Tag Archives: St. Thomas Dog Blog

Redemption: Shelter Plan B

Nathan Winograd with cat Shelter Plan BMy impression after reading about Nathan Winograd is that it’s animal shelters that need redemption. He is Director of the No Kill Advocacy Center in the US and is giving a lecture and workshop at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Apr. 14th [2012] . I don’t get star-struck that often, but this sounds like one very impressive man.

In 1993-94, he turned the San Francisco SPCA from a kill processing plant to a shelter where animals got homes. Killing healthy animals “declined 100 percent” and for sick or injured animals “it declined by about 50 percent” (Redemption). He did the same at the Tompkins County SPCA in upstate New York.

Are these places with less of an ‘animal problem’? Not likely. If you can do that in San Francisco, heart of ‘disposable land’, or upstate NY amid wilderness that people would see as perfect for dumping Fluffy, you can do it anywhere! Here is how Mr. Winograd looks at shelter management, from a 2007 article by Christie Keith.

“If … motherless kittens are killed because the shelter doesn’t have a comprehensive foster care program, that’s not pet overpopulation. That’s the lack of a foster care program.

Amazon link for Redemption
Amazon link

“If adoptions are low because people are getting those dogs and cats from other places because the shelter isn’t doing outside adoptions (adoptions done off the shelter premises), that’s a failure to do outside adoptions, not pet overpopulation.

“…If animals are killed because working with rescue groups is discouraged, again, that’s not pet overpopulation. If dogs are going cage-crazy because volunteers and staff aren’t allowed to socialize them, and then those dogs are killed because they’re quote-unquote “cage crazy,” because the shelter doesn’t have a behavior rehabilitation program in place, once again, that’s not pet overpopulation; that’s the lack of programs and services that save lives.”

Animal Shelter Plan B

Commonsense, when you approach it from the shelter side of the equation. “If a community is still killing the majority of shelter animals, it is because the local SPCA, humane society, or animal control shelter has fundamentally failed in its mission… And this failure is nothing more than a failure of leadership. The buck stops with the shelter’s director.”

Lab looking out from shelter pen, Wikimedia Commons, NhandlerHe describes his second day at the Tompkins Co. SPCA. “’My staff informed me that our dog kennels were full and since a litter of six puppies had come in, I needed to decide who was going to be killed in order to make space. I asked for ‘Plan B’; there was none. I asked for suggestions; there were none.’

“He spoke directly to his staff, saying, ‘Volunteers who work with animals do so out of sheer love. They don’t bring home a paycheck. So if a volunteer says, ‘I can’t do it,’ I can accept that from her. But staff members are paid to save lives. If a paid member of staff throws up her hands and says, ‘There’s nothing that can be done,’ I may as well eliminate her position and use the money that goes for her salary in a more constructive manner. So what are we going to do with the puppies that doesn’t involve killing?’”  Wow.

Nathan Winograd’s publications:

Welcome Home: An animal rights perspective on living with dogs & cats

Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America

Irreconcilable Differences: The battle for the heart and soul of America’s animal shelters

All American Vegan: Veganism for the Rest of Us

Friendly Fire

Reforming Animal Control/Building a No Kill Community Resource CD.

1 day body count of dog and cat corpses in 50 gal drums at pound
1 day body count at pound – click image to go to Imagine blog

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Aug. 5, 2012. See comments below.

Wilma the Cat

In honour of Wilma, cat colony princess, who died yesterday in St. Thomas ON. Reposted from St. Thomas Dog Blog, March 29, 2012.Wilma and other cats 2016

Wilma was a homeless cat who was instrumental in the creation of the Charity Cat Project. That initiative has provided food, shelter and neutering to innumerable feral and stray St. Thomas cats. Charity Cat and other rescue groups worked with St. Thomas City Council in establishing animal welfare programmes. Among these are low-cost pet neutering and maintenance of feral cat colonies. So, Wilma, thank you.

Wilma's broken front toothWilma had surgery to remove her damaged teeth and a hernia in her abdomen. She’s recovering nicely. She has domesticated herself and it seems she would love to live indoors. But in her present home, there are dogs who really wouldn’t do well with her presence inside. So a foster or, ideally, a permanent home for her would be wonderful. Contact ABCR or me if you have a place in your home or barn for a lovely cat.*

Turns out she was already spayed, so she had been lost or abandoned. I don’t know which, but there are a lot of Wilmas in our city. They need help. There are also a lot of truly feral cats who Wilma 2012 likely will never allow themselves to be tamed. They too need help.

