Monthly Archives: July 2013

Breaking the Chain

Dogs are America’s favorite animal

Or so the statistics suggest, with 46% of U.S. households including dogs.  That equates to more than 78 million canines cohabitating with humans in one way or another. ZachwtoyinchairUnfortunately, not all of them are pampered pooches wandering PetSmart with their human companions in search of toys and treats and resting their heads on plump pillows in cozy beds at night. Some of them aren’t even seeing the inside of a house, let alone a store to satisfy their doggie desires. Too many of them – and in this case, one is too many – are spending their lives at the end of a rope or chain.

The Humane Society of the United States puts the number of “tied-up” dogs at more than 200,000, although this is a hard number to precisely tetheredcalculate. But I’m guessing you know about it and have seen it: the dog pulling and straining against the restraint around his neck, which is tied to a tree or fence, or maybe a post stuck in the ground just for this purpose.  Sometimes the dog is barking wildly; other times, he or she simply lies there in depressed defeat, knowing there is no escape.  Except:  there can be escape.  And anyone who knows of a dog enduring this kind of existence can help be the escape.

Movements against tethering are taking hold across the country, spurred on by increased awareness of the cruelty to dogs and danger to humansimages by restraining dogs in this way. Dogs are pack animals, descended from wolves.  They crave companionship and interaction.  Dogs are smart, emotionally astute creatures. They yearn for stimulation and affection.  Tie them up and abandon them and they can go berserk from deprivation.  Imagine the human in solitary confinement year after year, seeing no one except the keeper who drops off food and water and, torture on top of torture, the occasional unfettered creature walking by who doesn’t stop to set them free, or even to say hello. Do any of us doubt that this can provoke a descent into madness? Physically horrible things can happen on the end of a tether also.  Dogs can be tied up so long that their collars become embedded in their necks.  They can develop all sorts of diseases, sores, and mange from neglect and the inability to maneuver to scratch or groom themselves.  They can become entangled in their tethers or even strangle themselves.

Let me be clear:  dogs who have endured and survived the worst of circumstances can be rescued, rehabilitated, and restored to the loving, giving creatures they were born to be.  (The Michael Vick dogs are a case study.) Tethered dogs are liberated, taken to shelters and adopted out daily across this country.  But the dog on the end of the chain can also be hazardous to humans, driven by stress, desperation or even training – some dogs are tethered for the express purpose of protecting property; they are expected to be dangerous. The American Humane Association says tethered dogs are almost three times as likely to bite, and cites their sense of vulnerability as one reason why.

Hence the anti-tethering movement, for our mutual benefit.  18 states now have laws on the books addressing tethering.  The laws tend to set conditions for tethering, rather than prohibit it.  For example, there are restrictions on how long a dog may be tethered, or specifications as to how long the tether must be.  One state simply mandates that there be “adequate space” for a tethered “companion animal.”  Excuse me, but an animal that is tethered outside and away from you is not a companion.  Try this on your spouse or kids for even an hour and you’ll see what I mean. (Just making a point here:  do not take that sentence literally, please.)

Many tethering restrictions happen on the local level, with ordinances. You can find out whether your community or county limits or bans tethering here. In my county, the campaign against tethering proclaims Tethered Dog 2“Break the Chain – It’s the Law.”  If you want to become part of the chain of citizens working to untether dogs who don’t yet benefit from government protection, take action. Contact your local representatives.  Change happens when enough of us demand it long enough.

And if by chance you get up close and personal to a tethered dog that you don’t know, don’t try to pet or free it yourself. Call a reliable, humane animal welfare organization for assistance. Chances are you’ll be helping that dog to a far better life, maybe even one indoors with doting humans, which is where America’s favorite animal belongs.

Going Loony!

I am a very lucky woman.

Every year around this time, I go a bit loony – and no one seems to mind. My family and I flee the Florida summer swelter for a lakeside camp several states to the north, a place where it can get cold enough to snow on Memorial Day and ice over in August. That is where it starts: the wailing, the yodeling, the hooting, most of it in the darkest depths of the night, carried at tremendous volume over the still water, waking sleepers and spooking the uninitiated. These are the calls of the common loon, and I am crazy for them. In fact, I’m a little bit crazy for loons period, and I am not alone.Two loons

These beautiful and intriguing birds populate waters of the northern U.S. and Canada, their distinctive black and white speckled backs, white breasts, black necks adorned by a necklace of stripes and brilliant red eyes a summertime fixture in the breeding grounds to which they return after wintering in distant climes. And here “grounds” is a bit of a misnomer, as the loon spends most of its time in the water, except for when it is copulating or incubating its eggs.

waitingLoons are faithful birds, which accounts for part of my – and others’ – fascination with them. Because they are generally true to their home territories, returning year after year to their customary lakes, loon lovers go out looking for “our” birds. Are they back? Are their nests in the same spot? Do they have any hatchlings?

Loons are also faithful to their families, from mating to the offspring’s maturity, and amazingly egalitarian in their duties. They even look alike. Mates share the work of building the nest, sitting on the eggs until they Loon percarious position nest copyhatch, and then feeding and raising their young. Last year, one of “our” mating pairs built their nest on a narrow bog unfortunately close to boat traffic, prompting them to hop off frequently when frightened by motors or gawkers who came too close. The eggs, which usually take a month to incubate, never hatched. Yet the parents sat there nearly all summer long, devoted to their duty, holding out hope.

We loon watchers love to look for a baby – brown in color at this stage – riding on its parent’s back, warm and safer from predators, until it is large loonchickonbackenough to both fish and fend fulltime for itself. We love to watch an adult loon dive beneath the water’s surface and then wait while scouring the lake to see where it will turn up. Mature loons can dive to 200 feet and stay submerged for several minutes, so tracking their surfacing spot can be quite a challenge – unless they call out. Which brings us back to that hooting and wailing. Loon language is easily understood once you get the hang of it. The hoot says, “Here I am!” or, “Where are you?” The wails back and forth help loons determine distance from each other. The yodel is for males only, warning, “My territory!” And then there is the tremolo, the eerie vocalization that sounds like a vaguely demented laugh but is actually an alarm call. (Some think the tremolo is the inspiration for the saying, “crazy as a loon,” but it may have more to do with the moon or lunar phases than with this terrestrial talking.)

This coming Saturday, my husband and I will hop in our kayaks and head out for the annual loon census run by the local conservation society. At the same exact hour on every lake in our area, volunteers count the loons they spot. So far, so good. Local populations seem to be stable. Humans are banding together to protect health and habitat. I hope the loons we loonchicksee regularly will show up at the appointed time to be counted, and not be off on a jaunt to some nearby body of water. They’re “ours,” after all. Or at least it’s fun to feel that way during the short time that I’m here and going loony.

 

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