Category Archives: Animals and Emotions

A day to celebrate love

 “The great­ness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its ani­mals are treated.” ~ Mahatma GandhikittnrinbuudIt’s here.  The day the world cel­e­brates love.  What bet­ter day to cel­e­brate those who extend their love to all sen­tient crea­tures with whom we share the planet?Cat and the Billy GoatI have had the oppor­tu­nity to wit­ness amaz­ing courage, grace and heart in fel­low advo­cates for ani­mals.  This is a day to thank them for their life-changing work. I have seen resilience and tremen­dous spirit in ani­mals who have sur­vived des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions and pro­found cru­elty.cobeautifulbackgrdHumans use their pas­sion to keep their hearts strong and open as they con­tinue to wade into puppy mills, fac­tory and fur farms to save lives.

Ani­mals inspire us to bond with­out bound­aries.horsecatsnug2 I can’t think of a bet­ter way to cel­e­brate a day of love – named for a saint! — than by giv­ing thanks to every­one who has endeav­ored in any way to bet­ter the life of any ani­mal. Lori with Colony Cats and DogsAnd I can­not be more grate­ful to the ani­mals, with their incred­i­ble capac­ity to for­give us and love us uncon­di­tion­ally.Cathy Unruh with lamb Happy Valentine’s Day!

Walking with Benny

Benny Salad Hou­dini has earned a new title:  Ambas­sador for Res­cue Dogs.

This is an unan­tic­i­pated con­se­quence of his “house” train­ing, which really means going out of Opening shot copythe house – a lot.  Small puppy blad­ders and imma­ture mus­cle con­trol mean small inter­vals between walks.  And for us, walk­ing means meet­ing lots of peo­ple.  We live in a lovely water­front city in sunny Florida where the side­walks tend to be busy with friendly folks feel­ing good about both the weather and the sur­round­ing beauty.  I hear an astound­ing num­ber of admir­ing “oohs” and “aahs” – most of them directed not at the scenery but at Benny.

I knew that Benny was cute when we adopted him,greenbag

but I never imag­ined that his but­ton face and fuzzy blonde body would actu­ally exert some kind of uncanny grav­i­ta­tional pull over gush­ing humans. baseballcap

Knees drop to the pave­ment and hands drift down­ward through the air as Benny approaches;Redjacket

peo­ple want to touch him as though he’s some sort of tal­is­man for hap­pi­ness — which he is, of course!blonde

But all this exu­ber­ant ado­ra­tion has its chal­lenges.  We’re try­ing to train Benny to sit to be pet­ted,  not to chew fin­gers or jump on peo­ple or deliver wet slurpy kisses with­out an explicit invi­ta­tionStroller– but these sud­denly lovesick humans don’t seem to mind if he breaks all the rules and climbs all over them in a wig­gling, wag­ging, lick­ing parox­ysm of pup­py­ness.  ChewToyI am con­stantly redi­rect­ing, refo­cus­ing, try­ing to train well-meaning humans as well as one extremely per­son­able puppy.

The open-armed ado­ra­tion also opened the door for Benny’s ambas­sador­ship, a role I had not antic­i­pated for him.  As admir­ers pet and coo, they almost unfail­ingly ask, “What kind of dog is he?”  I almost unfail­ingly answer, “He’s a res­cue puppy – a Shih Tzu.” Adorable Benny This is greeted with amaze­ment by an aston­ish­ing major­ity of peo­ple, who can’t con­ceive of such a dog being found any­where but at a breeder’s.  That allows us (okay, allows me; Benny’s oth­er­wise engaged) to explain that you can find almost any breed of dog you want through a res­cue group or shel­ter, where an esti­mated 25% of all dogs are pure­breds.  I explain that you can put your name on wait­ing lists at many shel­ters and get a call when the breed you are look­ing for comes in, or apply for adop­tion through res­cue groups around the coun­try, or start your search on a site like petfinder.com.  I recently read a story about a breeder who referred a cou­ple to a res­cue group when he couldn’t imme­di­ately meet their request for his brand of puppy – now that is progress!

