Thursday, November 27, 2008

Adopt A Turkey, Don't Eat One

More than 45 million turkeys gave their lives for America's Thanksgiving diners this year. But not for me.

I stopped eating turkey last year at this time, on Thanksgiving Day, 2007, wanting to do my small part to stem the slaughter of these sensitive birds.

For several years now, I have participated in Farm Sanctuary's "Adopt A Turkey" project, making a small contribution to sponsor one of the refuge's big birds, all of whom will have the opportunity to live out their lives in safety and comfort. This year, I "adopted" Faye (pictured here). For her, and for her hundreds of compatriots at Farm Sanctuary, it will truly be a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Sad Farewell to a Beloved Feline Friend

My dear beloved Casey's earthly journey ended peacefully this morning, shortly before 10am. I truly feel that I have lost my soul's sister.

Casey and I shared an unconditional love, and a bond that death may bend, but will not break. She had beautiful, intelligent, wide green eyes, but when they lost their lustre, I knew that I could not ask her to linger any longer in her physical body.

In one of the last photos I took of her, just 8 days ago, on November 18th, 15-year-old Casey still retained the spark and curiosity and joie de vivre of her younger days, even though she had become more pensive and deliberate as a result of the cancer that had wracked her little body for many months.

Casey had been diagnosed with an unspecified adenocarcinoma at the beginning of March, when a large growth was removed from one of her anal glands by Dr. Brian Holub of the Countryside Veterinary Hospital in Chelmsford.

Henceforth, I chose to support her by a combination of homeopathic remedies prescribed by Dr. Charles Loops, coupled with supplements and acupuncture treatments by Drs. Randy Caviness and Carol Gifford at the Integrative Animal Health Center in Bolton. Casey seemed to be thriving and doing very well until the end of August, when I noticed that she had developed a slight limp. An ultrasound confirmed my dreaded suspicions: the cancer had spread throughout many areas of Casey's body, and the prognosis was deemed to be "very grave."

But I did not give up, and neither did Casey. We dug in together, as a team, and increased the frequency of her acupuncture appointments, working primarily with Dr. Gifford to stimulate Casey's immune system, tempt her with a variety of foods, and keep her as balanced and as comfortable and as healthy as we could, given the circumstances. And Casey held her own for three more months, until just a few days ago, when her breathing became labored. On Monday, X-rays revealed that the cancer had invaded Casey's lungs. We had finally reached a mountain we could not climb.

Casey never felt sorry for herself, no matter what challenges the cancer threw at her. When an enlarged lymph node pressed against her spine and ultimately led to the loss of feeling in her left hind leg, Casey soldiered on, undeterred. She deftly ran up and down the stairs, and was able to claw her way to the top of my bed until just a few days ago.

I had known that we would not defeat the cells that were marching out of control throughout Casey's body, but I had hoped to keep them at bay a little longer. As Casey and I faced her health challenges, we became even closer than we had ever been before, and I knew, as I single-mindedly devoted myself to her care, that it would make it even more painful when I had to say good-bye.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Paws for Purple Hearts

On the heels of my post about the wonderful work being done by NEADS: Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, including its Canines for Combat Veterans program, last night's NBC's Nightly News aired a terrific piece on the "Paws for Purple Hearts" project at the Bergin University of Canine Studies' Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa, CA.

According to its website, Paws for Purple Hearts "helps heal our returning combat veterans by teaching those with psychological scars, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to train service dogs for their comrades with physical disabilities."

What a fabulous idea.

Using Telepathy to Enhance Your Dog's Training

My 10-year-old Springer, Tish, is a graduate of The Right Paw obedience school, but I'll be the first to admit that I've often slacked in reinforcing the commands that she learned there, so many years ago.

But recently, I've been inspired, and even awed, by watching British dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, on the Animal Planet series, "It's Me or The Dog." Week after week, Victoria confronts all manner of canine chaos, and by the end of the episode, she has calmed everybody down and brought order, peace, and tranquility to a formerly dog-crazed household. She relies on positive reinforcement, clicker training, and a quiet firmness, and never seems to lose her cool, even when everyone else seems hopelessly out of control.

