Tag Archives: animal welfare

Santa Bunny

perfume and cosmetics counter decorated for ChristmasThe cosmetics sections of stores have beautiful Christmas displays. Toiletries, creams and bath oils are lovely and easy gifts to give almost anyone. You can do it in one stop shopping in any drugstore or shop cruelty free logodepartment store. But look beyond the pretty packaging. Think of the how the products were made before you start loading up your cart. Look for the bunny or something saying that the product was not tested on animals.

rabbit's eye in cosmetic testThis is what happens to the animals who get sprayed in the eyes or lathered with potentially damaging ingredients so that you can safely stick cosmetics or cleaning products in your eyes. Most of these product formulas are long established and proven in the industry. Also other means of testing for adverse reaction now exist. Animal testing is not needed.

Beagle with side shaved for lab testingBut many companies still do it. Avoiding buying their products can easily be done, but you do have to read labels. Familiarizing yourself with company names that do animal testing can allow you to take shopping shortcuts by just avoiding those brands totally. Do you need to buy from the company that does this to animals?

Finding cruelty-free products

St. Ives lotion no animal testing labelRevlon, Avon and Almay are some of the big cosmetic companies that do not do animal testing.* Neither do Physicians Formula and Smashbox. For lotions and cleansers, St. Ives**. Burt’s Bees** has a greatly expanded line of cruelty-free skin care. Body Shop products say they’re not tested on animals and that Fair Trade ingredients are used. But the Burt's Bees display in Sears cosmetic sectioncompany is owned by L’Oreal, which still tests on animals. That’s a situation where you have to make a judgment call: do you support the ethical branches of a corporation or boycott all lines.

Tints of Nature organic cruelty-free hair dyeHair dye is not something usually given as a Christmas gift but may be part of holiday preparations. I had a hard time finding any hair dye made by companies I knew didn’t test on animals. Then in an aisle of the Atlantic Superstore, way across the store from other skin and hair products, I found a whole section of holistic, organic and cruelty-free lotions, creams, shampoos and conditioners – and two brands of hair dye. Wahoo!

By looking for the “odd” items in pharmacy, grocery and department stores, I found cruelty-free products in my own small towns without ordering online or going to specialty stores. The big names like St. Ives and Revlon are in the cosmetics sections, but there is usually a section somewhere with cruelty-free and/or organic less well-known brands. In the St. Thomas Zellers, for instance, I found that on the other side of the main cosmetics and toiletries shelves there was a whole section of organic and “not tested on animals” lotions and cleansers. They were no more expensive.

Make your own gift sets

As I did, you might find a whole range of neat stuff you never knew about.  If you basket of cruelty-free productsplanned to get pre-made gift baskets of toiletries as easy to buy and easy to please gifts, just put your own together. I found lots of small bottles, sample bath salts and facial packs and soaps. Put them in a basket or box with tissue and ribbon and voilà – a personalized Christmas gift basket.

* See update on changes in companies’ practices in Oct. 30/13 post.

** According to Vegan Rabbit, Burt’s Bees is another of the no-cruelty companies that has an animal-testing parent company. Also there is discussion as to whether St. Ives is still cruelty-free, but the labelling I have seen recently still says no animal testing.

Click Cruelty-free Beauty for my Amazon links to available ethical products.

Merry Solstice

Whatever the name of the event you’re celebrating, Happy It. The one thing that all the festivities happening at the time of the winter solstice solstice Christmas tree with Elsie cathave in common is that they are celebrations of life and giving and sacrifice.

It’s supposed to be a happy time and that is exactly why it often isn’t. One thing I always enjoy, in my jaundiced view of the hype of buying and getting and enforced cheeriness, is giving away. Money, time or stuff – no matter how grinch-like I’ve felt, writing cheques for charity and putting money in the Salvation Army kettles always makes me feel good.

