Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“Shelter” as murderous misnomer

Animal “shelters” (though sometimes mis-named, considering how animals can be badly treated in such places) have a name that suggests a temporary safe place, a haven and hopefully a way-station before a “forever home.”

In Utah, shelters can have a far different meaning. They’re shops, where animal experimenters buy animals to use in their labs. It’s true. According to a story in the latest Animal Times from PETA, this happens at the University of Utah (the U) in Salt Lake City.

Banned by 17 states and Washington, D.C., this barbaric practice known as “pound seizure” is legal in Utah and two other states where government-funded shelters are required to turn animals over to laboratories that request them.

As the article puts it, “This is a betrayal of homeless animals and of the public, which counts on animal shelters to serve as safe havens for cats and dogs.” It details some specific cases, in which animals were subjected to horrific treatment by the U’s experimenters. And yes, death is often the outcome for the animals involved, although by then, it may be a welcome end.

To watch an undercover video, visit PETA.org/UtahLab, and/or write to the university president: Michael K. Young, Univ. of Utah, 201 S. Presidents Cir., Rm. 203, Salt Lake City, UT 84112.

Localizing this issue, we wonder how shelters in New Jersey guard against the same thing happening here. How quickly can a person adopt an animal? On the initial visit? What kind of checking is done, both before and after adoption? . . .

For the animals’ sake, “shelters” must live up to their name.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Robin convention in the field(s)

Don’t robins migrate away from New Jersey for the winter anymore? They’ve been sighted since December ’09, and if we had looked, they were probably around even earlier. Maybe they never left. While we weren’t looking, did they became year-rounders ’round here?

OK, let’s say that hunch is now true. The next question is, how do they decide to hold robin conventions in nearby fields? Mobs of them turn up and position themselves all over a field, with no other kinds of birds in sight.

Such a robin convention last Tuesday made me wonder what variable(s) had led to it. Was it merely the first un-rainy day in a few? Was it the wind, which was noticeable to cyclists in the area? How about the quality of light? The temperature? Was it somehow a good day for worms, and therefore for robins (ground-feeders that they are)?

Since I doubt they migrate anymore, I can’t conclude they all just flew in from out of state and met to compare travel notes. Maybe it’s as simple for robins as it can be for humans: it was a good day, so let’s take a bike ride -- or hold a convention!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Save NJ bears!

This is the original of a letter to the editor of the Trenton Times that was disappointingly (and needlessly) edited before publication on March 25. The newspaper had editorialized in favor of the proposed bear hunt -- a position that seemed uninformed, at best.

To the editor:

Sure, go ahead with the black bear hunt. (“Limited Hunt Is Justified,” March 15)

Why not? There hasn’t been a hunt for a while, and the bears have come back after nearly being wiped out from over-hunting in the 70s.

After all, bears pursue the scent of garbage that people “unwittingly” – illegally, in fact -- dispose of. Then, after failing to enforce the law against feeding bears (in this case through improperly stored garbage), the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (formerly Fish and Game) argues the need to hunt and kill the bears – while also sabotaging non-lethal bear management techniques.

And too, since the salaries of Fish and Wildlife employees come from the sale of hunting licenses, they have to “call for” hunts, don’t they? Especially since they have no other plan for the bears except killing them.

They must not know, or want to know, that bears are flight, not fight, animals, and they’re among North America’s slowest reproducing land mammals. Or that it’s grizzly bears, not black bears, who defend their cubs.

Further, bears killed as nuisances have done such murderous things as knocking over trash, emptying birdfeeders and lapping up honey from beehives. When home, garage or porch entry is involved, it’s easier to blame bears than homeowners who didn’t bear-proof their property.

Did those behind the Times’ editorial look at any information beyond that from Fish and Wildlife? Did they glance at www.SaveNJBears.com, where they could have read about Fish and Wildlife’s gratuitous kills and number-inflation?

