Sunday, October 31, 2010

Uneasy lies the head that wears . . .

So ends October, the month for animals . . . (See Oct. 1 post) Here’s a long-extinct animal, the Elk-Moose (Cervalces Scotti), who at least 40,000 years ago, ranged over most of the eastern half of the continent, inhabiting bog lands and wetlands.

This impressive skeleton (and head gear!), a gift from Princeton University, can be seen at the NJ State Museum, just inside and to the right of the entrance. It’s believed that rapid climate change at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch probably caused this creature to go extinct – that, and the arrival of the (more adaptive and slightly smaller) “modern” moose.

Found in Hope township, Warren County, NJ, this is one of just two complete skeletons of the elk-moose in the world.

Does anyone else wonder how this guy supported those antlers?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chew on these ideas for awhile

Cliché or not, sometimes "food for thought" feels like the only right way to say, "Here's something I read and found interesting or stimulating. . . Maybe you'll like it too."

In extracting the following passages from Lee Hall's book, which was the subject of the last post, I’m hoping they’ll be food for your thought.

· Some future discoverer of the ancient culture called humanity might fairly decide that we Homo sapiens were an insecure lot. Until the end, we kept on fighting and vanquishing animals by deliberately ignoring the unremitting destruction of their territory. By ignoring their numbers when they fell in the wars we waged. By the deforestation of their habitat and the expansion of the farming we prized. By only permitting them to exist insofar as we could take advantage of them as tourist attractions, experimental subjects, film props, guards, playthings, or something to package in bright yellow foam and unwrap, ingest, and excrete.

· Treating farm animals as pets calls on us to delight in the total subservience expected by an affluent society over its animals. Indeed, the custom of petkeeping was established as a display of status by a population which can afford to keep more animals than it can use as food, with the leisure time to breed animals to enjoy as a form of play.

· Few would argue against the idea of neutering domesticated pet animals; these animals are selectively bred to be dependent on humans.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Changing minds if not lives too

Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror. by Lee Hall. Nectar Bat Press, Darien, CT: 2006.

Just as it’s hard to read them, it’s also hard to summarize the style or content of Lee Hall’s two books about animals.

During the period I went through both books, highlighting all the way, her viewpoints stayed with me long after I’d finished reading. She’s right about so much, unconventional on familiar issues and painfully demanding as far as what we should be doing.

The first book, Capers in the Churchyard, is the easier read, maybe because it’s shorter and Hall was only warming up for the 2nd book; maybe because not till the 2nd book does she make unarguably clear what she thinks humans should be doing instead of merely improving the conditions of domesticated, purpose-born or captive animals -- not demonstrating against fur, not adopting farm animals in sanctuaries, not demanding kinder ways to kill chickens for McDonald’s to serve . . .

And definitely not threatening or taking physical action against those involved with animal experimentation or any other objectionable activity involving animals.

Hall argues masterfully in Capers that animal advocates must not be militant activists, fighting cruelty and abuse with the same tactics. Don’t fight fire with fire, she argues, but with reason, dignity and inspiration. Those with right on their side should keep it there.

Just think: how often have our minds ever changed when those with different opinions yelled at us, called us names or threatened us and our families?

Hall’s solutions to the world’s myriad wrongs against non-human animals are simple, peaceful . . . and achingly hard to implement:

1 -- transcend the age-old culture of dominion over other animals and accept that the only “right” they need is the right to be left alone.

2 – don’t eat them.

That’s all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Holy crow!' seems apropos

Tonight’s PBS “Nature” program tells us all about crows. What we may have thought of only as cawing, mischievous birds we now know to be the smartest birds.

Not only do crows recognize human facial differences, but they also warn one another of humans who are dangerous to them. And they have different warning calls for cats and hawks. All such alerts are done in the hoarse tones associated with crows, although they also have soft, melodious ways of speaking to family members.

Like humans and great apes, New Caledonian crows use tools. Not only that, they make tools. Not only that, they use tools to make tools.

It’s thought that their being omnivorous eaters encourages crows’ brain development. One example: they drop walnuts from just the right height to crack, but not shatter, on a road; then they retrieve the nuts while the light’s red. Young crows also can spend up to five years with their parents – another means of cognitive development.

Though crows can learn who’s good and bad for them, the question is, do parents pass on this knowledge to their young? This is something only a very small group of animals can do.

