Sunday, April 22, 2018

‘Old business’ & new -- & things to do

“Is there any old business?”

Yes!  (I refer to saved but un-shared info about animals drawn from recent reading. Earth Day seems like a good time to put it out there so readers might be as surprised as I was by some of it.)  

Belated condolences to the owners of pets who died or were traumatized by gross mishandling three times last month by United Airlines employees: killed in the overhead bin, delivered to the wrong country and mistakenly loaded on board a flight.  By now, we can only hope United employees have been scared into carefulness.

“Fly the friendly skies”?  No thanks.  

“Many Animals Can Count, Some Better Than You,” according to a science story about “animal numerosity.”  Humans are definitely not the only animals smart enough to think quantitatively, the article says, citing examples from spiders, frogs and fish, as well as hyenas and chimps.
Spotted hyena
“Scientists have found that animals across the evolutionary spectrum have a keen sense of quantity, able to distinguish not just bigger from smaller or more from less, but two from four, four from ten, forty from sixty,” reports Natalie Angier, a favorite science writer.

Here’s an amusing story about why there’s more research on dogs than cats. The writer collected various scientists’ theories for why that’s so – sometimes colored by their own feelings, choice of pets and/or stereotypes.

It’s worth noting the writer’s disclaimer: The research he’s interested in and writes about involves evolution, domestication, current genetics and behavior.  He was not asking about dogs and cats used as laboratory animals in invasive experiments. 

If  it depended on my description in the last post, any law-breaking armadillo would escape the suspect line-up and go free.  My enthusiasm for the creatures overrode my accuracy in describing them; I completely omitted any reference to this armored mammal’s carapace, or protective shell!  

 Curled  armadillo                           belizar/Fotolia
Composed of “boney scale-like structures called scutes, topped with a layer of keratin (a component of hair, nails, and horns),” that set of plates, or the carapace, covers much of the armadillo’s body, including the head, legs and tail. One variety can curl itself up into an impenetrable ball when threatened by another armadillo or a predator. 

Remind Murphy: no more bear hunts
Also overlooked last time was this plea to help keep NJ Governor Phil Murphy honest.  During his election campaign, he pledged to end New Jersey’s fiendish bear hunts – aka trophy hunts.  Now it’s crucial to get that job done. 

That’s why the Animal Protection League of NJ urges everyone who cares about bears to phone the governor’s office – 609-292-6000 -- and remind Murphy of that pledge.

ACTION:  CALL 609-292-6000 and remind the Governor about his sacred promise
to stop the bear hunt.

Fight anti-Earth Day acts
Today marks the 48th annual celebration of Earth Day – an event that in 1970 opened the way for life-saving changes in our world.  The story below highlights some of the areas impacted then and since. While its graphic opening omits reference to endangered animals, the Endangered Species Act came out of Earth Day activism, along with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The story also describes efforts by the current administration to undermine those laws – acts that are both incomprehensible and indefensible.  Resist!

Word of the day 
Many of us are unfamiliar with this word or this feeling, but here it is: ailurophobia (ai-loor-uh-FOH-bee-uh, ay-) -- A fear of cats.  (Hard to imagine, isn’t it?)

                                             Imgur image in Wordsmith


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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Foxes & black bears & . . . armadillos?

                                                                                                       APLNJ pic
With their springtime departure from dens, NJ’s black bears have opened 2018’s “bear season” – this one, we pray, with no bear hunt!  It’s wonderful to contemplate a year when the moms, cubs and males out there may live to hibernate again in the fall.

Not yet ravenously hungry or foraging for food, “spring bears” start out in a state of “walking hibernation.”  Their lethargy gradually lessens as habitats start greening up and new grass, herbs and leaves become available.  Only in June will they seriously start fattening up for winter, as well as seeking to mate.

When bear sightings occur, as they will, do not call DFW (see fox story below)!  Doing so, says a rep of the Bear Group (, is a potential death sentence besides being logged (however inaccurately) as a bear nuisance complaint.  That in turn feeds DFW’s “records” justifying the division’s bear “management” plans (think “hunt”).  