It’s not just helping the cats. It’s helping people. Having feral cats around their houses distresses cat lovers. Cat haters certainly don’t like cats hanging around. And unneutered cats produce kittens, usually twice a year. So that one cat who’s taken up residence in your back yard is going to produce more, and those kittens will also reproduce. You start out with one stray moggie and, before you know it, you’re in Cat City.

TNR for feral cats

Trapping wild cats and having them fixed is a time-consuming and Drowsy Wilma sitting in suncostly business. I know, I’ve done it. And if you do remove those cats, in all likelihood, more will simply come and occupy the territory. That will happen whether you feed them or not. Homeless cats need somewhere to settle and your backyard might seem as good as anywhere to them. So better to keep those you know, and are neutered, than constantly have new ones moving in and establishing their claim.

St. Thomas needs a TNR programme – trap, neuter, return – for wild cats. Other cities have such programmes or services in place and we have just as many feral cats as anywhere else. Wilma’s person Wilma eating on porchcounted the cats in the gully near their house a month ago: 103 that she saw. That’s before this spring’s litters of kittens are born.

St. Thomas also needs a programme to subsidize spay and neuter costs for dogs and cats of people who cannot afford the full price. Again, many other cities have such subsidy programmes or low-cost clinics offered so many times a year.

It seems cheaper to just have the kittens or puppies than to have your pet neutered. It’s not; it just spreads the costs over a longer period of time – once or twice a year for as long as the animal lives. Neutering is cheaper for all of us just in costs to municipalities of caring for, or killing, unwanted pets.

Abcess on Wilma's gumsPeople have contributed to Wilma’s medical costs, but her rescuers are still footing over half the bill themselves. If you can help, please contact ABCR or me. And let’s start helping all the Wilmas by setting up a spay/neuter subsidy fund. We’ve seen over the past year, with STDOA’s Caring Pet Cupboard, that our community will help people feed their pets.  Now let’s move on to the big task: preventing unwanted puppies and kittens.

*Wilma stayed where she was, for which everyone she knew is thankful. She will be greatly missed by her people and her cats. You can see her legacy on the Charity Cat Facebook page. (See 10 comments on original post below.)

Movin’ dogs: An underground railway

dog underground railway Sept 2008 photo D StewartWho can resist this little face! Small, friendly terrier mix desperately needs a home. House-trained, healthy 1 year old male.

That might have been the ad for Charlie placed by the pound near Lexington, Kentucky where he was in September 2008. Maybe he never was advertised. That pound, like many in the US, was overcrowded that summer. It was the height of the subprime mortgage collapse, house foreclosures, abandoned homes, abandoned pets. Charlie might have been one of those pets, or he may have come to the shelter by a different route and got lost in the crowd of dogs. Either way, no adopter and no shelter space meant he was scheduled for euthanasia. It didn’t happen. Charlie is “top dog” in my house, thanks to a reinvented underground railway.

Dog Underground Railway

Open Arms Pound Rescue is a rescue and transport group based in Ohio. They work with US pounds and US and Canadian animal rescue groups, Charlie at the dogpark 2010 photo John Blake moving dogs from pounds to shelters to foster and adoptive homes. Photos and descriptions of dogs on ‘death row’ are posted online by the pounds or Open Arms. Rescue groups and individuals arrange to have dogs brought to them and Open Arms organizes the transport.

Volunteers drive dogs from one town to another, where they meet new drivers and transfer the dogs to their vehicles for the next leg of the journey. Dogs are left in receiving shelters and homes along the way, and dogs are picked up. The relay continues north. When the dogs are safely across the border with their final American drivers, they are met by Canadian volunteers and are driven on to their receiving shelters or foster homes.

Lois, of All Breed Canine Rescue in St. Thomas ON, saw Charlie’s picture while checking for ‘last chance’ dogs scheduled to be put down. She earmarked him and other small dogs for the next transport. She didn’t have adoptive, or even foster, homes but she figured she’d be able to place these little dogs. For big dogs, it’s not so easy to find homes. They aren’t ‘pulled’ from pounds unless someone specifically asks for them.

We wanted a dog, but were still recovering from the deaths of two dogs and a cat. Fostering seemed like a good ‘grieving time’ option – have the company of a dog, but don’t get attached. Charlie was supposed to only stay overnight until his foster home could take him.

