Category Archives: No Kill

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!

Going Loony!

I am a very lucky woman.

Every year around this time, I go a bit loony – and no one seems to mind. My fam­ily and I flee the Florida sum­mer swel­ter for a lake­side camp sev­eral states to the north, a place where it can get cold enough to snow on Memo­r­ial Day and ice over in August. That is where it starts: the wail­ing, the yodel­ing, the hoot­ing, most of it in the dark­est depths of the night, car­ried at tremen­dous vol­ume over the still water, wak­ing sleep­ers and spook­ing the unini­ti­ated. These are the calls of the com­mon loon, and I am crazy for them. In fact, I’m a lit­tle bit crazy for loons period, and I am not alone.Two loons

These beau­ti­ful and intrigu­ing birds pop­u­late waters of the north­ern U.S. and Canada, their dis­tinc­tive black and white speck­led backs, white breasts, black necks adorned by a neck­lace of stripes and bril­liant red eyes a sum­mer­time fix­ture in the breed­ing grounds to which they return after win­ter­ing in dis­tant climes. And here “grounds” is a bit of a mis­nomer, as the loon spends most of its time in the water, except for when it is cop­u­lat­ing or incu­bat­ing its eggs.

waitingLoons are faith­ful birds, which accounts for part of my – and oth­ers’ – fas­ci­na­tion with them. Because they are gen­er­ally true to their home ter­ri­to­ries, return­ing year after year to their cus­tom­ary lakes, loon lovers go out look­ing for “our” birds. Are they back? Are their nests in the same spot? Do they have any hatchlings?

Loons are also faith­ful to their fam­i­lies, from mat­ing to the offspring’s matu­rity, and amaz­ingly egal­i­tar­ian in their duties. They even look alike. Mates share the work of build­ing the nest, sit­ting on the eggs until they Loon percarious position nest copyhatch, and then feed­ing and rais­ing their young. Last year, one of “our” mat­ing pairs built their nest on a nar­row bog unfor­tu­nately close to boat traf­fic, prompt­ing them to hop off fre­quently when fright­ened by motors or gawk­ers who came too close. The eggs, which usu­ally take a month to incu­bate, never hatched. Yet the par­ents sat there nearly all sum­mer long, devoted to their duty, hold­ing out hope.

We loon watch­ers love to look for a baby — brown in color at this stage — rid­ing on its parent’s back, warm and safer from preda­tors, until it is large loonchickonbackenough to both fish and fend full­time for itself. We love to watch an adult loon dive beneath the water’s sur­face and then wait while scour­ing the lake to see where it will turn up. Mature loons can dive to 200 feet and stay sub­merged for sev­eral min­utes, so track­ing their sur­fac­ing spot can be quite a chal­lenge – unless they call out. Which brings us back to that hoot­ing and wail­ing. Loon lan­guage is eas­ily under­stood once you get the hang of it. The hoot says, “Here I am!” or, “Where are you?” The wails back and forth help loons deter­mine dis­tance from each other. The yodel is for males only, warn­ing, “My ter­ri­tory!” And then there is the tremolo, the eerie vocal­iza­tion that sounds like a vaguely demented laugh but is actu­ally an alarm call. (Some think the tremolo is the inspi­ra­tion for the say­ing, “crazy as a loon,” but it may have more to do with the moon or lunar phases than with this ter­res­trial talking.)

This com­ing Sat­ur­day, my hus­band and I will hop in our kayaks and head out for the annual loon cen­sus run by the local con­ser­va­tion soci­ety. At the same exact hour on every lake in our area, vol­un­teers count the loons they spot. So far, so good. Local pop­u­la­tions seem to be sta­ble. Humans are band­ing together to pro­tect health and habi­tat. I hope the loons we loonchicksee reg­u­larly will show up at the appointed time to be counted, and not be off on a jaunt to some nearby body of water. They’re “ours,” after all. Or at least it’s fun to feel that way dur­ing the short time that I’m here and going loony.

 

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

 

Summer Road Trips with the Family

Wagon…HO!

I remem­ber the excite­ment and antic­i­pa­tion as my three broth­ers and I scram­bled into the sta­tion wagon, Dad behind the wheel and Mom han­dling the maps, lug­gage rack on the roof. I would look back at the horses, cows, cats, dogs, rab­bits, sheep — whichever crea­tures hap­pened to be inhab­it­ing our hobby farm at the moment, some of them stand­ing watch as the car pulled around the dri­ve­way and turned onto the rural road, car­ry­ing us to excit­ing new adven­tures and explorations.

For a week or two, I wouldn’t be pet­ting sheep, con­vers­ing with cows, rid­ing my pony, crawl­ing into the straw-bedded dog­house for a snug­gle with our col­lie, car­ry­ing cats and rab­bits into my play­house, romp­ing through the pas­tures, fill­ing the water trough, side­step­ping the manure, muck­ing stalls, or feel­ing the deli­cious tickle of a horse’s lips tak­ing treats from my palm.

