Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kill or no-kill?

The big question about animal shelters these days seems to be “Kill or no-kill?” In some cases, people cite “no-kill” as if it’s the only right way to go and every shelter could and should be like that all the time.

The last post here referred to how SAVE, in Princeton Township, cannot be described as “no-kill.” Instead, presumably to avoid having to euthanize animals who prove unadoptable or unsocial or even dangerous, SAVE is “a limited admission shelter” – if there’s space, animals are welcome there if they seem likely to be adopted.

On the other hand, Piper Huggins, executive director, says that if a SAVE animal proves un-adoptable, s/he is not “destroyed” for that reason.

Discussing euthanasia, she said that on average, one or two animals a year are euthanized at SAVE. One example: a dog who became “cage crazy.” The vet who works part-time there and the shelter manager both considered the situation and agreed. Huggins, who expressed confidence in both women, signed off on the decision and let the board of trustees know of the situation.

What would have happened with this dog in a no-kill shelter?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More about SAVE

(This post picks up where the June 20 post, about 2 animal-helping places, left off.)

Piper Huggins, executive director of SAVE, the animal shelter in Princeton Township, says, "We can't call ourselves a 'no-kill shelter'; what we are is a limited admission shelter."

By that she means, "We're very, very careful about the animals we bring to SAVE." For instance, she says, a 16-year-old cat might make an unlikely adoptee and so if SAVE is asked about taking in such a cat, staffers may instead refer to an animal sanctuary such as Tabby's Place.

She says, "It's all about bringing in cats and dogs we can find homes for fairly quickly . . . and at the same time, screening the applicants so we can be sure the match is a good one." SAVE, she says, wants to move animal out the front door as quickly as possible, into "forever homes."

At the same time, Huggins stresses that they take animals back if the adoption doesn't work out. That must be a sad experience for animals who find themselves back where they started from. Question: do animals experience lowered self-esteem when that happens; could they put together cause and effect? In this case, since they returned to the start point, would they assume they were the reason for the return?

SAVE's foster program can help make an animal more adoptable, Huggins believes. For instance, a dog with potential might be socialized to the point of adoption while living with a foster family -- and at the same time, that dog isn't taking up shelter space another animal might need.

Right now, the shelter can accommodate 60 cats and 15 dogs.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wildlife education -- part 2

(continued from yesterday's report)

A Virginia opossum – the only marsupial in America and an animal that was around with the dinosaurs – was the third animal introduced. Because she has brain damage, she probably couldn’t survive in the wild. Rakos-Yates did some rumor busting here: first, opossums really don’t hang by their tails; nor do they “play possum.” Faced with a predator, they actually faint from fear, and in the process vomit and relieve themselves. Altogether, they become wholly unappetizing to save their own lives.

Last came a red-tailed hawk, a majestic and scary creature who looked like much more than her estimated three pounds. (She can pick up about twice her weight, though – so squirrels beware.)

New Jersey has lots of these hawks, who like the flat open land that makes food-finding easier. Because this hawk may have been “human imprinted” as a fledgling and therefore can’t or won’t leave humans and their food alone, she must be kept from the wild, where she could hurt or be hurt.

Except for the hawk, who in nature would be diurnal, the animals were nocturnal. The carnivorous screech owl would depend mainly on her hearing to hunt, and special feathers allow her to fly very quietly so her prey can’t hear her coming.

An omnivore, the skunk had nails that showed why digging for grubs is a common way to feed. Spraying is her only protection, although contrary to belief, her first warning is stomping her feet. Then she turns around and looks over her shoulder at a predator, and then if necessary, she lifts her tail and sprays.

The opossum, a carnivore and scavenger, keeps her offspring in her pouch – which Rakos-Yates declined to show the children. “We must be respectful of her,” she explained.

Hawks are not the birds we often see soaring in big circles, she told them. That would be vultures – the only birds with a sense of smell. Hawks and other birds migrate south in winter not for the warmer weather – their feathers keep them cool in summer and warm in winter - but because of the plentiful food still available in warm places.

