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.