Charities rely on that feeling of goodwill in people. Food banks need the festive season generosity of donors for the bleak months that follow. When people are still paying off December debts and, in our hemisphere, feeling the cold and dark of winter, donations drop. The reserve from December gets them through.

Animal shelters need money and supplies to deal with the numbers of animals dumped on them during and after the Big Day(s). The puppy, so cute with a big red bow, a month later is making a mess in the house that nobody has time to deal with, so out puppy goes. “She needs Charlie under tree opening presentsa home where somebody’s home all day”, they say to shelter staff tired after having heard that 20 times that day.

Food banks, soup kitchens, animal shelters: all staffed by volunteers who also would like some time off for holiday celebrations. They know their work will increase in the coming months. But people and animals still need to eat every day. So if you’re not doing anything – and even if you are – can you spare a few hours? Can you serve at the church basement dinner so that one of the regular workers can put his or her feet up and relax?

Easy Solstice giving

When you’re knocking fellow shoppers over at Wal-Mart to get the last-minute toy for your kid’s gift list, why not grab a second one? Give it to some other kid who won’t be getting it from his parents. When you’re getting a new hair bow for Fifi because it’s so cute, why not pick up a dog brush for your local animal shelter? They always need leashes, collars, bowls and supplies. If you don’t have a birdfeeder, buy one and a bag of seed for your spouse or kid. It’s a long, cold winter for little birds.

When you’re figuring out your holiday meal place settings, add another one for a neighbour who is alone. Or maybe they’d rather not join your family but would appreciate a hot plate of food or a homemade pie.

cats under Christmas treeI spent one Christmas alone in a new apartment. I’d made toys for the cats and was happy to spend the day with them. Then my landlord’s son came to my door, holding a foil-wrapped plate. “Mom thought you might like this,” he said and scurried away. It was the most delicious Christmas meal ever, and not just because she was a good cook. It was that they had thought of me. Have a wonderful Solstice and Season.

In Memoriam: Mya

Last night a friend called.  She and her husband had to put their lovely young dog to Doberman Pinscher Myasleep.  Mya, a beautiful Doberman Pinscher.  On Saturday, she was ill and her vet diagnosed her with Dilated Cardiomyopathy.  They were familiar with this heart disease, a congestive failure too common in Dobermans.  They knew it meant probably only months left of life.  But with Mya it went blazingly fast.  By Tuesday, she was so sick and tests showed nothing could be done.  So they did the only humane thing they could.

The Doberman they’d had before, Sasha, also developed it.  They took her to the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and found out that it’s a common congenital problem for several breeds of large dogs, but especially prevalent in Dobermans.  It usually hits anywhere between 2 and 6 years of age.  Perhaps Dobes are more prone to it because of their huge chests and huge hearts.  Both Sasha and Mya had big hearts and loved their people and their friends, both dog and human, deeply.

Doberman research at U of Guelph

The disease progressed in Sasha quite rapidly, but slowly compared to Mya.  Sasha became part of a research experiment at the OVC in Guelph.  A doctor wanted to find out why this disease is so prevalent in Dobes and can it be eradicated.  After a few months of living with it, Sasha succumbed to it.

My dog Jack missed Sasha; they were best friends.  We’d go to the park he usually met her at, and he’d watch the road.  Every truck that sounded like hers would cause him to run to the fence, looking and hoping.  Jack never got to know Mya.  He was getting old and sick himself, and Mya was a very rambunctious puppy.

My new dogs, after Jack passed away, became friends with the young adult Mya.  She was much bigger than either of them, but they played and chased each other.  They’d just hang out together and go to whomever they thought might have treats and mooch.  Mya’s long, pointed nose would push into your pocket to see what you had.

We ran into her just last Friday evening, along with several others of Mya’s good friends.  So she had a fine time, running and wrestling.  That was her last run, but it was a good one.

