Sunday, January 23, 2011

Off to "Technicolorland"

Blog posts will resume Feb 3 with a birthday paean to "Sweet William." Please come back then.

Meanwhile, why not check out earlier posts here (all the way back to May 2009) and/or think about the following definition of Veganism from Lee Hall's book, On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth.

Veganism is a principle that humanity has no right to exert dominion and thereby exploit other creatures. It seeks to end the use of other animals for human food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other deliberately exploitive purposes. Veganism takes the war-resister's principle of conscientious objection and expands it to encompass respect for all conscious life. It operates as direct action to spare other animals from being dominated by humanity. Thus, while it is applied to diet, it is more -- a principle in itself, and a movement to end the commodification of other animals, and, more profoundly yet, to respect all conscious beings on their terms.


Friday, January 21, 2011

dubious distinction award to this pair

Cheers for "Chaser," the border collie who (get ready for this) knows 1,022 nouns -- "the largest vocabulary of any known dog." Lucky Chaser, living the doggy dream. Not!

Chaser's owner, a retired psychology prof, bought her in 2004 and began training the puppy 4-5 hours daily. He had read about another dog trained to recognize 200 items. Piffle! John W. Pilley could do better than that.

So poor Chaser was subjected to his training by the hour, and has become a prodigy, by his standards. And as reported in the NYTimes, she asks for more and more drill time.

Whose need was being met here?

Mark your calendar for Feb. 9 when a Nova episode on animal intelligence, starring Chaser, will be broadcast. Meanwhile, you can read the details of Chaser's "education" via the link that follows. And wonder when Chaser might be allowed to retire.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Latest baby step toward animal shelter

The subject of a regional animal shelter has come up again. For how many years have area politicians been talking about it and animal activists arguing for it? In what millennium will there be a decent, credible, smoothly and humanely-run shelter for the countless animals in need around here?

First came the debate about buying land for a shelter. Now, Hopewell Township officials have added the 46-acre tract "between Reed Road and Route 31 near Denow Road" to a list of properties being considered for sewer service. (How tentative is all that?)

If you're thinking, Gee, this is going nowhere fast, here's proof: the township doesn't even own that tract yet. The thought is, Hopewell will buy the land and turn it over to a non-profit group to build and run the facility.

The non-profit group generally mentioned is the Ewing Animal Shelter Extension League, or EASEL, but that organization recently experienced a leadership shake up --maybe ultimately for the better, but still a shake up.

"Ewing, Lawrence and other municipalities have expressed an interest in sharing the facility." according to yesterday's Trenton Times story.

Meanwhile, the current Ewing shelter is often criticized and Lawrence doesn't even have a shelter, transporting strays and ferals to SAVE, in Princeton. In Hopewell itself, there's no forum for adoption, says a woman with Animal Allies rescue group.

"When your community doesn't have a shelter, your animals don't get seen [as possible adoptees]. It's seven days and down for them."

Right now, numbers of people seem to be (occasionally) talking, all in different directions, and nothing is really happening. Do we need a benevolent dictator to step in and turn the idea of an area animal shelter into a reality?

Pets: bred to please, or else

Today, back to Lee Hall's book, On Their Own Terms, and some of the things she says about animals who are "pets."

She cites Yi-Fu Tuan* as a source of info about the custom of pet keeping. He says having pets began (not that very long ago) when landowners bred more animals than they meant to consume. Pet keeping then became a mark of affluence – “breeding animals so that they turn into playthings and aesthetic objects.”

People used their leisure and skills to manipulate the reproductive processes of animals so that “they turn into creatures of a shape (think: AKC’s lists of dog varieties) and habit (think: sheep dogs and lap dogs) that please their owners.”

As we well know, Hall continues, “Over the past 200 years, this hobby of the affluent has turned into a high-volume industry.”

Pets in effect are a kind of manufactured animal, far from their original way of life, and humans are in fact the “owners” of such purpose-bred animals, who in turn are dependent on humans. Therefore, words and phrases like “companion animals” and “guardian” sound softer, but they’re inaccurate.

Hall says, “A pet practically has to have a cheerful personality and a strong attachment to humans . . . to survive.” She quotes Yi-Fu Tuan again on this: “A pet is a personal belonging, an animal with charm that one can take delight in, play with, or set aside, as one wishes.”

Shelters and sanctuaries, filled with “set aside” pets, are proof of that.

