Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Books

I ended up reading 40 books this year. It isn't the 80+ books of 2009, but it's better than last year.

My five favorite books I read this year: 
The Dovekeepers - Alice Hoffman
I read everything by Alice Hoffman, and that's saying a lot. She's quite the prolific writer. Some of her books I abhor (Practical Magic), while others I can read over and over again (most of them). Her most recent book creates a story weaved from the actual destruction of Masada in 74 CE. More than 900 Jews committed suicide in lieu of being killed or enslaved by the Romans. Two women and five children survived to tell the story to Rome. Hoffman tries to craft this oppressive world from the perspective of four women who care for the doves in Masada.

You have to be in a stoic frame of mind to endure this story, which is full of so much tragedy and strife, it's heart-breaking. And you know from the onset they do not all survive. But Hoffman crafts beauty amidst horror. This novel is incredibly moving. If I had a gripe, it would be that the most powerful voice (the first woman, Yael) was not used for the entirety of the book.

Undercover - Beth Kephart
This book inspired me to read everything else by Kephart (including her non-fiction book, which I highly rec'd - A Slant of Sun). She writes beautifully with delicate prose and wondrous metaphors.

Elisa finds comfort and solace on the ice. She is a gifted skater but not so gifted socially, at school. Boys take advantage of her talent at writing, asking her to craft love notes for girls. It's a story of secrets and hidden gifts, of emerging love and petty hearts.

The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson
This book is weird. Ronson is weird. The people he corresponds with are strange. There is no actual test you get to take to discover your psychopathy. Be thankful.

Despite the fact that the book jumps all over the place (and paints the author as off as the psycopaths he interviews), it is a fascinating exploration of the mind and of the really messed up system that puts and keeps people institutionalized, whether they are dangerous or not.

Necklace of Kisses -Francesca Lia Block

This is a re-read, but whenever I read it, it makes my top five list that year. I don't like all of Block's books, but her Weetzy Bat series is an incredible metaphor for all of our experiences in life. This is the final book in the series. It has a fantastical element to it, as all her books do, but at its heart is the human desire for self-discovery and self-love.

City of Illusions - Ursula le Guin
One of my favorite authors of all time. Period. I will not attempt to describe it, because it is convoluted and complex. So just read it.

Most disappointing book I read: Sisterhood Everlasting - Ann which I learn sisterhood apparently is not everlasting and authors fail at doing basic research, like how genetic diseases are inherited. What a crappy way to really end an otherwise great series of books.

What were your favorite books you read this year?

Complete list below

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aurelia, Iowa - Your Opinion on Service Dogs Does Not Matter

I was going to post this tomorrow, but will post today and add that a judge (as anyone w/ half a brain knew would) ordered the disabled man's service dog to be returned to him, despite a ban on dogs who look a certain way.

Dear Aurelia, Iowa - Your Opinion on Service Dogs Does Not Matter

Aurelia banned Pit Bulls.

Aurelia does not understand that this ban does not exempt service dogs. Per the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, a person cannot be denied equal access or equal rights based on their service dog's breed.

I am going to guess that Aurelia will get the same response that Aurora and Denver have gotten - stop it.

Alternatively, before they spend taxpayer money on defending their illegal actions, they could simply abide by federal law and permit this person the legal right to have a service dog, regardless of breed. Currently, they are denying this man equal access and equal rights.

Otherwise, Aurelia is simply violating federal law and, more importantly, discriminating against persons with disabilities.

Auburn, KY Modifying Their BSL

Mina and Celeste Being Pointy
Double dangerous!
Well, sort of.

Back in 2008, Auburn, Kentucky decided to target "vicious" dog breeds and require guardians of said breeds to register their pets. Which is kind of funny, because I cannot fathom how registration reduces the likelihood of dog attacks by any dog. The breeds targeted were Pit Bull type dogs, Rottweiler type dogs, Doberman Pinscher type dogs and Chow type dogs.

