Wednesday, September 28, 2011

O, That I Could Fly!

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

—George Eliot

[Art by Gustav Klimt.]

The Bond: The Money Flow, The Victims, The Need for Change

Whew! I finally finished Wayne Pacelle’s The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them. The text is easy to read, the details difficult to digest.

If you’re already concerned about large-scale animal welfare, or you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’re probably familiar by now with most of the anecdotes Pacelle delivers. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these stories, you may be assured that Pacelle’s storytelling lacks emotion and even omits many of the goriest details. That is to say that the book doesn’t trot out one horror after another. Nor is it one sweet, transspecies friendship tale after another. It’s a mix, heavily loaded with the accomplishments and failures of the Humane Society of the United States (for which Pacelle is CEO) and its efforts to change the world.

I know the HSUS isn’t everybody’s favorite animal advocacy organization. But despite how you may feel about it, and despite your dietary choices, you should read this book—especially if you’re a registered U.S. voter. The Bond shows U.S. lawmakers and lobbyists in action, and it’s appalling. Sure, we have an idea about how legislation gets passed and the shenanigans of the process. We need look no further than the recent impasses regarding federal expenditures. But the blatant pettiness of these politicians plus their attentiveness to a tiny fraction of the people they represent and their total disregard for matters that don’t immediately create wealth for someone are exposed in The Bond. The book should goad every American voter to at least monitor the voting records of his/her Congresspeople. We should find out who is working for whom and then speak out about it or vote accordingly.

Here’s a short list of facts about government agencies and laws that should get your dander up:

“Almost as a rule, high-ranking political appointees at the USDA come straight out of corporate positions in the meat industry. And they don’t see much difference between their jobs in government and their jobs in the industry.”
Which is to say that neither our safety nor animals’ suffering is top of mind for these bureaucrats.

“[T]he USDA doesn’t apply the humane slaughter laws to poultry, even though birds are more than 95 percent of all animals slaughtered (about 9 billion chickens and 250 million turkeys are killed each year).”
This closely parallels the Animal Welfare Act…

The Animal Welfare Act sets the minimum care standards for animals used in testing. Yet the law doesn’t cover lab-bred rats, mice, and birds because the “research industry excluded them in the definition of ‘animal.’”
Oh, if they only had a dictionary…

“The U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service admonish forest users to ‘never feed bears,’ but they make an exception for baiters who dump millions of pounds of food in the woods during the hunting season in order to get an easy shot. The bears regularly visit the bait sites—making them less wary of people and more inclined to raid other human trash resources.”
I thought I understood the term “bear baiting,” but I had no idea how much it resembles a canned hunt.

As you can imagine, The Bond has been a slow, painful read for me. I’m grateful Pacelle didn’t include any photographs. He did make me laugh at one point, though, in a chapter about the aerial hunting of wolves and polar bears. A quote from a pro-aerial hunting Alaskan governor represents, for me, the mindset of too many people:

“You just can’t let nature run wild.”
—Walter Hickel

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ode to the Comma

t’s National Punctuation Day again. In the spirit of the celebration, here’s an excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The character speaking is Renée, a 54-year-old widowed concierge who hides her intelligence (I modified the typography slightly for easier comprehension):

Madame Michel,
Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner’s this afternoon?

I’ll pick them up at your loge this evening.
Scribbled signature

I was not prepared for such an underhanded attack. I collapse in shock on the nearest chair. I even begin to wonder if I am not going mad. Does this have the same effect on you, when this sort of thing happens?

Let me explain:

The cat is sleeping.

You’ve just read a harmless little sentence, and it has not caused you any pain or sudden fits of suffering, has it? Fair enough.

Now read again:

The cat, is sleeping.

Let me repeat it, so that there is no cause for ambiguity:

The cat comma is sleeping.

The cat, is sleeping.

Would you be so kind as, to sign for.