One year-long experiment, involving tracking of radio-rigged and leg-banded crow fledglings, indicates the answer may be “yes.” They can learn, remember and put to use info they got from their parents – for example, the reaction to humans wearing a certain mask associated with threats to crows.

This TV program raised serious questions: do crows need such research findings? Does it do them any good to perform tests for scientists? Why can’t crows – and all other wild animals – simply be left alone to live their lives the best way they can? (This foreshadows a discussion of Lee Hall’s 2nd book, “On Their Own Terms,” which promotes “Let them be!” as the only right approach to wild animals.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Remembering Echo

“Echo” was a mother many times over. She “grew in age and wisdom,” becoming the matriarch of her large family, all of whom depended on her. She died at age 65.

During her lifetime, Echo’s family, like most others, experienced hard times. Sometimes they wanted for food; at other times, enemies attacked them. One of Echo’s babies was born with a severe physical handicap, and one of her sisters became very ill after being poisoned.

Using knowledge that had come down to her through the ages, Echo led the way through all that befell her family, often modeling how others in the clan might behave. She took tender care of her son, Eli, showing patience and loyalty, staying with him when others moved ahead. He recovered from his grave leg impairment.

Knowing her sister could not recover, Echo left her so others in the family might live. When a baby was kidnapped by enemies, Echo led her family to take her back.

When Echo died last year of natural causes, her family grieved. One daughter was so traumatized, she stayed with the body long beyond the usual time.

Echo’s traits – intelligence, loyalty, devotion, maternal love and leadership – made her famous in her own lifetime. She lived in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, with her extended clan of elephants. A scientist who had watched Echo for decades said she “was a lovely being. She gave us a lot of joy. She was a wonder.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

A seasonal, and topical, poem


It’s autumn. The nuts patter down.
Beechnuts, acorns, black walnuts –
tree orphans thrown to the ground
in their hard garments.

Don’t go in there,
into the faded orange wood –
it’s filled with angry old men
sneaking around in camouflage gear
pretending no one can see them.

Some of them aren’t even old,
they just have arthritic foreheads,
or else they’re drunk,
but something’s got to suffer
for their grudges, their obscure sorrows:
the more blown-up flesh, the better.

They’ll shoot at any sign of movement –
your dog, your cat, you.
They’ll say you were a fox or skunk,
or duck, or pheasant. Maybe a deer.

They aren’t hunters, these men.
They have none of the patience of hunters,
none of the remorse.
They’re certain they own everything.
A hunter knows he borrows.

I remember the long hours
crouching in the high marsh grasses –
the grey sky empty, the water silent,
the hushed colours of distant trees –
waiting for the rush of wings,
half-hoping nothing would happen.

-- Margaret Atwood (1939-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stand up for black bears!

Plan to stand up for black bears this weekend!

There won’t be many of these rallies, and it’s crucial that every one is well-attended!

Rain or shine, come out this Saturday, October 16, 12 noon--2pm.

Route 46 & Sammis Ave., in front of the Wachovia Bank, Dover, NJ. (Note: The address on GPS would be 401 route 46, Dover NJ, but it’s really Rockaway Twp.)

Questions or comments? E-mail

Please come out for the bears!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Save the date to help save the bears

December, the month for New Jersey’s projected bear hunt, is coming closer. With time running out, anti-hunt activists are trying to build support in all the ways they can think of.

Next Saturday’s “Stand Up for Me: Black Bear Rally” is one such activity. “Save the date” (October 16), urges the flyer from Animal Protection League of NJ (APLNJ). Scheduled for noon-2 pm in Rockaway Township, this rally will be one of only a few. It’s important for anti-hunt people to turn out for it in impressive numbers.

An alert later this week will specify the rally location. To request a rally reminder, write to

Plan to “stand up for the bears.” They need our help.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What we, and you, MIGHT have done

Continuing the story of “Sally,” the cat who had the bad luck to be sick, scarily thin and (I’m convinced now) nervous enough to bite me a few times while also coming closer at my invitation . . .

So, while necessary or not, Sally was tested for rabies. Which means she was first euthanized and then decapitated. Her brain was where proof of the disease would reside – although as we know now, she tested negative.

