August 24, 2007

Renting Dogs?

Posted in companion animals, dogs, taste better at 12:28 pm by nevavegan

Just a quickie to comment on the recent story about a company that rents out dogs by the hour.

Many of us in the rescue/animal welfare/animal rights community have been upset by this story because it seems to reduce dogs to the level of other rented things–cars and tuxes. It’s also disturbing because it fails to acknowledge that dogs bond with their caretakers and need a consistent home, a routine, and pack-feeling they get when they bond closely with a few people.

I read the whole thing and wondered who would ever be willing to pay for such a service.

For people who love dogs but don’t have the time or energy to adopt one there are always options.

When my aunt was first diagnosed with cancer she longed to adopt a dog, but she couldn’t in good conscience do it because she didn’t know how long she’d be able to care for a dog. Her prognosis wasn’t good and she feared that any dog she took in would outlive her and face upheaval and possible homelessness. So my aunt found the perfect solution–she made friends with a person in her building who had a dog and dog-sat and dog-walked this neighbor dog when she felt up to it. This brought the affection and company of a dog into her life and helped out her busy neighbor as well. And it was good for the dog to get the extra attention.

Others find they can satisfy their dog-nurturing urges on a part time basis by either fostering dogs for a rescue group, or just spelling the full-time fosterer off by taking the dogs to the dog park for an afternoon. Dog lovers can volunteer at a shelter, they can help out at adoption fairs, and they can always dog-sit for friends and family.

Dogs take a lot of time and care, and I applaud those who are responsible enough to wait to adopt until they are sure they can provide the perfect home. But sometimes you just need to go running with a dog, or get a sloppy lick across the face. There are tons of good options without resorting to “renting” a dog.

August 14, 2007

Apologies and all

Posted in companion animals, real life at 1:55 pm by nevavegan

I’ve continued to be missing and when I have posted it’s been tossed together with possible grammar and spelling errors. This is because I’ve been sleep deprived due to care for ailing cats.

I’m also sorry I haven’t responded to all of your wonderful thoughtful comments. I really will, I just need to get my head on straight first.

As I posted previously Liam got very sick. We were never even able to completely explain what happened to him. The vet theorized that he was suffering a bacterial infection, but no tests were completely conclusive, and our focus turned just to keeping him alive.

After Liam came home from the ICU, I spent a good number of nights getting up at all hours to medicate him, and sit with him, and just search for any sign of improvement.

As Liam slowly recovered, Squeaker, one of our older cats also fell ill, with similar but less severe symptoms. The vet said she was definitely suffering a bacterial infection and she’s on antibiotics too. Though she didn’t get as sick as Liam did, her recovery has been slow. Her appetite was never the most voracious anyway, and being sick and on antibiotics seems to have killed it completely. We’ve been trying for days to get her to eat. I can persuade her to eat a little if I sit by her and brush her the entire time (Squeaker is semi-feral, she loves to be brushed with a hairbrush, but hates to be touched with human hands).

Late yesterday Squeaker seemed to start improving and I hope that continues. I’ve really been a wreck all this time.

I know it sounds like we are bad cat parents, but these are indoor only cats. We can’t determine what they could have been exposed to, and we’ve searched the house. Sadly the only thing we can say is that the cats had their check ups at the vet shortly before they got sick, and also they may have eaten some treats that were meant for the dogs. Neither one of those things stands out as a likely source of illness, but we can’t find many other common factors.

I’ve been a nut case, bothering Liam every five minutes to make sure he’s still alive, but he’s very much improved. Now we just hope Squeaker will continue to get better too.

July 19, 2007

Tell Petsmart Not To Sell Rabbits

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 6:16 pm by nevavegan

To learn more about this issue look here:
http://www.rabbit.org/hrs-info/petsmart_release.html

I have just learned that Petsmart has announced an intention to sell dwarf rabbits in their stores. I’m sick. It’s bad enough that they sell small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They need to stop selling animals, not start selling more.

As someone closely acquainted with abandoned rabbits I know that domestic rabbits are abandoned and turned over to shelters all the time. So many are executed simply for not having a home. Others are not given up, but lead short miserable lives, because they are one of the most commonly neglected and abused companion animals.