On the one hand we have an example of a prodigious use of the comma that takes great liberties with language, as said commas have been inserted quite unnecessarily, but to great effect:
I have been much blamed, both for war, and for peace …

And on the other hand, we have this dribbling scribbling on vellum, courtesy of Sabine Pallières, this comma slicing the sentence in half with all the trenchancy of a knife blade:

Would you be so kind as, to sign for the packages from the dry cleaner’s?

If Sabine Pallières had been a good Portuguese woman born under a fig tree in Faro, or a concierge who’d just arrived from the high-rise banlieues of Paris, or if she were the mentally challenged member of a tolerant family who had taken her in out of the goodness of their hearts, I might have whole-heartedly forgiven such guilty nonchalance. But Sabine Pallières is wealthy. Sabine Pallières is the wife of a bigwig in the arms industry. Sabine Pallières is the mother of a cretin in a conifer green duffle coat who, once he has his requisite diplomas and has obtained his Political Science degree, will in all likelihood go on to disseminate the mediocrity of his paltry ideas in a right-wing ministerial cabinet, and Sabine Pallières is, moreover, the daughter of a nasty woman in a fur coat who sits on the selection committee of a very prestigious publishing house and who is always so overloaded with jewels that there are days when I fear she will collapse from the sheer weight of them.

For all these reasons, Sabine Pallières has no excuse.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische; art from Serial Comma Killer.]

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumnal Clues in the Bluegrass

Autumn has officially arrived. Yet my husband and I suspected it was on its way a couple of weeks ago.

As we strolled through our neighborhood, we noticed new colors and textures dotting the trees. They were preparing—impressively, I thought—for seasonal change. I tried to capture some of their splendor on my phone for you.

Sorrowful News About Barbie

As National Farm Animals Awareness Week draws to a close, so has the life of Barbie.

Barbie lived the better part of her existence at Catskill Animal Sanctuary with her best friend, Rambo the Ram. She started out as a Broiler chicken, yet her lifespan was more than double that of her brethren who are sent to slaughter around 6 weeks of age, their huge mutant bodies already taxing their internal organs. They’re old within the first few months of their lives.

However, free-range chickens whose genetics haven’t been tampered with can live for 35 years.
Barbie was 3-1/2. She was fortunate to have found a home in CAS and to experience air and mobility and friendship.

[Top pic is Barbie. Little Evie of the Flying Ears is from Celtic Farm Animal Sanctuary, which had to close this year from lack of funding; someone adopted Evie. The bottom pics are from the Farm Sanctuary.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Art Be With You

With the intention of expanding my creative skills, I recently took up drawing. This quote handily summarizes my attempts:

“I’m gonna mess you up so badly, Stick Man, that when I’m finished with you, you’re just gonna be a scribble. Yeah!”
Sleep Talkin’ Man

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Old MacDonald Had A Farm …

E I E I O …

I passed a good deal of my childhood on my grandfather’s Midwestern hobby farms. He had the usual assortment of critters: horses, cows, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, and sheep. Snakes, turtles, deer, quail, and pheasants populated the woodlands and fields surrounding the farm. There was always something to see and do, and I had a million questions. My grandfather eagerly schooled me in the ways of nature and I hung on every word.

After a typical idyllic afternoon on the farm, my grandfather and I drove his Scout back home where he would prepare our main course for dinner: steak. While he grilled outside, the very young me sat down to write nearby.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“I’m writing to Congress and the President.”

He chuckled. “What for?”

I explained that I’d read something in my Ranger Rick magazine about people killing cows for food. I was furious at grown-ups for their callousness and I intended to stop them through legislation. My grandfather stepped away from his grill.

Poor man. Some adults dread having the sex talk with children; others the drugs talk. In my family, it would be any kind of discussion with me that involved the demise of animals.

That’s when I learned that the juicy steaks I’d looked forward to eating had once roamed the farm with the bovine herd I loved. I had no idea.

