Showing posts with label animals (other than dogs). Show all posts
Showing posts with label animals (other than dogs). Show all posts


in which i help a skunk and it kind of says thank you

My apologies to wmtc readers who saw this on Facebook, but this story must be recorded on this blog!

Yesterday morning the dogs were barking at the back door, really going nuts, and not settling down. Checking to see what was going on, I got quite a surprise. A skunk with a container stuck on its head was running in circles, frantically trying to get the thing off. What to do?? I wanted to help it, but I'm not keen on getting skunked! Our dogs have been sprayed many times over the years; our suburban landscape is full of skunks.

Watching this poor creature run wildly around the lawn was so horrible. I called Allan to lure the dogs away from the door, then ran outside with a broom. I thought I could knock the container off the skunk's face from a distance, then get inside before he could hurt me. I hit the container with the broom several times, but it wouldn't come off. The whole time I was muttering, please don't spray me please don't spray me please don't spray me...

Finally I trapped the little guy in a corner with the broom, grabbed the container and pulled - but it was tightly wedged around the skunk's neck and would not budge. I realized the poor thing might have been stuck in the container all night, or even for days.

There was only one thing to do. I took a deep breath, held onto the container, and lifted the skunk in the air. We use an ex-pen to keep the dogs away from one part of the yard, and I held the container on the other side of it, shaking the container over and over, with the skunk dangling from it!

After maybe 10 shakes, the skunk finally fell out. I ran in the other direction... and promptly tripped over the garden hose, falling on my hands and knees on the patio. Ouch! But I got in the house unsprayed. I'm guessing the poor creature was weak and disoriented, dehydrated and hungry, so it had no defense left.

Some people found this story comical, even hilarious. Believe me, it didn't feel funny at the time.


towards a cruelty-free face: switching to products not tested on animals

I've begun changing my personal care products to cruelty-free: natural products from companies that are better for the environment and don't test on animals. I'm not sure how far I'll be able to go, but I've begun the process.

After a lifetime of using conventional products, I was moved to think more about this by a few different sources.

When I worked in the children's library, I often saw a book about animal cruelty. It was not the one I wrote about here, about dogs, but a book in a series called "Tough Issues," similar to the kind of series I used to contribute to. This "tough issue" asked the question, "Why do people harm animals?" It's a good book, one that successfully treads that very careful line separating honesty from the overly graphic. Even so, there was one image that burned in my brain. (I know this image would have been highly disturbing to me as a child. Considering I saw the image in a children's book, this is very bad.) And now that image from that book joins the panolpy of disturbing images that I will never be able to un-see.

Another source: I belong to the Humane Society International (or HSI Canada), and their excellent advocacy against animal testing has influenced me.

The rational case for using animals in medical research has ended: as one prominent researcher says, "Whatever you discover, you will have to re-discover using people, so not only do the animals suffer using these experiments, the first few patients using these novel treatments will suffer, too." Using animals to test cosmetics and personal-care products shouldn't even be controversial. It is absolutely cruel and unnecessary.
Eliminating animal testing of cosmetics is entirely feasible. In the past three decades scientists have developed many advanced alternatives to animal testing—methods that use human blood, cell lines, artificial skin or computer models to test the safety of products. And many multinational companies have embraced these alternative test methods, reducing and in some cases eliminating their dependence on animal testing. As a result, they cut costs and save time; animal testing is expensive, slow and, because animals are not people, not always predictive.

The movement to eliminate animal testing extends beyond the cosmetics industry. In 2007 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fundamentally change the way chemicals are tested for human health risks. Through a greater reliance on in vitro testing, researchers could evaluate the effects of chemicals on biological processes while using very few animals. Scientists would generate better data and test a greater number of chemicals more quickly and cheaply.
And then there are microbeads. Perhaps I was the last person in North America to learn about microbeads, but the news finally reached me.
Tiny particles of plastic have been added to possibly thousands of personal care products sold around the world. These microbeads, hardly visible to the naked eye, flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out microbeads and that is the main reason why, ultimately, they contribute to the Plastic Soup swirling around the world’s oceans. Sea creatures absorb or eat microbeads. These microbeads are passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove.
Although I used products that contain microbeads, I never asked, "What are the scrubbing particles in this product made of?" Indeed, I never even thought of it. But now I have learned that a few products I buy regularly contain these tiny plastic particles that go straight to our water supply and into animals. And so, microbeads became the final kick in the pants I needed.

I looked into cruelty-free products on line, mostly at Leaping Bunny and, but I was quickly overwhelmed. There are so many products... where to begin? Then I remembered my dictum from other changes I've made: away from all-or-nothing thinking. This cheered me up.

I decided to start with two products: face cleanser and scrub, since these are most likely to contain microbeads. This would also allow me to stop buying products made by Procter & Gamble, a name found on boycott lists for decades.

The next time I was in Whole Foods, I talked to the person in the "Whole Body" department. She showed me several alternatives. I decided on products by Green Beaver, a Canadian company with an interesting genesis.
As young scientists, Karen was a biochemist with experience in the pesticide industry and Alain was a microbiologist working for the pharmaceutical industry. We were both appalled by the amount of chemicals found in kid’s shampoos, bubble baths and other products. Given our background, we decided to do something about it. We quit our jobs and left the chemical industry behind to create healthier, natural products for your family and ours. We wanted to make a difference, and this is our story.
The scrubbing particles in Green Beaver's grapefruit and aloe scrub are made from bits of bamboo.

Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and others who have written about the horrors of the industrial food chain often note that the only way we can live with such a disgusting and inhumane system is by purposely not knowing about it - by willful collective ignorance. (This is the same ignorance collectively employed about capital punishment in the US, now unraveling thanks to activists forcing people to see.) We don't want to know where our cheeseburger comes from. We don't want to know about the feed lot, the gestation crate, the chicken prison, the killing floor. Or the lab prison.

