Category Archives: Animal Cruelty Bill

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.

Snippets from the Front

Work­ing on behalf of ani­mals can often hurt the heart…

there is so much suf­fer­ing and so far to go.  But every once in a while, a stretch of days comes along that gets the heart pumped up again and prac­ti­cally shouts, “HOPE! PROGRESS! POSSIBILITY!”

That’s been the case in my world the past week or so.

The No More Homeless Pets Conference Best Friends Animal Society 2013

The Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety No More Home­less Pets Conference

First, the ral­ly­ing cry of “Save Them All” from the 1,300 peo­ple gath­ered for the No More Home­less Pets con­fer­ence.  “Save Them All” is a pos­i­tive way of say­ing “no kill,” and it reflects the phi­los­o­phy of Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety, the con­fer­ence orga­nizer:  be pos­i­tive, because we can do this.  We can stop the mil­lions of deaths in ani­mal shel­ters each year.

Want to help?  Adopt, fos­ter, vol­un­teer, advo­cate for spay/neuter.  All are key to mak­ing it happen.

Francis Battista and Cathy

Cathy and Fran­cis Bat­tista: The Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety No More Home­less Pets Conference

For the Best Friends folks, sav­ing the ani­mals is not just a cause, it’s a call­ing — to which they’re devot­ing their lives.  As co-founder Fran­cis Bat­tista — whose sense of pur­pose is matched by his sense of fun — put it, “The spir­i­tual expresses itself as kind­ness and the most basic expres­sion of that is kind­ness to animals.”

Vegfest Florida Voices for AnimalsTampa Bay Veg­fest cel­e­brates kind­ness toward all ani­mals, from farm to fam­ily room.  Spon­sored by Florida Voices for Ani­mals, Veg­fest is a day dur­ing which you can soak up info on why a vegan diet is good for both your health and the envi­ron­ment, along with the ani­mals.  You can learn in the Vegfest  Tampa bay - the day was filled with musicspeak­ers’ hall, via videos, or hand­outs from a plethora of orga­ni­za­tions.  But per­haps the best tes­ta­ment to the joys of veg­an­ism is the boun­ti­ful selec­tion of deli­cious dishes served under a Vegfest Tampa bay offers great food sunny sky in a down­town park. It was one of those autumn days that feel more like August in the sun­shine state but peo­ple lined up to sam­ple and savor the culi­nary cre­ations.  Yum!

Passion for Pets - Humane Society of Tampa Bay

Cathy Unruh and Lucy Mir­a­cle: Pas­sion for Pets — Humane Soci­ety of Tampa Bay

And finally, it’s always a good day when Lucy Mir­a­cle gets to step out as an ambas­sador for com­pan­ion ani­mals.  She did so for the Humane Soci­ety of Tampa Bay, one of our home­town orga­ni­za­tions work­ing to Save Them All.

Together, we can.  I believe that together, we will. And it doesn’t hurt to hear it every once in a while from a few thou­sand of your fel­low believ­ers. Thank you.

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!

Fur? Seriously?

I hope you don’t mind receiv­ing this blog post again. We received such a pos­i­tive response that we are re-posting. Thank you for your support!

That ques­tion fired up my brain when an acquain­tance men­tioned an item in her new “lux­ury” prod­uct line – a sleep­ing bag lined with the coat of a sil­ver fox. I stepped away from the con­ver­sa­tion quickly, before my grief and dis­may could move from my mind and escape my mouth. This was the socially accept­able thing to do at the time, but the sor­row of that moment has refused to leave me. Take a look at just one rea­son why. silver+fox+5

This is a sil­ver fox. He’s beau­ti­ful, isn’t he? And smart.  And con­scious, shar­ing many of the sen­sa­tions we humans expe­ri­ence, includ­ing plea­sure, fear and pain.  And yet the sil­ver fox and dozens of other ani­mals graced with what should be their own per­sonal furry pro­tec­tion are made to suf­fer hor­ren­dous fates in order that we might usurp their skins.

The fur trade is a ghastly, grisly busi­ness.  I will not be too graphic here (the links are more explicit), because if you care one iota about ani­mals, the real­ity of it is ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult to stom­ach.  But – the weather is turn­ing chilly and we’re reach­ing for warm gar­ments, fash­ion con­tin­ues to include fur, and new “lux­ury” lines are being launched that may increase the num­ber of ani­mals cur­rently being skinned in the name of human indul­gence.  I want you to know about it.  I want you to be able to make a con­scious deci­sion on whether you will participate.

