Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The positive side

Sometimes, all the news about animals seems to be sad, negative. Obviously, that’s not correct, or complete. Two pieces of writing earlier this month were needed reminders that positive things are also happening, and should be reported.

Setting the scene, a Nicholas Kristof column in the NYTimes discussed the overload that results from reports of bad news seemingly everywhere, without the balance of good news too. Here’s an excerpt from what he wrote:

I also wonder if our unremitting focus on suffering and unmet needs stirs up a cloud of negative feelings that incline people to avert their eyes and hurry by. Maybe we should emphasize the many . . . successes, . . . .

Then, Tricia Fagan* provided a concrete example of something right happening in the animal world. Her story follows.

To insert a bit of positive balance in the regional tales of our fellow creatures, I did want to share this recent photo of one of "our" turkeys here at the tree nursery in West Windsor with you. The wild turkeys, along with the red fox, have been making a spectacular comeback in this area over the past 3-4 years.

As I type, at least four fuzzy turkey babies are sliding in the dust depressions out back, happy as children in a swimming pool. I'll never forget the afternoon some 4-5 years ago when I was driving down Rt. 29 toward Trenton, and glanced over to see this large, odd bird just trucking along the canal. "Damn!" I say to myself, "that really looks like a turkey!!!" A few months later I discovered, to my amazement, that it was! I take as much joy in our little turkey flock as they seem to take in the sunflower seeds in adjoining yards!

* Artist, writer and gallery director at Mercer County Community College, Fagan blogs at She took the photo at the beginning of this post.

Monday, July 27, 2009

2 good shelter stories

A couple last thoughts about animal shelters . . . for now, anyway.

First is an update on the “McDonald’s boxer” that Valerie Noble and I tried to save on July 15. Soon after she reached the Trenton Animal Shelter, the word was she’d go to a boxer rescue group. But then it got even better: when Valerie phoned to learn whether that had happened, she was told the boxer had been adopted! A woman who came in to register saw the dog and that was it. “Our” boxer left with a new collar, going to a new home.

Next is an excerpt from a haunting-but-(ultimately) happy book that Bobbie, the great children’s librarian at Labyrinth, introduced me to:

“. . . Most Friday afternoons on his way home from school, in that time before the weekend when lonely people realize just how lonely they are, George visited the dog shelter. And he always seemed to end up by the last cage in the last aisle . . . where the dogs no one wanted went for a final week before their journey to heaven. George felt at home there. In the dark gloom, he found a place where everything seemed lonelier than he was. . . .”

George finds a dog in that last cage, the two immediately relate, and . . . ! Plus, a kindly shelter manager plays a part in the story.

The book, which Bobbie and I agreed has a horrible title, is The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness. It was written and illustrated (beautifully) by a Brit, Colin Thompson, who is reportedly color blind. (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc., La Jolla, CA, c. 2008)

A lovely gift for a child, the book suggests there are friends out there in the world and people and animals need one another.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A "clarification"

With luck and care, corrections and re-statements won’t become regular things here. Now, however, a quick “clarification" is called for. The end of the “3 amigos” post raised the issue of women prevailing as animal advocates, implicitly asking “where are the men?” Well, some men are there – heading up both the ASPCA ( and the Humane Society of the US ( So here’s credit where credit is due – even though the overall breakdown of women to men in this field remains to be seen.

But . . . Both reading and events since that earlier post have raised questions about the position of both those organizations on the issue of no-kill shelters. (Note: that term, and so many others tossed around in discussions of animals, needs definition. Animal advocates must often disagree among themselves because they haven’t defined what they mean by “no-kill” -- and innumerable other words.)

It’s worth an hour’s browsing on both websites above to get an idea of what both organizations are about, how they tell their own stories and how persuasive each one is.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A graphic reminder

Just a few words about an effective appeal for animals. It’s by and for the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and, as it's intended to do, it probably melts hearts and creates donors.

The image is black and white on an orange ground. In the middle of the square format there’s a circle outlined in black. Inside it, a long-haired “Annie” kind of dog. Barely coming up to his jaw is a cat, looking up, and like the dog, holding something in her mouth.

At first it looks like a frisbee, but then it becomes clear (thanks to the line of type below the circle, reading, “We are their voice”): each animal holds a “talk bubble” – a circle or oval with a pointy part. In cartoon strips, characters’ words would appear in those rounded shapes.

