Sunday, January 24, 2010

Time out for iguanas

This blogger's heading south tomorrow, to warm Technicolorland – a time-out from here and a chance to check on the iguanas there. AnimalBeat visitors/readers are invited (as always!) to browse earlier posts, leave comments and become followers. Till early February . . .

What Northerner has not wished, in deepest, coldest winter, to be an iguana. They always seem to be soaking up and storing sun, as if to see themselves through . . . a deep, cold winter!

Iguanas are a kind of lizard, which in turn is a kind of reptile. They’re tropical, herbivorous, arboreal, quiet and diurnal – and fascinating. Unlike their relatives, the snakes, lizards have ears, eyelids and four legs. (And using those legs, they can travel fast overland, despite an ungainly look.)

Distinguishing iguana characteristics include an erectile dewlap, or throat flap. When defending territory or courting, the dewlap is erected and presented with vigorous head-nodding. In some iguanas, the neck and back crests can be inflated and displayed when excited.

Iguanas can weigh 15-30 pounds and grow to six feet or more (with the tail contributing most of that length). They love to bathe, swimming like snakes with their legs against their bodies. In eluding enemies, some can stay under water for 30 minutes, give or take.

Not a group/herd/social creature, if one iguana finds food, s/he doesn’t share with others, and the female shows little or no maternal behavior. In general, the iguana prefers escape to defense. In extreme stress, the tail will come off; then, if/when it grows back, it will be darker to black in color.

In Technicolorland, iguanas are reputed to love red-hued hibiscus flowers – which seems altogether appropriate!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Separation anxiety @ home

A vacation week away looms, with more time than that for Harry and Billy to board at the vet’s. As usual, this is an upsetting, depressing, guilt-inducing time for me. (For them, it may mean only escaping my mothering, cuddling, petting, brushing, clipping. . . ! I’ll never know for sure, which may be just as well.)

So as usual, I’m making mental deals with the powers: let them be alright and I’ll (do such and such). And over-mothering, cuddling, etc. – to their puzzlement? And already calculating when we can phone back and find out how they’re doing.

Cats like to stay at home, with their own toys, food, water, warmth, habits. . . That refrain is common in “cat lore.” So what will happen tomorrow morning? We’ll manage to get them into their carriers, then the car and thence to the vet’s. This is not the picture I’d choose – except that finding in-home sitters these days is tough to impossible.

Do any readers experience similar anguish at separation from companion animals, for however brief a time? If Y, how do you deal with it?

Of course, the up-sides of Harry and Billy being at their own “resort” while we’re away: (1) if they get sick, they’re already in the right place; (2) someone else can do their nails this time (unless I succeed today!); (3) they’ll have an enforced rest – just what cats need! (4) if what I’ve heard is true, they really don’t have a good sense of time, so they may not recognize X number of days passing; (5) they’re only 5 or 6 miles from home when we go to pick them up.

Thought for today, and beyond: "Vacations are good for us. The boys will be safe and cared for. We’ll all reunite soon!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book PREview for a change

The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany. Graeme Gibson. Doubleday, 2009

This book looks great (grrrr-ate?). And because I looked through it a little before leaving the library, here’s a book preview. First, the cover: irresistible, no?

It’s called a “miscellany,” which suggests you can dip into it now and then, with no need to remember a plot line from one dip to the next. And, the author already sent “The Bedside Book of Birds” out into the world, so he must have done something right with that to be coming out with this one.

Possibly less a recommendation for the book, unless you’re superstitious, but the author’s first name, “Graeme,” is a good omen. Another book I’ve liked very much, “The Discovery of Dragons,” is the work of Graeme Base.

Flipping through the book, it’s quickly obvious that art and text are well balanced; each makes the other appealing. There are dark and light pages and there’s lots of color. The front flap page indicates that the book “explores the relationship between predators and prey,” indicating the author has gathered works of art and literature “from all eras and cultures.” That flip-through makes this clear.

Then, on the back cover comes this quote from the book:

“They are called ‘beasts’ from the force with which they rage; and they are termed ‘wild’ because they are by nature used to freedom and they are motivated by their own will. They do indeed have freedom of will and they wander here and there, going as their spirit leads them.”

Gibson quotes from Ecclesiastes III, 18-21 at the beginning. Here’s an excerpt:

“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.”

A rueful book REview (2-28-10):

I was seduced by the pictures; it may be that simple. This is still an attractive book, but reading it is something else. It is all about death: death by hunters, death by animals, death of hunters and of animals . . . you get the idea.