And it is a choice:  we do not need fur.  We are not cave­men headed out with our clubs to try and score a pelt in which to sur­vive the win­ter. We have a plethora of styl­ish syn­thetic fab­rics avail­able to keep us warm – I wear them in win­ter tem­per­a­tures that some­times reach 30 below.  Yet an esti­mated 50 mil­lion ani­mals die each year solely for their skins.  These ani­mals include dogs and cats. Some of them – and this is one of the most hor­ri­ble things to think about — are skinned alive.  Most of them are bred, born, and butchered on fur farms.  The hous­ing here is com­monly a stack of bar­ren wire cages. Clausen8 Their cap­tives may be housed indi­vid­u­ally or crammed together. Con­di­tions can be so hor­ren­dous that many of the ani­mals go insane before they meet their ends.  And their ends are bru­tal — humans don’t want to dam­age their “prod­uct.”  So slaugh­ter meth­ods that leave the ani­mals’ pelts intact are used, such as elec­tro­cu­tion via a rod in the anus, and gas cham­bers.  (And remem­ber, these are the more for­tu­nate ones.  They are dead before their skins are sliced off.) Some­times, if it’s not deemed too costly for the even­tual bot­tom line, lethal injec­tion is used.  The ani­mal may be par­a­lyzed but still con­scious when the skin­ning starts.

Furry ani­mals in the wild don’t fare much bet­ter when it comes to the end of their lives. Traps range from the purely ter­ri­fy­ing to the exquis­itely tor­tur­ous.  lynx in trap You’ve prob­a­bly heard sto­ries about ani­mals who will do almost any­thing to escape, includ­ing chew­ing off their own legs.injuredfox And then there is the annual whole­sale slaugh­ter of baby seals in Canada; this is done pretty much cave­man style.

Heard enough? There is faux or fake fur on the mar­ket, for peo­ple who want to make a more eth­i­cal or even a less expen­sive choice.  But beware:  not all the fur is actu­ally fake.  Some­times the label­ing is sim­ply false. There are ways that you can dis­cern the truth before you decide whether to pur­chase. And if you want to steer com­pletely clear of the issue, you can patron­ize fur-free retail­ers.

We humans enjoy many lux­u­ries.  Among them is the abil­ity to make con­sid­ered, con­sci­en­tious deci­sions about what we will and will not indulge in for the sake of fash­ion (and food, and fun, and so forth).  The ulti­mate lux­ury may be liv­ing in a place and time (Here! Now!) where we are free to make the com­pas­sion­ate choice.  I hope you will.  I hope you do.  Because I promise you:  a clear con­science feels a whole lot bet­ter than fur.

“You can judge the moral­ity of a nation by the way the soci­ety treats its ani­mals” –Mahatma Gandhi

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!

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.

Food for Thought

The Fourth of July.

imagesThe star span­gled hol­i­day is upon us, the zenith of sum­mer for many Amer­i­cans, a long leisurely day of out­door play and pic­nics, fam­ily and friends. Even those who use the hol­i­day to catch up on yard work or home improve­ments may find them­selves drawn at dusk to the near­est fire­works dis­play, where the rock­ets’ red glare does not sig­nal bom­bard­ment upon our home­land, but instead joins a glo­ri­ous pro­fu­sion of col­ors to peace­fully burst in the air and sprin­kle down­ward like star­dust, remind­ing us of our country’s foun­da­tions and freedoms.

This year, many will reflect upon the expan­sion of free­dom in Amer­ica, decided last week by the Supreme Court. Some rejoice. Oth­ers regret. Still oth­ers resolve to fight. But all must surely rec­og­nize the inevitable onward march toward par­ity, slow as the foot­steps some­times are. On the 4th of July, we com­mem­o­rate the year 1776, when the United States patriotic-pups-pictures0pro­claimed its inde­pen­dence and the found­ing fathers declared that “all men are cre­ated equal.” Well, not so much. It took 89 long years tar­nished by blood­shed and teardrops before every slave in the repub­lic was declared free – but still not equal. Half a decade later, slaves were allowed to vote, cour­tesy of the 15th Amend­ment, which man­dated that “race, color, or pre­vi­ous con­di­tion of servi­tude” could no longer stand as bar­ri­ers to the bal­lot box. But hold on: they were still talk­ing men here. A full half cen­tury later, women long con­sid­ered chat­tel (includ­ing the non-black ones and the ones pre­sum­ably loved by the hus­bands who were writ­ing the laws) finally won the right to vote. To this day, the Equal Rights Amend­ment, first con­sid­ered by Con­gress back in 1923, has not been rat­i­fied. But the cam­paign continues.

