Category Archives: Do Animals Have Emotions?

Peace in the Pasture

Think about your work for a moment.

Does it not only pay the bills but provide you a sense of identity? Is what you do a big part of who you are?  Are there some things about your job that you don’t like and yet you do them anyway?

peaceable kingdomharoldNow suppose that your work is a time honored family tradition.  You are following in your parents’ footsteps.  You are practicing one of America’s oldest and most entrenched professions.   You are putting food on America’s tables!  But those things that you don’t like feel so terribly wrong that you know you have to turn your back on tradition and make your own way. You must leave the home you’ve known in order to find the home where you belong.

This is the type of personal passage explored in the film Peaceable Kingdom:  the journey home.   Animal agriculturalists get in touch Harold Brown and Maxadjwith the sentient creatures they are “farming.”  That leads them to get in touch with themselves – and their own ethical sensibilities.  A cowboy goes vegan. A boy born and bred to raise animals as food instead launches Farm Kind. A couple turns their goat operation into a sanctuary.

These emotional, intellectual, and lifestyle choices do not happen overnight or easily.  They involve deep consideration, major upheaval and profound change. And in the end, they all feel really, really good.

You can share these experiences via Peaceable Kingdom, a documentary that reveals what happens on farms and invites us to reconsider our own choices.  As producer James LaVeck says, “We’ve seen firsthand how stories focused on justice and compassion can awaken the positive side of human nature…We can choose another way to live.”

pkim_wave_filmmakers

Jenny Stein and James LaVeck

LaVeck and director Jenny Stein are screening their latest film around the world – and seeing that people are making that lifestyle choice even in countries where consideration for animals is truly a foreign concept. “…people of all ages and backgrounds really don’t want to be a part of harming others, and the more they learn about who animals are and what is Sheep onTruckhappening to them, the more willing they are to include our fellow animals in their vision of social justice.”

Think back to abolition in America.  Civil rights. The vote for suffragettewomen. Social justice movements all.  Will we someday look back at what we did to animals and remember the time that justice came to them? LaVeck and Stein believe the answer is yes, for one reason or another; perhaps for many reasons.

Says LaVeck, “We’re living in an era when the growth of the human population, expanding material consumption, and the use of our fellow animals for food are producing devastating environmental consequences.  This crisis is forcing more and more of us to grapple with a basic moral question:  is what I get from the way I live worth the harm it is doing to others, not just now, but in the generations to come?  Many people who seriously ask themselves this question end up renouncing participation in the harm of others or wanton damage to the environment.  What’s great is that making this change is not that hard, and it’s good for us – it’s good for our physical and psychological health, and for our spirits.  When we stop taking part in harming others, we also stop harming ourselves, as we are all connected. This is something more of us are Poster with text[15][1][5]understanding every day.  So this is an exciting time to be alive, one in which our efforts have the potential to make a level of difference that is truly amazing.”

Torn about whether to watch Peaceable Kingdom? Don’t be. You don’t have to change just because you get informed.  It’s a choice.  But take it from me, a girl who grew up on a hobby farm and whose parents passed off my teenaged refusal to eat animals as a passing fad:  if you do make that choice, LaVeck is absolutely right.  It’s so good for us that we want to share it with you. If you haven’t already, how I wish for you to make that journey home.

The film Peaceable Kingdom airs on WEDU+ Sunday, December 22nd at 8:00 pm and again on Sunday, December 29th at midnight.

You can purchase the DVD here.

Watch my interview with Peaceable Kingdom’s director and producer on WEDU Thursday, December 19th, at 8:30 pm.  Additional airdates and times can be found on wedu.org. The show will be posted on the website after air.

Jenny Stein, James LaVeck and Cathy Unruh Upclose with Cathy Unruh WEDU

Jenny Stein, James LaVeck and Cathy Unruh

 

Moo2Meow

I was at a conference when a large animal veterinarian told this true story:

The managers of a dairy farm were mystified when one of their cows would not give milk.

