Monthly Archives: December 2013

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

 

Puppy Love

“Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it…” 

Hal David knew what he was talking about when he wrote those lyrics – even though he had not met either Wee Willie Winky or Benny Salad Houdini.

Willie, our beloved Shih Tzu rescued from a puppy mill runner, died* Wee Willie Winkyunexpectedly at the age of 4 ½.  Losing this happy, active, loving companion caused heartbreak that all devoted pet parents understand.  The outpouring of sympathy indicated just how many of those there are, and while it comforted, it didn’t stop the tears for my husband and me.  That was a job for Benny.job

Tom was determined that our next dog be a male Shih Tzu like Willie, preferably a puppy.  I started searching via our local shelters and rescue groups – no luck.  I chased a couple of leads on petfinder.com – no luck. I filled out applications with rescue organizations – luck!  One group specializing in Shih Tzus and small dogs had a litter of not one but five male puppies ready for adoption (their pregnant mother had been turned over by a backyard breeder). We snuggled and played with all of the squirmy adorable ten week olds and then picked “Puppy #3” because he was especially little and seemed quite laid back. cutness

Our tears pretty much stopped almost immediately – and idyllic as it might sound, it was not because of love at first sight. It’s because there is no time for tears! My grieving husband was naturally ready to give this tiny blonde bundle of lovability almost anything he wanted, but Benny is an extremely smart and equally willful little guy, given to the bossiness that is frequently found in Shih Tzus. So Mom (that’s me) had to start showing tough love with both of her boys – no small dog syndrome in my family, please! (Small dogs can take over a house – position themselves as the pack leader – because we cave into their cuteness and fulfill their desires and demands without making them earn it.)

leashSo here in the midst of intensive training, I am massively Mommy proud that at the age of 13 weeks, Benny understands “sit,” “come,” and “make a good decision,” and actually follows those instructions much of the time.  He accepts a leash and the city streets with equal aplomb. He knows “do your business” and responds admirably – although getting him out to the grass is a new adventure in house sittraining for me.  I’ve never done it from a condo before.  Sometimes it feels like we live in the elevator, riding down and up, up and down.  Thankfully, my husband handles most of the middle-of-the-night excursions (probably because he doesn’t want my naked face and bed head to scare anyone).

Baby Benny earned his big boy name of Benny Salad Houdini because he loved his fresh veggie dinners from the first, and can’t get grassenough of the greenery outside either.  He munches grass and leaves as though he were a deer rather than a dog.  He covets the free roaming ways of a deer as well. He easily escaped every barrier we tried for his confinement room: netting, higher netting, dog gate.  Finally we had to simply shut the door. We’re still working on the separation anxiety; Benny spent his first ten weeks in a foster home brimming with dogs and humans.  Being alone for even a moment is a brand new experience.

But Benny knows how to amuse himself.  He is a champion chewer of everything within mouthing distance:  rugs, curtains, pant legs, bedding.  That means relentless redirection.  Anyone eavesdropping toyon me these days would think that, “Chew toys!” is my favorite phrase.  And that tossing them is my favorite exercise.  Our floors look like FAO Schwarz for canines.

And then there are the cats.  Lucy, who was Willie’s best buddy, stepped right up as second mother to Benny.    This formerly feral eaterystarving kitten always eats her entire breakfast right away and then begs for more.  But she started saving half of it so that she could teach Benny how to find the supposedly secret entrance to the cat feeding quarters and help himself to her bowl.  Undoing that (frankly charming) act of generosity and maternal instinct has taken some creativity.  Lucy is also teaching Benny to play in a way that’s lucyteachacceptable to cats, which involves a lot of wrestling but a little less nipping than he might like.

Fred took great delight in trying to teach “Chase Me,” at a running speed that Benny could keep up with.  That meant I had followto play blocker between them in order to teach both that chasing cats is not an acceptable game – even if the cat thinks so.  Nowadays they usually walk together rather than run. Usually.

Frisco is still keeping his distance, in classic Frisco style.  He’ll come around.

Raising a puppy properly is like swimming the Florida Strait (I imagine; I haven’t actually done that). It takes intensive, consistent training, patience, persistence, and some sleep deprivation.  It can be anywhere from challenging to tiresome to irritating  to repeat yourself a dozen times to get the result you want once, but well worth it. Here’s a real time example.

This is what Benny is doing, next to my chair, as I write this. bennywrit

This is what Lucy is doing, just above him on my lap.lucywrite

This is what Fred is doing, just above her on my desk.fredwr

This is what Frisco is doing, just off to the side. fredwri

You’ll notice that Benny is thoroughly relaxed and making no effort to upend the established social order. I’m not kidding us, though. Once the writing is done and everyone’s back to bouncing around, he’ll give doggy dominance another whirl.  But we’ll keep working at it, because a dog who knows his place is a happy, secure dog.  And after only three weeks, Benny knows his place: firmly in our hearts.hearts

*We are awaiting final necropsy results on Willie, but it appears that the cause of death was a heart irregularity.