But this image shows, graphically, that we must do the talking for them. And for “talking,” read “speaking up,” “protecting,” “helping,” “taking care of,” “supporting.”

It’s true, and sometimes sadly so: We are their voice.

3 amigos -- of animals

A press release from Houston, TX, describes a “woman with a gigantic heart,” . . . who has “devoted her life to helping starved {sic] and mistreated animals get the care the need and the love they deserve.” This woman, Alison Sawyer Current, together w/ a team of volunteers, has reportedly saved numerous dogs and cats from a horrible death on the street, by providing animal population control through ongoing spay/neuter programs, education, vaccination and adoption.

Proceeds from Current’s novel, No Urn for the Ashes (Bayfire Press Publishing), will further the care of her “beloved extended feline and canine family.” Her website is

It seems that there are Alison Sawyer Currents everywhere. One in this area is Joyce Arciniaco, who sounds as if she personally underwrites much of the TNR (trap, neuter, release) activity in Mercer County, NJ, and beyond. She spoke eloquently at the Ewing council meeting last week about how other efforts to deal with animal overpopulation are ineffective or worse, and that TNR is the way to go.

A worthy subject for a profile (hopefully, to come!), Arciniaco stresses the need for animal advocates to be part of the solution, which she believes is TNR. She talks persuasively about the world-wide "cat issue" -- overpopulation -- and TNR as the only real way to solve it. Though she understands why some animal activists are into adoption, that's not the solution, she says. First of all, cats' ready reproduction must be curtailed.

Another area woman who operates in the “Current spirit” is Lauren Wospil, who not only works full-time or more at her and her fiance’s ice cream store and is in the throes of planning her mid-September wedding, but also takes in kittens and cats (currently, four kittens) to foster until they can be adopted. They temporarily join a household that already includes two cats.

All three women: operating so far above and beyond. And only now does this question occur: why are all the animal activists one might think of -- from PETA's Ingrid Newkirk, to Lauren Wospil -- women? Is this a pink-collar calling? There’s a subject for another post.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Animal shelters: all different

Not all animal-helping gestures work out, but it’s looking as if the “McDonald’s boxer” mentioned in my last post may soon be on her way to a boxer rescue group from the Trenton Animal Shelter.

Assuming a rescue group looks out for its own, that’s good news, especially if the dog is in fact pretty old and therefore less likely to be adopted. (An awful thing to have to say: that advanced age, in a dog or cat -- or person, I’m afraid -- makes that creature less adoptable – i.e., loveable, desirable, fun to be with . . .)

Valerie Noble, the woman who phoned the shelter for help last Wednesday, and then phoned to check on Friday and again this morning, evidently feels good about the dog’s prospects. And I want to do the same.

This would make the 2nd animal shelter “with heart” that I’ve encountered lately. The first was only in a movie, “Wendy and Lucy,” but of course I lapped that up too. That shelter, somewhere in Oregon, actually notified the girl who had lost her dog when the dog turned up and was placed in foster care.

Both shelters represent a sad contrast to a local shelter that has been in the press lately as shelter volunteers and town politicos battle it out. The for-sure facts seem to be that animals there are terribly mistreated and in this particular town there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy for them. Nor do there seem to be ways of discussing civilly, arguing factually or solving the problems that exist in humane ways. It’s ugly.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Great day for the animals

This was a great “animal day” in at least three ways. And its timing was perfect – after last night’s unhappy council meeting in a neighboring township about the deplorable condition of the animal shelter there.

This morning’s destination was Trenton, where a PETA demonstration was scheduled for lunchtime at the McDonald’s on Cass Street. Driving along Franklin Corner Road toward Rt. 1, I saw a mother duck, leading five ducklings, start across the street a few car lengths ahead of me. I assumed the worst of other drivers and dreaded what I’d see.

I stopped, put on my blinkers and hoped. And lo: cars behind me stopped, as did a few oncoming cars. The family made it to the other side, and one-by-one climbed the curb and headed over lush green grass toward the office buildings there – which I hope also had some kind of pond.

Second good thing: the demonstration at McDonald’s, which went very well. (Go to or see earlier post for details on the issue: chicken.) A surprising number of passersby and customers stopped for a leaflet and a chat with the PETA rep, who also held posters aloft for drivers to see. Meanwhile, the 2nd PETA person, a new intern with the org., stood gamely by in a bright yellow chicken mc nugget costume. She had to be roasting inside it.

