Sunday, June 28, 2009


FURbelow -- or FURbehind me? Which is to say, hasn't anyone ever thought of what to do with cat fluff brushed out (or deposited on rugs and furniture) in summertime? I'm sure thinking about it! Harry, our long-haired orange tabby, is most generous with fur and fluff, even though, weirdly to me, he usually doesn't like to be brushed or combed.

Here's still another new-business suggestion for some entrepreneur: Why not pillows filled with soft cat-hair? Sure, it would probably have to be cleaned in some way before becoming stuffing, but . . . that way, it could stay in the family! Much as I love ridding Harry of what I think must itch him and feel hot and heavy, I also hate to just throw out what I then remove from brushes and combs -- and rugs and ottomans and chairs!

Alpaca fur is touted as soft and warm. Isn't cat hair the same?

Which brings us to Billy, our shorthaired black and white baby. Though he too sheds in spring-summer, and I brush/comb him too, his hair isn't at all as soft as Harry's. Maybe it could be processed somehow. Or maybe only longhairs' hair should be considered for pillows. Who knows?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Baby Bunnies

For the last few days, I haven’t been able to lose this image: a tiny baby bunny – looking smaller than my fist in length – was running along the curving curb (in the road!) as we drove down an entrance to Rt. 295. Clearly, this baby had either fallen off the curb or been curious enough to jump down. Then, s/he probably couldn’t get back up onto the curb, then the grass and then (I hope) mama bunny somewhere nearby in the underbrush.

We quickly drove to the nearest exit, took it up to Rt. 206 again, then back down that curve to 295. All the while, I was planning how to stop the car, put the blinkers on and grab the baby (ha! as if s/he would have allowed me near), walk a few feet with her to safety and put her down.

Well, it never happened. As we drove down the ramp the second time, there was no bunny of any size, alive or dead, in sight. We decided to be glad, and probably should have been, because a potentially hazardous driving situation had been avoided. We could only hope the bunny had somehow leaped up onto the curb again and been seized by mom.

Earlier today we rode our bicycles out of Village Park on the Lawrence-Hopewell trail and turned right in our great circle route. Suddenly, a baby bunny sped out of the roadside undergrowth, jumping deeper into taller bushes farther in. Safe – for sure!

Though this second bunny was a trace bigger than the first, I’d like to think its successful evasion of our bikes was a symbol of the first bunny’s safe escape from the roadway. I’ll never know, but I’m hoping.

The joke about multiplying like rabbits (life is cheap?) and the idea of survival of the fittest come to nothing when a baby bunny’s life is threatened.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Puzzling poem

“The Animals,” a poem by Geoffrey Lehmann, appeared in the June 1 ’09 New Yorker. In free verse, its message is not always, or consistently, clear. In its five “stanzas,” it talks about how we and animals were once the same – “Without understanding we watched the sunrise/ and the coming of night,/ registered the changing of seasons/ and dew on leaves that brushed our flanks.”

The poem includes descriptions of pairs – humans and non-human animals – now living together in homes: “. . .a calf asleep on a double bed, perhaps,/ or a hare with long ears/ crouched under a mahogany sideboard, thumping the floor” and “a neighbor sleeps with a wombat in her bed. . .” .

Before the graphic, sad and surprising (or maybe not) ending stanza, this short one:

“We were once them,
and now are their custodians.
They know we are different
and their eyes tell us to keep our promise.”

Does the last stanza, the tragic story of a pony, indicate we kept our promise to them by continuing to share living space with them – or, that in so doing, we harmed them because our living spaces aren’t suitable for them? (In fact, are they truly suitable for us?!)

And then of course, there’s the question of which branch really evolved – humans or (non-human) animals.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Better life, same death

The excerpt quoted below is from a June 21 letter to the (NYT) magazine, in response to an article two weeks before, about a couple who became farmers of organically-raised livestock (that is, organically raised food-to-be). Sheila Seaman, of Leverett, MA, said in part:

“. . . There’s something just plain wrong with killing animals after treating them to a lovely and very short life. Is it better than killing them in horrific slaughter facilities after even shorter, truly miserable lives? Of course it is. But that doesn’t make it right or compassionate or decent.

