Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thoughts on a Snowy Pheasant Morning

I was unpleasantly surprised to see snowflakes begin to accumulate as I walked along Mason Road this morning. It's too soon for this, I thought, but my dismay quickly turned to delight as I encountered a pair of male ringnecked pheasants just a few feet away. They were startled to see me, and tried to camouflage themselves from view, but it was difficult not to discern their gorgeous plumage against an increasingly white background. Happily for all of us, there were no hunters in sight, but we could hear the cannon booms of their guns in the woods not far away.

The echoes of those guns reminded me of a hunter-caused tragedy that occurred just a few weeks ago in the woods of Virginia, where a young couple mourns the senseless death of their beloved German Shepherd, Zeb, who was intentionally shot in the head by a malicious human predator roaming nearby. Even though I had never met Zeb, or his human companions, his death has haunted me since I learned what happened to him.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Feral Cats Facing a Death Sentence

Dozens and possibly hundreds of feral cats living in a secluded cargo area at New York's Kennedy Airport are being trapped and otherwise "rounded up" by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Despite protestations to the contrary, it appears that these hapless cats are destined for death, rather than re-homing.

The Port Authority claims that the cats are attracting birds that could interfere with incoming or outgoing planes, but that strains credulity, in that the cats are inhabiting an area far from the runways. They are also doing a service by hunting and eliminating rats and other rodents.

The undeserved killing of these homeless felines, regardless of how it is done, is an unnecessarily ruthless solution to a dubious problem, particularly in light of offers from numerous humane-minded groups, including Neighborhood Cats, which advocates a Trap-Neuter-Return approach to feral cat colonies, to resolve the situation in a more civilized and compassionate way.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mourning the Death of a Champion

It's the morning after the Breeders' Cup, but I am not celebrating.

For me, the magnificent triumps of the last two days have been washed away in a sea of grief for the tragic death of Ireland's gallant champion, George Washington (Ire), who was euthanized just minutes after he was pulled up at the end of the Breeders' Cup Classic, having suffered a catastrophic injury on a muddy quagmire of a racing surface to which he was unaccustomed and ill-suited.

There is a fine line between good sportsmanship and greed and hubris. In the case of "Gorgeous George," as he had been affectionately nicknamed by his appreciative fans, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that he lost his life in pursuit of his owners' desire to prove something.

When this talented colt proved less than fertile at stud last year, he was pulled out of retirement and brought back to the rigors of competition. And that is what led to his untimely, sickening demise, in front of thousands of spectators and millions of TV viewers. It was a terrible, undeserved death. In spite of the on-call veterinarians' hesitancy to blame the boggy track conditions for the injury, can there really be any doubt that the mucky surface caused turf-loving George Washington (Ire) to slip and take a series of missteps that ultimately proved fatal?

I am sure that trainer Aidan O'Brien, his staff, and everyone who nurtured George Washington (Ire) to greatness are devastated by his death. Yet I ultimately have to wonder why they put him in harm's way.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cats as Companions During War

Former New York Times Bagdad Bureau Chief John Burns writes about the way in which cats managed to ingratiate themselves into the lives of the journalists who cover the war, in "What Cats Know About War," published in today's "Week in Review" section.

The veteran war correspondent, who has covered conflicts in most of the bloodiest venues of the last 30 years, recently left his post in Iraq but recalls with fondness how the routine of caring for itinerant felines behind the walls of The Times' walled compound brought a measure of compassion and humanity into an otherwise danger-filled beat.

He tells of the bitter winter night when he rescued a tiny, scrappy kitten whom he subsequently named, "Scooter":

"Watching her, and the two litters of kittens she had over the following 18 months, offered we humans a new reaction to the cacophony of the war. The bloodiest suicide bombings, even miles away, have the sound and feel of the apocalypse, causing humans to freeze, no matter how often they experience it. Cats need to hear it only once. As they skitter to the safety of trees and bushes, they enter the blast and the tremor on the hard drive of their brains. On the next occasion, come the blast, they barely stir. "

But because of Burns' kindness and perseverence in negotiating their way out of Iraq when he left the country last summer, Scooter and her progeny are now out of danger, safely ensconced in England, and "liberation into a green and pleasant land where they would be full citizens, never again wanting for shelter, warmth and food. "

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Turkeys in the Mist

The parade of wildlife continues.

