Category Archives: homeless dogs

Walking with Benny

Benny Salad Hou­dini has earned a new title:  Ambas­sador for Res­cue Dogs.

This is an unan­tic­i­pated con­se­quence of his “house” train­ing, which really means going out of Opening shot copythe house – a lot.  Small puppy blad­ders and imma­ture mus­cle con­trol mean small inter­vals between walks.  And for us, walk­ing means meet­ing lots of peo­ple.  We live in a lovely water­front city in sunny Florida where the side­walks tend to be busy with friendly folks feel­ing good about both the weather and the sur­round­ing beauty.  I hear an astound­ing num­ber of admir­ing “oohs” and “aahs” – most of them directed not at the scenery but at Benny.

I knew that Benny was cute when we adopted him,greenbag

but I never imag­ined that his but­ton face and fuzzy blonde body would actu­ally exert some kind of uncanny grav­i­ta­tional pull over gush­ing humans. baseballcap

Knees drop to the pave­ment and hands drift down­ward through the air as Benny approaches;Redjacket

peo­ple want to touch him as though he’s some sort of tal­is­man for hap­pi­ness — which he is, of course!blonde

But all this exu­ber­ant ado­ra­tion has its chal­lenges.  We’re try­ing to train Benny to sit to be pet­ted,  not to chew fin­gers or jump on peo­ple or deliver wet slurpy kisses with­out an explicit invi­ta­tionStroller– but these sud­denly lovesick humans don’t seem to mind if he breaks all the rules and climbs all over them in a wig­gling, wag­ging, lick­ing parox­ysm of pup­py­ness.  ChewToyI am con­stantly redi­rect­ing, refo­cus­ing, try­ing to train well-meaning humans as well as one extremely per­son­able puppy.

The open-armed ado­ra­tion also opened the door for Benny’s ambas­sador­ship, a role I had not antic­i­pated for him.  As admir­ers pet and coo, they almost unfail­ingly ask, “What kind of dog is he?”  I almost unfail­ingly answer, “He’s a res­cue puppy – a Shih Tzu.” Adorable Benny This is greeted with amaze­ment by an aston­ish­ing major­ity of peo­ple, who can’t con­ceive of such a dog being found any­where but at a breeder’s.  That allows us (okay, allows me; Benny’s oth­er­wise engaged) to explain that you can find almost any breed of dog you want through a res­cue group or shel­ter, where an esti­mated 25% of all dogs are pure­breds.  I explain that you can put your name on wait­ing lists at many shel­ters and get a call when the breed you are look­ing for comes in, or apply for adop­tion through res­cue groups around the coun­try, or start your search on a site like petfinder.com.  I recently read a story about a breeder who referred a cou­ple to a res­cue group when he couldn’t imme­di­ately meet their request for his brand of puppy – now that is progress!

with other dogs1But back to Ambas­sador Benny.  His work inspires and delights me.  He moti­vates peo­ple almost daily to say that they are going to start a search for their own res­cue dog. He edu­cates peo­ple who will almost cer­tainly pass on what they’ve learned. He has taught me the power of pup­py­hood to change the world one dog at a time.  I’m imag­in­ing a move­ment where vol­un­teers walk adopt­able pup­pies and adorable dogs  through city streets and spread the word, just as we are doing.

walked out and conked outAs I write this, Benny is lying walked out and conked out under my desk.  An excited lit­tle “yip” escapes his mouth every once in a while.  I don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing in his sleepy puppy brain, but I am dream­ing big dreams for him and all his kin­dred, dreams of a day where every dog finds a home — and we actu­ally need breed­ers because there are no more dogs in shel­ters hop­ing to make it out alive.

Thank you, Ambas­sador Benny Salad Hou­dini, for help­ing to draw that day closer, one step at a time. ambassador

Happy New Year!

Whether you rang the mid­night bell…

Or tucked away early….

May this first day of 2014 be more than happy for you!

If you can play with the aban­don of a puppy, cor­rect with the finesse of a cat, and apply your inge­nu­ity to make rela­tion­ships work, it should be a good year!