This was an operation where the animals were more fortunate than most, in that they got to go out to pasture each day, rather than spending their entire cattle-dairy-02lives locked in an enclosure.  As in all dairy operations, the cows were repeatedly impregnated so that they would give birth and produce milk.  After each birth, the calves were taken away so that the milk meant for them could instead be pumped for human consumption.

A mama cow who had been through the routine of turning in her babies before dutifully watched as her latest newborn was hauled away.  Yet when the lactating mother was hooked up to the milking machine, cattle-dairy-04she was dry.  This went on for days, with no apparent explanation.  But then came the moment when the baffled operators stumbled upon their answer.  One spotted a movement in the woods at the edge of the pasture and went to investigate.  Mama cow had given birth to twins.  Knowing what their fate would be, she had taken one for sacrifice and hidden one to save.

This Sophie’s choice inspires the new title for my blog.  Moo2 is in honor of this cow and her two babies whose stories evoked tears in nearly everyone who sat in the conference hall and heard it.

The title also means “moo to meow,” in that we talk about all animals here, from farm to family room; from the animals we think little of to the ones we greet joyfully upon our return home.  (That means the title could also be baa/chirp/oink/woof/snort/cock a doodle doo…and could quickly get a little too long. 🙂 )

I am grateful to each of you who share my compassion for animals and who read and consider these words, wherever you are on your own personal journey.  It can be devastating to face the truths of animal suffering yet also joyous to help alleviate it. As Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur recently wrote, humans possess a fundamental capacity to feel empathy, yet we sometimes turn it down when faced with the pain and suffering of others.  “The good news is that we are capable not only of turning our empathy down but also of turning it up…Empathy is like a muscle that becomes stronger as we use it.”cat and cow

Here’s to a great workout.  Get to know a cow.  Hug your cat. A big heart does a body good.

Thank you for visiting and for the e-mails you regularly send me.  If you are comfortable doing so, please reply here, as it contributes to community discussion. Most of all, thank you for caring.

September 11th: Sit. Stay. Enjoy.

CathywbabiescouchWhen this photo was posted on Taming Me’s Facebook page, I was struck by the ferocity of the following comment, including the capitalization of the imperative:  “DON’T MOVE!  Stay right where you are!”  I thought that Paula Booth, the follower who wrote it, must be a woman who knows the value of being in the moment, especially a moment in which one is cuddled up with loved ones, and perhaps even more so a moment when those loved ones happen to have four legs.

In this world of constant connection and a non-stop barrage of news, opinion and information, chores by the score and a plentitude of places to be and people to see, it can be difficult to stop and savor the moment – whether it’s an active moment or one like this, pinned on the sofa by pets. Lately I have found myself counting the days until something I’m looking forward to – and even as I do so, I know that I am detracting from the day at hand.  So I thought that this anniversary of one of the most grievous days in our nation’s recent history might be a good time to remind myself to Sit. Stay. Enjoy. Because who knows how many moments more there will be?

A friend was recently on vacation with her family in one of her favorite places – a house beside the ocean.  She sat on the beach, chattedJuliecropped with her sisters, enjoyed dinner with the entire clan, spent the evening teaching her little niece and nephew to play Chinese checkers and promised that they would play again in the morning.  It was a promise she didn’t mean to break, but the morning she imagined didn’t come. She was buried, dressed in her cheerful orange cardigan, on her 48th birthday. Julie had danced with cancer and its consequences for 30 years, and during those years, between hospitals, treatments and transplants, she gathered all the joy she could muster from life and spread a bunch of it around to the rest of us.

