Tag Archives: Animal Advocate

A day to celebrate love

 “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” ~ Mahatma GandhikittnrinbuudIt’s here.  The day the world celebrates love.  What better day to celebrate those who extend their love to all sentient creatures with whom we share the planet?Cat and the Billy GoatI have had the opportunity to witness amazing courage, grace and heart in fellow advocates for animals.  This is a day to thank them for their life-changing work. I have seen resilience and tremendous spirit in animals who have survived desperate situations and profound cruelty.cobeautifulbackgrdHumans use their passion to keep their hearts strong and open as they continue to wade into puppy mills, factory and fur farms to save lives.

Animals inspire us to bond without boundaries.horsecatsnug2 I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a day of love – named for a saint! – than by giving thanks to everyone who has endeavored in any way to better the life of any animal. Lori with Colony Cats and DogsAnd I cannot be more grateful to the animals, with their incredible capacity to forgive us and love us unconditionally.Cathy Unruh with lamb Happy Valentine’s Day!

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.

 

Moo2Meow

I was at a conference when a large animal veterinarian told this true story:

The managers of a dairy farm were mystified when one of their cows would not give milk.

This was an operation where the animals were more fortunate than most, in that they got to go out to pasture each day, rather than spending their entire cattle-dairy-02lives locked in an enclosure.  As in all dairy operations, the cows were repeatedly impregnated so that they would give birth and produce milk.  After each birth, the calves were taken away so that the milk meant for them could instead be pumped for human consumption.

A mama cow who had been through the routine of turning in her babies before dutifully watched as her latest newborn was hauled away.  Yet when the lactating mother was hooked up to the milking machine, cattle-dairy-04she was dry.  This went on for days, with no apparent explanation.  But then came the moment when the baffled operators stumbled upon their answer.  One spotted a movement in the woods at the edge of the pasture and went to investigate.  Mama cow had given birth to twins.  Knowing what their fate would be, she had taken one for sacrifice and hidden one to save.

This Sophie’s choice inspires the new title for my blog.  Moo2 is in honor of this cow and her two babies whose stories evoked tears in nearly everyone who sat in the conference hall and heard it.

The title also means “moo to meow,” in that we talk about all animals here, from farm to family room; from the animals we think little of to the ones we greet joyfully upon our return home.  (That means the title could also be baa/chirp/oink/woof/snort/cock a doodle doo…and could quickly get a little too long. 🙂 )

I am grateful to each of you who share my compassion for animals and who read and consider these words, wherever you are on your own personal journey.  It can be devastating to face the truths of animal suffering yet also joyous to help alleviate it. As Farm Sanctuary president Gene Baur recently wrote, humans possess a fundamental capacity to feel empathy, yet we sometimes turn it down when faced with the pain and suffering of others.  “The good news is that we are capable not only of turning our empathy down but also of turning it up…Empathy is like a muscle that becomes stronger as we use it.”cat and cow

Here’s to a great workout.  Get to know a cow.  Hug your cat. A big heart does a body good.

Thank you for visiting and for the e-mails you regularly send me.  If you are comfortable doing so, please reply here, as it contributes to community discussion. Most of all, thank you for caring.

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.

A Bird’s Eye View

I’ve spent a lot of time at my kitchen sink the past few weeks.
1treekitchenYou’d think I’m a woman who likes to wash dishes – which actually I do, if there aren’t too many.  I appreciate the instant gratification of turning a dirty plate clean, the warmth of the water, the tickle of suds on my hands.  But it’s what unfolded just beyond the window by the kitchen sink that captured my attention, a family reality show playing right there through the screen: The Robins Raise their Triplets.

2mama nestI was a little slow tuning in.  Mama Robin’s red breast caught my eye one morning as she pecked at their cozy little home, snuggled in a fork of a birch tree.  I couldn’t see inside the nest, but once Ms. Robin finished her chores and settled in for a good long sit, I understood that she’d been rotating her eggs, keeping the babies inside from getting stuck to the shells, and also helping to ensure a uniform temperature, which she maintained with her own body heat, emanating from a patch on her belly gone bare for just this purpose.

