Thursday, November 29, 2012

And through the door, there was only sorrow

Let me first state that I do not know Roy Marcum. It has been nearly eight years since I last saw him, on my last day of volunteering at the Sacramento County shelter. I did not stay in touch with many of the staff or volunteers there, because my soul was too seared from all the sadness and tragedy of beautiful lives lost. I had seen too many dogs and cats I knew were healthy and adoptable killed.

Which is not to say that I did not love some of the people at this shelter. I did. So many were stuck in a bad system, doing the best they thought they could. I know they could have done better, but I was helpless to change anything.

Roy was one of the animal control officers at the shelter who was never afraid of Pit Bulls. He had a brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier who followed him everywhere, always toting 2-3 tennis balls in her mouth. I'm embarrassed I don't remember her name, but I remember she loved him and he loved her.

Roy introduced me to Sage, a white Staffordshire Bull Terrier who needed fostering. Sage was my very first foster dog...and she was one of the best. She loved mice. She loved guinea pigs. She loved walks. And she simply loved life. Roy knew that and didn't want to see her killed for no other reason than "she looks like a Pit Bull". Sage is the first dog I found a home for, but she would be the first of many Pit Bull type dogs I would embrace.

I only saw moments of Roy. I saw him throw a ball for his dog. I remember him tearfully telling me how his Staffy Bull, the brindle girl, had died - she had choked on one of her infamous tennis balls. I remember him around the shelter, walking tall.

Yesterday, Roy was murdered. He was trying to help the dogs at a supposedly abandoned, foreclosed home. And he was shot to death by a deranged, disturbed man.

I feel great sadness for Roy's family. They are in my thoughts. There is a void, great and expansive, sweeping through their hearts and minds and bodies. There is confusion and anger and deep-deep sorrow. I am so sorry for this.

Roy tried to help dogs, in a way he felt was best. I honor that. And although I have never talked with him in the eight years since I stopped volunteering, I am forever grateful that he encouraged me to love dogs for their individual personalities not because of their breed. I am thankful that he lived through example, that he did not "do as I say, not as I do" and that he did his best to help companion dogs and cats. That is no small feat.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bone Exposed

A few nights ago, I nearly hit a deer. I saw him in my peripheral vision, reflected eyes and a brown form, small antlers perched atop his head. Slowing down, I paused feet from him. I flashed my brights at him which I regretted the instant he blinked in confusion and tried to take a step forward, then stumbled. Dimming my lights, I rolled down my window and yelled. He moved on his way, away from asphalt and death.

The driver behind me honked, annoyed.

I almost refused to move forward. The person behind me was so caught up in their petty impatience that a mere 30 second delay seemed to herald impending doom. To me, the deer was worth a 30 second pause. I can only presume the deer agreed.

Before I drove on, my mind it is wont to do. A flash of white bone exposed, the scream of a dying animal.

A few months ago, I witnessed the violent death of a yearling doe.

The most potent memories I carry with me are painful reminders of helplessness. They involve the needless deaths of nonhumans, deaths I witnessed firsthand and either did not or could not prevent.

The doe is one of them.

She was struck at night by a white sedan, the same color of her front leg bones jutting from pink flesh. I can remember my sharp intake of breath, then forgetting to breathe as I hoped against hope that she had evaded impact.

The driver stopped, exited his vehicle, looked at the deer, then his car. He shook his head, got back in his vehicle and drove away. I will never forget that moment. Never. His fading tail lights disappeared, the car in front of me swerved around the deer, and I was left alone with her.

I got out of my car and approached her. I could see the whites of her eyes, which scanned the dark fields. When they met mine, I could only see unending layers of pain. She began to panic, which is when I noticed her front legs. Not because I saw them, but because I heard them. Splintered bones scraping against asphalt and road. It is a wrong sound. It is a wrong sight, bone outside of skin.

Backing away quickly, I frantically started calling people. I called a colleague. I called several wildlife rehab centers, all of whom told me to call the police. No one wanted to help her. I felt so alone, so unable to do anything but watch. I called the police.