Focus Magazine photo DottieDottie – another friend – was, quite frankly, supposed to be dead by now. But she vowed, “I will be the miracle,” and she is.  Her passion in life is making homes for kids who don’t have them, kids caught up in a foster care system that doesn’t always have enough foster parents to go around.  She’s still busy raising money and building space to offer what is sometimes the most loving environment the kids have ever known.  Oh, and she also spends a fair amount of time sending little love notes out to her friends and relatives.  Dottie knows how to make the briefest moment meaningful. Karyn withmask

And then there’s Karyn.  She got a diagnosis last winter that would have put some of us under the table. But not Karyn. You’d go to visit her in the hospital and she’d give you a gift that she bought for you, in the hospital shop. She’d send you jokes via e-mail and text. KaryngreenbowlhatShe’d make funny faces and pose for pictures, sometimes with her room so packed with visitors you couldn’t find a place to sit down. Right now she’s planning a girls’ weekend and already has special bags waiting for each guest, stuffed with goodies. And she’s busy mothering her six dogs, all of them rescues; she created a special dog park at the shelter where she volunteers, for the ones she couldn’t take home.  Her household canines get hot cooked meals twice a day Kerynwithbroodand the entire pack is welcome in her bed – even if her husband has to get out of the way.  (He’s entirely good-natured about it.)

You know, my intent as I started writing this was to talk mostly about the proven health benefits of pets – lower blood pressure and cholesterol, healthier hearts, quicker recoveries, improved spirits and Lucy Fred and Willie copysocialization – and how animal companions can prolong and enrich our moments. But as I remembered the lives lost in the Twin Towers and the many souls worldwide suffering from conflicts, poverty, illness and disasters even as I type this, my fingers just seemed to want to talk about the people who endure, inspire, and continue to bless us even when they’ve passed on, as we all must do. I think I’ve been giving myself a little sermon. Thank you for sticking with me.

And please allow me one final mention of (another) friend. She recently gave me a book on mindful meditations, arranged by month.  September’s opening quote is from the Buddha:  “Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.”  Thank you, Buddha.  I’ll try harder. Thank you, my friends, for your generous spirits. Thank you, PAULA BOOTH! I think I’ll go round up the critters so that we can Sit. Stay. Enjoy.LucyCathyeveryday

A Bird’s Eye View

I’ve spent a lot of time at my kitchen sink the past few weeks.
1treekitchenYou’d think I’m a woman who likes to wash dishes – which actually I do, if there aren’t too many.  I appreciate the instant gratification of turning a dirty plate clean, the warmth of the water, the tickle of suds on my hands.  But it’s what unfolded just beyond the window by the kitchen sink that captured my attention, a family reality show playing right there through the screen: The Robins Raise their Triplets.

2mama nestI was a little slow tuning in.  Mama Robin’s red breast caught my eye one morning as she pecked at their cozy little home, snuggled in a fork of a birch tree.  I couldn’t see inside the nest, but once Ms. Robin finished her chores and settled in for a good long sit, I understood that she’d been rotating her eggs, keeping the babies inside from getting stuck to the shells, and also helping to ensure a uniform temperature, which she maintained with her own body heat, emanating from a patch on her belly gone bare for just this purpose.

From that moment on, I couldn’t catch enough of the drama: first the several days’ wait for the hatch, during which Mama Robin laid faithfully on the nest during sunshine and downpours, daylight and dark, leaving 3earthwormcutonly occasionally to find some food.  Papa Robin came by to visit, but mostly he busied himself in the yard, hopping around and looking proud already, his breast thrust out and head tilted upward as he kept neighborhood watch.

After several days of waiting, the big moment happened inside the walls of the nest. It was too high up for me to see the breakthroughs, but life became so hectic for the Parents Robin that I knew they had hatchlings. Now both of them were busily pecking at the yard, hunting, gathering, returning to the nest for a quick drop off before 4tulipscutheading out to work again.  A couple of days later, the little ones began to peep, and then their demands became visible as well as vocal.  Three little carrot-colored throats extended upward over the nest rim, their gaping bills like freshly opened tulips undulating in the breeze.  Their cry was unmistakable:  “Feed me!  Feed me!” And they were insatiable, eyeing the sky for a parent and springing into upward open-mouthed position 5mamapapacutwhen Mama or Papa (or sometimes both together) would swoop down on a nearby branch before delivering breakfast – or lunch, or dinner, or in between meal snacks. Earthworms appeared to be the edible of 6grasshopperchoice, although the occasional hapless grasshopper or other bug found itself staring down a throat of no return.