Little and Big

“Aaahh,” I thought when I saw him peeking out of the pickup he arrived in, “isn’t he just the cutest ever!” I’m not a small dog person, so I was somewhat immune to his charms. But within five minutes of seeing him, my husband said this dog’s not going anywhere. I made some calls and Charlie stayed with us as a foster.  His picture was posted on ABCR’s website and enquires started.

Charlie 2008 photo Dorothy StewartWe had to decide quickly. Jim was all for keeping him. And Charlie had quickly claimed a spot in my heart. But I still wanted “a real dog” you could take long walks with. Also, if Charlie got a good home, we could foster another, less adoptable, dog. Charlie was happy with us but, that early on in our relationship, he’d be happy with anybody who loved him and kept his belly full. I did a lot of soul-searching and, in the end, decided to be selfish. We adopted him.

A month later, in another Open Arms transport, I got my ‘big dog’. A Standard Poodle, Leo came out of five years as a stud dog in a puppy mill. He started with us as a foster, and there was a lot of interest as soon as his picture was posted.  Again a decision was needed and Leo made it:  frightened, needy and weird, he adopted us.

Adoption Geography

Two highly adoptable dogs – unadoptable in their home Leo-Oct-2008-photo-D-Stewartcommunities. How many cute dogs must there be in pounds for a dog like Charlie to be overlooked long enough that he’s going to be put down? How many purebred and ‘designer’ dogs must there be that rescue groups send Poodles and Labradoodles across the border? Supply and demand of dogs are often out of whack: too many dogs in one area, not enough in others. Too many dogs leads to abandonment and needless euthanasia, too few dogs leads to ‘backyard breeders’ and puppy mills finding ready buyers willing to pay exorbitant prices  for pups. Groups like Open Arms Pound Rescue try to even out the supply and demand problems by sending dogs unwanted in one area to places where there are homes for them.

The internet has made dog rehoming much easier. If you want a particular type of dog, you can just search through petfinder.com or breed rescue groups and find ways of getting together with a dog no matter where he or she is. Breeders of purebred dogs have been doing it for years, sending pups across the country or further to new homes. Now rescue groups are doing it for stray and abandoned animals too. And we’ve got two of them, my Dixie Dogs I call them.

Charlie 2009 photo Dorothy StewartBy the way, I found out little dogs can walk just as far and just as fast as big dogs. Charlie goes like a little steam engine and, the few times he gets too tired to walk, I can carry him home.

It’s seven years since the dogs came to live with us, and five years since I posted this on my St. Thomas Dog Blog (Jul. 15/10)

 

Nim the Chimp

Amazon link for dvd

Project Nim is a film by James Marsh about Nim Chimpsky, the chimp who was raised from infancy as a human in order to explore the learning of language in non-human primates.  The film is based on the book by Elizabeth Hess, Nim Chimpsky:  The chimp who would be human.  CBC Radio’s Q interviewed Marsh about his film and Nim.

In an experiment started in 1973 by Columbia University psychologist Dr. Herbert S. Terrace, Nim grew up like a human child and learned American Sign Language.   As he matured, he became a real male chimp with all the aggression and wildness that goes along with that.  But he also liked going to the ice cream parlour for peach ice cream and sleeping in his bed.

After four years the experiment came to an end.  Nim was taken from his home to an animal research facility.  When it closed, he and the Nim Chimpsky, at home, drawing on chalkboardother chimps were sold to another lab.  In the labs, he lived in a cage.

Once Nim escaped.  He broke into a house where he climbed in a bed and went to sleep.  Just like Goldilocks.  Poor Nim.  Listening to that in the interview broke my heart.

from Nim Chimpsky to chimpanzee

Nim grew up in human surroundings.  He knew how to communicate through ASL.  Then all that ended, and none of his new “keepers” knew sign language.  What must he have thought?  Obviously, he knew something was wrong and he sought to rectify it.  Shows intelligence and rational thought, in my opinion.

And the people responsible for this:  what on earth were they thinking?  They had taught him to live like a human, so why would they think that he would ‘adapt’ to being treated differently?  Would it Chimp in a lab cage (Capital Chimpanzee Exhibit, AHS 2009)have been so hard to provide him, in any environment, with his own ‘room,’ with the bed and pillow and blankets that he was used to?  Hire someone who knew sign language?  Not understanding that, to me, shows less intelligence and rational thought than Nim demonstrated.