Most people want to avoid thinking about cruelty to animals. We don't want to know about it. We especially don't want to know that we're complicit in it! And our closed eyes allow it to continue.


for those who believe meat-eating can be ethical: in praise of beretta farms

I've mentioned Beretta Farms in many different posts over the years, but I've never specifically blogged about them. With grilling season underway, it's time to give Beretta a shout-out.

When I learned about the horrors of factory farming, first from reading Michael Pollan, and later through other sources, I knew I needed to change my eating habits. I needed to translate my knowledge into action, but I was at a loss for what to do.

In the 1990s, I had eaten a vegetarian (almost vegan) diet for more than two years, but it didn't work for me, and I gave it up. I certainly don't eat meat with every meal, but I learned that I do need animal protein for optimal function. But once the curtain had been lifted on the horrors of factory farming, I could no longer stand the thought of contributing to the industrial food chain, especially as it relates to animal abuse.

The first step was releasing myself from all-or-nothing thinking about food. We're not going to buy only ethically-raised meat or chicken. We can't afford it, and when we go out to eat, we (usually) can't choose the origin of our food. Despite this, we decided that we would try to replace conventional meat with ethically-raised meat to the extent possible.

Researching online, I found Beretta Farms. Beretta Farms is a real farms, run by the Beretta Family, who raise animals by traditional methods and sell meat locally, on a small scale. But Beretta Farms is also a network. For many family-owned, non-industrial farms, the greatest challenge to reaching consumers is distribution. By definition, non-factory farms cannot produce food in sufficient quantities to get their products stocked in major supermarket chains. And in most of North America, if your product does not appear in a chain supermarket, it's very difficult to scratch out a living. From a consumer point of view, you barely exist.

To resolve this issue, a "middle man" (is there no gender-neutral substitute for that word?) is needed, but that link must have equally high standards. For many small farms in this part of Southern Ontario, Beretta Farms is that middle man. [Update from comments: go-between or intermediary might do the job.]

Meat purchased from Beretta comes from animals who live like animals - cows that eat grass, on open pastures, chickens that walk around pecking the ground, pigs whose tails and teeth were not docked (a hideous practice), who were allowed to root around in the earth, and who lived decent pig lives. (We don't eat a lot of pork, by ohmygod you should taste Beretta's sausages!)

Some of the meat is certified organic, but even without the certification (which is out of reach of many small operations), the animals are raised by traditional methods. No feedlots, no antibiotics, no hormones. No cages, no inhumane crowding, no forcing bovines to eat corn. If these issues are not familiar to you, spend some time with Google. Information about Beretta's animal practices is here.

When we first found Beretta in 2008, buying their products was a bit of a production. They were only sold in two or three small stores in our area. The selection was minimal and sometimes, even though the meat was frozen, it was old. We used their delivery service, but the minimum order was very high, the prices were higher, and the delivery was a bit unreliable. On the other hand, their customer service was superb, and the meat was so good. And guilt-free.

Now, only a few years later, we see a wide range of Beretta products at our Whole Foods and a small selection at Loblaws. The prices have come down considerably; the meat is still more expensive than crappy industrial meat, but the price difference is less. And Beretta has a new, user-friendly website which makes ordering a snap. We like to place an order online then pick it up from their butcher shop in Etobicoke (near the airport).

By buying and enjoying Beretta Farm products we support small-scale, local agriculture, we eat healthier, more flavourful food, we contribute less to animal suffering, and we contribute less to environmental destruction.

I once overheard someone say she would only buy her meat from Highland Farms, a local food chain that boasts a huge meat case and butchers who will cut and trim meat to order. She said, "I have to know where my meat comes from!" I thought, how sad, and I wondered how many other consumers are fooled this way. Meat doesn't come from a supermarket. Just because meat is displayed without plastic wrap in the store, doesn't mean it is any safer than meat a rival chain displays in plastic. "100% Canadian" doesn't mean it doesn't come from a factory farm. And "corn fed" or "vegetarian fed" is deceptive advertising. When you see "corn fed," think feed lot.

To find the equivalent of Beretta Farms where you live, try the Eat Wild website, an excellent resource for anyone trying to reduce the level of industrial food in their lives.


you can never have too much interspecies love

I'm working on a few actual posts, where I actually write something and you might actually read it. Until those materialize, please enjoy these fine examples of interspecies love.

First, the incredible story of Mr. G. and Jellybean.

Read more about it here. Bring a tissue.

Next, friendship is not just for funny little grass-eaters. Big carnivores have friends, too.

And finally, a beautiful German Shepherd and an adorable piglet are in love in BC. Slide show here.

Many thanks to Steph and Miss Essie Ash for sharing these!

(Can any code-friendly readers tell me why there is a huge space after that second embed?)


a baby polar bear, three white lions, and my first visit to the toronto zoo

After living in the Toronto area for more than eight years, I still had never visited the Toronto Zoo, opting for several trips to Jungle Cat World and the Haliburton Wolf Centre instead (links here and here). But when one of the polar bears in the Toronto Zoo gave birth in November, there was finally enough incentive to plan a trip.

My friend J and I went in March, when the cub was four months old. We took an insane number of photos, which you can see here on Flickr. (The set is about half of what I shot.)


interspecies love, adorable baby elephant edition

If this doesn't tug at your heartstrings, better call 911. You might be dead.

Many thanks to Stephanie for helping me stay afloat.

discoveries make me happy

I am always astonished to see stories such as these.
A tree-dwelling animal with a teddy-bear-like face and rust-coloured fur has become the newest mammal species discovered by scientists.