I have since spoken with Princeton’s animal control officer (ACO) and the doctor who treated Sally a week ago Wednesday. The ACO said that while he could pick up a cat in Sally’s condition – he’s a pro at it and carries pillowcases in his truck for that purposes – other people would need gloves, to avoid bites, and a blanket or towel to wrap her – if they even tried.

Essentially, he said the best thing to do is “call the police.” The reason: they’ll come to the scene and assess the animal’s situation. Then they can phone for the ACO to come; and if he’s not available, he has back-ups in three neighboring towns.And every town has some version or other of an ACO, he said, as required by law. So his recommendation may be the safest bet.

I’m still checking around about the entire process – what could happen and what (if anything) must happen with the sick animal once she’s been picked up. And whether any part of that procedure changes if the animal has bitten someone.

For right now at least, the key advice to keep in mind is “Call the police.”


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Here's what WE did

(picking up on Oct. 3 post)

It was around 9 pm last Wednesday night and we had “Sally” the sick cat in the car with us. The question then was, where could we take her for medical help. SAVE was not far away so we drove there, not knowing but hoping someone would be on night duty.

Throughout this ride, I held Sally in my arms/on my lap. She seemed to like that and stayed quietly in place.

No one home at SAVE (note to self: for emergencies like this, find out whether any place is open at night).

My husband suggested the Princeton Animal Hospital, on Alexander, and once there, we were in luck: they were open. Soon a vet was checking Sally out (confirming my vibe that she was a girl and pointing out she’d been declawed in front.) With a big drink of water behind her, the cat grew restless on the examining table while we and the vet discussed options.

We wanted to assure that Sally had a safe place for the night and was looked after. It had been explained to us that since she was found in Princeton, that town’s animal control officer (ACO) should be involved asap.

The vet said her poor condition (4 pounds and a few ounces despite estimated age of 3-4, and her growing agitation as the exam proceeded) could be a sign of rabies. That word, rabies, came to haunt this whole story.

We left Sally there, with various tests to be run. Soon after we got home, the vet phoned and talked more about rabies, the test for it and the bites on my wrist. Alarming. My response was for her/them to involve the Princeton AOC in a mutual decision if necessary. (As I’d sensed the cat was a girl, I also sensed she did not have rabies.)

The next morning my wrist, swollen and inflammed, prompted an early visit to the ER and I was told I had to stay in hospital overnight on antibiotics.

Meanwhile, Sally, who had been picked up by Princeton’s ACO, was “put down” (a horrible phrase for a horrible deed) so a rabies test could be done. Jumping ahead to this Monday, I learned she had tested negative.

As far as who made the decision, and why, that is still unknown at this point. Along the way, one of the hospital doctors had more than once been in contact with the AOC, and who said what to whom is still in dispute. In any case, Sally is gone. So much for my good intentions.
(To be continued)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Possible answers to a reader's question

Following the Sept. 19 post, Fiona, a reader, commented on how she has helped feral cats on her own and wondered if/how she might get financial help for spaying a cat that may have given birth this summer. From a specialist in the area of feral cats – an advoCAT, in fact – come these suggestions:

1 – Talk with members of your area rescue groups. You can usually find them on weekends at participating pet stores, where they encourage people to adopt animals. These groups may have grant money for spay/neuter.

2 – If you’re a New Jersey resident, contact the staff member at Animal Protection League of NJ (APLNJ) who specializes in feral cats. The phone # there is 1-732-446-6808; the email address is

3 – See if this organization can help fund spaying feral cats: Spay USA. Phone 1-800-248-7729 or 1-203-377-7729 to advise them of your situation. You may be asked where the closest low-cost spay/neuter clinic or vet is located and what the cost is.

Good luck!

A day to foster better days for animals

Today is World Animal Day. It began in 1931 as a way to highlight the plight of endangered animals around the world. (Does that include cows and pigs and chickens on their way to slaughter?)

October 4 is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. (Maybe the animals – seemingly more beleaguered than ever -- haven’t been praying hard enough.)

OK, enough editorializing. The program for World Animal Day has to do with threatened or endangered animals. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that over 9,200 animal species worldwide fall into that category. In New Jersey, nearly 80 species are so described, and 100 more are considered of “special concern.”

Even for common animals, like birds, bees and bats, the outlook’s alarming. All three are in serious decline for one reason or another – many of them having to do with human activity. Pollution, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation impact entire ecosystems and the animals living there.