It’s easier for these honorary Fish and Wildlife members to join the chorus for a hunt.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The beau ideal

I think I could turn and live with animals,
They are so placid and self-contained
I stand and look at them long and long,
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.
Not one is dissatisfied.
Not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another,
Nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

--Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Monday, March 22, 2010

The cost o' milk

“Land O’ Lakes” – the name suggests green fields, blue water and occasional farm houses. Bucolic. Clean. Good old days on the farm.

That's so not so.

PETA’s latest “Animal Times” magazine includes an expose-article on a Pennsylvania dairy factory farm that supplies milk to Land O’ Lakes, America’s largest seller of brand-name butter. As detailed in the article, life on the farm is “horrendous” for cows and their calves; industry consultant Dr. Temple Grandin called conditions there “absolutely atrocious.”

The following excerpt tells “Why ‘milk’ is a four-letter word”:

“On dairy farms, cows – who, like humans, carry their babies for nine months – are continuously impregnated in order to produce a steady supply of milk. Calves are torn away from their mothers almost immediately after birth so that humans can drink the milk that nature intended for calves. Male calves are usually sold to veal farms where they’re kept tethered in cramped, dark stalls for 16 to 32 weeks before they’re killed. Female calves are turned into milk machines like their mothers. When their milk production wanes, the cows – considered ‘spent’ by farmers – are hauled off to slaughter.”

PETA has called on Land O’ Lakes to buy milk only from farms that meet its 12-point animal welfare plan (that includes vet visits, stall cleaning and bans on electric shock prods and tail-docking). To date: no known implementation.

You can send a message to Land O’ Lakes through PETA.org. And you can think more about cows and calves in misery with every glass of milk.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Animal abuse = warning sign

It's been argued before: people who abuse (non-human) animals may very well abuse human animals too. The New York Times reported today that "Growing evidence that people who abuse animals often go on to attack humans" has caused many states to increase the penalties for animal cruelty.

They are also developing better methods for tracking convicted offenders -- one example being the registries that have been proposed in California and Tennessee. (The arguments for such a registry appear in an earlier post, "Definitely not the honor roll," on Feb. 28).

"Animal hoarders" are being given special attention because they're prone to recidivism, and the cost of caring for animals who survive their abuse is prohibitive.

For whatever reason it's being done (just plain animal abuse ought to suffice!) states "have grown increasingly intolerant of animal abuse over the years." Two decades ago, the Times reports, "just six states had felony level animal cruelty laws. Now all but four do."

Among the four hold-out states is Idaho, where "farmers and ranchers are pushing a bill that would more clearly distinguish livestock from pets and would exempt livestock from the protections afforded pets."

There are animals and animals -- and it doesn't bode well for the livestock.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Seduced designers buy into fur

Just when we thought the protests might be making a dent and fur clothes-wearers were starting to get it -- the "it" being the utter barbarity behind humans wearing animals' fur -- in comes the report that fur is back, big time.

"Fashion feels fur's warm embrace," said the New York Times on March 10. The fashion shows for next fall's designer clothes were over and, according to the Times, for the first time in more than two decades, more designers are using fur than not.

This "did not just happen," the report went on. It was the result of a marketing campaign -- by furriers. Their targets: clothes designers. Their method: sponsor courses and contests and free trips; provide free furs; generally make it easy for designers to use fur. It worked.

Also mentioned in the Times' coverage: several of the (susceptible) "designers are too young to remember the vicious battles over fur in the 1980s and '90s. . ." And -- hard to believe -- "Others said they felt confident using fur after examining the chain of production and finding it humane."

That does it. The so-called "chain of production" involves murdering animals for their skins, period. How, when and where is that ever "humane"?

Picture this: one designer's showroom features "a big cobalt blue fox coat -- so big it could stand up on its own" -- priced at $6,750.

What was the cost to the foxes who literally died for that coat? How many fewer foxes and other fur-bearing animals are alive today, enjoying the freedom they deserve, all because furriers are greedy, murdering manipulators and greedy, gullible clothes designers scrupulously avoid knowing too much? ("Ignorance of the [moral] law is no defense.")


