Friday, April 30, 2010

Hug a frog today

April 30 is the second annual “Save the Frogs Day,” although in these times, every day should have that goal. Better than hugging a frog – assuming you could find one –would be thinking of frogs, along with toads and salamanders, all of them amphibians.

Like so many other creatures, frogs are suffering the effects of lost habitats, pollution, pesticides and herbicides, climate change and invasive species.

According to Michele S. Byers, “Today, nearly one-third of almost 6,500 amphibian species in the world are threatened. In the past 30 years, hundreds of species have disappeared altogether. In New Jersey alone, six of 32 amphibian species are listed as threatened or endangered.”

Byers, whose columns appear in area newspapers, is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Not only deserving of being cared for and saved for their own sakes, amphibians are also “leading indicators of the health of our environment,” Byers writes. Their widespread decline may be a signal that our ecosystem is also jeopardized.

Some New Jerseyans are helping amphibians as “critter crossing guards,” protecting frogs and salamanders crossing the state’s roads, while others work to reduce fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide and fungicide use on lawns and keep natural buffers near streams and wetlands.

Amphibians, the “thin green line,” have survived for eons, and they’re the first of our ancestors to leave water for land. Now, on top of everything else that’s plaguing them, a mysterious fungus, “Chytrid,” is attacking the skins of frogs, depriving them of oxygen. Its origin is unknown and for now, scientists can only watch. Since frogs are in the middle of the food chain, effects of the fungus will move in both directions.

Two websites worth checking: and

Thursday, April 29, 2010

'What the Elephant Sings'

I destroy
what sustains–
the grass, the trees–

as you have
taught me,
little man with a mouth.

I have learned
the thirty words
that enslave.

I spread the world
over my body–
the mud, the sea–

my brother lost his trunk.
He kneels to eat,
and soon he starves.

It has been years
since dressed in blue stones
I carried the queen.

--Lois Marie Harrod

Monday, April 26, 2010

Behind “pure wool”

And now for a look at one more facet of wearing animals, our last for awhile. Today it’s wool. Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? The nice wool mark symbol, the pictures of gamboling sheep, the verbiage about wool’s comfort and wearability.

Based on all that propaganda, we might think wool will take care of us. But the question is, who will take care of the sheep where the wool grows. It often seems the answer is “no one.”

Reports Ingrid Newkirk in that invaluable “PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights,” “Some people believe that shearing sheep helps animals who might otherwise be burdened with too much wool, but without human interference, sheep grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes.

"Most wool comes from Australia,” she continues, having pointed out that because flocks of sheep number in the thousands, individual attention, or care, is impossible. Soon after they’re born, Newkirk goes on, “lambs’ ears are hole punched, their tails are chopped off and males are castrated – all without painkillers. Many lambs die from exposure or starvation before they’re eight weeks old, and many mature sheep die from disease. lack of shelter and neglect.

Then, on numerous Australian sheep ranches, “mulesing” occurs. It involves “carving huge strips of flesh off the backs of lambs’ legs with gardening shears.” As an economy move, this is a fast and sloppy operation; volume is the basis of payment. While in the shearing shed, sheep may be punched with shears or fists; they can get nose bleeds and have parts of their faces shorn off. Little wonder they stand outside afterwards, cut and shaking.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Freedom of expression – wasted?

One work at a recent art exhibition was an image of a sheep lying in a corner of a stall. A person’s shadow ran diagonally across the image space – obviously, someone was nearby, probably approaching the sheep. The title was “Time’s Up.”

Put those three elements together: chilling. And gratuitous too. Why did the artist choose to make this “High Noon”-ish image of coming slaughter? Who or what purpose was it created to serve? Was it meant to shock? to induce human guilt? to convey a message about killing animals for food? Was it approving or disapproving?

Why make it? Should it have been displayed? Who needs more reminders of “man’s inhumanity to . . . animals”? In distressing me, as it did, it was only “singing to the choir.” It seems unlikely that a hunter or a livestock breeder would be disturbed by it.

