Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toasting a TNR star

What turns a person into an animal advocate, focusing on one key cause connected with cats? When that person has significant professional responsibilities, a family and friends – all things that for others could be excuses for not doing much -- what makes her spend all kinds of time and her own money in abundance to help feral cats?

It’s hard to tell for sure, although Joyce Arciniaco says she grew up in a family of animal lovers, with cats and dogs. She also saw homeless cats and kittens and was aware of animal abuse in her neighborhood.

As she came to know about feral cat colonies, she noted that people who fed them often were unable to pay for neutering. Besides, in many cases, the cats were wild and couldn’t be handled easily.

Arciniaco had long recognized trap, neuter, release (TNR) as the best way to deal with ferals, letting them stay in place while preventing reproduction. “You need to get to the root of the problem, and that’s where it is,” she says.

So she started in Chambersburg, learning how to trap wild cats then transport them to a vet. At first, there was no discount for the number of procedures. These days, Arciniaco knows clinics where high volume, low cost neutering is the rule. That helps, of course, though she still pays out of pocket for the ferals she involves in TNR.

The “ear tip” – when the pointed tip of a cat’s ear has a small scallop out of it – means a feral cat’s already been neutered, had immunizations and was turned back outside. “They want to go back to where they were, their roots,” she says, explaining the importance of the “return” part of TNR. That, and their food source too: even when people can’t afford to neuter them, they feed ferals.

Arciniaco’s efforts have also extended to area shelters, Ewing in particular this year. She was a compelling speaker on behalf of the shelter animals at a Ewing council meeting last fall, and she has done the paperwork and paid for neutering many cats there.

She believes federal legislation could mandate spay-neuter for cats; drug companies should be charged to come up with feline contraceptives; and veterinarian schools should require students to do spay-neuter procedures as a community service.

A new year’s toast to Joyce Arciniaco: Here’s to the great work she does! May she continue helping cats and succeed at building support for TNR.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More horses reach finish line

Race horses can have a brief, exciting and even glorious life. It's after their careers end that they're in danger of being sold for slaughter, euthanized or abandoned. Last Sunday, a NYTimes editorial estimated one of these three fates befalls two out of three horses.

A scandal last spring, with nearly 200 former racers being readied for slaughter, called public attention to what can happen to horses, even when -- as was true here -- they're owned by a prominent, successful breeder.

One result: the New York Racing Association announced that breeders or trainers who sell horses for slaughter will be banned. Threat of punishment may be the only deterrent to people who would do such a thing.

Better yet, as the scandal story spread, individuals and organizations came to the horses' rescue, and many have been given homes on ranches and as "recreational companions." One group, the
Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, buys horses for rural prisons where they're cared for by minimum-security inmates. Speaking about his horse, one inmate said, "The little guy just wants to run free."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Eco-aquariums" -- not!

My post for Dec. 18 was about the Eco-Aquariums I'd just seen at Norman's in Lawrence Shopping Center. Later, when the Norman's buyer and I spoke by phone, she said she had researched the subject carefully and found an endorsement for it; however, she also expressed interest in knowing what PETA had to say about this "item" I had complained about.

So, I contacted PETA and spoke w/ the rep who handles such things. She emailed the two paragraphs below, in answer to my questions. I forwarded the PETA reply to the Norman's rep, and have not heard back from her. Here's what she said:

Yes, Eco-Aquariums are virtually identical to Frog-O-Spheres; the only difference appears to be the colored base that the cube sits on.

Would you be able to pass along our investigation on the Eco-Aquariums supplier, Wild Creations: There is video and expert testimony that recommends these 'products' be removed from distribution immediately.

I invite readers to look at the PETA information, consider the appropriateness of Eco-Aquariums being sold in card and gift stores -- or anywhere -- then contact Norman's HQ to protest such sales and refuse to shop there till they stop. Again, the Norman's phone number is 215-579-2600. Please call!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Get credit and HSU credit

Animal advocates with an academic leaning and/or a need to build or enrich their jobs might consider going back to school at Humane Society University (HSU). For real: get credit for learning how to be more effective at what you love doing with and for animals.

The link below takes you to a December 17 message from Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the US. (“This year, our educational affiliate, Humane Society University [HSU], became the first higher education institution exclusively devoted to providing academic curriculum in animal protection studies.”)

The time is right to look into what HSU can offer you next term. There can never be too much of a good (and needed!) thing! Go for it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Gimme (a well-run regional) shelter'

Animal shelters are in the news. The idea of a regional shelter, serving Hopewell, Lawrence and Ewing, resurfaced this week in Hopewell Township, where a tract off Reed Road has been ID’d as a potential site for the facility.