: CAAF (Concerned Activists Against Fur) sponsors an anti-fur demo on Sunday, March 21, 1-3 pm at Lord & Taylor, Fifth Avenue, NYC. Plan to be there! Join other activists on the 39th St. side of the store.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Oh, those "animal lovers"

Referring to a nice gray cat often seen snoozing in a cozy basket on a counter at the family business, the woman in charge said he had just gone outside. She hoped he’d be back by the time she finished that day.

Then she added her hope that he wouldn’t be hurt if he wandered near Rt. 206 (right outside) . . . and mentioned that his collar had recently broken so he wasn’t wearing one right now. She added her hope that he wouldn’t be picked up as a stray.

Obviously, she wasn’t listening to herself, or hearing the implications of what she said, or immediately going out to bring the cat inside to safety. She just said all that and let it go, as if saying it would somehow cover her -- “animal lover” that she is.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The dog, the serpent, the paradoxes

A book-talk in Princeton mentioned here on Feb. 15 turned out to be a remarkably stimulating experience -- first the talk and then, more lastingly, the book. Erika Ritter spoke about The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath: Some Paradoxes of Human-Animal Relationships (2009, Key Porter Books Limited) before signing copies.

From an article about it in the March 9 Princeton Packet:

"Lacing together everything in the book is its title story. First told in the prologue, this tale becomes a recurring motif, and every time it’s repeated and amplified, it becomes more recognizable, more sad.

On leaving the house with his wife, the master delegates to his faithful dog the task of guarding their only child, asleep in a cradle. A servant entering the room later finds the cradle overturned, no sign of the baby and the dog spattered with blood.

When the parents return to this scene, the master immediately slays the “treacherous animal.” Once the cradle is righted, the infant is found, safely still sleeping, under it. Then the body of a venomous snake, tooth-marked and bloodied, is found in a corner, where the dog apparently flung it after killing it.

Ritter first read the story as a child. Since then, its false assumption and summary justice, with the dog having no opportunity to tell his side, have “haunted her.” Over time, its “bitter reversals” came to “embody . . . the contradictions she sees at the heart of humanity’s relationship with all animals.” "


(P.S. on 4-1-10) Here's a link to a Canadian blogger's interview w/ Ritter -- some great background info: http://animalsincanada.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/searching-for-home-erika-ritter/

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

'Breed profiling' & pit bulls

It used to be Dobermans, then Rottweilers and/or German Shepherds – dog breeds that could make people anxious or outright scared. These days, the dog to distrust, to look at askance, to expect the worst of is the pit bull.

Last week in Trenton, an 80-pound un-neutered pit bull mauled a woman, doing severe damage to her arm before the police arrived. The dog was shot dead. The woman he attacked was hospitalized. The owner, at least in the first telling of the story, was silent.

The victim was eating ribs with her friend when the dog reportedly tried to get some, and the woman slapped him. After he attacked her, the owner poured cold water on him, trying to get him to stop. When he turned on her, she managed to get out and phone 911.

Inevitably, this will happen again, and people will have still more reason to expect the worst of these dogs, talk them down and maybe even propose outlawing them. Such an assuming-the-worst pattern toward some dog breeds has been compared with racial profiling among humans; both are wrong.

But it’s not the dogs who should be blamed -- it’s the humans responsible for them.

Pit bulls are reportedly highly motivated to please their people, their “masters.” Trained by humans, these dogs – and any dog -- can behave in positive or negative ways to win their people’s approval.

An animal advocate in the area who is now fostering a pit bull says pit bulls have been bred to be aggressive for humans’ benefit and financial gain. She describes them as “high energy” dogs, needing a lot of exercise and firm discipline. Their energy needs to be properly channeled by an experienced and dominant person.

