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