When your house is too quiet

Last night, petting the cats lying beside me, I thought of how quiet Mya’s house must dogs wearing poppiesseem without her there.  She was an only pet.  It would be different for me, I thought, if one died there are others.  There still would be the life sounds of 4-footed creatures.  But then I remembered when Jack died and, soon after, a cat Henry.  With both of them, there was a huge hole in the house.  A void felt by humans and other cats alike.  New ones come along and make their own place in heart and household, but the memory and loss of the ones who are gone remain.

You will be remembered, Mya, and you are loved.  Rest in peace, beautiful girl. Feb. 6, 2007 – June 28, 2011

Circus Cirque

circus cirque Quidam poster, from Cirque du Soleil siteWe went to see Cirque du Soleil at London’s John Labatt Centre recently.  The show, Quidam, was fabulous.  Also the first circus I’ve been to at the JLC with no protestors outside. When my husband said he’d bought tickets, I said “but they don’t have animals!”

Yes, I’ve been to other circuses at the JLC.  Took the protestors’ pamphlets, walked on into the show and enjoyed it.  I listened to the ring master talk about the protestors and about how the circus looks after their animals.

Googling circus and anti-circus sites didn’t help clarify my thoughts on animal acts.  I hate the thought of any animal being mistreated in training or living conditions.  I also love seeing the animals in circuses.  I’ve hung out on as many circus back lots as I could before, during and after shows.  Whether they were rehearsing, feeding or relaxing, I never saw anything between people and animals that looked bad.

horses, Kelly Miller CircusI’ve thought a lot about this – am I contravening my beliefs by attending every circus I can?  I don’t know.  If I knew that a particular circus, or trainer, was truly known to abuse their animals, then I would want to see them stopped.  But are they all bad?  I can’t just agree, yes they are, without knowing from independent sources.  The anti-circus, animal rights people say all circuses are bad.  Circuses say they treat their animals well and that they’re doing great things for animal protection.  What do non-biased, non-involved sources say?  Those are thin on the ground.

elephant pulling up tent peg, Kelly Miller CircusAnimal lovers are animal lovers, and animal abusers are animal abusers.  Both will be found in any animal-related endeavour.  So stop having performance and entertainment that involves animals, you say.  Ok, what happens then to those animals?

The elephants, big cats and bears could go to a zoo.  Oh that will be a nice life for them. Day in, day out in an enclosure, eating, standing, sleeping.  Go back to “the wild.”  Is that workable for domesticated creatures?  And what wild?  Poachers, loss of territory and human encroachment have decimated elephant and big cat populations.  There ain’t no viable “wild” for them to return to, even if they could fend for themselves.

Circus Life

And the circus people – what would they do?  There’s a vibrant culture in circus life that Kelly Miller Circus reptile display, elephant ridesshould be esteemed as a national treasure.  These are multi-generational families of skilled artists whose talents should be lauded.  Troupes like Cirque du Soleil are probably not the answer for them.  I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that Cirque du Soleil has a different ethos, traveling manner, history and way of life than that of the long-standing circuses.  Traditional circus people winter in Florida, not Las Vegas.

I remember 1999, the last visit of the Kelly Miller big top circus to St. Thomas.  I had never seen a circus in an actual tent.  They erected it on vacant land at Centre and Moore Streets.  It was magical inside the tent and, outside, barkers called you to see the snakes and games of chance.Tent down, ready to fold, Kelly Miller Circus

This was the final performance at this stop, and we watched them pack up.  The elephants pulled the tent down and the roustabouts folded it and packed it in the trucks.  When animals and people were all loaded into their vehicles, the long caravan pulled out for the next town.  All I wanted to do was follow them.

A Dog’s “Night before Christmas”

NIght before Christmas Dog Nicky an American Eskimo‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
with nary a thought of the dog in their heads.
Holly, one of a litter of 7, at ABCRescue Dec. 2010And Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap,
knew he was cold, but who cared about that?

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
the dog must be loose; he’s into the trash!

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
gave the luster of mid-day to objects below.
Donner, 1 of 7 pups rescued by ABCR Dec 2010When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but Santa Claus with eyes full of tears.