Finally, after that, and probably most nip-and-tuck: a dear (stranded? abandoned? lost?) dog got help. After the demo, I was buying a cool drink at McDonald’s when the counter man pointed to a dog outside the nearest door. It was a female (as I found out later) boxer, looking disoriented and very hot. Maybe she wanted to get in for the air conditioner.

Once outside, with a container of ice water for her, I looked in vain till I heard a woman’s voice say, “Stay here, honey.” There in the shade was the dog, with a woman who works nearby and had stopped for a McDonald’s salad – one with chicken, as it happened!

We pooled our water and ice and the dog drank with abandon. Then Valerie, the woman, whose surname I learned is “Noble” (so apropos) got the number and phoned the Trenton Animal Shelter to report the dog, now known to be a female and old-looking (gray around the head) and gentle. Thinking the dog was also hungry, Valerie fed her the chicken from her salad: perfect diagnosis!

To our amazement, the shelter truck came soon, and “Mike,” the driver, nicely approached the dog (no collar; hard to get hold of) and placed her in his truck. We all exchanged names and #s, and if after seven days the dog isn’t claimed, she’ll be put up for adoption. At that point, Valerie will be contacted and happily, she knows of a good animal group in Lambertville, where both her dogs came from.

“What a day this has been.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sites to cite

“When animal experimenters create monkeys with glowing feet (as we recently saw) or whatever the horror of the week is, the story is carried front and center in newspapers and on television. When no new breakthroughs occur - or worse - when people become ill or die from drugs tested on animals, the stories, if carried at all, are usually tucked away in the business section. Placed here, the major aspect of interest becomes the decline of the value of the pharmaceutical company, not of the individuals who have died or of the effect on their families. . . .”

The New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, or NJARA, now offers an anti-vivisection website, The excerpt above comes from the first post there.

This ‘Animal Beat’ post is intended to introduce both ARISE, the program behind that website, as well as its parent organization, NJARA itself. The paragraphs that follow (taken from the ‘askuswhy’ blog) give capsule information about both.

"The ARISE program, created by NJ Animal Rights Alliance, promotes ground breaking and powerful non-animal research that creates better science, is more effective and saves lives.

This message is carried through this continually updated website, our accompanying literature and healthy/compassionate living guides, and our schedule of lectures and tabling events.

Established in 1983, NJ Animal Rights Alliance is a community based, non-profit, educational organization. Through our programs of promoting responsible science, ethical consumerism, and environmentalism, we advocate changes that greatly enhance the quality of life for animals and people, and protect the earth.

To learn more about NJARA, we encourage you to contact us at 732-446-6808 or visit our website for more information. "

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Life" in the museum


In the end, it was
as in the beginning: no one
learned anything. What was alive
was killed and posed,
stuffed, put on display. The remaining live
wandered around amongst the dead,
wondering what they looked like
when they were alive and in the positions
in which they were now posed, which the live
could have witnessed in life
had they not killed
the now

--Barbara Tran
(New Yorker, 8-21-06)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

For the chickens

The McDonald’s on Cass St. in Trenton will be a happening place at lunchtime next Wednesday, July 15. PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – is coming to town for a demonstration outside, hoping to help convince McDonald’s, which is the largest seller of chicken meat in the US, to make its suppliers use a less cruel method of slaughter.

Less cruel than what, you ask? It involves “breaking birds’ wings and legs, scalding them to death in defeathering tanks, and abusing them in other heinous ways.” Enough of an idea? PETA hopes McDonald’s will agree to adopt a process called “controlled atmosphere killing,” or CAK.

A takeoff on the corporation’s “Happy Meal,” PETA’s “Unhappy Meal” that will be given away on the 15th will include a bloody chick whose throat was cut while s/he was still conscious and a cardboard cutout of an evil Ronald McDonald – both inside a carton printed with information about McDonald’s cruelty.

The giveaway is scheduled for 11:45-1 pm at McDonald’s, 603 Cass Street, Trenton. To RSVP or ask questions, email Please come -- and bring a friend “for the animals.”

More specifics before the event.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oh, lighten up!

So, the 4th of July fireworks – love ‘em! But what threatened to totally distract me last night? A late-arriving member of the family near us in the field brought along the family dog. Geez. Why do people insist on this togetherness with companion animals on the perfectly wrong occasions, when the animals could suffer?