The olinguito, the smallest known member of the raccoon family, lives in the cloud forests high in the Andes Mountains of Colombia and Ecuador, reported a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which described it in the journal ZooKeys Thursday.

The animal has actually been displayed in museums and zoos over the past 100 years, but was mistakenly identified as a different, known species among its close relatives, the olingo.

"It's been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time," Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and lead author of the new report, told The Associated Press.
And this.
Giant Maya Carvings Found in Guatemala

Archaeologist Anya Shetler cleans an inscription below an ancient stucco frieze recently unearthed in the buried Maya city of Holmul in the Peten region of Guatemala. Sunlight from a tunnel entrance highlights the carved legs of a ruler sitting atop the head of a Maya mountain spirit.

The enormous frieze—which measures 26 feet by nearly 7 feet (8 meters by 2 meters)—depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers. It was discovered in July in the buried foundations of a rectangular pyramid in Holmul.

Maya archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli and his team were excavating a tunnel left open by looters when they happened upon the frieze. "The looters had come close to it, but they hadn't seen it," Estrada-Belli said.

According to Estrada-Belli, the frieze is one of the best preserved examples of its kind. "It's 95 percent preserved. There's only one corner that's not well preserved because it's too close to the surface, but the rest of it isn't missing any parts," said Estrada-Belli, who is affiliated with Tulane University, Boston University, and the American Museum of Natural History and who is also a National Geographic Explorer. His excavations at Holmul were supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program.

Maya archaeologist Marcello Canuto agreed, calling the frieze "amazingly and beautifully preserved."
And this.
Archaeologists have discovered a hidden tomb of the Wari, a monument from an early civilization that predated the Inca, nestled in a site 175 miles north of Lima, Peru. The funerary chamber, ensconced in a stepped pyramid, had been filled with more than 1,200 artifacts, including gold- and silver-inlaid jewelry, ceremonial axes, looms and spindles.

The Wari mausoleum at El Castillo de Huarmey is the first pyramid discovered at the site that has not been looted, Milosz Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw who headed the expedition, said in an interview. It holds an altar-like throne and the bodies of 63 people, mostly women. Bodies were placed in seated position and wrapped in disintegrating cloth. Some were probably human sacrifices, and three of them are thought to be Wari queens.

“We know little about this culture,” Giersz said, “and this discovery is the first one which brings us so much information about the funerary practices of the highest-ranking elite and the role of the woman in pre-Hispanic times.”

The artifacts included ear-ornaments called orejeras, rattles, looms, spindles, as well as ceramics from all over the realm. A rare alabaster vessel bears depictions of fights between the coastal warriors and foreign invaders.

The Wari were an Andean civilization that flourished in the coastal regions from roughly 500 AD to 1000 AD, well before the Inca empire's 13th century rise. But very little is known about the Wari, because they appear to have left no written record of their lives. The Inca, though they were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, were also documented by them, and so archaeologists have a better record of their society.

For archaeologists studying the Wari, such pristine finds are invaluable additions to understanding this ancient culture, Giersz said.
I find it thrilling to realize that we humans have not completely discovered, mapped, and classified all that exists on our planet. More technology will be invented, of course, and doubtless more lethal weaponry. More art will be created, and words will be spun in some new order to inspire or horrify or entertain us. But more pieces of ancient civilizations to be discovered? A species humans have yet to study? Amazing.

I wonder which will come first, the total exploration of Earth or its total destruction.



the world fails to protect polar bears, canada leads the failure

A while back, I asked: "how can we live without polar bears?". The world has taken one step closer to that vision, helping the polar bear along the road to extinction. Stephen Harper's government was one of the worst offenders.

From NRDC:
As I wrote last week, the international community rejected a US proposal to ban the global commercial trade in polar bear parts (skins, teeth, claws, skulls) at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand. For the second time in three years, parties to the convention turned their backs on the plight of polar bears and the threat over hunting poses to the species – a species that, according to the best science, will likely lose more than two-thirds of its population by 2050 as a result of climate change.

It was this dual threat of climate change and over hunting that created one of the biggest challenges for the US proposal. Parties at CITES are used to assessing and analyzing the impacts international trade has on species threatened by over hunting or "unsustainable harvest," but are not used to doing so when climate change is thrown into the mix. This unfamiliarity created the perfect opening for Canada – the only country where polar bears live that allows the killing of the animals to supply the global market – and others opposed to the proposal, like Denmark and Norway, to cast doubt on the science and question whether banning trade would benefit the species.

It’s shortsighted at best and duplicitous at most. Shortsighted because over hunting to supply the global market for polar bears adds unnecessary stress to populations already suffering from climate change. With mounting pressures from climate change, polar bear populations need to be strengthened to increase their chance to survive in the future. Weakened populations will be less likely to withstand climate change impacts, making them more susceptible to sudden threats like early earlier sea-ice loss. Only a ban on international commercial trade would ensure that global demand is not driving over hunting. Duplicitous because many of those making money off of selling polar bear parts on the global market have pushed doubts to continue the status quo of selling skins for money as opposed to taking a precautionary approach for species protection.

The European Union is particularly responsible for the failure of the US proposal. Once again the EU, which votes as a 27-state block, failed to support banning the global profit-driven trade in polar bear parts. Unable to reach agreement internally, even though the majority of EU member states and the EU Parliament supported, the EU refused to support the US proposal and instead pushed its own proposal, which put no limitations on international trade. Failing to provide any benefit to polar bears, the EU proposal also failed.

