Thursday, January 31, 2013

Police Shooting of Dogs 1/15/13-1/31/13

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

Half of intentional shootings by police are of dogs.

Police Shootings Of Non-Aggressive or Non-Injurious Dogs

A Labrador Retriever was shot twice in Raleigh when the dog barked and ran at an officer walking by. The dog was on his property but it was an unfenced area. Police are defending the officer's actions of shooting a non-injurious, barking dog. Link

Five caged dogs are dead after a police officer opened fire on them at an animal shelter. Selma, California police chief is defending the actions of an officer who shot to death five dogs who were safely confined in a kennel. The officer claims the five dogs rushed him when he opened the gate but instead of doing something weird like closing the gate, he shot them to death! Volunteers are upset. Link

A dog described as a Pit Bull was shot and killed by Boston police after his guardian accidentally left the back door open. The police were at the guardian's apartment complex in response to a fight. They had surrounded the building. The dog's guardian went out to investigate and his dog exited the back door, where he was confronted by police. Police claim the dog was "lunging aggressively". Two officers were injured, though it is unknown if the dog caused the injuries (it is not mentioned). The dog was killed. Link

Update: Three dogs were actually killed, all three described as Pit Bulls. The dogs had started fighting and could not be separated. The mayor is defending the actions of the officers responsible. Link. Two dogs are dead after Chester, Pennsylvania officers opened fire, shooting multiple times with a handgun and once with a shotgun blast. A stray dog had jumped into the back of a pick-up truck and initiated a fight with the dog inside. When the two dogs could not be separated, police were called. Instead of trying to separate the dogs, police opened fire - in front of a high school and a crowd - killing both dogs. Onlookers captured the shooting in video and all appeared to be horrified by what transpires. Link

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mina has a crystal

Mina is the Queen Bee of curling up in a corner of the sofa perfectly positioned to receive the sun's rays.

Mina has a crystal in her bladder, and I'm still waiting to find out what kind. We're (Mina and I) hoping it is a struvite crystal that will break down with a long course of antibiotics. I cannot handle Mina going in for another surgery.

She also has a brand new Grade 1 heart murmur. For eleven years, no heart murmur. Grade 1 ain't no thang, so we're not going to worry.

More importantly, how perfect is this dog? Pretty freaking perfect.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dog Killing Commerce City Officer Faces Charges

Robert Price faced a judge for the first time since he shot and killed a restrained dog named Chloe on November 24th. He faces one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.

The Colorado Fraternal Order of Police are defending the actions of Robert Price, issuing a statement claiming Price is wrongfully accused. This is not surprising - police officers have historically defended the actions of other officers that have resulted in the unnecessary, needless, and sometimes cruel deaths of both humans and nonhumans.

But this response is interesting in light of the video that depicted the final moments of Chloe's life. It does not take a genius animal behaviorist to recognize that Chloe is safely restrained and no longer a threat. A catch-pole, often misused, is still very effective at keeping a dog 6' away from whomever is holding the other end. 

I would argue that Chloe was safely confined the second she stepped foot in that garage and that a variety of other methods could have been employed to further restrain her (shutting the garage door, using sno-fencing to corral her, used fencing to block off the garage opening and then waited until she calmed down, using a catch pole...oh wait).

I have used a catch-pole a couple of times. I have never used a catch-pole to lift a dog or drag a dog. But I have used one on an aggressive dog who weighed twice as much as Chloe. I am not an unusually strong woman, but I was able to ensure that the dog stayed 6' away from me. At no point did I feel that the catch-pole was insufficient in keeping the dog safely away from any of my body parts. I imagine an animal control officer, who is far more trained than I, should feel even more confident in her abilities to manage an aggressive or frightened dog at the end of a pole. 

Which is why I do not believe it was responsible, safe, or ethical to shoot Chloe in a residential neighborhood. An animal control officer was present and had Chloe safely restrained on a catch-pole. While the video does not show a close-up, it is still obvious that the woman has control over Chloe - she is holding onto the catchpole and is not being flung wildly about by Chloe. She does not have much time to do her job before Officer Price discharges his weapon into Chloe. It is as if Officer Price felt a woman animal control officer was incapable of doing what she does for a living.