I put down my pen. I could no longer complain about slaughterhouses since I was as much a murderer. I stepped down from my soapbox.

This moment in my history surfaced because it’s National Farm Animals Awareness Week. Unlike National Chicken Month, this celebration originated with the Humane Society of the United States and promotes the animals themselves rather than the consumption of them.

I’m honoring the occasion by reading The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle. He’s the HSUS President and explains some of the legislation his organization has been working on to change agribusiness. I’ll no doubt reference this book in future posts. For now, I’d prefer to share a short anecdote about the emotions of cows:

“[Rosamund Young] has absolutely no doubt that cows feel all the major emotions that humans do. … “How about surprise?” I asked, remembering that some philosophers claim that animals cannot feel surprise because they cannot anticipate the future. “Well,” she said, “how about this? My Welsh black cow had six black calves, and then one day she produced a pure white calf (she had been mated with a Charolais bull). She came round to our door and stared at us with a look that was easy to read: ‘Are you sure it’s mine?’”
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

[Pics of calves from the Farm Sanctuary.]

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rescued Is My Favorite Breed.

Oh. My. Dog.

Yesterday I failed to list the most obvious and greatest thing you can do for the Podencos and Galgos of Spain: Adopt one.

No matter where you live, the rescue groups will work together to get the pooch to you. Because the goal is not to shelter the dogs, it’s to rehome them.

[Pics from SOS Galgos and Galgos del Sol.]

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spain Preserves Dark Ages Mentality

If you’ve ever followed a travel program on television—Gwyneth Paltrow in Spain … On the Road Again or Rick Steves’ Through the Back Door—or watched Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, you’ve probably fallen head-over-heels for Spain. You’re familiar with its lovely landscapes, mosaic cities, and scrumptious cuisine. However, Spain keeps one of its worst secrets in the countryside, and I have to expose it in order for you to understand the crisis of a struggling shelter that needs our help.

Some animal welfare laws exist in Spain yet are not enforced, which is how the centuries-old boar- and hare-hunting practices continue. Hunters, called galgueros, use Galgos—a Spanish greyhound, cousin to the greyhounds known in the U.S. and the U.K.—and Podencos as their main “tools” and discard them at the end of EACH hunting season. Hunters spend as little time and money as possible in caring for these tools, typically confining the creatures to dirty, dark quarters with little water and food every few days. The dogs’ only “freedom” is hunting. When the season is over, they’re taken a distance from the hunters’ homes and 1) Tied to a fence or tree so they won’t return, 2) Tortured so they won’t return, 3) Taken to a “killing station,” or 4) Hung. (No hyperbole here. This is the G-rated version of how these dogs are treated.) Before the next hunting season rolls around, the hunters go to one of the innumerable Galgos puppy mills to buy a fresh tool.

The plight of the Galgos can hardly be blamed on only one segment of Spain’s population, though. The handful of shelters in Europe trying to rescue abandoned Galgos have found that folks in Spain don’t see them as pets—which is why, I suppose, they can walk by an injured or emaciated pooch and not only do nothing for it, but not think twice about it. So the shelters search for adopters in neighboring and distant countries.

Add to this the recent global economic tailspin and … voilà! … families are abandoning pets in record numbers alongside the Galgos. The shelters are overwhelmed. The granddaddy of them all—Scooby Medina, founded by Fermin Perez—has more than 500 dogs in its care now and, for the first time in its history, is having to turn away pooches in need. What’s more, Scooby lost its one lifeline it could count on: a subsidy of 3,000 euros a month. It was never enough, but it was the bread-and-butter of the operation.

In desperation and with only 5 months’ worth (now 4.5) of resources to continue operating, Scooby started Project 3000. Their aim is to get 600 supporters to pledge 5 euros a month for an entire year. That will make up for the loss of the subsidy. In dollar talk (and rounded up), Scooby should have at least $50,000 per year/$4,200 per month to care for the dogs. That’s a pledge of $7 a month for 600 people who care. And if more people knew about the Galgos, then Scooby could get even more money.