“Animals don’t need to evolve: we do.” That’s the theme for this year’s World Animal Day. The hope is that observing this day will help raise awareness of what we can do better toward animals and the environment – their environment too!

“Another part of the evolution is continuing to preserve open space and wildlife habitat here in New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state. People need homes, but so do animals!” -- Michele S. Byers, Executive Director of the NJ Conservation Foundation. (

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What would YOU do?

As you back out of a parking space behind the ice cream shop, you see a very thin, sick-looking cat sitting a few cars away, illuminated by a street light. She’s not anyone’s pet, at least now, and therefore needs help from someone else.

You get out the bag of cat treats you carry in your car and walk slowly toward the cat, who backs up onto the curb area, watching you. As you make the s-s-s-s-s-s-s sound that gets cats’ attention, and hold out a few yummies, she comes toward you in a stop and go kind of way, seeming interested and yet wary.

Two or three times, she comes very close to you, then seeming to regret her advance, nips your wrist and jumps back. (At the time, you think she swiped you with her claw; later it turns out she was declawed in front. So it must have been her teeth that drew blood in a few places.)

She follows you along the curb to a tree, where she eats numbers of the snacks, seeming not to have eaten for days and days. You start back to your car, where your husband, who’s driving, waits. (He had also urged you not to approach the cat, not to feed her and certainly not to try picking her up.)

The cat – looking to be a yellowish and gray tabby -- follows you to the car and seems ready to get in. So you pick her up and she settles down in your arms. Your husband drives away and the two of you try to figure out where-to now.

* Faced with the situation described above, what would YOU do, and how and why? In a post to come, I’ll pick up this story about what we – my husband and I and the cat -- did.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

“…unto one of the least of these my brethren”

He’s b-a-a-a-a-a-a-k. J. B. Kasper, the outdoorsman behind the Times of Trenton’s weekly “Outdoors” column, this week wrote about how “Drought creates easy pickings for smallies.”

Translation: Despite the weather, you can still catch fish if you follow his instructions.

And his advice, excerpted here from the column, with wording and punctuation exactly as they appeared, includes the following:

· “Hook your minnows through the lips when using shiners, and through the head from the bottom to the top when using killies and fatheads.”

· “Once you detect a hit, wait a second or two and set the hook. This will usually hook the fish in the lip and makes for less gut hooked fish.”

· “Hooking a minnow in the manner we(!) have described and casting it into this flat water will cause the minnow to swim around on the surface of the water.”

· . . . “you can often catch more than one fish on a minnow. Even though the minnow might be dead it can still be used effectively. When the minnow is dead, re-hook it deep in the head.”

If you didn’t know differently, you might think minnows were created to serve as bait fish. If you didn’t feel differently, you might think minnows are just things, not living creatures with feelings, particularly when a fish hook is forced through their lips or head.

And how about those minnows who “swim around on the surface of the water”? Could that possibly be pained and panicked swimming?

Friday, October 1, 2010

A month for animals

October is “World Animal Month.” It’s intended to “celebrate animal life in all its forms, and the intricate, symbiotic bonds between humanity and the animal kingdom.”


It sounds good. But what does it mean for the farm animals slaughtered for our consumption? the animals murdered for their skins and fur? the animals imprisoned in labs and subject to inhumane treatment in the name of science? the animals all over the world whose habitats are being destroyed? the wild and free horses in the American West, forcibly removed to make still more room for profitable cattle grazing? the so-called service animals, who weren't born to and never consented to lead humans around? the captive circus and zoo animals forced to live for the entertainment of humans? the shelter and sanctuary animals right here in New Jersey, whose future is uncertain at best?

“World Animal Month” and “World Animal Day” on Monday Oct. 4 are upbeat-sounding, but easy to be cynical about, given the plight of animals near and far.

Sure, there are “animal-advocate-heroes” out there. Locally, there’s the Mercer County Wildlife Center, and there are feral cat helpers and shelter volunteers, and on and on. But (from this corner at least) animals are still living on the edge, overall; they’re marginal and if-convenient considerations in the human view of things.

Back to World Animal Day. Reportedly, it’s been celebrated in more than 80 countries around the world, and that surely helps raise awareness. Its website ( includes ideas for things to do in the “Get Involved” section.

Rather than giving up in disgust or discouragement -- which would be all too easy to do -- let’s hope for the best for animals. Then let’s “get involved” and move in that direction.