Realizing I was thinking, “Such pictures shouldn’t be shown; what good do they do?” I thought about the 8-1 Supreme Court ruling earlier this week (United States v. Stevens) protecting freedom of expression -- in this case, the right to sell videos showing animal cruelty.

(As the NYTimes editorialized afterwards, better to stop animal cruelty through laws against the cruelty itself than through laws against images of it.)

As upsetting, disgusting or illegal some behaviors may be, those who film them are protected by the First Amendment from being stifled. By extension, the artist behind “Time’s Up” is also be free to make whatever images she wants. But I still wish she had spent her time and effort instead demonstrating against factory farming or eating meat.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Famous feline

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry,
. . .
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
. . .

--Christopher Smart (1722-1771)
from Jubilate Agno (Rejoice in the Lamb)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ducks and geese in double jeopardy

Today’s “lesson,” for those who swear by down comforters and jackets and booties: “How is down obtained?” Information comes from Ingrid Newkirk’s The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights, c. 2009.

“Typically, ducks and geese are lifted by their necks, their legs are tied, and their feathers are ripped out. The struggling birds often sustain injuries during plucking. They are then returned to their cages until they are ready to be plucked again. This process begins at about nine weeks of age and occurs every six weeks until the birds go to slaughter.

“Feathers are often plucked out of ducks and geese who are raised for food. Those raised for foie gras, especially, suffer terribly in other ways too. These birds are force-fed up to six times a day with a funnel that is inserted into their throats, and up to six pounds of a salty, fatty corn mash is pumped into each bird’s stomach each day – until the birds’ livers have ballooned to many times their normal size.“

Do restaurateurs who serve foie gras know of this process? or want to know? Do those behind the pretty catalogs about gracious living, advertising luxurious down comforters, know about the “lives” of ducks and geese whose feathers are their main materials?

Ironically, Newkirk continues, “Synthetic alternatives to down are not only cruelty-free, but they are also cheaper and, unlike down, retain their insulating capabilities in all weather conditions.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not a correction, but a warning

The March 22 post here was about a Land O’ Lakes milk supplier in Pennsylvania, where dairy animals were badly abused. The letter I also wrote to Land O’ Lakes resulted in an answer, received today.

In the four-paragraph letter, the company’s “consumer affairs specialist” reported that the “member” site complained about (with conditions documented in a video on PETA’s website) had been “found not guilty on all counts by a Magisterial District Judge in Pennsylvania.”

So on one hand, terrible abuse and conditions (documented in a video on the PETA website)that Dr. Temple Grandin had described as “absolutely atrocious.” On the other hand, there’s Land O’ Lakes’ claim that “we take providing high-quality animal care very seriously.”

I phoned PETA and spoke with a staffer familiar with the issue. She wasn’t at all surprised by the black–white dichotomy. In places like that dairy farm, “cows are not seen as animals, but as production units,” she said. (And of course, how could they be mistreated?)

This is an alert to animal activists. Keep going! Keep protesting what you know is wrong! And don’t believe everything you hear or read – especially when it comes from a source with a vested interest in protecting itself and its business.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fur . . . and skin

Abuse of animals take so many forms that it can be overwhelming: all unbelievable, all awful. But sometimes a particular horror begins to seem like the worst of them all. Recent posts here, about Julie O’Connor and her campaign against fur, prompted another look at the PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights, published last year.

And of course, besides fur there’s also leather (aka animal skin) to know about and to renounce. (We’ll get to wool and down later.) Call such posts “Things we sometimes wish we didn’t know because then life (ours, anyway!) would be easier.”

The FAQ: Aren’t the cows going to be slaughtered for meat anyway? And PETA president Ingrid Newkirk’s unequivocal answer: “Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse by-product, it’s a ‘co-product,’ meaning that when you buy leather, you make it more profitable to raise and kill cows and other animals. According to industry sources, the skins of the animals represent ‘the most economically important by-product of the meat packing industry.’