“Those of us who spend time with chickens and pigs know that each has a personality and a rich emotional life, complete with humor, love, fears and worries. Dealing out death to those who cannot defend themselves, who are young and healthy, and who love life as we all do, can’t be justified by fulfilling the human desire for a tastier bit of dead flesh, which is the solid manifestation of the terror and death pain of those who trusted their caretakers to treat them well.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Entrepreneur alert (2)

And now, a new idea for those looking for a start-up business: an animal ambulance, or more clearly, an ambulance for animals. Why not? Like people, animals have health emergencies too. People can phone 911 for ambulance service, but what about pet parents who can’t drive or don’t have a car at their disposal? Call a friend or a cab? Doubtful.

What’s needed is a 24-hour (or even a night time-only) ambulance service for animals. Some middle-of-the-night, a companion animal will need medical help, but the emergency vet’s a distance away and hard enough to find in the daytime. Besides, the people are so upset for the animal they may not be the best drivers to make the trip. Or they can’t make it -- maybe they’re disabled or have no car.

That’s a job for. . . “Animal Ambulance”! It could be run by a vet or a veterinarian-paramedic (or even a non-medical but responsible person) with a van equipped for the comfort of animals and humans. It could come to the home and at least convey the animal to an emergency facility or at most, offer treatment at home. Return trip arrangements could be included.

Of course there would be a fee, something devoted pet parents would be happy to pay. Pet insurance might eventually cover such a thing. What peace of mind an Animal Ambulance would offer a helpless person who doesn’t want to wait till morning to help a loved animal companion feel better.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Entrepreneur alert (1)

There’s no end to the products and services available for companion animals, especially cats and dogs. The reported $45 billion annually that Americans spend on their pets includes big box stores filled with everything a pet might desire and much more . . . ever-expanding food , toy and dress options . . . country club boarding facilities . . . come-to-your-home groomers in their own fitted-out vans . . . and recently, according to the NYTimes (6-7-09) people who hire on as “dog waste removers,” a.k.a. poop collectors.

These entrepreneurs come relatively cheap – typically scheduling twice-weekly stops and taking the waste with them. They also come w/ catchy names: When Doody Calls, Scoopy Doo, Poop Patrol. People quoted in the story say they’ve given up other things in this rough economy, but not their pet waste removers.

The service is particularly in demand among “super busy, families with children who play in the yard and homeowner associations with common green space or dog runs.” Many of the services claim to be guardians of the environment because they truck off material that “can carry bacteria and parasites that cause disease and contaminate waterways.”

And dogs aren't the only ones picked up after. Some scoopers also handle cat, goose and deer waste. It all goes into plastic (environmentally UNfriendly, right?) or biodegradable bags that then go into the customer’s trash, or to local landfills or incinerators.

Next time: an entrepreneurial idea ready for the taking!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Just a walk-on role

The walker would be Lilly, or Lily – the info on the screen disappeared too fast to note – a smallish white dog, kind of Pomeranian-y. She was escorted quickly by two women from one side of the baseball field around the perimeter to the other side. And then she disappeared.

Such was the dog adoption program at a home game of the Trenton Thunder last night, June 16. Later, I heard about the technical difficulties that had caused things not to run so well. But short of going to another Thunder game, I can’t confirm that. Meanwhile, Lilly or Lily got short shrift.

Homeless dogs: a worthy reason to do something. But was what happened at last night’s game anything much beyond lip service? “The Trenton Thunder has a dog adoption program.” Whoopie. Check off that good-sounding option as something (reportedly) being done here.

At least it wasn’t outright stupid and insulting, as so many other between-inning activities were -- musical chairs? A race between two little kids, the Thunder mascot and “Thunder Bolt” that the latter two worked hard to lose? A contest to see who can get dizzier fastest by revolving around a baseball bat and then trying to run?

