Tag Archives: Animal Rescue

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

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.

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

 

 

My Wedding Anniversary…

Warn­ing:

If you are uncom­fort­able learn­ing inti­mate details of a rela­tion­ship, do not read on. If, how­ever, you accept voyeurism as an inalien­able Amer­i­can enjoy­ment, then please: step into my bedroom.

The day begins like nearly every other. Whether our alarm sounds at 5:00 or we sleep in until the sun beck­ons brightly through the win­dow, time for togeth­er­ness is always part of the morn­ing. My hus­band gets up, show­ers, and returns to the bed­room, where the object of his affec­tion lies drift­ing in and out of a lux­u­ri­ous doze, dream­ing in antic­i­pa­tion. As he approaches the bed, smelling of freshly soaped skin, herbal sham­poo, minty tooth­paste, coconut sun­screen — a deli­cious morn­ing mélange — doz­ing morphs into con­scious­ness and a long, lux­u­ri­ous stretch upon the com­forter, still redo­lent with sleep. Antic­i­pa­tion mounts to expec­ta­tion. Expec­ta­tion, built upon the mem­o­ries of so many morn­ings prior to this one, induces an invol­un­tary quiv­er­ing, as though the skin is ris­ing up of its own accord to meet the hands about to descend upon it. And then the caresses begin.

My husband’s pow­er­ful fin­gers set­tle into the back of the head, gen­tly teas­ing the brain into total wake­ful­ness. They travel down the spine, dig­ging deli­ciously into either side of the back until they reach that region that moti­vates the body, mind­lessly giv­ing itself up to sen­sa­tion, to turn over and invite more caresses, offer­ing up its most vul­ner­a­ble areas in com­plete trust, with­out reservation…

It is, I admit, an envi­able way to wel­come the day. I am, I admit, occa­sion­ally envi­ous. Because I am talk­ing, of course, about the dog. Anniver­sary, birth­day, hol­i­day, every day: Wee Willie Winky gets a morn­ing mas­sage before his walk in the park.

It took me years to soften my spouse to the point where he would accept a dog in our house­hold, already pop­u­lated with cats. When I sus­pected that the time was just about right, I called friends at our local shel­ters to let them know what I was look­ing for: a small dog who could travel, wasn’t inclined to be yappy and wouldn’t shed too, too much. The very next day, the call came: an alleged puppy mill run­ner from Alabama had been busted sell­ing six week old dogs out of the back of his pickup truck in the unfor­giv­ing Florida sun. I took this pre­cious, tired Shih Tzu home, cud­dled on my lap.Willie croppeda I walked into my husband’s office and said, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” The puppy fit entirely into his palms. Tom looked into his gen­tly Willie 3picblink­ing eyes and instantly named him. That first night, Willie slept for a dozen unin­ter­rupted hours, on his back in his brand new puppy bed with his legs straight up in the air, exhausted.

The love affair between spouse and Shih Tzu took some time to develop. Tom hadn’t lived with a dog before and he was some­what slow to suc­cumb to Willie’s con­sid­er­able charms. But once he opened him­self to the expe­ri­ence and began bond­ing with play time,bathtime snug­gle time, bath time, there was no deny­ing it: my place as most loved mem­ber of his fam­ily was being chal­lenged. And with valid his­tor­i­cal and sci­en­tific reason.

Wolves, from whom dogs descended, are believed to have first turned to humans for food and shel­ter, while humans wel­comed the wolves’ pro­tec­tion, hunt­ing prowess, and even­tu­ally, their warmth, affec­tion, and empa­thy. 24rDogs can “read” their humans in extra­or­di­nary ways: a sim­ple move­ment of the body or even the eyes can speak vol­umes to your canine com­pan­ion about your inten­tions. Your dog very likely can under­stand and even share your emo­tions. Dogs and humans have the same brain struc­ture, includ­ing the amyg­dala, which is linked to emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal states. Dogs and humans also share many of the same hor­mones. Fur­ther­more, a recent study sug­gests that sev­eral sets of genes in humans and dogs evolved along the same time­line, likely as a result of liv­ing together.

There are rea­sons other than sci­en­tific for the pro­found love between man and dog too, of course. I, along with most humans, absolutely refuse to run to the door every time my hus­band comes home (whether he’s been gone five days or five min­utes), wig­gling my fanny like a feather in the wind. I decline to lie on the floor at his feet, gaz­ing up at his face with naked love in my eyes. I will not pant in antic­i­pa­tion of a leisurely walk in the evening.

But I will — and do — work on man­ag­ing my envy. After all, I “gave” Willie as a gift and thus am happy to accept the shar­ing of affec­tions. Besides: I am madly in love with Willie too. Happy anniver­sary, sweetie.

11monthswide

Note: actual spousal inter­ac­tions on our anniver­sary have been omit­ted in def­er­ence to tra­di­tional deco­rum – and so that my mother does not expire pre­ma­turely from mortification.

 

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.

KINDNESS WEARS MANY FACES

The stu­dents hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy.  “Did they catch the man who wanted to poi­son all the cats?”  “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”

Their ques­tions spring from con­cern over events in the novel that Lucy Mir­a­cle – the cat – nar­rates.  Cathy Unruh at Academy Prep Center TampaThe events are fic­tional, but these stu­dents have rea­son to believe.  They are liv­ing an extra­or­di­nary story them­selves. They are from low-income, fre­quently frac­tured fam­i­lies in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma.  They qual­ify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.

