Sunday, February 28, 2010

Definitely not the honor roll

Think back over the media reports on people who abuse animals – from the true beasts who torture dogs and cats in myriad ways . . . to the poultry factory workers who stomp on chickens and the slaughter house employees who attack downer cows. Does anyone else out there wonder if those (too few) who are prosecuted for animal abuse get off too easily?

California has a good idea for creating another layer of punishment and possible deterrence: an on-line list of people convicted of a felony involving animal cruelty, including their addresses and places of employment – and a current photograph. Their offenses would be specified.

Such a list, or registry, would be the first in the country to put animal abusers on the same level as sex offenders. California also has an online arsonist registry.

The argument that identifying animal abusers would also serve as an early warning system for other forms of violence is beside the point if principle and justice are the real considerations here. Abuse of animals is enough cause to publicize the perpetrator.

Commenting on California’s proposed law, a Virginia attorney who has written on animal welfare laws says the registry could also help in tracking those who run puppy mills and animal-fighting rings, as well as hoarders.

The Humane Society of the US has endorsed the bill while pointing out that the funding mechanism proposed, a tax on pet food, would be very unpopular.

Right now, worthy as it sounds, this legislation remains to be seen in action.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The more the . . . more effective?

A new (to me) animal-advocacy organization is quickly coming up on its annual animal welfare conference, described as “the largest on the East Coast.” Maybe others might also want to know about the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey (AWFNJ).

Incorporated in 1995, AWFNJ “serves as an information resource for animal welfare professionals throughout the state,” according to its newsletter. Its board of directors includes delegates from any voting member organization, and its (non-director) “members” are described as the heart of the organization. Membership fees range from $25-75.

Those who are interested in the organization can find further specifics on its website – Its mailing address is PO Box 73, Lakehurst, NJ 08733.

Now to that annual conference, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, March 20, 21. It will be held at Rutgers’ Busch Campus Center in Piscataway. Here too, specifics on registering, prices, times, workshops, speakers and overall schedule can be found at

AWFNJ members’ feedback is welcome here; please comment! (My questions: how many active members are there, and what are their typical AWFNJ activities?)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Here's to horseless carriages, flying or not!

This horse-drawn carriage issue won't go away! It has attracted more comments, both here and in response to a newspaper story I wrote, than most other subjects. Without knowing it, I'd written about it during the same month, and now the same week, as a national convention -- in Philadelphia of all places -- of horse-drawn carriage businesses in North America. (

That, plus speaking by phone with a woman who owns such a business and who seemed reluctant to acknowledge any inhumane treatment of the horses involved -- anywhere, any time. The anonymous comments have focused in particular on how the founders of our country got around by horse-drawn carriages and they weren't held back from doing the great things they did, so why do I and other protesters complain.

Hello?! Did Ben Franklin's horse(s) have to contend with paved roads, with skazillions of fume-belching cars, trucks and buses, with a crowd of different people climbing in and out for rides? And how about temperatures and extreme weather? It was probably much easier to stable and feed a few horses comfortably in those days than it is to humanely board all the horses in, say, New York City.

Far as I'm concerned, whether today's carriage horses are treated like royalty or not, they were not made to serve humans by pulling carriages -- especially centuries after the time when they may really have been needed! There's nothing quaint or romantic (as in wedding parties in horse-drawn carriages) -- or humane -- about involuntary labor by a creature who ought to be running free.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fran Lee: ahead of her time

This week’s news included the death of Fran Lee – the woman credited with passage of the pooper-scooper law in NYC. Would you believe that happened in August, 1978?

These days, we see people walking dogs and carrying either pooper-scooper tools or plastic bags everywhere; we expect the clean-up to happen. But that wasn’t the case before 1978, or even for some time afterwards. It took awhile for this public health courtesy to spread from the big city to the ’burbs.

As described in an admiring obit in the NYTimes, Ms. Lee was “a gleeful thorn in the side of public officials and makers of consumer products.” (She had begun her career as an actor, then became a highly visible and audible consumer advocate before taking on public health and safety issues.)

In the 1970s she founded Children before Dogs, an organization aimed at eliminating all dog effluence/waste/dirt from city streets. Her argument: toxocara canis, a tiny roundworm found in dog feces, posed health risks to children in particular; at its most severe, it could cause blindness.

