higher than necessary.  When walking the weaves, she does so with inconsistent footwork.  When she runs well, she runs really well.

Lucky's composite video - with commentary.