Sunday, May 20, 2018

So sad: we live in an age that requires protecting animals

Horse Rescue United 
Will a time ever come when the phrase “protecting animals” isn’t used or even recognized by people in our so-called “civilization”? A time when legislators don’t have to debate about what group or agency can best protect New Jersey animals?  A time when federal laws aren’t necessary to “protect farm animals” (that is, slaughter them more humanely), and when “preserves” need not be established, and patrolled, to protect elephants and other wild animals? 

Speciesism and dominionism, coupled with human carelessness and overriding greed, when  focused on non-human animals who can’t speak or fight for themselves, make for a deadly combination, one requiring ever more animal protection.  

This week’s newspaper described the legal requirement for country prosecutors and municipal police departments to take over enforcing animal-control laws from the NJSPCA.  While my experience with the NJSPCA isn’t extensive, it’s been enough to jaundice my view of its approaches and effectiveness.

However, numerous people (including those charged with the take-over) are arguing for more time to implement the law -- passed in January and effective August 1.  How satisfactorily will this be resolved, and how quickly?  For now, as usual, animals needing all the help they can get are in the middle, left in limbo. (I invite readers with info and insights on this issue to comment.)

Meanwhile, in Chad, African elephants are thriving and multiplying after years of death and decimation by ivory poachers.  But to reach this happy position, it took a leader who cares about animal conservation yet has a horrible human rights record, and “imported” South African experts to set things to rights.  Only lately have locals been encouraged to accept and protect their country’s animals.

So, this desirable result occurred through a seriously flawed process.  

a shining star of protection

Back in New Jersey, animal advocates keep on plugging.  One group -- the Animal Protection League of NJ ( -- marks its 35th anniversary of action for animals this year. Newly re-designed, APL’s website provides an easy overview of the organization’s laudable scope and goals, as well as its needs.  (There is never enough monetary support for activism, and volunteers who speak out and pitch in are always welcome.)

Angi Metler, co-founder and executive director, says, “Our website will always be a work in progress, as we welcome new input and suggestions.  If anyone notices something missing, let us know.”

Why not check out the new APLNJ website right now? 

Aren’t  you thirsty yet?

“Water, water everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.” Harry and Billy Summers better not try that “Ancient Mariner” line on me, even though it seems to be their mantra. These two cats are, and have long been, “water teetotalers,” which worries me. My only solace: they consume a lot of water with their canned food and they keep getting good vet reports.

Yet I regularly see articles the importance of cat-hydration, together with tips for how to lead a cat to water and make him drink.  So I’ve been sure to keep water (and food too) far removed from litterbox areas; I’ve regularly changed the water in bowls on two floors -- apparently untouched day after day -- and I’ve sometimes added ice cubes and enthusiastically pointed them out.  

No, I haven’t tried a fountain, even though cats reportedly love moving water.  Nor have I taught either of the Summers boys to sit in a sink and turn on the water, as I’ve seen happen online. A can of chicken broth has sat on a counter for weeks while I consider whether and how to add it to their water bowls.  Chicken-flavored water?!

Any suggestions, readers?


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Sunday, May 13, 2018

For the love of elephants

Gabon landscape

The sentence that snapped me into consciousness of  the wild animal I feel most strongly about was: “Can you imagine a world without elephants?” 

That was years ago.  Of course, my answer to the question was a resounding “NO!  I don’t want to imagine such a thing! The world needs elephants!  Elephants must live!”  And so on. Then, learning that elephant extinction was a real possibility, as these giant, intelligent, family-oriented animals were being slaughtered en masse, for their tusks -- to make ivory trinkets for inhumane, greedy fools -- I was horrified by what was happening to elephants, and why. 

                                                        Save the Elephants image
And now, despite appeals to save the elephants from a wide diversity of people (a famous Asian basketball player, an American movie star and other celebrities, world-renowned elephant-protectors and their organizations. . . and everyday people who donate, write and march), elephants are still in great jeopardy.  

Why?  For me, the many possible reasons for elephants’ continued slaughter come down to one: human greed.  Despite responsibility to protect elephants or expressed good intentions or seeming moral strength, money wins out and elephants (continue to) die.   

This message is the central point of Mlima’s Tale, Lynn Nottage’s play running in NYC through June 3.  For me, it was brilliant, and depressing, theater.  Mlima is a famous “big tusker” in Kenya who, early in the play, is killed by poachers for his tusks.  Then follow the attempts by all involved to get away with the murder and make money on the tusks.

They do so.  Sickeningly. 
Throughout the play, all the characters’ interactions are accompanied by the ghost of Mlima, powerfully portrayed by one of the show’s four actors.  Not one person who encounters the tusks and the drive to smuggle them out of Kenya and sell them sounds the alarm.  Not one.  The tusks of the mighty elephant become “an exquisite ivory set in the penthouse of a rich connoisseur,” as the reviewer puts it, adding this killer point: “unconditional virtue is nonexistent within the international system of economic power that keeps the play’s world spinning.”

As long as that remains true -- is human nature likely to change? -- elephants don’t stand a chance.  

The story of what’s happening to elephants can make misanthropes of those of us who believe reason and “humanity” will prevail.  Fools that we are.  And media stories about new ways to help save elephants can’t quite generate the optimism they may have fostered before.  The realization that most humans would rather make money than stop iconic, sentient beings from being slaughtered is overwhelming. . . and seems to be reinforced every day.

In spite of all that, I will continue to read, write and donate as I can because I can’t stand the idea of doing nothing for elephants.  The organization I trust is "Save the Elephants" (, founded by Dr. Iain Douglas Hamilton, a scientist considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on African elephants.  I’ve read about him for years and thought he was very impressive at a NYC demo a few years ago.  (To donate to Save the Elephants, click “Donate” then scroll down for the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN), a San Francisco-based US partner to STE.)   