From that moment on, I couldn’t catch enough of the drama: first the several days’ wait for the hatch, during which Mama Robin laid faithfully on the nest during sunshine and downpours, daylight and dark, leaving 3earthwormcutonly occasionally to find some food.  Papa Robin came by to visit, but mostly he busied himself in the yard, hopping around and looking proud already, his breast thrust out and head tilted upward as he kept neighborhood watch.

After several days of waiting, the big moment happened inside the walls of the nest. It was too high up for me to see the breakthroughs, but life became so hectic for the Parents Robin that I knew they had hatchlings. Now both of them were busily pecking at the yard, hunting, gathering, returning to the nest for a quick drop off before 4tulipscutheading out to work again.  A couple of days later, the little ones began to peep, and then their demands became visible as well as vocal.  Three little carrot-colored throats extended upward over the nest rim, their gaping bills like freshly opened tulips undulating in the breeze.  Their cry was unmistakable:  “Feed me!  Feed me!” And they were insatiable, eyeing the sky for a parent and springing into upward open-mouthed position 5mamapapacutwhen Mama or Papa (or sometimes both together) would swoop down on a nearby branch before delivering breakfast – or lunch, or dinner, or in between meal snacks. Earthworms appeared to be the edible of 6grasshopperchoice, although the occasional hapless grasshopper or other bug found itself staring down a throat of no return.

7teenagerAfter a meal, the tired youngsters would flop their little heads on the side of the nest, sometimes staring straight at me, the down on their heads looking like double Mohawk haircuts glistening in the sun, their endlessly 8jostling and competingopen mouths still making demands. Come to think of it, they must have been teenagers by now!  They grew restless, preening and jostling and competing with each other for food. And they just plain grew. It had been barely more than 9flashreda week when the first one flashed me a glimpse of bulging red breast. Their abode began to look more cramped than cozy.

And then one morning came the inevitable.  I turned on my coffee pot, carried the cats’ bowls to the sink, looked out the window and the birch tree seemed suddenly, heartrendingly barren. Ms. and Mr. Robin had become empty nesters.  I’d anticipated this moment, reminding myself that successful parenthood is all about raising the youngsters to spread their wings and make their own ways in the world. And I know they grow up fast, but still, I wasn’t quite ready for these kids to be gone. And, as in so many families, 10outerit turned out that one of the kids wasn’t either. I didn’t notice him until afternoon, huddled on an outermost branch several feet from the nest, wobbling a bit, tentatively flapping his wings every once in a while and then wobbling some more. Frankly, he looked too fat to fly. But he still had an eye out for handouts.  A parent would wing in every so often and pop a worm into his mouth like a mom shoving a casserole into the oven and then rushing on to other chores.  Could it be that part of the chores was checking on the other children?  I’d read that training flights were part of the program before full independence from the parents, so I spent some time outside, watching Mama and Papa Robin pecking for food and then following their routes through the air.  Sure enough:  one fledgling had moved into a high rise, a towering birch in the side yard.  Another had settled in the suburbs: a stately, plush fir on the edge of the woods out back.

I decided that I could not devote my days to wandering from tree to tree to check on progress, so I settled for watching the one triplet still outside the window.  And sadly, I missed the moment of his final disappearance through my screen. A parent had just flown in for a feeding, which he’d gobbled with his usual gusto.  I looked down for barely a few seconds and when I looked up, he was gone.

Will there be a sequel?  I don’t know yet.  Robins lay more than one clutch each summer and sometimes they reuse their nest.  So I’ll stay tuned.  Meantime, an inordinate amount of birdcalls has alerted me to a sparrow nest right outside my bathroom window.  Oh dear.  Maybe I’d better stock up on bubble bath.

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

 

Summer Road Trips with the Family

Wagon…HO!

I remember the excitement and anticipation as my three brothers and I scrambled into the station wagon, Dad behind the wheel and Mom handling the maps, luggage rack on the roof. I would look back at the horses, cows, cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep – whichever creatures happened to be inhabiting our hobby farm at the moment, some of them standing watch as the car pulled around the driveway and turned onto the rural road, carrying us to exciting new adventures and explorations.