7teenagerAfter a meal, the tired youngsters would flop their little heads on the side of the nest, sometimes staring straight at me, the down on their heads looking like double Mohawk haircuts glistening in the sun, their endlessly 8jostling and competingopen mouths still making demands. Come to think of it, they must have been teenagers by now!  They grew restless, preening and jostling and competing with each other for food. And they just plain grew. It had been barely more than 9flashreda week when the first one flashed me a glimpse of bulging red breast. Their abode began to look more cramped than cozy.

And then one morning came the inevitable.  I turned on my coffee pot, carried the cats’ bowls to the sink, looked out the window and the birch tree seemed suddenly, heartrendingly barren. Ms. and Mr. Robin had become empty nesters.  I’d anticipated this moment, reminding myself that successful parenthood is all about raising the youngsters to spread their wings and make their own ways in the world. And I know they grow up fast, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for these kids to be gone. And, as in so many families, 10outerit turned out that one of the kids wasn’t either. I didn’t notice him until afternoon, huddled on an outermost branch several feet from the nest, wobbling a bit, tentatively flapping his wings every once in a while and then wobbling some more. Frankly, he looked too fat to fly. But he still had an eye out for handouts.  A parent would wing in every so often and pop a worm into his mouth like a mom shoving a casserole into the oven and then rushing on to other chores.  Could it be that part of the chores was checking on the other children?  I’d read that training flights were part of the program before full independence from the parents, so I spent some time outside, watching Mama and Papa Robin pecking for food and then following their routes through the air.  Sure enough:  one fledgling had moved into a high rise, a towering birch in the side yard.  Another had settled in the suburbs: a stately, plush fir on the edge of the woods out back.

I decided that I could not devote my days to wandering from tree to tree to check on progress, so I settled for watching the one triplet still outside the window.  And sadly, I missed the moment of his final disappearance through my screen. A parent had just flown in for a feeding, which he’d gobbled with his usual gusto.  I looked down for barely a few seconds and when I looked up, he was gone.

Will there be a sequel?  I don’t know yet.  Robins lay more than one clutch each summer and sometimes they reuse their nest.  So I’ll stay tuned.  Meantime, an inordinate amount of birdcalls has alerted me to a sparrow nest right outside my bathroom window.  Oh dear.  Maybe I’d better stock up on bubble bath.

Breaking the Chain

Dogs are America’s favorite animal

Or so the statistics suggest, with 46% of U.S. households including dogs.  That equates to more than 78 million canines cohabitating with humans in one way or another. ZachwtoyinchairUnfortunately, not all of them are pampered pooches wandering PetSmart with their human companions in search of toys and treats and resting their heads on plump pillows in cozy beds at night. Some of them aren’t even seeing the inside of a house, let alone a store to satisfy their doggie desires. Too many of them – and in this case, one is too many – are spending their lives at the end of a rope or chain.

The Humane Society of the United States puts the number of “tied-up” dogs at more than 200,000, although this is a hard number to precisely tetheredcalculate. But I’m guessing you know about it and have seen it: the dog pulling and straining against the restraint around his neck, which is tied to a tree or fence, or maybe a post stuck in the ground just for this purpose.  Sometimes the dog is barking wildly; other times, he or she simply lies there in depressed defeat, knowing there is no escape.  Except:  there can be escape.  And anyone who knows of a dog enduring this kind of existence can help be the escape.