Over the years I’ve had people call me because they saw a domestic rabbit (you can tell they aren’t wild if they are black and white or have long fur) running loose in their neighborhoods. My friends have found abandoned rabbits in parking lots, behind grocery stores, and in parks. When I volunteered at the shelter I comforted terrified rabbits only to see their time run out without finding a forever home. My own beloved Sherman, who recently passed away, was a starved bunny homeless in NYC, at the point of giving up, when luckily a homeless man found him and brought him to me.

I’ve seen bunnies living in cages too small even for a rat, despite the fact that many bunnies are as large as cats. My husband once saw a family who kept a bunny in a Tupperware crate, so all he ever saw were opaque plastic walls. Bunnies need to eat hay almost constantly, but I’ve seen so many people deny their bunnies hay because it was messy.

Most people I’ve met who ever had a bunny as a companion animal said their bunny died very young, often after a few months. This is almost always the result of untreated illness and/or improper diet. Bunnies can live as long as 15 years, though the range of 7 to 9 is more common. But bunnies who can’t eat the hay and fresh green vegetables they need will die within a year or so.

Petsmart is going to be selling bunnies as “starter pets,” but as someone who shares my home with rescued dogs, cats, and bunnies, I have to say the bunnies are in fact the most difficult to care for. Bunnies require a variety of foods, including hay and fresh veggies. They chew (one reason why they are so often caged for life) but they need lots of exercise like any animal. They require special vet care from someone experienced with rabbits and their vet care is often more expensive than vet care for a cat or dog. Bunnies need help with their grooming, like claw clipping, and long haired bunnies need almost daily brushing.

Bunnies need to be spayed or neutered like other companion animals. Unneutered male rabbits may “mark their territory” or become aggressive. Spaying improves the health of bunnies. When we adopted Juniper (Sherman’s long time companion who died about a year after he did) we learned that she had a tumor on her uterus when the rescue group got her spayed. She lived quite a few long healthy years after that, but had she not been spayed she would have died very soon.

Another reason to get your rabbit “fixed” is because they are social animals and need the company of other rabbits. It is hard sometimes to bond adult rabbits, but they really do need companionship. Once you see bunnies sleeping flopped into a heap, or grooming each other, you will understand the heartbreak of one lonely bunny living his whole life in a tiny cage.

The three bunnies that live with my husband and me right now were all rescued. Two of them, Josephine and Jasmine were seized from cruelty situations by animal control. So many beautiful bunnies are just waiting for homes in the shelters, there’s no excuse for Petsmart to start selling purposefully bred baby bunnies from bunny mills.

This was taken from the House Rabbit Society website:

Please let PetSmart know that you are unhappy with their decision to sell rabbits in their stores, rather than reach out to more rabbit rescue groups to expand their rabbit adoption programs. Please send PetSmart a polite letter or email, or give them a call to let them know of your concerns, via the contact information below:

Email: http://www.petsmart.com/global/customerservice/contactUsForm.jsp
or corpcommunications@ssg.petsmart.com
Phone: (800) 738-1385
Fax: (623) 580-6502
Snail mail:
PetSmart, Inc.
19601 North 27th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85027

Michael Vick and 52 Abused Dogs

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, news at 3:38 pm by nevavegan

Yesterday I got an “urgent” alert from HSUS telling me what I already knew from the news. NFL star Michael Vick has been indicted for his participation in a terrifying dog fighting underworld most of us knew nothing about. Associates have testified that Michael Vick bred dogs for fighting, forced them to fight, ran dog fights, bet on dog fights, and personally killed dogs who lost fights in gruesome ways. He kept the dogs on his property starved to make them meaner and more aggressive in fights.

It’s hard to even find words for this. Someone who can kill dogs in this way, someone who can enjoy and bet on their suffering and agony is one thing: a sociopath. There’s no other way about it. Nobody can have the ability to feel empathy and participate in this kind of blood fest.

The news showed footage of forensic crews combing Vick’s property looking for dead dogs. The living dogs were whisked away, though one presented his battered face on the header of the email from HSUS. The email asked for donations to provide care for the living dogs.

This made me ask if the dogs are somehow in HSUS’s care. HSUS doesn’t run a shelter. Within the rescue community rumors were swirling yesterday. One woman heard that maybe the dogs were at a regular shelter in Virginia pending the outcome of Vick’s charges. Another person thought there were too many dogs for one shelter and surely they’d been split up and sent around the whole region. HSUS and shelter workers however have been tight lipped about the location and condition of the dogs, possibly out of concern for the dogs’ safety as they are sure to be key evidence in the upcoming trial.

