Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Peter Singer and 'animal studies'

Not long ago, the words "animal studies" would probably have suggested lab animals -- that is, animals used in lab experiments. But now, the phrase often refers to a new, growing but still undefined academic field: "animal studies."

Harvard, Dartmouth and NYU are among the colleges and universities offering courses that have to do with "the way humans and animals interact," according to one prof. That could include art, literature, sociology, anthropology, film, theater, philosophy, religion -- all of which include animals.

The six-year old Animals and Society Institute lists more than 100 courses in animal studies offered around the country. Its website,, describes it as "where knowledge and science meet ethics and compassion." (Yea!)

Why "animal studies"? Increasingly over the years, according to the NYTimes story where this was reported on Jan. 2, similarities between humans and other animals have become clear. Language, tool use, even the roots of morality -- all are characteristic of both animals and humans.

Among the reasons behind this growing "animal studies" trend, philosophy is mentioned as possibly the most direct influence, with Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975) cited as an example.

I wonder: during the production of his seminal book, could Peter Singer possibly have foreseen the effect it would have on individuals and organizations? Could he ever have dreamed it would become the cornerstone of a major new academic area of study? Then I wonder: how much more his book may yet affect human and animal life for the better.

Talk about a ripple effect -- say rather a positive tsunami!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Princeton beaver-shooting case: stalled

More than 8 months ago, two beavers were shot and killed in a Princeton, NJ park. The shooter, who apparently had no authorization to kill the animals, was Princeton’s animal control officer, of all people.

Since then, though there's been talk of what’s happening with this case, in fact there’s been more talk than anything else. Investigations, reports, court dates . . . blah, blah, blah. . . and the shooter is still on the job doing heaven-knows-what-else with impunity.

For a run-down of “events” since May 13, 2011, click on the link below or, worst case, copy and paste it.

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SAVE THE DATE to save homeless cats!

Rain or shine on Saturday, January 28, the “Trenton Cats” organization will sponsor a Cat Adoption Day in support of the Trenton Animal Shelter. Scheduled at the Trenton Farmers Market on Spruce Street, Lawrence Township, the event will run from 11 am-3 pm.

These are cats who did not find loving homes for the holidays. In fact, some of them lost loving homes – they were abandoned at just the time everyone needs a warm home.

Besides adoptions, donations are also welcome.

Watch this blog for more details, and/or contact Sandra at

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Reminder: You’re invited to take a look at my other blog, Read about hypoallergenic dogs and the last word on declawing cats.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Of caged birds

Today commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, equal rights and peace activist, Nobel laureate and assassination victim. In honor of the date and the man, the poem below appeared on a couple websites, and the note with it (on -- Poem of the Week) explained the connection between the poem and Maya Angelou, who came much later.

Like many poems, this one can be read on many levels, including the literal level of a caged bird and the sadness it must often feel. "Caged bird" on every level is a contradiction in terms.


I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting —
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!

--Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

(The above poem was published in Lyrics of the Hearthside by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1899. It was this poem that inspired the title to Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.)


Saturday, January 14, 2012

A walk in the park

It's a different experience to walk in the park just for walking purposes -- briskly, purposefully, all that good stuff -- and to walk in the park for purposes of capturing animals . . . on camera.

Of course a weekend or holiday is the best time for this, preferably with warmish weather, however unseasonable it may be. That combination brings out the fathers with kids and balls -- and dogs. And the couples walking their dogs. And the loners walking two dogs. One day recently, I encountered all these, and more.

To my surprise, they all agreed to let me take their dogs' pictures. First came Cookie, a fluffy white mixed breed, who wanted to play ball with a little boy and his dad -- except that she was leashed to one of their backpacks, and dragged it around with her on the perimeter of their game.

Cyrus and Beatrix were next -- a big, black long-haired German Shepherd and a squat little Corgi. They were walking with a man who warmed up talking about them. Beatrix, he specified, was named for the royal Beatrix, of the Netherlands, while Cyrus looked the way German-German Shepherds ought to look.

Then came Baby, a female pit bull who had been saved from litter after litter. The woman walking her was a friend of Baby's owner-savior. Finally, Luna, a Boston Terrier -- haven't seen one of those in a long while -- was walking from the car she arrived in toward the home she and her people were visiting.

It was a great day to be out and around, meeting these terrific dogs who seemed to feel the same way.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Against declawing & fur for humans

It happens, but that doesn't make it right or desirable. The "it" here is declawing cats. It's most often done to protect furniture, as silly as that may sound. People look at a cat, whose standard equipment includes claws, and decide to redesign the cat -- rather than look around for alternatives to that procedure.

And there are plenty of alternatives to this inhumane practice that's illegal in at least 3 European countries, though not in the US.

For details about declawing and its alternatives, please visit, another place where I blog about/for animals. The two most recent entries there are all about declawing.


This reminder from Caring Activists Against Fur: this weekend, celebrating Martin Luther King, is often also the time for big sales, including furs, and never the twain should meet -- a proponent of peace and an industry that's all about death.

