Tag Archives: Animal Behaviorist

Walking with Benny

Benny Salad Hou­dini has earned a new title:  Ambas­sador for Res­cue Dogs.

This is an unan­tic­i­pated con­se­quence of his “house” train­ing, which really means going out of Opening shot copythe house – a lot.  Small puppy blad­ders and imma­ture mus­cle con­trol mean small inter­vals between walks.  And for us, walk­ing means meet­ing lots of peo­ple.  We live in a lovely water­front city in sunny Florida where the side­walks tend to be busy with friendly folks feel­ing good about both the weather and the sur­round­ing beauty.  I hear an astound­ing num­ber of admir­ing “oohs” and “aahs” – most of them directed not at the scenery but at Benny.

I knew that Benny was cute when we adopted him,greenbag

but I never imag­ined that his but­ton face and fuzzy blonde body would actu­ally exert some kind of uncanny grav­i­ta­tional pull over gush­ing humans. baseballcap

Knees drop to the pave­ment and hands drift down­ward through the air as Benny approaches;Redjacket

peo­ple want to touch him as though he’s some sort of tal­is­man for hap­pi­ness — which he is, of course!blonde

But all this exu­ber­ant ado­ra­tion has its chal­lenges.  We’re try­ing to train Benny to sit to be pet­ted,  not to chew fin­gers or jump on peo­ple or deliver wet slurpy kisses with­out an explicit invi­ta­tionStroller– but these sud­denly lovesick humans don’t seem to mind if he breaks all the rules and climbs all over them in a wig­gling, wag­ging, lick­ing parox­ysm of pup­py­ness.  ChewToyI am con­stantly redi­rect­ing, refo­cus­ing, try­ing to train well-meaning humans as well as one extremely per­son­able puppy.

The open-armed ado­ra­tion also opened the door for Benny’s ambas­sador­ship, a role I had not antic­i­pated for him.  As admir­ers pet and coo, they almost unfail­ingly ask, “What kind of dog is he?”  I almost unfail­ingly answer, “He’s a res­cue puppy – a Shih Tzu.” Adorable Benny This is greeted with amaze­ment by an aston­ish­ing major­ity of peo­ple, who can’t con­ceive of such a dog being found any­where but at a breeder’s.  That allows us (okay, allows me; Benny’s oth­er­wise engaged) to explain that you can find almost any breed of dog you want through a res­cue group or shel­ter, where an esti­mated 25% of all dogs are pure­breds.  I explain that you can put your name on wait­ing lists at many shel­ters and get a call when the breed you are look­ing for comes in, or apply for adop­tion through res­cue groups around the coun­try, or start your search on a site like petfinder.com.  I recently read a story about a breeder who referred a cou­ple to a res­cue group when he couldn’t imme­di­ately meet their request for his brand of puppy – now that is progress!

with other dogs1But back to Ambas­sador Benny.  His work inspires and delights me.  He moti­vates peo­ple almost daily to say that they are going to start a search for their own res­cue dog. He edu­cates peo­ple who will almost cer­tainly pass on what they’ve learned. He has taught me the power of pup­py­hood to change the world one dog at a time.  I’m imag­in­ing a move­ment where vol­un­teers walk adopt­able pup­pies and adorable dogs  through city streets and spread the word, just as we are doing.

walked out and conked outAs I write this, Benny is lying walked out and conked out under my desk.  An excited lit­tle “yip” escapes his mouth every once in a while.  I don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing in his sleepy puppy brain, but I am dream­ing big dreams for him and all his kin­dred, dreams of a day where every dog finds a home — and we actu­ally need breed­ers because there are no more dogs in shel­ters hop­ing to make it out alive.

Thank you, Ambas­sador Benny Salad Hou­dini, for help­ing to draw that day closer, one step at a time. ambassador

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.