Friday, August 28, 2009

So-called "animal lovers"

Lots of people describe themselves as “animal lovers.” Too often, that means only that they can say either “oh, how cute!” or “oh, ain’t it awful!” with feeling. How cute is the dear little kitten or puppy; how cute is the dog who shakes hands on command. Ain’t it awful about poor animals in shelters, ain’t it awful about abused pets, ain’t it awful what Michael Vick did. And so on, ad nauseam.

In the preface to his landmark 1975 book, “Animal Liberation,” Peter Singer tells about two such animal lovers he had met before its publication.

The Singers had tea with a couple of women who had heard he planned to write about animals. As a self-described “animal lover,” one of the women waxed rhapsodic about her pets and related subjects. Then, while she ate a ham sandwich, she asked the Singers about their pets. Both women were surprised to learn they had none.

They were more surprised to learn how the Singers were interested in animals: not as pets, but as independent sentient beings who should not be exploited by humans (as was the pig whose flesh was now in the sandwiches before them).

The Singers explained that they weren’t particularly interested in animals as pets and they didn’t “love” animals. But they did care about “the prevention of suffering and misery”; they were “opposed to arbitrary discrimination”; they thought it “wrong to inflict needless suffering on another being, even if that being were not a member of our own species”; and finally, they wanted to change how animals “were ruthlessly and cruelly exploited by humans.”

His book is not about pets, Singer says after telling that story. It would probably be uncomfortable reading for those who think “love for animals involves no more than stroking a cat or feeding birds in the garden.”

“Animal lovers” – it is to laugh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cats in trouble -- part 2

Second case of cats in trouble: In the last few days, two newspapers have reported on Princeton Borough’s problem with feral cats. Inexplicably late, the stories mention 50-some feral cats being rounded up about two months ago (!?), and taken to SAVE, described as a nonprofit shelter on Herrontown Rd.

Council members are reportedly wondering if cats should be licensed. Feral cats – licensed? Not likely. And why domestic cats aren’t already licensed is a mystery.

Without licensure (and its back-up info about owners and addresses and shots) a hurt or lost cat can’t be returned home. That’s just for starters. Either the newspaper reports were woefully incomplete (as well as late coming), or town officials haven’t (yet) given this issue their best thinking.

The cats deserve better.

Cats in trouble -- part 1

Feral cats are in trouble in Ewing Township, where there are also problems with the staff and volunteers, as well as the inhabitants, at the animal shelter. Sketchy newspaper coverage makes it hard to talk about the issues with authority, but the situation has been festering all summer, with no word of a peaceful solution.

The problems – many of which seem to come down to poor communications and indistinct lines of authority – include (1) what to do about feral cats; (2) should (and could) the operating philosophy of the animal shelter be "no-kill"; and then immediately (3) how is that term defined.

For instance, “no-kill” can mean different things to different people with different interests. What about incurably sick animals? What about vicious ones? What about animals for which there is simply no room? And then, how’s a word like “vicious” defined and proven? Who must vouch for “incurable”? And so on.

Meanwhile, of course, the animals are in the middle. That’s not a good place to be when emotional, partial and often politicized information is being traded without ground rules for civility, accuracy or timeliness. At some point, people can become their dearest cause’s worst enemies, and impartial mediation seems to be the only way out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

P.S. on pachyderms

Another lucky elephant, this one in Thailand. She’s the recipient of a permanent artificial limb. Here’s what happened.

Ten years ago, Motola, now 48 years old, stepped on a land mine while working in a logging camp near the Myanmar border. She lost her left front foot and part of her leg. Happily for her, in 1993 a group called Friends of the Asian Elephant had opened the Elephant Hospital in northern Thailand. That’s where she was cared for.

The hospital has treated thousands of elephants – and well it should, because the numbers of domesticated pachyderms has dropped from 1950’s 13,400 to about 2,500 today.

For the last three years, Motola wore a temporary device aimed at strengthening her leg muscles and tendons and getting her fit for the permanent prosthesis. Then, earlier this month, she took her first tentative walk with her newly installed artificial leg.

If – as she was photographed doing -- grabbing dust with her trunk and spraying it into the air conveys happiness, then Motola is recovering well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Earned royalty

“There she is” . . . the Pachy Princess, chosen from among all the contestants in the “Ms. TUSKany Pageant.” The elephant (yes, the elephant) with the most votes (as in donations) will be crowned Ms. TUSKany on Oct. 17 at the 2009 Elephant Grape Stomp.