“When ‘dairy’ cows’ production declines, for example, their skin is made into leather, and the hides of their offspring, calves raised for veal, for instance, are made into high-priced calfskin. . . . Decreasing demand for both animal hide and flesh will reduce the number of cows and other animals, like pigs, hurt and killed in the trade. . . .

“To read more about leather and the great alternatives to animal skins that are available, visit”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Become bear smart in an afternoon

With the state's black bears in the sights of the Fish and Wildlife Division, the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) and the BEAR Group are sponsoring a free family-friendly educational event about black bears on Saturday, April 24, from 2-4 pm. The place: VFW, 45 Tabor Road, Morris Plains, NJ. Those who attend will “become bear smart.”

Learn what black bears eat, how long they live and their life habits, what causes the most conflicts with people and how to prevent them. Hear what national parks are doing to manage bear population and what New Jersey communities are doing well for human and bear residents. Animal Control Officers, who often first receive calls related to bear issues, will describe how “bear smart communities” are formed, and how they have set up effective protocols and programs to ensure people and bears will live in harmony.

Speakers will include Stephanie Boyles, HSUS Wildlife Scientist; Janet Piszar, BEAR Group director; and Meredith Petrillo, Animal Control Officer, Denville Township.

For more information, contact Janet Piszar at or 973-315-3219 directly.


Sorry, readers, but anti-fur activist Julie O’ Connor reports that Lord and Taylor is not quite fur-free after all. Reportedly, although the fur salon has been removed and fur trim has disappeared from store and website, the store plans to sell some fur trim items in next winter’s clothing line.

As Julie put it: “L &T still wants to have ‘a little’ torture & cruelty on their racks -- on accessories and as trim on women's outerwear.” Although Lord and Taylor’s now much closer to fur-free than before, she’s thinking about a letter-writing campaign to encourage them to make it complete. More to follow and meanwhile, she says, shop fur-free at JC Penney or H & M.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wanted: more fingers for the dike!

Calls for action are coming in. Decent weather seems to cause those on both sides of animal rights issues to start moving. First, things are happening in Ewing, where dissention over the animal shelter continues.

Cats seem to be the animals most in jeopardy. One activist says the sequence goes like this: threats are made that a number of cats/kittens will be euthanized; everyone who cares and can scurries around and tries to find home for them; things settle down again – until the next threat.

Tonight at 6:30 pm at Town Hall the Resolution for TNR (trap – neuter – release) is up for discussion for the “agenda meeting” on Tuesday. Then tomorrow night at 7 pm, council will vote on the subject.

Reportedly, the problem includes one other wrinkle: even though some cats at large in Ewing have one ear tipped – signaling they’ve been through TNR – the animal control officer catches them anyway, keeping them from returning to their colonies.
The call is out for people to turn up at the two meetings in Ewing.


“To enhance Newtown’s status and preserve its historical character,” Newtown PA will offer free horse-drawn wagon rides on the first Saturday of every month from noon-7 pm. Two or three horses will pull wagons over the town’s narrow, congested and hilly streets.

The route is described as “long and dangerous” by Brandon Gittelman, who’s leading the drive to protest this plan and stop it before it can become an established “attraction.” Be in touch w/ him for details about whom to phone or write to:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hard-earned joy

There’s good news – no, “unbelievably exciting news” -- on the fur front. It comes from Julie O’Connor, a tireless animal advocate who heads up Caring Activists Against Fur (CAAF), often mentioned in this blog.

Julie’s organization, sometimes joining others that also protest against fur garments and trim, the stores selling fur and the fur industry in general, regularly demonstrates in New York City and north Jersey. The last demo for this “fur season” was in March at Lord & Taylor, Fifth Ave.

Now, in a message to those involved with CAAF activities, Julie has revealed the back story on that demo and Lord & Taylor.

Shortly before the March event, Julie heard that L & T had closed down its fur salon, although it was still selling fur accessories like rabbit fur earmuffs online. She went ahead with the protest and contacted PETA, suggesting they work with L & T to go fur-free entirely.

