Category Archives: homeless animals

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

Furballs and bits

How do you get a 9-year old Rottweiler and her six puppies adopted out?

Easy! You put up the headline, “63 year old gives birth to sextuplets!”

That’s just one marketing nugget shared by Mike Arms of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. Mike is an apparent maestro at managing media and message in order to find homes for animals.

Getting animals out of – or better yet, never into – shelters was a strong theme of the Alley Cat Allies conference.  It’s a goal widely shared by companion animal advocates, and expressed as “no kill,” or more recently, “Save Them All,” coined by Best Friends Animal Society.

Close to 400 of us, from 37 states, Canada, and Israel gathered with ACA to talk strategy for saving cats.  (Israel’s government is joining feralstreetcatthe movement, with a cash infusion to Trap-Neuter-Return 45,000 street cats there.) And when you save cats, you save other companion animals, because you free up space in rescues, shelters, and hearts for them to find homes.

Favorite conference quote:

“The animals have your hearts, but it’s your minds they need.”  Mike Arms

Okay then, let’s play “I Spy:”

When Spartanburg Animal Services wanted to prove that free-roaming cats pose no dramatic danger to birds, their FBI National Academy alum, criminal investigator, used-to-do-narcotics-busts chief, Major Steve Lamb, targeted a cat judgecommunity with a bunch of birds around and then put up surveillance cameras to watch them. No murders were witnessed.  Case closed.

Common cents:

Also put your mind around this, Bonney Brown of the Humane Network reminds us.  When you save a cat, you are having a positive economic impact on the community, through purchases of DOLLARSIGNKITTYfood and other supplies the cat will need. So money is being pumped into the economy, as opposed to killing, which costs taxpayers money.

Save statistics:

Expenses associated with shelter intake, animal care, and euthanasia all go down when spay/neuter goes up.  There are statistics and stories (because every “euthanasia” is an animal who would like to live) from around the country proving this.  It’s even happening in that hub of hedonism, Las Vegas, at the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. (Love that name!) And in the areas where it’s happening most dramatically, Trap-Neuter-Return of community cats is one big reason why. I’m seeing this in my own home area; check this out from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

And by the way:

Why are we calling them “shelters” anyway? Too few animals get out of “shelters” alive. We are working to change that, and one way would be to change our shelter names to “Pet Adoption Centers,” or “Pet Villages” – several names were thrown out, all of them designed to get adopters in and animals out. (See “Heaven Can Wait,” above, for creative nomenclature!)

The Let’s Go Get It Goal:

“Let’s put catching and killing in the history books and file it on the  shelves.”  Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies.

Becky, John, Cathy

Becky Robinson, president Alley Cat Allies, John Fulton, host of “Must Love Cats,” (Animal Planet) and Cathy Unruh, Animal Advocate, Author of TAMING ME: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat

The Future is Now and she’s named Kimberly:

11-year old Kimberly Hernandez learned about TNR from a neighbor, cares for outdoor cats, and wants to be a vet.  Here’s an excerpt from what she had to say:

KimberlyI am Kimberly.

I am the future.

I am an animal lover.

I believe that I can reach all my goals because I am me.  I don’t have to change.

I believe that cats are a gift.  To live is to give them some love.

I will do my best and nothing less to help cats…my best and nothing less.

Side note on conference chow:

The all vegan meals served up by the Hilton Crystal City   had non-vegans vowing to convert on the spot.  The food was beyond fantabulous.  Crowd favorite:  Gardein Beefless Strips served up asbeefless a stir fry/fajita filler.  I saw more than one person going back for third and fourth helpings.  (Another beauty of balanced veganism:  you can do that!)

And a non-conference thank you:

bloglucymiracle

A young Lucy Miracle and Cathy Unruh

To My Three Moggies   for naming Lucy Miracle their November Fur Friend of the month.

“Moggie” is a colloquial British word for an everyday cat – Lucy loves her friends across the pond.  They are a furry friendly bunch!

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

 

 

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!

“Pets before Profits”

Suppose Adam, Eve, and a serpent were each offering to sell you an identical apple –

same size, same color, same sweetness – for the price of four fig leaves. The serpent planned to use the fig leaves as camouflage.  Eve intended to turn the fig leaves into a new skirt. Adam planned to feed his fig leaves to the hungry doe who had just given birth to a fawn. Which apple would you buy?

If you chose Adam’s apple, then you just might be the ideal customer for a new business – one that, like Adam, promises to use its

Dr. Glenn Buckley

Glenn Buckley, DVM

proceeds to help animals.  Except that in this case, the products are pet treats, toys and other supplies, with the primary emphasis on pet pharmaceuticals. Glenn Buckley, the veterinarian who founded Pet Rescue Rx along with his brother Scott, got in touch to introduce himself and share their vision:  all net profits to animal shelters.  “I have reached an age when I can really appreciate what money cannot buy:  my health, my life partner…time spent walking my dogs and watching them play.  I want to share that appreciation for life by what I can give back through this business,” says Buckley, whose title is CEO.

Scott Buckley,  President and Computer Guru

Scott Buckley,  President and Computer Guru

Giving something back is not a new concept, thankfully.  There are any number of companies that donate a portion of their profits to help animals; adoptashelter.com is one of the best known.  1-800-PetMeds, which advertises itself as “America’s Largest Pet Pharmacy,” says it donates thousands of dollars in pet supplies and medications to shelters.  What sets Pet Rescue Rx apart is the promise to donate all net profits.  “I’m running into some skepticism,” says Buckley, with a note of what sounds like resignation in his voice.  “But we’re doing this for the same reasons volunteers at shelters do:  to get the money where it needs to go.”

Buckley says his eyes were opened to the needs of shelter animals when he volunteered in one, and started brainstorming a new way of 995834_379259572180130_1319919697_asubsidizing them.  He likens his business model to Newman’s Own, which funnels all after-tax profits to human causes.  Newman’s Own says that’s about $370 million so far.  How much will Pet Rescue Rx contribute?  It’s far too soon to know, as the company just opened in June.  And when financials are available, they do not have to be disclosed:  Pet Rescue Rx is not a 501(c)3 and is not publicly held.  Buckley says that he is currently funding the startup via his two animal emergency clinics in Florida and not taking a salary.  Both of those things will likely change if Pet Rescue Rx takes off.  But he vows that it will always be, “Pets Before Profits,” the company’s motto.

Buckley says he’s competitively priced with other online pet pharmacies (and here’s where the analogy comes in) because, “when you’re all selling apples, you have to be.” He’s being choosy about his apples, though, carrying products from other “do good” companies “out there to make a difference,” like Halo Pet, John Paul Pet Products, and yes: Newman’s Own Organic Pet Treats. “I have been given a gift, as we all have, to create something which can have a greater impact for good.  We should all look within ourselves to find that and let it grow.”

Pet Rescue RX

Glenn and Scott outside the pharmacy with Roz and Geri.

Growth going forward will be largely up to shoppers. It’s certainly a concept that holds promise, and enticing to those who care about the estimated 6-8 million animals who enter U.S. shelters each year, half of them only to face a death sentence.  They could use the help.  If Pet Rescue Rx should bear fruit, we can only hope – and perhaps even allow ourselves to trust – that Buckley will keep his promise.

Note:  Pet Rescue Rx hopes to become licensed in all 50 states.  At this writing, it is getting close to halfway there.

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.