What was not said in any of the emails or alerts was the sad truth that many of us who have volunteered or worked at shelters, or been involved in rescue already know. These dogs will be kept alive through Vick’s trial. After that, most if not all of these dogs will be killed. Dogs who have been abused in dog fighting typically fail shelters’ temperament tests, meaning they will likely be determined to be unadoptable. Some shelters will even automatically kill pit bulls (the breed of dog seized from Vick) because they believe the breed itself to be inherently dangerous. Should these dogs manage to pass the temperament tests and escape the lethal injection temporarily, there is the other issue of finding homes. 52 dogs with a history of abuse, who’ve been trained to be aggressive, have a poor chance at finding understanding homes and kind people willing to work with them.

While I’m glad there are laws against dog fighting and I’m glad that Michael Vick will be prosecuted for his astounding cruelty, I worry that on a deeper level we’ve somehow failed to reach the public.

Two stories in the news lately that are so very different share one underlying theme. The ditzy pop star buys an expensive puppy and the NFL star kills and abuses huge numbers of dogs. What do the stories have in common. The basic assumption that dogs are property, not living individuals who suffer and love and feel. In the world where dogs are things, they are accessories or proxies for their human owners.

The pop star who fears she might not really be so cute anymore re-affirms her cuteness with a designer dog. The sports star asserts his aggressive, dangerous, alpha male image by forcing dogs to fight to the death for his amusement, and killing with his own hands those dogs he felt were weak or passive. In this way he sends the message that he’s powerful, purged of anything soft, and that he’s dangerous and callous. It’s time we stopped worshipping dangerous, aggressive, cruel people. But it’s also time we stopped selling dogs as things and then acting surprised when people treat them as things.

July 18, 2007

Britney Spears Buys a Dog

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 7:24 pm by nevavegan

Every Single Purchase Of A Companion Animal Means Death. Should I repeat that? Did you hear me?

As many people now know Britney Spears bought a dog. A very expensive dog. This isn’t unusual, many celebrities buy “designer pets,” choosing whatever breed of dog or cat or exotic animal is hip and in style at the moment.

It’s not just celebrities either. Lots of people purchase companion animals from breeders and pet stores. Sometimes there is something in the news about the horrors of puppy mills, enough to get dog lovers riled up for a while. But the larger story seems to be missed.

For every single animal purchased from a breeder, that means that another homeless animal in a shelter dies. For every single animal purchased from a pet store, a puppy mill, or a backyard breeder, that pays more people to enslave and breed animals for profit. More animals will be bred by all kinds of breeders from puppy mills to hobby breeders, because they see a demand for the puppies. However, more will be bred than will ever find homes and the unwanted animals will be dumped into shelters, turned loose to fend for themselves, or even killed. And since many of the animals bred and sold in this manner wind up as “impulse buys” (purchased by people who haven’t fully considered the responsibilities of caring for another living being), many of these animals will wind up in the shelters, where most will die simply for the crime of not having a home.

Each and every time we spend our money is our vote for the kind of world we want to live in. When we buy products produced by child labor, we are voting for child labor. When we buy fair trade items, we are voting for a better world. When we buy and rehab used items we vote for conserving resources. When we buy animals, we are voting to treat them as disposable commodities. When we buy dogs we are sending out our vote that the convenience killing of thousands of unwanted homeless dogs in this country is acceptable to us. We vote to keep doing things the same way and keep hiding the dumpsters full of dead dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, and every imaginable companion animal. Out of sight, out of mind.

When a celebrity spends insane amounts of money to buy a dog, even from a “conscientious breeder” it inspires the puppy mills and backyard breeders to work overtime breeding doppelgangers of the celebrity puppy. Meanwhile the unwanted and forgotten animals in shelters languish and die. So many homeless dogs could have been helped with the $3000 that Spears reportedly paid for her puppy. And that $3000 is a big paycheck to the people who profit from selling, breeding, and mistreating dogs.

There are people who honestly don’t understand the horrible situation “man’s best friend,” and other animals kept as pets and tossed out like trash, face in this country. I assume Spears is one of well-meaning but ignorant people who enable this tragedy to continue.

But I hope that all of you reading will remember: Friends don’t let friends buy dogs. If your pals don’t understand where their money goes and who pays the consequences when they buy a dog, educate them. If they think that shelter dogs are all older or un-trainable, then twist their arms and take them to the shelter to meet all the sweet, well-mannered, beautiful dogs there, literally hours away from death. If they are looking for a certain type of dog, a certain look or temperament, there is a dog in the shelter or a nearby rescue who fits that description.