After the international community turned its back on over hunting for commercial trade, what’s next for polar bears? Will polar bears continue to be hunted to supply the global market and will decisions on the number of polar bears to be killed each year be made against a backdrop of ever-higher demand and prices for their skins? Maybe, in the short term. But if we keep up the pressure and continue to explain the polar bear’s plight, we will be able to convince countries to end the global market. We didn’t this time, but as long as polar bears have a chance of withstanding climate change, we’ll continue to work for their protection through CITES or other forums.


children's books # 6: the return of interspecies love

It's been a while since I've written about children's books, and an even longer while since I've done an interspecies love post, so why not combine the two? There's a spate of children's books depicting cross-species animal friendships, some excellent, some better avoided.

Children love these stories for the same reasons we do. There is something so touching - and off-the-charts cute! - about these friendships between animals who should, by nature, be afraid of each other, or even in a very different kind of relationship - at mealtime.

For kids, some of these books have a moral overlay, teaching about difference and tolerance. That's fine, as long as its done with a light touch. Children's books don't need to be didactic to get their message across.

I've seen at least a dozen animal-friendship books, and there are probably a dozen more I haven't seen. I've chosen four good ones, and highlighted two others that are noteworthy for the wrong reasons. Don't miss the bonus tracks at the end. (Anachronism alert! You might have to be over a certain age to know what a bonus track is.)

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, Jennifer Holland, 2010

Jennifer Holland's Unlikely Friendships is noteworthy for the outstanding photography and perfectly concise text. A writer for National Geographic magazine, Holland avoids sentimental or cutesy language, focusing on animal behavioural explanations for how such unusual bonds may form.

Holland includes some of the more famous interspecies friendships, like Owen and Mzee (see below), and some that are total cute overload, like a horse and a fawn. But surely the most remarkable friendship stories are those between animals who normally interact as predator and prey. A leopard returns to an Indian village every night to sleep with its friend... a calf. A female lion raises a baby oryx. There is a friendship between a snake and a hamster!

This book is marketed to all ages. Although an adult could read it to a young child, and the child would undoubtedly enjoy the photos, the language and the subject matter is more appropriate to older children with strong reading skills. The very young child would not understand why these friendships are so unusual, or, for example, why a snake who eats a hamster rather than befriending it isn't mean or bad.

Holland also adapted her book for children. Unlikely Animal Friendships for Kids is a series of chapter books, each with five animal-friendship stories, retold in simplified language. Unfortunately, they read like dumbed-down versions of the original, or something that was hastily thrown together. I'd avoid them.

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships, Catherine Thimmesh, 2011

Catherine Thimmesh's book, on the other hand, is a children's book written by someone who knows how to write for children. Each animal friendship is told in a short story written in simple rhyming verse. Although the photographs are not as striking as the ones in Holland's book, they are still beautiful and engaging.

The author's website has a promotional video where you can see some of the animal pairs. Who can resist a sad-eyed monkey cuddling with a white dove? Children of almost any age would enjoy this book.

Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship, Craig Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Peter Greste, 2006

These days, the most famous interspecies love stories have their own books, or series of books, or maybe a mini-franchise. Owen and Mzee was one of the first. It tells the story of a baby hippo who was orphaned during the 2004 tsunami, and rescued by an animal rehab centre in Kenya. Rescuing a 600 pound baby is no small feat, and that story is well worth telling. But those animal workers were amazed when a giant tortoise, thought to be around 130 years old, adopted the hippo. The two became fast friends, spending all their time together, including swimming and playing together.

This story is not only happy and sweet. The baby hippo is separated from its pod (a hippo family), the fate of the mother is unknonw, and the baby is lost and alone. The choice of photographs by Greste, a photojournalist for BBC, helps prevent the sad part of the story from becoming overwhelming. Ultimately, of course, this is a story of love triumphing over pain, and friendship helping to heal loss.

Craig Hatkoff has written several lovely children's book about animals, including Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captured the World (website here) and Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue. Owen and Mzee is not only about animal friendship; it's full of well written information about hippos, animal sanctuaries, tsunamis, and more.

Isabella Hatkoff, listed as co-author or contributor, is Hatkoff's daughter. When she was six years old, Isabella saw photos of the friendship between the hippo and the tortoise, and persuaded her father to write this book.

Another book, A Mama for Owen, treats the same story in picture-book format, without success. Author Marion Dane Bauer over-simplifies the story, portraying the baby hippo as meeting the tortoise by accident. Although I often argue in favour of introducing children to difficult concepts, I'd approach this book with great caution. Should very young children see a baby separated from its mother, who gets swept away in a huge ocean wave? The baby hippo finds a new friend, but friends are not mothers. This book isn't particularly well done, but more importantly, it could be extremely upsetting, even traumatizing.

Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends, Carol Buckley, 2009

This post wouldn't be complete without Tarra and Bella. You've probably seen video of this inseparable pair, who were YouTube superstars.

Tarra had been a circus elephant. When she was allowed to retire, she was put in sanctuary. Tarra avoided other elephants and didn't make friends - until the appearance of Bella, a stray dog and new sanctuary resident. It was, as the cliche goes, love at first sight. When Bella was hospitalized after a serious injury, Tarra sat outside the dog's recovery room, every day. When Bella recovered, Tarra was waiting for her, ready for them to walk together at Bella's new slow pace.

This is a beautiful story, beautifully told, with excellent photographs, including frames from video of the moment the friends were reunited after Bella's recovery. The book contains great, brief information about the Tennessee animal sanctuary where it took place, and the URL of an "EleCam" on the sanctuary grounds.

* * * *

Bonus tracks! A collection of interspecies love sent by wmtc readers over the past year.

Dog and river otter at play!

Animal odd couple photo gallery from the New York Daily News: here. Turns out that paper is good for something after all!

Dog adopts abandoned tiger cubs: here.

Lions and tigers and bears oh my: here.