Movements against tethering are taking hold across the country, spurred on by increased awareness of the cruelty to dogs and danger to humansimages by restraining dogs in this way. Dogs are pack animals, descended from wolves.  They crave companionship and interaction.  Dogs are smart, emotionally astute creatures. They yearn for stimulation and affection.  Tie them up and abandon them and they can go berserk from deprivation.  Imagine the human in solitary confinement year after year, seeing no one except the keeper who drops off food and water and, torture on top of torture, the occasional unfettered creature walking by who doesn’t stop to set them free, or even to say hello. Do any of us doubt that this can provoke a descent into madness? Physically horrible things can happen on the end of a tether also.  Dogs can be tied up so long that their collars become embedded in their necks.  They can develop all sorts of diseases, sores, and mange from neglect and the inability to maneuver to scratch or groom themselves.  They can become entangled in their tethers or even strangle themselves.

Let me be clear:  dogs who have endured and survived the worst of circumstances can be rescued, rehabilitated, and restored to the loving, giving creatures they were born to be.  (The Michael Vick dogs are a case study.) Tethered dogs are liberated, taken to shelters and adopted out daily across this country.  But the dog on the end of the chain can also be hazardous to humans, driven by stress, desperation or even training – some dogs are tethered for the express purpose of protecting property; they are expected to be dangerous. The American Humane Association says tethered dogs are almost three times as likely to bite, and cites their sense of vulnerability as one reason why.

Hence the anti-tethering movement, for our mutual benefit.  18 states now have laws on the books addressing tethering.  The laws tend to set conditions for tethering, rather than prohibit it.  For example, there are restrictions on how long a dog may be tethered, or specifications as to how long the tether must be.  One state simply mandates that there be “adequate space” for a tethered “companion animal.”  Excuse me, but an animal that is tethered outside and away from you is not a companion.  Try this on your spouse or kids for even an hour and you’ll see what I mean. (Just making a point here:  do not take that sentence literally, please.)

Many tethering restrictions happen on the local level, with ordinances. You can find out whether your community or county limits or bans tethering here. In my county, the campaign against tethering proclaims Tethered Dog 2“Break the Chain – It’s the Law.”  If you want to become part of the chain of citizens working to untether dogs who don’t yet benefit from government protection, take action. Contact your local representatives.  Change happens when enough of us demand it long enough.

And if by chance you get up close and personal to a tethered dog that you don’t know, don’t try to pet or free it yourself. Call a reliable, humane animal welfare organization for assistance. Chances are you’ll be helping that dog to a far better life, maybe even one indoors with doting humans, which is where America’s favorite animal belongs.

Just a Whisker Away

Can you feel it, just a whisker away?

The promise of breezes lifting the curtains, naps in the afternoon sun, playtimes spent wrestling, climbing a tree, batting a ball around? Ah, summer. kitty hammockMemorial weekend approaches, the unofficial start of the exalted season – and of another, less well known. It’s the height of kitten season. Thousands of kittens born and nurtured in the spring are now mature enough to find homes.

Can you imagine it? Kittens inhaling the fresh air through the window, nestling in the sun’s rays, playing with the zest of a youngster discovering new games each day? Might your home have room for more love and an extra dash of joy? As the French writer Jean Cocteau said, “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul.” If you’ve never lived with a cat or kitten, this may mystify you. Many people still think of cats as elusive, independent creatures who turn up their noses at even their closest humans except for when it suits them – like meal time. But as Cocteau knew, cats can gladly offer their lively spirits and ready adopt-a-shelter-cat-monthaffection if we are open to them – and little by little, we come to realize that home is where the cat is. But far too many cats are left wondering where the home is.

An estimated four million cats wind up in shelters across our country each year. They extend their paws through their cages at the workers and visitors passing by: notice me! Notice me! They rub against the wires and purr: pet me! Pet me! They live as fully as possible within their confines: Catincage1play with the toys, lap up the food and water, use the litter box, snuggle with their cage mates. I hope they don’t know what lies around the corner or down the hall if they cannot entice an adopter: the euthanasia room. 70 percent of shelter cats are carried there.

So June is Adopt a Cat Month, also known as Adopt a Shelter Cat month, because this is when shelters are most crowded with kittens and when you catincagehandsbwhave a marvelous opportunity to add to your family and save a life or more. I always recommend at least two cats, for multiple reasons. They will be happier when no humans are at home, because they have each other. You will be more entertained, watching the cats play together. And you’ll get more attention!