Guardians had to pay $20 to register their pets and also provide proof of insurance.

Well, flash forward to 2011 and now Auburn is planning on changing the insurance requirements. Originally, guardians of targeted (non-biting) family pets had to provide proof of $300,000 liability insurance. Problem was, no local insurance companies offered that. So now they need to change the law.

Alternatively, they could eliminate the law entirely and proactively address dog bites. I doubt there is an actual dog bite issue in Auburn, Kentucky, though. Most dogs are not parading around eating people. Most dogs of any breed are not eating people. This is impressive, because dogs are predators and have the behavior and physiology to go around eating people, if they felt like it. But I guess it's something that Auburn is considering altering their insurance requirement (the law itself is totally ineffective if the goal is to eliminate certain breeds one deems dangerous, though).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This Chicken Has Black Bones

Ferdinand the silkie rooster

Ferdie is a rescued rooster living at the sanctuary. He is a Silkie bantam.

Silkies have black skin. They have black bones, organs, and skin. It is called fribromelanosis. It's not a disease.

This is because of artificial selection and a novel mutation. Genetic researchers like studying this phenomenon because it is evolution sped up.

From Science Daily: Genetic study of black chickens shed light on mechanisms causing rapid evolution in domestic animals

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Longmeadow, Mass Police Start Animal Fund

The Longmeadow Police Department has created a veterinary assistance fund for needy rescued dogs and cats.

Longmeadow employs one part-time civilian animal control officer. She spends 20 hours a week helping local animals and their guardians. Oftentimes, she has to pay for the animals' care out of pocket.

I find this ridiculous. The median household income is nearly $80,000. Less than 2% of the region's 15,000 citizens is living below or at poverty level. I am baffled there is not a full-time animal control officer and appropriate funds to pay her and maintain whatever sized shelter is needed for this particular area.

It is great the police department is seeking donations. If half of the 5,200 households donated $50, they'd certainly raise enough money for 1-2 years of operation! Because it's offensive (and borderline illegal) that a part-time civilian staff person has to pay for the care of animals out of pocket. It is both the responsibility of the community at large and the government to provide shelter and medical care to their city's needy animals.

Good luck, Longmeadow police department. Sounds like you might need it.

Mina, Sun Obsessive

MinaDo you have a worshiper of Sol?

Mina is looking for fellow devotees.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thanking Supporters

I'm really grateful to the incredible team I get to work with every day. These people dedicate their lives to improving the welfare of the most exploited group of animals on earth, farmed animals. As a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of people just like you. Most are not vegans or vegetarians, but all have - for one reason or another - expanded their circle of compassion to include cows and pigs and chickens. They allow us to save lives. They make our job easier, and they help shine a light in what can feel like a very dark world.

A Thank You video is a wonderful way to thank supporters. I recommend it for all nonprofits. Showcase how your organization is grateful for donors and volunteers. Studies show that people are more likely to give when they know your organization as human, so introduce staff by their name and title. People are also more likely to want to help your animal group if you highlight people interacting directly with those you rescue.

And while we were lucky to have a very skilled videographer create this video, you don't need fancy equipment to make something people relate to. Groups, like Techsoup, often offer items like Flip videos at discounted rates to qualified charities (it's how we got our first Flip) and supporters are usually willing to donate in kind (it's how we got our second HD video camera).

So check out our Thank You video and think of ways you can incorporate this type of donor communication with your small or medium sized nonprofit!

Happy Holidays From Present Mina

Happy Holidays From Mina

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who is that dog?

Mina from 2003 How strange it was to come across this photo from 2003 and not completely recognize the dog in it.

I knew the dog was Mina. The patchy-eye. The speckled chest. The wagging tail in the background. That ever present grin.

But the Mina I know now is so different than this Mina.

She is more gray, for one. She is smaller, for another. Skinnier. Can't keep on weight. Easier to physically handle.

