Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seeing Animals

A few words on a couple books I've just read which each are filled with examples of animals feeling emotions and performing actions many people don't think them capable of.

First, Through Animals' Eyes: True Stories from a Wildlife Sanctuary by Lynn Cuny. This one's about ten years old, with thirty very short chapters each relating the story of one of the patients at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation. Since most of my very limited rehab experience was with raccoons, I was happy to see three chapters about them. Many black & white photos are mixed in with examples of determination, devotion to mates and relatives, and interspecies friendships.

The second book is Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary by Kathy Stevens. She is the founder and director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York and I've added her related blog to my list at the right. This recent book does a nice job of combining heartwarming animal stories with information about factory farming, including a booklist on related topics, and will hopefully reach a new audience who will give more thought to their diet. Many color photos of the sanctuary residents are included. There are remarkable stories here including the courage and inner strength of Buddy, the blind horse of the title; the dying love shown by Samson, the one-ton-plus steer; the concern for other animals shown by Rambo, the sheep pictured below with Hannah; and friendly Paulie, the former cockfighting rooster who visits a yoga class. Throughout, we experience the love and respect toward animals which is shown by the people who work at the sanctuary.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why does my heart feel so bad?

Following some discussion of Peaceable Kingdom, I'm posting a column I wrote a couple years ago with some [new material] mixed in.


In October, my search for a new home took me to the Boston Vegetarian Society’s 10th annual Food Festival. Surprised by the size of the crowd, I spoke to a member who told me that in the past five years attendance at events has increased to the point that they have trouble finding large enough places to meet.

Browsing the displays with thousands of other people, I sampled everything from soups to desserts and picked up free issues of a half dozen magazines. My favorite is Satya (truth in Sanskrit) which is described as a journal of vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice. You can read their back issues at their website. [Satya is no longer being published, but 13 years of great articles can still be read there.] On a more casual level, I also enjoy VegNews which I subscribed to at their festival booth.

There were also many speakers during the day. The Vegan Freaks, of the like-named book, were there. I didn’t find them freaky enough for my taste as they spoke of the ABCs of being vegan in this society. Fortunately, they get a lot more radical on their website.

A standing-room-only crowd listened to Dr. Michael Greger speak about foods which prevent cancer. He’s a very humorous speaker with great presentation skills and one of the funniest moments came when he listed many medical groups which promote the benefits of a plant based diet, then pointed out that the Cattlemen’s Association disagrees. This and other of his speeches are available at his website with proceeds going to charity. The self-interested approach to vegetarianism isn’t very inspiring, but it still means fewer abused and slaughtered animals.

One of the strongest motivators to a vegetarian diet is the movie Peaceable Kingdom from a non-profit named Tribe of Heart. The movie tells the story of Gene and Lorri Bauston [Gene Bauston has changed his name to Gene Baur and has a book titled Farm Sanctuary coming out in March.] who went from selling tofu hot dogs at Grateful Dead concerts to opening Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, the most well known sanctuary in the country. Jim Mason, author of Factory Animals, and An Unnatural Order about how humans have removed themselves from nature speaks on those subjects. You see the raw emotion of Harold Brown describing his childhood on a farm and how a cow healed him as an adult. Former cattle rancher Howard Lyman describes how beating one in a million odds and walking away from surgery for a tumor he believes was caused by all the chemicals used on his ranch led him to become a vegan.

If you have a shred of compassion left in your soul, this film will bring tears to your eyes. Show it to a roomful of people, and vegetarians, vegans, and anti-factory farming activists are created on the spot. Watching it will also answer the question asked by Moby in the brilliantly featured song which gave this column its headline.

[For those not familiar with the song, it consists of three lines:

Why does my heart feel so bad?

Why does my soul feel so bad?

These open doors.

Performed by a group of gospel singers, the first two lines are repeatedly sung in a slow deep voice as the film shows animals being abused and scenes from slaughterhouses, livestock auctions, etc. The final line, more upbeat in both voice and music, plays against scenes of animals being rescued and treated with kindness. For me, this four minute segment is one of the most powerful in the film.]

Unfortunately, things are rarely peaceable in the human kingdom, and Lorri Bauston left Farm Sanctuary last year and started a sanctuary in California which she called Peaceable Kingdom. A lawsuit and name change later, it’s now Animal Acres and the filmmakers are reshooting the movie with added footage from smaller sanctuaries in the northeast. I imagine Lorri won’t be in the new version which is a shame because she’s one of the more appealing people in the movie, but I have confidence in these folks to create a powerful new version. This DVD is therefore not easily available for purchase but the Duluth library has a copy, and the new edition is due out this summer.

[Two years later, the new version of the movie is still being worked on. I'm happy that Maple Farm Sanctuary which I visited in October will be one of the sanctuaries featured in the new version. However, I'm very disappointed that the filmmakers didn't just make a new movie and keep Peaceable Kingdom available as it was, a much loved and highly effective film. I imagine legal and personal human issues are the reasons behind that unavailability, not what's best for the animals.