All told, this was in fact “an education session.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wildlife education -- part 1

Rabbits, snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, bats, foxes, raccoons, ducks, geese, owls, moles, coyotes, eagles, hawks, possums, songbirds, crows . . . The kids called out what animals they thought might be taken care of at the Mercer County Wildlife Center. (All those named here were correct, and there were still more.)

This was an education session provided by the Center for children attending the Junior Master Gardener Summer Nature Camp, in Lawrence Township. All 18 seated (and most squirming) on a big blue mat, they looked and listened – and asked questions and told stories – as staff member Jane Rakos-Yates conducted the class.

She elicited from them what kind of animals the place serves: birds, mammals, reptiles. And in spelling out what kind of wildlife is welcome there -- sick, injured or without a parent – she stressed that it’s a hospital, not a sanctuary or zoo.

Four “education animals” were introduced to the children. Although they’ll live out their lives at the Center, they are still treated like wildlife. Rakos-Yates wore protective gloves and used towels when she held them, and the animals were on (short) leashes.

First came a female Eastern screech owl, who is at the Center because when the tree where she lived was chain-sawed down, she lost part of a wing. Inability to fly would quickly finish her off in the wild, so she helps with education and sometimes acts as a surrogate mom for baby screech owls brought in.

Next came an Eastern striped skunk. She had been de-scented to make her a pet before being rescued. For future reference, the kids learned that different kinds of skunks have different stripes and that vinegar’s the best way to get rid of the skunk spray "aroma."

(to be continued tomorrow)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Daphne & Josephine: lucky ducks

(The happy story here is borrowed with permission from Suzanne Dragan, director of Food for Life, a program of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey [].)

If you see white ducks at ponds, please know they are abandoned domestic Pekin ducks. These domestic birds, who can not fly, were once someone's "Easter duckling" or the result of a school “hatching project." Just like dogs and cats, these domestic birds require daily care, specific food (duck pellets NOT bread), safe shelter and our concern.

Abandoned ducks and geese usually starve, freeze in the winter and are killed by predators, cars or cruel people. Please give stuffed toy ducks and geese to children at Easter, and if your school system does school hatching projects, let us know so we can send them materials on alternatives.

These same ducks are used to make foie gras, a high cholesterol and disgusting "delicacy." Ducks (and geese) are forcibly overfed so that their liver becomes engorged and fatty. They are then slaughtered and their deformed livers are made into foie gras, an artery-clogging paté often served in fancy restaurants.

When the ducks are slaughtered, their soft down and feathers are used to make (down) jackets, comforters and feather pillows. So, buying down and feather products contributes to the suffering and death of innocent ducks and geese. There are plenty of man-made artificial fiber-filled jackets, comforters and pillows that are as warm, hypo-allergenic, machine-washable and less expensive than down -- but you need to read labels.

Next time you shop for winter clothing or bedding or consider eating foie gras, think of Daphne & Josephine, pictured here. They were discovered at a pond where ducks are continually dumped, only to be hit by cars or killed by other ducks.

Luckily, these two young girls couldn't figure out how to get into the water over the rocks and they were easily rescued. They both have very distinct personalities. Daphne is more vocal and Josephine is more curious. Like most ducks, they enjoy music (these girls were partial to jazz) and being sung to.

Luckily Daphne & Josephine were placed at Majestic Water Fowl in Lebanon, CT. Most dumped ducks are not so lucky.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

2 places to know about

Recent visits to two animal-related sites proved to be especially interesting – one, to the Mercer County Wildlife Center, on Rt. 29 in Hopewell Township; the second, to SAVE animal shelter (“A friend to homeless animals”), on Herrontown Road, Princeton.

Their clients are different, yet their missions are related in that both places serve animals. Both sites aim to release the animals they take in to help as quickly as possible – the Wildlife Center aims to re-release into the wild the injured/orphan animals they’ve care for, and SAVE aims to find “forever homes” through adoption of the animals they’ve taken in.