We hope this will bring you a smile to help kick off the New Year: watch now.

With love from our house to yours,

Lucy Mir­a­cle and Benny Salad Houdini

Snippets from the Front

Work­ing on behalf of ani­mals can often hurt the heart…

there is so much suf­fer­ing and so far to go.  But every once in a while, a stretch of days comes along that gets the heart pumped up again and prac­ti­cally shouts, “HOPE! PROGRESS! POSSIBILITY!”

That’s been the case in my world the past week or so.

The No More Homeless Pets Conference Best Friends Animal Society 2013

The Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety No More Home­less Pets Conference

First, the ral­ly­ing cry of “Save Them All” from the 1,300 peo­ple gath­ered for the No More Home­less Pets con­fer­ence.  “Save Them All” is a pos­i­tive way of say­ing “no kill,” and it reflects the phi­los­o­phy of Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety, the con­fer­ence orga­nizer:  be pos­i­tive, because we can do this.  We can stop the mil­lions of deaths in ani­mal shel­ters each year.

Want to help?  Adopt, fos­ter, vol­un­teer, advo­cate for spay/neuter.  All are key to mak­ing it happen.

Francis Battista and Cathy

Cathy and Fran­cis Bat­tista: The Best Friends Ani­mal Soci­ety No More Home­less Pets Conference

For the Best Friends folks, sav­ing the ani­mals is not just a cause, it’s a call­ing — to which they’re devot­ing their lives.  As co-founder Fran­cis Bat­tista — whose sense of pur­pose is matched by his sense of fun — put it, “The spir­i­tual expresses itself as kind­ness and the most basic expres­sion of that is kind­ness to animals.”

Vegfest Florida Voices for AnimalsTampa Bay Veg­fest cel­e­brates kind­ness toward all ani­mals, from farm to fam­ily room.  Spon­sored by Florida Voices for Ani­mals, Veg­fest is a day dur­ing which you can soak up info on why a vegan diet is good for both your health and the envi­ron­ment, along with the ani­mals.  You can learn in the Vegfest  Tampa bay - the day was filled with musicspeak­ers’ hall, via videos, or hand­outs from a plethora of orga­ni­za­tions.  But per­haps the best tes­ta­ment to the joys of veg­an­ism is the boun­ti­ful selec­tion of deli­cious dishes served under a Vegfest Tampa bay offers great food sunny sky in a down­town park. It was one of those autumn days that feel more like August in the sun­shine state but peo­ple lined up to sam­ple and savor the culi­nary cre­ations.  Yum!

Passion for Pets - Humane Society of Tampa Bay

Cathy Unruh and Lucy Mir­a­cle: Pas­sion for Pets — Humane Soci­ety of Tampa Bay

And finally, it’s always a good day when Lucy Mir­a­cle gets to step out as an ambas­sador for com­pan­ion ani­mals.  She did so for the Humane Soci­ety of Tampa Bay, one of our home­town orga­ni­za­tions work­ing to Save Them All.

Together, we can.  I believe that together, we will. And it doesn’t hurt to hear it every once in a while from a few thou­sand of your fel­low believ­ers. Thank you.

Top 10 Reasons to celebrate National Feral Cat Day

10.  There’s a bit of wild­cat in all of us.catwoman 9.   Mama cats are called Queens.  Nuff said.queen-cat-by-christina-hess 8.   Ear tip­ping is at least as attrac­tive as ear gauging.eartipa
7.   Fer­als eat out­doors – it’s a picnic!Cats on picnic table
6.   Trap­ping is great exercise.cathytnr
5.  TNR is trend­ing.  Big time.trending4.  Help­ing the home­less is a higher calling.wingshalo2
3.  If the cats are cool enough for Rome’s palaz­zos, they’re cool enough for us.RomeCats_main
2.  Paws to appre­ci­ate.  Sim­ple as that.lucylake
1.  Lucy Mir­a­cle and all of her rel­a­tives – of course!Litter of kittens hidden in tree

National Feral Cat Day was founded by Alley Cat Allies in 2001.  Lucy’s book, TAMING ME: Mem­oir of a Clever Island Cat, was released on this day one year ago.Taming Me cover

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!

