Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Time to stop eating meat?

I'm not currently a vegetarian, but it may be inevitable. The recent video released by the Humane Society of the United States showing downed cattle being tortured and forced into slaughter was really too much to bear.

I was interested to see the following AP article in the StarTribune newspaper for Minneapolis/St. Paul discussing an earlier push for more humane treatment of animals on their way to slaughter. I was even more interested to learn that one of the champions of the movement was Hubert H. Humphrey from Minnesota:

Fifty years ago, the hog slaughter film by Arthur P. Redman galvanized animal welfare advocates to pursue legislation. The film was shown at a congressional hearing in 1957 and Congress passed the landmark humane slaughter law the following year.

Speaking during debate on the day of the bill's passage, then-Sen. Hubert Humphrey, a Minnesota Democrat and future vice president, said: "We are morally compelled, here in this hour, to try to imagine — to try to feel in our own nerves — the totality of the suffering of 100 million tortured animals. The issue before us today is pain, agony and cruelty — and what a moral man must do about it in view of his own conscience."

Humphrey, perhaps best known for his championing of civil rights, also pushed humane slaughter legislation for years, first introducing a bill in 1955. Initially, he wanted to make humane slaughter mandatory, but wound up settling for a compromise that made it a condition of doing business with the federal government. In 1978, the year Humphrey died, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., won passage of legislation making compliance mandatory, fulfilling Humphrey's original vision.

Read the whole article at:

My father was a vegetarian. He never made a big deal about it and always said that meat made him sick as a child. His mother/my grandmother could confirm that one day he refused to eat the meat included with his dinner and rather than do so went to bed without dinner and that was that.

It is only quite recently that I have questioned the story about getting sick. He didn't eat beef, pork, chicken or fish. He could certainly have gotten sick after eating some kind of meat and I could understand (maybe) giving that up, but to give up all forms of meat, abruptly and permanently, as a child, is surprising.

He was no doubt subject to various forms of ridicule throughout his life. There weren't a lot of vegetarians in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc. I suspect now that he may have had an experience that caused him to connect the animals that are the source of meat with the food on his plate. He was always very tenderhearted about animals and we regularly took in cast-off pets when I was growing up.

Whatever his reasons for giving up meat, they were personal and he did not ever suggest that others follow his lead, but I did grow up with a role model who was basically a meat and potatoes kind of guy without the meat. There wasn't a lot of variety in his food: potatoes, vegetables, soup, peanut-butter sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, fruit and dessert!

Anyway, I've never been a big meat eater and I'm going to try to drop beef first, then pork. We'll see how it goes. It's tough because I rarely cook, that may have to change.

I very much like this quote another rescuer uses on her e-mail:

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.
Albert Schweitzer

Monday, February 25, 2008

Feral or stray?

It's hard to believe, but it was just a few years ago when I first heard of mass spay/neuters of feral cats. Oh, let's be honest, when I started this I stumbled over spay or neuter for female or male cats and I wasn't quite sure what feral meant either.

Actually that's still open for discussion. Are all cats living outdoors considered feral? Or are feral cats only the wild ones untouched by human hands? The second is my interpretation. I think you start with "stray" cats living outside, divided into feral and tame.

Anyway, it was my friend K who told me it was a dream of hers to participate in a mass spay/neuter project and I think she shared an article with me about one in California. She lives in a neighborhood with lots of stray cats living outdoors in the hot summers and long cold winters of Minnesota. She feeds them, but it's not a good life.

For such an event, a mobile veterinarian medical vehicle comes in to a central area. Volunteers trap dozens of stray cats. One-by-one the cats are brought in for the surgery. The neuter surgery for the males is relatively simple and the cats recover quickly. Spay surgery for the females is a significant surgery and they need more time to recover.

In a trap/neuter/release (TNR) situation, the cats have the tip of their left ear removed and the cats are returned to their home territory. The ear is tipped so the cat is not brought in for subsequent TNR projects. It also helps a cooperative animal control to identify which animals are part of a managed feral colony.

If two-thirds of a colony is spayed and neutered, you can start to make a difference in the growth, behavior and health of the colony. The goal is to monitor the colony spay and neuter all the cats in a colony. The cats are also given some basic medical care, and the problematic spraying, fighting and yowling should be greatly reduced.

K and I have participated in several of these projects now and one of the "problems" you encounter is that not all the cats are feral (i.e., wild since birth), often many of them are just stray animals -- abandoned or allowed to roam. They will be spayed or neutered along with the rest, but should they be released or should we try to find homes for them? It seems obvious that we should find homes for them, but with shelters running at capacity that isn't always possible

Another moral dilemma for animal rescuers. It is not work for the fainthearted. I wish all cats could be fat and happy siblings, together forever, like Layla & Luke.

Pet Peeve

I received an email with the following heading and many lovely photos like the ones included below:

Show these pictures when someone says they are having a baby and they need to get rid of their pets...

That excuse strikes a raw nerve with me and it's even worse when the person is going on and on about what a wonderful pet it is and how hard it is to give them up. If the pet is that wonderful and dear, then it shouldn't be too hard to make the adjustments necessary to keep the pet. It is hard to find homes for senior cats and dogs and it's a difficult adjustment for an animal that probably has been raised from a kitten or a puppy with that person.

People need to make a real commitment when they adopt a pet, for the lifetime of that pet. It shouldn't be so hard to keep a pet and infant separate if that is your choice, but it would be better to deal with the two together -- better for the animal, of course, but also better for the child to learn about animals from a young age.

If you can't deal with the pet and the child, it is the your responsibility to find a good new home and it may take some time. Dropping it off at a humane society where older animals (and I mean older than a year or two) are routinely euthanized without ever being put up for adoption at all is unconscionable.