How We Can Help
1. Promote the cause.
Send a link [] to this post to everyone you know who cares about animals—especially those in Europe. E-mail it, put it on Facebook, blog about it, Tweet about it.
2. Give money. You can donate through PayPal (this link works for the U.S.), visit Scooby’s Web site for country-specific payment options, or write to U.S. Scooby volunteer Ms. Diane Ward at
3. Create a coat. That’s right—if you sew, use your skills for the Galgos. They’re very sensitive to the cold. You can even download a pattern from Galgo Rescue International Network (G.R.I.N.).
4. Send a letter to legislators. It’s time to stop the barbarians. Acknowledge cruelty for what it is and stop euphemizing it as “tradition” or “culture.” G.R.I.N. has contact info listed.

“Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty therefore, are not so much strong as widespread. But the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought. Let us work that this time may come.”
—Albert Schweitzer

5. Sign petitions. There are a number of petitions out there to reform animal welfare laws in Europe and Spain. Scooby has links to a few.

I know you’re tugged at for all kinds of causes. And you may wonder why, with all the recent weather-related tragedies alone, I’m obsessing over some hunting dogs across the ocean that most people have never heard of. I guess it’s their very lack of celebrity that make the Galgos the most needy of the voiceless.

Let’s make Albert Schweitzer proud and show our humanity in the name of the Galgos. Get the word out, get the credit card out, and get the Galgos the help they deserve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Tree for Tuesday

A few weeks ago, my husband and I wandered the Bluegrass and ended up picnicking at the Italianate home of Cassius Clay (a most interesting resident of the Commonwealth). There, warding off ne’er-do-wells, was this sign:

Richard Horan, author of Seeds, and naturalist John Muir would have been proud. I wish the sign had given us a clue about the age and history of the evergreen, but I was happy just to know that someone cared about it.

“Trees outstrip most people in the extent and depth of their work for the public good.”
—Sara Ebenreck

Monday, September 12, 2011

Leaving Her Mark on a Stamp

A fancy-schmancy drop cap has graced many a post on Lull, and most of them have been designed by artist Jessica Hische. She’s done projects for the likes of Target, Kellogg’s, and Entertainment Weekly.

Her latest news is that she worked on a new LOVE stamp for the United States Post Office. It will be released next year, along with others that may be seen at Beyond the Perf.

Congratulations, Jessica!
(and thanks for all the free drop caps!)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9.11: Ten Years On, An Eternity Ahead

It’s here again. Yet another year has rolled by since September 11, 2001.

In observance of the first-year anniversary, my husband and I chose to thumb our noses at terrorism by taking a transatlantic flight on September 11, 2002. It felt great to be among the “courageous” few in the air that day. From London to Chicago, we felt invincible.

In observance of this anniversary, as everyone remembers the heroes and victims of the day, I have one message: Don’t forget about the dogs.

More than 300 pooches (no one knows the exact number because some came as part of an organized effort, others showed up with handlers out of the blue) searched the 9.11 sites for people, living or dead. You can see them in action in the video Hero Dogs of 9/11 at Dog Files.

As you watch, you’ll get a sense of the scale of the disaster and wonder how those dogs fared afterward. Did they, like the human workers, suffer from cancers, respiratory diseases, and various other ailments? Surprisingly No, according to a study conducted by the very vet, Cynthia Otto, who was at Ground Zero administering care to the canines.

As dogs’ lives are distressingly short, the 9.11 rescue dogs are now either old or have moved on to another world. The New York Times has a slide show of the oldsters, who will soon be published in the new book Retrieved by Charlotte Dumas. There’s a 10th anniversary edition out of Dog Heroes of September 11th and a Web site of related pics. For the dogs who participated in the health study, Otto created a memorial to the ones who’ve passed on.