Some of his original caretakers continued to care, and publicized his plight.  Nim was rescued by Cleveland Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch.  He lived there until his death at 26 in 2000.  I don’t know if he had his own bed, but he had chimp companions that he liked and humans with whom he could sign.  I hope he also had all the peach ice cream he wanted.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, July 22, 2011

Who’s Kitten Who?

In the mood for a fluffy book, I wondered if Cynthia Baxter’s Who’s Kitten Who? might be a bit too fluffy based on the cover and title.  Still, give it a try.

Who's Kitten Who?
Click for Amazon link

Amateur sleuth Jessica Popper is a veterinarian who runs a mobile clinic on Long Island.  She lives with her fiancé and numerous animals.  She has a habit of running into murder and mystery.  In this book, it’s the murder of a community theatre writer. The backdrop is her home life and the visit of her future in-laws, whom she has not yet met, and their little dog Mitzi.

The actual mystery is good – some clues so you could feel like you were figuring it out but not enough to be too obvious.  The pets and her interaction with them are well drawn and entertaining.  Some LOL moments produced by her daily life with humans and animals. Fluffy? Yes.  A good read?  Yes.

The visit by the in-laws – good in that her fiancé’s mother is so god-awful that she gives you nightmares.  The tension between Jessica, her fiancé and his parents and Mitzi is very good.  It is realistic enough for any of us who have hideous memories of meeting “the fam” of a significant other.  It is over the top enough to make us laugh and feel relief that nothing we experienced was ever quite this bad.

Where it fails, in my opinion, is that Jessica tolerates this abuse by fiancé and his parents and actually still wants to be involved with this inconsiderate jackass.  I was relieved when I thought she had seen the light, smelled the coffee, woken up to her future with this dysfunctional pack of egotistical lunatics.  When loose ends are being tied up after the mystery was solved, I fully expected her to say “I never want to lay eyes on you again, go live with your deranged mother and her deranged dog and spare every other woman’s emotional wellbeing.”  What I read instead surprised me – indeed annoyed me.

Aside from that, I don’t like books where there’s no connection between title and content (excepting those with a series-based reason) and there isn’t here.  I don’t like mystery protagonists who suddenly act stupid for the sake of moving the plot along, and that happens here at least once in a major way.

I should, I suppose, read another of the ‘Reigning Cats and Dogs‘ series to get a better sense of Jessica and the pillock she’s engaged to.  Other than the points I mention, it’s a fun, well-written and engaging mystery with mostly likeable characters.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Sept. 8/11. Below are Amazon links to the first two Jessica Popper books. The right sidebar links are for Ms. Baxter’s second series featuring travel writer Mallory Marlowe.

 

Spot the Fire Muster dog

Spot the Fire Muster Dog at STDOA booth photo D StewartI decided to do a little creative grooming for the Fire Muster.  White Poodle plus Fire Muster Dog Show equals Dalmatian Look-alike contender!  So I checked with my groomer, a Poodle grooming specialist, a hair dresser, a pharmacist and online creative grooming sites.  The consensus was anything temporary, without bleach and safe for children’s hair would be ok.  There are specially formulated vegetable dyes for dogs available, but not at any supplier near me.  Food colouring and Kool-Aid is also ok, but I wanted black colouring so needed something else.

I got a temporary dye spray bomb designed for kids and fancy dress costuming.  I cut different sized circles in a small piece of boxboard and sprayed Leo’s hair.  I didn’t spray his legs, near his eyes or under his belly – avoided sensitive areas and anywhere he could easily lick.  I figured better safe than sorry. Kids aren’t likely to lick their dyed heads, so “safe for children” isn’t exactly the same as “safe for dogs”.

Charlie, Leo & Magic in line for dog show photo D StewartI found out the dye is indeed temporary and, even when dry, easily smudges when touched.  So I had to keep retouching him after people patted him, and finally learned to say “you’ll get dye on your hands if you touch the black spots”.

