Category Archives: Wild Animals

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!

A Bird’s Eye View

I’ve spent a lot of time at my kitchen sink the past few weeks.
1treekitchenYou’d think I’m a woman who likes to wash dishes – which actually I do, if there aren’t too many.  I appreciate the instant gratification of turning a dirty plate clean, the warmth of the water, the tickle of suds on my hands.  But it’s what unfolded just beyond the window by the kitchen sink that captured my attention, a family reality show playing right there through the screen: The Robins Raise their Triplets.

2mama nestI was a little slow tuning in.  Mama Robin’s red breast caught my eye one morning as she pecked at their cozy little home, snuggled in a fork of a birch tree.  I couldn’t see inside the nest, but once Ms. Robin finished her chores and settled in for a good long sit, I understood that she’d been rotating her eggs, keeping the babies inside from getting stuck to the shells, and also helping to ensure a uniform temperature, which she maintained with her own body heat, emanating from a patch on her belly gone bare for just this purpose.

From that moment on, I couldn’t catch enough of the drama: first the several days’ wait for the hatch, during which Mama Robin laid faithfully on the nest during sunshine and downpours, daylight and dark, leaving 3earthwormcutonly occasionally to find some food.  Papa Robin came by to visit, but mostly he busied himself in the yard, hopping around and looking proud already, his breast thrust out and head tilted upward as he kept neighborhood watch.

After several days of waiting, the big moment happened inside the walls of the nest. It was too high up for me to see the breakthroughs, but life became so hectic for the Parents Robin that I knew they had hatchlings. Now both of them were busily pecking at the yard, hunting, gathering, returning to the nest for a quick drop off before 4tulipscutheading out to work again.  A couple of days later, the little ones began to peep, and then their demands became visible as well as vocal.  Three little carrot-colored throats extended upward over the nest rim, their gaping bills like freshly opened tulips undulating in the breeze.  Their cry was unmistakable:  “Feed me!  Feed me!” And they were insatiable, eyeing the sky for a parent and springing into upward open-mouthed position 5mamapapacutwhen Mama or Papa (or sometimes both together) would swoop down on a nearby branch before delivering breakfast – or lunch, or dinner, or in between meal snacks. Earthworms appeared to be the edible of 6grasshopperchoice, although the occasional hapless grasshopper or other bug found itself staring down a throat of no return.

7teenagerAfter a meal, the tired youngsters would flop their little heads on the side of the nest, sometimes staring straight at me, the down on their heads looking like double Mohawk haircuts glistening in the sun, their endlessly 8jostling and competingopen mouths still making demands. Come to think of it, they must have been teenagers by now!  They grew restless, preening and jostling and competing with each other for food. And they just plain grew. It had been barely more than 9flashreda week when the first one flashed me a glimpse of bulging red breast. Their abode began to look more cramped than cozy.

And then one morning came the inevitable.  I turned on my coffee pot, carried the cats’ bowls to the sink, looked out the window and the birch tree seemed suddenly, heartrendingly barren. Ms. and Mr. Robin had become empty nesters.  I’d anticipated this moment, reminding myself that successful parenthood is all about raising the youngsters to spread their wings and make their own ways in the world. And I know they grow up fast, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for these kids to be gone. And, as in so many families, 10outerit turned out that one of the kids wasn’t either. I didn’t notice him until afternoon, huddled on an outermost branch several feet from the nest, wobbling a bit, tentatively flapping his wings every once in a while and then wobbling some more. Frankly, he looked too fat to fly. But he still had an eye out for handouts.  A parent would wing in every so often and pop a worm into his mouth like a mom shoving a casserole into the oven and then rushing on to other chores.  Could it be that part of the chores was checking on the other children?  I’d read that training flights were part of the program before full independence from the parents, so I spent some time outside, watching Mama and Papa Robin pecking for food and then following their routes through the air.  Sure enough:  one fledgling had moved into a high rise, a towering birch in the side yard.  Another had settled in the suburbs: a stately, plush fir on the edge of the woods out back.

I decided that I could not devote my days to wandering from tree to tree to check on progress, so I settled for watching the one triplet still outside the window.  And sadly, I missed the moment of his final disappearance through my screen. A parent had just flown in for a feeding, which he’d gobbled with his usual gusto.  I looked down for barely a few seconds and when I looked up, he was gone.

Will there be a sequel?  I don’t know yet.  Robins lay more than one clutch each summer and sometimes they reuse their nest.  So I’ll stay tuned.  Meantime, an inordinate amount of birdcalls has alerted me to a sparrow nest right outside my bathroom window.  Oh dear.  Maybe I’d better stock up on bubble bath.

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.

 

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