with other dogs1But back to Ambas­sador Benny.  His work inspires and delights me.  He moti­vates peo­ple almost daily to say that they are going to start a search for their own res­cue dog. He edu­cates peo­ple who will almost cer­tainly pass on what they’ve learned. He has taught me the power of pup­py­hood to change the world one dog at a time.  I’m imag­in­ing a move­ment where vol­un­teers walk adopt­able pup­pies and adorable dogs  through city streets and spread the word, just as we are doing.

walked out and conked outAs I write this, Benny is lying walked out and conked out under my desk.  An excited lit­tle “yip” escapes his mouth every once in a while.  I don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing in his sleepy puppy brain, but I am dream­ing big dreams for him and all his kin­dred, dreams of a day where every dog finds a home — and we actu­ally need breed­ers because there are no more dogs in shel­ters hop­ing to make it out alive.

Thank you, Ambas­sador Benny Salad Hou­dini, for help­ing to draw that day closer, one step at a time. ambassador

Happy New Year!

Whether you rang the mid­night bell…

Or tucked away early….

May this first day of 2014 be more than happy for you!

If you can play with the aban­don of a puppy, cor­rect with the finesse of a cat, and apply your inge­nu­ity to make rela­tion­ships work, it should be a good year!

We hope this will bring you a smile to help kick off the New Year: watch now.

With love from our house to yours,

Lucy Mir­a­cle and Benny Salad Houdini

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

 

Puppy Love

“Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it…” 

Hal David knew what he was talk­ing about when he wrote those lyrics – even though he had not met either Wee Willie Winky or Benny Salad Houdini.

Willie, our beloved Shih Tzu res­cued from a puppy mill run­ner, died* Wee Willie Winkyunex­pect­edly at the age of 4 ½.  Los­ing this happy, active, lov­ing com­pan­ion caused heart­break that all devoted pet par­ents under­stand.  The out­pour­ing of sym­pa­thy indi­cated just how many of those there are, and while it com­forted, it didn’t stop the tears for my hus­band and me.  That was a job for Benny.job

Tom was deter­mined that our next dog be a male Shih Tzu like Willie, prefer­ably a puppy.  I started search­ing via our local shel­ters and res­cue groups — no luck.  I chased a cou­ple of leads on petfinder.com — no luck. I filled out appli­ca­tions with res­cue orga­ni­za­tions – luck!  One group spe­cial­iz­ing in Shih Tzus and small dogs had a lit­ter of not one but five male pup­pies ready for adop­tion (their preg­nant mother had been turned over by a back­yard breeder). We snug­gled and played with all of the squirmy adorable ten week olds and then picked “Puppy #3” because he was espe­cially lit­tle and seemed quite laid back. cutness

Our tears pretty much stopped almost imme­di­ately – and idyl­lic as it might sound, it was not because of love at first sight. It’s because there is no time for tears! My griev­ing hus­band was nat­u­rally ready to give this tiny blonde bun­dle of lov­abil­ity almost any­thing he wanted, but Benny is an extremely smart and equally will­ful lit­tle guy, given to the bossi­ness that is fre­quently found in Shih Tzus. So Mom (that’s me) had to start show­ing tough love with both of her boys – no small dog syn­drome in my fam­ily, please! (Small dogs can take over a house – posi­tion them­selves as the pack leader – because we cave into their cute­ness and ful­fill their desires and demands with­out mak­ing them earn it.)

leashSo here in the midst of inten­sive train­ing, I am mas­sively Mommy proud that at the age of 13 weeks, Benny under­stands “sit,” “come,” and “make a good deci­sion,” and actu­ally fol­lows those instruc­tions much of the time.  He accepts a leash and the city streets with equal aplomb. He knows “do your busi­ness” and responds admirably – although get­ting him out to the grass is a new adven­ture in house sittrain­ing for me.  I’ve never done it from a condo before.  Some­times it feels like we live in the ele­va­tor, rid­ing down and up, up and down.  Thank­fully, my hus­band han­dles most of the middle-of-the-night excur­sions (prob­a­bly because he doesn’t want my naked face and bed head to scare anyone).