Such a place would immediately improve the chances of animals that now are “sheltered” by the Hopewell Valley Vet Group, where they can stay for seven days only before being euthanized. The pressure is now on volunteer rescue groups to place such animals before their time runs out, but ironically, the vet group’s facility doesn’t allow people to come in and see the animals up for adoption.

Ewing’s shelter has been the cause of great unrest during the last year, and lacking one at all, Lawrence uses the Trenton shelter – the reason for last week’s demonstration at Trenton’s City Hall. So if a new shelter is approved, its three possible beneficiaries have already proven their need for its existence.

The group known as EASEL, or Ewing Animal Shelter Extension League, supports a regional no-kill animal shelter in Mercer County, one that some reports indicate EASEL wants to run. Exactly how and by whom that would be done, how staff members would be qualified and how EASEL defines “no kill,” which means different things to different people – are among the myriad questions that deserve detailed answers if this regional shelter idea begins to move toward reality.

With luck – and credible leadership, lots of persistence and money to do it right – maybe 2010 will be the year when Mercer County's animal shelters take a giant step forward.

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Shelter' in name only?

After last Wednesday's rally for the Trenton Animal Shelter, did anything there change for the better? A few dozen animal advocates, led by longtime volunteers at the shelter – which they say is understaffed and in deplorable condition – had marched and chanted in front of City Hall at noon.

Demonstrators spoke of the need to fill vacancies for animal control officers (ACOs) at the shelter and the growing need for volunteers to do some of the work that paid employees would ordinarily do. They cited animals without water and dirty litter boxes.

In a written response, the city’s director for health and human services denied, point by point, the accuracy of the protesters’ claims. Another city official disputed the argument that the $75,000 to be paid to a consultant could instead go to hiring three ACOs.

One city councilman (Manny Segura, at-large), reportedly the only city rep at the protest, had visited the shelter. He found people sharing a closet as an office and described as “terrible” that “there’s not even enough space for the animals.” He said other city council members have ignored his reports.

Segura advised the protesters to bring their message to a city council meeting, and one of the demonstrators’ leaders said they’ll return “next month” if conditions don’t improve.

As usual, the animals are in the middle, unable to speak for themselves about the living conditions at the Trenton shelter. How and when can this situation be improved?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Goodbye, dear friend

Published in today's NYTimes, the column that follows was written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a much admired writer. His subject is one that anyone who reads this post has probably encountered. Regardless of how often it happens, it's still heart-breaking.

Darcy at Her Days’ End

Not quite 15 years ago, my wife adopted a mixed-breed puppy she found tied to a storage tank behind a gas station in Great Barrington, Mass. I say she adopted it because I wasn’t quite sold on the idea. We had a new pup already — a border terrier named Tavish — and this gangly new addition looked, in comparison, like a badly made dog. Darcy’s feet were too small for her body, her hind knees were weak, and her coat made her look like a wire-haired golden retriever. But who ever loved a dog less because it was ugly?

And now, suddenly, it’s all these years later. Darcy still lies on the lawn, basking like a lioness, and barks at the pickups going up the road. Much of the day she still has the look of an indomitably gratified mutt. But there are hours now when her eyes, a little misty with cataracts, seem worried, hollow. And she has stopped eating, or rather, she eats with deliberation and reluctance, a spoonful of this, a forkful of that.

Which means that now is the time for a hard decision. According to the vet, there are no signs of disease, other than the disease of age — nothing to force our hand. When Tavish died, four years ago, his liver was failing, and there was no choice but to sit on the floor and hold him while the vet inserted the final needle. It’s somehow not surprising that Darcy raises the matter of our responsibility in its purest form.

I’ve known too many owners who waited far too long to put their dogs to sleep, and I’ve always hated the sentimentality and the selfishness in their hesitation. Last week, watching Darcy out in the sun, it felt as though I was trying to decide just when most of the life — the good life, that is — inside her has been used up. Is it conscionable to wait until it’s plainly gone? Or is it better to err on the side of saying goodbye while she’s still discernibly Darcy, while she seems, as she nearly always does, to be without pain?

It comes down, in the end, to the pleasure she shows, the interest she takes in the world around her — and not to anything her humans feel. She has not had the life she might once have expected — a far better one instead. My job is to make sure she gets the death she deserves — in her human’s arms.

And so she has. She died quietly last Friday while I sat on the floor beside her at the vet’s. The world is a poorer place without her.

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Frog-o-spheres" return

They're baaaaaack. If not the exact same inhumane sales item as reported here on September 11, then close enough to be infuriating whatever they're called. They're some kind of "Eco-something" and today I spotted a small mountain of them at Norman's, Lawrence Shopping Center.