Humans who attend the event will “sip regional wines, savor Tuscan cuisine and share a squishy moment with the elephants” (a.k.a. “pachyderms” or thick-skinned animals).

If this seems stranger and stranger, that’s because it’s all about an elaborate fund-raiser for PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, in California. Among the residents at one of its three sanctuaries are nine elephants, including Maggie, formerly of the Anchorage, Alaska zoo.

You read it right: an elephant – whose habitat is tropical – lived for years in Alaska, in a cage with a concrete floor, and for much of the time without elephant companionship, until animal activists raised such a wide and loud ruckus that Anchorage reluctantly let her go. Underwritten by a humane and moneyed friend of animals, Maggie was flown to California, where she has settled right in, as reported in reports and videos from PAWS.

The vote-donations from here for “Pachy Princess” won’t go to Annie, Ruby, Gypsy, Lulu, Mara, Rebecca, Wanda or Nicholas (in the running for Mr. TUSKany) – however worthy they all are. Maggie’s the sentimental favorite. In becoming a “rescued elephant” and escaping Alaska, she beat the odds. (As Maggie’s freedom fighters said at the end of each note, “Warm rumbles” or “Trumpets!” )

Besides an introduction to PAWS and news of Maggie, more details on the Ms. TUSKany pageant can be found at the organization website: .

Vote early and often!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Unpayable debt

What can you say about a professional athlete who viciously kills dogs for sport and profit? whose animal-abuse rap sheet must be miles long? who is evidently incapable of compassion and probably incapable of remorse as well? who has “paid his debt to society,” though he never can do so to the animals he calculatedly and cold-bloodedly murdered?

You can say “Michael Vick,” and if you’re the Philadelphia Eagles, you sign him. Evil, compounded by greed, giving the lie to all the sanctimonious statements about how Vick should be banned from pro football. In fact, he should be banned from humanity, which is related to “humane.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

None for me, thanks

"Chicken formula," "Salmon formula," "Beef formula," "Kitten formula." What?! Does this can of Wellness cat food really contain "Kitten"? Oh my god. It's hard to believe that a major pet food company (Mother Hubbard) let this huge goof slip by and the cans described above turn up on supermarket shelves.

It's a classic example of non-parallel construction, as I tried to explain by phone to a customer service rep. I think she got it. At least she promised to tell others there, in the marketing dept. I can only hope she explained it clearly. The proof will be in future cans of Wellness cat food. Wish I could bet with someone on whether a correction will be made.

And, no, Harry and Billy don't eat canned food. I was just "shelf-shopping."

***** a message to those visiting this blog: *****

Hi, folks. I've managed to lose a few of your comments lately, for which I'm sorry. In the process of trying to master the ins and outs of blogging, I've goofed a few times, as some of you already know. Please accept my apology, then keep reading and commenting. Thank you!

Friday, August 14, 2009

5 Poems

Summer Love

(1 tanka and 4 haikus)

They peak in August:
long, unwinding ribbons of
wrap-around love calls.

Heard, not seen, cicadas start –
then crickets and katydids.

Hard to believe, such
volume from membranes and wings
in strident courtship.

Relayed rattles in
lovelorn insect surround-sound:
sheer desperation.

Hummy, buzzy sounds
along with higher choirs in
roadside romances.

Frantic clicks and chirps
must outrun the coming frost
for next year’s chorus.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer serenaders

They’re out in force by mid-August, when the fireflies – our early-summer regulars -- have pretty much faded away. Now cicadas, crickets and katydids are singing their hearts out and rubbing their wings day and night. There’s no mistaking their great numbers or the urgency in their sounds.

Maybe we’re lucky these vast armies of insects that sound from trees and bushes are the size they are. But even if they were much bigger, their concentration would be the same: mating and propagating for survival of the species – and they still wouldn’t “see” us.

Why not? because, as one scientist-admirer of the bugs put it: “They don’t have enough time to do what they have to get done. Just a few weeks to mature, to mate, to survive, to lay eggs. And then it’s over in a few weeks.”

For the record, cicadas are in action mostly during the day, while crickets and katydids serenade at night. (One easy way to remember this is that it happens in alphabetical order: cicadas come first, so daytime for them; crickets and katydids follow, so night’s their time. Further, katydids often start a few weeks after crickets, just as they follow them alphabetically.)

The males make all the noise. Females listen, make their choices and respond. Then it’s eggs, nymphs and next summer’s new cicadas, crickets and katydids.

Male cicadas have been compared to percussionists: thin membranes in their thoraxes vibrate and air sacs amplify that sound – sometimes for blocks.

