Category Archives: Farm 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.

 

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.

September 11th: Sit. Stay. Enjoy.

CathywbabiescouchWhen this photo was posted on Taming Me’s Facebook page, I was struck by the ferocity of the following comment, including the capitalization of the imperative:  “DON’T MOVE!  Stay right where you are!”  I thought that Paula Booth, the follower who wrote it, must be a woman who knows the value of being in the moment, especially a moment in which one is cuddled up with loved ones, and perhaps even more so a moment when those loved ones happen to have four legs.

In this world of constant connection and a non-stop barrage of news, opinion and information, chores by the score and a plentitude of places to be and people to see, it can be difficult to stop and savor the moment – whether it’s an active moment or one like this, pinned on the sofa by pets. Lately I have found myself counting the days until something I’m looking forward to – and even as I do so, I know that I am detracting from the day at hand.  So I thought that this anniversary of one of the most grievous days in our nation’s recent history might be a good time to remind myself to Sit. Stay. Enjoy. Because who knows how many moments more there will be?

A friend was recently on vacation with her family in one of her favorite places – a house beside the ocean.  She sat on the beach, chattedJuliecropped with her sisters, enjoyed dinner with the entire clan, spent the evening teaching her little niece and nephew to play Chinese checkers and promised that they would play again in the morning.  It was a promise she didn’t mean to break, but the morning she imagined didn’t come. She was buried, dressed in her cheerful orange cardigan, on her 48th birthday. Julie had danced with cancer and its consequences for 30 years, and during those years, between hospitals, treatments and transplants, she gathered all the joy she could muster from life and spread a bunch of it around to the rest of us.

Focus Magazine photo DottieDottie – another friend – was, quite frankly, supposed to be dead by now. But she vowed, “I will be the miracle,” and she is.  Her passion in life is making homes for kids who don’t have them, kids caught up in a foster care system that doesn’t always have enough foster parents to go around.  She’s still busy raising money and building space to offer what is sometimes the most loving environment the kids have ever known.  Oh, and she also spends a fair amount of time sending little love notes out to her friends and relatives.  Dottie knows how to make the briefest moment meaningful. Karyn withmask

And then there’s Karyn.  She got a diagnosis last winter that would have put some of us under the table. But not Karyn. You’d go to visit her in the hospital and she’d give you a gift that she bought for you, in the hospital shop. She’d send you jokes via e-mail and text. KaryngreenbowlhatShe’d make funny faces and pose for pictures, sometimes with her room so packed with visitors you couldn’t find a place to sit down. Right now she’s planning a girls’ weekend and already has special bags waiting for each guest, stuffed with goodies. And she’s busy mothering her six dogs, all of them rescues; she created a special dog park at the shelter where she volunteers, for the ones she couldn’t take home.  Her household canines get hot cooked meals twice a day Kerynwithbroodand the entire pack is welcome in her bed – even if her husband has to get out of the way.  (He’s entirely good-natured about it.)

You know, my intent as I started writing this was to talk mostly about the proven health benefits of pets – lower blood pressure and cholesterol, healthier hearts, quicker recoveries, improved spirits and Lucy Fred and Willie copysocialization – and how animal companions can prolong and enrich our moments. But as I remembered the lives lost in the Twin Towers and the many souls worldwide suffering from conflicts, poverty, illness and disasters even as I type this, my fingers just seemed to want to talk about the people who endure, inspire, and continue to bless us even when they’ve passed on, as we all must do. I think I’ve been giving myself a little sermon. Thank you for sticking with me.

And please allow me one final mention of (another) friend. She recently gave me a book on mindful meditations, arranged by month.  September’s opening quote is from the Buddha:  “Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.”  Thank you, Buddha.  I’ll try harder. Thank you, my friends, for your generous spirits. Thank you, PAULA BOOTH! I think I’ll go round up the critters so that we can Sit. Stay. Enjoy.LucyCathyeveryday

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

 

 

WANDERING CUBA

I’ve just returned from Cuba, a trip endorsed by the U.S. government as a people to people educational exchange. The Cuban government (“state,” to Cubans) provided our local guide. We saw what the government wanted us to see. We stayed where the government wanted us to stay. We visited rural areas, mountains, beaches, small towns, the capital.Havana apartment building copy

The first and relentless impression is that Cuba’s clock stopped ticking somewhere circa the late 50’s or in many cases, decades earlier. Technology, modern means of production, and residential comforts as we know them seem truly foreign concepts here. In nearly every locale, the poverty is soul deadening. And that is just in looking at it, not living it.

In the country, the people live in shacks, primarily of wood. Holes gape from their sides, not all of them windows. We visit two farmhouses which by comparison are luxurious. They feature several rooms, glass windows, porches. One is the home of a third generation tobacco farmer and his family. He is matter of fact with an occasional smile. The state allows him to entertain tourists because he is a top producer. He knows that should he slip, the state might take his land. Currently, the state claims 95 percent of his crop and pays him what it wishes. As is common across Cuba, the money is not enough to live on. The other farm is open to us as a model of organic farming and Cat eating cucumberecological sustainability. Its stewards appear happy, energetic, enthused. Learning of my veganism at lunch, the wife requests a “momento ecological,” and returns holding Gato, a cat who enthusiastically crunches cucumber.