The organization invites others against fur to rally at three sites, as shown below:

Sat., Jan. 14 - Steven Corn Furs, 358 Rte. 17N Paramus, NJ -- 1-2:30 pm
Sun., Jan. 15 - Bloomingdale's, Lexington Ave. at 59th NYC -- 1-3 pm
Mon., Jan. 16 - Macy's, 151 W. 34th St. NYC -- 1–3 pm

For more details, visit or email


Friday, January 6, 2012

It doesn't end with war horses

Shades of “war horses” – there are also “war dogs.” And in these enlightened times, the reactions they may exhibit to warfare can now be diagnosed and often treated successfully.

Of course, dogs’ main reaction – “What am I doing here, involved in peoples’ issues?!” – will not be diagnosed. That’s because it’s not in peoples’ interest to free dogs from that reaction – humans long ago decided other animals exist to serve their needs.

Accordingly, “military dogs” deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are being diagnosed as suffering from “canine post traumatic stress disorder,” or CPTSD. Exposed to gunfire, explosions and other combat-related violence, “war dogs” sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings.

Then, as happened with one dog after a firefight, they may cower under a cot and refuse to come out. That "cowering" dog wasn’t diagnosed with being intelligent or discriminating, as he was – but with CPTSD.

Usually German shepherds, Belgian Melinois and Labrador Retrievers, more than 5 % of the military dogs deployed are developing CPTSD, as James Dao reported in the NYTimes last month, in “After duty, dogs suffer like soldiers.” That can come as no surprise.

Like humans, dogs show different symptoms of CPTSD. The cases that aren't successfully handled through “exercise, play time and gentle obedience training” may get “desensitization counterconditioning” (yes, you read it right) and maybe even anti-panic medications.

The lucky ones are retired from service.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

'War Horse' movie alert

This post is written in the heat not of battle but of recollection of battle -- that which Joey, the title horse of the book, play and movie, was subjected to: World War I, the "war to end all wars," which succeeded only in ending the lives of countless horses who were involuntarily involved in it -- "They had no choice," as London's heartbreaking monument to "Animals in War" reminds us.

The book, originally intended for children, is one thing. It's an OK read, giving a face to all the horses "enlisted" to serve in a war between humans. They were cavalry mounts (a crazier waste of life would be hard to find) and they pulled ambulances and armaments, among other things. They truly were "cannon fodder."

What horses have been made to do in wartime, all against their wills and natures, is unspeakably cruel. It should be unthinkable.

The Broadway show, which I heard and read about, was of necessity, stylized. It could not begin to "show" the horrors of war.

What the play could only suggest the movie "brought to life" -- and death. Disregarding for now scenes of the bucolic English countryside, where Joey grew up, the movie shows Joey in training for war service, then actually there -- miraculously and gallantly surviving charges, guns and bombs, ill treatment, unreasonable work burdens, noise, barbed wire . . . the list goes on.

As unlikely as it would seem, Joey is ultimately reunited with the devoted farm lad who raised him and together they return home to Devon.

Easy to resent is the tear-jerking manipulation of the movie. Harder to deal with is the moral wrongness of causing "war horses" to be. That's what is worthy of our tears.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

This pantry helps people & pets

(The following story first appeared January 31 in

Any animal shelter staffer will readily tell you about the growing number of surrendered and abandoned pets. Dogs and cats from loving homes, once thought of as “forever homes,” are being turned in to shelters. Even worse, they may be left on the street. All because their owners can’t afford to keep them anymore.

What’s sadder than homeless pets? They’re unable to take care of themselves and unfamiliar with the ways of the street, or the world, yet suddenly they lose the people who took care of them.

For pet owners hit hard by the current economy who fear they’ll have to give up their pets, there’s help and hope in West Trenton. The Pet Food Pantry offers temporary help for pets much as other pantries help people going through rough economic times.

Founded by Lisa and Jonathan Iszard -- owners of Tumbleweed & Eddie’s, a natural pet treat company in Ewing – Petfood Pantry has already helped support nearly 60 dogs and more than 80 cats, as well as five parrots and a duck. Almost 2,000 pounds of food has gone out to pet owners in the greater Mercer County area.

Older and low-income people and animal shelters are among the recipients of Petfood Pantry’s help. Sometimes it takes just a one-time small boost to get over a rough spot.

The operation’s based in the Iszards’ home, where volunteers help out. Some groups have held pet food drives for the pantry and donations – both monetary and pet food -- are accepted. Counseling on spay-neuter and links to resources are also available.

“To ensure that no pet goes hungry, the pantry provides free dog and cat food to anyone in financial crisis, counsels pet owners on proper nutrition for their pets and provides information on free and low cost spay and neuter programs.” according to Petfood Pantry’s website,

Guidelines for applying and possible jobs for volunteers are detailed on the site. Through the Pet Food Pantry, when the going gets tough, the tough get to work keeping pets in place and fed until the crisis passes.

The Pet Food Pantry, 1803 Scenic Drive, West Trenton, NJ. 08628. Email: .