Don’t tell your friends to go to a responsible breeder. That woman out in the country who only has a litter of pure bred puppies every six years might be really sweet, and she might give you cookies when you visit, but if you buy a dog from her you’re paying her to breed more dogs. That’s inexcusable when we consider all the trusting canines killed simply for being bought by the wrong family, for being banned from the new apartment building, for getting too big (even though that was always his natural adult size), for having the bad luck to come into the home before the human baby, for needing food and care, for just being a dog and loving his family and needing their company, or because the “owners” didn’t spay and neuter and now have unwanted puppies to get rid of.

PS. Also try to educate your friends on adopting an adult or older dog. Many people mistakenly think that they will bond better with a puppy. However, puppies need training and extra care. An adult dog is often the best choice for a busy person who works outside of the home. And trust me, you will bond with an adult dog. No question about it.

July 9, 2007

Ferals and kittens, oh my

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, feral cats, rescue at 12:19 pm by nevavegan

Here’s what happened this weekend.

We had agreed to trap a feral cat who’d recently had kittens. Our neighbor had taken the kittens to a shelter in Annapolis (where he works) and was trying to get the mother cat in to the shelter as well. He told us the shelter had said the kittens would probably find homes but the mother cat would be killed as a feral on arrival.

We had tried to find someplace for the kittens, but he’d only told us 24 hours before he took them to the shelter. So sadly that all happened too fast.

We then told him we’d trap the mother and take her to the feral clinic. It seemed the best option since having him kill her sounded bad, and the other alternative, that he’d never catch her and she’d keep having kittens also sounded bad.

I made an appointment at the feral clinic and Saturday evening she was in the trap in our tiny 1/2 bath in the basement. Then I decided to walk the dogs.

As I went past the main area where most of the ferals congregate, which is also where the poisonings have occurred, I saw an orange kitten just sitting in the sidewalk. Then nearby I saw two other orange tabby kittens just like him. He didn’t move out of the sidewalk as the dogs and I approached. In fact he just lay there. I was worried he’d been poisoned too.

When I got closer I was able to just scoop him up and carry him in my shirt while still holding the dogs. I took him home. Luckily once he was back at the house he ate some food and drank some water. He still seemed awfully weak.

Then I went back to check on the other kittens. They were stronger, but still totally friendly, not feral, so I scooped them up too. They were so tame I could carry the two of them home with me, about 2 long blocks. So then we had an adult feral in a trap and 3 kittens in the tiny bathroom.

The kittens kept jumping in my lap, but they also had URI and needed some antibiotics. We’re so crowded in our home that keeping infected cats separate is very difficult. Plus, not being with any official rescue group, it’s really hard for us to adopt out kittens. Because of the feral situation Sean said I might really have to take the kittens to the shelter. We felt we could not put them back out, since they were very tame and trusting, and we have a bad person hurting cats in our neighborhood. Also they needed treatment. I cleaned their ears and flea combed them. I found not one flea, and no flea dirt. To me that indicated that they’d been dumped outside that day–it doesn’t take very long for fleas to get started.

It was a terrible night. Crying over the kittens, furious at our stupid neighborhood, and furious at people who dump kittens outside, and furious at myself for thinking I had no options except the shelter. I did some searching online and found that the kittens would have a much better chance at the DC shelter than at our county shelter. So I planned to transport them to the DC shelter when I took the feral in to the feral clinic.

Then I didn’t sleep.

The next morning we all went off to the feral clinic, Sean and I, and four cats. Quite luckily at the feral clinic many of the cat caretakers there wanted to help us. A young man from Homeless Animal Rescue Team was helping with the clinic and made a quick phone call. To our joy HART would take the kittens, so I gave them a donation to help out (yeah, the money I was going to give to Second Chance, but maybe this will force me to sell some art for Second Chance).

So that was a very nice thing.

The downside was that we trapped the feral cat in a brand new, deluxe, really beautiful trap that we’d just bought and someone stole our trap from the clinic, even though we’d attached Sean’s business card to it. I guess the temptation was just too much for someone. Still we really saved no money going to the clinic since it cost us a $100 trap. The clinic said they thought they knew who took it and they’d call him and ask him to give it back. But they wouldn’t give us his information and we still haven’t heard anything. So that was a downer. We bought the nice trap because we thought we might be rescuing a lot of cats. Between that and the donation to HART it was a really expensive day.