Baby Benny earned his big boy name of Benny Salad Hou­dini because he loved his fresh veg­gie din­ners from the first, and can’t get grassenough of the green­ery out­side either.  He munches grass and leaves as though he were a deer rather than a dog.  He cov­ets the free roam­ing ways of a deer as well. He eas­ily escaped every bar­rier we tried for his con­fine­ment room: net­ting, higher net­ting, dog gate.  Finally we had to sim­ply shut the door. We’re still work­ing on the sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety; Benny spent his first ten weeks in a fos­ter home brim­ming with dogs and humans.  Being alone for even a moment is a brand new experience.

But Benny knows how to amuse him­self.  He is a cham­pion chewer of every­thing within mouthing dis­tance:  rugs, cur­tains, pant legs, bed­ding.  That means relent­less redi­rec­tion.  Any­one eaves­drop­ping toyon me these days would think that, “Chew toys!” is my favorite phrase.  And that toss­ing them is my favorite exer­cise.  Our floors look like FAO Schwarz for canines.

And then there are the cats.  Lucy, who was Willie’s best buddy, stepped right up as sec­ond mother to Benny.    This for­merly feral eaterystarv­ing kit­ten always eats her entire break­fast right away and then begs for more.  But she started sav­ing half of it so that she could teach Benny how to find the sup­pos­edly secret entrance to the cat feed­ing quar­ters and help him­self to her bowl.  Undo­ing that (frankly charm­ing) act of gen­eros­ity and mater­nal instinct has taken some cre­ativ­ity.  Lucy is also teach­ing Benny to play in a way that’s lucyteachaccept­able to cats, which involves a lot of wrestling but a lit­tle less nip­ping than he might like.

Fred took great delight in try­ing to teach “Chase Me,” at a run­ning speed that Benny could keep up with.  That meant I had followto play blocker between them in order to teach both that chas­ing cats is not an accept­able game – even if the cat thinks so.  Nowa­days they usu­ally walk together rather than run. Usually.

Frisco is still keep­ing his dis­tance, in clas­sic Frisco style.  He’ll come around.

Rais­ing a puppy prop­erly is like swim­ming the Florida Strait (I imag­ine; I haven’t actu­ally done that). It takes inten­sive, con­sis­tent train­ing, patience, per­sis­tence, and some sleep depri­va­tion.  It can be any­where from chal­leng­ing to tire­some to irri­tat­ing  to repeat your­self a dozen times to get the result you want once, but well worth it. Here’s a real time example.

This is what Benny is doing, next to my chair, as I write this. bennywrit

This is what Lucy is doing, just above him on my lap.lucywrite

This is what Fred is doing, just above her on my desk.fredwr

This is what Frisco is doing, just off to the side. fredwri

You’ll notice that Benny is thor­oughly relaxed and mak­ing no effort to upend the estab­lished social order. I’m not kid­ding us, though. Once the writ­ing is done and everyone’s back to bounc­ing around, he’ll give doggy dom­i­nance another whirl.  But we’ll keep work­ing at it, because a dog who knows his place is a happy, secure dog.  And after only three weeks, Benny knows his place: firmly in our hearts.hearts

*We are await­ing final necropsy results on Willie, but it appears that the cause of death was a heart irregularity.

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.

Top 10 Reasons to celebrate National Feral Cat Day

10.  There’s a bit of wild­cat in all of us.catwoman 9.   Mama cats are called Queens.  Nuff said.queen-cat-by-christina-hess 8.   Ear tip­ping is at least as attrac­tive as ear gauging.eartipa
7.   Fer­als eat out­doors – it’s a picnic!Cats on picnic table
6.   Trap­ping is great exercise.cathytnr
5.  TNR is trend­ing.  Big time.trending4.  Help­ing the home­less is a higher calling.wingshalo2
3.  If the cats are cool enough for Rome’s palaz­zos, they’re cool enough for us.RomeCats_main
2.  Paws to appre­ci­ate.  Sim­ple as that.lucylake
1.  Lucy Mir­a­cle and all of her rel­a­tives – of course!Litter of kittens hidden in tree

National Feral Cat Day was founded by Alley Cat Allies in 2001.  Lucy’s book, TAMING ME: Mem­oir of a Clever Island Cat, was released on this day one year ago.Taming Me cover

Note: I appre­ci­ate all of you who e-mail me with your com­ments – but if you are com­fort­able leav­ing a reply here, please do so. It con­tributes to com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion. Thank you!

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.