So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.

—From a Jewish prayer

[Photo from Dog Files.]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seeing Value in Every Life Form

On my last trip to the library, I intended to drop off the books that were due and hightail it out of there. But naturally, I couldn’t walk past the shelves of New Arrivals without glancing at the titles. I came home with three books that are due back in short order.

Though the subject matter of two of those books—vision loss and parenting a disabled child—seem out of step with my usual library choices, it turns out that they’re not. At least, the one I’ve finished reading isn’t.

The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son is a loving, brutally honest account of the moment-by-moment challenges parents with severely disabled children confront (in this case, a kid with cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome). The “father” in the title is journalist Ian Brown, who reveals his tale in engaging, unsentimental prose.

Brown didn’t write his memoir to gain our sympathy. Though I’m sure he could list any number of reasons for sharing his life so intimately with the world, the one that stood out to me was his quest to know whether his son’s life (and, thereby, the lives of all extremely disabled individuals) has purpose, meaning, value—and whether Life, in turn, offers purpose, meaning, and value to his son.

This is the $64 million question, isn’t it? It threads through everything I read and everything I think about (National Chicken Month, for instance), even when I don’t want to think about it. I would guess you think about it, too.

Ignoring the usual “God’s Will–God’s Angel” explanation for disabled children, Brown explores the science behind genetic mutations and discusses historical and current perceptions of disabilities. His encounter with author and scholar Gilles Le Cardinal is the book’s payoff. If you’ve ever worried or wondered about quality of life for people who have extreme disabilities, or if you’ve ever cast that proverbial stone at a family who sent a disabled relative to a group home to live, Le Cardinal will change your outlook. The Boy in the Moon is worth reading if only to understand Le Cardinal’s research and teaching philosophy.

The Boy in the Moon reminds me—as have Mary Oliver’s nature poems and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon—that it’s easy but not appropriate to filter life through one’s personal experiences and cultural norms. Neither my culture nor anyone else’s is the standard by which the rest of the world should be measured. Whether we’re regarding the lives of humans, animals (nonhuman), plants, or organisms, we should honor this truth from Brown’s memoir:
“There’s no lesser than. There’s just different from.”
—Bruce Blumberg, geneticist

Friday, September 9, 2011

Going Blind Is No Biggie

On my last trip to the library, I picked up Coping with Vision Loss: Understanding the Psychological, Social, and Spiritual Effects from the New Arrivals shelves. Here’s an excerpt from page 3 of the Introduction by authors Cheri Colby Langdell and Tim Langdell:

“Losing one’s sight does not resemble losing a limb. One is not disabled in quite the same way, and in fact, as we shall show in this book, one need not think of oneself as disabled or challenged at all. The blind person is not constantly conscious of any sense of loss; instead, the personality changes somewhat, but the person is still the same whole person as before.”

Now, dear readers, what do you think of that assessment? Please, please tell me your thoughts and I’ll tell you mine.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reading, Writing, and … Oh, Wait! They Can’t “See Spot Run!”

Today is International Literacy Day, an observance started by UNESCO in the 1960s. This year the theme is Peace, a notion that through literacy comes understanding.

You might think of literacy as a third-world problem we should help eradicate. However, illiteracy is homegrown as well. Twenty countries in the world have a higher literacy rate than the U.S.; 24 other countries tie with the U.S. for the next spot on the rankings list. Naturally, some of these countries are much smaller than the U.S., but even so …

One Thanksgiving in the early ’90s, my husband and I returned to Chicago from our out-of-state holiday with a Christmas tree for our living room and a large wreath for our downstairs (i.e., basement-dwelling) neighbors. They were an elderly couple, yet perhaps not as ancient as they looked—their skin the type brought on by poor diet and a hardscrabble life. We mounted the wreath on their door and left a Christmas card with it so they’d know the next morning who had left it (i.e., so they wouldn’t worry about how it had gotten there).

