Category Archives: Voice for Animals

The American Stew

“Meat eating in the United States is going out of style.”

That unambiguous statement opened a Washington Post piece one year ago. This new year, there’s even more evidence that cutepiganimals as entrees may be falling out of fashion.

Beef consumption has dropped to levels not seen since back in 1909. Pork as a food preference continues its steady decline.

mamaandcalfFor those of us who care about the animal and environmental impacts behind statistics like these, there is cause to celebrate in this new year.  And it doesn’t stop with the animals known as “red meats.”

Although a popular headline is that chicken is now a more popular choice than red meat, actual per capita consumption by Americans has declined significantly since 2006, although the National Chicken Council projects hopefully that it will tick upward this year.

And who could wonder if that self-interested projection came true? Chicken “nuggets” are among the first pieces of flesh thatlittlegirlandchick many American children are fed, and the fried fragments soon become a staple, if not an addiction – there is even “popcorn” chicken now for youngsters too small to handle “nuggets”; fast food restaurants featuring chickens served up in umpteen ways are ubiquitous; and humongous synthetic cows beckon from billboards telling us to eat more, eat more! (I suppose those plastic cows are happy this year, too. 2000 Cow CalendarMaybe now that the pressure is off a little they can spend some time learning to spell. )

Chickens are also perceived as healthier to consume than other animals and therein lies a nugget for future hope:  it looks like more Americans are making more food choices for health reasons! The body of evidence continues to grow that eating meat contributes to health problems like obesity, cancer, and heart disease.  Chicken carries its own particular risks, salmonella perhaps the best known among them.

Cost is one factor in food choices, of course, and chickens are cheaper to breed, feed, warehouse and kill than other animals used as food.  Part of the reason is the way most of them are “farmed.”  The suffering of these sensitive, sentient beings rivals image001any agony we’ve been able to inflict on animals throughout history.    Hate to break it to those artificial bovine lobbyists on billboard ledges, but the more the word gets out, the more I believe that one consideration will increasingly drive our consumer choices:  compassion.

Compassion already plays a part in the way many of us shop, cook, eat, and live. The number of conscious consumers is growing.  The benefits and joys of plant based diets continue to be extolled.

I see and hear it as I move through life.  One night I’ll sit through dinner heartsick at who’s on other people’s plates but the next day I’ll hear from yet another person who’s going veggie, vegan, or just beginning the journey of cutting back on animal consumption.

tofuThe single favorite remark I heard this New Year’s Eve was, “My oldest daughter is vegetarian, thanks to you.”  It is I who am thankful, for people who are choosing to make this a kinder, healthier planet.  2014 could be a very good year.

 

Furballs and bits

How do you get a 9-year old Rottweiler and her six puppies adopted out?

Easy! You put up the headline, “63 year old gives birth to sextuplets!”

That’s just one marketing nugget shared by Mike Arms of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. Mike is an apparent maestro at managing media and message in order to find homes for animals.

Getting animals out of – or better yet, never into – shelters was a strong theme of the Alley Cat Allies conference.  It’s a goal widely shared by companion animal advocates, and expressed as “no kill,” or more recently, “Save Them All,” coined by Best Friends Animal Society.

Close to 400 of us, from 37 states, Canada, and Israel gathered with ACA to talk strategy for saving cats.  (Israel’s government is joining feralstreetcatthe movement, with a cash infusion to Trap-Neuter-Return 45,000 street cats there.) And when you save cats, you save other companion animals, because you free up space in rescues, shelters, and hearts for them to find homes.

Favorite conference quote:

“The animals have your hearts, but it’s your minds they need.”  Mike Arms

Okay then, let’s play “I Spy:”

When Spartanburg Animal Services wanted to prove that free-roaming cats pose no dramatic danger to birds, their FBI National Academy alum, criminal investigator, used-to-do-narcotics-busts chief, Major Steve Lamb, targeted a cat judgecommunity with a bunch of birds around and then put up surveillance cameras to watch them. No murders were witnessed.  Case closed.

Common cents:

Also put your mind around this, Bonney Brown of the Humane Network reminds us.  When you save a cat, you are having a positive economic impact on the community, through purchases of DOLLARSIGNKITTYfood and other supplies the cat will need. So money is being pumped into the economy, as opposed to killing, which costs taxpayers money.