Low quality kitten pictures to follow.

June 14, 2007

Poison in my neighborhood

Posted in companion animals, cruelty, feral cats, real life, stupid neighborhood at 1:29 pm by nevavegan

Please Note: Poisoning cats is a felony in most states. It is cruel and inexcusable. It also does not reduce feral cat populations, since the cats who see the other cats die will not eat poisoned food, and will quickly breed back to the original numbers.

To learn about humane ways to manage feral cat populations visit:
http://www.alleycat.org/

Now for my story.

For the second time this week Sean found a feral cat convulsing with seizures while walking the dogs. This time a kitten, Monday it was an adult cat. When he found the first cat he rushed him to the emergency vet and the vet said he had no pupil response and euthanized him. Today with the kitten the tests also indicated brain damage and had to euthanize, but now Sean and the vet are both convinced that someone is poisoning the cats. The vet said it’s most likely rat poison.

I have a suspect in mind, as there is someone right by where both cats were found who has repeatedly told me he hates cats. Plus he behaves in ways that worry me, like following me after dark while I walked my dogs. He was in his car and kept a distance, but for blocks he stopped when I stopped, made every turn I made, and just in general frightened me. But I have no proof at all that he’s poisoning the cats. Just saying he’s seriously creepy and scares me isn’t much help.

We feel we have no choice at this point except to ask animal control to intervene. Even though I don’t have much confidence in their ability to investigate. Still if the poison is somewhere obvious, like in a tray on creepy-neighbor’s porch, hopefully AC is competent to handle that. AC has said to people in this area in the past that they don’t trap cats, so I’m not too worried that calling AC will mean they’ll kill the cats.

These poor cats, it’s such a terrible, painful, excruciating way to go. Especially since the problems here aren’t their fault and they’ve never done anything to hurt anyone.

Our prior plans to help sterilize this feral colony never got off the ground. Most of the families feeding the cats don’t speak much English and though I have clearly observed them feeding, only one woman would even admit it when I talked to her. Most just say the cats aren’t theirs and rush into their houses. One guy said the cats were wild and he ignores them, but wanted to know if Jesus was my personal lord and savior. The one woman who told me she did feed said it with a downward glance and a look of shame. “Just to keep the rats away,” she told me.

I’m terrified too because people have thrown food over our fence to our dogs and I worry all the time that it might be poisoned. I don’t leave the dogs in the yard for very long at a time, but it seems that every other week I have to run out and yank chicken bones or moldy bread from their mouths.

I’ll have to make a point tomorrow to go over a couple blocks and try to communicate with the neighbors who do speak English and let them know what’s going on. If nothing else there is one guy Stuart who seems to like cats in general and at the very least should be on the lookout for poison when he walks his dog. There must be 12 kittens just that I’ve observed right now, and we haven’t been able to try to trap and tame them because we’re overflowing already at our house. I’m good at taming, but it’s tough when there are so few good homes around.

June 11, 2007

A sad end for Dolores

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 12:58 pm by nevavegan

I live in an area where animal control won’t respond to reports of free-roaming dogs. Instead they ask that if you find a free-roaming dog, you should catch the dog yourself and once the dog is secured, they’ll send someone around to pick up the dog. Clearly this presents a problem if you know where the dog lives and you merely want animal control to remind the humans belonging to that dog that they shouldn’t just turn him out of doors on his own. It also presents a problem if the dog you find out roaming is aggressive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frightened by aggressive dogs running free when I’m out with my own dogs.

We like to think that companion animals live pampered lives, but the truth is far from it. I’ve called animal control on dogs chained 24 hours a day in horrible weather, only to see the dogs returned to the chain once the AC officer leaves.

A neighbor of ours, a pastor in fact, keeps his dog in a pen in the backyard, continuously. I have never seen the dog walked or any human petting him or interacting with him. There is no other dog for company, just a sad metal pen, a doghouse, and hours of loneliness. During the worst cold of the winter the pastor went out and put a space heater in the doghouse, which was better than nothing, but still just not enough.

About a year ago I met a black lab mix named Dolores, who was out running at large. She was a gentle, but very active dog. I asked around and finally figured out where she lived and set out to return her. I found a house with a fence in the back, but the gate off the hinges, and when a woman finally answered the door she yelled and scruffed Dolores for getting out. And that was the first time of many I returned Dolores to that house.