At the registration table for the dog show we’re told there’s no category for Dalmatian look-alike this year.  Years spent watching dogs in black-spotted t-shirts and Border Collies wearing firemen’s hats walking away with that special prize!  Leo and I had no exhibition trick worked out, no Plan B.  I knew we didn’t have a chance at “Cutest Dog” when I saw the Chihuahua in the little ballerina dress and silver booties.   The Chihuahua did win, as did a beautiful German Shepherd as “Older Dog” and a gorgeous little Dalmatian in the “Puppy” category.  A Shepherd-Husky won “Best Trick” and a little Papillion won “Best Overall”.  We won only a lot of attention and oohs and ahhs.  Leo was perfectly happy with that.  Charlie went in au naturel, hoping for “Cutest Dog”.  But even he can’t compete with a I'm gonna wash that 'Dal' right outa my hair photo D StewartChihuahua in a tutu.

Later, Leo got his spots washed out.  Charlie watched, relieved that he was passed over for bath time.

 

First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Sept. 7, 2010.

Fire Muster

The Fire Muster is this coming weekend – Labour Day Saturday and Jack and judges, Fire Muster dog showSunday – in Pinafore Park, St. Thomas.  A chance to see fire fighters, fire trucks old and new, classic cars, and dogs.  There are always lots of dogs at the Fire Muster.  On Sunday afternoon, there’s a dog show.  It started as a Dalmatian show, and there are still special prizes for Best Dalmatian and Best Dalmatian ‘wannabe’.  Dogs wear costumes, do tricks or just walk across the stage.  The first time our late dog Jack I won!entered, he won Best in Show.  I don’t know who was proudest, us or him. Later, he happily rooted around in his prize hamper from Hartz.

From then on, every time we were at Pinafore, he wanted to walk across the bandshell stage. Strut across it, reliving his moment of glory.  I’d sing “here she comes, Miss America”, and he’d look out over the cheering audience that only he could see. The year they tore the old bandshell down he was crestfallen.  I took him to the new one at the back of the park, and he walked across it.  But you could see it wasn’t the same for him.

He lining up for the showentered the dog show every year, never won again, but always enjoyed it.  As soon as he’d see dogs heading for the registration table and lining up, he wanted to join them. He liked going to Pinafore Park any time of the year, but he would get especially excited when he’d see the ladies on the boot toll at the gate.  He knew it was Fire Muster time.

For several years, my husband and I worked at the souvenir t-shirt booth.  Jack loved being there, meeting and greeting dogs and people.  One year, though, he Jack the muscle dogwasn’t really happy.  We’d made him his own tshirt.  He didn’t like walking around like a canine advertisement but, in his black “muscle shirt”, he brought a lot of attention to the booth.

The new dogs, Leo and Charlie, were at last year’s Fire Muster for the first time.  They both entered the dog show.  Didn’t win, but they didn’t care.  They were happy with their participation gift treats.

First published Aug. 31, 2010 on my St. Thomas Dog Blog

 

Bathing Jamie

Jamie hated baths, indeed Jamie hated water.  He was a Collie mixed with something, clearly not a water dog.  He had long Collie hair with a thick undercoat. On his feet, legs and Jamie eating watermelon photo D Angerbackside, he had long fluffy hair. His hair knotted and matted.  Jamie also hated being brushed.

Every so often, when we’d screw up the courage or when he was particularly filthy, it would be bath time for Jamie, whether he liked it or not.  We tried every type of bath arrangement – the tub in the house, buckets of warm water and a hose outside, a combination of both.  It was very hard to suds him up and even harder to get him thoroughly rinsed.  Then brushing him!  Chasing him around trying to take a swipe with the brush.  Leg-locking him on the floor so he couldn’t get up while I brushed as quickly as possible trying to get knots out.  Cutting matted hair out.  It was not pleasant for anyone.

A friend, looking at his filthy, smelly coat one day, said “why don’t you mose-photo-Ruby-Angertake him to a groomer?”  “A groomer for Jamie, yeah right!” I said with disdain.  It was ok for her.  She had a Newfoundland dog who had a job.  He was official mascot for the Signal Hill Tattoo so he had to look good.  He wouldn’t even fit in a bathtub and, with his job, had been to groomers since he was a pup. Poodles and foo-foo dogs went to groomers.  Big old country dogs like Jamie did not.  But it was a hot summer and poor Jamie was feeling it.  He had big clumps of winter hair sticking out all over him, the dag ends on his behind were stiff with filth.  He flopped out, panting in the heat. I thought, why not?

Appointment at a groomer

I booked an appointment at a groomer.  I warned them he was filthy and did not like baths, brushing or strangers poking at him.  On the day, Jamie reluctantly entered a building that smelled of shampoo. Two massive men came to meet us.  They were the groomers.  Two thoughts popped into my head:  at least they can handle him if he bolts, and how on earth did these guys get into dog grooming.  They looked like they’d be more at home on a fishing boat than a dog salon.  I never asked them, I couldn’t think of a way to do so without sounding like I was stereotyping them or groomers.