But don't take my word for it. You are welcome to view the unedited video for yourself. Be warned, it is not pretty. A scared, frightened dog is cornered in a garage. She is not attempting to attack, bite, or otherwise harm any human being. She is in fact in a safe location - that garage door could have been easily lowered to trap her and steps taken to contact the homeowner to safely remove the dog.

You will see a deathly afraid dog tasered not once, but twice. She will twitch and writhe and finally be snared by the catch-pole, held by what appears to be a capable animal control officer.

And as she is led, she will rush past the officer - terrified - until she is outside of the garage and stuck at the end of the catch pole.

You will see no hesitation in Officer Price as he shoots to death a completely restrained, petrified dog. None. Again, at no point will you see Chloe try to bite, attack, or harm a human being. I may be misreading the body language of the animal control officer, but she does not seem that thrilled with Officer Price's reaction.

Judge for yourself. I am left asking why - with such evidence at our disposal - an entire Fraternal Order of Police decided to support Officer Price's actions. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Police Shootings of Dogs 1/1/13-1/14/13

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

Half of intentional shootings by police are of dogs.

Police Shootings Of Non-Aggressive or Non-Injurious Dogs
Oopsies! Police in Colorado shot and killed a 35-lb mixed breed dog after they went to the wrong address in response to a business alarm. They did not knock but instead opened the door without permission and when the family dog went out to greet them, they shot the dog three times, killing the 8-yr-old canine. No worries, though, officers told the family they could "just get another dog"! Link

Police in Lafayette, Louisiana are investigating themselves after two of their officers responded to a security alarm at a private residence and shot to death a 15-yr-old companion dog when they entered the yard without permission. The security alarm was false, a door accidentally opened. Link

In a very sad case, a companion Pit Bull was shot multiple times by police in Baltimore. The officer was chasing a suspect and either entered the yard where the dog was or the dog got out when the suspect or officer opened the gate. One of the dog's caregivers was about to grab the dog - who was not doing anything aggressively so far as anyone can tell - when the officer shot at the dog six times. The dog was hit three times - twice in the body and once in the head. The officer could have easily shot the human who was getting the dog. Police later came back and issued a citation for having a dog at large. Way to go, Baltimore PD! Link

A companion mixed breed dog was shot and killed by Las Vegas police who entered a backyard without permission. The dog was 6-yrs-old and the family's companion. Link

A Fostoria police officer shot and killed a large mixed breed dog (Pit Bulls are medium sized dogs) for barking at people. The world is now much safer without one more barking dog in it. Link

A mixed-breed dog in Topeka was shot multiple times and killed for "looking aggressive". Link

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ALMA - A Film That May Scare Environmentalists

This weekend is the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. Hundreds of films are screened, all somehow tied into the environmental movement. The tag line for this year's festival is "where activism gets inspired".

I watched about eight films, including one detailing the history of the environmental movement, another about Inuit subsistence hunters and eider ducks (and the problems with hydraulic dams), and one delightful film about a children's book illustrator.

After each film, the crowd would seemed, whether the film was "good" or not! Except one. One film garnered no applause. I can think of a few reasons why, but first I'll invite you to watch the film for yourself. It's 65 minutes long. It is called ALMA. Set aside one hour of your life and view this film.

Now, there are more than a hundred films aired at this festival. I did not see them all, although I did read the descriptions of many. The description of ALMA did not lead me to believe it had anything to do with "animal rights", but so far as I can tell - after seeing it - I'm pretty sure it is the only film that gives you real action items that will create the greatest impact on the deforestation of the Brazilian rain forest. But it is a scary suggestion - stop eating meat, dairy, and stop using leather.

There is no narration, only provocative images coupled with an appropriate, accompanying soundtrack. It opens with the beauty and diversity of the rainforest. The vibrancy, it's alive, alive! And then comes the men with chainsaws and fire, cutting and burning down one of the most biodiverse places on earth. When the rainforest is gone, the scrubby semi-desert appears...and so do cattle.

What I love about this film is how it introduces you to the cows as individuals who are emotional and sentient. You see a cow give birth, lovingly groom her calf. You watch him stand on wobbly legs and learn to nurse. Then you see what happens on dairy farms across the country - the farmer comes and steals her baby! She paces and cries outside the enclosure, desperately trying to seek out her baby.

Calves are seen frolicking, cows and bulls seen grooming one another. In moments of despair, you see two cows come together, connecting. And you cannot help but cringe when you see them panic and in fear. All caused by us.