Dolores adored me and my dogs and so when we’d go on walks she’d come dashing out through her broken gate to join us. I felt terrible for Dolores, but I also didn’t have a leash for her and didn’t think I could handle taking her with us, especially without a leash. So I’d return her to her house again and every single time cringe as she was yelled at and dragged for leaving the yard, even though there was nothing to keep her there.

Sometimes however, I’d see a happier Dolores. She had two little girls who loved her, but didn’t seem to be home all that often. When the little girls were there, they’d play catch and chase. That was the real Dolores, a happy lab mix with a happy family. But that wasn’t how I saw her most of the time.

The last time she met up with us on our walk and followed us all the way home. I put my dogs in the house and opened up my car door for Dolores. She leapt in happily and sat in the front seat as we drove several blocks to her house, leaning over and giving me kisses. But when we got to her house she didn’t want to leave my car, and definitely did not want to go up to her house.

Nobody was home and after some exhaustive searching I found a chain in the back yard and hooked it to Dolores’ collar. She cried as I left, but I didn’t know what else to do. I had 50 billion things to do that evening, I had a house full to bursting with rescues. The people had been warned repeatedly, but still wouldn’t keep her in. If I called animal control, I’d have to be the one to hand Dolores over to them and it might be a death sentence. Also, what about those little girls?

I talked it over with some friends and everyone said that I should just leave the situation alone–I couldn’t do any more, but it was better to leave Dolores where she was than to hand her over to animal control. I was also informed that yelling at and dragging a dog don’t constitute cruelty under the current regulations. They wouldn’t be allowed to beat her, but good luck catching them in the act. Still, dragging and yelling are accepted behaviors.

Then I just didn’t see Dolores, and finally a neighbor told me what happened. On the weekend we went to visit my father in law, Dolores was hit by a car and killed, right in front of her house. I keep thinking about her grinning face running over to me and my dogs. I keep thinking how happy she looked riding in my car until she realized where we were going. The neighbor who told me of Dolores’ death said he wished he’d called lab rescue, but I reminded him there was nothing a rescue group could do unless the “owners” relinquished Dolores to them. Another neighbor pushed himself into the conversation to say he was glad Dolores was gone–she’d torn up his trash and chased his cat. That’s how people saw Dolores, as a major pest, though it was never her fault.

Of course, people shouldn’t drive like maniacs. I’m always finding animals hit by cars in my neighborhood, and always seeing cars practically racing through, taking the speed bumps as some kind of challenge. I also one day found a two year old boy wandering in the street who wasn’t able to tell me where he lived or how he got there–though in that case suddenly a lot of people got involved to try to find his home. But the fact remains, he could easily have been killed by a speeding car.

But cars aside, what kind of life did Dolores have? What kind of life does that dog, penned 24 hours a day in the pastor’s back yard have? What kind of life do all those dogs on chains have? Through breeders and lack of spaying and neutering we’ve created this class of animals that are completely dependent on us. Our happy storybook version is that this is a good thing for everyone involved. The actual story is rampant neglect and mistreatment, and millions put to death in the shelters for the crime of not having a home.

Goodbye Dolores. I wish I could have done more. I can’t help but wonder now if I should have taken you to the shelter and just hoped you might have found a better home.

With the companion animals I rescue and care for, I really think of them as individuals, lives entrusted in my hands. I think about what I owe them, what they need. I see them as refugees of a terrible, unfair system, and I hope to give them some peace, happiness, and love in the time they have left. But we live in a world that regards animals as property, and to most people a companion animal is another thing they own. This animal, this thing, might be a toy for their kids, or a status symbol, or a home alarm system to them. But as owned things, their needs and their lives don’t matter. We are in some kind of strange denial at the moment. We have animal control to go out and tell people that the most blatant cruelty and neglect are not socially acceptable. However, nobody goes out and tells people they need to make their companion animals part of their families. If they want to keep their dog chained, so long as he has food and water, that’s fine. If they neglect something very basic, like the safety of their dog (by letting her run in the street) they might get a warning, but again that dog is their property to be careless with if they so choose. If they want to turn their dog over to the shelter because he’s too much trouble to care for, or they want a smaller dog, or a different breed, that’s their choice. You’re allowed to discard the property you don’t want after all.

It’s a sad, sad world sometimes.