I came up with an explanation that amused me – the welding retraining classes were full and all that was available was dog grooming. This was at the time of the cod fishery moratorium in Newfoundland and a whole new industry – retraining programmes – had sprung up.  Government and private education facilities were turning fishermen and fishplant workers into welders and hairdressers in quantities sufficient to service the whole continent.

Bathing and brushing by professionals

At the salon, I left a panicked looking Jamie in the large hands of these large men.  I warned them of his escape tricks and said to just stop and phone me if he got freaked out.  I went home and bit my nails for three hours until they phoned.  “You can come for Jamie now”, one said, “we’re just drying him.  Oh, he was perfect!”

Jamie after bathing photo Dorothy AngerI went into the salon and saw my dog standing on the grooming table, leaning into the blow dryer that was “finishing him off.”  He wagged his tail and smiled at me.  And continued to lean toward the dryer and the man holding it. When they lifted him off the table, he continued to stand very close to them wagging his tail and looking adoringly into their faces.  They looked at me like “owners, they know nothing!”  Jamie was light and fluffy, his baby-soft hair sprang out around his body like a halo. They showed me the huge pile of hair they’d cut and brushed out of Jamie.  They told me there’s a knack with the wrist motion so that you just flip quickly through a dog’s hair instead of dragging and tugging.

I paid them, twice what future visits would cost, they said, now that the hard work was done.  They tied a scarf around Jamie’s neck and he pranced out, the happiest and proudest dog in the city.  On our way back to the car, he beamed at everyone he saw. Needless perhaps to say, Jamie went to his groomers regularly for the rest of his life.  Every time, he bounced in like “hi, I’m back!

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Jan. 5, 2011

 

Backyard Birds

bluejay-photo-d-stewartMy knowledge of birds is minimal.  There’s brown ones, speckled ones, starlings, other big black ones, robins, doves, cardinals and jays.  We have all of these in our backyard and I’ve got to know some of them and their little bird sounds.  My husband feeds them and last year he moved the feeding platform closer to the house.  So sitting at the kitchen table or standing at the sink, I can watch them at the feeders and in their main tree.  It’s quite a world.

A loose cannon Cardinal

For two years now, we’ve had a loose cannon cardinal and his long-suffering mate.  Bucko believes in fighting anything he sees.  His career in aggression began, at least at our house, by flinging himself hard at the basement window and pecking at it.  The window is birds-photo-d-stewartdirectly above my husband’s desk.  Thud, thud, ping, thud – non-stop all day long, hitting the window.  Lights, decals – nothing stopped him.

Then he expanded his arena of activity.  The car side mirrors he would fly at in a frenzy.  While flying from basement window to driveway, he noticed a window at the front of the house and began attacking it.  That window provides a lot of cat entertainment, with a chair conveniently located for them to watch the neighbourhood.  A bird flying straight at the window provided a cat mega-show with front row seats.

We worried he was going to injure, even kill, himself but he hasn’t.  He must have a very hard head and beak.  His mate is around, although you don’t see her as often.  I think she goes to cardinal violence support group meetings.  To give him his due, he hasn’t been fighting at the window since spring, so I think he’s helping out with the nesting.  In the past week we’ve seen a young male and female cardinal, last year’s now grown up children, I think.

A Budgie escapee

Last fall there was a rare visitor to a backyard bird neighbourhood.  A yellow budgie.  Escaped or lost, it was flitting around by budgie & friends photo d stewartitself around several houses near ours for a couple weeks.  I tried to coax it to me, but nothing doing.  It started spending more time in our backyard trees and I noticed it hanging around the other birds, the little brown over-wintering ones.  They’d fly en masse from their tree to the feeder and back.  After staying a bit apart, the budgie started flying with them.

One late fall day, with snow and gusty winds, I feared for the budgie and figured I’d never see it again.  Although it was becoming a hardy wild bird, it wasn’t meant for weather like this.  I was amazed, and happy, to see it fly to the tree with the little brown birds, all buffeted by the winds but soon settled in snugly.  But a real winter storm with more snow and higher winds hit the next day.  I spent a long time watching, hoping to see the flash of yellow.  But I didn’t.  The brown birds were all around, but I never saw the budgie again.  It survived several months outside, was accepted by the other birds and, I like to think, had a grand adventure.  Better than just falling off the perch.