However, it’s not always possible to release every animal. For instance, the bald eagle at the Wildlife Center can no longer fly. A permanent resident, he’s part of the Center’s education program. If a dog or cat at SAVE isn’t adopted, s/he stays there.

Both places depend on donations as well as public awareness and good will. Each has a “wish list” of supplies they’d appreciate, ranging from food to office supplies to paper towels – and always including volunteer hours, of course.

Both facilities are headed by women: the Wildlife Center, by Diane Nickerson, a county employee who has managed it since 1994; and SAVE, by Piper Huggins, who is in her seventh month as executive director.

Future posts will detail both the Wildlife Center and SAVE.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Walkin' and talkin'

"When I’m with my (boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, significant other. . . ) s/he is often on the phone, talking with others. Do I have a right to feel hurt?"

Questions like this really are printed. And at least one response advised the writer to tell the phone-talker that it’s a hurtful thing to do and to pay attention to the here and now.

But what can dogs do when they’re walking with a person who’s on the phone? Wasn’t this supposed to be togetherness/bonding/quality time? Why can’t the person pay attention only to the dog for the duration of the walk?

Why not? Maybe because humans and their cell phones – and myriad other gadgets – are more and more hard to separate. Recent newspaper stories about studies being done have reported that families text while eating dinner (both at home and out), that interpersonal relations are suffering, not to mention the concentration abilities and quality of work of those bound to their gadgets.

Gadget-bound parents are said to be causing resentment and anxiety for their children, who at least sense they’re being short-changed in attention. (Now it’s not so much sibling rivalry as gadget rivalry for their parents’ undivided attention!)

What’s a dog to do? Jump up and knock the phone out of her/his person’s hand? That wouldn’t go over well.

What ever happened to man’s and woman’s best friend? It seems to have mutated – not “evolved”! – into a cell phone, or its equivalent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

“Males behaving dadly”

Natalie Angier, the writer who brings life, and laughs, to NYTimes science coverage, was at it again yesterday – this time with primates and their “mothering” tendencies. Except that it’s the dads, or at least the males, who do the mothering, and they reportedly love every second.

Angier writes about Barbary macaques for whom infants are status symbols, networking tools and bonding instruments. Sometimes those babies don’t even belong to the males who use them; the important thing is to carry one anyway.

The “downy black fur and wrinkly pinkish face” of a macaque baby enraptures adult males, who “will hold up the infant like a holy thing, nuzzling it, chattering their teeth,” and bewildering whoever observes the behavior.

What we usually think of as “motherly” behavior is often the province of dads in the primate world. Angier writes: “In 90 percent of mammalian species, promiscuity is common and paternity uncertain; females gestate the young internally and then provision them with breast milk, and males rarely have any evolutionary incentive . . . . Yet in that remaining 10 percent, the daddy decile, we find most of the world’s primates.”

This unusual fathering occurs in other species too, according to Angier. Male pipefish, for instance, oversee nourishment for their offspring, and some male birds are keepers of the nest.

Angier’s story, “Paternal Bonds, Special and Strange,” is accompanied by a cunning short video showing two adult male macaques holding, hugging and not letting go of a baby, who seems desperate to get out of their embrace, walk around and explore!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pets in college = win-win

Companion animals on walks and drives with their people; companion animals at festivals and even (unfortunately) at fireworks displays. People and the animals in their families go more and more places together.

So for lots of reasons, it makes sense for companion animals to go to college too. A June 6 story in the NYTimes describes a few colleges where students’ pets are welcome too. The students involved report their delight at bringing their friends from home with them.

One college requires proof of cats being neutered or spayed; another limits dogs' weight to 40 pounds while prohibiting pit bulls, Rottweilers and wolf breeds at all times; a third institution allows a three-week grace period at the start of a term, during which pets must satisfactorily adjust to life in the residence hall or go home.

At some schools, pet councils exist to assure that students with pets follow established guidelines. At one, two students lost “dog privileges” last year because they weren’t “taking appropriate care.”