Maybe the good side of this dog adoption gambit is that at least people hear or see the words, and the concept sticks with them. Maybe.

So Lilly-Lily had an outing: a drive to the stadium, the excitement on the baseball field, then a drive back to the shelter she came from. Bummer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A needy family

Sometimes generalizations become vividly clear and easy to understand. This month, according to PETA, is adopt-a-cat month. The most casual reader among us knows that shelters are filled with cats and in some areas, feral cats can be targets for elimination, rather than TNR (trap, neuter, release).

OK: a zillion cats need care and homes. Knowing such things, some of us probably look at our own companion cats, know we’re doing our best and conclude, “I can’t do anything more.”

But then, we see an unexpected sight that tears at our hearts. A garden tour in Trenton’s Mill Hill section yesterday provided that sight. And it sticks in the mind.

Rounding a corner while looking for the next sign signaling a back yard ready for visitors, we saw a shuttered house with furniture and junk filling the yard. Standing (briefly!) on top of a high point was a fuzzy little gray kitten: bright eyes, ears perked. Then s/he was gone.

Seconds later, two gray kittens appeared in a different spot of the littered yard. Then, along the inside rail of the fence walked a black, long-haired and green-eyed cat – maybe “mom.” And who knew how many other feline family members watched from under cover.

The sight of cats without a home – and maybe food too – stopped me in my tracks. I understood. I felt the urgency. Then, regretfully, I realized there was nothing I could do.

Sure, maybe I could figure out a person or an agency to contact, but I’m betting (1) these cats have been reported already and/or (2) they’re un-catchable, un-trappable. If in fact that was the mother, obviously she hasn’t been spayed, and before long any kits will prove they weren’t neutered either.

What to do? Except keep thinking about that family, and feeling lousy at being unable to help.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Driving back from Princeton at twilight, in gentle rain, I passed a big “critter” (groundhog or opossum?) between the sidewalk and the curb along the park. He (I’m sure it was a boy) was gobbling the moist spring grass, which must be the very best ever. I wished him well – may he make it through the dry summer season, may he not get caught by a dog and may he not lose more habitat, now that the big house has gone up next to the park and some of the adjacent woodland has been leveled.

Next came a number of robins, on the other side of the road, no doubt flushing worms from the porous ground. This has been a big robin year – lots of them, and early. They never seemed to have left town last fall; I saw them in December and January. Has the climate changed enough for them not to leave?

A terrier-sized dog was running alongside a bike ridden (too fast, I thought) by a man. I told myself they may just have started and/or maybe they’d stop soon for a breath. That terrier looked ready to pause. I’ll hope I misread his appearance and he was lovin’ it.

Then, home, and the two winsome pussycats I hadn’t seen for hours. Even though they’d had dinner halfway through that time, they wanted me to believe they’d been forgotten at the food bowl. Again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trust yourself

“You do not have to be good./You do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert repenting./You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.” --Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

Is it natural and instinctive, then, for humans to love (non-human) animals, even though too often that instinct is smothered? Such a natural love seems reasonable, given humankind’s reputation in some circles for innate goodness. Then again, the second part – about suppressed instincts – also seems true. (Just think about the newspaper stories of people who abuse animals – cock fights to Michael Vick’s dog fights to setting dogs and cats on fire, to drowning kittens. . .)

These first five lines from the poem remind me of a slogan I’ve learned and liked from the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance ( “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” In other words, don’t wait to be perfect or till you can do it all before reaching out; instead, reaching out contributes to whatever perfection humans might be capable of.

Even though Mary Oliver may have been writing about admitting love for other humans, I’d like to think she was trying to summon our better selves, to remind us of our kinship w/ animals and to treat them in the right, humane way. That humans sometimes have dominance over animals is just a quirk of fate and doesn’t ever make us better than them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All in together

“ 'You animal!' she exclaimed angrily.” In that context, “animal” is intended as an insult. But in the bigger picture, is it?