In the towns, attached single story buildings line the cobblestone streets like dormitories, housing small apartments. Doors hang open, grabbing breaths of air. We can see the interiors, windowless multi-function rooms that hold what passes for a kitchen, a table, a sitting area, sometimes a bed. Some thoroughfares blossom with modest stand-alone homes, even patches of lawn and flowers. The houses are generally uniform, box after box of the same size and shape.

In the capital, 20 percent of the island’s population crowd together in antiquated high rises, low rises, dilapidated houses. Buildings literally collapse here Havana housing2 copyoccasionally, taking their occupants with them. These are called “derrumbes,” for a giant rumbling followed by rubble and grief. Even landmark structures – museums, government agencies, embassies – are bruised and decaying, although the state is now undertaking a Havana overhaul in an effort to rehabilitate the largest tourist attraction in the country. We are driven through the grandest residential section, large homes from which we are told the wealthiest citizens fled Fidel. It resembles all the rest: the entire country seems to be crumbling, in need of shoring up or at least a coat of paint. Rotting wood and dingy cement glare through splotches of long-faded veneer. Hand-washed laundry on lines is part of the scenery from coast to coast, hanging from the yards of country hovels to the windows of city apartments.

Machines are relics, from the 1950’s American cars miraculously maintained to the Soviet era tobacco farmer’s tractor to the diesel operated water pumps that Radio copycould well date back to World War II to this radio, the property of a potter’s family. The occasional rusting air conditioner graces a window. 15 percent of the people, we are told, have access to the internet. Public phones are a primary means of Public phone copycommunication.

We actually converse with very few Cubans, shepherded through our stops. Our guide, a vivacious woman in her thirties, shares what she says is “her reality,” as she has never left the homeland. She is happy with “the triumph of the revolution,” the repetitively uttered term for the 1959 Castro coup – the state provides health care and education. She claims to be both ignorant of and not curious about where or how the brothers Castro live. She knows only how they travel: in caravans of luxury carsOld car copy with ambulance and police escorts. But she is openly frustrated at the subsistence salaries, the inability to buy or even find a car, the irony of being permitted to travel abroad when she doesn’t have the money to do so.

Food rations doled out by the state do not fill the table. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toilet paper are all expensive extras. Remittances – money sent from relatives and friends in America and elsewhere – prop up the official economy and fuel the black market on which Cubans depend. A good job is one that has something you can pilfer to sell on the black market in exchange for food, clothes, toiletries, household needs.

Are people happy, we ask? They’d better be, says a Cuban citizen we meet one morning at breakfast. Because people still disappear, he says. Perhaps they go to prison and then their families hear they died there in an “accident.” They never see the body, he tells us. There is no autopsy report. Nonetheless, his family likes it here. He doesn’t. He’s just visiting. He’s also an American citizen, an ocean borne escapee 21 years ago.

Cathy with street cat copyAnd then there are the animals. Everywhere. Oxen plow the fields, planted and harvested by hand. Goats work as lawnmowers. Cattle graze on the brown grass of dry season. Horses do it all: farm chores, family transportation, cart rides for cash. Roosters, chickens, guinea fowl and turkeys rake yards and fields. Pink piglets frolic on a lawn. A few doors down, a fattened adult lies on a platform being skinned. I try to take comfort in the relative freedom many open air “food animals” are given until they meet their grisly ends. (Guns are tightly controlled here. Few farmers have them. Tools are largely antiques. Your imagination can complete the slaughter scenarios.) Circling vultures are ubiquitous.

bullSaddled Brahman bulls with ropes piercing their noses offer transport and entertain tourists. Cocks are bred for fighting. Horses and donkeys are whipped with ropes and chain link. Many of their beaten backs are bony, underfed. A muscled man, cigarette in hand, simultaneously spurs and reins in his horse, sending it into a tailspin for the amusement of onlookers. Caged birds hang from doorjambs like decorations.

Dog with teats-RecoveredCats and dogs roam both rural and urban areas. Street dogs survive on scraps and handouts, grateful for the occasional ear scratch. CathyScratching dog copyProminent teats and swollen milk sacs attest to hidden puppies. Spaying, neutering, vaccinations – these are rare except for some lucky pets and in Havana, street dogs who are collared and claimed by restaurants as mascots. Cats hunt to survive. Tourist stops and table sides are fertile grounds. A lucky few make their living in open door hotels.Cat in restaurant-Recovered

We leave the plight of the land animals to spot birds in the woods: warblers, hawks, woodpeckers, the bee hummingbird – smallest bird in the world – sap suckers, the Cuban parakeet. Our hiking guide says the parakeet will kill itself if caged; it wants its independence. This is the national bird.

Lunch is an intact pig, his lively brain roasted along with the rest of his body. “It is cruel,” the hiking guide concedes to me in an aside. “But we need it.” My American companions are apparently unfazed. They stop for photos. They eat the freshly shredded corpse with gusto. I slip away and have a little cry. For the pig, for all the animals, for the poverty of the people, for Cuba, for the cruelty which spans our world from dictators to diners.

What does the future hold for Cuba? Who knows? Years more of socialism? A shot at capitalism? Official relations with America? KFCs and factory farms? The right to openly earn one’s own money? The breeze of change is whispering. Small private businesses now dot the landscape, licensed and taxed by the state. Many citizens can now travel abroad. Raul has given his presidency a deadline.

On the day we head home, the wind is whipping – toward the north. I am glad to go with it.