She's also a little gentler. A lot slower. She is kinder and more sociable. The Mina of now is more appropriate around other dogs. She gets colder quicker - she now likes wearing jackets (yesteryear Mina tolerated it, for my sake).

While I sometimes wish for the Mina of yesteryear when the Mina of now gets tired on a mile-long walk, I love older Mina. A lot more than younger Mina. While her body diminished, her spirit grew larger. Truly, there is more of her to love now than eight years ago.

Why Mina's toys survive forever Look at her! How can you not want to cuddle and protect and love this small dog with her colorful monkey? Sure, the young Mina looked adorbs with a toy, but there is nothing so precious as an older Mina kissing and nibbling on Monkeybutt's head.

If I saw the Mina of yesteryear doing this, I'd get her riled up. I'd get her to play tug and frolic and generally be an energetic young dog.

The Mina of now? I just want to curl myself around her and protect her from everything bad in this world, including that vexing thing called time. I want to tug Monkeybutt away and toss him gently in the air for Mina to air pounce proudly.

Everything she does now is about 100 million times more precious, more perfect, more wondrous. That is the joy and heartache of watching a beloved dog age.

Also, old Mina is so serious, mature:

Being Mina is Serious
I deny your hug, human

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chicken Sweater Adventure

Big Red in a Chicken Sweater
Big Red rocks out in pink
True story: I put a sweater on a chicken today.


Chickens like warm weather. They descend from wild jungle fowl who, you know, got their name because they lived in jungles. Florida is probably more their style than the Sierra Foothills. Right now, it's 50 F and the chickens would very much like it to be 70 F.

Also, many of the chickens at the sanctuary are from egg farms. Chickens used in the egg-laying industry are bred to kill themselves through egg-laying. I'm so serious, it's sad. They are small, fragile creatures. All of their energy is going into laying an egg nearly every day. They produce 280-300 eggs a year. A normal chicken produces 20-60.

If your body is so focused on egg production, it is not focused on other important biological matters, like laying down fat and muscle for the winter.

A few months ago, a woman emailed me asking if her New Mexico knitting club could make sweaters for the hens. I did not say as such, but in my head I was all HELLZ YEAH. Instead, I said yes please! But no animal fiber, because our hens don't wants to be wearing the hair of another animal. That's just how they roll (actually they don't care, but we humans do).

Sharktooth Thinks Sweaters Are STupid
Sharktooth hates her sweater
Two days ago, the sweaters arrived.

Now I've seen photos of felt sweaters used to keep recently liberated battery cage hens warm in New Zealand and the UK. They are super bland and simple. Like one color, no design, just your basic getup. These sweaters came in ten different colors, with ten different styles. These are fashion chicken sweaters.

There are pros and cons to fashion sweaters.

* They look awesome
* They bring out your eyes
* Each one is unique, just like the rescued bird herself (or himself)

* Chickens get entangled in them

Unfortunately the con outweighs the pros and so only one hen is now getting to wear her sweater longer than the photo shoot lasted. This is because she thinks sweaters are awesome and proceeded to strut and eat and drink and be merry with it on. Her name is Sunny. She has one leg and a stump for the other due to an embedded leg band put on her at an egg farm.

Sunny Likes Her Sweater
Sunnny gets fitted, she is happy
Killer Sweater
12-yr-old roo Killer considers this chicken torture

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bad Advertising

My concerns with this ad:

Nonhumans are not "its". Dogs are sentient beings who can think and emote. A sweater cannot and is appropriately referred to as an "it". Language is powerful. We diminish the inherent worth and value of another living being when we call them "what" or "it".

Animal shelters are not morgues. They are not where animals go to die. An animal shelter provides safety, warmth, and act as an advocate for the animals in its care. It is or will become a place where animals are adopted. If it is not these things, then it needs to be changed. Using language that perpetuates what should not be instead of promoting what should be excuses the current system.