So of late, I've been using Victoria's methods to work with Tish, particularly as she flies around the house, barking her head off, at mealtimes. And I'm seeing results.

But this morning, I decided to see whether I could send my commands to Tish using telepathy alone, without any hand signals, eye movements, body language, or spoken words. With Tish on the leash, I calmly sent her the thought, "Come, and sit." At first, she just looked at me, realizing that there was something I wanted, but seemingly not "getting" it. I didn't move, but I kept repeating mentally, "Come, and sit." I took a deep breath. And within about two minutes, Tish walked over to me and sat down. It worked!

I was able to successfully repeat this experiment and each time that Tish came and sat down next to me, I effusively praised her.

Tish's quick response to my telepathic messages has inspired me to "up the ante," and once I'm sure I can consistently open the telepathic training connection with her at will, we'll see how far it can take us.

If you'd like to try it, I'd love to hear about your experiences using telepathy to send commands to your dog, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Amazing Assistance Dogs of NEADS

I took the opportunity to attend Saturday's Annual Meeting of NEADS: Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans in Princeton, and I wasn't in the building more than a few minutes when I made a big--and common--mistake: I approached Bronson (pictured at left), a working assistance dog, with outstretched hand, as if to pet him.

I hadn't realized that Bronson was actually working but was quickly admonished by his teammate. I won't do that again!

My Saturday morning at NEADS was a wonderful and emotional experience, and I learned a lot about its multi-faceted programs to partner special dogs with some special people who really need them.

During its last fiscal year, which ended on August 31, 2008, NEADS successfully trained 45 assistance dog teams, including 10 "hearing" dogs, 17 service dogs, 3 "social" dogs, 3 "specialty" dogs, and 12 classroom/therapy/ministry dogs. Its constituents came from all of the New England states, and from as far away as Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Nevada. The estimated cost to train each dog is $20,000, but NEADS absorbs more than half of that amount.

NEADS usually starts working with dogs when they are young puppies, having learned that the critical learning period spans from the tender ages of 3 weeks to 16 weeks of age. With this in mind, NEADS initiates puppies into its Early Learning Center at the Laura J. Niles Nursery when they are 8 to 10 weeks old. NEADS has dramatically increased its success rate in developing young dogs by adopting the methods espoused by the noted trainers Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson of My Smart Puppy.

At the age of 16 weeks, the puppies leave the NEADS nest and enter the next phase of their training: 80% of these young dogs are placed into one of 15 participating prisons in four states where, as part of the "Prison PUP Partnership," they will be mentored by individual inmates, while 20% go to conventional volunteer foster families. The young dogs will remain with their interim trainers until they are about 15 months old, when they are returned to the NEADS campus in Princeton for the final advanced stage of their training as assistance dogs.

One of the highlights of the Annual Meeting was the opportunity to meet NEADS Advisory Board Member, Matt Collins, and his sweet yellow lab, "Amber," who have been an inseparable team for the last three years. Matt teaches seventh grade, and Amber accompanies him to class every day, where she is clearly the main attraction.

As part of its socialization program, NEADS offers members of the public the opportunity to meet future assistance dogs by participating in "puppy petting" on Mondays through Fridays from 4-5pm at the Laura J. Niles Nursery. A small donation is asked, and I can't think of a better way to spend a happy hour.

Monday, November 10, 2008

On the Prowl

It seems that humans are not the only deadly predators out hunting on these pretty fall mornings.

I encountered this obviously well-fed cat during my morning walk on Mason Road, and watched as she espied, pounced, and then caught a hapless mouse twitching in the fallen leaves, as the sounds of men with guns echoed in the background. Here she is, clutching her unfortunate prey.

Cats are carnivores and hunting is a natural behavior, literally part of their DNA, and I accept that, but I refuse to believe that the same is true of us humans.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Download Gene Baur's Farm Santuary eBook Free Today Only!

To celebrate the paperback release of his animal advocacy book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur is making the title available as a free download through Sony's eBook Store, for today only.