PETA’s recent email alert repeated the old reminder: animals have much more sensitive ears than we do, and proximity to fireworks can hurt them – if the animals don’t panic first, possibly bolting and being injured while running away from the unaccustomed sound and light.

So lucky little “Coco” arrived in time for the show . . . and well before it began, she was barking. The crowd, the kids running in circles, screaming and waving their light ropes and necklaces, the overall hubbub. Weirdly enough, during the fireworks, I didn’t hear a thing from her. (Maybe the show was comparatively restful!)

And then my mind wandered to the creatures inhabiting Centennial Lake on the Rider campus. What did the ducks and other residents make of the fireworks – or vice versa? And how about the myriad birds all over, including in the line of trees between us and the campus?

Then, finally, I said to myself “Lighten up! Enjoy the fireworks! You’re off duty!” And so I was, and did.

High July (a tanka)

fireflies and fireworks --
night-time opposites, they de-
light both low and high:

floating upward, noiselessly,
or exploding down, in sound.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Firefly finale (for now)

Upside-down night

Invert the green field for a new sky,
and let the fireflies fall,
. . . . . . . . . twinkling
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . twinkling
in soft glows
of suitorhood.
Moonlit pale petals
or summer snow flakes,
they hover in the twilight,
'tween blue and green,
as if invisible cords
keep them bouncing, gently,
on a shallow plane.


They light up my life less -- and why

I found the link to the info about fireflies I'd heard on the radio. It's worse than I remembered; there are a couple additional variables that are making it hard for fireflies. "Read it and weep."

They light up my life . . . less

Ahhhhhhh! Lightning bugs! Fireflies! dear familiar glowing and flickering signs of summer. This year, the first one was spotted and noted on June 27th. Now the question is, how long they'll linger this year. Meanwhile, various nature establishments and farms are offering firefly festivals and lightning bug walks.

The happy news is that these events are evidently publicized without fear of throwing a party that no fireflies (can) come to . . . because there are no fireflies. But late last summer, just as I was thinking I'd seen fewer lightning bugs than usual, I was unhappily surprised to hear a radio program on which the fade out of fireflies was the subject.

Reportedly, lightning bugs (like so many others in animalia) are in trouble. They're losing habitat and they're being affected by pesticides. (insecticides? both?) That was sad news but not really surprising once I stopped and thought about it. Beyond the habitat destruction caused by development seemingly everywhere, there's also the array of killers and deterrents that homeowners and communities spray in the interest of perfect green grass without dandelions and mosquito-free backyards, etc., etc.

Sure, individuals can go organic, no-kill and all the other good stuff. Entire communities can do the same. But they'll still be surrounded by those who develop and spray.

The NYTimes recently ran a fascinating science story about the different blink patterns (shades of lighthouses and their "characteristics"!) of male fireflies, and the reaction patterns of females. But so that future generations can see and enjoy this phenomenon, we must "save the lightning bugs!"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Team hits 'homer' for needy dogs

"In an ideal world, there would be no homeless dogs. But as the prevalence of animal shelters and rescue groups makes all too clear, that world is still just a dream.

"Thanks to an animal-loving staff member, the Trenton Thunder, . . . " (to read the complete story, click on the link below)


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Turkeys aren't the only ones

“This is the first time in U.S. history that factory-farm employees have been convicted of abusing factory-farmed turkeys.” –PETA news via email.

The story began with an undercover investigation by PETA reps, who had documented horrors in a West Virginia plant. For example, workers were documented “breaking turkeys' necks, stomping on their heads, and shoving feces and feed into turkeys' mouths.”

A couple of the men involved in this heinousness pleaded guilty and were sentenced to months of home confinement; one is forbidden to have any contact with any animal for a specified period.

You ask, were these human beings doing this to helpless animals?! The answer, sadly, is yes. We have to wonder:

* what kind of home does such a person return to each day after work?
* how does he treat his wife, his children, the animal companions that may be there?
* what does he think about his own and others’ behavior at the plant? does he have any idea at all of how beastially he has behaved?
* for how long has he done such things . . . and why?
* what kind of education did he have? what kind of religion does he claim?
* how many people who come in contact with him would do the same awful things to animals without a second thought?
* what would it take for such a person to feel remorse?
* what’s the atmosphere in the processing plant like? and what does its management know or care about?

Finally, are these men any different from those who rape women or torture prisoners? I don’t think so.