Heart­break­ing and hard to believe as it is, the real­ity that human beings could be deemed prop­erty — even saleable goods with­out thoughts or feel­ings wor­thy of con­tem­pla­tion or con­sid­er­a­tion — gives me hope. It gives me hope when I think of the sen­tient beings still suf­fer­ing sim­i­larly today, the think­ing, feel­ing, liv­ing crea­tures treated as prop­erty – saleable mommy and baby goatgoods not wor­thy of con­tem­pla­tion or con­sid­er­a­tion as we throw another chunk of one of them on the grill in cel­e­bra­tion of the 4th. It gives me hope because his­tory tells us that thought­less­ness can be teased into con­scious­ness, com­pas­sion and change – and some­times, it takes time.

So let me reas­sure you right here and now, my car­ni­vore friends, that I love you even though. I trust in time and I hold out hope: that some­day the infants ripped from their moth­ers so that we might eat or dis­pose of norman_1their bod­ies while we ingest the milk meant for them, that some­day the sen­si­tive, intel­li­gent crea­tures forced to endure all man­ner of phys­i­cal tor­ture with­out anes­the­sia or any other means to ease their pain, that some­day the beings dri­ven to insan­ity by their forced con­fine­ment and inabil­ity to so much as turn around or lie down, that some­day our fel­low ani­mals who endure dis­mal lives ended by dread­ful deaths will rise up in our mass con­scious­ness and that com­pas­sion will win the day for their descendants.

And don’t worry. We won’t go hun­gry or feel deprived. Alter­na­tives to ani­mal flesh abound. Want a burger, a “beef” tip, a slab of “chicken” or hot dog to throw on the vegetable-grill-lgbar­be­cue? All of these and more are in the grocer’s freezer. New del­i­ca­cies are cre­ated reg­u­larly, in addi­tion to the vari­ety of fruits, grains, and veg­eta­bles already grac­ing the earth. A vegan diet can be diverse, deli­cious, and is con­sid­ered by many health pro­fes­sion­als to be the best for the human body. Oh, and did I men­tion that by not eat­ing ani­mals we help to save the planet also?

But let me save that for another day so that we can all get back to cel­e­brat­ing. Per­haps you will, how­ever, take just a sec­ond to con­sider whether you’d toss Fido or Fluffy on the grill – and if not them, then why their cousins? If the time is now for you to con­tem­plate these ques­tions, click here for a great start­ing point. We enjoy the free­dom to choose. May we choose wisely, com­pas­sion­ately, and well.

Happy 4th of July!flag-fireworks

 

My Wedding Anniversary…

Warn­ing:

If you are uncom­fort­able learn­ing inti­mate details of a rela­tion­ship, do not read on. If, how­ever, you accept voyeurism as an inalien­able Amer­i­can enjoy­ment, then please: step into my bedroom.

The day begins like nearly every other. Whether our alarm sounds at 5:00 or we sleep in until the sun beck­ons brightly through the win­dow, time for togeth­er­ness is always part of the morn­ing. My hus­band gets up, show­ers, and returns to the bed­room, where the object of his affec­tion lies drift­ing in and out of a lux­u­ri­ous doze, dream­ing in antic­i­pa­tion. As he approaches the bed, smelling of freshly soaped skin, herbal sham­poo, minty tooth­paste, coconut sun­screen — a deli­cious morn­ing mélange — doz­ing morphs into con­scious­ness and a long, lux­u­ri­ous stretch upon the com­forter, still redo­lent with sleep. Antic­i­pa­tion mounts to expec­ta­tion. Expec­ta­tion, built upon the mem­o­ries of so many morn­ings prior to this one, induces an invol­un­tary quiv­er­ing, as though the skin is ris­ing up of its own accord to meet the hands about to descend upon it. And then the caresses begin.

My husband’s pow­er­ful fin­gers set­tle into the back of the head, gen­tly teas­ing the brain into total wake­ful­ness. They travel down the spine, dig­ging deli­ciously into either side of the back until they reach that region that moti­vates the body, mind­lessly giv­ing itself up to sen­sa­tion, to turn over and invite more caresses, offer­ing up its most vul­ner­a­ble areas in com­plete trust, with­out reservation…

It is, I admit, an envi­able way to wel­come the day. I am, I admit, occa­sion­ally envi­ous. Because I am talk­ing, of course, about the dog. Anniver­sary, birth­day, hol­i­day, every day: Wee Willie Winky gets a morn­ing mas­sage before his walk in the park.