Dogs are gifts! Children are gifts! Would you seriously tell someone adopting a foster child during the holidays that they are awful, evil people who are only going to subject that child to misery and death? Adoptions around the holidays should be encouraged. Nurture those innate feelings of compassion.

Holiday adoptions can be done responsibly. Shelters could, for example, get the ball rolling by offering holiday match-making services early in December so that all pertinent screening can happen before the holidays. Pets Alive in New York is even offering to "be" Santa and deliver the happy dog to their home on Christmas day.

So why is this bad advertising? Because it does not make you feel good. It does not inspire you to action. It uses language that diminishes instead of enhances.

Spread a little holiday cheer
Make the best New Year's Resolution!
Adopt a dog or cat for Christmas (or minus the Christmas part)

That kind of advertising makes you feel good and good marketers know that, around the holiday season, using words wisely is important. People like to feel warm, gentle, content, comforting this time of year. Plus it encourages people to save a life...and people LOVE saving lives!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mina Ran Into A Car

Pit Bull: Oh ball, how I have scorned you
Lies, all of them lies
When you are with a dog for so long, you don't notice how they age. You pick up on the obvious - gray hair, slowed movements. But you still see the spark, the tiny, bright light that is your friend and companion.

A moment must come, though, when you just know the young dog who sailed six feet off the ground is no more.

Tonight came that moment for me. After work, I took Mina to get some dog treats. As we left the store, in the darkened parking lot, Mina ran nose-first into a car's bumper.

Objectively I had noticed how her night vision diminished, how she would sometimes start, surprised, when I would walk upon her in the yard. If the moon is new, I sometimes catch Mina tossing her head up and down in the fall leaves, trying to figure out home base's location. In our darkened hallway, I have caught Mina by surprise, meeting in the middle. She had not seen me coming.

Still, I guess I had convinced myself they were flukes. A momentary lapse in judgment on Mina's part. Tonight, I could not dismiss the reality before me. Mina had just plowed into the bumper of a Toyota Prius. She is environmentally considerate, at least. Her vision is diminished, as is her body and strength.

I am not prepared for the sorrow of Mina gone. It will be years from now, I'm sure, but it will still be too soon. She is a scar upon my heart and I like it to be alive and warm, thanks. Imagining this moment without her is unfathomable. She who is nestled behind me on the sofa, a firm believer that the best and safest spot is wedged behind her favorite human. She who is snoring in a delicate way, dreaming paws tripping over some foreign soil. She who licks away salty tears made perfectly for her. 

I hope you have a dog like Mina now or in the past or in the future. Sometimes I think she might be a one-of-a-kind deal and part of me swells with hope at that prospect. To hold your heart out, knowing it won't come back unscathed, is risky business.

Mina ran into a car tonight. And while I fight fiercely against the inevitable, Mina sings in her dreams and shares her soul when awake.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reaching a Milestone - Anyone Can Do It!

Pictures of some of the rescued animals!
I am pleased as some lemonade punch with this number. 3,000. Three thousand!

This is about how many chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and goats a small team of dedicated animal lovers (myself included, yo) have, in 14 months, assisted in rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming into permanent homes through an amazing program called Rescue Ranch.

The number is more amazing when you consider the fact the animals rescued are not traditional companion animals. They are chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, and pigs. 

Obviously not everyone can manage an actual program of this size and scope.

But anyone can emulate the basic ideas.

You can reach a milestone for the animals.

You could decide that in 2012, you will foster 3 dogs or a litter of kittens. If you have a little bit of land and it's legal, you could decide to adopt a small flock of companion hens from your local shelter. You could decide to do a bake sale for your local rescue agency or needy shelter.

Or a drive to gather blankets, beds, toys. You could ask your local shelter to start  a weekend foster program. Maybe you could speak up for the animals at your city council meetings. Or you can commit to writing a monthly letter to the editor with ways people can help all animals.