The obit mentions the “pitched battle over dog excrement that raged in the city for much of the 70s,” finally culminating with passage of the Canine Waste Law, which requires owners to clean up after their dogs.

Thanks, Ms. Lee!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Cat cafés and entrées, and folk medicine

Cats – “regular” ones, as in companion animals, and “big cats,” as in tigers, have been in the news this year. And when that happens, you know it’s probably not good news. As a matter of fact, two-thirds of it is bad, not what some of us (including cats!) would wish for, while one-third is just plain heartwarming.

Tigers are being hurried toward extinction by the Chinese, who believe in the efficacy of various tiger parts. China has tiger farms that are sometimes billed as a conservation effort, when in reality they are tiger-raising operations meant to supply the parts and tiger pelts some humans still avidly seek. Reportedly, the government is not seriously clamping down on this trade, despite saying the right things. All this, ironically, in the Year of the Tiger.

It’s estimated that 3,200 tigers still roam the world’s forests (which are also disappearing); the estimated number of wild tigers left in China is 20. Which is why India (with an estimated 1,400 tigers) has stepped in, supplying China. The numbers tell the story – which appeared in the NYTimes last month; the link follows.

Also from China come reports of a movement to stop the old tradition of eating cats and dogs. Those objecting to this practice argue that China should adopt the ways of the West, where these two animals are made into coddled pets, not eaten. One columnist correctly pointed out the great illogic of our objecting to the Chinese eating cats and dogs while we consume cows, pigs, chickens, fish, you name it.

In Japan, where landlords reportedly often forbid pets, “cat cafes” have become the in places to go for young Japanese renters who want to cuddle up to kitties. As with cafes in general, the cat cafes – reportedly 79 of them in Japan -- are places where people can meet, talk and drink coffee or tea -- while also paying by the hour to love up the cats-of-all-varieties, their chief reason for being there.

By now most people must know about the therapeutic benefits for people of having companion animals in their lives, and it’s sad to think of having to be without a wanted pet because of landlord rules. We just hope the cats are healthy and well cared for beyond business hours.

Idea: move the cats now miserably maintained in shelters to “cat cafes” or their equivalents. Invite people without pets spend time with them in a pleasant setting, and the resulting socialization could be a two-way benefit.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New breed of demonstrators

“Have a heart for horses.” On Valentine’s day in Philadelphia, animal advocates demonstrated against using horses to pull carriages as an archaic and cruel practice. It may charm some tourists, but it does minus-nothing for the animals who are involuntarily involved.

With temperatures in the low 30s and a little wind kicking up, that was bad enough – except that the residue of two major snowstorms was still piled on curbs and rutting the streets, making the driving – and footing -- difficult. Not nice weather for ducks, but even worse for horses.

The demonstrators’ approach in Philly was nearly as noteworthy as their cause. Unlike protesters whose M.O. calls for graphic signs and videos, chanting and calling out to those who challenge their position, these protesters held signs, gave out literature and heart-shaped candy. Period.

Their handouts described how horse-drawn carriages represent an exploitative industry, one forcing horses to work in dangerous, unhealthful and unnatural conditions. Social beings, horses are meant “to live with other animals and run free.” Further, horse-drawn carriages are a threat to public safety, and as proven time and again, accidents are inevitable.

No shouting, no verbal abuse. But lots of presence, with low-key talk and a petition urging city council to close down Philadelphia’s carriage trade. And that bite-sized red-wrapped candy, attached to a slip of paper with the name and contact info for a city councilman. Nice touch.

This demonstration was the work of Friends of Animals (, a group aiming to educate -- not alienate -- people. Lee Hall, FOA’s legal director, said, “We’re all about respecting animals, so we respect people too.” That was why the event was peaceful and low-key.

Across the street was the “hack line” – with horses, carriages and drivers, the latter hoping to persuade tourists the ride is somehow fun and romantic. One woman with an anti-carriage sign stood silently nearby. She explained why she didn’t say anything: “We respect free will.”

In many ways, this was a harder kind of demonstration tp pull off. It’s easier to yell and insult. Onlookers had to respect how these animal advocates went about it.

At the end of one ride, the driver gave carrots to passengers leaving the carriage. They fed them to the horse and went on their way, presumably without a second thought. Maybe they hurried home in time to give their pets dinner – because of course they think of themselves as “animal lovers.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

A week from today

Save the date: Monday, Feb. 22, at 7 pm. That’s when Princeton’s Trinity Church will host a talk by Erika Ritter about her latest book, The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath -- about the relationships between humans and non-human animals.