He unchained the dog, once so lively and quick,
last year’s Christmas gift, now thin and sick.

More rapid than eagles, he called the dog’s name,
and the dog went right to him, despite all his pain.
Prancer, 1 of 7 shepherd mix pups rescued by ABCR Dec 2010To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!!
Let’s find him a home where he’ll be loved by all!!

I knew in an instant there were not gifts this year.
For Santa had made our mistake very clear.
The gift of a dog is not just for the season,
we had gotten a pup for all the wrong reasons.

In our haste to think of a gift for the kids,
there was something important that we had missed.
A dog should be family, and cared for the same.
Blitzen-ON229.18048098-1-pnYou don’t give a gift, then put it on a chain.

And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight,

Author Unknown

Night before Christmas real ABCR dogs

I got this poem in my email yesterday.  Maybe a lot of people will be getting it in their inboxes.  I hope so.  In this adaptation of the familiar and kinda hokey poem, there’s a lot of truth.  The unfortunate part of the truth is too many pets end up in this situation.  The other truth is “you were given a gift – a life.”  That is the most valuable gift there is.

The dogs in the pictures are all at All Breed Canine Rescue, and all are hoping for the gift of a home.  At top is Nicky, the elderly and ill American Eskimo recently found abandoned. He’s the end of the sorry tale told above.

The pictures below him are the beginning of the story.  They are some of a litter of seven Vixen- 1 of litter of pups at ABCRescuepups recently removed from a situation of neglect.   I wonder if they were intended to be sold as Christmas gifts.  It didn’t work out so good.  But, in the spirit of the Season, these are now named (from top to bottom) , Holly, Donner, Prancer, Blitzen and at right Vixen.


Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 19/10)

Trash Kitties

Trev telling Janice about kittensTuesday at the Rovers, Trev says,  “Hey guess what I found today?  Two little kittens in a wheelie bin.” Janice says, “aah, really? Where are they now?” In a cardboard box at her flat, Trev says. No one else says anything, except to comment on Janice’s allergy to cats, out of Trev’s earshot. Living kittens were put inside a bin destined for the compactor end of a garbage truck. And no one comments on it??

It happens in real life. There are people uncaring and cruel enough to find that a way to solve their unwanted kitten and puppy dilemma. But they don’t do it thinking “a nice garbage collector will surely find them if I put them here”. They think this is an easy and cost-free way to get rid of animals. And it is, for them. It’s not for the animals that are crushed to death by the compactor. It’s also not for the garbage collector who may realize too late that a live animal is being crushed.

So if ever there was a moment crying out for a “public service” line to be written in easily and effectively, this was it! Janice saying “Whaatt? Kittens put in a wheelie bin? What pillock would do that?” would actually be more in character for her and would quickly convey that this is far from an “aah, cute little kitten-whittens” moment.

Janice may be allergic to cats, but that does not mean she is blind to animal cruelty. Even if the writers wanted Janice to appear so smitten with Trev that all she can do is be sweet and gooey, there were other people standing there. Leanne, Audrey – somebody should have said it, for the sake of realism as well as because it needed to be said.

Kittens and Cats PSA moment

kitten with Trev and Janice in flatI know from my interviews with Street production people that they do not put PSA content in just for the sake of “educating” the public. If social issues and education can be incorporated realistically into a plotline or character development, they do it. But they don’t want “clunk – here’s your educational bit.” That’s fair enough, and that’s good storytelling.

But here, in this brief scene setting up Janice and Trev’s relationship, was the perfect opportunity to get a plug in about responsible animal treatment. With the number of dogs and cats with real roles on Coronation Street over the years, I have always assumed there were “animal people” in the writing and production staff. So where were they the day this storyline was workshopped around the table?