All dogs should be trained to sit quietly while people eat, without begging or being fed from the table, which can cause them to become pushy, she notes. And no animal should ever be hit, which is a violation to them and only escalates aggression – especially with pits. Not all dogs are for everyone, she adds, and right now, this is true of pit bulls.
(Elda Hubbard photo)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Freedom = last choice

A Washington Post columnist weighed in on the killer whale who killed a trainer in a Florida SeaWorld. Kathleen Parker cited her cousin, Heidi Harley, as a “dolphin shrink” – she’s actually a former trainer and orca-rider at Miami’s Seaquarium, and now a cognitive psychology prof in Sarasota.

Harley’s reported “accomplishments” include teaching dolphins to sing the theme song to “Batman” and creating an alphabet that allows dolphins and humans to “speak.” (Is she kidding? Is this what dolphins were meant to do?)

Parker regrets that humans “love and protect whales” by making them into performers (!) instead of turning them over to scientists (presumably including her cousin) for cognitive study. Such scientists want to determine “what a whale knows,” because now, “only a whale knows what a whale knows.” (I am not making this up.)

Toward the end of her column, Parker acknowledges such questions as “Should whales be in captivity and exploited as circus acts?” Then she points out: “That, ultimately, is a values question,” without mentioning that cognitive research on whales is too.

“Should we have zoos? Eat meat? Drive SUVs?” she asks, obviously thinking the automatic answer is “YES!” and how silly it would be to think otherwise. In reality, for many of us, all three, along with the captivity question, should be answered “NO!”

And if we won’t submit whales to researchers, Parker closes, “leave them to their own devices, possibly elsewhere.” Freedom as a last resort.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Revolt at a revolting "life"

“The Cove,” a movie nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category, is about the repeated slaughter of dolphins by the Japanese. It occurs in a cove that has now become notorious for what happens there after the dolphins are lured to their deaths.

A man behind the movie recently talked on NPR about why he’s involved with the movie (he’s repenting for earlier involvement with dolphin mistreatment) and about dolphins and whales in general. One point he made was that both are sonar-reliant, but that in concrete pools – common in captivity – they experience sensory deprivation, they're thrown off kilter, they're not themselves. (my wording)

Both animals are thought to be very intelligent, with many other sterling traits besides. They should not be held captive in aquariums, SeaWorlds and other such places; they should be swimming free.

Which brings us to the death last week of an animal trainer who worked with killer whales. Which in turn reminds us of how still other humans working with animals in circuses, and zoos, have been killed by the animals in their “care.”

As if any sort of genuine “care” were possible in such circumstances, when animals have been ripped from their natural habitats [or maybe worse, born in captivity], deprived of social interactions with others like them and forced to perform degrading, unnatural tricks – or simply to live in concrete cages or pools, forever on view and often alone.

Little wonder they sometimes attack their “keepers” and “trainers.” Wouldn’t we do the same?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

'To a Cheetah in the Moscow Zoo'

Furs this expensive you normally only find wrapped around the shoulders
Of gangsters’ molls outside the casino, movements this slinky
Only on the catwalk from the androgynous models,
Eyes dilating in the flashbulbs. As lean as a feline
As Pisanello once painted with a ravished brush
(The fur spotted, whiskery, a golden fleece).
She sashays swishing up and back. Her spine measures out
The least movement.

[triple indent here] To change direction
Millimeters in front of the ditch is something for which
She doesn’t even need eyes. There’s nothing out there
For the ear or the sensitive nose but the noise and sweat
Beyond the wire fence, where those monkeys congregate
With their baby carriages at visiting time. Her breath
Coming hard, she magics the fetor of the metropolis
Into a charmed ozone . . . the white ribbons
In the girls’ hair into strips of gazelle meat. Her fine head,
No bigger than your fist, keeps it alert posture
As she spies zebras in the flickering at the gates of Moscow.
Then she yawns, the prisoner of the cement.

--Durs Grunbein, from The Bedside Book of Beasts (see Jan. 20, 2010)