It took me years to soften my spouse to the point where he would accept a dog in our house­hold, already pop­u­lated with cats. When I sus­pected that the time was just about right, I called friends at our local shel­ters to let them know what I was look­ing for: a small dog who could travel, wasn’t inclined to be yappy and wouldn’t shed too, too much. The very next day, the call came: an alleged puppy mill run­ner from Alabama had been busted sell­ing six week old dogs out of the back of his pickup truck in the unfor­giv­ing Florida sun. I took this pre­cious, tired Shih Tzu home, cud­dled on my lap.Willie croppeda I walked into my husband’s office and said, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” The puppy fit entirely into his palms. Tom looked into his gen­tly Willie 3picblink­ing eyes and instantly named him. That first night, Willie slept for a dozen unin­ter­rupted hours, on his back in his brand new puppy bed with his legs straight up in the air, exhausted.

The love affair between spouse and Shih Tzu took some time to develop. Tom hadn’t lived with a dog before and he was some­what slow to suc­cumb to Willie’s con­sid­er­able charms. But once he opened him­self to the expe­ri­ence and began bond­ing with play time,bathtime snug­gle time, bath time, there was no deny­ing it: my place as most loved mem­ber of his fam­ily was being chal­lenged. And with valid his­tor­i­cal and sci­en­tific reason.

Wolves, from whom dogs descended, are believed to have first turned to humans for food and shel­ter, while humans wel­comed the wolves’ pro­tec­tion, hunt­ing prowess, and even­tu­ally, their warmth, affec­tion, and empa­thy. 24rDogs can “read” their humans in extra­or­di­nary ways: a sim­ple move­ment of the body or even the eyes can speak vol­umes to your canine com­pan­ion about your inten­tions. Your dog very likely can under­stand and even share your emo­tions. Dogs and humans have the same brain struc­ture, includ­ing the amyg­dala, which is linked to emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal states. Dogs and humans also share many of the same hor­mones. Fur­ther­more, a recent study sug­gests that sev­eral sets of genes in humans and dogs evolved along the same time­line, likely as a result of liv­ing together.

There are rea­sons other than sci­en­tific for the pro­found love between man and dog too, of course. I, along with most humans, absolutely refuse to run to the door every time my hus­band comes home (whether he’s been gone five days or five min­utes), wig­gling my fanny like a feather in the wind. I decline to lie on the floor at his feet, gaz­ing up at his face with naked love in my eyes. I will not pant in antic­i­pa­tion of a leisurely walk in the evening.

But I will — and do — work on man­ag­ing my envy. After all, I “gave” Willie as a gift and thus am happy to accept the shar­ing of affec­tions. Besides: I am madly in love with Willie too. Happy anniver­sary, sweetie.

11monthswide

Note: actual spousal inter­ac­tions on our anniver­sary have been omit­ted in def­er­ence to tra­di­tional deco­rum – and so that my mother does not expire pre­ma­turely from mortification.

 

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.

 

 

 

Be the Way Home”

It’s a sim­ple sen­tence, an imper­a­tive – and in the not-so-simple county of Hills­bor­ough, Florida, it’s now the offi­cially sanc­tioned plea to cit­i­zens: be the way home for shel­ter animals.

In a nation that is increas­ingly con­cerned about its aban­doned com­pan­ion ani­mals, where the terms babyboy“no kill” and “save 90” have become part of the ani­mal wel­fare lex­i­con, Hills­bor­ough lags in find­ing homes for the crea­tures who wind up at its county shel­ter. Fewer than 37 per­cent make it out alive. Dogs are the most for­tu­nate: 56.6% had a “live out­come” in fis­cal year 2012, while only 18.9% of cats did. And yet when Be the Way Home was intro­duced as an effort to up the per­cent­ages, a vir­tual cat­fight ensued. Why? The old tired topic of TNR.

I use the phrase “old tired topic” advis­edly – and per­son­ally. I’m tired of argu­ing about and hav­ing to cathytnr advo­cate for Trap Neuter Return. As a long­time prac­ti­tioner of TNR, I’ve watched it work, believe that it’s the best prac­tice for free-roaming com­mu­nity cats and the humans with whom they co-exist, and just want the free­dom for all TNR’ers to get on with the busi­ness of doing it. This free­dom exists in hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties across Amer­ica, where lead­er­ship rec­og­nizes that TNR is the most effec­tive, eco­nomic, and humane way of con­trol­ling and man­ag­ing free-roaming cat pop­u­la­tions. But in too many other com­mu­ni­ties, hard-working big-hearted care­givers to com­mu­nity cats are dri­ven under­ground by ordi­nances against and oppo­si­tion to their efforts. One com­mon ordi­nance bans the out­door feed­ing of “pub­lic nui­sance” ani­mals. Oppo­si­tion says the cats are not indige­nous species, claims they are too great a dan­ger to other wildlife through their hunt­ing behav­iors, and a threat to humans pri­mar­ily through car­ry­ing disease.