June 9, 2007

Then something falls into place and suddenly you understand

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals at 1:41 pm by nevavegan

When I lived in NYC I volunteered with a program where we facilitated reading and writing with severely disabled adults in a public hospital. These were patients who had been in the hospital for a long time, some as long as 19 years. Because of their economic situation they had few other options for the long-term care they required. The patients included people who had been born with severe birth defects (like spina bifida high in the spine and severe) and were now adults requiring monitoring and continuing care. Others had multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Some had been paralyzed in car accidents or had had severe strokes.

When I started out with the program a volunteer who had been doing it longer than I had told me that sometimes communicating with people on ventilators or with paralysis was difficult. Their voices might be altered, or they might only be able to speak in whispers, or with an odd rhythm that might interfere with understanding. But she reassured me, something amazing happens when you work with someone for a while, suddenly something just happens to you, and then you understand every word. Before you might have wondered if they were always even speaking English or if they might be delirious, and then suddenly you start hearing and you know this amazing, intelligent person.

That’s what happened for me. I was working with a woman with Parkinson’s. She lived on a large open ward, permanently lying down in her bed. She had trouble even turning her head. At first I couldn’t understand anything and then all of sudden I was taking dictation for the memoirs of an amazing woman, who’d been an actress, a mother, a wife, who’d lived through and worked through incredible changes. Everything made sense, except of course this terrible disease.

I had not realized before this work how much we depend on non-verbal cues as we interpret spoken language. Words that sound similar can be distinguished by facial expressions and hand gestures, emphasis is added, and context, in ways we just pick up without even knowing it. When you’re talking to someone who cannot move her hands though, and has only limited facial expressions, you have to learn to look for more, the slightest flicker of an eye lid, or the direction of her gaze become the cues. Like I said, you begin to understand that the spirit and the mind inside this person are still active and involved and perceptive, even though the exterior does not represent those things.

Sometimes though I was disturbed by the reactions others had. Some of the nurses and orderlies wrote off attempts at communication by these individuals as “making noise” or “crying.” I can understand that they didn’t have the time to get extremely close with all the patients, but there seemed an underlying assumption that when the voice went away so did the mind. With my one friend, the one with Parkinson’s, I came in one day as she was being moved from a stretcher back into her bed. Once in the bed she seemed very agitated and was trying to communicate something, but whatever was wrong, even I couldn’t understand her words.

The nurse told me this was crying, as moving back into the bed was uncomfortable. But after the nurse left my friend became more upset, and was still trying to say something unsuccessfully. Her face became red and perspiration appeared. I went and got the nurse again, asking her to please check everything, something was wrong. She checked a couple things, told me again it was crying, and left. Since my friend was still not happy, I went and got an orderly and made the same request of him. He checked the bed, he checked the iv, he checked the nose tube to make sure it was still in place, and then the catheter, everything was ok so far. Then he checked the oxygen tank pushed to the back of the bed. It was shut off at the tank, that was the problem. So clearly my friend had been trying to communicate something vital, but because none of us could understand it, it was easier to simply dismiss it.

Life is full of these moments that force us to reconsider our definitions and prejudices. I was thinking about this also in regard to animals recently, that just because we don’t hear it doesn’t mean communication isn’t going on. Just because we don’t see or understand the intelligence behind another being’s actions, that doesn’t mean there isn’t intelligence present.

Recently the Washington Post ran a story about a study on dog intelligence that found dogs are much, much smarter than we ever gave them credit for (sorry requires registration). Another thing, deductive reasoning, that we used to feel was uniquely human has been found in another species.

Of course this isn’t much of a surprise to those of us who live with dogs. We all know our dogs can play dumb when it suits them, but with motivation they can learn complex tasks. Kyra learned to open the gates on our fence, much to our chagrin. She also learned to open the lever type door handles at the vet’s office. Good luck hiding food as well! For a while I wondered why I kept coming home and not being able to find Q anywhere in the house, then running around the neighborhood convinced she’d gotten outside somehow, only to have her show up later in the bedroom as if nothing had happened. Then I saw her open up the cabinet under the sink and go back into the gap in the wall there that led to a space between the side of the bathtub and the wall, and the cabinet door slammed shut behind her. (some cabinets are now child-proofed). I think that Kyra and Q learned to do these things by observing us and then trying it out themselves. Behind their fuzzy faces there was some thinking going on.