That night, I was the only one who stopped traffic for a dying animal. I was the only one who stood between her and another driver who wanted to drag her by her broken legs off the road. I was the only one with my heart fluttering, my lungs breathless, my whole body wanting to fix, repair, heal the broken being in front of me.

For what seemed like hours, I watched the doe. She was so quiet, her side heaving in pain, quick breath in, quicker breath out. Her pupils became large black holes in what should have been soft, gentle eyes. Some moments she would try to stand, not comprehending why her normally supportive, lithe legs kept failing.

And then she would cry. This is how I knew she was still a baby. Or I assume so. Maybe we all call for our mothers in these moments. That was the cry she made - a baby sending forth an SOS in the night. A scream followed by a heart-wrenching whimper. I wanted her mother to come out of the dark, to groom and soothe and give her comfort.

When the police arrived, I finally pulled off the road. The officer got out of his car. He did not approach the deer but instead peered at the front of my vehicle, presuming I had hit her.

Doesn't look like your car is damaged.

I must have had a confused expression, for I had not processed the statement. Oh. He thought I hit her.

Not knowing what happened next, I sat in my vehicle as the officer approached the doe. He nudged her with his boot, trying to get her to move off the road (goodness forbid the human world slow down for one dying deer). I heard a small wail and realized it was my own whimper of shock and sadness. Couldn't he see how broken she was, how utterly impossible it was for her to get up and walk off the road. Of course he could. Of course he has dealt with many deer and of course he has become indifferent to their suffering.

Finally, he roughly grabbed her by the head and dragged her off the road.

I wanted to drive away. I wanted to lunge from my vehicle and shove the officer away. I wanted to cradle the deer, or at least cover her head in a towel so she couldn't see the creatures causing her so much pain. I wanted to scream. Oh god, I thought, is he just going to leave her dying on the side of the road?

The officer looked at me. He said I could leave. I asked what was going to happen to her. Another officer approached, we'll have to put it down. It. It. It. She is a she. She is alive and dying and suffering and trying in desperation to fucking live. SHE.

I did not drive away. I did not look away. I watched as they stopped traffic. I watched as they brought out a rifle. And I watched in fascinated horror as they shot her in the head. They left her body on the side of the road for a disposal crew to pick up the next day.

I could barely see through my tears as I drove the three minutes home. I felt like such a failure, despite not doing anything wrong. I knew she was suffering and I knew euthanasia was the kindest option for her. She died instantly, but she had to endure the indignity of rough handling and being alone on that country road. I wonder if her mom came to her body. I hope so. It wouldn't make a difference to anyone but me, I think.

I'd like to say this is a cautionary tale. I'd like to say that if you drive a little hastily on back-roads knowing full well wildlife may dart in front of your vehicle that maybe you'll slow down. But the truth is, I know you won't. I know this like I know bone exposed is white and ugly and wrong. I know this because dozens of deer have been killed on this same stretch of road since the evening a white sedan slammed into the fragile body of a doe. I know this because too many of us are caught up in getting somewhere fast when getting somewhere less fast could prevent death and suffering and broken bodies. I know this because we can all be ugly and needlessly callous.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Unjust Separation

Theo Calf

This is Theodore.

He is a Holstein, the most common breed used in the dairy industry. His mother has been artificially selected (and injected with growth hormones) to produce more milk than nature ever intended. In an attempt to adapt to too much milk, Holsteins give birth to unnaturally large calves - they have high rates of birthing problems...common not only because of the large milk output but also because Holsteins are bred before their bodies have physically matured.

Most people do not know that in order to produce milk, a cow must give birth. And in order to steal and consume her milk, her calf must be stripped from her - often right after birth.

Male calves like Theodore have little value to the dairy farm. They don't get pregnant, after all. Some are sold for veal and others are raised on feedlots for slaughter. Some are sold for backyard slaughter.

Theo was sold to a family in urban Sacramento. They did not know how to care for him. He broke through the fence into the neighbor's yard where animal control was called. He is now safe at a sanctuary.

Watching Theo is a lesson in sadness. He is constantly searching for a mother. A bottle is no valid replacement. He wears a coat, because he does not have a mother to provide warmth and comfort. He eats hair and nurses clothes, trying in vain to find a nipple, a source of nutrition and maternal love. We can do nothing but treat him kindly - an injustice was perpetrated against him the moment he was born and we cannot repair that.