Save statistics:

Expenses associated with shelter intake, animal care, and euthanasia all go down when spay/neuter goes up.  There are statistics and stories (because every “euthanasia” is an animal who would like to live) from around the country proving this.  It’s even happening in that hub of hedonism, Las Vegas, at the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. (Love that name!) And in the areas where it’s happening most dramatically, Trap-Neuter-Return of community cats is one big reason why. I’m seeing this in my own home area; check this out from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

And by the way:

Why are we calling them “shelters” anyway? Too few animals get out of “shelters” alive. We are working to change that, and one way would be to change our shelter names to “Pet Adoption Centers,” or “Pet Villages” – several names were thrown out, all of them designed to get adopters in and animals out. (See “Heaven Can Wait,” above, for creative nomenclature!)

The Let’s Go Get It Goal:

“Let’s put catching and killing in the history books and file it on the  shelves.”  Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies.

Becky, John, Cathy

Becky Robinson, president Alley Cat Allies, John Fulton, host of “Must Love Cats,” (Animal Planet) and Cathy Unruh, Animal Advocate, Author of TAMING ME: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat

The Future is Now and she’s named Kimberly:

11-year old Kimberly Hernandez learned about TNR from a neighbor, cares for outdoor cats, and wants to be a vet.  Here’s an excerpt from what she had to say:

KimberlyI am Kimberly.

I am the future.

I am an animal lover.

I believe that I can reach all my goals because I am me.  I don’t have to change.

I believe that cats are a gift.  To live is to give them some love.

I will do my best and nothing less to help cats…my best and nothing less.

Side note on conference chow:

The all vegan meals served up by the Hilton Crystal City   had non-vegans vowing to convert on the spot.  The food was beyond fantabulous.  Crowd favorite:  Gardein Beefless Strips served up asbeefless a stir fry/fajita filler.  I saw more than one person going back for third and fourth helpings.  (Another beauty of balanced veganism:  you can do that!)

And a non-conference thank you:

bloglucymiracle

A young Lucy Miracle and Cathy Unruh

To My Three Moggies   for naming Lucy Miracle their November Fur Friend of the month.

“Moggie” is a colloquial British word for an everyday cat – Lucy loves her friends across the pond.  They are a furry friendly bunch!

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.

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!

“Pets before Profits”

Suppose Adam, Eve, and a serpent were each offering to sell you an identical apple –

same size, same color, same sweetness – for the price of four fig leaves. The serpent planned to use the fig leaves as camouflage.  Eve intended to turn the fig leaves into a new skirt. Adam planned to feed his fig leaves to the hungry doe who had just given birth to a fawn. Which apple would you buy?

If you chose Adam’s apple, then you just might be the ideal customer for a new business – one that, like Adam, promises to use its

Dr. Glenn Buckley

Glenn Buckley, DVM

proceeds to help animals.  Except that in this case, the products are pet treats, toys and other supplies, with the primary emphasis on pet pharmaceuticals. Glenn Buckley, the veterinarian who founded Pet Rescue Rx along with his brother Scott, got in touch to introduce himself and share their vision:  all net profits to animal shelters.  “I have reached an age when I can really appreciate what money cannot buy:  my health, my life partner…time spent walking my dogs and watching them play.  I want to share that appreciation for life by what I can give back through this business,” says Buckley, whose title is CEO.

Scott Buckley,  President and Computer Guru

Scott Buckley,  President and Computer Guru

Giving something back is not a new concept, thankfully.  There are any number of companies that donate a portion of their profits to help animals; adoptashelter.com is one of the best known.  1-800-PetMeds, which advertises itself as “America’s Largest Pet Pharmacy,” says it donates thousands of dollars in pet supplies and medications to shelters.  What sets Pet Rescue Rx apart is the promise to donate all net profits.  “I’m running into some skepticism,” says Buckley, with a note of what sounds like resignation in his voice.  “But we’re doing this for the same reasons volunteers at shelters do:  to get the money where it needs to go.”

Buckley says his eyes were opened to the needs of shelter animals when he volunteered in one, and started brainstorming a new way of 995834_379259572180130_1319919697_asubsidizing them.  He likens his business model to Newman’s Own, which funnels all after-tax profits to human causes.  Newman’s Own says that’s about $370 million so far.  How much will Pet Rescue Rx contribute?  It’s far too soon to know, as the company just opened in June.  And when financials are available, they do not have to be disclosed:  Pet Rescue Rx is not a 501(c)3 and is not publicly held.  Buckley says that he is currently funding the startup via his two animal emergency clinics in Florida and not taking a salary.  Both of those things will likely change if Pet Rescue Rx takes off.  But he vows that it will always be, “Pets Before Profits,” the company’s motto.