The extra care and expense of an additional cat are minimal. Although this is considered sacrilege in some corners, I find that one litter box can do nicely, if it’s cleaned often. (My three cats have a choice of two litter boxes, one indoors and one on the catio. They steadfastly ignore the catio box and happily share the indoor one.) More food is required, but cats are not gargantuan consumers. You’ll also need to provide entertainment, which doesn’t have to mean Fred in a boxexpensive toys. Cats are happy to chase the proverbial yarn, and they love boxes, tissue and wrapping paper, and any number of natural playthings already in your home. Among those playthings should be surfaces they are allowed to scratch: wood, carpet, cardboard. These can all be purchased or you can make your own cat scratchers cheaply and easily. And you’ll want to write an annual veterinary visit into your budget – but that comes later. Shelter animals are spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and often microchipped before they are released. At most shelters, adoption fees are kept as minimal as possible.

And it’s not just kittens who are on borrowed time at shelters, waiting for homes. There are cats of all ages available, from high-energy adolescents to stately elders looking for a warm hearth and snuggly lap. Not sure who is right for you? Ask your shelter’s staff. They’ll help you find the match to suit your time, temperament, and environment.

May 22 Blog Pic Cathy copy2So go ahead: spice up your summer if you can. Adopt a Cat. Then, when the too-brief season slips away and the chill creeps in, you’ll have your friends to keep you warm.

 

 

 

KINDNESS WEARS MANY FACES

The students hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy.  “Did they catch the man who wanted to poison all the cats?”  “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”

Their questions spring from concern over events in the novel that Lucy Miracle – the cat – narrates.  Cathy Unruh at Academy Prep Center TampaThe events are fictional, but these students have reason to believe.  They are living an extraordinary story themselves. They are from low-income, frequently fractured families in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma.  They qualify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.

But these students’ bodies, minds and souls are being fed through the kindness of people many of them will never meet.  They attend Academy Prep Center of Tampa, on scholarships fully funded by donations at no cost to the kids or their families. In an area of the city where simple attendance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone graduation, these middle school students are at the Academy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to prestigious high schools and colleges, mentored all along the way.  They have no trouble relating to Lucy’s miracle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:

Cathy Unruh Lucy Miracle Academy Prep Center Tampa“Hurray!  I’m saved by an angel from above.  My crystalled eyes shine with joyful tears.  I’m glad to know I can trust someone I love.  I felt like life was worth losing, but now, it’s reversed.  Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”

“Curious About Everything
Agreeing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”

“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”

Earthly angels may not be too farfetched a term for some other people who think cats rock – and IMG_5295prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their weekends, time with family and friends to advocate for spaying and neutering pets, trapping and neutering free-roaming cats, and adopting out everyone they can.Colony Cats and Dogs Ohio

Colony Cats (& dogs) of Columbus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adoption center where the occasional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, handsome deaf one who was there the day I visited.  I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in.  It’s an all-volunteer organization, 150 people strong.  Some come by regularly to scoop litter boxes and clean. Some spend time giving the cats attention and affection.  Some facilitate the adoptions.  Some foster animals waiting for homes.  Some staff the boutique at which sales of upscale secondhand goods help keep the money coming in.  Some organize and run the events that do the same.

As for the cats themselves – abandoned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housedIMG_5290 together at the adoption center – they share food, bowls, litter boxes and sleeping spaces ungrudgingly. They offer affection to each other and to visiting humans.

Kindness wears many faces:  the abandoned animal still willing to trust and love; the volunteer willing to get dirty and tired to better Academy Prep Center Tampa Lucy Miracle Cathy Unruhthe lives of other species; the benefactors willing to fund educations of kids who otherwise might not be in school; the students who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s willing to indulge their attentions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.

Colony Cats and Dogs volunteer

 

Extending ourselves in kindness can be uncomfortable – but if we’re willing to make the reach, we can also discover that it feels pretty darn cozy.