You see the realities of the dairy industry and "beef" industry...and that it is not that Brazilian farmers are particularly cruel, because we see the same casual cruelty on dairy farms across the globe (where the soy grown in Brazil is fed to farmed animals in other parts of the world).

To put simply, consuming dairy, meat, and leather contributes to the wholesale destruction of rainforests and contributes to immense nonhuman suffering.

At the end of the film is the call to action: Reduce consumption of meat, dairy, and leather.


This is what I generally (and perhaps unfairly) think about environmentalists - they don't want to have to challenge real-world, daily norms that cause significant suffering and environmental degradation. They don't want to have to implement easy dietary changes, despite overwhelming evidence that global meat, dairy, and egg production contribute significantly to climate change, air & groundwater pollution, and desertification of the rainforests.

Think about it - many of the environmental issues that environmentalists opine about are so grand, so large that it can be VERY difficult for the average consumer to make meaningful change. I cannot tackle oil, gas, coal, nuclear, or even the big agribusiness companies. I cannot match their billions of dollars, their lobbyists, and their economic incentive to keep on keeping on, our earth be damned.

So environmentalists cling to things that are not bad, per se - buy hybrid vehicles, solar panels, turn off the light when you leave the room, modify how high you leave your thermostat, etc. But they ignore the biggest contributor to the destruction of our worldwide ecosystem - farmed animal agriculture and the plant agriculture that feeds that system.

I meet very few environmentalists actively advocating veganism, seeing the connection between animal agribusiness and planetary destruction. ALMA was the first film I saw that actively encouraged people to look at their dietary habits (not needs) and how they impact our planet.

ALMA gives you two reasons to care about who you eat - if you are unnmoved by the shivering, petrified cow as he stares in abject fear at the "box" where his herd-mates bellow during their deaththroes, then you should be moved by the total disregard for the welfare of orangutans, trees, monkeys, parrots, turtles, and ants whose bold beautiful web of life is crushed in the drive for more dead cow flesh, more dead cow skin, more soybeans to feed cows across the world. It may happen in Brazil, but its impacts are felt throughout the globe.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Surry County Shelter Thinks 86% Kill Rate is Progress

The spokesperson for Surry County Animal Shelter attributes their reduction in intake of dogs and cats to two factors:
* Preaching spay and neuter
* More attention on other agencies (you know, non profit rescues) who adopt animals instead of killing them (the shelter spokesperson does not say that specifically).

The article is titled "Good News for County Animal Shelter" but if you are a dog or especially cat in Surry County, North Carolina, you might have better luck on the streets of Surry County than behind the doors of the "shelter".

If you are a Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Chow Chow - or any dog resembling these types of dogs - you are unadoptable by Surry County standards. You are most likely killed. Remember, euthanasia means a "good death" provided to irremediably ill animals. It is not applicable in situations when healthy, adoptable dogs are killed because of how they look.

I am going to go out on a limb and make my own conjecture about the "reduction" in intake - people have learned the Surry County Shelter kills too many animals. The public objects to the unnecessary killing of adoptable animals and certainly 77-94% of dogs and cats are not all unadoptable.

2012 - 2,979/3,476 dogs and cats killed (does not include wildlife and other domestic animals) - 86% of incoming dogs and cats killed.
2011 - 3,720/4,100 dogs and cats killed - 90% incoming dogs and cats killed.
2010 - 3,526/3,926 animals killed - 90% incoming dogs and cats killed.

I do not know about you, but a reduction of 4% fewer animals killed is hardly a celebratory moment.

While the shelter seems to pat itself on the back for fewer animals being brought in, I am mostly disappointed. We have a social contract with municipal shelters. We pay them to provide appropriate care to needy animals and rehome them. We do not pay them to shirk their duties by killing so many animals that no one wants to bring dogs and cats to them!

What exactly, aside from preaching about spay/neuter, is the shelter really doing to increase adoptions and reduce intakes?

Are they, for example, on social media networks promoting the crap out of adoptable animals? Um. No.

Are they on Petfinder promoting the dozens and dozens of dogs and cats needing homes? Well, not really. Their Petfinder page lists 9 dogs currently. Cats, sucks to be you.

Are they encouraging volunteership and promotion of adoptable animals? Well, they ban volunteers from taking photos and fire them when they do, so I guess not.

Are they open after traditional work hours and on weekends? Nope.