For a week or two, I wouldn’t be petting sheep, conversing with cows, riding my pony, crawling into the straw-bedded doghouse for a snuggle with our collie, carrying cats and rabbits into my playhouse, romping through the pastures, filling the water trough, sidestepping the manure, mucking stalls, or feeling the delicious tickle of a horse’s lips taking treats from my palm.

I was privileged to grow up surrounded by animals, to learn the traits of various species, the personalities of individuals, the many ways in which animals think, feel, and express – and the ways that animals we domesticate depend upon us for their sustenance: physical, psychological, and emotional. I wish that every child could have that privilege, and that every adult who’s missed it could make up for it now. So I have a vacation suggestion: don’t travel away from the animals, as I did: travel to them!

On the southern border of Utah, just above the Arizona line, cerulean skywhere rust red cliffs glimmer against the cerulean sky, and long stretches of open space call to mind settlers and cowboys, their horses kicking up adobe dust, sits an expansive parcel of paradise on earth. Nestled in Angel Canyon is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where abused, abandoned and neglected animals who have nowhere else to go find refuge and a level of compassionate care that leaves me searching for properly descriptive words. Best Friends Animal Society“Dedicated” is too shallow. “Heartwarming” is too trite. “Breathtaking” is barely hyperbole. Animals that would be considered hopeless elsewhere – injured, crippled, chronically diseased – and likely destined for euthanasia are instead rehabilitated to their greatest potential and given lifelong care. Or, better yet and in every instance possible, adopted out to forever homes.

Sanctuary sign copyBegun by a group of buddies back in the 1980’s, the 3,700 acre sanctuary’s name is a propos for both the founders and the beneficiaries of Best Friends Animal Society. It started with a few homeless dogs and cats and now, enlarged by another 17,000 acres of leased land, it includes horses, mules, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, rabbits, birds, and even injured and orphaned wildlife in need of care so that they can once again roam or fly free. These days, the average animal population is around 1,700 – and you are welcome to visit them, volunteer to work with them, maybe even take one (or two?) home. (Note: you do not have Panthegoatto personally visit the Best Friends sanctuary in order to adopt one of the animals in their care.)

Free tours are offered every day at the sanctuary, and volunteers are asked to sign up ahead of time. Care is taken to match volunteers with appropriate animals according to their interests, ages, and physical abilities. If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do! If you’ve never been truly “in touch” with animals, this can be a life-changing experience. And if you already know and care for animals, you’ll likely find new experiences. Cat on leash copyIt was at Best Friends that I first walked a cat on a leash, fed a potbellied pig, and spent an entire afternoon scooping rabbit poop! You can do something as down, dirty and necessary as picking up poop, as soothing as sitting with a cat in your lap, giving him or her personal attention and petting, or as adventurous as taking a companion animal on an excursion off premises.

cottage view copyStaying on the sanctuary grounds enhances the experience. There are a limited number of cabins and cottages available to visitors. They are comfortable, and the scenery is awesome: the red rock mountains as background to horses playing in the pasture, the sun setting over another day of kindness. sleepoverYou can even enjoy a sleepover with an animal and offer your impressions of his or her personality and temperament to Best Friends staff. That helps when making adoptive matches. When I was there, a potbellied pig ambassador was eligible for sleepovers and was quite the coveted guest! If you’re staying in an RV or other accommodation, no problem. You’re welcome to share your space and affections with eligible candidates there, as well.

I was so besotted with the sanctuary that I passed on the sightseeing during my visit, but you can make this as much of a varied vacation as you want. The nearest town is Kanab, five miles away. Several lodgings – hotels, motels, private residences – are available and many offer pet friendly space with a Best Friends discount. You can visit numerous state and national parks and wilderness areas; go golfing, biking, swimming, kayaking, ATVing; explore the “Old West” areas where movies and TV shows were filmed; enjoy art galleries; attend the local theater…

But first and foremost, I hope you’ll experience the animals and soak up the elevated air of compassion and dignity for all who exist here. Introducing a child to this marvelous assortment of sentient creatures and the humans who care for them may inform that child’s sensibilities for a lifetime. Getting hands on with the animals as an adult could alter your own view – and even expand your household, should you decide to take a new best friend home.adoptionpromo

With wishes that you’ll get to be a part of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary someday – and for safe, happy summer travels,

Cathy

 

 

Just a Whisker Away

Can you feel it, just a whisker away?