Baur is the founder and CEO of Farm Sanctuary, which operates East and West Coast shelters for cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens who have been saved from slaughter. Farm Sanctuary has also taken on the role of consciousness-raiser in chief for all meat eaters, by putting a personal face on the beings who are killed as food for American dinner tables and exposing the often-horrendous conditions in which these animals are kept as they await their ultimate fate.

Here's an excerpt from the book jacket:

"In Farm Sanctuary, Baur provides a thoughtprovoking investigation of the ethical questions involved in the production of beef, poultry, pork, milk,and eggs -- and what each of us can do to stop the mistreatment of farm animals and promote compassion. He details the triumphs and the disappointments of more than twenty years on the front lines of the animal protection movement. And he introduces sanctuary. us to some of the special creatures who live at Farm Sanctuary -- from Maya the cow to Marmalade the chicken -- all of whom escaped horrible circumstances to live happier, more peaceful lives. Farm Sanctuary shows how all of us have an opportunity and a responsibility to consume a kinder plate, making a better life for ourselves and animals as well. You will certainly never think of a hamburger or chicken breast the same way after reading this book. "

If you want to read the rest of the story, just download it free today!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Identities of Saved Thoroughbreds and Implicated Trainers Revealed

Thanks to superb reporting by Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report, we now know that the track behind the rescue of the five thoroughbreds found in the New Holland "kill pen" on Monday was indeed Suffolk Downs, as I had speculated in my earlier post.

In late June, 2008, Suffolk announced a "zero tolerance" policy against horses being shipped from its facility to auctions where they would be destined for slaughter, and its dramatic intervention this week to save the lives of these former equine competitors shows that it means business. It had clearly stipulated that "any trainer found to have sold a horse for slaughter will have his stalls revoked and be denied stalls at any time in the future."

According to Paulick:

"On Sunday, Nov. 2, a CANTER volunteer was tipped off that some Thoroughbreds were enroute to the notorious auction at New Holland where 'killer buyers' have been operating for years. CANTER notified Sam Elliott, vice president of racing for Suffolk Downs, and he made arrangements the following day with the auction company to buy the five racehorses for $2,700, with financial assistance from the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. The horses were subsequently placed with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation."

The thoroughbreds who were saved from being shipped to be slaughtered in Canada are:

Tercia de Reinas '05 Filly
Storm Up Front '02 Gelding
Tiny Target '05 Gelding
Jimmy The Gov '02 Gelding
Arrested Gatorgirl '03 Mare

The individuals "ruled off" from Suffolk for their involvement in jeopardizing these horses were owner Albert Michelson and trainers Pam Pompell, Wayne Sargent, Tony D'Angelo, and Gerry LeFleur.

"Regrettably, for the second time this year we have had a violation of our anti-slaughter policy and we intend to exercise our rights to restrict the access to our property by individuals involved,” said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer for Suffolk Downs. “These horses were sold with deliberate disregard for their ultimate disposition. They didn’t end up at the auction months after they left here but hours later. There are lots of different stories, but the individuals involved should have known better.

“Both Suffolk Downs and the state of Massachusetts expect that the people who stable here will adhere to standards of decency and will uphold their obligation to the animals in their care,” Tuttle said. “The vast majority of the Suffolk Downs horsemen work with us and with accredited retirement programs to ensure safe and healthy second careers for their athletes."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hold the Applause

It was disconcerting to learn that trainers at Mountaineer Racetrack have exploited the gaping loophole in the Management's dictum that they would lose their stalls if horses under their care were found to be offered for sale at the often direct-to-slaughter auction in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

So the kudos for Mountaineer were premature. In fact, they have not committed to a "zero tolerance" policy against shipping horses to slaughter auctions. They have only stipulated that trainers can't ship horses to Sugarcreek. That's not acceptable, and it won't do an iota of good because the trainers have simply started sending their cast-off thoroughbreds to the New Holland auction, instead.

In fact, according to information posted on the Alex Brown Racing discussion forum yesterday, volunteers scouring for thoroughbreds at yesterday's New Holland sale found several from Mountaineer, including one horse who had raced there as recently as October 24th.