Hawks cruising for birds

baby-hawk-photo-d-stewartOn and off over the past few years, we’ve had hawks.  One, early this spring, was very bold – sitting right on the deck.  Even one time fighting with a metal ornamental rooster that lives on the deck.  Even when I can’t see a hawk, I’ve come to know when one is around from the frenetic activity and squawking of the little birds.  And hawks have to eat too.  We’ve had three deaths so far this year in our bird town – a tragedy for the bird families, lunch for the hawk.

starling photo d stewartThe starlings hang out in the big trees while the little birds are eating.  Then they decide it’s big bird time.  Two or three of them move to the feeding platform and the little birds – even macho-man cardinal – fly back to their trees.  The starlings sit on the platform, bopping their heads to their internal rap beat, looking cool.  Their iridescent neck feathers glint in the sun.  They peck at food, they bop, they survey the scene, peck and bop.  Then they fly away and the little birds flutter back.  The doves sit on the fence soaking up the sun, they scratch around in the spilled seed below the feeder.  They snooze on the feeding platform.  The redwing blackbirds flit and trill their song, and I watch them all.Redwing Blackbird photo D Stewart

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, June 1, 2010

 

Water for Elephants

water for elephants dvd amazon link
Click to buy on Amazon

(from 2011*) In the past week, I’ve been sent two Facebook requests to boycott the film Water for ElephantsADI (Animal Defenders International) says that Have Trunk Will Travel, trainers of the elephants in the film, use abusive methods.  This contradicts the trainers’ statement that they only use positive reinforcement.

I watched the 2005 video ADI provided, and I think I don’t know enough about elephants to know.   I went to Sara Gruen’s website.  She wrote the novel on which the movie is based.  She is a supporter of animal welfare and several specific animal sanctuaries.  While the author of the original material may not have much say over the movie production, having read her other novels, I couldn’t Tai, in ADI videoimagine Ms. Gruen not caring about the animal stars of a work in which she’s got a vested interest.  But I still don’t know.

I don’t think the trainers did themselves a favour by saying they only use reward-based training methods.  No way electric prods look like positive reinforcement.  But used in conjunction with reward?  Necessary for effectiveness and safety?  I don’t know.  I do know that they and bull hooks do not look nice.  But the appearance of something shouldn’t Tai lifting Sara Gruenbe the sole criterion for judging it.  Lots of things don’t look nice, but there may be valid reasons for their use.  Also, anything can be an instrument of cruelty if used incorrectly or to deliberately inflict pain.  A dog’s leash, a horse’s reins.

Two things this controversy made me think about:

1.  Shock collars.  Many trainers condemn their use, saying they’re just a lazy way to train a dog.  Other trainers sell them to people (I got a Shock_collar-Polymath38-Wikicommonssalespitch on their virtues when talking to a trainer about my dog’s poop-eating habit.)  I know a barky dog who can live happily in an apartment building because she wears an electrified “bark collar” when left alone.  Without it, I don’t know what would happen.  But the bottom line is, those collars administer shocks of varying intensity to dogs.  And electric shock is not only used for retraining bad behaviour.  “Invisible fencing” relies on a shock if the dog gets too close to the boundary.  It’s selling like hotcakes.

2.  When learning to ride, my teacher told me “kick him” when my horse would not move forward with just verbal clucks.  I kicked a bit.  “Harder” she yelled, “kick him like you mean it.”  I couldn’t.  I felt I was betraying our friendship by kicking him.  She told me to watch the horses in the field and see what they do to each other.  I did, and sure enough, I watched ‘my’ horse give his best friend a big old kick when Spurs_western_lostinfog-wikicommonshe got too near the hay.  There is no way I could ever kick as hard as he did.

When I learned to kick, he looked back at me like “ok, you’re learning horse language now!”  I learned to use spurs, a riding crop and a longe whip.  I try to keep my hands steady. Reins jerking ‘giddyup’ style does cause a horse pain.  With me knowing proper use of equipment, we began riding as a team.

All methods of control and training can be abused and therefore cruel.  All, aside from sheer brutality, can also be used correctly.  Until I try handling an elephant, I won’t opine on how to do it.

*First posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog May 12/11. Since then, I’ve read Water for Elephants and it is absolutely wonderful.