Dog blankets, beds & coats needed! (Dec. 8/10)

dog blankets over little terrierAll Breed Canine Rescue needs beds for foster dogs.  If you have washable dog beds, fluffy blankets or towels would you please take them to K-9 Concepts (9830 Sunset Drive, just east of Talbotville). Or contact Linda at 519-631-5607 or rjspencer@sympatico.ca or Lois at 519-633-6226 or allbreedcaninerescue@sympatico.ca.  ABCR is being deluged with litters of puppies.  There aren’t enough foster homes and some are being boarded in kennels.

Where are they coming from?  Some at least are from people who thought having a litter and selling the pups would earn some extra Christmas money.  But the pups didn’t sell, so now they’re being killed or dumped on rescue groups.  ABCR is doing the best they can to get shots and vet care for the pups and find homes for them and help pay for the spaying of the mother dogs.  Money, foster homes and emergency provisions for this influx of puppies are all desperately needed.

Thrift Shop Dog Blankets

Hound dog sleeping on blanketI know recently I extolled the virtues of thrift shops for finding cheap mittens, socks and coats for your kids.  And, yes, there are also lots of old blankets and towels there too.  But ABCR is a non-profit charitable group that survives only on donations.  Every dollar spent on dog blankets is a dollar they don’t have to spend on food and vet bills.

I can’t donate my services as a veterinarian because I’m not one. But I can contribute dog blankets even if it means I go to the Sally Ann and buy them.  At least with these, you don’t have to buy new ones to give.  Anything warm and fluffy for a dog or puppy to sleep on will be appreciated.  Dog coats are also needed for winter walkies. If you have any you don’t need or feel like knitting some, put them in with your blankets.

Kitten asleep on blanketRescue groups and shelters will soon be overloaded with cats, if they’re not already.  Winter is here, and the cute kittens of summer are now at the age when they need spaying or will be producing kittens themselves.  It’s the time when they are dumped.  Let someone else worry about them or let them die – too often that is the attitude toward those cute cuddly kittens when they start to grow up.  So cat shelters like Animal Aide and Pets/Friends for Life are in need of supplies and cash as well.

Probably every other dog and cat rescue group is experiencing the same thing.  So if you aren’t in Elgin County or London, call a shelter or rescue group near you and see how you can help.

Click Fatigue

Every day I gave .6 bowl of kibble to shelter animals and 10 pieces of freekibble.com logo click to givekibble to other shelter dogs and 10 pieces to cats.  I had 2 foster dogs and 2 foster cats that I fed, walked and patted every day.   These were my virtual fosters and feedings.  I clicked to help every cause I could.  Waking up my computer meant first doing my click duties.  Going on Facebook meant ensuring my virtual fosters on Save a Dog and Save a Cat were taken care of.

Now I’ve lost those dogs and cats.  I got too busy to go on Facebook and my animals disappeared.  I feel horrible about it, but I can’t commit to them again.  I can’t promise them that I will log in and click every day for them.  I don’t always click every day on the Animal Rescue Site (and the attached Literacy Site, Rainforest Site etc.).  Sometimes I forget to answer the trivia question on freekibble for dogs and cats.

What put me over the edge was when I entered a new realm of giving by clicking.  The Pepsi Refresh site gives money for good causes and projects, both in the US and Canada.  I spent a considerable amount of time choosing my Canadian projects and then diligently clicked every day.  When I started feeling overburdened by clicking duty, I happened to see an ad on tv for an insurance company or credit card company.  I can’t remember what it was – maybe I’ve blocked it from my mind to protect myself.  You can support their worthy causes by signing up and clicking every day.  No!!! No more!

Click backsliding

So my backsliding started.  I forgot to click the easy ones, Animal Rescue Site and freekibble, a couple days in a row.  Then I didn’t go on Facebook for, like, a week.  Next time I logged in and went to Save a Dog and Save a Cat apps, my foster animals had disappeared.  Not just expired and easily renewed – but the message reading “you currently have no fosters”.  I searched the database and found them again, and diligently clicked for a week or so.  Then something else came up and I didn’t log in.  I lost them again.  This time, I haven’t gone back.  I’m not a responsible virtual pet parent.