As the press release says, this has been “a twisting trail, from empathy to exploitation, from devotion to detestation, from comedy to cruelty, and beyond.” The book is titled from “a traditional tale,” and from that point, Ritter will touch on animal cognition, animal welfare and animal rights, with names such as Peter Singer and Temple Grandin invoked.

Paradoxes such as how we “increasingly identify our pets as family members, yet annually dispose of ever more strays, execute more livestock and sacrifice countless animals to research” may play a part in the discussion. This is truly “a time when animals are increasingly among us and yet continually below our radar,” and Ritter’s talk promises to be stimulating if not problem-solving.

Scheduled for the George Thomas Room at Trinity Church, the talk is free and open to all. 33 Mercer Street, Princeton, NJ. A reception and book-signing will follow.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Of 2 minds toward carriage horses

This afternoon in Philadelphia some people took Valentine's day rides bundled up in horse-drawn carriages, while other people held signs against that very activity, invited passersby to sign a petition against the carriage industry and gave out information and candy hearts.

The approach used by the second group, members of, was 100% different from how other demonstrations are handled in NYC. More on that difference soon.

For now, just think about this: A February day with temperatures in the low 30s and wind. Streets poorly cleaned after the 2nd of two big storms, leaving ruts of snow and ice to drive over -- or, in the case of the carriage horses (already burdened with their solitary, plodding lives, involuntarily inhaling vehicle exhaust and Philadelphia dirt . . .) to walk over, pulling a carriage full of humans -- who somehow find this experience "romantic" and "fun."

Not for the carriage horses this greeting: "Have a good day!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Tame and fearless animals

"Tame and fearless animals" -- where would they be? According to a NYTimes scientist-blogger, on the Galapagos Islands, site of so much of Charles Darwin's education on evolution.

Olivia Judson notes that Darwin was surprised to find animals -- marine iguanas, tortoises, finches . . . -- easy to approach and then ride, toss, or even kill. (Now, thankfully, approaches are limited to those with cameras only.)

Judson asks, "So why are the animals so tame?" And she answers, in part, below:

"No one knows for sure. But in general, animals tend to be more tame — less prone to fleeing from people — on islands than they are on continents. In Australia, island wallabies let humans come closer to them than mainland wallabies do; similarly, on an island in the Gulf of California, iguanas allow closer approach than their mainland cousins will tolerate.

"The reason for this is that islands are (usually) safer places to live. Islands are typically home to fewer predators — especially cats and other mammals — than the mainland, so animals that live there are at less risk of becoming somebody’s lunch.

"In a dangerous environment, being a skittish creature can save your life. But in a safe environment, where you are unlikely to be pounced on, such behavior is a costly waste of time and energy. . . ."


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rally for horses in Philly too

If Philadelphia is a more convenient demo site than New York City, consider joining the protest planned there on Sunday, Valentine's day.

Participants demonstrating against horse-drawn carriages will meet at the NW corner of 5th and Chestnut Streets at 2 pm for "a peaceful protest" that will end at 5 pm. Those involved will hold signs and distribute flyers (to be provided) to passersby.

Think about spending all or part of those three hours letting people know that horses should not be pulling carriages in 2010 and suggesting to would-be carriage riders that this is a cruel and very UN-romantic thing to do. We're supposed to know better by now -- so have a heart for the horses: come out against horse-drawn carriages.

She 'doth protest too much'

Visitors are invited to read the comment that was received within hours of the post earlier today. Fascinating. (Gosh, is there any chance this person is connected, profitably, with the carriage trade?) Please note: no reference to the carriage horses who have inhaled exhaust and dirt day after day; to those who have had to plod over all sorts of road surfaces in the worst weather; to those who were hurt or died on the job; to the hearings in New York about insufficient stall size and general upkeep.

Carriage horses as "icons" and "ambassadors" for New York City, or any city?! Oh, please. Is that what a horse's nature calls for?

A look at the websites of the organizations acting on behalf of carriage horses will detail the cruelty of these "working horses"' lives. ( Ms. Flynn's comments are sadly predictable but wholly unconvincing.