Thanks to Eric, Stephanie, Allan, James, and if you've sent me one that I've forgotten, thank you, too.


what i'm reading, children's books edition: # 5

In this post, I look at two nonfiction books for young readers. Both are featured in the current "Forest of Reading" program, a province-wide recreational reading program sponsored by the Ontario Library Association. Both fiction and nonfiction winners of the various Forest of Reading awards - Silver Birch, Red Maple, and so on - are featured in public and school libraries throughout the province. In other words, lots of kids will read these books. And that is a very good thing.

The Sea Wolves: Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest, Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read, 2012

This beautiful book introduces young readers to some fascinating creatures and their unique habitat. The Sea Wolves begins with the many cultural myths and fears about wolves, then dispels those misconceptions with facts about these beautiful, intelligent, highly social animals. The book examines a unique sub-species of wolf that lives in the rainforest on Canada's Pacific coast. Smaller and thinner than the gray wolf, the sea wolf can swim like an otter, and fishes for salmon like a bear! The sea wolves are also unique among wolves in that they have never been hunted. The First Nations people of the area have lived side-by-side with wolves for thousands of years; their culture holds wolves in a position of respect and admiration. The book also describes the wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest, an isolated wilderness now threatened by plans for the tarsands pipeline.

A lot of information is packed into this short book, richly paired with Ian McAllister's stunning photographs of the sea wolves and the rainforest. (McAllister and Read's earlier book about the Great Bear Rainforest, The Salmon Bears, was also a Forest of Reading selection.) The book is truly a love-letter to wolves and to the Canadian rainforest.

Although The Sea Wolves makes a strong case for conservation and preservation, and does mention that the wolves' future is uncertain and the rainforest is threatened, it stops short of endorsing activism. One never knows about the politics behind the scenes - if the authors had wanted to make the activism piece stronger, but were prevented from doing so - but a short piece of "What you can do to help" would have been better than merely giving a website where interested readers can get more information.

This is a beautiful book, both visually attractive and extremely well written. It has the potential to propel many young readers towards a fascination with wolves, the sea wolf, and one of our continent's last bit of wilderness.

No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs, Rob Laidlaw, 2011

Talking to children about cruelty is always tricky. I've written about, for example, being traumatized by learning about the Holocaust as a child in Hebrew school, and by seeing certain details of animal abuse on a documentary. Children need to see the world as it is, but a sensitive child can be overwhelmed by the view.

In No Shelter Here, a book about animal abuse and injustice, Rob Laidlaw has found the perfect approach. The book alternates between problem and solution, first showing us an arena of maltreatment - such as puppy mills, research, or dogs kept alone and chained - then introducing us to "Dog Champions," actual young people who have taken action. For every injustice, there is a real person fighting for justice, and suggestions on how a young reader can get involved. In this way, the book is not merely informative and depressing, it is motivating and empowering.

Young people from all over the world are spotlighted as Dog Champions, each with photos, a short story of how they got started, the actions they chose, and their accomplishments. At the end of the book, readers are invited to take The Dog Lover's Pledge, and to visit animal-welfare websites.

No Shelter Here is full of photographs of imploring brown eyes and dogs in need of champions, but the photos are not shocking or explicit. There are also plenty of photos of Dog Champions at work, and joyful, healthy dogs who have been championed. As one reviewer put it, the issues are "addressed frankly but gently". Animal-loving children will find this book disturbing, but they are likely to motivated to educate others, and to become part of the solution.


help defend whistleblowers who defend animals: marineland suing former employees who went public on animal abuse

Company abuses animals/the environment/labour.

Employee comes forward to make the abuse public.

Company tries to silence employee.

It's an old story, and it repeats itself again and again, in many different contexts. You've seen it dramatized in movies like Silkwood and Erin Brockovich. It's what Bradley Manning is going through on a grand scale.

Whistleblowers risk their jobs, and in some cases their lives, to stand up for others. Often, without whistleblowers, we would never know the truth. That's why we have an obligation to stand up for whistleblowers.

If you live in Ontario and watch any television, you've seen the ads for Marineland, with that cloying song: They come from a land of ice and snow, now belugas have a home in On-tar-ee-o... Everyone loves Marineland... Everyone loves Marineland...

That chorus is bitterly ironic. If the residents of Marineland could speak, I doubt those marine mammals would say they love living in unhealthy water that causes constant eye irritation and blindness, being held in waterless concrete pens, living alone (a practice that amounts to a prison of solitary confinement, banned for marine mammals in the US), bleeding, neglected, abused. But these animals can't speak, and they can't leave, and they can't change the conditions of their lives.

Trainers at Marineland were so upset about conditions there, and so frustrated at being unable to make improvements, that they quit their jobs, and went public.

Now Marineland is suing them for $1.5 million.

A fund has been started to help with the mounting costs of their legal defence. If you can give, any amount will help. As little as $5.00 or $10.00 will make a difference. Click here to donate.

Background, all from the Toronto Star:

Marineland animals suffering, former staffers say

Marineland: Heartache for Smooshi the walrus as top trainer quits

Ontario SPCA to inspect Marineland

‘Everyone loves Marineland!’ singer wants voice pulled from commercials

Marineland: Killer whale bleeding for months, trainer says

Marineland sues former trainer Christine Santos for $1.25 million for Toronto Star article

Donate to Christine Santos' legal defence here.


haliburton wolf killed, others trying to come home

This beautiful wolf, the alpha male of the pack at the Haliburton Wolf Centre, was shot and killed on New Year's Day. The previous night, some idiot cut both the inner and outer fences on the pack's enclosure. Four wolves escaped. Haida is now dead, and the other wolves, who were born in captivity and are unlikely to be able to survive the winter on their own, were missing.

An update from a local paper says that the other escapees have been spotted outside the fence, trying to get home. Wolf centre people are trying to lure them in with food.