It seems they are just enjoying the fact that they have to do their job even less!

For an in depth look at the woes at Surry County Animal Shelter, go here.

Animal Place Featured in SF Chronicle

Shameless self-promotion of sanctuary where I work. SHAMELESS.

GRASS VALLEY, Nevada County -- Kim Sturla remembers the first time she saw Bruce.
He was standing on a muddy hillside in Vacaville, near starvation, some 300 pounds shy of what a pig should weigh.
"He was a skeleton with a hide over it," she said, her eyes welling up with tears. "Such immense neglect on every level."
Had he been a dog, maybe a horse, or perhaps something more exotic like a tiger or chimpanzee, someone other than Sturla might have cared.

Read more:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Culture of Rape in Steubenville

On August 11, 2012, a young teenage girl was raped and humiliated by at least two male students of Steubenville High in Ohio. Fellow students and party-goers did nothing to stop the assault, instead choosing to Instagram photos of the attack. 

The New York Times ran an article that received little attention, but it was a blogger that started the conversation about this particular crime. It has now finally reached the national media.

This rape highlights the horrifying nature of rape culture and how is infiltrates every aspect of our lives.

Marshall University has a succinct definition of rape culture. It includes examples of rape culture.

Examples of Rape Culture:

  • Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
    Friends and supporters of the accused point to the girl's drinking, lying to her parents about where she was going for the evening, and her tweets and postings indicating she was "promiscuous". 
  • Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
    One witness to the rape saw one of the accused rape the victim with his fingers. He told prosecutors that he did not think it was that serious of an offense.
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Inflating false rape report statistics
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
    Lawyers for the accused are using the victim's past twitter and other public posts to shame and malign her character.
  • Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
    Friends and supporters of the accused portray the victim as "loose" and a "whore" who lied to her parents so she could get drunk and have sex.
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
    Initially after the rape was reported, little was done. Only after pressure from a blogger, a New York Times article, and now with more national exposure does the community seem to be taking the accusations against these two students seriously.
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
    In my personal experience, I have
    only been taught by my prior educators to avoid getting raped. I imagine students of Steubenville High, if there is such a thing as discussion of sexual assault, are told the same.
I would add "bystanders witness sexual assault and do nothing to intervene." When the victim is a woman and she is not actively rejecting advances, she is automatically perceived as consenting...and so no one should assist. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

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

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

Half of intentional shootings by police are of dogs.

Police Shootings Of Non-Aggressive or Non-Injurious Dogs

A pregnant woman in Charlotte, North Carolina probably regrets asking police for help when she could not get into her home. She thought her husband might have needed assistance and called 911. Officers arrived as her husband finally opened the door. When the door opened, the woman's two family pets - two Pit Bulls - went outside to greet her. The officer immediately opened fire, mortally injuring one. The other dog, injured, ran off petrified for her life. The pregnant woman held her dog as he died. She needed to be treated for hyperventilation and elevated blood pressure (not good for pregnancy) for, you know, having to hold her companion animal as he died from a bullet to the neck. The other dog will be fine. No one said 'hey, sorry about killing your dog!' That'll learn you for calling 911. Link

A Chicago police officer shot a 30-lb miniature Bull Terrier puppy for apparently wagging his tail too much. The dog was not acting aggressive when he was shot at least twice. The dog is expected to survive and the family is suing. Police came back the next day to write a ticket for having a loose dog. Nice. Link

Chicago police strike again, shooting a dog described as a Pit Bull multiple times, but not killing the dog. The officers were chasing robbery suspects. One made it into a home and released the dog "siccing" him on officers so poorly that the dog did not do anything but get shot. The dog is still alive. Link

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On the Backs of the Exploited

Nonhuman vivsection is a double-edge sword. The results of behavioral studies have shown what many of us working with nonhumans already know - animals experience a wide array of emotions, engage in a wide variety of fascinating behavior, and are capable of tool usage, language, social bonding, jealousy, and deceit.

Ferdinand is a great liar!
For example, would you believe me if I told you I've witnessed a rooster lie? Maybe, but probably not. If I told you that a researcher studied this behavior and published in a peer-review journal his results, would you be more likely to agree? Peter Marler had witnessed what he thought were acts of deception in monkeys. It was too expensive and difficult to study the behavior in monkeys, so he selected chickens. This was the early 1990s and fellow researchers and the public were hardly receptive to complex behaviors, like deception, occurring in nonhumans they ate every day.