* Yi-Fu Tuan, Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets (Yale University Press, 1984)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lots of kits at Caboodle

Learning about Cat House on the Kings was a great surprise to me, but almost as soon as that happened, someone mentioned a similar place in Florida – hundreds of cats, all taken care of. But she couldn’t remember its name.

It took a special segment of TV's "Colbert Report," poking fun at cats and Caboodle Ranch, a cat rescue sanctuary, for me to find out about it. Yes, it was the place my “cat friend” had meant.

Unlike Cat House on the Kings, which is also an adoption center, all the cats at Caboodle have found their “forever home,” and people wanting to adopt a cat are referred elsewhere. As might be imagined, Caboodle needs all the help it can get, and the site is filled with specifics on that.

There are also a number of videos about Caboodle and its founder, Craig Grant. Begun in 2003, Caboodle consists of 25 acres Grant bought, 5 at a time, “in the middle of 100 acres of wildlife.” (Yes, there’s fencing.)

It’s a strange, but happy, feeling to see a mini town with houses and other community buildings, all multi-colored. Curving “streets” wind through the town, and all the pedestrians are cats – of every kind and color. What a sight.

Here’s Caboodle’s website. See what you think.
And as a reminder, here's the link to Cat House on the Kings:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making a good idea better

In New York City, the ASPCA runs a mobile adoption van Thursday-Sunday, year-round, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The vehicle has a large picture window on one side, through which people can see the animals who need a home.

Most of the prospective adoptees are cats – usually not kittens, but “young adults,” whose personalities are easier to judge.

I’m not sure how I feel about shopping homeless animals around in a van or letting people enter the van to take a look. Doesn’t that commodify the animals involved? I am sure how I feel about adopting them out just like that – without background/home checks – if that’s how it happens. I’m against it.

That van might be put to better use, I think. It could still be driven around, loaded with information about adoptable pets, and how and where. But the bulk of its space might be used for stray cats and dogs that could be picked up for sheltering, and/or serve as an animal ambulance.

What if the van were marked with a toll-free phone number that people could call to report a stray cat or dog? What a kindness for an animal on a bitter cold winter night.

Another use: picking up people and their pets needing to get to a veterinarian. Some people can’t or don’t drive, and sometimes the weather can be a deterrent. At such times, when they might otherwise panic because they can’t get an animal to medical help, there’s the van – with luck, just a call away.

Rare prize to the reader who discovers where, earlier in this blog, the idea for a pet taxi or ambulance was suggested. Just send the answer in a comment.

(For details about the van and its schedule, search on “mobile adoption van” at

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our pets couldn’t use “animal rights

Returning to Lee Hall’s book, “On Their Own Terms. . .” let’s consider domesticated animals, such as cats and dogs. These animals are not the ones Hall says should be allowed to live free, “on their own terms.”

The reason: dogs and cats are in the “purpose-bred” animal category. They were bred from other pets to be pets. And “pets” are dependent creatures. (They count on us for shelter, food, medical care . . . Just imagine your cat or dog suddenly having to live outdoors in even a New Jersey winter, foraging, sleeping and surviving outside.)

Hall describes domesticated animals as “refugees of our custom of dominion.” She discusses how pet-keeping came about – it’s a surprisingly recent practice -- and says we should of course take care of these “refugees.”

But she raises the startling question of whether bringing dependent animals into existence is “a habit we could, and should, relinquish.” Just think of all the backyard breeders and puppy mills, not to mention the (relatively) bona fide dog and cat breeders – and the gigantic industries that have grown up around our pets: food, amusement, health care, grooming . . .

Hall says, “It’s to the undomesticated communities of wildcats, to wolves and free birds and rabbits, that the animal rights ideal applies. Rights cannot be meaningfully extended to purpose-bred animals, beings perpetually at our mercy.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

“Soup’s on!”

In 2008, four humans were killed by sharks, while each year, more than 100 million sharks are killed through commercial and recreational fishing.

If that contrast weren’t shocking enough, consider that about 73 million of those 100 million sharks killed are slaughtered solely for their fins “to provide the shark fin soup that is so popular in Asia.”

After their fins are sliced off, according to a Jan. 2 NYTimes editorial, the sharks are dumped back in the water, where because they can no longer swim, they sink to the bottom and die.

“Soup’s on!”

What a world. But the editorial did offer a little good news: Last month, Congress passed a law that bans “finning” in all US waters, expanding an earlier ban off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico only. While making just a small difference overall, this law gives the US credibility to press other fishing nations to do the same.

Meanwhile, an international commission has banned fishing for a number of shark species – all now closing in on extinction. Altogether, after an ocean presence of 400 million years, an estimated third of about 1,000 shark and ray species are in the “same boat.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

If reading were required, and worked!