They hold at least one tiny frog in water . . . and that was about all I noted before it was my turn at the cash register. I mentioned that I'd heard these things could not be sold legally without a license. The saleswoman replied that they do have a license to sell these things, as do all the Norman's stores in the area, and she pointed vaguely toward a wall with framed papers.

Then she complained about having them -- not for the frogs' sake, alas, but because staffers must handle some maintenance of the frogs and there's all kinds of paperwork to be completed in a sale. Awww. Tsk-tsk. She apparently had no conception of the little frogs being alive, sentient and hopelessly far from home.

Later, too late to go back and return my $2-3 purchase, and unable to find the receipt anyway, I phoned the store to say I won't buy at Norman's again until I know they've abandoned this kind of sale. Then I got the (Penna) number for Norman's HQ (215-579-2600), phoned there and left a voice message and my phone #, declaring I'm a newspaper reporter and will spread the word.

Well, those two facts are true, but lacking a newspaper forum for this subject, I'll try to spread the word here: Please tell Norman's you object to their selling live creatures. Tell them you won't buy there as long as they continue doing it. And then find another card store. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“Animal Control Officer”: a varied job

Earlier this fall, Chris Buck, Animal Control Officer in Lawrence Township, NJ, talked about what her job includes. Don’t take her job title literally to describe what she does because that's far from all she’s ready and responsible for.

Buck says “as a kid, she was always into animals,” and for a while, she wanted to be a veterinarian. A friend who had held this job made it sound so good, Buck took the course and became ACO-certified – then when the position opened, she was ready and she got it, starting in on the 21 years she’s now served.

One of her duties is to inspect township kennels and pet shops. She also deals with wildlife calls – for instance, a sick fox with mange; advice on ground hogs; animals, including a snake, in someone’s house.

Buck enforces Lawrence licensing requirements and handles stray animals, taking dogs and cats to the Trenton Animal Shelter and “exotics” to people in the area who handle them.

Rabies cases and bites fall under her purview as well, as do any violations of township ordinances pertaining to animals. As a certified animal cruelty investigator, she can issue violations and with police help, arrest.

Twice a year, she coordinates the clinic for free rabies shots for dogs and cats in town. Her job also entails the regular Lawrence animal census and gives her numerous opportunities to make suggestions and educate residents.

During her work day, Buck uses the ACO truck, fitted out to deal with whatever she may encounter. Her equipment includes noose poles, nets, leashes, gloves, treats and toys, as well as two stretchers for sick or injured animals. There’s heat and air conditioning in the back for animals in transit.

Buck takes courses whenever she can, which is why she’s also certified for cruelty investigations, CPR and First Aid. Treasurer of the Princeton Dog Training Club, she also takes classes through that organization, and she teaches dog obedience through the Adult School in Hamilton Township, where she lives.

Not surprisingly at all, Buck’s family includes four Dalmatians -- Slide, nearly 13; Flash, almost 12; Noah, 10; and Lazer, 2. There’s also Riot, a Great Dane who will be a year old on New Year’s day. Two cats, Kodi and Kaluha, are in the family picture too.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Protest in Trenton

This just in. Trenton's Animal Shelter is the reason for a demonstration by shelter volunteers and those who support them this Wednesday. At noon, people who believe the shelter should be better staffed and managed for the sake of the animals there will meet at City Hall, Trenton.

Some will be in costume, some will make speeches, some will hold signs ("Honk if you love animals" or "Honk for City Shelter Jobs"). The event aims to call attention to the facility's understaffing and the unsatisfactory conditions there.

According to the volunteers' press release, "Lack of staff leads to animal neglect." They say that a year ago there were six Animal Control Officers (ACOs), three secretaries, one animal attendant and a shelter manager -- a total of 11 people. Now, they say, there are only three ACOs, one secretary and a shleter manager, and because of the cut in staffing, "most of the on-site shelter work is now done by volunteers."

One 10-year volunteer at the shelter, Kristina Wetzel, recalls that the initial job of volunteers was to socialize the animals and help get them adopted. Now, of necessity, they're doing so much more, including keeping the place in compliance with State Health Codes.

Shelter volunteers describe "City Hall" as indifferent to the situation in not filling vacant positions. Meanwhile, they say, Mayor Palmer has just given himself and his staff a 10% raise and the city's business administrator has just created a new position for an acquaintance, paying over $100,000. Either of these moves, says Beverly Kidder, a nine-year shelter volunteer, "could have paid to re-staff the shelter positions."