Instead, call the Bear Group (973-315-3219), which also does home visits for those wanting to know how to bear-proof their surroundings.  

Above all, do not feed bears!  That can happen inadvertently, by leaving bird feeders outside, feeding pets outdoors, failing to securely fasten garbage cans.  In most cases, just enjoy the moment of a bear sighting; black bears are shy and retiring creatures, one source stresses, and “they will generally turn and amble away when approached.”  Otherwise, use aversive conditioning techniques – like waving arms, shouting, using noise-makers. 

And this comparison is comforting: “According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, for every person killed by a black bear in North America, 60 are killed by domestic dogs, 180 by bees, and 350 by lightning.”  Lately in New Jersey, bears have had much more to fear from people than the opposite.

Foxes for birds

A recent newspaper story revealed why foxes in Brigantine seem to be disappearing:  they’re being killed by NJ’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to help protect endangered shorebirds like the piping plover and red knot.

                                                                               DFW pic
For the last four years, DFW has contracted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to “handle population control” by trapping and euthanizing foxes “by a gun” – what the press officer described as “humane control.”  Before that, DFW did the same thing on its own -- as well as sometimes trapping foxes on municipal beaches with local officials’ OK.

If there was follow up to this story, I missed it.  So I’m left wondering who made the call to protect the birds and kill the foxes?  Can a person or a state or federal agency do so unilaterally?  Was there public notification when it started?  (That people reportedly wondered what’s been happening to the foxes suggests not.)  Finally, with DFW’s disclosure of what it’s been up to, what, if anything, will happen now? 

Armadillos – say what?  

Well, yes, armadillos.  After all, we looked at pangolins months ago, so today it’s armadillos – giant ones, at that.  Until a recent Dodo story, I hadn’t given a thought to them since Rango, a movie that featured one, among other zany characters.

Giant Armadillo
Native to South America, these big guys can weigh up to 180 pounds and head to tail, occupy nearly five feet.  Their name means “little armoured one” in Spanish and together with their size and elusiveness, they’re definitely not cuddly pets.

Overall, armadillos can range from chipmunk size (“pink fairy armadillo”) to giant, with a wild looking “screaming hairy armadillo” somewhere there.  Great diggers with sharp claws and characterized by long noses, armadillos are related to sloths and anteaters.  No surprise there. 


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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Mercy & science say 'subvert the dominant paradigm'

“Each and every one of these animals is an individual who suffers pain, who has a family, who has a story.”  Since my last post, I’ve continued to think about that quote from Mercy for Animals, Nathan Runkle’s book.  How many people ever consider whether animals of any sort, including those heading for slaughter, have their own families, their own stories?
Because of course they do.

By human standards, a chicken’s story may be brief, even barren. Yet they have lived, however long, and with luck, experienced pleasure.  We have to hope their lives included pleasure because so many of them end their days in a industrial farm setting like the factory farm for egg-laying chickens that Runkle describes here.

“ . . . the overwhelming stench of ammonia . . . The shed . . . is crammed with egg-laying chickens. Overhead, hens are crowded inside cages, each the size of a file-cabinet drawer,  . . . confining 7 to 10 adult birds.  [They] are unable to fully spread their wings, let alone walk, perch, roost, dust bathe or experience the most basic freedom of movement.  The wire cage floors are slanted, meaning the birds can never stand upright . . . the eggs they lay will immediately roll away from them. . . [to be] carefully cleaned to remove blood and feces and then placed in happily decorated cartons proudly declaring “Farm Fresh Eggs.” . . . The endless row of cages are stacked like stairs, allowing the birds’ feces to fall into the manure pit in which we now stand.”  --pp. xii, xiii, Mercy for Animals: One Man’s Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals.

So, what to do?  Quit chicken? Then what?  Return to beef-eating?  Not so fast: Citing our “collective love affair with beef, dating back more than 10,000 years,” Richard Conniff  reluctantly admits it’s “time to break it off.”  

Conniff’s stats about the effects of cattle-raising on climate are startling, making it much easier to understand French scientists’ proposal to put a carbon tax on beef to help meet European Union climate change targets.  That won’t happen, but here are some of the reasons for it:

·       one think tank attributes 14.5 % of global emissions to livestock – “more than the emissions from powering all the world’s road vehicles, trains, ships and airplanes combined.”