You can do something fun like knit sweaters for rescued chickens (seriously, we have ten sweaters on the way to the sanctuary for the less hardy hens rescued from battery cage egg farms).

I would be remiss in a suggestion that will easily save more lives than any of the above-mentioned ideas - you could adopt or transition to a vegan diet and save nearly 100 animals a year (or at least reduce the need to kill that many animals). Just throwing it out there, folks - think about it!

Doing something amazing for another living being is within your reach.

What are YOUR milestones for the animals?

The Strange Case of Petunia

Petunia is lucky her previous guardians in New York microchipped her. The dog had wandered away from their farm in 2003 and disappeared.

Someone must have picked her up. In my mind, someone cared enough to help this loose dog and gave her a good life.

Who knows when or where that good life changed, but Petunia was once again found loose. This time in 2011 and in Yuba County, California.

When the shelter scanned her for a microchip, her original family's contact information came up.

After eight years, Petunia has been reunited with her original guardians. I wish them the best.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Maybe Next Foster Dog

BreeThis is Bree.

She is available for adoption.

I may be fostering her in January, unless you adopt her now.

There is a lot more I would like to write about Bree, but that will have to wait until I get to know her better.

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Awkward Interaction With A Starbucks Barista, Also My Screen Door is Broken

This morning I picked up an 8-mos-old Pit Bull who I am dogsitting this weekend. She is a velvet soft bubble of too much energy. Also, she can leap 5' into the air, which I discover later.

After getting her set up in my kitchen, I snuck the ladies out to get some coffee.

Admission time, I am lazy. Given the choice between parking and going into a coffee shop and using the drive-through, I'll use the latter. Yeah, whatever.

I pull up to the window and am sitting there waiting for my beverage.

Is it a girl or a boy?

Without thinking, I respond in a horrified voice, I am NOT pregnant!

Which is not something I've ever been asked and only an off-planet deity can guess as to why THAT was my immediate response.

Confused, the guy responds, Um, I mean your dog. The one in the back seat.

And get this, readers, in my caffeine-deprived state, I actually pause and LOOK in the back seat as if somehow, someway, there is some novel dog sitting back there. Nope, just Mina and in the way back, Celeste.

Oh, Mina? Girl!

Geez, give me my drink already. 

As to the screen door, thank Bree. That's the temporary house guest. I decided, hey, I'm a big girl, I can safely introduce a big puppy to Mina without much fanfare.

I navigate Mina to the backyard and as I was about to leash Bree in the kitchen, she sees Mina and is like HOLY CRAP A DOG I SHOULD GO SAY HI TO. And then she just ran into my screen door and tore it off its hinges.

It collapsed onto Mina's head, which pretty much ruined ANY chances that she would like Bree.

Bree has the social skills of a large boulder. Her idea of saying hi is to body slam a dog, then play bow, then ram her head into the head of the other dog, and then twirl in a circle, play bow, rinse and repeat. I am pretty sure she does not breathe the entire time.

So anyway, Mina ends up rammed against the fence, tail between her legs, petrified. Introduction nation failure.

And that is why my screen door is broken.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Comforting Dogs Before You Kill Them Is Not Compassionate

All I see are pictures and descriptions of dogs who are healthy, loving, wonderful animals. They should be alive. Instead they are dead and money/time is being spent on a program that gives dogs a walk before they are killed. To me, that is a betrayal. What say you?

From The Bark, "Could you spend the night comforting shelter dogs scheduled to be euthanized the next morning? The Compassion Program, based out of New York's Animal Care and Control in Manhattan, is comprised of nine volunteers who take turns sleeping over with death row dogs. Whether it's a long walk, a special treat, playing with a toy or being cuddled, they ensure that every dog spends his last hours being loved. The program staff consider it a form of hospice, even though these dogs are not necessarily dying due to medical conditions, but lack of loving homes."


The original article from earlier this year