In contrast, crickets and katydids are fiddlers, making their music with file and scrape mechanisms on their wings, in a process called stridulation. Cricket chirp repetitions are directly related to temperature: the hotter the faster; the cooler the slower.

There’s so much more about these three fascinating invertebrates, such as the variety of sounds produced among different groups of them and the “periodical” variety of cicada – unlike the “annuals,” they emerge only every 17 years. (Mark your calendar for 2020.)

For now, the best thing to do might be to enjoy the songs and root the noisy guys on so these great summer sounds will always be with us. The first serious frost ends their season – and our music.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New breed of cat

“Save the sea kittens!” Say what?

This is a PETA campaign for kids (thus, peta2) designed to cultivate empathy for fish. The idea is that even though fish aren’t furry or cuddly, they’re still animals who need humans to be thoughtful about them – that is, not to hunt them, not to eat them. (There’s good reason why hunting and fishing are called “blood sports.”)

Presented in bright colors with Disney-like faces and cat ears, the sea kitten campaign includes plush sea kittens kids can buy and actions kids can take to protect fish – er, sea kittens.

Is this an effective campaign, likely to influence kids to do the right thing for fish? Decide for yourself. Here’s the link to PETA’s sea kittens campaign:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Get Sirius

Hot and humid . . . Lazy, hazy, crazy days . . . the “dog days of summer.” But why is that so? "Who let the dogs out" to get involved with this August weather?

It all goes back to ancient times and the brightest star in the night sky – “Sirius,” or the “dog star.” The leading light of the constellation Canis Major, or great dog, Sirius is several times brighter than the Sun.

Millennia ago in ancient Egypt, the first appearance of Sirius in the dawn sky – along with the sun – marked the time when the Nile River began its annual floods, bringing water to waiting Egyptian fields. In ancient Greece, Sirius signaled the “dog days” – the hottest, stickiest time of year.

Even though nowadays Sirius rises into view later in the year than it did long ago, our hot, sticky days are still named for it: the dog days.

(All of which has nothing whatever to do with “Sirius Black,” Harry Potter’s godfather in J. K. Rowling's wonderful series -- except the sheer pleasure of referring to him. An Animagus, that Sirius could change himself into a big black dog when necessary to conceal his identity. Was his name a prophecy of the animal he could become, or a reflection [PRE-flection?] of it?)

Finally, “hot and humid” and “lazy and hazy” both suggest the same advice for August: keep on hydrating.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fateful, or fatal, choice

At first, the Buddhist rule against killing sounds doable, reasonable, right. Similar to one of Christianity’s 10 commandments, it’s familiar and it seems, well, reasonable.

It’s easy to observe the do-not-kill rule regarding a beguiling kitten or a darling puppy. But how about the fly aiming for food on your kitchen counter . . . the slug you encounter on the path to your front door . . . the mosquito buzzing in the dark as you drift off to sleep . . . ? Those creatures are not cute, cuddly or loveable.

And neither are any number of other living things, from the mouse that leaves visible proof it’s been in your larder to a rabid dog or raccoon, from dangerous wild animals to a human who has done heinous things.

A person wanting to lose weight sometimes lists every single thing s/he ate during a day. What if a list instead itemized every being, large and small, that was killed during the same period? Would the rule against killing still sound reasonable? Is it worth working harder to live up to? Is it possible to live up to?

What would the rule against killing have to do with hunting and fishing – in fact, how would it affect those who buy the flesh of already-killed animals to eat?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Adoption option

Dedicated to raising funds and awareness for pet rescue organizations nationwide, an event in Cranbury, NJ on Saturday, August 15 may be the answer for those wanting to help animals in need or thinking about adopting a companion animal. Purina Pro Plan's "Rally Across America" tour will stop at 35 Broadway Road, Cranbury, between 9 am-4 pm on that town's "Because your dog is worth it too" day.

The campaign's goal is to facilitate 300,000 adoptions nationally by the end of 2009. This year marks the third tour since 2005, when the program started. A major fundraising tool is the Rally to Rescue T-shirt collection, which can be seen and purchased on line.

The website ( indicates that a number of pet rescue groups from the greater NY and NJ area will be in Cranbury. Organization reps will talk about how people can help animals in need and visitors can learn about local pet rescue efforts and sign up to volunteer if they'd like. Pro Plan dog trainer Melissa Heeter will offer live training sessions with her rescued dog, Viola, and cats and dogs can be adopted from the pet rescue organizations.