What bothered me most were the essays that talked about killing animals (always needlessly, just for so-called sport!) matter of factly and as if that's what all men do. (Maybe there were times when most men actually did. Anyway, I was pleased to find no references to women feeling the need to shoot innocent animals.)

Much of the writing here was not contemporary. It refected different times, different values. But it was still sickening to read. And it raised the question: why publish a book that seems to glory in killing? We hardly need it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why not both instead of "either-or"?

The only question I had about the comment on the last post – "Animal welfare in Haiti" -- was, how fast will it arrive. The answer: “Pretty fast”!

A shame the writer has done the usual thing: assume that anyone who cares about animals does not care about humans. But the two groups are not mutually exclusive! It’s quite possible, as well as desirable, to care about both groups, without putting them in a hierarchy. The one difference to note: animals can’t speak for themselves, and that’s the reason for this blog and that last post.

About the “boo hoo hoo” for lost pets, right: that’s exactly what the response should be. Who is “Yamilee” to assume people will decide their loss is “insignificant”? Again, it’s quite possible to grieve for both “dead PEOPLE” and dead animals, without taking away from either group -- maybe just showing a bigger, kinder heart.

And of course the last sentence of the comment is a bald supposition. Among other things, is “Yamilee” automatically linking being privileged and white in the US with valuing animals over humans? That’s a very big and scary (and unprovable) generalization.

This is a time of high emotions, and understandably so. Hope you can cool out, “Yamilee.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Animal welfare in Haiti

It's been 4 days since the 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. TV news reports and scenes of the destruction, photographic and in print, are everywhere. It is horrible, almost unimaginable. It's also impossible to imagine how long it will take to bring Haiti back to even a semblance of normalcy (especially knowing that there, "normal" is not like "normal" here or in most parts of the world).

Not a word in 4 days about the animals of Haiti. What about farm animals? Companion animals? An earthquake hits and of course they can't read or listen to the radio and find out what happened. How do animals cope with a disaster?

Most likely, like many of the people there, they suffer injuries, starve and die. As little seems to be being done for humans, probably even less has been done for animals.

This catastrophe in Haiti has prompted memories of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and how, way later, it became known that the Red Cross had required people being rescued to leave their companion animals behind. Some of the homeless animals eventually rescued were adopted out to people all over after their original families could not be found.

Still later, as replays and second guessing continued, there was talk of how humans and their animal companions should be rescued and sheltered together. Is such a thing in the plans now, at least in the US? (Haiti's government and preparedness planning have sounded so deficient, that would probably be too much to ask for there. Another pity.)

Right now, nothing seems to be going right for any of Haiti's populations.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

School for squirrels

Some of us like them; some don't: squirrels. They knock themselves out trying to get into our bird feeders; they hide nuts in our potted plants and later dig them (and the plants) up; they seem to wait for us to drive near them before dashing into the street. That's not all. Sometimes they frolic back and forth in front of our car, seeming to invite us to hit them.

Today came a story of a different kind of squirrel behavior vis a vis a driver. He approached a place where 4 squirrels played near the street, and seemingly, when he was close enough to them to make things exciting, three decided to cross to the other side. They made it safely, thanks only to the careful driver.

The fourth squirrel made no move to cross, instead sitting near the curb with her/his front feet up in prairie dog position. Once the car had passed, s/he joined the 3 already on the other side.

This squirrel was wholly different. Obviously, to the driver, s/he had been trained to wait when cars were nearby, then cross the street after they were past. The question was, did experience or a squirrel mom teach this life-saving lesson? Seriously.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Through the doggy door, into . . . ?

The baby deer and the beagle -- a photo forwarded by a neighbor and reportedly something that happened recently in Maryland. The deer followed the dog home and in through the special door, and then the homeowner walked in on this sight. . .

Then what happened? Does anyone know? This much is warm and cuddly -- a 'peaceable kingdom' kind of thing. . . but what happened after that? Dare we hope the deer didn't wind up in a petting zoo? or worse?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Defeatist "logic" on fur trim

Yesterday, while speaking with a woman wearing an attractive coat with a big fur-trimmed hood, I tried to start a conversation about that fur. As soon as she gathered where I was going -- toward the horrors of how fur garments for humans come about -- she quickly and firmly said, "I wouldn't buy this again now, but I eat meat and wear leather shoes, so I'm wearing this coat."

Her argument seemed to be that two strikes against her (eating animals and wearing animal products on her feet) made a third strike (wearing the fur-trimmed hood) of little more importance. Or maybe she felt kind of "What's the use? -- I'm already doing the 'wrong thing' so I might as well continue," or "I've got the name, so I might as well have the game."