This takes balls.

The topic came to mind while I was watch­ing the base­ball playoffs —

or more specif­i­cally, watch­ing the num­ber of times the play­ers were crotchadjustmantshown clutch­ing their crotches, re-positioning their pack­ages, bunk­ing their junk…OK, OK, I know they are (mostly) adjust­ing their pro­tec­tive cups, but still.  Some­day I may count the num­ber of on-camera crotch grabs ver­sus sloppy spits. It should be quite a matchup.

Any­way, this touch­ing dis­play of testos­terone reminded me of some­thing that hit me like a screw­ball to the solar plexus when I first heard about it:  cos­metic tes­tic­u­lar implants for dogs.  Yep, you heard me right:  cos­metic tes­tic­u­lar implants for dogs. The dog­gie doc­tor pitch­ing this pro­ce­dure said things like, “It will restore the animal’s nat­ural look,” and “It can encour­age peo­ple to neuter who oth­er­wise wouldn’t.”  I don’t remem­ber his sell­ing points exactly; I was strug­gling for air.neuticlenatural3

Once I recov­ered, I did some research and sure enough, the “Neu­ti­cles web­site extols the product’s abil­ity to allow “pets to retain their nat­ural look, self esteem (sic) and aids the pet’s owner with the trauma asso­ci­ated with alter­ing.”  The poster pair on the home page is none Kimanddogrockyother than that cul­tural icon of self­less­ness and empa­thy for all crea­tures, Kim Kar­dashian, and her dog Rocky (who received his implants on TV, natch).

Now I’m not sure about Kim, but I’ve known a lot of ani­mals both pre and post-neutering, and if they have suf­fered a drop in self-esteem, I’ve some­how failed to notice it.  Anec­do­tally, dogs may be a tad less manandbabydom­i­neer­ing — or is that more relaxed? — after their testos­terone lev­els drop. Switch­ing species just for a sec­ond, sci­ence sug­gests that men with smaller tes­ti­cles are more likely to take an active, nur­tur­ing role in child rear­ing.  Hmm, is any of this a problem?

But back to just dogs.  Maybe this machismo man­i­fes­ta­tion will catch on (or maybe not; only half a mil­lion have sold in the eigh­teen years since intro­duc­tion).   I’m for almost any­thing that encour­ages peo­ple tosmiling dog humanely reduce the home­less ani­mal pop­u­la­tion and its con­comi­tant killing in shel­ters, so if tes­tic­u­lar implants help do the job, fine.  They may indeed give com­fort to human males who are still squea­mish about the idea of remov­ing part of a dog’s “manhood.”

intact dogThey may also, how­ever, pose a social dilemma for vocal spay/neuter advo­cates.  Let’s say you see an intact dog on the street and your instinct is to ask his human whether he’s for­got­ten to have the dog altered, or whether he’s sport­ing a pair of Neu­ti­cles.  Is the ques­tion more akin to remark­ing, “Excuse me, sir, but I couldn’t help notic­ing that your fly is open,” or ask­ing, “Excuse me, ma’am, but are those real?”

Either way, I have to admit that the entre­pre­neur who con­ceived of falsie canine cajones is just doing some­thing that’s as tra­di­tion­ally Amer­i­can as, well, base­ball.  He fielded an idea, drafted a team, and put a prod­uct in play that takes balls – in this case, sil­i­cone ones. Or per­haps polypropy­lene. Depends how big your sac – oh, excuse me! wal­let – is.

—There are meth­ods which keep canines “intact” while ren­der­ing them infer­tile.  The FDA has approved a drug that works via injec­tion to the testes; Zeuterin’s inven­tors say it’s too soon to know whether it will sup­press mat­ing behav­iors. Vasec­tomy is also an option, but the drive to mate is clearly unchanged.baseballnote

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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 ☺.