The promise of breezes lifting the curtains, naps in the afternoon sun, playtimes spent wrestling, climbing a tree, batting a ball around? Ah, summer. kitty hammockMemorial weekend approaches, the unofficial start of the exalted season – and of another, less well known. It’s the height of kitten season. Thousands of kittens born and nurtured in the spring are now mature enough to find homes.

Can you imagine it? Kittens inhaling the fresh air through the window, nestling in the sun’s rays, playing with the zest of a youngster discovering new games each day? Might your home have room for more love and an extra dash of joy? As the French writer Jean Cocteau said, “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul.” If you’ve never lived with a cat or kitten, this may mystify you. Many people still think of cats as elusive, independent creatures who turn up their noses at even their closest humans except for when it suits them – like meal time. But as Cocteau knew, cats can gladly offer their lively spirits and ready adopt-a-shelter-cat-monthaffection if we are open to them – and little by little, we come to realize that home is where the cat is. But far too many cats are left wondering where the home is.

An estimated four million cats wind up in shelters across our country each year. They extend their paws through their cages at the workers and visitors passing by: notice me! Notice me! They rub against the wires and purr: pet me! Pet me! They live as fully as possible within their confines: Catincage1play with the toys, lap up the food and water, use the litter box, snuggle with their cage mates. I hope they don’t know what lies around the corner or down the hall if they cannot entice an adopter: the euthanasia room. 70 percent of shelter cats are carried there.

So June is Adopt a Cat Month, also known as Adopt a Shelter Cat month, because this is when shelters are most crowded with kittens and when you catincagehandsbwhave a marvelous opportunity to add to your family and save a life or more. I always recommend at least two cats, for multiple reasons. They will be happier when no humans are at home, because they have each other. You will be more entertained, watching the cats play together. And you’ll get more attention!

The extra care and expense of an additional cat are minimal. Although this is considered sacrilege in some corners, I find that one litter box can do nicely, if it’s cleaned often. (My three cats have a choice of two litter boxes, one indoors and one on the catio. They steadfastly ignore the catio box and happily share the indoor one.) More food is required, but cats are not gargantuan consumers. You’ll also need to provide entertainment, which doesn’t have to mean Fred in a boxexpensive toys. Cats are happy to chase the proverbial yarn, and they love boxes, tissue and wrapping paper, and any number of natural playthings already in your home. Among those playthings should be surfaces they are allowed to scratch: wood, carpet, cardboard. These can all be purchased or you can make your own cat scratchers cheaply and easily. And you’ll want to write an annual veterinary visit into your budget – but that comes later. Shelter animals are spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and often microchipped before they are released. At most shelters, adoption fees are kept as minimal as possible.

And it’s not just kittens who are on borrowed time at shelters, waiting for homes. There are cats of all ages available, from high-energy adolescents to stately elders looking for a warm hearth and snuggly lap. Not sure who is right for you? Ask your shelter’s staff. They’ll help you find the match to suit your time, temperament, and environment.

May 22 Blog Pic Cathy copy2So go ahead: spice up your summer if you can. Adopt a Cat. Then, when the too-brief season slips away and the chill creeps in, you’ll have your friends to keep you warm.

 

 

 

“Be the Way Home”

It’s a simple sentence, an imperative – and in the not-so-simple county of Hillsborough, Florida, it’s now the officially sanctioned plea to citizens: be the way home for shelter animals.