·         livestock consume the yield from a quarter of all cropland worldwide.

·        with grazing added, the business of making meat occupies about three-quarters of the agricultural land on the planet.

·         ruminant digestion causes cattle to belch and otherwise emit huge quantities of methane. 

Beef cattle shed
It begins to seem as if all food roads lead to . . . “clean meat ” – real meat grown from animal cells, with no need to raise and slaughter entire creatures.  Biotechnology could be used to make this happen, producing “the meat so many humans crave without taking such an enormous toll on the planet, since growing meat is much more efficient than raising animals to later turn into that same meat.”   

That concept is introduced in the foreword to Paul Shapiro’s Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World.  “Judged by the amount of suffering it causes, industrial farming of animals is arguably one of the worst crimes in history,” the writer says.
Case closed – for now.


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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Chickens = cannon fodder for wannabe vegetarians

We call them dumb animals, and so they are, for they cannot tell us
how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.
--Anna Sewell, author (Black Beauty, etc.!) 1820-1878

I know I’m no great hero for animals in being merely a vegetarian.  Even so, there’s one expression I often hear from non-vegetarians that infuriates me.  It goes like this:  “I don’t eat beef or pork or fish, just chicken” -- as if “just chicken” is somehow not the flesh of a once-sentient being, like other meat; as if the chicken supply is free and inexhaustible; as if chickens don’t feel the dread and agony of slaughter, which so many other animals have been documented as feeling.   

Oh, come on.  Most chickens by far are not the pampered backyard pets who live in pricey designer coops, eat carefully selected foods and are protected from predators and extreme weather.  For the billions of “commercial chickens” – that is, those bred to become food in the United States -- life is frightfully different.

a 'broiler' factory

You read it right: “billions.”  Of the land animals slaughtered for food each year here, 8.6 billion animals are chickens – nearly 300 per second. These figures come from Mercy for Animals, the book cited in my last post.  And author Nathan Runkle points out that “each and every one of these animals is an individual who suffers pain, who has a family, who has a story.”  

Years ago, before learning what I know now, I participated in a demonstration at a nearby McDonald’s, sponsored by PETA, I think.  Its purpose:  demand more humane slaughter of chickens. As if “humane slaughter” were not a contradiction in terms. As if as a result, chickens would feel better about the whole thing.  

There.  At least temporarily, this rant took our minds off all the hams served for dinner today – that is, all the pigs, smart, friendly and lovable animals that they are – raised and slaughtered for a celebration of rebirth.  Ironic, isn’t it?  But human meat-eaters probably aren’t interested in irony when it comes to their eating habits.  

More on home-visiting vets

A few real-life experiences last month illustrated for me the value of a vet who makes home visits – as described in a recent post here.  Bundling two reluctant cats into their carriers for vet visits took a toll, and I found myself daydreaming of a vet who would come to us (no guile or carrier needed!). Here’s a story about a certified veterinary acupuncturist who makes house calls in NYC – bless him!   

Poison-prevention aids

We missed the ASPCA’s poison prevention week last month, but it’s never too late to know what to avoid, what to do.  I’m reminded of a dear gray cat who hung around a local nursery, allowing petting and accepting treats.  Until he died of poisoning, the owners said, when asked.  As if that had to be the end of him.
The kindest possible thought: that they didn’t know where to look or what to do.  Here’s what may be the definitive info source on animal poisoning that even other animal welfare organizations point to for the quality of its helpfulness.   

Equal film time for dogs?

Kedi, the charming documentary about cats leading the good life in Istanbul, would make American cats jealous.  I’m not sure Isle of Dogs will do the same for canines, but I still intend to see it.  This review is only the first positive mention I’ve noted.   

                                                                                                                                        Fox Searchlight/20th Century Fox 


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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Assuring cats’ health: call it ‘guardian maintenance’!

Harry (top) & Billy
Harry and Billy Summers are two very lucky cats, now flashing beautiful, healthy teeth.  It wasn’t cheap, or easy.  Nor was it the first or the last time their oral health was checked and assured.