Sorry about the rant, but enjoy the photos!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"No-kill" vs. "Open-door" animal rescues

Holly is a foster kitten. She is several months old and I got her just before Christmas. A nice young man had found her alone, far from any houses and brought her in to the local humane society. Turns out she was in the jurisdiction of the local pound. When his plea reached our organization, her five days of mandatory hold was coming to an end and she would be put to sleep. Her behavior was unpredictable. She would allow herself to be held one minute and then be bouncing off the walls like a feral cat the next. Since she was young and I was willing to make the trip to get her and take her in as a foster, our organization agreed to take her.

Now might be a good time to open the discussion about "no-kill" shelters and "open-door" shelters. Notice the use of dramatically positive descriptors for organizations with largely similar missions, but with a very significant difference. I often compare it to the abortion debate which is characterized as "pro-choice" and "pro-life".

"No-kill" shelters typically will not euthanize the animals they take into their system unless they are beyond medical treatment or unable to be socialized safely for placement in a home. That's good. "Open door" organizations will take in all animals brought to them. Also good.

However, both have a dark side. "No kill" organizations often carefully screen which animals they will take and are often full, so many animals are turned away. "Open door" organizations euthanize around 50% of the animals brought to them -- adoptable or not.

Space constraints are the problems for both types of organizations. You might think this problem would be insoluable, but it really isn't. If all organizations focused a larger portion of their operations on prevention and education, we could eliminate the overage unwanted animals through spay and neuter of pets. I say "overage" because there will always be unwanted pets, but there will also be a large number of people willing to rescue them and another large group willing to adopt them. We already know that.

More about this another day. Remember, it has taken me some years working with all kinds of organizations to really get this clear in my mind. I shouldn't be surprised that most people don't understand the system. I hope to speed up the learning curve for just a few.

Back to Holly. She is a tiny bean of a kitty, several months old and very frightened. She had started playing well with my other fosters in her two months in my home, but still wanted nothing to do with people so we decided to move her and one of her foster kitten friends to another foster home with a couple who is home more and has had good luck with shy kitties.

Unfortunately, Holly started to walk funny and eventually they took her to the vet. No problem was found, but within 24 hours of the vet visit Holly became sick with a raging upper respiratory infection. She had a fever, crackly sounds in her lungs, and her inner eyelids were terribly swollen and red. She returned to the vet both of the next two days and now she is back at my house because I can handle her better to give her her medicine -- or so we thought. Holly surprised me by biting my hand on her first morning here when I went to pick her up, so this morning I was at Urgent Care getting a prescription for antibiotics.

Always take a cat bite seriously! Because it is a set of puncture wounds, infection is not uncommon and infection in a joint can land you in the hospital. Mine should be fine; I think it is already better tonight than it was this morning.

I've got Holly in my bathroom with a small warm humidifier running. Her crackly lungs have improved, but she was not eating or drinking anything that I gave her, so I started giving her food and water with a syringe this afternoon. She still feels warm and her eyes are still very swollen. I've been covering them with warm moist compresses every few hours and she seems to like that. She relaxes just a little.

Everyone who meets Holly loves her and feels so badly that she is so frightened. Please send good thoughts her way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Beginning

I've got so many ideas for this blog, but I'm not sure where to start.

In the last few years, I have become increasingly active in the world of animal rescue. I foster cats and kittens. I help with mass spay/neuter projects. I'm part of a foundation that gives money to organizations that rescue animals.

I started out wanting to help, but soon realized that I needed to learn more about the organizations already in existence before I could determine how I could best be of assistance.

It didn't take long for me to figure out that one of the big problems is that while each rescue organization has the best of intentions, sometimes they let the differences in their particular mission isolate them from working together. I believe that getting those who care about animals to focus on their common goals will allow us all to accomplish so much more. So I keep branching out, trying to learn more, share that information and help to coordinate our efforts. This blog is a logical outgrowth of that.

So how did I get started helping animals? Well, I've always loved animals. I grew up with cats and dogs in my own home and more animals at my grandparents' farm. I got my first cat of my own from a shelter and the second was a stray who showed up at my door. The next generation was a pair of twin brother cats that my friend had fostered. They had grown up together in her home without getting adopted and neither of us could bear the thought of them getting split up.

Then on a Fourth of July weekend at the hobby farm of some friends, I was checking out the barn cats and discovered one very tiny kitten who was obviously the runt of the litter and now was being rejected by his mother. The mother and siblings were all completely feral, but not this little one; he was as friendly as can be. He was half the size of his siblings and it was obvious he wouldn't make it on the farm, so I decided to take him home. My friends all wondered why I would choose the sickly scrawny kitten instead of one of the healthy ones, but I felt that I had to give the little one a chance.

I wasn't sure he would survive the ride home or the first night, but we got to the vet the next day okay. The kitten had an upper respiratory infection, fleas, lice, ear mites and intestinal parasites. Since he was only 4-6 weeks old and weighed only 1/2 of a pound, most of the common medicines were too strong and would have killed him. He had to be nursed along very carefully and kept separate from my other cats until he was well. There were lots of ups and downs, but he had a good appetite and he really started to improve when he could come out and play with the twin brother cats, Rudy and Baloo. Rudy wasn't so interested, but Baloo loved the kitten. It was so funny to watch 16-lb Baloo lay down and let this tiny kitten attack him. He was his little buddy, I always said, so I finally named the kitten, Gilligan.

My success with Gilligan, made me want to try fostering other cats since I had long admired people who did that. My friends feared I would never be able to give them up, but after five years and over 100 foster cats, I've kept just one. Fostering was my foot in the door to animal rescue and future entries will share more about what I am doing today and as well as stories from the past.