When I talk about the range of emotions my rescued animals express I’ve had people tell me I’m reading too much in. They’ll say, maybe they just learned to act a certain way to get food, you don’t know what they actually feel. That’s true. I don’t know for certain what they feel and they don’t have words to tell me exactly. I do believe though that much the same concept applies.

When you live every day with an animal who doesn’t communicate or express emotions in the same way you do, at first you’re just guessing, then something clicks and you know. It’s not anthropomorphizing, it’s not wishful thinking, it’s not being overly emotional, it’s just that suddenly you get past the differences in facial muscles, the different bones. You get past the fur and the different shape to the eyes, the fact that the flow of words goes only one way, and suddenly something falls into place and there really is communication and understanding.

May 28, 2007

Roger Yates, and other thoughts

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, veganism at 3:57 pm by nevavegan

Hey cool. Roger Yates on his blog on human-nonhuman relations, mentions the discussion from “Sean.” That’s not “Sean,” that’s Sean, my husband. Sadly I have no way to email Roger Yates and let him know, and he has turned off comments on his blog.

Other than that, my upset over the whole conference debacle continued for several days and I haven’t really been posting because everything that pops into my mind to say is just exceedingly negative. So it seemed better to bite my tongue, err, bite my typing fingers…

But this one thought did come to me. I got into a debate previously with someone from HSUS about their webpage devoted to finding a good dog breeder. Their stance was that they had tried everything possible to convince people to adopt, and so, since they had realized some people will still just ignore adoption and go to a breeder, they decided to provide information on how to find a good breeder.

While I did understand the frustration, truly I do…. Maybe I should say how deeply I understand the frustration. I’ve been involved in companion animal rescue quite a few years now, and still people I otherwise respect, and people who I have educated on the issue, have still gone to breeders. So yeah, I feel your pain, so to speak.

My issues were 1) putting it on the web allowed people to bypass all adoption information and go straight to the idea that “good dog breeders” do exist and they could find them, and 2) Really, you’ve tried EVERYTHING to promote dog adoption?

Immediately idea from the mundane to the wild and wacky flooded into my mind. Have we tried tv commercials on companion animal adoption? Have we asked all the dog and cat lovers in Hollywood to push the inclusion of adoption as a plot point on popular shows and in movies? Have we put on “Shelter Dog Shows” in the middle of town to show off how absolutely gorgeous and loving all these dogs at the shelter are? Can we get more articles in periodicals about the reality of companion animal overpopulation? What about a “shelter dog ambassador” who would go around visiting mayors and elected officials to educate them on shelter and overpopulation issues? He could be a very well-behaved (obviously) shelter dog and his message could be “Dear mayor, please help save my brothers and sisters at the shelter.” Maybe the news would cover that.

And so on and so on….

So here’s my thought. When we say that we’ve tried everything to promote veganism, could we instead apply some of that same creative insanity to this issue. What if we all stopped worrying about seeming foolish and put aside fears of voicing a bad idea and we all just spilled our brains and our guts to come up with as many ideas as possible for promoting veganism.

My ideas are much the same. Can we get our pals in Hollywood to push for a “normal” character on a popular show to be vegan? Not the wacky, hippy character, but could a likable, well-grounded character simply order the veggie burger when everyone goes to the diner together? Can we air commercials and do print ads for veganism.

My commercial idea was to have all kinds of normal people giving a quick shout as to why they’re vegan, like one woman saying she’s doing it for the environment, and a guy hugging a piglet or something saying he’s doing it for the animals.

Can we host vegan food samplings? Not just giving out veggie burgers, but with a variety of really good vegan food, so that people will realize the variety and fun of vegan food.

I thought also, and I’ll try to come up with this, that it might be cool to make some vegan-promoting things that can be worn by people who have to either dress nice or wear a uniform to work. I can’t wear t-shirts or typical buttons to my work, though I put message buttons on my purse. Some days I have to look super-professional so even those buttons have to go. So what if I came up with some jewelry or lapel pins that look really good, but still say “vegan” on them. It would be like people who wear a small gold cross all the time, inconspicuous but allowing us to subtly get the message out.

How about some “Vegan festivals” in the larger cities. We’d need some help, that’s a huge undertaking, but it would allow local businesses to go out and promote that they’re vegan friendly and maybe local vegan musicians and artists would participate. Might be cool.

Well, for better or worse, that’s my brain dump on the topic. Maybe more to come. What are your ideas? What’s the wackiest, most original, most creative thought you have on promoting veganism?

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