This time around, their dental adventure cost more than $2,000 – a good deal less than the highest estimate the animal hospital had projected.  The total cost also included pre-anesthesia testing by their veterinarian and a 40-mile round trip to the specialist . . . then, hours later, a return trip for pick up, all after two postponements because of winter storms.

That expenditure of time and money (and emotion!) was just for their teeth, which I’ve been convinced must be kept healthy.

And there’s much more: “the Summers boys” also eat “vet food” – that is, prescription food to maintain a healthy weight (Billy) or care for kidneys (Harry).

And besides what amount to two annual check-ups for each boy, there are also periodic visits to eye and internal medicine specialists and the inevitable emergency vet trips – the tilted head signaling an ear problem; the upset stomach with projectile vomiting . . . and so on.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not boasting or complaining.  I’m elated we can afford comprehensive health care for the two cats we dearly love. And I wholly trust both boys’ veterinarian, the dental specialist and others.

But. . . !

But: how many people can afford such thorough, or even basic, care for their cats?  I’m betting that many cats go without – which can mean shorter, less healthy lives.  

It’s sad to think how many pet cats don’t get even an annual check-up, let alone dental care.  Or beneficial food.  And of course, community cats – with shorter life spans by definition -- have it even harder.

I have to wonder what happens for all the cats who are adopted out by rescue groups and shelters. Once those felines move into their “forever homes,” how do their well-meaning new families deal with the need for vet visits and, sometimes, heroic or major treatments?  Are prospective adopters told about the expenses involved with having a pet cat?

No doubt this situation is also true for pet dogs, for whom veterinarian care is pricey too – a fact probably equally true for other pets – ferrets, birds and so on.

What about medical insurance for pets, you may ask.  I’ve wondered about that.  The one time we had it, for a beloved cocker spaniel, a pre-existing health condition kept it from being useful.  After that, we gave up on insurance.  

There are ways to get help with medical costs for pets.  One example: the donation jar at the hospital where Harry and Billy had their teeth attended to – although I don’t know how common such jars are or how that money is allocated. 

Other options can be found on the website of the Animal Protection League of NJ (APLNJ), which lists organizations pet parents might try.  (Worth checking them out right now?)

And too, why not ask the pet’s vet about special rates and payment plans?  (Who better to ask for help treating a pet than a vet, whose mission is caring for animals?)   

For now, with gratitude and relief, I’m crossing my fingers, knocking on wood and thanking the
power(s) that Harry and Billy are two very lucky cats.


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Sunday, March 18, 2018

March Madness of a far different kind

Spring Peeper
“Almost spring” – the best reason to feel good about animals and the world and animals in the world (however briefly), with bird song in the morning again!  Can spring peepers be far behind?

By now, it’s all around: emergence (of green shoots and worms and black bears); growth (of everything, it seems); rebirth (of hope!). This year’s spring equinox arrives on Tuesday, March 20, at 12:15 pm, though the signs of its coming have already worked their magic. 

“Equinox” comes from Latin words that literally mean “equal night” because the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world.  Earlier dawns and later sunsets mean longer days with more sunlight hours – all to the good for those of us who suffer from SAD and other winter blues.
For “animal people,” the joys of spring also include the mixed blessing of “kitten season,” when these cunning baby animals can seem to be everywhere. Yes, they’re  adorable, and sometimes they are on their own, but remember to look carefully for mama cats before “rescuing” any babies. 

American Robin
Speaking of spring and birds and cats, it’s almost time to try the “cat fur good deed”: collect the fluff you brush from your shedding cats and sprinkle it outside.  I’ve read that birds – and I’d bet squirrels too – snatch it up to line their nests and warm their babies. It might even help prevent some young birds and squirrels from falling out of their nests.  Try it – they’ll like it!
Two recommended for readers

Moving away from nature's own March madness, here are 2 books to know about, thanks to a sympathetic librarian and blog-reading friend:

1 -- Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, by Paul Shapiro  (description excerpted from Kirkus Reviews)

An intriguing argument for developing an economy of cultured, lab-born meat because "clean meat" is already a reality. The first "cultured hamburger," produced in 2013 cost about $330,000; now it costs around $11 per burger. 