Don’t animals usually do what comes naturally – even if that may include turning us off for one reason or another, or even eating us? But still, what they do is natural.

On the other hand, don’t we spend a lot of time wondering what’s natural for humans to do? Implicitly, we might idealize humans, at least till they explicitly disappoint or hurt us. For good reason, we may regard other humans as abnormal, sub-human, or worse. Which is natural?

And do animals, when angry at one another, snarl, “You human!”

These thoughts were prompted by my musing about the word “animalia,” which I’ve learned is the plural form of the Latin word for animal, “animalis.” Animals are the group of organisms that constitute the Kingdom Animalia. And, colloquially, “animal” is often used to refer to all animals other than humans. . . according to “”

I enjoy thinking about Kingdom Animalia as one “comprising all living and extinct animals,” per another on-line source. So (despite the colloquial exclusion above), we humans are linked to our domestic companion animals (not “pets,” please!) as well as to the elephants and other creatures that fascinate us, and the dodo and passenger pigeon too. One big, sometimes happy, family.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cowardly, at least

It’s easy to agree with a letter writer in today’s Times of Trenton. Reporting that someone had fatally poisoned a feral cat colony located in a Trenton cemetery, he closed with this: “I hope karma exists, because whoever did this deserves to be smacked by fate.”

How restrained the letter writer was! How easy it would be to bitterly rant against the “depraved individual” who fed the cats poisoned food. Cowardly comes to mind. Pathological too. Shall we add “sociopathic”? Where does such a person stop?

Why do humans seem so often to choose violence over reason, research, investigation, negotiation – whatever other ways would be appropriate to deal with a situation? In this case, alert an animal rescue group? look into TNR if “trap, neuter, release” had not already occurred?

But poisoning. That’s just dastardly. Hurry up, karma!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

There are animals and animals

Late last month, the Associated Press reported “Pets raised Russian girl, police say.” Found in a filthy apartment, imitating the cats and dogs she was shut up with, the little girl “barks like a dog, laps food directly off the plate and seems to have been raised by the animals.”

Of course, “raised” means different things to different “animals.” The human animals – “her father and other relatives” – who left this child in such squalor are most culpable for what has happened to her. But if they were going to abandon her, they might have done much worse to leave her w/ some humans (images of child slavery, prostitution and death…).

The “pets” she was found with did not molest her, physically or mentally. The worst they did, apparently, was what she had to do too: they all relieved themselves as necessary, creating the “unsanitary conditions” and “horrible stench” reported. Such conditions are easily remedied.

But what if the girl had been consigned to humans who believed “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid/of people whose eyes are oddly made/and people whose skin is a different shade/you’ve got to be carefully taught,” as the lyric from South Pacific has it. Then this girl would really have been warped!

As it is, she may be young enough to lose her “feral characteristics” and be taught human behavior – with luck, the best kind! May she grow up to become a (human) friend to all other (non-human) animals.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mothers of them all

Although I finished watching the 6-part series on"Naturer's most amazing events" last night, I kept thinking about it -- what repeated (besides those awful commercials) and what impressed me. One overriding impression is that in nature, mothers prevail.

All sorts of animal mothers were shown protecting, teaching, feeding, leading, birthing, mourning, starving so their offspring could eat. Fathers were generally out of the picture. In the last 2 programs of 6, the only males I remember being described as such were the bull elephants that turned up just in time to stir up the bottom of a dirty pond the females and babies were carefully drinking from.

For so many of the animals shown, life seemed like nothing more than cycles of starve, fight, search for food and water and finally, die -- with lots of random bad luck thrown in. Some may think this pattern applies to humans too (as in Lynn T's old saying, "Life's unfair and then you die."), but I would disagree.

Even though the same pre-death events happen to all of us, to some degree, we also have music, poetry, memories, hope, consciousness of beauty, etc. Unlike those of the animals in the series, our lives are not solely "Nature red in tooth and claw." We have reasons to live besides eating, making it to the next water hole, laying our eggs . . .