On this cool, drizzly morning, I was treated to a meadowful of wild turkeys, spread across the grassy field like a line of Rockettes, foraging for the fruits of early fall.

By the time I ran back to snatch my camera and click some photos, the 11-member flock was disappearing into the dense woods at the far edge of the field.

Their appearance felt like a gift of encouragement on a dreary day. Wild turkeys have held a special significance for me since the death of my younger sister, Janice, in April, 2003. In desperation at the thought of never seeing her again, I asked her to send me wild turkeys as a sign of her continued presence. I don't know why: I had never had a particular attachment to these large colorful birds, which are at once so common yet so elusive throughout central Massachusetts.

Yet almost as soon as I whispered this prayer, the turkeys began to come. They appeared constantly, and everywhere, and often in the most unlikely of places, such as suburban driveways, highways, and even hiding behind telephone poles. One day, when I hadn't seen a turkey for a while, I began to despair, fearing that their seeming disappearance was a sign that she was no longer with me. Within minutes, a turkey appeared in the middle of the road, in front of my car. The message from my sister could not have been more clear.

So everytime I see these magical birds, I know that Janice is also nearby, unseen, but very much in the picture.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Woodpecker Morning

I only wish I had brought my camera on my morning walk along beautiful Mason Road in Holden today.

The usual peace and tranquility was disturbed by a crew of workers who were rudely slashing down brush and what they perceived as nuisance trees along the road. I wasn't the only one who objected to their insensitivity. Not 20 yards from the tree cutters' saws, I heard the brash rat-tat-tat of an incensed woodpecker, who obviously disapproved of the carnage. I looked up and just above me, a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker pranced around the trunk of a deadened tree. I've been walking up and down this road for eight autumns now, and have never even glimpsed one of these proud, pointy, red, white, and black specimens before. I felt that the woodpecker had appeared to claim his territory, and to do his best to try to show the unwelcome intruders that they had trespassed on his turf. The more trees they savaged, the fewer there were to feed this insect seeker, and his kin.

Whether it was the disturbance of the loud machinery or just happenstance, I saw another furtive animal, a Fisher cat, just moments later, as it hurriedly crossed the road several feet in front of me, from one deeply wooded area to another. Tree-living Fishers have become abundant in the greater central Massachusetts area, and are notorious as vicious hunters of unwary domestic cats. I had never seen one before, but have frequently heard their blood-curdling screams in the woods behind my home, usually under cover of darkness.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An Analysis of Human Grief at the Loss of a Beloved Animal

In her article entitled, The Ambivalent Bond with a Ball of Fur, published today, The New York Times science writer Natalie Angier muses on the recent death of her beloved cat, Cleo, noting that she was somewhat taken aback at the extent of her grief at his passing.

She attempts to dissect the glue of the human-animal bond, but doesn't quite succeed, in my view. Ms. Angier is a science writer, after all, and she paints a rather dispassionate view of the traits that make our animal companions so beloved to so many people, while noting with some disdain that "we abandon difficult pets, and shelters euthanize some 10 million pets a year."

I simply do not share Ms. Angier's ambivalence about the rightful place of animals in my life. I embrace them without worrying about whether I am being too sentimental, and try always to treat them as sentient individuals, each deserving of respect and dignity.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Culture of Cruelty

Listen to NPR's Scott Simon's heartfelt commentary, When Man is the Basest Beast, about the barbaric practices of dog fighting and the mutilation of cruelly captive ducks and geese for the production of foie gras.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

You may think that Canada is a civilized country.

But it’s very difficult to comprehend how a civilized country could countenance, and even support, the killing of hundreds of thousands of baby harp seals each year at this time, on the ice floes on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, by members of the fishing industry. Yet that is what has been happening for years, and it’s scheduled to happen again, as early as next week. The defenseless seal pups are mercilessly clubbed to death for their skins, which, in some cases, are removed even before these youngsters take their last breaths. It’s unconscionable. It’s unimaginable. It’s barbaric. It is the world’s largest slaughter of marine mammals, with more than one million young seals killed during the last three years alone.