Buckley says he’s competitively priced with other online pet pharmacies (and here’s where the analogy comes in) because, “when you’re all selling apples, you have to be.” He’s being choosy about his apples, though, carrying products from other “do good” companies “out there to make a difference,” like Halo Pet, John Paul Pet Products, and yes: Newman’s Own Organic Pet Treats. “I have been given a gift, as we all have, to create something which can have a greater impact for good.  We should all look within ourselves to find that and let it grow.”

Pet Rescue RX

Glenn and Scott outside the pharmacy with Roz and Geri.

Growth going forward will be largely up to shoppers. It’s certainly a concept that holds promise, and enticing to those who care about the estimated 6-8 million animals who enter U.S. shelters each year, half of them only to face a death sentence.  They could use the help.  If Pet Rescue Rx should bear fruit, we can only hope – and perhaps even allow ourselves to trust – that Buckley will keep his promise.

Note:  Pet Rescue Rx hopes to become licensed in all 50 states.  At this writing, it is getting close to halfway there.

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.

DEMOCRACY, ADVOCACY – AND YOU?

Warning:  I am about to use a word that often carries negative connotations.  A word that makes some people cringe.  Ready?  Here it is:  lobby.  Not as in the room where you wait, but as in the activity that you do.  As in lobby your legislators.  As in be a lobbyist.  These words can conjure up images of back rooms, money sacks, quiet handoffs, handshakes and secret deals – and evoke aversion, even derision.  But I would like you to know that I am a lobbyist.  I lobby.  And furthermore, I hope that you do too – or will.

Lobbying is part of our precious democratic process.  Lobbying can be wholly above board, Gathering en massehonorable, out in the open…“in the sunshine,” as we say here in Florida about our government and the way we’re supposed to run it.  It can be a personal phone call, letter or e-mail to your legislator; it can be a petition; it can be an appearance en masse with others on your Capitol steps or at your legislator’s door.  It can be on any issue that you care about – you won’t be surprised that I am going to address the issue of animal welfare.

Humane Lobby Days are conducted around the country under the auspices of the Humane Society Animals don't have a voiceof the United States. It’s a time for those who care about animals to converge on their statehouses and give voice to the voiceless.  The other animals don’t get a vote.  It’s up to us humans to find votes for them.

In Tallahassee, where I participated in Humane Lobby Day, there is a great chance that an animal cruelty bill will pass both chambers this year.  The bill would crack down in several ways on variousAnimal Cruelty Bill acts of animal cruelty and organized crime at staged animal fights. A measure that would require animal shelters to put their numbers out in the sunshine – how many animals taken in, how many adopted out, how many euthanized – is destined for the governor’s desk.  Humane lobbyists have several goals in my state:  ending greyhound racing, endorsing Trap Neuter Return, protecting both dogs and consumers from puppy mill sales. And we have reason to hope.  We are the people who collected enough signatures to put gestation crates for pregnant pigs to referendum – and abolished them. We showed that when you bring animal cruelty to light, a majority of the citizenry may choose to end it.

But you need not go out and gather signatures, travel to the seat of government, or even leave your seat to help animals.  Click here to learn about pending legislation in your state and here  for bills at the federal level, where many of the issues with the most impact on animals – along with consumers and taxpayers – are considered. And then there’s your own backyard, with issues like exotic animals as outdoor pets, dog tethering, free-roaming cats and TNR, backyard chickens:  many ordinances affecting animals and you are enacted at the local level, in municipal and county governments.

Wondering whether your voice matters?  It does. Lawmakers know that citizens who care enough to contact them are likely citizens who vote – so they listen. To learn who your representatives are, visit www.votesmart.org. You can also get on the e-mail lists of animal welfare groups who will alert you to Democracy is a privilegelegislation and ask you to contact your representatives. These alerts often make it easy with summaries of the issue at hand and suggested verbiage when you write your lawmaker.  Your chance to be an advocate is just a few clicks away! As a spokesperson for Grey2K USA – a greyhound advocacy group – reminded us in Tallahassee, “We have the power to do tremendous, amazing things.”  We just have to unleash that power.

Democracy is a privilege. Employing its processes is a choice. Using our system for the betterment billboardredo1of others is what the founding fathers intended.  Defining “others” as all sentient creatures means embracing a lifestyle of conscious compassion. That lifestyle has my vote.