Love and the animals

Valentine’s weekend = a fine time to show your love for animals by demonstrating against fur and/or the carriage horse trade. Just as it’s true that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean death for turkeys, it’s also true that Valentines doesn’t have to mean fur coats (thanks to slaughtered animals) or “romantic” carriage rides (thanks to cruelly abused horses).

Can’t humans just celebrate their holidays and leave animals alone?!

* Caring Activists Against Fur will hold a major demo in NYC this weekend. Here are the specs (from the website:

Saturday, Feb. 13 - Have a Heart march and protest in NYC
1:00 - 1:15 gather at Columbus Circle
1:15 - 1:30 march down Central Park South
1:30 - 3:00 protest in front of Bergdorf Goodman 754 Fifth Avenue (57th and 58th Sts.)

* On Valentine’s Day, Sunday, February 14, three groups against horse-drawn carriages (Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages [], Friends of Animals [], Heart for Animals) will sponsor “a peaceful demo and rally to protest the inhumane and unsafe horse-carriage trade,” from 1-3 pm. On “a day of love and kindness to all” (including horses, for a change!) they invite participants to meet at Central Park South and 5th Avenue, near the hack line. Demonstrators will ask people not to make a date with cruelty by boycotting horse-drawn carriages.

Love means never wearing fur or riding in horse-drawn carriages.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Solitary, cold confinement"

Earlier this month, newspapers reported cruel treatment of elephants in zoos. What else is new?

Maggie, formerly of the Alaska zoo and now in a California sanctuary, is the “poster pachyderm” for elephants who were finally freed, thanks to months or more of public protest. But as the latest survey makes clear, there are plenty of other elephants still in captivity (i.e., zoos) – that is, unnatural and unhealthy conditions.

“In Defense of Animals” (IDA), the zoo watchdog organization, reports that “scores of elephants are warehoused throughout the long winter months in miserable confinement, many of them hidden from the public.” Small concrete cages, which keep them from getting the movement they need, contribute to mental and physical problems, and premature deaths.

Usually native to semi-arid savannas and tropical and subtropical forests, elephants typically travel in groups over miles and miles of their home ranges each day. Instead, elephants in American and Canadian zoos stand for hours on cold, hard concrete floors. Is there any wonder they contract food diseases and arthritis, and engage in aberrant behavior?

Included in the survey IDA conducted were zoos in such UN-savanna-like places as Illinois, Rhode Island, Ohio, Quebec, Massachusetts, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York.

This issue really comes down to zoos: what they exist to do and how they do it. Is keeping an elephant in solitary, cold confinement teaching visitors anything accurate about how elephants normally live? Of course not.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The family reunited

Saying goodbye to the iguanas and other Caribbean animals meant saying hello again to Harry and Billy – something we had waited eagerly to do.

Once ransomed from the vet’s boarding facility and home again, they sprang out of their carriers and sniffed their way around the downstairs rooms, checking out anything new or in a different place. Then, for much of the day, Billy retired to his spot under “his” chair blanket, while Harry walked around and around, often calling out and then being wholly willing to be picked up and cuddled.

That night, each of them visited us in bed, though at different times. Overall, they both seemed quite happy to be home. And why not? Safe and secure as the vet’s was, they had missed many comforts, including freedom to move around, hide, play, look out at the birds . . ., and us too.

Iguanas, sea turtle and cats – Cats?!?

Back from vacation in “Technicolorland,” just in time for the blizzard here. What a rude surprise this weather would be for most of the animals observed during a week in the Caribbean!

· the iguanas, of course. We saw so many of them, this time, happily, without witnessing mistreatment of them by tourists who think they’re fierce carnivores (and scream) or that it’s fun to pull their tails or feed them watermelon chunks

· small lizards by the score, and even one or two briefly in our room

· a skate, floating below me in a tropical bay

· a sea turtle, sighted from a ferry, near the water’s surface

· chickens, wandering free on two different islands

· goats, penned in a yard

· hermit crabs, some really big guys, featured in a seaside garden area near an open-air restaurant

· a school of fish -- not in bright tropical colors, but looking transparent, with just an outline

· a black Lab puppy on a walk

· cats – lots and lots of (presumably) feral cats, most of them looking quite young and acting quite hungry. Evidently, the island doesn’t practice TNR -- a shame for the cats. (If it’s published, a letter to the editor of the island paper may at least raise the subject.)

Nice meeting all of you!