You can do something about it. But you must act now.

What can you do? You can sign the Humane Society of the Unites States-sponsored pledge not to buy Canadian seafood products such as snow crab, cod, scallops, and shrimp until Canada ends its commercial seal hunt for good.

I am one of more than 340,000 individuals who have taken the pledge, joined by restaurants in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas and Vermont, including Legal Sea Foods, Whole Foods Market, Wild Oats Markets and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafes.

I will be doing more than just boycotting Canadian seafood. I will not set food on Canadian soil as long as the seal hunt continues.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It has just been reported that aminopterin, an ingredient found in rat poison, has been identified in the recalled pet foods manufactured by Menu Foods a week ago.

Illegal for use in the United States, this toxic substance is believed to have contaminated wheat or wheat gluten products that were imported from China.

Pet food is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is now conducting an investigation into the extent and cause of the problems traced to products originating from the Menu Foods manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Canada. Complaints can be submitted to your State FDA Consumer Complaint Representative.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Almost 50 private and commercial label brands of canned and "cuts and gravy"wet-style packaged dog food and 40 brands of similarly packaged cat food are being recalled by their manufacturer, the Toronto-based Menu Foods, which announced the $40 million "precautionary" recall on March 16, 2007.

The massive recall was prompted by several reports of cats and dogs falling suddenly ill, and in some cases, dying of renal failure, after ingesting foods that were traced to those manufactured at one of the Menu Foods plants in the U.S. from December, 2006 through early March, 2007. The company had purportedly changed its wheat gluten supplier during this period.

You may never have heard of Menu Foods, but you are undoubtedly familiar with the companies for which they provide dog and cat food ingredients, including Cadillac, Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro, Nutro Natural Choice, and Science Diet (Savory Cuts).

According to the Hill's Pet Nutrition (makers of Science Diet) website, "Hill’s has received no reported cases of illness. Consumers of other pet food brands manufactured by Menu Foods have reported a small number of cases of cats becoming ill with loss of appetite, vomiting, and lethargy which are potential signs of kidney failure."

P&G Pet Care, the parent company of Iams and Eukanuba, admitted that it had received reports of "a small number" of cats in the U.S. becoming sick and developing symptoms of kidney failure. According to its press release on the recall, P&G Pet Care has not yet received any reports of dogs becoming sick after having ingested any of its affected products.

Wheat gluten, the presumed culprit of the health problems that resulted in this recall, is a controversial ingredient in pet food, among some holistic veterinarians and nutritionists. It is a cheap source of protein, but it has also been linked to feline diabetes and is known to cause allergic reactions in both animals and people.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Noted Northern California Animal Communicator Marta Williams, author of Learning Their Language, will make a rare East Coast appearance in New England at the end of March, to teach a series of workshops on intuitive animal communication.

If you spend a lot of time with horses (or want to!), you'll be interested in Talking With Horses, a hands-on workshop that will be conducted at a private barn in Pelham, NH on Monday, March 26th, from 10-6.

Working with horses at this stable, you'll have the opportunity to participate in simple verifiable exercises, engage in intuitive "conversations" and learn to trust the information you receive.

Marta will also discuss natural traning techniques and holistic care practices.

The cost for the day is $165; you can register on Marta's website.

Friday, February 23, 2007

If you're experiencing a recurring training or behavioral issue with your horse or dog, and feel stuck, here's something to try.

Send your animal an image of the outcome you're trying to achieve, rather than focusing on the "bad" or improper pattern that keeps being repeated.

For example, I received two requests this week from riders whose horses were having trouble with canter departures. After communicating with each horse, I was able to pinpoint the reason for his or her difficulty, and provide recommendations as to how to work through the problem. In both cases, I also suggested that the rider send her horse a picture of how she would like the departure to be executed, knowing that the horse would pick this up and more easily grasp what was being asked.

We can all get into the trap of visualizing undesired results in a situation like this. We unconciously condition ourselves to fear and expect the worst, and then voila! The worst happens. By clearly imagining and focusing on the outcome you are trying to achieve, and then sending that detailed image to your animal, you'll enhance your training and both of you will be able to move on more confidently.