Whatever her reasoning for continuing in the path of animal abuse because she'd already started down that road, she was wrong. First, she could stop the first two things at any time if she wanted to, and second, she (and we) don't necessarily have to be on the "right" side of every issue.

For instance, whether we like it or not, many of the NYC protesters against fur wear leather shoes and carry leather handbags. But at least they're drawing the line at wearing fur. And who knows, maybe some day their antipathy to fur will carry over to leather. Or eating meat. Or both.

Or, paraphrasing the old NJARA (now APLNJ) slogan: one person can't do everything, but every person can do something.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Smart dogs don't make coffee

Recent radio news indicated that a few bomb-sniffing dogs at Philadelphia Airport failed their re-certifying tests. The announcer hurried to add that the dogs will be re-trained and no doubt test better next time.

Reportedly, these dogs "work daily to sharpen their craft"; the ranks of bomb-sniffing dogs are elite!

To all of which I say only, "Smart doggies!" Being a service animal is bad enough; being a successful bomb-sniffer is worse, especially if there's any chance you'll sound the alarm a few seconds too late.

I hope those dogs failed on purpose. Now they can relax for awhile and maybe even live doggie lives. They remind me of the stories years ago about women in offices who deliberately made terrible coffee in the break room. That cut their chances of ever being asked to make coffee again.

Good dogs!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dolphins' day

Lucky dolphins. Maybe. According to the news story at the link below, dolphins have been determined to be brighter than chimps and second only to humans in intelligence, and therefore should be regarded as "non-human persons." This declaration includes the belief that it would be morally wrong to keep dolphins performing in captivity or to eat them.

So at least by implication, non-human animals' intelligence is the only standard by which we decide moral and immoral human behavior toward them? And those animals (most all of them!) whose IQs don't challenge ours are fair game?

I don't think so. The overriding argument against animal abuse by humans is that ALL non-human animals are sentient beings, with feelings, who are capable of suffering. Period. It is not our right to use them for our entertainment, our food, our clothing. . . regardless of how "intelligent" they may or may not be in comparison to humans.

Or rather, in comparison to some humans, because we know of course that countless humans are not particularly intelligent or are in fact intellectually handicapped. (Does that condition put them in jeopardy?!)

Come in, Peter Singer!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter's worst sights

A winter day in New York City is also a day for wearing buttons: one showing "FUR" with a diagonal line through it, and one about saving the carriage horses. (Who in his/her right mind needs a ride in a carriage drawn by a horse . . . in New York City . . . on a frigid January day? Beyond that, who ever needs such a ride?)

The furs were out there in force -- on women who would have been just as warm in layers and cloth coats. One woman at a museum looked to be wearing her big sister's fur coat, it was that voluminous and long. Another wore a high, rounded fur hat as she chatted with friends.

(My courage deserted me: I couldn't think of an effective way to talk to these fur-wearing women about what their garments cost the animals who originally wore the fur, without being screamed at or hit. So what does a coward do? she frowns, glowers, hisses inside . . .)

And the poor dear carriage horses. While their muffled-up drivers looked straight ahead, the horses made their way along the streets, looking to me like miserable slaves who had absolutely no escape till death -- a fate some of them have already experienced prematurely. What temperature does it take to let them stay off the streets for a day? Who looks out for the horses' welfare?

If I had $1 million -- or billion? -- I'd close down the cruel anachronism of "horse drawn cabs" and put all the horses now involuntarily involved out to pasture. I can picture them now, running free in green meadows.

Which prompts this question: what would you do first for animals if you had unlimited funds? What one thing would you do to make a positive difference?

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Sweet (& lucky) Sugar"

From the website of United Poultry Concerns (also the source of the Thanksgiving photo posted here earlier), here's a happy story about a chicken who escaped the poultry industry. It's also an amazing tale of human compassion and patience . . . and love of animals.

(I have never met or known a chicken; the nost I ever did was glimpse them from a distance and willingly believe others who told me chickens are great, smart, fun . . . )

Sweet Sugar, Saved from the Chicken Industry
By Debra Milburn, Biologist/Educator

This May, a laborer for the local poultry farm brought a small, yellow chick into my husband's store. He said this was an example of the horrid deformities he sees every day at the poultry farm. He put the chick, whose head was backward and dangling down on its chest from a limp neck, on the floor.

The tiny, yellow fluff ran backwards in circles. Part of the farm worker's job was to destroy such chicks. My husband told the man I was good with wild, orphaned birds, so let me try to help this one.