They were perplexed anyway. And soon our happy gesture of holiday spirit became an embarrassment on several levels.

The elderly couple couldn’t read. Couldn’t make out the simplest of cards and certainly couldn’t puzzle through my handwritten note. They sheepishly showed us the card and asked for our help in deciphering it. We made a joke, I think, about my poor penmanship to deflect the sorry truth of the matter, but it broke my heart.

More recently, I met a woman who is my age with only a third-grade education. Not illiterate, but deeply impaired when it comes to reading and writing. She cleans houses for a living, but has higher aspirations: to be a caregiver to an elderly woman. She’s daunted by the GED she needs to pursue this goal.

I’ve been creating exercises for her to improve not only her language skills but also her confidence. She needs a lot of confidence to go after that GED. I realize she may never reach that point: too much ground to cover. But if I could boost her English skills enough for her reading and comprehension to be pleasurable and easy—enough to open new doors for her and introduce her to lives and cultures and ideas she has no access to now—that would be something, wouldn’t it?

The readers of the world are so fortunate. I’m grateful, today especially, to be one of them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bug Eyes

I watched this little fellow play up and down our car window the other day.

It’s poured rain ever since. Now I wonder how he’s getting along.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cluck, Cluck, Cluck: Let the Holidays Begin!

While perusing the Web this weekend I discovered that September is National Chicken Month. Intrigued, I dug deeper, only to find the shallow origins of the “celebration.”

Basically, the National Chicken Council—which represents “chicken producers, processors, and distributors”—wants us to eat more chicken. And to advocate their mission, they’ll give us every resource we need to be informed consumers: an abundance of how-to info in buying, preparing, and cooking the birds.

All I have to say to that is, “Ew.”

I’m all for a National Chicken Month, but one devoted to the chicken. A month during which we study and appreciate chickens—the range of breeds, the endangered breeds, the plumage, the color palette, the personalities.

If you want to celebrate national Chicken Month my way, treat yourself to a viewing of the quirky documentary The Natural History of the Chicken. Read the tale of an urban chicken who, stolen from her backyard, brings a community together. See how chickens live when they’re not enslaved on a factory farm.

Take a moment to see chickens AS chickens, and not as dinner. This month, celebrate the intrinsic value of every chicken.

“I am sometimes asked ‘Why do you spend so much of your time and money talking about kindness to animals when there is so much cruelty to men?’ I answer: ‘I am working at the roots.’”
—George T. Angell

[The photographer of the Japanese Onagadori (first photo) is unknown; the other pics (from top to bottom)—the Faverolle Rooster, Silkie Rooster, Frizzle Hens, and Splash Polish Rooster—are from Chicken Pics.]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Another Labor Day? Just Another Day for the Jobless

Say what you will about unions, but until all businesses and organizations are run by socially responsible, compassionate people who serve their employees and community as well as their shareholders and themselves, we need ’em.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Finding Internal Peace

“Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands—a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world.”
—Sidney Lovett

[Pic from Yosemite Riverside Inn.]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stranger In A Strange Land – No. 20

On my way home yesterday from an outing, I passed an area in my neighborhood where I usually see lots of folks walking their dogs. This time, I saw a man walking a miniature horse.

I realize I live in the Horse Capital of the World, but this was not what I expected to see on a city sidewalk.

It brought to mind an old memory. Years ago, our pooch met a minihorse and her new foal who had been brought in from the country to spice up our neighborhood Blessing for the Animals. Nearby stood a couple of full-sized horses carrying police officers. The pooch was certain in her assessment of the large equines, but she regarded the minis as if they’d just stepped off a spaceship. The pooch was ready to go home before the ceremony even started.

That’s the latest from my ’hood. What’s new in yours?

[Pic from a now defunct monastery of the Poor Clare Nuns.]

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, just select Stranger in a Strange Land from the right of Lull, under “Choose a topic that interests you.”
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