Poor Haida. What a terrible waste, and so traumatic for the rest of the pack. My wolf-loving friend J, who sent me this story, says: "It's just a shame that whoever vandalized the compound didn't get munched by the wolves on their way out." Can't say I disagree.


in memoriam 832F

Tragic. Criminal. Completely unnecessary. The alpha female known as 832F is dead. She was murdered.

Yellowstone National Park’s best-known wolf, beloved by many tourists and valued by scientists who tracked its movements, was shot and killed on Thursday outside the park’s boundaries, Wyoming wildlife officials reported.

The wolf, known as 832F to researchers, was the alpha female of the park’s highly visible Lamar Canyon pack and had become so well known that some wildlife watchers referred to her as a “rock star.” The animal had been a tourist favorite for most of the past six years.

The wolf was fitted with a $4,000 collar with GPS tracking technology, which is being returned, said Daniel Stahler, a project director for Yellowstone’s wolf program. Based on data from the wolf’s collar, researchers knew that her pack rarely ventured outside the park, and then only for brief periods, Dr. Stahler said.

This year’s hunting season in the northern Rockies has been especially controversial because of the high numbers of popular wolves and wolves fitted with research collars that have been killed just outside Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Wolf hunts, sanctioned by recent federal and state rules applying to the northern Rockies, have been fiercely debated in the region. The wolf population has rebounded since they were reintroduced in the mid-1990s to counter their extirpation a few years earlier. . . .

The deaths have dismayed scientists who track wolves to study their habits, population spread and threats to their survival. Still, some found 832F’s death to be particularly disheartening.

“She is the most famous wolf in the world,” said Jimmy Jones, a wildlife photographer who lives in Los Angeles and whose portrait of 832F appears in the current issue of the magazine American Scientist.

Wildlife advocates say that the wolf populations are not large enough to withstand state-sanctioned harvests and that the animals attract tourist money. Yellowstone’s scenic Lamar Valley has been one of the most reliable places to view wolves in the northern Rockies, and it attracts scores of visitors every year.

The wolf wowed scientists and tourists alike with her size and a strength so great that she could “take down animals on her own,” said Daniel Stahler, a park wildlife biologist.

She also led the pack in Yellowstone’s northeastern Lamar Valley, an area rich in bison and elk that has a road offering vantage points for wildlife watchers equipped with cameras and spotting scopes. The Lamar Canyon pack could be counted on to roam the valley near dawn and dusk, allowing scientists and tourists to observe wolf behavior at a level of detail rarely seen outside National Geographic specials.

(Wolf 832F, named thus by the park biologists who collared her, has also been known to wolf watchers as 06 (oh-six) because 2006 was her birth year.)

Marc Cooke, a member of the advocacy group Wolves of the Rockies, said he was moved by the way that 832F cared for her pups, bringing them food and snarling ferociously at animals that posed any threat to them.

“She was an amazing mother,” Mr. Cooke said. “When I heard she died, I felt like I lost a family member.”
To illustrate the bigotry and ignorance the marks the other side of the wolf issue, here is a quote from the above article.
Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, likened the admiration for 832F to romanticizing “a psychotic predator stalking Central Park and slitting the throats of unwary visitors.”
The human serial killer is an aberration. His killing does only harm. Perhaps some maladjustment in his brain causes him to lust for murder.

A wolf does not kill for sport. A wolf - like every carnivore - kills to eat and to feed its own young. And, like all predators, the wolf helps the populations of its prey stay strong and healthy.

The wolf does not kill to test its skill, to brag about it on his license plates, to hang heads on a wall, as Gary Marbut and the members of his association might do. I assume the irony is lost on Mr. Marbut.

On the same page as the article about 832F, there is a story about the changing mission of zoos, as tigers and several other large mammals near extinction. And here is a large mammal just barely beginning to thrive again, after being hunted nearly out of existence all over the globe, now threatened by human "sport".



it's open season on wyoming wolves: please help end the slaughter

Please watch this 45-second video, then sign a letter a to Ken Salazar, US Secretary of the Interior.

Your click may or may not save the lives of wolves. But not clicking will surely allow the killing to continue. Sign here.


thank you, senator harb: help end the commercial seal hunt

Canadian Senator Mac Harb has been fighting for many years to end the commercial seal hunt in Canada. I admire him and his struggle, which must be lonely at times, and at the moment has little to no official support.

The Canadian commercial seal hunt is a shameful waste of life that contributes very little (if at all) to the economy of Atlantic Canada. It is a vestige of a bygone era, and it should be retired along with the specious arguments propping it up. Despite claims to the contrary, abolishing the seal hunt will not harm aboriginal sustenance hunters, as their native status exempts them from laws governing commercial fishing and sealing.

Evidence against the commercial seal hunt continues to pile up. Most recently, a landmark study concluded that the seal hunt is "inherently inhumane", and cannot be altered to conform with acceptable animal-welfare standards.
"Canada’s commercial seal hunt does not occur in a controlled environment. Rather, it happens far offshore where high winds and ocean swells, low temperatures and visibility, and unstable sea ice are common elements,” said British veterinarian Andrew Butterworth, DVM. “The evidence shows that these factors, paired with the speed at which the killing must occur due to economic and safety pressures, prevent consistent and effective application of humane slaughter methods in the Canadian commercial seal hunt.”

“I have studied the Canadian seal hunt extensively, and concluded that it is an inherently inhumane activity because of the environment in which it operates and the speed at which the killing happens,” said Canadian veterinarian Mary Richardson, DVM. “What is clear is that climate change is actually exacerbating the situation, by altering the physical environment in which sealers work. The decrease in sea ice cover in recent years is likely increasing instances in which seals are shot at in open water, wounded and left to suffer, and impaled on gaffs and dragged onto vessels while conscious. These are all situations in which seals suffer significantly."
I remain convinced that the commercial seal hunt's years are numbered. Eventually it will go the way of fox hunting in the UK, another long-standing tradition of animal torture that is now illegal, to be joined one day by bullfighting. The European Union has already wisely banned trade in commercial seal products, and there are other signs that the hunt is waning. Supporters of the commercial seal hunt are on the wrong side of history.

