Saturday, October 31, 2009

Factory farming's negative reach

The following few paragraphs need no editorial comment:

. . . “According to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and others, factory farming has made animal agriculture the No. 1 contributor to global warming (it is significantly more destructive than transportation alone), and one of the Top 2 or 3 causes of all of the most serious environmental problems, both global and local: air and water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity . . . Eating factory-farmed animals – which is to say virtually every piece of meat sold in supermarkets and prepared in restaurants – is almost certainly the single worst thing that humans do to the environment.

“Every factory-farmed animal is, as a practice, treated in ways that would be illegal if it were a dog or a cat. Turkeys have been so genetically modified they are incapable of natural reproduction. To acknowledge that these things matter is not sentimental. It is a confrontation with the facts about animals and ourselves. We know these things matter.

“Meat and seafood are in no way necessary for my family. . . . And we are healthier without it. . . . ”

(from “Against Meat: Or at least 99 percent of it” by Jonathan Safran Foer, The New York Times Magazine (The Food Issue), October 11, 2009, pp. 68+.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Elect humane candidates

Have you reviewed your sample ballot for next Tuesday’s election? Are you re-thinking what you know about the candidates (sometimes much more than you want to know)? Isn’t there something missing -- specifically, where they stand on animal issues?

Not to worry. LOHV-NJ, or the League of Humane Voters of New Jersey, can help you find out. Its website will direct you to information on where candidates stand on animal issues and LOHV-NJ’s endorsements this time around.

LOHV-NJ advises voters to let candidates know their stand on animal issues counts and can affect their electability. If candidates are aware that we’re checking on them in this area, they just may behave better. Remember the story about Mitt Romney that circulated during last year’s presidential election – and still comes up periodically? Leaving for vacation, he tied the family dog to the roof of the car for their trip to Canada. Now there is a man to watch (out for)!

As an ad on the LOHV-NJ website puts it, “If your dog doesn’t like someone, you probably shouldn’t either.”

Check out the candidates you’re considering in the area that matters to you: animal welfare.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Fur-free Friday"

With just about a month to go till Thanksgiving, it’s time to lock up the day after the holiday for a major good deed. Although it’s also been known as “Black Friday” (for the holiday shopping, the related traffic and the hoped-for move from red to black ink in ledgers), animal advocates have turned this day into “Fur-free Friday.”

Winter will bring with it the inevitable fur coats, jackets, boots, hats, scarves – what else? -- so it’s time to remind fur consumers of how that fur was “harvested”: what animals endure, what kinds of deaths they suffer, so humans can wear their skins.

One admirable group of fighters for a fur-free world is ”Caring Activists Against Fur,” or CAAF. Based in North Jersey, founded and energized by a school teacher and a nurse, visible all over Manhattan and North Jersey on weekends and holidays, this organization makes no bones about the horrors of the fur trade and the vanity and selfishness of people who wear fur.

They demonstrate outside major NYC-area stores and furriers, sometimes with bullhorn and videos and always with leaflets to distribute and chants to get the attention of passers-by (often wearing fur).

And it’s often cold, very cold, during these demonstrations. They call for much more discomfort than writing a check or tooting a car horn while driving by. Standing in one place for a couple hours at a time during winter months is no picnic.

Just think, though: it may win the attention of some fur wearers and buyers. They may then think about how that raccoon collar moved from the animal to the neckline of their coats; how their sheepskin books meant that sheep too had to die; how even their mink earmuffs necessitated death – often grisly.

But grisly or anesthetized, what’s the diff? Why should animals die so humans – with countless other ways to keep warm in winter – can wear their skins? Supposedly, we’re millennia away from cave people days; we’re enlightened. There’s no excuse for today’s knowledgeable humans, who ought to know where those skins came from, as well as myriad alternatives to them.

Check out CAAF. Then (in your cloth coat and man-made shoes) join them!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Royalty confirmed

Huzzah, Queen Maggie! Ms. TUSKany 2009.

To which readers might say, “Huh?” For the background details, please read the August 6 post, "Earned royalty," which tells about PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, in California. Maggie, an elephant rescued from the Alaska zoo – you read it right, Alaska – and flown to this haven, was among the pachyderms there who were competing for the crown during PAWS’ annual Elephant Grape Stomp.

Votes for any of the elephants were really donations to PAWS, and Maggie was the winner. It almost had to be. She was the sentimental favorite this year because of her plight and then her flight to freedom, followed by her gradual adjustment to living in a habitat much closer to the one from which she was taken as a baby . . . to Alaska.

Way to go, Maggie!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Look out!"

“Leopard behind you!” Does that sound like a common warning among humans? Of course not. But in her (NYTimes) blog, Olivia Judson discusses the kinds of alarm calls (non-human) animals use to alert one another to danger.

And some of those warning sounds can be surprisingly predator-specific. For instance, Judson says, vervet monkeys make different sounds to warn of snake or eagle; at the first sound, the monkeys look to the ground, while at the other, they look up. At “leopard,” they head for the trees.