This will actually be the third version of the movie. I first saw a copy of the original 77 minute version from the library and later bought a used tape of what turned out to be the second 70 minute version from an animal rights group at Living Green Expo. After a stop at the library, I compared both versions earlier today to confirm my impression that I preferred the original and came to the same conclusion though it was difficult to make the comparison with one tv and some scenes kept but moved. The second version cut many scenes of Farm Sanctuary events and history including the old VW van and the Grateful Dead tofu pups, eliminated Lorri's comments about it being a violent scary mean world for little creatures, little beings, less powerful beings. Also missing was her comment about sanctuaries being havens for people too, an emotion I felt very strongly myself. Wayne Pacelle was eliminated from the movie and Howard Lymon's section was changed substantially.

Despite having the second version, I would still buy a copy of the original version if I found one. Having seen the movie many times, I learned today that I still can't watch it without crying, both for the sake of the animals and for the reminder that there are still good people in the world, something I find it easy to forget.]

The library also used to have a copy of the same filmmakers’ Witness, the story of how a man who had a violent youth in Brooklyn and no interest in animals became an anti-fur activist. Unfortunately the DVD was first listed as “lost” (possibly by a furrier or trapper, though I can’t say for sure) and is now no longer included in the library’s catalog, but you can still buy this one if interested.

Unfortunately for my home search, I can’t afford to live in Boulder to patronize its vegetarian coop, so I’m still doing business at Duluth’s though their increased fascination with dead animals in recent years cost them first my membership and then my deli business. Just as well since the deli is across from the carcass department in the new store and now I never have to visit that corner. Despite the euphemisms I’ve seen on their bulletin board and in their newsletter recently, the animals didn’t make any sacrifice for you. You murdered them, and there was nothing humane about it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Follow-ups and First Steps

*Noticed a discussion on this morning about the taunted tiger killing and surprisingly people were almost unanimous in their support of the tiger.

*Two Sea Shepherd crew members who boarded one of the whaling ships in the Antarctic were released to an Australian ship and transferred back to the Steve Irwin after being held by the whalers for two days. Confrontations and updates continue on the ocean and the Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace websites.

*In last week’s post about the bears I provided a link to a great letter by a woman who offered $1000 to the owner of the cabin under which the bears were hibernating if she would withdraw her request to the DNR to remove them. Today’s local paper contains a mocking letter in reply: “My, what a feel-good story. I bet many readers were overcome with a sudden urge to hug the nearest tree.” The writer/hunter goes on to list all the animals he won’t kill if someone sends him money, then rambles on about his supposed concern that wildlife is not for sale.

My initial reaction was simply, “What an ass.” Then I felt sorry for insulting all the asses in the world, and started thinking about why he obviously feels so threatened by people who want to save and respect wildlife and trees instead of killing them. This kind of angry letter always appears after an event like this where some animal is seen as an individual instead of as a thing. A few months ago they were about a very well known deer which was shot and killed by a young hunter. That batch of letters often mentioned what a great family tradition hunting is. What proud parents they must be, teaching their children to kill.

*Some recent confusion over chips (e.g., chocolate vs. potato) had me chuckling again about unintentional wordplay. I often try to throw some humor and obscurities into my writing but I surprised even myself with a recent post about snow, the UP, a bus, a documentary, growing old, and a bunch of other subjects. I had consciously tried to put in some transition along the way, but subconsciously apparently added a lot more. Reading and letting it roll through my brain afterward, I started seeing many repeated words and parallels between different sections of the post and entertained myself for quite a while.

*It’s below 0 F here and probably won’t get above zero again until Monday. If I’m free, I usually join the Martin Luther King march because it’s the only holiday which means anything to me, and as a stand against the racism which is very common in this mostly white part of the country. I may have to pass this year.

*A couple nights ago I attended a gathering about nature writers and nature journaling led by a man who does wonderfully enthusiastic commentary on happenings of the natural world on a local radio station. I’d been looking forward to it since I’d heard of it, but with me becoming more of a recluse all the time, still had to force myself to go and I’m glad I did.

Preparing for it led me to look again at some of my favorite books such as Swampwalker’s Journal by David M. Carroll. After I read that and his memoir Self-Portrait with Turtles and wrote to David, he was kind enough to reply with a letter and a copy of one of his out of print books. Trained as an artist, his books include his wonderful drawings and I whole-heartedly recommend them.

At the meeting, I saw some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, learned the names of a few writers I wasn’t aware of, and even saw a couple guys with hair longer than mine which is longer than it’s been in over ten years. Best of all there was talk of making this a regular event.

*I hope the spark of discussing nature writing will get me out walking more again, something I’ve been too caught up in various problems to do much of lately. I’m also using my past Tai Chi experience to start exploring Qigong, and considering resuming some practice I used to do with animal/nature cards as a means of focusing. Let the calming begin. ;-)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Here an Owl, Here a Falcon

When I was playing Peregrine Falcon Naturalist last summer, we'd occasionally get a question like "If a Great Horned Owl and a Peregrine Falcon fought, who'd win?"

We may all find out together, because owls have nested in the nest box of a pair of falcons who aren't happy about it. Here's the story. Future updates would be linked on this page. And you can see photos of the nest box, which at this writing show the owl inside. The one in question is Oak Creek, first on the list.