Check your schedule for Wednesday, Dec. 16, between 12-1, and attend the demonstration if you possibly can. Come and speak for the shelter animals.

(For more information, Kristina Wetzel: 609-509-3248; Beverly Kidder: 609-309-5095.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Animals as props

Socialites or celebrities with little dogs under their arms or in totes -- everyone has seen them. Models posing with fluffy cats or dogs. And L. L. Bean catalogs that often seem to feature more appealing puppies than clothes or gear.

All these are examples of animals being used as props, reflecting a human need, not an animal need. What dog wants to be trucked along Fifth Avenue in a carry bag? Or clutched by a model whose attention is really on showing her own assets and what she's wearing? Or displayed on flannel sheets for sale, and then it's back to the kennel?

Earlier this week, another example of animals as props turned up in New York City: animals with beggars on the street. A homeless man sat in a doorway with a tabby lying next to him. The cat was partly covered by a small blanket or sweater. Another man (without an involuntary animal companion) had a sign telling passersby: I care for five cats. Homeless. AIDs.

If people donated to either man, were they prompted to do so because of the animals, either present or mentioned? Wasn't there a suggestion that financial aid would also help the animals? Which was the bigger motivating force -- the plight of either man (which at some point may have been voluntary) or that of the animals, which was never their choice?

Animals as props. Or hostages.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Strange food-fellows

Answering my plea for good animal news, a California friend forwarded photos of a leopard and a mouse sharing a meal: the leopard’s.

The accompanying story had it that her keeper had just put the 12-year old leopard’s raw meat into her enclosure when a mouse suddenly appeared and began eating it. Instead of finishing off the mouse, the leopard merely sniffed and sort of nudged the rodent -- who kept on eating. And that was that.

And the leopard shall sit down with the mouse. . . and "do lunch." Or something like that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dear "Anonymous": thanks!

(In response to the last post, about Cleveland Amory, "Anonymous" sent a comment that deserved to become its own post, so here it is . . . )

A Holiday Thought

Aren’t humans amazing animals? They kill wildlife -- birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative -- and fatal -- health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions of more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."

--Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cleveland Amory: worth knowing about

Some of the animal rights issues of today include animals in laboratories, hunting (including the infamous leg traps), speciesism (as in, humans are superior to/have dominion over non-human animals), murder of fur-bearing animals (including Canada's harp seals) . . . and on and on.

What a surprise, then, to read about a man who fought against these same abuses -- and many others -- in the second half of the last century. And we're still at it!

Cleveland Amory (1917-1998), born in Masachusetts, educated at Harvard and well-known as "a best-selling author, social critic, journalist and man-about-town in Manhattan," was also an animal rights crusader. In fact, it could be argued that his campaigns for animals were the very best things he did.

Marilyn Greenwald's new biography, Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon & Animal Rights Crusader, details the many ways in which Amory rubbed people the wrong way -- while steadfastly pursuing better treatment for animals. He didn't win on all the issues, as already mentioned, but he fought well-publicized fights that must have impressed, and recruited, many other people. (Think: an airlift of burros from the bottom of the Grand Canyon; think: hiring a ship and beating the hunters to some of the baby seals that would otherwise have been clubbed and skinned alive.)

Amory also founded the Fund for Animals in 1967, and by 2005 when it merged with the Humane Society of the US (HSUS), the Fund had 200,000 members and constituents, a budget of $7 million and $20 million in assets.

One of his last, and lasting, acts was starting an animal sanctuary he called Black Beauty Ranch. At its peak, it housed nearly 600 abused animals of all kinds, beginning with some of the burros he had rescued earlier.

Animals could use more curmudgeons like this.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sea turtles' turn

Sad to say, a creature that has lived in the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica for 150 million years is severly threatened. And all it took was humans.

Sea turtles have become so scarce that the Leatherback Sea Turtle National Park and a related museum in Playa Grande are both defunct, for all practical (and tourist) purposes.

What happened? Beach development, drift net fishing and Costa Ricans' custom of eating turtle eggs, that's what happened. However, climate change is the overarching reason. It has caused rising seas, more violent storm surges and slow increases in beach temperature (which can result in all-female populations -- obviously a problem.)

Heroic efforts are being made to artifically cool turtle nests and protect coastal property from development so turtles have a place to nest as the sea rises. But the back of the beach is already fillled with hotels, restaurants and planted trees, giving the sand no place to go. "Turtles will have to find their way between the tennis courts and swimming pools," as one person observed.

The ultimate irony: many of those who enjoy slurping turtle eggs in bars from a shot glass . . . have never seen a turtle.