Other animals do much the same, distinguishing among predators with the sounds they make. She details the alarms issued by Gunnison’s prairie dogs, meerkats and black-capped chickadees – some so subtle as to differentiate between what’s coming and how close it is, and how dangerous a resting predator is.

Possibly more surprising, Judson reports that “animals of one species often respond to the alarms of another.” That can include choosing to ignore an alert if it’s a threat only for the caller, but not the “overhearing” animal. And of course, predators can hear the warning calls too, and may decide since their cover’s blown, they’ll quit for now.

Whether animals do all this because of innate intelligence, personal experience or watching what happens to others is not yet known. One theory is that positive reinforcement – when young animals sound the right alert, adults join in – plays a part.

All of which may prompt us to think about how we signal danger to other people; whether our words are as specific as some animal warning sounds; whether those beyond our intended audience listen and act too – and how we learned do any of this in the first place.

(All this talk of animal warnings recalls Ogden Nash's famous alert; it's irresistible here: . . . “if called by a panther/don’t anther.”)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2 small steps for . . . "animal-kind"

Two victories for farm animals have been reported by Gene Baur, the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, the organization behind the “Walk for Farm Animals” last month in Princeton (and many other places). These are small triumphs, but “every little bit . . .” Here’s what Baur wrote:

“I'm very excited to let you know that this week two important bills were signed into law that improve the lives of farm animals in California and Michigan. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill which will ban tail docking by the California dairy industry and Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan has just signed legislation to ban cruel battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates in her state. California is the first state to ban the tail docking of dairy cows. Michigan is now the second state to ban battery cages, following the example set by California last year with the passage of Proposition 2. It is also the fifth state to ban veal crates and the seventh to ban gestation crates.

"Cutting off cows' tails and confining animals so tightly that they cannot even turn around or stretch their limbs is cruel and outside the bounds of acceptable conduct. We are now seeing growing momentum in our collective efforts to end the most egregious abuses of farm animals in this country.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Oh, give me a home . . ."

“Hopewell Twp. close to purchasing land for animal shelter,” according to a story in last Monday’s Trenton Times. It sounded like the long-awaited next word on a shelter to house animals from a few communities, including Lawrence Twp.

The three towns mentioned in the first story, some months ago, may have included Ewing too, although Monday's story quotes Mayor Jack Ball, who says his town is working on building its own shelter, and “time is of the essence.”

However, Ewing council member Bert Steinmann spoke in support of a regional shelter run by a nonprofit organization. He claims having said “from day one” that “we” (presumably, the local government) “should not be in the animal business” – a belief that innumerable animal rights activists in the area would immediately agree with.

Two such different opinions from reps of Ewing township only add to the impression that one hand doesn’t know (or care?) what the other hand is doing and/or that whoever is in charge there (mayor or council?) is up for grabs and/or that Ewing reps speak with forked tongues -- all of which has sure seemed to be the case throughout the current brouhaha over Ewing's animal shelter.

Adding to the advisability of taking all this news of a shelter site with a large grain of salt – maybe a giant salt lick would be better – the animal control officer of one community likely to be involved says the story came as a total surprise to her; she hadn’t heard a thing about it.

So does that mean politicians know more about animal shelters than their towns' own animal control officers? Will they involve the ACOs only after the plan is final, if then? Any chance the ACOs might contribute questions and ideas – call it expertise -- before decisions are made?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

National feral cat day

This Friday, October 16, is National Feral Cat Day, brought to us by Alley Cat Allies, “the cats’ leading advocate.”

One place that really should not need feral cat-advocacy at this point, yet clearly does, is nearby Ewing Township. For months, the animal shelter there has been the focus of attention and dissention via newspaper coverage and activists’ energy directed against the mayor and town council. Of course, the animals involved, who can’t speak for themselves, are caught in the middle, helpless.

It recently became even more upsetting because a number of trapped feral cats at the shelter were threatened with death. It’s not known right now whether they were euthanized today, as threatened.

Ewing officials seem to have no idea of what feral cats are all about. One council member has reportedly described them as a “health hazard,” when in fact Ewing officials themselves seem to constitute the worst possible health hazard for cats.

Trapping feral cats is only step one of the three-part program called “Trap, Neuter, Release (sometimes “Return”),” or TNR. Widely known and practiced, although not in Ewing, the program builds on the reality that feral cats are wild cats who live in colonies. They will keep reproducing (and increasing colony size) unless they are neutered or spayed.

After being sterilized, feral cats should be returned to their colony. By definition, feral cats aren’t looking for a home; they don’t want to cuddle on our couches, as Alley Cat Allies’ website warns. They’ve learned to live outdoors, and that’s the place they prefer. Once an entire colony is neutered or spayed, they can’t reproduce, and over time, they die out. (Note: feral kittens sometimes can be socialized and adopted.)

For reasons unknown, Ewing has not accepted the idea of TNR. In fact, Ewing seems to lack any coherent plan for what to do with animals at large in the township as well as animals in the so-called “shelter” there.