If you've already read my entry about Solo the bear, check it again for an update on the bears' fate.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Leopards and Tigers and Bears

I took advantage of the free admission and went to Zoo Year's Eve to visit with some of my former companions. Had some quality raven and otter time, but the highlight was a better look at a snow leopard than I'd gotten in the whole year I'd been a docent. What a stunningly beautiful animal...just the tail is enough to make you go "Ooooooh."

There are different definitions of intelligence, but spending time at the zoo always makes clear to me which species is the most ignorant. And that's probably a good thing...being there alone with the animals, I could make rationalizations to myself so that I could enjoy the pleasure of being with the animals despite my sadness at their fate; seeing the behavior of other people and listening to their comments serves to remind me what a dismal failure zoos are in their educational mission.

Another reason I went to the zoo was to see how high the tiger enclosure was. From the moment I heard about the San Francisco zoo tiger attack and that it wasn't the result of an open door and that teenage males were involved, I had little doubt that they had brought the attack on themselves. That of course is a generalization based on my experiences both with people at zoos and with teenagers, but a tiger that has been living in a confined area for a long period does not randomly decide to jump out and attack someone one day without provocation. My biggest regret as always in these human/predator confrontations is that the predator wound up being killed for doing what comes naturally.

Up in Ely, Minnesota, a bear called Solo (because one ear was torn off when she was a cub) has been hibernating with her two cubs under an uninhabited cabin. This article gives a good summary of the original situation ... go read it now.

So yes, the state DNR planned to kill a hibernating bear, not because she'd been clawing people up in their sleep or growling at them or anything at all aggressive; she just wasn't running away from them. A lot of the people who signed a petition to do something about the bear apparently thought the DNR would just move her somewhere ... you know, to that magical place where there aren't any people and all the animals live in peace. When they found out killing was involved, they wanted their signatures back.

This sanctuary, which I've visited, said bring the bear here. Someone else suggested the bear go to North Dakota (at this news, Solo was rumored to have muttered in her sleep, "Kill me now.") I quite enjoyed this letter from a woman describing her experience with Solo and her opinion of the cabin owner and the DNR.

The good news is that Solo is not going to be killed by the DNR. She and her cubs are going to be moved together but it doesn't sound like the DNR is moving them to a good wild place. Instead, their press release says they will be moved to
"a captive facility where they can be cared for and not have uncontrolled interactions with people" but exactly where hasn't been determined. I find that wording troubling; it sounds more like a zoo or a canned hunt property than a sanctuary.

1/14 UPDATE: Solo and her cubs have been moved to this Oswald's Bear Ranch. I've heard nothing about the place, but the bears will now spend their lives caged. Another big screw-up by the DNR. When the DNR arrived to move the bears from under the cabin, they found that some scumball human who I would dearly love to have a few minutes alone with had pepper sprayed them.

I Am an Animal

I've said that to people. Some had already come to that conclusion on their own. A lot of other people need to be reminded they are animals. They think they're something special because they made a God in their image, or have a written language, or have learned how to destroy the world.

But in this case, "I Am an Animal" is the title of a documentary about Ingrid Newkirk and PeTA (and what is with that small e, anyway?) which is now on DVD. It begins with her reading some of the obscene hate mail she receives, then moves on to some infuriating talking heads such as Barbara Walters saying something along the line of how she likes to be kind, but life would be so difficult if you lived according to what PeTA wants. Poor Baba Wawa. Most of the rest of the film covers Newkirk's life and opinions, a Butterball undercover operation, and other animal rights groups opinions of PeTA. There were a few horrifying images, nice moments, and teary eyes along the way.

Despite agreeing with almost everything Newkirk says in the film and not being at all offended by their controversial tactics, I'm not a PeTA member. I once bought some t-shirts from their website and returned them when they arrived with big PeTA logos on them which weren't shown in the photos. I'm more interested in ideas and values than in endorsing any group.

But when people from other animal rights groups condemn PeTA's tactics in the film, I think they're either kidding themselves or just want a bigger share of the money pool. It doesn't matter if people are offended by PeTA's actions and uncomfortable truths. Wearing a fancy suit in a boardroom and being oh so kiss-assy doesn't matter either. The world hadn't become animal-friendly in the centuries before PeTA began, it's not animal-friendly now, and it wouldn't be animal-friendly even if PeTA had never existed. It's the idea that animals matter which infuriates people.

It boils down to whether you think change comes voluntarily from within the system or because the system is being pushed and pulled by those on the extremes. I think history shows that hard changes require hard actions, usually with violence and blood and death. Those in power don't give it up willingly. The actions of PeTA or even more extreme animal and environmental groups have been very peaceful from that historical hard truth. I don't have the personality to do the confrontational and attention-getting things PeTA activists do, or the strength to go undercover in a slaughterhouse for months to film abuse, but I applaud those who do.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Kung Feline

Replying to some photos of a black and white cat posted here, I have to post this one. This is not my cat, and I don't know whose photo it is; it was passed on to me in an email I think. I can only hope no animals were injured during the shooting of this photograph.