He will rejoice when he is old enough to integrate with the other cows. It will be amazing. He will be an ambassador for other dairy animals, both male and female. I wish he didn't have to.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shootings of Dogs by Police 10/1/12-10/31/12

Mandatory reading for police agencies interested in addressing this issue - The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters

Animal related shootings in New York City up 20% with 36 incidents.

In the greater Atlanta Metro area, 100 dogs have been shot in the past two years and in every single case, the officer was cleared of any wrongdoing. Only one county requires training of police officers.

Fort Worth police now undergoing training around dogs after the shooting death of a family pet last year.

An officer in Storm Lake, Iowa used a stun gun on an aggressive dog running loose. And it worked. Fancy that. Dog is fine. Another officer in Storm Lake decided to use a lethal weapon on a loose dog the next day, shooting and killing a loose dog who had been harassed and chased by police for a lengthy period of time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Every Move You Make, Every Breath You Take

Mina the farm dog
Whatevs, I'm fearless
It turns out dogs are actually creepy stalkers.

Actually, it turns out dogs are social referencers. That is, they will rely on the social cues exhibited by others and adjust their reaction to a novel situation. The cool thing is dogs use US as social references.

This may not actually be cool, because sometimes we are acting like fools and our dogs don't need to be too.

The research comes to us from the University of Milan. Dogs and their guardians enter a room with an oscillating fan that has streamers attached to it. This is a strange device that often inspires hesitation from dogs. In fact, all the dogs stopped at the threshold before entering and 83% of them looked back and forth from their guardian's face to the strange streamer-laden fan.

The guardians would then make a negative statement or a positive one.

When guardians made a negative statement (undoubtedly accompanied with "negative" feelings), the dogs generally stopped moving and did not explore.

When guardians made a positive exclamation PLUS a positive body movement, the dogs acted the same way they did when no fan was present - they explored the room more freely. A positive statement alone did not inspire the dogs to investigate more. And if guardians moved comfortably toward the object, the dogs were less wearisome as well.

This is how I taught Mina to gain confidence. It was not merely a matter of teaching her to investigate strange objects freely, it was a matter of showing her *I* had no concern about said objects. I taught her a "what's that" request which was always accompanied by me crouching in front of the object and happily talking and touching it. Mina still knows this request and loves to show off for me when I ask...she especially loves it when it involves objects she used to be afraid of but is no longer, like paper bags!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Rick Berman, Dr. Evil

Every time any animal advocate uses Rick Berman as a reference, a puppy cries.
Center for Consumer Freedom.

If you use these website as valid resources, I'm calling you out. You're hanging with Dr. Evil, folks. He's not a nice person and he does not care about puppies or kittens NOT being gassed or killed. Heck, if Smithfield Foods wanted to slaughter puppies too, Berman would be ready and able to smear all the no kill advocates who keep using Berman as a resource. He'd throw you under the bus quicker than something really fast (sorry, just not that creative, folks).

"Bloomberg obtained the IRS complaint from the Humane Society and independently reviewed tax documents, legal filings and other public information about Berman’s groups. Five independent outside experts contacted by Bloomberg said the allegations warrant an IRS review."

FIVE, people! This isn't HSUS, this is Bloomberg asking FIVE experts and guess what? They all think Berman and Company need to be investigated.

Remember this, people - Rick Berman does not care about animal welfare. I boldly claim he cares little for animals and barely a little for his fellow humans.

He does not care that you want to stop over-breeding of animals. He does not care that you want to improve adoption rates. He does not care about you or your cause.

He cares that you blindly spread his message. He wants people to stop unionizing and animal welfare groups to stop investigating puppy mills and slaughterhouses. He wants your children to have access to 500-oz sodas because, hey, it's the American way.

Find other resources, if you have valid concerns about an animal welfare group. They should be out there. They should come from sources that are reputable and reliable. You can find well-thought out, well-cited rebuttals to any argument, yo!

Don't be the platform for Dr. Evil!