But these stu­dents’ bod­ies, minds and souls are being fed through the kind­ness of peo­ple many of them will never meet.  They attend Acad­emy Prep Cen­ter of Tampa, on schol­ar­ships fully funded by dona­tions at no cost to the kids or their fam­i­lies. In an area of the city where sim­ple atten­dance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone grad­u­a­tion, these mid­dle school stu­dents are at the Acad­emy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to pres­ti­gious high schools and col­leges, men­tored all along the way.  They have no trou­ble relat­ing to Lucy’s mir­a­cle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:

Cathy Unruh Lucy Miracle Academy Prep Center Tampa“Hur­ray!  I’m saved by an angel from above.  My crys­talled eyes shine with joy­ful tears.  I’m glad to know I can trust some­one I love.  I felt like life was worth los­ing, but now, it’s reversed.  Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”

“Curi­ous About Every­thing
Agree­ing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”

“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”

Earthly angels may not be too far­fetched a term for some other peo­ple who think cats rock – and IMG_5295prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their week­ends, time with fam­ily and friends to advo­cate for spay­ing and neu­ter­ing pets, trap­ping and neu­ter­ing free-roaming cats, and adopt­ing out every­one they can.Colony Cats and Dogs Ohio

Colony Cats (& dogs) of Colum­bus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adop­tion cen­ter where the occa­sional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, hand­some deaf one who was there the day I vis­ited.  I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in.  It’s an all-volunteer orga­ni­za­tion, 150 peo­ple strong.  Some come by reg­u­larly to scoop lit­ter boxes and clean. Some spend time giv­ing the cats atten­tion and affec­tion.  Some facil­i­tate the adop­tions.  Some fos­ter ani­mals wait­ing for homes.  Some staff the bou­tique at which sales of upscale sec­ond­hand goods help keep the money com­ing in.  Some orga­nize and run the events that do the same.

As for the cats them­selves – aban­doned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housedIMG_5290 together at the adop­tion cen­ter – they share food, bowls, lit­ter boxes and sleep­ing spaces ungrudg­ingly. They offer affec­tion to each other and to vis­it­ing humans.

Kind­ness wears many faces:  the aban­doned ani­mal still will­ing to trust and love; the vol­un­teer will­ing to get dirty and tired to bet­ter Academy Prep Center Tampa Lucy Miracle Cathy Unruhthe lives of other species; the bene­fac­tors will­ing to fund edu­ca­tions of kids who oth­er­wise might not be in school; the stu­dents who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s will­ing to indulge their atten­tions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.

Colony Cats and Dogs volunteer

 

Extend­ing our­selves in kind­ness can be uncom­fort­able – but if we’re will­ing to make the reach, we can also dis­cover that it feels pretty darn cozy.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

ANIMALS, EMOTIONS, AND THE FISHBOWL

Do ani­mals have emotions?

I’d like to say that is purely a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion, because is the answer not as clear as the snouts on their faces — or am I miss­ing a third eye­lid wink (wink, wink)?

Appar­ently Mr. Peter Ogburn of Media Bistro’s Fish­bowlDC thinks I am miss­ing more than that – a brain, per­haps. In a piece called Dum­b­ass Pitches (yep, that’s really the link), Ogburn basi­cally asserts that I must be a mis­guided moron — or per­haps “some sad per­son who calls their 27 cats their ‘ani­mal chil­dren’ and would breast feed their kit­tens if they could” — to sug­gest that ani­mals expe­ri­ence emotion.

Now I could pause for a sen­tence here to point out such triv­i­al­i­ties as Mr. Ogburn being mis­taken on where the “beau­ti­fully stu­pid” pitch actu­ally orig­i­nated or some of the points it makes, but let’s get straight to some more of his com­men­tary because it is so deeply con­sid­ered: “Animals…shit when they have to.” “Ani­mals live on base instincts.” “The per­ceived LOVE that they are giv­ing you is a way to tell you that they want something…a leg to hump.”

As I was reflect­ing upon how a per­son who says he has pets could so crassly con­clude that they don’t emote, I help­fully received a piece by Gene Wein­garten which describes Mr. Ogburn’s work­site as: [a] “vicious, sleazy, snide, dis­rep­utable, unscrupu­lous, vac­u­ous, wildly imma­ture, gra­tu­itously cruel, mali­cious and mean-spirited media-gossip web­site that spe­cial­izes in innu­endo, reck­less char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion and uncon­scionable, wan­ton defama­tion.” (Click here to read his full article.)

But hold my horses! Wein­garten goes on to entreat Mr. Ogburn to con­tinue to fea­ture him weekly, as is appar­ently FishbowlDC’s cus­tom, because “I have come to enjoy the abra­sive work…It hurts so good.” If this two-time Pulitzer Prize win­ning jour­nal­ist wants to stay in the Fish­bowl, then please…have me back! Let’s talk animals!

After all, I like to swim with the fishes – that’s me in the scuba suit. The other Bull Run 032 swim­mer is Larry the grouper. When­ever we would descend to his reef in the Bahamas, Larry would fish­tail it over to us to engage in long soul­ful eye­locks, slurp at our reg­u­la­tors and get pet­ted. He would roll from side to side and front to back to make sure we scratched every acces­si­ble scale. Now Mr. Ogburn, I can’t tell you exactly what Larry’s emo­tions were when he saw our air bub­bles head­ing his way, but I imag­ine they were some­thing like, “Hot dig­gity divers! This is gonna feel good!”Bull Run 035

And yes, “Larry” is my own humanly imposed nomen­cla­ture for our grouper groupie. Call that crazy cat/fish/animal lady stuff if you’d like. I don’t mind. And finally, Mr. Fish­bowlDC, if I ever start breast feed­ing kit­tens, I’ll be sure to let you know. That would make a great column.

But excuse me right now, I have to go. Lucy Mir­a­cle is meow­ing against my ankles, which means she’s feel­ing affec­tion­ate and wants a lit­tle together time. I like to respond when the moment is right.

–Read­ers, please tell us what you think. Do ani­mals have emo­tions — or not?