Now, Julie reports, that has happened! PETA has advised Julie that L & T is fur free!

Julie believes that “the continuous, targeted pressure is what made this victory possible.” She would like to think “one of the executives saw one of our signs and received some of our literature & it planted the seeds of change.”

She’s confident that “We’re on the verge of something BIG – first, JC Penney [March ‘09] and now L & T.” She adds, “We CAN and DO make a difference! Again, this proves the fight is out on the street. Now let’s keep the victory going for other sentient beings!”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bats in mortal danger

Bats! flying through the summer twilight, they can be barely distinguishable and – unless you know better – scary. In truth, they’re our friendly helpers, consuming skazillions of mosquitoes every hour, not to mention farm insects that otherwise might necessitate use of more pesticides, with a whole new set of problems.

But bats are in mortal danger, as a story from spells out. For a change, bats need humans’ help.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

No way to treat a baby

How do baby elephants become circus performers? Very, very (physically, mentally and emotionally) painfully -- through tearing families apart, breaking their spirits and violent training.

In an article that is truly hard to look at because the photos of baby elephants being “broken” are heartbreaking, PETA’s Animal Times magazine documents still another area of terrible animal abuse.

By now, people are pretty familiar with the fact that zoos are no place for elephants (or any animal). But for some reason, circuses aren’t getting the same heat. Is it because circuses are billed as such fun for “kids of every age”? That’s not a claim zoos could make with any conviction.

For this article, an elephant handler with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus provided specifics as well as photos. The first step is to remove still-nursing baby elephants (of 18-24 months) from their mothers, forcibly, of course.

In the wild, the article says, they usually nurse until five years of age, in a nurturing environment. In the circus, not so: they are dragged away from their mothers.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the second step is to break the babies’ spirits. They are kept indoors, tied up for most of the day, crying for their mothers and straining at their ropes. With no playtime to work off their energy, “the baby elephants at Ringling endure a terrifying combination of ropes, chains, bullhooks, electric shock prods, maternal deprivation and corporal punishment.”

Third, the babies have about a year of often violent training sessions. This includes being “forced by several adult men into confusing and physically difficult positions that will eventually be incorporated into circus routines.”

What else is there to say?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nature green in tooth and claw

Harry, the orange long-haired tabby with the terrific tail, loves “cat grass.” He can watch it grow through the deck window, and whenever I’m out there, he lines up inside the door, ready for a bunch of the glossy green stuff.

Winter put a stop to that. But then, in concert with spring’s arrival, a friend bought a couple packets of grass seed at the Philly Flower Show and I filled two deck containers with them. Prematurely, as it turns out: just as the grass reached 2-3 inches in height, the wacky weather turned back to cold (25 degrees overnight) and rainy.

I brought the containers inside and put them on a “plant cart” at a window. That was my first mistake. Harry soon scented or saw the grass and his persistent tries to reach it – over and around the obstacles I’d set up -- prompted me to close the door.

Then, after a day or so of “grass safety,” I relented and opened the door. I figured I’d be in the next room at the pc, and he was dozing downstairs with Billy. This was mistake # 2 – underestimating.

Before long – was it a diversionary tactic? – Billy danced in to visit me, then I followed him out of the room, glancing into “the grass room” as I passed the doorway. There was Harry, back feet planted in one grass container so he could reach into the one in front of it and help himself.

I’m glad to say I only gulped. No yell, no reproach, just a gentle extraction of Harry from both containers. He didn’t like being held away from the grass. He liked it even less when I carried him out of the room and closed the door. It’s still closed, and will remain so until the weather lets me put both containers back outside and Harry and I can resume our usual game.

Meanwhile, I was proud of him. He had reverted to his cat nature, which domestication mutes. He stealthily stalked his prey, the grass. He knew what he wanted and went after it, necessarily playing possum to lull me into enough of a false security to open the door. Then he struck.