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.