“On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal-Rights Philosophy Down to Earth” – Lee Hall’s second book in behalf of animals – pretty well sums up its point of view in those first four words. If all animals could live “on their own terms,” that of course would not include their being eaten (and often bred for that purpose alone); used as lab guinea pigs; hunted; skinned or otherwise murdered for their skins and/or fur . . . and on and on.

Hall’s basic and oft-repeated recommendation is for people to become vegans. Then, animals would no longer be hunted or eaten. Nor would animal by-products be called for. If animals lived on their own terms, they would never opt for a laboratory life! Or for “service” (a.k.a. slavery) to humans, in its many unnatural and constraining forms. (Goodbye to K-9s, seeing-eye dogs and all the rest.) They would be free!

She carefully distinguishes between animal “welfare” and “rights.” Though often (erroneously) used interchangeably, they are not the same. Only free animals can have rights. As for animal welfare, that applies to captive animals – elephants in circuses and zoos; lab animals; dairy cows and their calves; pigs raised for slaughter -- and even domestic animals like cats and dogs.

Such captives obviously have no rights; that would be a contradiction in terms. Their lives have already been determined, alas. The most that can be done for them is look to their welfare – e.g., don’t separate baby elephants from their moms; ensure bigger crates for sows; stop docking cows’ tails; give chickens access to the outdoors. In other words, make their miserable, unnatural lives a bit more comfortable.

This book is so loaded with information, insight and commentary that a single blurb doesn’t suffice. That's why I'll be quoting from it in this blog, both separately and as part of other posts.

(On Their Own Terms. . . . by Lee Hall. Nectar Bat Press, Darien, CT and c. 2010)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fur banned, at least during fashion week

In a recent message to anti-fur demonstrators, Julie O’Connor, who heads up Caring Activists Against Fur (, included the news that Norway has banned fur during fashion week in Oslo next month.

Norway is the first of many nations that host “fashion weeks” to make this monumental decision. It may counter the effect of two incidents that drew worldwide attention during the holiday season, when political figures draped themselves in fur.

First was the Christmas card from Canadian MP Justin Trudeau to his constituents, featuring his family covered by a blanket made from coyote fur. Then on Christmas day, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Cornwall made news when both donned “Russian style” hats made from fox fur.

Each of these events drew criticism from the public and animal advocates, but undeniably, they also reflected a widespread sentiment that wearing fur is acceptable.

The Norwegian animal rights group, NOAH, was largely behind Norway’s fur ban next month. The organization had collected signatures from more than 200 designers, models, photographers and journalists to bar the use of fur. NOAH had also hosted a peaceful candlelight vigil in November protesting the fur industry. Over 4,000 supporters attended.

Now to see whether other countries follow suit and ban fur from their catwalks.

NOTE: for details about anti-fur demonstrations in the New York area this month and next, visit

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The ‘call of the wild’ for volunteers

Volunteering at a wildlife center is very different from volunteering at an animal shelter or sanctuary. It's not about cuddling, petting or socializing, but about doing things for and with wild animals while still assuring they stay wild. Then when eventually released, they're still suspicious of humans and don't need them for food or security.

The Mercer County Wildlife Center, on Rt. 29 near Lambertville, has been the subject of a couple blog posts here, most recently late last month/year. Now the center has announced its annual orientation sessions for prospective new volunteers: Sunday, January 30, 10-11 am and Saturday, Feb. 5, 10-11 am, both at the center.

Highlights from the orientation press release follow:
MCWC, which treated 2,300 birds, mammals and reptiles in 2010, is seeking volunteers to care for animals brought to the Hopewell Township facility.

The Center's staff and volunteers care for native wild animals who are injured, ill, or displaced, and provide medical treatment and a temporary refuge to prepare them for release into an appropriate wild habitat. Staffed 365 days a year by one full-time licensed wildlife rehabilitator and two full-time assistants, the center receives more than 11,000 phone calls annually.

To work directly with the animals, volunteers must be at least 18 years old, have had a current tetanus vaccine, and attend either of the two orientation sessions. They must commit to a weekly four-hour shift from April through October (the busiest season). This is necessitated by feeding schedule requirements and housing demands of the animals.

The Wildlife Center is located on Route 29, about three miles south of Lambertville and 12 miles north of Trenton. To register for either orientation session or for more information, phone Jane Rakos-Yates, volunteer coordinator, at 609-883-6606, ext. 103. On the Web: