Saturday, October 28, 2017

Horses know human cruelty all too well

The first time we visited San Francisco, I drove the nearly 50-mile route around the city, and that was fine . . . until we suddenly found ourselves perched at the top of a hill such as I had never driven down before (and rarely even looked down!). Way, way steep.  Frightening.  With  nothing to do but . . . proceed. 

Well, obviously, we made it. And since then, that hill has been my benchmark for challenging driving.

Now, imagine you’re a horse, given the task of pulling cars full of people up and down such hills: a cruelly difficult thing to do.  In another graphic case of Dominionism, humans had decided this was a job for horses – a job that came with slips, accidents and brutal beatings. As if horses were created or designed to pull people up and down hills.  

(Ooops! nearly forgot the horses still forced to pull carriages full of tourists around New York City, Philadelphia and other places.)

Only years later, I learned from The Writer’s Almanac that in 1869, those suffering horses were noticed by at least one compassionate human, who had a better idea. 

Andrew Smith Hallidie was an English ex-pat who “saw a team of horses struggling to pull a horse-drawn car up a steep, slippery cobblestone street. The horses were being brutally whipped, but to no avail: they lost their footing, fell, and were fatally dragged by the car as it raced down the hill.”

Hallidie’s father held a patent for a “wire rope” cable, which Hallidie the younger teamed with a steam engine and a cable to get a car up those hills. In September 1873, soon after he formed the Clay Street Hill Railroad, the cable car became operational.

Any chance the horses linked to the old system were set free in green pastures?  (Guffaw!)

                                                                               HSI pic
So that was the 19th century. Now go back to the Middle Ages – or so it would seem – for a barbaric practice of entertaining (so-called) humans by torturing and killing horses.  Now, in the 21st century, the Humane Society International is fighting a tradition in Mexico that should have died centuries ago. As HSI/Mexico reports it:

Torneo del Lazo is a gruesome event that takes place throughout the year in various Yucat√°n municipalities in Mexico. During the events, cowboys ride horses being chased by one or more bulls in enclosed arenas. Once they catch the horses, the bulls severely wound them–often times gouging the animals–leading to the horses' slow and painful deaths. The crowd erupts in cheers.

Finally, a beautiful, impressionistic poem about the death of a beloved family horse.  (Yes, this has been a sad post. But sad happens.)

Narrow Flame
by Linda Gregerson

Sun at the zenith. Greening
  Slight buckling of the left

 hind leg. And all this while
            the girl
  at his ear 
good boy and now

 the hip giving way and mildly as
            was ever
  his wont the lovely

 heft of him lists toward the field
            that minutes
  ago was still so sweet for

 grazing and good boy and on the
  now where the frightening

 last shudder of lungs that we’ve been
            warned about
  does thank you darling does

 not come and feeling for a pulse
            no pulse
  and warning us touching

 the liquid eye which does not
            close which
  means the slender needle with

 its toxic everlastingness has done
            its job
  good boy unbuckling the

 halter lifting the beautiful head
            to her
  lap and all this while the girl


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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Of incendiary times & perils to animals

Does the word “wildfires” conjure up images you’ve seen everywhere over the last few weeks? Fiery forests, skies, roadways . . . then ashy remains of homes and businesses. California residents have become more intimately familiar with fires than they could ever have wished.

As usual, I thought about the animals in those wildfires, and as usual – except for the occasional feature about a miraculous rescue or a heroic animal -- they weren’t mentioned. We’ll probably never know how many perished, terrified and suffering, in inescapable flames.

That’s also true for pets, who may have sensed great danger before their people did. I wondered, with fire suddenly racing toward their homes, how many residents thought of their pets and evacuated with them to safety.   

“If your neighborhood was on fire, what would you take with you?” Asked in a newspaper story at the height of the burnings, that question drew a number of answers with glad tidings for pets.

My purse, my son and two dogs, said one woman. My guitars, family photos, and then the cat, a man answered.  A young Napa Valley guy said, “I love my animals more than anything in this life. I’m all good ’cause I got my animals – and I got my dog’s favorite little stuffed donkey.” 

I quit reading while I was ahead, wondering how many of us have a list of “must-saves” for whatever catastrophe comes our way. What would we gather up and carry off with us?  Here’s one answer to love:  

Saluting smart Lulu! 

Remember the tale of the woman office worker who didn’t want to become the default coffee maker, so she deliberately made such horrible coffee she was never asked again?  No dummy she.

That tactic may have caught on among dogs, and good for them.  Think about it: which would you prefer: bomb-sniffing in perilous places, or being a pampered pet here at home?

I thought so. And so did Lulu, a recently publicized flunk-out at the CIA’s “puppy class” for “explosive detection” who just wasn’t interested in detecting possible bombs.

Lulu, successful CIA "failure"
A “black Labrador retriever and free spirit,” Lulu was even checked out by a “doggy psychologist” before being dropped from the rolls and adopted by her handler, going off to life (bomb-free, we hope) as a pet.

You go, girl!

Lulu’s new life must be far better than what she would have had: hazardous duty and possible death while doing the work people had chosen for her.  She would have been “a service dog,” meaning she served human – not canine -- needs.

. . . and mourning the ‘dogs of war’

In a related vein, this columnist extols the “military working dogs” he knew in Vietnam, who – he claims – “loved to work (‘protecting our soldiers’) purely for the approval and praise of their handler and partner.”  ( Hogwash!)  

Of the “thousands” of these dogs, most inexplicably given to the military by US families, about 350 were “killed in [involuntary] action,” with many more wounded.  Most of those who survived were left behind.

Hey, everybody, it’s Dominionism all over again – the worldview or belief held by one species that it has a divine right to use animals and everything else in the living world for its own benefit.  It keeps happening, often to ill effect, and too often, it goes unchecked.  

But not with wily Lulu.  Brava!


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Friday, October 13, 2017

8 years of bear-hunt hell near an end (we hope)

                                                                                                  Kehoe image
War is hell, they say.  If war, which typically involves two armed sides knowingly fighting each other, is hell, then what is hunting – which involves one armed side and one un-armed and unaware side? 

And that armed side -- loaded with firepower and tools to facilitate winning, like bait for the targeted prey -- is grossly advantaged. The un-armed side learns the hard way there’s a hunt going on.

Uneven match.  Unfair contest.  Un-sportsman-like activity.  Inhumane.  Fiendish.

Welcome to New Jersey’s annual (under Gov. Chris Christie) black bear hunt, an event that itself has strong partisans on each side.  Led by the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and its bear-counting “state biologists” (voices of authority?) mentioned in every media story about this hunt, one side claims there are too many NJ black bears and too much risk from them.

The other side, comprised of fervent hunt-opponents, says the population numbers are inaccurate, the risk is practically nil and this so-called hunt is nothing but a trophy-gathering occasion designed to please the hunters’ lobby.
Hunters were limited to archery through Wednesday of this week. From Thursday-Saturday, muzzle-loading rifles are also allowed. Starting December 4, the second six-day portion of the bear hunt is limited to firearms.  (This sounds like an effort to give every wannabe bear-killer a chance – choose your weapons!)

When the hunt got off to a slow start – that is, fewer bears were slaughtered than last year – hunters blamed the weather rather than the possibility that NJ bears may have been decimated in previous hunts.  And of course they cited the need for the hunt: the first hunter to arrive on Monday used a bow and arrow to kill his third bear in four years -- what a guy, huh? – claiming he was controlling the population and putting [bear meat] to use in a good way, by cooking it. (Would the bear agree?)

This hunt-horror has been non-stop and no mercy throughout Christie’s tenure. And we have learned during her smear campaign against her Democratic opponent for governor that Christie’s Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno – she of the sneering smile -- favors the hunt.  

Do we need to know anything else?  

Atwood’s on target once more

Canadian author, literary critic and poet Margaret Atwood recently scored again with her 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s equally right-on with this poem (bold face added).

It’s Autumn

It’s autumn. The nuts patter down.
Beechnuts, acorns, black walnuts –
tree orphans thrown to the ground
in their hard garments.

Don’t go in there,
into the faded orange wood –
it’s filled with angry old men
sneaking around in camouflage gear
pretending no one can see them. 

Some of them aren’t even old,
they just have arthritic foreheads,
or else they’re drunk,
but something’s got to suffer
for their grudges, their obscure sorrows:
the more blown-up flesh, the better.

They’ll shoot at any sign of movement –
your dog, your cat, you.
They’ll say you were a fox or skunk,
or duck, or pheasant. Maybe a deer.

They aren’t hunters, these men.
They have none of the patience of hunters,
none of the remorse.
They’re certain they own everything.
A hunter knows he borrows.

I remember the long hours
crouching in the high marsh grasses –
the grey sky empty, the water silent,
the hushed colours of distant trees –
waiting for the rush of wings,
half-hoping nothing would happen.


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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Although misunderstood, TNR prevails as a solution

Even as TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) has increasingly caught on, misunderstandings about it and the motives of those who advocate for it are still out there. As a result, TNR believers and practitioners must still spend valuable time explaining away all the erroneous or impossible alternative ideas for how to help homeless cats. 

What makes this situation even more frustrating is that most all of those involved in the debate “agree that domestic cats should be in homes, with people -- and yet we all keep arguing as if we don’t have the same objectives!”

So says Sandra Warren Obi, who heads up the TNR program of the Animal Protection League of NJ. She interacts regularly with numerous people and groups around the state – too many of whom simply don’t understand what TNR is all about. So they offer their own suggestions for solving the problem. 

Like this idea:  People should stop abandoning cats.  “OK,” Obi says. “But how do you enforce that and what do you do with the cats already abandoned so they don’t bring more kittens into this situation?” 

Or this one:  People should keep their pet cats inside.  “Right, but what about those already outside? And how enforce this idea?” Obi asks.

And this suggestion:  Remove all the outdoor cats to a sanctuary.  “Great,” Obi says, “but who will round them up, where should they be put and who will pay for their care?”

Or this:  Kill all the outdoor cats. “That’s a horrible ‘solution’ all by itself, as well as one that will fail,” Obi says, citing Marion Island’s and Macquarie Island’s would-be cat eradication programs.

TNR advocates don’t want to create outdoor cat colonies for their own enjoyment. They just want a solution that works for homeless, abandoned and lost cats. And increasingly, judging by its practice in more and more places, the one known solution that works to gradually eliminate homeless cats is by helping those who care for outdoor cats to sterilize and immunize them (TNR!) so they can live out their lives without reproducing.

                  Alley Cat Allies
This solution also respects an animal’s right to life – a non-negotiable condition. Visit  for comprehensive credible information on this subject. “Become an ADVO’CAT’ for feral cats.”

Kedi's return

Remember Kedi, the wonderful documentary about Istanbul’s countless free-roaming cats, and the way “the everyday lives of cats and people weave together” in mutual acceptance?  (No need for animal control officers, shelters or talk of TNR . . .)

Well, Kedi’s coming back! The summer issue of Animal Sheltering magazine reports that “Kedi will be available for download or digital viewing on Nov. 14; preorder the film now or find a screening near you at” 

If you missed it before, now’s your chance to catch up on a wholly, happily un-American way of living with cats.  And if you loved Kedi before, soon you can love Kedi again.

The Cats

by Ann Iverson

To find such glory in a dehydrated pea
on the tile between the stove and fridge.

To toss the needs of others aside
when you simply aren't in the mood for affection.

To find yourselves so irresistible.

And always in a small spot of sun,
you sprawl and spread out the pleasure of yourselves

never fretting, never wanting to go back
to erase your few decisions.

To find yourself so remarkable
all the day long.


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