Category Archives: Shelter Animals

“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.

ANIMALS, EMOTIONS, AND THE FISHBOWL

Do animals have emotions?

I’d like to say that is purely a rhetorical question, because is the answer not as clear as the snouts on their faces – or am I missing a third eyelid wink (wink, wink)?

Apparently Mr. Peter Ogburn of Media Bistro’s FishbowlDC thinks I am missing more than that – a brain, perhaps. In a piece called Dumbass Pitches (yep, that’s really the link), Ogburn basically asserts that I must be a misguided moron – or perhaps “some sad person who calls their 27 cats their ‘animal children’ and would breast feed their kittens if they could” – to suggest that animals experience emotion.

Now I could pause for a sentence here to point out such trivialities as Mr. Ogburn being mistaken on where the “beautifully stupid” pitch actually originated or some of the points it makes, but let’s get straight to some more of his commentary because it is so deeply considered: “Animals…shit when they have to.” “Animals live on base instincts.” “The perceived LOVE that they are giving you is a way to tell you that they want something…a leg to hump.”

As I was reflecting upon how a person who says he has pets could so crassly conclude that they don’t emote, I helpfully received a piece by Gene Weingarten which describes Mr. Ogburn’s worksite as: [a] “vicious, sleazy, snide, disreputable, unscrupulous, vacuous, wildly immature, gratuitously cruel, malicious and mean-spirited media-gossip website that specializes in innuendo, reckless character assassination and unconscionable, wanton defamation.” (Click here to read his full article.)

But hold my horses! Weingarten goes on to entreat Mr. Ogburn to continue to feature him weekly, as is apparently FishbowlDC’s custom, because “I have come to enjoy the abrasive work…It hurts so good.” If this two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist wants to stay in the Fishbowl, then please…have me back! Let’s talk animals!

After all, I like to swim with the fishes – that’s me in the scuba suit. The other Bull Run 032 swimmer is Larry the grouper. Whenever we would descend to his reef in the Bahamas, Larry would fishtail it over to us to engage in long soulful eyelocks, slurp at our regulators and get petted. He would roll from side to side and front to back to make sure we scratched every accessible scale. Now Mr. Ogburn, I can’t tell you exactly what Larry’s emotions were when he saw our air bubbles heading his way, but I imagine they were something like, “Hot diggity divers! This is gonna feel good!”Bull Run 035

And yes, “Larry” is my own humanly imposed nomenclature for our grouper groupie. Call that crazy cat/fish/animal lady stuff if you’d like. I don’t mind. And finally, Mr. FishbowlDC, if I ever start breast feeding kittens, I’ll be sure to let you know. That would make a great column.

But excuse me right now, I have to go. Lucy Miracle is meowing against my ankles, which means she’s feeling affectionate and wants a little together time. I like to respond when the moment is right.

–Readers, please tell us what you think. Do animals have emotions – or not?

 

 

The Art of Writing

“The second sentence holds hands with the first and reaches out to the third.”

And the first, naturally enough, must start with a word. So sit down and write one! Sage advice offered by renowned author Tom Robbins at the WordSmitten Writing Workshop, at which I was honored to sit on the same panel. Another Robbins nugget: “Language is not the frosting, it’s the cake.”

Tom Robbins

Is there anything like a writers’ workshop to inspire writers to plunk down and get some more words on the computer screen – or paper? Robbins, by the way, still writes longhand on a legal pad, with his dog curled up next to him. So whatever works for you! (As I write this, my cat Lucy Miracle is purring on my left thigh. I don’t get writer’s block, I get writer’s cramps from trying to accommodate the various critters who want to cuddle.) But I digress…

WordSmitten Media, like all of us, is scrambling to keep up with the rapidly changing methodology of publishing and delivering content. Kate Sullivan, the dynamo in charge, has a bedrock philosophy that does not shift with the landscape. It is that “we have the one sustainable idea that will endure. The Story. We believe in stories. We believe in the written word. We are WordSmitten.”

I share that philosophy. We will always need content, no matter the format or delivery system. Those of us who create fictional content might take heart from some of the wisdom offered at the workshop by Peter Dekom, an entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills. He posits that the folks who make movies are more drawn to books than they are to scripts these days. “Great novels are voyeurism and who wants to sneak a peek?” Dekom says show the reader something they don’t usually get to see, and who knows: Hollywood just might take notice.

Oh sure, lots of writers say. Not likely, with all the competition out here. Heck, how many of us can even score an agent, let alone an editor, let alone a publishing house…so goes the thinking and the questioning when a bunch of aspiring authors get together. Naturally enough; it is a crowded, competitive field but if the joy of writing is enough to keep you motivated, then you’re already making cake.

One of the writers I most admire uses his considerable language

Jonathan Balcombe and Cathy Unruh

Jonathan Balcombe and Cathy Unruh

skills to show us things we don’t usually get to see – and he’s not making them up. Jonathan Balcombe takes us inside the hearts, minds and worlds of non-human animals in books such as The Exultant Ark and Second Nature. Science lines up alongside vivid observation to show us that all animals experience pleasure and pain and, as Jonathan would say, “have biographies.” In other words, each and every animal has a story. The life of each and every animal means something to that animal.

I was privileged to appear with Balcombe at the Florida Voices for Animals annual Have a Heart dinner and what a joyful evening it was! To watch slides of animals at work and play in their habitats, hear their stories and come to understand their sentience more deeply. To sit with a roomful of people who devote much of their lives to bettering the fates of non-human animals on the planet we share. To enjoy entirely vegan food from soup to salad to heaping plateful of entrees to dessert. (Thank you, Trang Viet Cuisine – it was fabulous!) If only everyone knew how delicious vegan food can be, I think many more of the planet’s animals could live in peace and not die to fill plates.

Here’s to compassion and creativity. Hey, how about a creatively compassionate lifestyle? Now that’s something I could write about ☺.