Category Archives: Vegan

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

 

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.

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!

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

 

DEMOCRACY, ADVOCACYAND YOU?

Warn­ing:  I am about to use a word that often car­ries neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions.  A word that makes some peo­ple cringe.  Ready?  Here it is:  lobby.  Not as in the room where you wait, but as in the activ­ity that you do.  As in lobby your leg­is­la­tors.  As in be a lob­by­ist.  These words can con­jure up images of back rooms, money sacks, quiet hand­offs, hand­shakes and secret deals – and evoke aver­sion, even deri­sion.  But I would like you to know that I am a lob­by­ist.  I lobby.  And fur­ther­more, I hope that you do too — or will.

Lob­by­ing is part of our pre­cious demo­c­ra­tic process.  Lob­by­ing can be wholly above board, Gathering en massehon­or­able, out in the open…“in the sun­shine,” as we say here in Florida about our gov­ern­ment and the way we’re sup­posed to run it.  It can be a per­sonal phone call, let­ter or e-mail to your leg­is­la­tor; it can be a peti­tion; it can be an appear­ance en masse with oth­ers on your Capi­tol steps or at your legislator’s door.  It can be on any issue that you care about – you won’t be sur­prised that I am going to address the issue of ani­mal welfare.

Humane Lobby Days are con­ducted around the coun­try under the aus­pices of the Humane Soci­ety Animals don't have a voiceof the United States. It’s a time for those who care about ani­mals to con­verge on their state­houses and give voice to the voice­less.  The other ani­mals don’t get a vote.  It’s up to us humans to find votes for them.

In Tal­la­has­see, where I par­tic­i­pated in Humane Lobby Day, there is a great chance that an ani­mal cru­elty bill will pass both cham­bers this year.  The bill would crack down in sev­eral ways on var­i­ousAnimal Cruelty Bill acts of ani­mal cru­elty and orga­nized crime at staged ani­mal fights. A mea­sure that would require ani­mal shel­ters to put their num­bers out in the sun­shine – how many ani­mals taken in, how many adopted out, how many euth­a­nized – is des­tined for the governor’s desk.  Humane lob­by­ists have sev­eral goals in my state:  end­ing grey­hound rac­ing, endors­ing Trap Neuter Return, pro­tect­ing both dogs and con­sumers from puppy mill sales. And we have rea­son to hope.  We are the peo­ple who col­lected enough sig­na­tures to put ges­ta­tion crates for preg­nant pigs to ref­er­en­dum – and abol­ished them. We showed that when you bring ani­mal cru­elty to light, a major­ity of the cit­i­zenry may choose to end it.

But you need not go out and gather sig­na­tures, travel to the seat of gov­ern­ment, or even leave your seat to help ani­mals.  Click here to learn about pend­ing leg­is­la­tion in your state and here  for bills at the fed­eral level, where many of the issues with the most impact on ani­mals – along with con­sumers and tax­pay­ers – are con­sid­ered. And then there’s your own back­yard, with issues like exotic ani­mals as out­door pets, dog teth­er­ing, free-roaming cats and TNR, back­yard chick­ens:  many ordi­nances affect­ing ani­mals and you are enacted at the local level, in munic­i­pal and county governments.

Won­der­ing whether your voice mat­ters?  It does. Law­mak­ers know that cit­i­zens who care enough to con­tact them are likely cit­i­zens who vote – so they lis­ten. To learn who your rep­re­sen­ta­tives are, visit www.votesmart.org. You can also get on the e-mail lists of ani­mal wel­fare groups who will alert you to Democracy is a privilegeleg­is­la­tion and ask you to con­tact your rep­re­sen­ta­tives. These alerts often make it easy with sum­maries of the issue at hand and sug­gested ver­biage when you write your law­maker.  Your chance to be an advo­cate is just a few clicks away! As a spokesper­son for Grey2K USA — a grey­hound advo­cacy group — reminded us in Tal­la­has­see, “We have the power to do tremen­dous, amaz­ing things.”  We just have to unleash that power.

Democ­racy is a priv­i­lege. Employ­ing its processes is a choice. Using our sys­tem for the bet­ter­ment billboardredo1of oth­ers is what the found­ing fathers intended.  Defin­ing “oth­ers” as all sen­tient crea­tures means embrac­ing a lifestyle of con­scious com­pas­sion. That lifestyle has my vote.

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?