Chickens have more than 20 unique vocalizations that detail very specific concepts and "words" to their fellow flock. One of those calls means "I've found food" and is only exhibited in roosters. When a rooster makes this call, nearby hens will rush over to investigate. Offering food is a great way to curry favor with hens and roosters talented enough at finding food often find themselves with a bevvy of friendly hens.

Sometimes roosters make the call, though, and there's no food for the hens to eat. Peter Marler showed that this was intentional, that roosters purposely deceive hens. They do this only under certain circumstances, though. If a dominant rooster is nearby, they won't lie. If a less-dominant rooster is nearby, they may consider lying. If the hens are too far away, they will not lie...but if the hens are close, they will. This is incredible, if you think about it. It means the rooster needs to know the social state of fellow birds, the spatial distance of the hens and what's the "prime" calling time, and he needs to remember the last time he lied. Hens are not dumb - the more a rooster lied, the less likely they would respond to his particular call in the future.

And guess what? Marler was mocked by his fellow researchers. When UC Davis hosted a press conference revealing the study results, journalists found it unbelievable that chickens could exhibit such complex thinking patterns...and so they changed every single "rooster" to "monkey", because people could believe a monkey capable of lying but not a rooster.

When I tell visitors that roosters can lie, they are duly impressed and amazed. Lying requires a set of skills that not all of us have!

But vivisection, even observational behavioral studies, come at a cost. The nonhuman victims are often housed in inappropriate enclosures and, more importantly, are only valuable during the study period. Afterwards, most are killed.

Even more disturbing are the studies that show us how amazing and complex nonhumans are, but only if you disregard the welfare of the subject/victim.

Google Jack Panksepp. He's pretty much always believed nonhumans experience emotions similar to humans and that you could see it in their brain. He has been a speaker at PCRM's (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) Animals, Research, And Alternatives conference. He came up with seven networks of emotions that he always capitalizes to emphasize the inherent necessity of all seven in all species of mammals. They are: seeking, rage, fear, lust, panic/grief, and play. He considers them fundamental .

I wouldn't argue against his theories - it's my confirmation bias showing. I think nonhumans, both mammals, birds, and some fishes are capable of a wide array of emotions, many similar to our own.

But read about some of the studies he has done and tell me if you are able to get through the list without cringing, even a little:

  • In an attempt to discover whether play behavior relies on neural pathways in the primitive part of the brain or the more "advanced" part of the brain, portions of the rat's brain were removed. Lobotomized, essentially. They still played, by the way, because play behavior is thought to be the purview of the more primal brain. Which is amazing, because play is incredibly important for all social mammalian species.
  • Rats had a stomach tube inserted that would pump sugar water directly into their stomach if they pressed a lever. One rat left unattended found the experience so pleasurable that he continued pumping sugar water into his stomach until he died.
  • Electrodes were inserted into rats' brains with different regions being stimulated. When areas of the brain associated with seeking or predatory aggression were stimulated, rats would continually press the levers to stimulate that area. When the area of the brain stimulated was associated with anger or rage, rats would avoid pressing the lever. Seeking is pleasurable, anger is not.
  • Puppies were injected with morphine and removed from their mothers. The more morphine they were given, the less panic-stricken they were at maternal separation. Morphine stimulates the same regions of the brain that maternal bonding does.
  • Guinea pigs had electrodes inserted into their brain, in an area that elicits very primal, very scary (to the guinea pig) distress calls. 
  • To study the importance of play in social development, rats were socially isolated for multiple hours and then re-introduced to other rats. Those who had been separated exhibited stunted social skills. 
Since Panksepp studies neuroscience, inflicting punishment or pleasure on the brain is part of his research.  

His results are indeed amazing. He was thought a fringe, extremist...someone who committed the greatest sin of scientific research involving animals - anthropomorphism or ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman animals. You cannot legally say a dog is happy when he playbows if you are in a room full of neuroscientists. 

How do I reconcile my feelings of distress and horror at casual acts of brutality with the results that boost public opinion on nonhumans? For example, there is literally no alternative to studying nonhuman neuroscience without accessing brains. None. So there is no escaping exploiting non-consenting animals. I cannot (will not) support that.

But is it right to use data that involved unnecessary suffering, pain, and death to reduce the suffering of other nonhumans? You tell me, please.