I was priv­i­leged to grow up sur­rounded by ani­mals, to learn the traits of var­i­ous species, the per­son­al­i­ties of indi­vid­u­als, the many ways in which ani­mals think, feel, and express — and the ways that ani­mals we domes­ti­cate depend upon us for their sus­te­nance: phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and emo­tional. I wish that every child could have that priv­i­lege, and that every adult who’s missed it could make up for it now. So I have a vaca­tion sug­ges­tion: don’t travel away from the ani­mals, as I did: travel to them!

On the south­ern bor­der of Utah, just above the Ari­zona line, cerulean skywhere rust red cliffs glim­mer against the cerulean sky, and long stretches of open space call to mind set­tlers and cow­boys, their horses kick­ing up adobe dust, sits an expan­sive par­cel of par­adise on earth. Nes­tled in Angel Canyon is Best Friends Ani­mal Sanc­tu­ary, where abused, aban­doned and neglected ani­mals who have nowhere else to go find refuge and a level of com­pas­sion­ate care that leaves me search­ing for prop­erly descrip­tive words. Best Friends Animal Society“Ded­i­cated” is too shal­low. “Heart­warm­ing” is too trite. “Breath­tak­ing” is barely hyper­bole. Ani­mals that would be con­sid­ered hope­less else­where – injured, crip­pled, chron­i­cally dis­eased – and likely des­tined for euthana­sia are instead reha­bil­i­tated to their great­est poten­tial and given life­long care. Or, bet­ter yet and in every instance pos­si­ble, adopted out to for­ever homes.

Sanctuary sign copyBegun by a group of bud­dies back in the 1980’s, the 3,700 acre sanctuary’s name is a pro­pos for both the founders and the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety. It started with a few home­less dogs and cats and now, enlarged by another 17,000 acres of leased land, it includes horses, mules, goats, sheep, don­keys, pigs, rab­bits, birds, and even injured and orphaned wildlife in need of care so that they can once again roam or fly free. These days, the aver­age ani­mal pop­u­la­tion is around 1,700 – and you are wel­come to visit them, vol­un­teer to work with them, maybe even take one (or two?) home. (Note: you do not have Panthegoatto per­son­ally visit the Best Friends sanc­tu­ary in order to adopt one of the ani­mals in their care.)

Free tours are offered every day at the sanc­tu­ary, and vol­un­teers are asked to sign up ahead of time. Care is taken to match vol­un­teers with appro­pri­ate ani­mals accord­ing to their inter­ests, ages, and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties. If you have the oppor­tu­nity to vol­un­teer, do! If you’ve never been truly “in touch” with ani­mals, this can be a life-changing expe­ri­ence. And if you already know and care for ani­mals, you’ll likely find new expe­ri­ences. Cat on leash copyIt was at Best Friends that I first walked a cat on a leash, fed a pot­bel­lied pig, and spent an entire after­noon scoop­ing rab­bit poop! You can do some­thing as down, dirty and nec­es­sary as pick­ing up poop, as sooth­ing as sit­ting with a cat in your lap, giv­ing him or her per­sonal atten­tion and pet­ting, or as adven­tur­ous as tak­ing a com­pan­ion ani­mal on an excur­sion off premises.

cottage view copyStay­ing on the sanc­tu­ary grounds enhances the expe­ri­ence. There are a lim­ited num­ber of cab­ins and cot­tages avail­able to vis­i­tors. They are com­fort­able, and the scenery is awe­some: the red rock moun­tains as back­ground to horses play­ing in the pas­ture, the sun set­ting over another day of kind­ness. sleepoverYou can even enjoy a sleep­over with an ani­mal and offer your impres­sions of his or her per­son­al­ity and tem­pera­ment to Best Friends staff. That helps when mak­ing adop­tive matches. When I was there, a pot­bel­lied pig ambas­sador was eli­gi­ble for sleep­overs and was quite the cov­eted guest! If you’re stay­ing in an RV or other accom­mo­da­tion, no prob­lem. You’re wel­come to share your space and affec­tions with eli­gi­ble can­di­dates there, as well.

I was so besot­ted with the sanc­tu­ary that I passed on the sight­see­ing dur­ing my visit, but you can make this as much of a var­ied vaca­tion as you want. The near­est town is Kanab, five miles away. Sev­eral lodg­ings — hotels, motels, pri­vate res­i­dences — are avail­able and many offer pet friendly space with a Best Friends dis­count. You can visit numer­ous state and national parks and wilder­ness areas; go golf­ing, bik­ing, swim­ming, kayak­ing, ATV­ing; explore the “Old West” areas where movies and TV shows were filmed; enjoy art gal­leries; attend the local theater…

But first and fore­most, I hope you’ll expe­ri­ence the ani­mals and soak up the ele­vated air of com­pas­sion and dig­nity for all who exist here. Intro­duc­ing a child to this mar­velous assort­ment of sen­tient crea­tures and the humans who care for them may inform that child’s sen­si­bil­i­ties for a life­time. Get­ting hands on with the ani­mals as an adult could alter your own view – and even expand your house­hold, should you decide to take a new best friend home.adoptionpromo

With wishes that you’ll get to be a part of Best Friends Ani­mal Sanc­tu­ary some­day – and for safe, happy sum­mer travels,

Cathy

 

 

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.