In a nation that is increasingly concerned about its abandoned companion animals, where the terms babyboy“no kill” and “save 90” have become part of the animal welfare lexicon, Hillsborough lags in finding homes for the creatures who wind up at its county shelter. Fewer than 37 percent make it out alive. Dogs are the most fortunate: 56.6% had a “live outcome” in fiscal year 2012, while only 18.9% of cats did. And yet when Be the Way Home was introduced as an effort to up the percentages, a virtual catfight ensued. Why? The old tired topic of TNR.

I use the phrase “old tired topic” advisedly – and personally. I’m tired of arguing about and having to cathytnr advocate for Trap Neuter Return. As a longtime practitioner of TNR, I’ve watched it work, believe that it’s the best practice for free-roaming community cats and the humans with whom they co-exist, and just want the freedom for all TNR’ers to get on with the business of doing it. This freedom exists in hundreds of communities across America, where leadership recognizes that TNR is the most effective, economic, and humane way of controlling and managing free-roaming cat populations. But in too many other communities, hard-working big-hearted caregivers to community cats are driven underground by ordinances against and opposition to their efforts. One common ordinance bans the outdoor feeding of “public nuisance” animals. Opposition says the cats are not indigenous species, claims they are too great a danger to other wildlife through their hunting behaviors, and a threat to humans primarily through carrying disease.

Hence when the director of Hillsborough County Animal Services included a pilot program to trap, neuter and release up to 2,000 community cats per year in his overall Be the Way Home plan to increase live outcomes, the claws came out. A small clutch of veterinarians were the most vociferous opponents of releasing healthy, neutered, microchipped and vaccinated cats back into the community (but away from “sensitive areas” such as parks, playgrounds, schools and conservation lands), seconded by wildlife proponents. The vets invoked the welfare of children to try and whip up Catcornerfear of crazed cats pursuing the populace, while the wildlife advocates focused on allegedly besieged birds. Pro-TNR groups including Animal Coalition of Tampa, Cat Crusaders and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay rallied the local troops on behalf of their successful Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return endeavors and to point out that available science does not support the anti-TNR allegations. National groups like the Humane Society of the United States, Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Animal Society stood with us.

As I commented during the discussion, community cat advocates are not the natural enemies of catsroosterswildlife conservationists. Most of us are in favor of all animals being allowed to experience their full, natural lives within an ecosystem that does include predatory behavior – including by birds that eat small mammals (such as cats) and even other birds. We argue that the evidence does not support claims that cats are the wildly prolific killers that TNR opponents make them out to be. We know from experience that TNR with feeding reduces feline hunting behavior. I will concede here however, that – as with almost any issue – you can bandy both the empirical and anecdotal evidence about like balls of yarn. The most beautifully simplistic, indisputable statement made in the entire exercise is this: the cats are already here. Are any of these dire scenarios (diseased cats on the rampage, birds falling by the flock) occurring now? Fortunately for the animals of Hillsborough County, the answer (no) and common sense prevailed as commissioners overwhelmingly approved Be the Way Home – a comprehensive plan of which TNR is just one component. Now comes the implementation on behalf of all affected animals. And as in any locale, Animal Services can’t do it alone.

No matter where you live, you can help the animals in a myriad of ways:

–volunteer with a shelter or rescue group
–donate funds, food, or equipment needed
–offer your expertise in communications, marketing or technology to help educate
–adopt or foster animals waiting for homes
–be a responsible pet owner; spay, neuter and promote it to others
–practice TNR and caregiving to community cats
–participate in pet expos and adopt-a-thons
–lobby your lawmakers to support animal welfare legislation
–write letters, send e-mails, post on social media on behalf of animals.

Saving the animals starts with us, the grass roots citizens. It is not the job of governments alone. Reputable shelter and rescue groups are limited by the time, space, and money they have to work with. There’s an ever-growing public aversion to massive euthanasia rates and an expanding energy around education and adoption, along with an increasing willingness to help.

Be the Way Home. It’s a simple sentence – an imperative. It deserves the upper case letters. Let’s bethewayhomefamilyhope it’s the start of a beautiful story in Hillsborough County, Florida – and an inspiration to compassionate, conscientious communities everywhere.

To read the “Be the Way Home” plan click on the image.

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.