The Harper government lies about the commercial seal hunt and tries to demonize animal welfare activists as dangerous extremists. In other words, they do what they do.

And Senator Mac Harb continues to fight for common sense and animal welfare, swimming upstream against Canadian politics, but refusing to go away. Those of us involved in the struggle to keep US Iraq War resisters in Canada can easily imagine how he might feel.

Here's the latest update on the Harb Seal Bill, Bill S-210.
Dear Friends,

On October 16th, I delivered a speech in the Senate on the need to end the commercial seal hunt in Canada as part of the ongoing debate on my Bill S-210. We worked hard to put forth the rational, factual arguments in favour of moving those involved in this industry into better economic opportunities.

However, the Conservative response on S-210 reveals the sorry state of leadership on this file. Misleading claims that sealers make 35% of their annual income from the seal hunt (meaning that east coast fishers who made an average $1000 in recent hunts would be bringing home a grand total of $3,000 per year) and a continued failure to acknowledge that the market for seal products is gone and not coming back, symbolize the Conservatives’ stubborn refusal to accept and work with the facts facing the commercial sealing industry.

The Conservatives’ continued attacks on Canadians who are opposed to the hunt, and on animal welfare groups in particular, shows how out of touch the government is and how desperately it is trying to hide its own lack of long-term management plans for the seals and the larger fishery. The government is not listening to Canadians, it is not helping sealers and it is not helping our northern and aboriginal sealers who need their support. Canadians deserve better.

Please keep up the great work letting Senators know that you support our efforts to end the commercial seal hunt and to move those affected into profitable, viable economic opportunities.


Hon. Senator Mac Harb
You can write a letter in support of the Harb Seal Bill: go here. HSI Canada has several ideas on how you can add your voice to the fight to end the commercial seal hunt, whether you live in Canada, the EU, or the US: go here.

You can also read more of what Senator Harb has to say, subscribe to his blog, and join his cause.

And finally, for a short summary of the arguments in support of the commercial seal hunt, you might read comments on my first post about Canadian seal slaughter, from April 2005, months before we moved here.


deadline to comment on northern gateway pipeline is august 31: add your voice to the opposition

Please watch this beautiful video from Pacific Wild, featuring former NHL goalie (and Hall-of-Famer) Mike Richter, and more importantly, featuring the Spirit Bear Coast.

In less than four minutes, you will understand the utter madness of bringing an oil pipeline and supertankers to this area. Madness, that is, unless you're one of the few who will profit from the destruction.

The Northern Gateway pipeline is now open for public comment. We have until August 31 to add our voices to the opposition. Here's how.

1. Sign a message from the David Suzuki Foundation. It will be sent to the relevant elected officials.

2. Register your opinion with the National Energy Board Joint Review Committee on the Enbridge Northern Gateway project website. Hearings on the pipeline continue into 2013, but the deadline for public comment is August 31, 2012.

Please sign, comment, and share widely. Many thanks to Mike Richter, the NRDC, and Pacific Wild for the video. It's great to see a former professional athlete get involved in this. As always, many thanks to the David Suzuki Foundation for leading the way.


the limits of empathy: eyes wide open, but not all the time

In light of the horror show taking place in Ottawa, this would be the perfect time to post notes from "Can We Stop the Harper Agenda," the big panel discussion at Marxism 2012. However, I'm waiting to get an audio file of the talk, which will greatly improve the post.

While I wait for that, I'll try my hand at two other pieces I've been thinking about for a long time.

* * * *

I recently wrote about two books - What Is the What and A Long Way Gone - that I recommended with warnings. Both are excellent and well worth reading, and both deal with highly disturbing subjects, including graphic depictions of atrocities and other violence. This led me to think about the choice to read or watch that kind of disturbing, difficult material - and the choice not to.

In the past, I've had no patience for people who refuse to deal with anything that might be upsetting or disturbing, people who seem to live in ignorance and denial, who steadfastly avoid anything that might pierce their bubble. I've been very critical and unsympathetic to this mindset. I realize this is not very generous or understanding of me, but my own empathy doesn't seem to extend that far.

Here are two stories that may help explain further.

My friend Randy, and 9/11

In the late 1990s, a friend of mine was dying of AIDS. We had lost touch over the years, but when we reconnected, I learned he was HIV-positive. Soon after that, his status became full-blown AIDS. We stayed in close touch, often writing letters, even though we were in the same city, and I visited him when I could.

I volunteered to be one of his "care partners" for chemo treatments, so often our visits were tied to his health needs. Eventually Randy had to make some terrible decisions about how far to go with treatment - weighing some horrific side effects against small extensions of his time on earth.

At the end, I continued to visit him, each time knowing it could be the last time I saw him. If you've ever known anyone at the end-stage of a fatal disease, you know it's not an easy thing to witness. But it seemed pretty clear to me that Randy needed company. I figured if he could suffer through all that, the least I could do was sit at his bedside.

Randy and I had a mutual friend named J. J and Randy were very close. Towards the end of Randy's life, J stopped visiting Randy because, he said, it was "too horrible". J would shudder and say, "I can't take it. It's just so disgusting."

In the last week of Randy's life, J told Randy he was out of town and couldn't visit. They spoke on the phone a few times. Everyone knew J was not out of town, and I'm sure Randy knew, too.

I lost a lot of respect for him during those weeks. His choice disgusted me. And when J spoke so eloquently at Randy's memorial service, I silently deplored him.