I let my Pepsi Refresh causes win or lose without my help.  I try to remember to click the Animal Rescue Site and its affiliates.  I enjoy the trivia questions on freekibble so try to do it every day.  I still use banner from oldfriendsequine.orgGoodsearch as my search engine and raise a penny per search for Old Friends Equine Retirement farm in Georgetown, KY.  But that’s as much as I can do.  I am a click burn-out.

Commodity Dogs

Dogs and cats have always been a part of my life – an important part.  Most of them, from my childhood and adulthood, have just come along and stayed. An agreement was reached, a negotiation and relationship I suppose. Once part of the family, they were not ‘disposable’ if inconvenient. Also, rarely were they activelyCharlie in chair Sept 2008 sought out like a purchase you decide to make. Both my present dogs are “official rescues”, adopted through a local dog rescue group All Breed Canine Rescue. So they broke my pattern: they were actively sought out because we were in need of a dog. We didn’t really plan on two, and hadn’t really decided on these two. They were to be fosters, but they made up our minds for us. Their backgrounds are, unfortunately, two all too common stories of dogs who end up in need of homes.

Two dogs

Charlie, a little terrier mix, was in an overcrowded pound in the States. Perhaps he was a victim of the house foreclosure crisis in the US, directly or indirectly. I don’t know why a small, cute, young dog wasn’t adopted, but he’d outstayed his allotted time and was scheduled for euthanasia. He was pulled from the pound and brought to Canada. He ended up with us, and he and we are very happy about that.

Commodity Dogs Leo on porch Sept 2008Leo, a Standard Poodle, was a victim of commerce and exploitation. He spent five years as a stud dog in a puppy mill in the US. I don’t know how old he was when he first got there, presumably old enough to be of service to them. So maybe 6 months to a year? I don’t think he’d ever been in a house in his life, prior to coming into ours. He didn’t know how to walk on a floor or climb a stair. He “marked” pretty much everything in the house. White-haired men frightened him and he kept distant from everyone else – except me. He glued himself to me, I guess recognizing me as the one safe base he had in this new world after leaving the puppy mill and enduring a very long ride to Canada.

Puppy mills and negligent owners

Both these dogs have given me an abiding anger toward people who callously or irresponsibly breed dogs. Charlie was young, but old enough to be neutered. He wasn’t until the rescue group did it. Leo was making Labradoodles. There’s nothing wrong with developing a new breed of dog. But there is something very wrong with churning out puppies without regard for genetic health problems, ante- and post-natal care, temperament, and socialization. There’s something very wrong with treating dogs as a cash crop. That, I believe, applies to large- and small-scale puppy mills and to people who think that a litter of pups is a good way to make a few extra bucks by selling them on online sites like Kijiji.

Equally, just not getting around to getting your dog fixed is wrong. There will be pups and someone is going to have to deal with them. If it isn’t you, it will be rescue groups or kind-hearted strangers, or animal control officers and a gas box to kill them.

Leo & Charlie, with friend Lucy, at St. Thomas dog park 09Leo, the puppy mill dog, is unrecognizable now from what he was. In appearance and temperament, he’s a true Poodle – showing off, meeting and greeting everyone including white-haired men. But a lot of time and a lot of money went into making a healthy and happy dog out of the sick, scared animal that I first saw. And I’m sure that puppy-mill operator is still churning out puppies, making money and passing off his breeding stock to people like me to rehabilitate after he’s got all the use he can out of them. Laws need to be stricter, not to punish responsible breeders but to shut down people like him.


Horse: Free to a good home

standardbred ex-racehorse Jaffey LeeA few years ago, I got involved in finding homes for two Standardbred ex-racehorses whose owner had died. Neither were broke for saddle, they were getting up in years and they’d been together for most of their lives, so finding a home wasn’t going to be easy. As it happened, we did find a home for both of them as companion horses in a small herd. But in the course of all this, I learned a couple things about horses and people.