The same is true of animal foods and products of other kinds, from dairy to poultry to leather. Within a decade or two, it may be possible to eat meat that has not involved the suffering of a living animal and to wear shoes made of leather that has not come from a slaughterhouse.  

2 -- Mercy for Animals: One Man's Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals, by Nathan Runkle  (description from Amazon blurb)  

Runkle’s book tells how he founded this country’s leading nonprofit organization for protecting factory farmed animals. The work of “Mercy for Animals” has ranged from grassroots activism through undercover investigations to today’s efforts for sweeping legislative change.

Far-reaching negative consequences resulted when America moved from a network of small, local farms with more than 50 percent of Americans involved in agriculture, to a massive coast-to-coast industrial complex controlled by a mere 1 percent of our population.  But Runkle offers both hope and solutions for ending mistreatment of factory farmed animals, from diet modifications to directions for how to contact corporations and legislators efficiently.

These feet were made for . . .

Finally, how better to end a post on a joyful subject than to share this story about a happy ending for one spider – actually, as many happy endings as this spider has legs:


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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Keeping chickens, cloning pets & shelter animals (still) in need

Raising chickens has become an “in” thing around the country.  Described as “a growing status symbol in Silicon Valley,” in a recent Washington Post story, “egg-laying chickens are now a trendy, eco-conscious humblebrag on par with driving a Tesla.” 
It’s also happening in New Jersey. After a two-year pilot program “to see if chickens and their neighbors could live in harmony,” the city council of Woodbury (Gloucester County) unanimously passed a law allowing “chickens to come home to roost” there. A $10 license fee allows residents to raise up to 12 egg-laying hens; no roosters allowed.

As one recently subjected to boring chicken tales and pictures from a distant relative, I’m neutral, at best, on this issue.  Especially since I assume most of those chicken-keepers are also chicken-eaters – though maybe not their own pricey fowl.

Chicken consumption is a whole other not-pretty story that we’ll get to later.  For now, suffice it to say that while the practice of equating chickens with cowards goes back centuries, with flimsy supporting reasons, today’s chickens – mass-produced in factory farms -- have never had a better reason to be cowards!  Who would want their lives, or deaths? 
Cloning pets: all wrong

Love your dog so much you can’t imagine your future without her?  Well, if you’re thoughtless and rich enough, you can have your dog cloned – once an idle wish among pet-lovers – as Barbra Streisand recently did.

Don’t think it was easy, or even a little bit fair to every non-human and human animal involved. Cloning takes a terrible toll, as the story below details.  Worst of all to me: it leaves homeless animals in shelters right where they are, while needlessly growing the pet population – and some of those creatures may also wind up homeless some day. 

Overall, a selfish and cruel “lose-lose.”

Animal shelter bill -- MIA

The “animal shelter bill” I’ve written about for more than three years, exclaiming over the good it would do for homeless animals “living” in New Jersey animal shelters: What happened to it?  Where is it in the legislative pipeline? When will it surface and be talked about and moved forward?

Work on this bill began years ago with a meeting of people who know and care about animal shelters and want to see them improved. They exchanged opinions and specifics for a couple hours on January 23, 2015.

Then came a long hiatus, when nothing seemed to happen – no meetings, no word, no action for shelter animals. 

Finally, a draft bill appeared, with feedback invited.  Then came another long hiatus, with no communication about bill status or how to support and move it.  Meanwhile, shelter animals languished and many died – unnecessarily, for sure, since so many animal shelters in New Jersey do their own ignorant, inconsistent and cruel things, pretty much with impunity.  

In fact, it was the horrors at the Helmetta shelter (shelter: such a misnomer!) that helped trigger that first and only meeting, filled with talk of a law to reform NJ shelters.  And yet today, some animals still endure filthy and unsafe shelter conditions, minimally trained staff with even less supervision, and seat-of-the-pants decisions and actions that can be lethal.  
What happened to the shelter-reform bill, initially numbered S3019 and now S725?  Where is it in the legislative pipeline?  When will it re-surface and be talked about and moved forward for action? 


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