Hence when the direc­tor of Hills­bor­ough County Ani­mal Ser­vices included a pilot pro­gram to trap, neuter and release up to 2,000 com­mu­nity cats per year in his over­all Be the Way Home plan to increase live out­comes, the claws came out. A small clutch of vet­eri­nar­i­ans were the most vocif­er­ous oppo­nents of releas­ing healthy, neutered, microchipped and vac­ci­nated cats back into the com­mu­nity (but away from “sen­si­tive areas” such as parks, play­grounds, schools and con­ser­va­tion lands), sec­onded by wildlife pro­po­nents. The vets invoked the wel­fare of chil­dren to try and whip up Catcornerfear of crazed cats pur­su­ing the pop­u­lace, while the wildlife advo­cates focused on allegedly besieged birds. Pro-TNR groups includ­ing Ani­mal Coali­tion of Tampa, Cat Cru­saders and the Humane Soci­ety of Tampa Bay ral­lied the local troops on behalf of their suc­cess­ful Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return endeav­ors and to point out that avail­able sci­ence does not sup­port the anti-TNR alle­ga­tions. National groups like the Humane Soci­ety of the United States, Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety stood with us.

As I com­mented dur­ing the dis­cus­sion, com­mu­nity cat advo­cates are not the nat­ural ene­mies of catsroosterswildlife con­ser­va­tion­ists. Most of us are in favor of all ani­mals being allowed to expe­ri­ence their full, nat­ural lives within an ecosys­tem that does include preda­tory behav­ior – includ­ing by birds that eat small mam­mals (such as cats) and even other birds. We argue that the evi­dence does not sup­port claims that cats are the wildly pro­lific killers that TNR oppo­nents make them out to be. We know from expe­ri­ence that TNR with feed­ing reduces feline hunt­ing behav­ior. I will con­cede here how­ever, that — as with almost any issue — you can bandy both the empir­i­cal and anec­do­tal evi­dence about like balls of yarn. The most beau­ti­fully sim­plis­tic, indis­putable state­ment made in the entire exer­cise is this: the cats are already here. Are any of these dire sce­nar­ios (dis­eased cats on the ram­page, birds falling by the flock) occur­ring now? For­tu­nately for the ani­mals of Hills­bor­ough County, the answer (no) and com­mon sense pre­vailed as com­mis­sion­ers over­whelm­ingly approved Be the Way Home – a com­pre­hen­sive plan of which TNR is just one com­po­nent. Now comes the imple­men­ta­tion on behalf of all affected ani­mals. And as in any locale, Ani­mal Ser­vices can’t do it alone.

No mat­ter where you live, you can help the ani­mals in a myr­iad of ways:

–vol­un­teer with a shel­ter or res­cue group
–donate funds, food, or equip­ment needed
–offer your exper­tise in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, mar­ket­ing or tech­nol­ogy to help edu­cate
–adopt or fos­ter ani­mals wait­ing for homes
–be a respon­si­ble pet owner; spay, neuter and pro­mote it to oth­ers
–prac­tice TNR and care­giv­ing to com­mu­nity cats
–par­tic­i­pate in pet expos and adopt-a-thons
–lobby your law­mak­ers to sup­port ani­mal wel­fare leg­is­la­tion
–write let­ters, send e-mails, post on social media on behalf of animals.

Sav­ing the ani­mals starts with us, the grass roots cit­i­zens. It is not the job of gov­ern­ments alone. Rep­utable shel­ter and res­cue groups are lim­ited by the time, space, and money they have to work with. There’s an ever-growing pub­lic aver­sion to mas­sive euthana­sia rates and an expand­ing energy around edu­ca­tion and adop­tion, along with an increas­ing will­ing­ness to help.

Be the Way Home. It’s a sim­ple sen­tence – an imper­a­tive. It deserves the upper case let­ters. Let’s bethewayhomefamilyhope it’s the start of a beau­ti­ful story in Hills­bor­ough County, Florida – and an inspi­ra­tion to com­pas­sion­ate, con­sci­en­tious com­mu­ni­ties everywhere.

To read the “Be the Way Home” plan click on the image.