Meat Buyers

One thing was beware of meat buyers. Not knowing any better, we advertised them as “free to a good home”. Their eventual new person and others told us “list them for sale at least at their dollar value as meat”. Unfortunately, there is a market for horses to be sold for meat and “free to a good home” just means more profit for horsemeat brokers.

While thinking about how to find a good home for these two lovely horses, one day in Aylmer, I saw a horse and buggy on the road. Aha, I thought, there’s the answer! What could be better for a Standardbred than life on a Mennonite farm! A job for the horses without having to race, without having to get used to a saddle and rider, a job of value where they would be respected as important members of a way of life. If anyone would treat animals well, I thought, it would be Old Order Mennonites. So I was thinking about how to find out if anyone in the Old Order colony near Aylmer wanted a couple of horses.

Sulky to buggy?

Then I began hearing the second thing I learned. Every horse person I knew said, without my asking, “whatever you do, don’t let them go to the Mennonites”. This truly surprised me. At first, I thought it was individual xenophobic distrust, prejudice against the “different”. But too many people said it, including people I thought of as fair and unbiased. I started asking more questions. I was told some Mennonites – some said the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – were ok and treated their horses well. But, people told me, too many others do not care for them properly.

Instead, horses are regarded as pieces of equipment that you use up and replace when worn out. To explain it, especially in a case of free or cheap horses, people made comparisons to the old ‘beater’ cars that many of us have, where you don’t bother spending money fixing them, just drive them until they die and buy another old cheap one. That, I was told, was the attitude of many Mennonites to their horses.

Rode hard, put away wet

The objection these people had was not that the horses were used for work, it was that they were not cared for properly. In the words of one horseman, “the horses are run hard and put in the barn wet.” That is a good way to get a sick horse, and something no responsible horse person would ever do. I still find it hard to believe that anyone who relies on horsepower wouldn’t treat that horse well. It’s in their own self-interest to do so.

horse and buggy near Aylmer ON photo D StewartI see the horses and buggies in the parking lots of Aylmer stores, in shade if shade is available. Along #73 Highway and the sideroads near Aylmer I see them trot. I watch draft horses pulling plows in Mennonite fields. I look at the horses turned out to pasture at well-tended Mennonite farms. And I wonder.

Puppy Mills

I see puppies and kittens at Mennonite stalls at the local farmers’ market. They are all breeds and types, but they all look healthy and well-cared for. I’ve never asked “how do you treat your horses, do you run a puppy mill?” How do you ask that?

Mistreatment of animals doesn’t stop with horses, I was told. Many of the small scale puppy mill operations here are in Mennonite areas. I started paying closer attention to the Dogs for Sale ads in the paper. Yep, “no Sunday calls” and a phone number with an extension – something found where one central phone services an entire community.

I read in One Nation Under Dog about Amish dog breeders in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Author Michael Schaffer seems to have the same dilemma as I do about this. He writes that, for the Mennonite farmer, dog breeding provided a new livestock market or crop when small scale farming was being battered by agribusiness and coming out on the losing side of economies of scale. But the dogs are being raised as livestock outside in barns and cages, even though the intended ‘market’ for them is the inside of homes with dogbeds and squeaky toys.

Rehoming a Standardbred

There are a lot of Standardbred racehorses in South Western Ontario. Thousands of them never make it to the track or retire every year. They still have a long life ahead of them. They need homes. Old Order Mennonites need horses for transportation. Trotters and pacers are ideal. It seems like a match made in heaven.

But the horse people I talked to, harness racing people and others, all said they would not send a Standardbred or any horse to a Mennonite farm. I was saddened by this, and felt disillusioned about the ideal of Mennonite life I’ve always imagined: of people and animals united by a fundamental connection with nature lost to most of us in the modern world, and a spiritual injunction to care for all God’s creatures.