Alley Cat Allies urges people to “get informed.” What better time to do this than on or before National Feral Cat Day, this Friday? Here’s the link to basic info on ferals:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

No rest in peace

From our bicycles we can see up ahead on the road a dead . . . something. There’s no avoiding it, and we can’t even look in a different direction to miss seeing it, as a car passenger can do.

Now it’s clear: a dead squirrel, with only its fluffy tail unbloodied. The little head and face are very sad to see. No doubt a car traveling fast and/or in the dark v. a small squirrel. We’ve seen a number of frolicking babies lately – maybe squirrels have more than one litter/brood/family a summer – most of them seeming to love playing in the street.

This is too, too bad, and there’s nothing to be done except notify the animal control officer in town. Then she or a colleague usually picks up the body. Then, at least, the poor dead thing doesn’t get more ‘hurt’ by being driven over and decomposing in public.

Question: what does the animal control officer do with the bodies so collected? Are they buried? cremated? Are they treated with respect, which is my reason for reporting them on the road and assuming they’ll be well treated in death.

I don’t know, though. When I tried to find out what happens with animal bodies picked up on or near roads, at least in Lawrence Twp., I couldn’t. The animal control officer (ACO) was surprisingly evasive, seemingly secretive -- first saying her supervisor would have to decide if she could tell me, then saying that person was on vacation, then saying the township administrator would have to decide, and finally never getting back to me when promised with an answer either way.

Strange. And of course, her evasions only gave me more reason to wonder whether she’s hiding anything. What could have been a simple question and answer -- last summer! -- turned into a long campaign of phoning the ACO and getting a new excuse and/or not getting a return call; phoning the ACO, etc., etc.

What could have been a blog post positively citing the township’s ACO for compassionate treatment of animals killed on our roads . . . remains a question left unanswered. The situation is suspicious, at best.

(Note on 10-13-09: Since this post was published, Lawrence's ACO and I have talked. Look for specifics in answer to the questions raised here, as well as an overview of the ACO's job, in a November post. )

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Save Pete the Moose"

Pete! You're so lucky to have a name! That you are "Pete" or "Peter" to those who know and love you means you're different -- and maybe you'll be better taken care of than "that moose in Vermont" might be.

Talk about teaching moments. Yesterday, soon after my post about calling animals "he" or "she" and giving them names too, there was a newspaper story about Pete, a Vermont moose whose living quarters and very future are threatened. People have sprung to his defense, with "Save Pete the Moose" bumper stickers and a Facebook page with (then) 1,646 members.

Throughout the story, Pete is referred to as "he" when not by "Pete" or "Peter." Nice! No doubt that personalizing helped people relate to Pete and the issue. (It, by the way, has to do with "chronic wasting disease," "captive hunting facilities" [oh, boy, the Trenton Times' "Outdoors" columnist would probably love them!] . . . and, ultimately, politics.)

A link to the story follows, and it's worth reading -- not just because of its "I told you so" content!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Influential words

“Liberate your language!” advises the new PETA guide (see "news" post for September 5). “An animal is “he” or “she” – not “it.”

How often have we heard (or said!), “Where did you get it?” (of a dog or cat or ferret or turtle). “It was just a kitten,” or “The puppy ran to its mother.”

De-personalizing, isn’t it? Still worse may be using “it” to reference animals, such as pit bulls, who already have enough problems. Daubed with the brush of “vicious” to start with – when in reality, it’s their people who are vicious and try to make them the same – these dogs don’t need to be referred to as “it,” as if they were non-breathing, “vicious” automatons.

Instead, alluding to an animal by gender, just as we allude to people as “he” or “she” -- and giving an animal a real name, instead of “cow” or “pig” -- may prompt us to look on non-human animals more compassionately, as sentient beings with feelings, needs and rights. (If “Molly,” who happens to be a pit bull, is accused of attacking an innocent person, maybe we’d be more likely to check the story and consider both sides than we’d be if “that [expletive deleted] pit bull attacked so-and-so.” )

Friday, October 2, 2009

People-watching whales?

A fittingly huge piece of news about whales to mention. In the New York Times magazine for July 12, 2009, Charles Siebert wrote the cover story about gray whales off the Baja peninsula and the real likelihood that they have initiated interspecies communication with humans. Imagine.

After first discussing the problem of the US Navy’s use of sonar and its catastrophic effects on whales (and ocean ecosystems), and the startling fact that the US Supreme Court had even considered the issue in late 2008, Siebert moves on to a lengthy description of recent human experiences with gray whales off Baja.

Siebert says, despite “. . . all of our transgressions against them, they may . . . have learned to trust us again,” not long after “our gradual transition from murdering whales to marveling at them.” He tells of gray-whale mothers (some still bearing harpoon scars!) seeking out humans and seeming to introduce them to their young. Both eye contact and “sociable tactile contact” has occurred between two vastly different species of mammals.

“Watching Whales Watching Us” is so astounding and touching at once that it deserves to be read word-for-word. And the illustrations are striking.