The sentence that most recently hit me hard was: “One elephant killed every 15 minutes.”  Mlima’s Tale continues.  Save the elephants.

Yao Ming with orphaned baby elephant


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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Spring brings both bad news & good

So, can we safely assume that spring is unstoppable at this point?  Shades of green everywhere, from soft new tree leaves to brilliant grasses, accented by varied yellows, pinks and whites, with more recent lilac additions -- they can’t possibly revert to browns and grays now, can they?

Once safely into springtime, we’re also UN-safely into tick and mosquito season, which many of us have good reason to dread.  For those who are prey to these jumping and flying pests -- the nicest word for them -- here’s useful info about why they’re proliferating and how to combat them.  (Right, this is a blog about animals, but we definitely don’t like or welcome all of them!)

No room in my last post, about two confusing black birds, to mention other names for crows and ravens: collective nouns.  If you see a number of crows, for instance, sure, you could refer to them as “a flock of crows,” and be accurate.  But more poetically, you could refer to them as “a murder of crows.”  Doesn’t that add a nice sinister note?   

As for a mundane “group of ravens,” try “an unkindness of . . .” or “a conspiracy of ravens” -- much more colorful. That wording better suggests connections like Hitchcock’s movie The Birds or Poe’s poem “The Raven.”

Shades of the collective noun “clowder” for a group of cats, right?  Another option there, btw, is “clutter” of cats, which seems especially apropos now, in the thick of kitten season. And for many of us ailurophiles, “a pounce of cats” says it too.

Safer flights, we hope

After a series of mishaps and one death for pets involved with United Airlines, the company has announced new policies and customer requirements for pet air transportation. Aimed at improving the safety of the travel experience for animals, they take effect Monday, June 18, and will be modified as needed afterward.  This link leads you to all that, and more.

Tell it to the . . . Gov

Please keep up the pressure with frequent polite phone calls to Governor Murphy: remind him of his pledge to end New Jersey’s bear hunts.  609-292-6000.

In an earlier stage of our development most human groups held to a tribal ethic. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed or killed as one pleased. Gradually the circle of protection expanded, but as recently as 150 years ago we did not include blacks. So African human beings could be captured, shipped to America, and sold. In Australia white settlers regarded Aborigines as a pest and hunted them down, much as kangaroos are hunted down today. Just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter, and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics.
-Peter Singer, philosopher and professor of bioethics (1946-  )


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Sunday, April 29, 2018

2 confusing black birds & plastic strikes again, big time

American crow

So we’re looking out the window and see a couple big black birds strutting kind of stiffly around.  Are they crows?  Or ravens?  Or what? 

Of course if they stood still, showing their profiles, or flew in slo-mo overhead, we could probably tell the difference, but they’re not that thoughtful.  Crows are often seen in large groups, while ravens often travel, and forage, in pairs.

With equal-length feathers, a crow’s tail resembles a rounded fan, while its longer middle feathers make a raven’s tail look wedge-shaped.  Bigger than the American crow, a common raven averages 25 inches in length (to the crow’s 17-1/2 inches) with 2.6 pounds in mass (to the crow’s 1.4 pounds), and it has a larger, curvier beak.  
Crows make a “cawing” sound and ravens emit a lower, croaking sound  (the link below includes their sound effects); ravens ride the thermals and soar, while crows do more flapping.  Both birds are described as “opportunistic foragers,” who will eat just about anything. 

Most basic of all, both birds are part of the Corvidae family, also known as the “crow family,” or “corvids.” Their relatives include rooks, jackdaws and magpies – but don’t worry: those birds aren’t part of this comparison.

Common raven
Now, if only those black birds outside would line up and let us see their profiles, or spread their tails, or  . . .  !  

The water’s not fine
"Everybody into the pool!”  Oh, yuk!  Get out, quick – the water’s filled with plastic bags, bottles, cups and glasses, straws, utensils, and other such garbage. . . Who wants to swim in trash like that? 

Or worse: live in such trash?

Pity the creatures in our oceans, which are now being taken over by plastic – not only the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” between Hawaii and California, but other, ever-growing versions of it.  One estimate: by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.  Re-read that sentence and try to picture it.

And picture this, also reported in recent Earth Day coverage: It’s as if a garbage truck filled with plastic/trash is dumped into the ocean every second.  How have the seas survived, let alone their inhabitants?

Plastic absorbs toxins, then fish eat the plastic, then people eat the fish. Maybe you’re thinking, “Serves them right” or “Turnabout is fair play” for the humans who brought this on, but fish and other sea creatures don’t deserve that life-threatening habitat. 

Can’t people reduce their brief, single use of those ubiquitous, dangerous plastic bags, or better yet, quit using them?  Some supermarkets push paper or fabric shopping bags, while others seem totally indifferent to the environmental disaster they’re feeding.  (Can you hear me, Wegman’s?!)    

                                                                                                                                                               image from Isle of Dogs

No dog is an island
Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson’s crazy-jarring yet appealing mix of techniques (stop-action animation! use of puppets!)  and messages about pets and people . . . combine for a highly watchable if not wholly comprehensible movie. Banished from their city to an island garbage dump, these dogs are sympathetic and plucky characters, deserving to prevail over terrible loneliness. Animal-loving viewers may experience long patches of anxiety along with  unexpected humor.   

But who’s counting? 
In case you’re interested, this is the 54th post in AnimalBeat II, after about a dozen earlier posts that appeared on the website of The Animal Protection League of NJ ( and moved here a year ago this month.  Now, for the best of both worlds, you can find all posts on the APLNJ site, under “blog,” and at (where you can comment – please do!) – and by subscription.


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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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