The popularity of companion animals accompanying their students has caused one college to renovate a dorm – now called “Pet Central” -- for students and their cats and dogs. Its first floor will include a kennel staffed by work-study students who will “offer temporary boarding and perhaps a bath.”

What could be more welcome than unconditional love during stressful times?


Thursday, June 10, 2010

A sure attention getter

The subject of horse-drawn carriages has come up twice, maybe three times, in this blog. Invariably, as soon as those posts appeared, comments began rolling in. I know if I want to get readers/stir the pot/prompt comments, all I have to do is use the words "horse-drawn carriages" -- and the network supporting it gets to work.

It amazes me how the backers of horse-drawn carriages claim the horses work for a living and not only that, they want to work for a living (when of course (1) the horses haven't said a word on this subject; (2) their mode of work is determined by . . . ta-da! their owners. Gee, what a surprise).

Further, the advocates of horse-drawn carriages never refer to snow and ice-rutted city streets where horses must pull the carriages in winter weather; they never mention car and truck exhaust the horses must inhale. They cite temperature guidelines determining when horses can work or not as if they're always, religiously adhered to and as if they're humane to begin with -- when neither "as if" is necessarily true.

It's about money. And the horses happen to be able to do the thing that makes money for the carriage drivers/horse owners. That's it.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Earlier today, in Old City, Philadelphia, a horse pulling a carriage was attacked by a pit bull. Just an occupational hazard, the drivers might be saying; these things happen. The sad thing is that the pit bull was him/herself a rescue animal, who reportedly was overwhelmed by the noise, traffic and nearby horse -- and attacked the horse. At this point, there's no word about either animal's condition; though there were passengers in the carriage, they were unhurt.

Horses shouldn't be pulling carriages on city streets. Period.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Their day will come

Last Saturday was International Day for Horses without Carriages, a global movement to end the abusive and dangerous horse-drawn carriage industry. To mark it, vigils and demonstrations were held in Philadelphia and NYC – among many other cities -- where horse-drawn carriages are still a prominent and painful part of the cityscape.

The profit motive is everywhere.

Lee Hall, a lawyer and author* with Friends of Animals, reports that a Philadelphia carriage driver told her to stop taking pictures, shouting, "Not with my horse, you don't! Don't you exploit my horse!" (See photo with FoA member in foreground; objecting driver behind her.)

On the brighter side, visitors from the Philippines joined the Philadelphia vigil and promised to spread the word about the campaign when they returned home.

Last year, Friends of Animals sent a proposed bill to ban horse-drawn vehicles in Philadelphia to the mayor and every council member. The PA chapter of Friends of Animals is raising funds to make this issue as public as we can: Donations can be sent to Friends of Animals, 777 Post road, Darien CT 06820 with a note that they are for the carriage horse campaign in Philly. (Donations are tax-deductible; Friends of Animals is a 501 c 3.)

* Hall’s new book, On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal Rights Philosophy Down to Earth, is now available. Her earlier book, Capers in the Churchyard, can also be purchased at a buy-now price from Friends of Animals –

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The pride of San Andreas

(Here’s a long but very happy excerpt from the PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society)newsletter describing the arrival at PAWS of four circus lions from Bolivia. Email for a copy of E-News to see more photos and a video made at the end of their journey.)

The four circus lions from Bolivia -- Simba, Bambek, Daktari and Camba -- arrived in San Andreas at 3 am on Friday, May 28, after a long journey by plane and truck . . . Their crates were unloaded into the lions’ den area, enhanced with pine trees and huge logs.

As the crates were moved around, all four lions began to roar, calling to one another for reassurance. Crews quickly scattered straw around the enclosure and shifted crates up to den doors so the lions (who clearly did not like being separated) could be together.

The sun rose as the lions were released into separate den areas; finally the gates were opened and the three males were reunited. Camba, the female kept separated until all the animals can be neutered, hugged the common fence, pushing her body into Bambek, the older male.

