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.