The volunteers had been sent by an as-yet unidentified East Coast track which is uncompromisingly committed to a zero tolerance anti-slaughter policy. The track underwrote the efforts to buy back and transport five thoroughbreds who would otherwise have languished in the "kill pens" and been destined for a horrible death at a slaughterhouse in Canada. I have to believe that the unidentified track is Suffolk Downs, which is the only facility on the East Coast to have taken such a strong stand.

The other thoroughbreds who were saved yesterday, with funds raised by anonymous donors and members of the "Fans of Barbaro" include:

Many Many Dreams 2004 Chestnut gelding. Last raced at Lone Star Park in July of 2007
Hopi's Lolo 2004 bay filly. Last raced at Mountaineer on Oct. 24, 2008
Glenda Jane 2003 Dk Bay mare. Last raced at Calder Race Course in Aug of 2006

Monday, November 03, 2008

Are Animals Psychic, or Are They Just Good Listeners?

Cheryl, a new client, recently asked me to check in with her dogs, Buka and Luca, to find out how they were doing, and to see how they were feeling about the fact that Cheryl and her husband are expecting their first child.

The older dog, Buka, an American Staffordshire Terrier, knew all about the impending arrival of the baby, and was actually looking forward to it. Not only that, but Buka said that he could smell the baby and knew that the baby was a boy!

I had no idea if Cheryl even knew the sex of the baby she was carrying, but when I shared Buka's pronouncement, she was truly amazed. It was true. She is due to deliver a baby boy in a few months.

That led us to wonder: is Buka "psychic," meaning that he was able to intuit this information, or is he just an attentive listener who has a much larger vocabulary than we tend to give dogs credit for?

Two weeks ago, CBS Sunday Morning devoted its entire 90-minute show to the subject of animals, and they included a provocative piece entitled, "The Intelligence of Animals: Studies, Behavior Prove There is More Going on in Animals' Minds Than We Thought Possible."

Reporter Tracy Smith asked the question, "What Are They Thinking?" And then added, "If you've always suspected that animals are smarter than they get credit for, that there's more going on behind those eyes than a desire for food or attention. . .you are not alone."

As animal lovers, we all have our anecdotal stories about the cute or amazing or even heroic deeds that our animals have performed. But what animal communicators can bring to light is the fact that animals are immensely more aware of what is going on in the minds of the people around them than researchers have yet been able to measure. And if you don't believe that, just ask Buka.

This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of my monthly eNewsletter, "What's Up With Animals?"
To protect the privacy of my client, I have changed her name.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mountaineer Racetrack May Ban Trainers Selling at Sugarcreek Auction

This is excellent, encouraging news!

The new management at Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino in West Virginia have today let trainers know that if they are found to have shipped horses to the notorious Sugarcreek Auction in Ohio, where most horses are sold to "kill buyers," they will lose their stalls. It's a great first step.

For a compelling, graphic, and very vivid description of what really goes on at the Sugarcreek auction, refer to Anne Russek's Report dated October 17, 2008, and available through the Discussion Forum:

I believe that Ms. Russek's efforts to publicize the barbaric conditions in which horses are kept and shipped from this auction were indirectly instrumental in achieving this milestone, and I sincerely thank her.

Sunday Morning on Mason Pond

A beautiful, crisp morning on Mason Pond, where the Canada Geese are oblivious to the upcoming election.

The silence was precious. No booming guns, no hunting on Sunday.

Everyone is safe, for today.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Close Call for 5 Frightened Turkeys

November 1st was the end of the six-day Massachusetts fall turkey hunting season and it didn't come a minute too soon.

I watched in horror this morning as five turkey hens crossed the road in front of me and fled from an open field to the safety of a thicket, just yards away from a party of orange-jacketed men with guns and predatory dogs.

I froze as I realized the turkeys' plight, praying that the hunting party wouldn't find the beautiful birds. Their fear was palpable, and for a minute, I felt like I was in danger, too.

If the dogs had picked up the scent, the turkeys wouldn't have had a chance, but they passed without noticing the hens, who somehow safely camouflaged themselves, against all odds. I'm not sure that others were so lucky. The boom of guns shook the countryside around me during my half-hour walk, and I'm afraid to imagine how many wild turkeys were lost today, in Holden, and in other rural venues throughout the state.