Suddenly, the males began rolling around in the fragrant alfalfa hay, then raced around the big enclosure sniffing the pine trees, urinating profusely, and somersaulting over the branches to jump on an unsuspecting companion. Camba chased the three up and down the fence line, wearing pine branches and hay on her head.

Sadly, we realized how spacious even that small den area was compared to the metal boxes that had been their home for most of their lives. We were eager to release them into the big habitat.

The three males fell asleep on top of each other against the fence next to Camba until we arrived hours later . . . and prepared to release the lions into the huge, sunny, hillside habitat with trees, logs and plentiful vegetation.

Camba was released first. After all, in lion society, the female is the smartest, leading the hunt and feeding the babies as the lazy males watch from a distance. As she bounded out the gate, the anxious boys found their own gate and followed her to freedom.

They spent most of the day running up and down the hill, stopping just long enough to rest in the shade of the oak trees. The next day, they were obviously sore from all the unusual exercise.

The lions from Bolivia were home. They chose to sleep out in the habitat that night, gazing up at the stars for the first time in their lives.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bow-hunting: NIMBY!

Email and phone messages are flying around the state among animal activists. NJ’s Senate and Environment and Energy Committee will vote tomorrow on S1181 – cutting from 450 to 150 feet the bow-hunting safety zone, giving bow-hunters access to more land, closer to homes.

Activists are urging one another to urge committee members to vote NO on S1181 before tomorrow’s action on this critical issue.

Angi Metler, Executive Director of the Animal Protection League of NJ, says, “The hunters' point of view is everywhere. We’re having a hard time getting ours out. We sent out releases about this legislation to every newspaper in the state. No one was interested. Amazing.”

That’s the word for it: “amazing.”

From the activists’ side, key arguments against S1181 go like this:

* The weapon’s range exceeds the proposed safety distance.

* Among the weapons being used are archaic, dangerous cross bows, approved by the NJ Fish and Game Council before the 2009-10 deer-hunting season. (Cross bows in our backyards?! )

* An arrow can travel an average of 184 mph, or 270 feet per second.

* Bow hunting is exceptionally cruel, inflicting maximum tissue, tendon, muscle and nerve damage. For instance, broadhead arrows are constructed of two to four sharp, razor-blade tips. Their purpose is to induce bleeding by inflicting gaping wounds. Targeted animals die of hemorrhage.

* S1181 exposes New Jersey’s families and companion animals to gratuitous danger for strictly recreational purposes.

NJ residents should be asking: what are these hunters after, and why. The answers: first, deer and any other animal that can be hit with an arrow, and second, the hunters’ own recreation. If this were about cutting overpopulation, which deer hunters sometimes claims as their motive, they wouldn’t be bow-hunting.

NJ residents should be saying loud and clear: S1181 -- not in MY backyard!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June is for adopting a shelter cat

June is National Adopt-a-Shelter Cat month. So you can stop reading right now to make a dash to your nearest shelter and bring home a needy pussycat or two. Or, read on, because you’ll have another chance to do that later this month.

On Saturday, June 12, an art and poetry walk around Lambertville and New Hope is designed to raise awareness of Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary in Ringoes, NJ. The event’s free; it’s not about money, pledges or collections, but about facilitating the adoption of some 100 cats at Tabby’s Place, which operates as a feline adoption center, hospital and hospice. (

The event is named “Zoom Cat Zoom!” after a children’s book written and illustrated by Lewis Matheney, Stockton-based artist-writer and “host” of the walk. (That’s his illustration above.)

During the walk -- starting at 3 pm at Left Bank Books, 32 Coryell St, Lambertville -- participants will match Matheney’s poems with art appearing in 10 locations along the route. And they’ll be able to pick up postcards, each with a Tabby’s Place resident cat pictured, to mail to sympathetic friends and get the word around about the need for adoptions.

A 6 pm closing reception at the New Hope Arts Center will close out both the walk and a sculpture show on view there. Details at

Are you free on June 12 to walk and help find homes for the kitties at Tabby’s Place?