I was angry, and I shared that with another friend. She said, "Everyone is different, has different capabilities, different strengths. J simply wasn't able to be there."

It was difficult - no, it was impossible - for me to see J's choice through such a generous lens. Wasn't able to? I thought. Why? What did he think would happen to him? He would feel upset, and he'd get over it. Randy didn't have that option.

I had a similar reaction, although less intense, in New York City after September 11, 2001, when many people I knew refused to visit the site of the attacks. I couldn't understand how you could be so physically close to the event, how you could know so many people who were directly impacted, how you could know that workers were still toiling in the rubble, and not go pay your respects in person. They said, "It would upset me too much".

I've been told this is harshly judgmental of me, and part of me agrees. But the rest of me continues that ungenerous view.

"It would upset me" meets my own limitations

I've heard very uninformed and ignorant people say they never read newspapers or watch TV news because "it's so depressing". And I'm sure we've all known people who will not read a book or see a movie that deals with any disturbing or upsetting subject matter. As I've said, I don't look on this very kindly.

At the same time, I have limits. I absolutely do seek out books and movies that help me learn about the world, help me face the human condition with wide-open eyes, help me learn about experiences that I will never have. But... I've also come up against my own limits.

I've learned that I have extremely low tolerance to stories involving cruelty to animals. A segment of a Cormac McCarthy novel that I read more than 10 years ago still haunts me. All these years later, it hurts to think about it. I once saw a puppy get run over by a car - the speeding driver never even slowed down. The puppy didn't die immediately, and I swear to you I can hear still hear its high-pitched screams, can still see its agony in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday.

And so, I avoid books and movies that will trigger this reaction. There's a famous documentary called "Earthlings" about how animals are used by humans. It's supposed to be great, but I've refused to see it, and probably never will.

Similarly, I've been hearing about a movie called "The Invisible War," about rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military. It's supposed to be an excellent film, and grueling. I already know I won't see it. Being a rape survivor myself, I fear it will be seriously triggering for me.

In both instances, I truly feel like "I can't". So is that any different than when J said he "couldn't" visit Randy?

If I've recognized this reaction in myself and imposed certain limits, why can't I feel more generous towards other people's self-imposed limitations?

Is it, perhaps, a matter of degree? Is there a difference between people who understand and engage in the world as it is, but also choose to protect themselves from certain stressors, and people who routinely hide from reality?

Or is that just my own rationalization?


jean craighead george, 1919 - 2012

Jean Craighead George, author of some classics of children's literature, died a few days ago.

In one of those eerie coincidences that seem to happen so often, I was just talking about George. At the library, I noticed that one of my favourite childhood books, My Side of the Mountain, was written by author of Julie of the Wolves, a book I loved when I was slightly older. I wondered if I knew that as a child, or if my love of My Side of the Mountain pre-dated my interest in authors. (That seems unlikely, as I worshipped Laura Ingalls Wilder, and knew the names E. B. White and John Steinbeck as a very young reader.)

George wrote more than 100 books, and I'm sure I read several of them. But My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves remain in my heart to this day. Thank you, Jean! I'm glad you lived a full life.

This excerpt from the New York Times obituary captures some of what made George's writing so meaningful.
“My Side of the Mountain” tells the story of Sam Gribley, a youth who forsakes a life of quiet desperation in New York City to live on his own in the Catskills wilderness. There, he survives by virtue of the deep sympathy with nature that animates all of Ms. George’s protagonists, until the modern world closes in again.

The novel was made into a 1969 feature film of the same title, starring Teddy Eccles and Theodore Bikel.

“Julie of the Wolves,” which was also a finalist for the National Book Award, centers on a 13-year-old Eskimo girl, Miyax, or Julie as she is known in English. Fleeing an oppressive arranged marriage, she strikes out to live alone in the Alaskan wild. Her survival is aided by a family of wolves, with whom she learns to communicate via sound and gesture, much as Ms. George did during a trip to the Arctic to research the book.

Throughout her career, Ms. George was praised by reviewers for her lyric prose, vivid descriptions and meticulous research. (Until she was in her mid-80s, she routinely visited the wild locales about which she wrote.)

Her other books include sequels to “My Side of the Mountain,” among them “On the Far Side of the Mountain” (1990), and two to “Julie of the Wolves”: “Julie” (1994) and “Julie’s Wolf Pack” (1997), both illustrated by Wendell Minor.

Jean Carolyn Craighead was born in Washington on July 2, 1919. Her father was an entomologist for the United States Forest Service, and the family often accompanied him on trips into the field. (Her brothers, John and Frank, grew up to become prominent naturalists who studied grizzly bears.)

It was not until she started school that young Jean realized that her first pet — an eminently reasonable presence in the Craighead home — was not strictly conventional.

“By the time I got to kindergarten,” Ms. George told The Journal News of Westchester in 2003, “I was surprised to find out I was the only kid with a turkey vulture.”

. . . .

In 1944 she married John George, an ornithologist, and settled into a domestic routine that included writing, motherhood and wildlife management. Over time, as she recounted in her memoir for children, “The Tarantula in My Purse” (1996), the household grew to include 173 pets, not counting cats and dogs.

Among them were a crow that gathered coins and deposited them in the rainspout of the local bank and an owl that adored taking showers in the family tub. (Overnight guests at the George home were met with a cautionary sign: “Please remove owl after showering.”)

Also in residence, for a brief, nervous time, was a “darling beaver,” as Ms. George later recounted, adding, “We didn’t keep him long because he cut down the furniture.”

. . . .

For all her honors, perhaps the greatest index of Ms. George’s appeal could be found in the mail she received from her readers. Again and again, she said, they homed in on the truly salient thing about the wilderness lives she so often portrayed.

As she told The New York Times in 2003, “Children will often write, ‘We love your books because there are no adults in them.’ ”