What a shock that evening when my husband comes through the front door with a cupcake box, and opens it to reveal a pretty (but sick) down-covered chick! When I first examined the chick, I didn't hold much hope that she would live long. Due to all the additives in chicken feed, I figured this was a spinal deformity involving genetic mutations.

Once the chick ate and drank, she perked up, but still with a backward and downward head. She ate and drank by moving her head to one side of her body. That evening, and for many days afterwards, I would hold Sugar, talk to her, stroke her (she loved having her breast stroked), play with her, let her climb up my arm to my shoulder, and otherwise treat her like one of our beloved pets and family members.

The next morning while holding Sugar in my cupped hand, I found that if I gently moved her head and neck upward with my finger, they could be placed in correct alignment without pain to my new friend. Whenever I held her, I would do this neck support exercise and also stroke her neck gently on all sides.

Then, I thought to make a permanent, adjustable neck brace out of one-half inch-wide tape, and cotton gauze for padding on the side of the neck that needed to be raised and supported. I tied the cloth neck brace on Sugar and it worked great. Her little head was upright and forward facing. I left it on all day.

All was well until 8 p.m., when I went into her room for her evening snack and play time. She had untied and loosened her ribbon brace with her beak! So off went the brace except for one to two hours the next day.

I continued holding her head up with my hand and massaging her neck. With three or four days of this therapy, Sugar began holding her head up and forward on her own, just slightly tilted to the left.

After a couple of weeks of her occupying our guestroom, I commented that we had trained each other. Sweet Sugar knew my voice, and if I was in another part of the house and she heard me, she would give out a shrieking constant cry until I came to her. Just as I learned my daughter's different cries when she was a baby, I quickly recognized the chick's different sounds and what they meant.

One of my fondest memories is of when she would nest in my hand or sit on my shoulder near my face and coo with contentment. [But] Living in a rental home on a small lot in a rural neighborhood with loose outdoor cats and dogs around, I didn't see how we could give Sugar a safe, permanent home, or find one for her.

When Sugar was about six weeks old, I took her to the vet, concerned that she might have intestinal parasites, and to be sexed. She was healthy and was indeed a female. When I told the staff I was looking for a humane home, they told me about Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns. By this time, Sugar was starting to grow her comb, and had many feathers fading into white.

It was difficult to give up Sugar, but I knew she would have a great home at United Poultry Concerns, with a loving, knowledgeable advocate/caregiver and social interactions with other chickens. Sugar has a special friendship with an older, blind broiler-hen-rescue Karen was rehabilitating. I've visited Sugar and found that she is a beautiful, healthy, happy hen at UPC.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happier new year to animals

A new year, a new decade, a fresh start -- at least in concept. Wouldn't that be great? I'm wishing for it, meaning that all the ills and evils mentioned here since last May might stop or at least finally show some sign of diminishing. Will people grow more aware of non-human animals as living beings with needs and feelings and rights? Will they pause in their relentless (and so often thoughtless) cruelty?

Wanting to get rid of reminders of animal abuse, I'm now throwing away stories I clipped from publications or jotted to myself to remember for post possibilities here. Either they'll stop -- or they'll happen again, and I'll simply clip the stories again to write about in 2010.

* Out with the story about the Lipizzaner stallions, who are taught over 6-8 years (!) to dance in a "choreographed equestrian ballet set to classical music. " Oddly enough, Gary Lashinsky, the story's spokesperson for this idiocy said, "the stallions live to entertain." Oh? Or did he mean they live because they submit to training, a la circus animals?

* Get rid of a story about humans learning to slaughter the animals they'll then eat. The extensive coverage last October 25 in the NYTimes was surprising in its detail, sickening in its content. By learning to slaughter and butcher, these carnivores say they "can honor their pigs and eat them, too." Did anyone consult the pig?

* Then comes the issue of farm animals and antibiotics. "The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70% of the antibiotics used in this country are fed to farm animals," a July 24 editorial reported. This is done routinely as a feed supplement, to increase growth and lessen the chance of infection in crowded industrial farms. Needless to say, the farm lobby objects to any curb on the practice because it would make it much harder to "crowd thousands of animals together in confined, inhumane and unhealthy quarters."

* And finally, for now, the use of animals in laboratory experiments continues on a grand scale, despite proof that other, animal-free methods of testing drugs and techniques would work far better, and that what may be true for animals is not necessarily true for humans. (It must take a "special" kind of scientist to confront these facts about his/her work . . . and continue with animal experimentation.)

We can only hope this year will be a better one for animals.