We stand in unity with the Women’s March today – and each day forward as we move into these increasingly challenging times.
With the current power structure in the United States – that is to say, with the federal government working hand in glove with corporate America and with media no longer playing a watchdog role – Animal Help Now’s work promises to become more difficult in the years ahead.
Even so-called progressive governments in the United States have tended to overlook the needs of animals. We see no signs from the White House or Congress that animals will benefit under the new administration. In fact, recent legislative efforts, recently published policy statements and indeed a simple look at the power roster in Washington leave the animal advocate wondering who exactly is representing her.
Still, we are undeterred. And today, buoyed by outpourings of love and passion across the globe and inspired by the wisdom and creativity and community demonstrated at these magnificent marches, we have new hope that the world can move toward greater justice rather than less.
May those common values ascribed to the feminine – empathy, love, radiance and generosity – hold the day, and may the strength, endurance and determination demonstrated by our sisters (and brothers) today and in all times past serve as both model and motivation as we move into and through the long struggle ahead.
Editor and Social Media Director, Animal Help Now
Cute animal videos have long been an internet sensation, and many sites have profited from their popularity. But much of that “cute” footage actually features animals who are being harassed, abused or otherwise placed in harm’s way. We at Animal Help Now sometimes see our friends and colleagues sharing videos and photos of animals who, upon close inspection or investigation, turn out to be in distress.
We all know that a wild animal whose head is stuck in a discarded yogurt container is no laughing matter. But what about a dog dressed up like a pirate or a bear playing with human toys in someone’s yard?
Before liking or sharing an animal photo or video, it’s important to view it critically and ask yourself whether the animals are part of the fun or in fact apart from it.
Your red flags should be raised, for instance, when you see:
Baby animals in a human’s environment. More than likely, baby animals are the result of humans breeding them. With few exceptions, it’s detrimental for humans to breed other species.
Wild animals in human, nonrehabilitative environments or recorded in a manner that by all accounts would not be possible by a caring human who respects the animals’ wildness. Some wild animals cannot for various reasons live in the wild, and some thrive in human company. We need to do our best to determine whether or not what we’re viewing is OK.
There’s an extensive history of animal abuse in film and video – see this short piece by one of our co-founders, written 26 years ago! Since then we learned that The American Humane Association’s definition of “harmed” is different from ours. We are so relieved that CGI is now replacing live animals in many productions.
Nearly two million people have viewed a bear video shared on the Animal Kingdom & Wild Life Facebook and Instagram pages (screen cap shown in this blog’s featured image). But in this and another video of the bear, it appears she is performing and may lack teeth. It’s common practice to remove the teeth and claws of wild and potentially dangerous animals to more easily manage them and force them to perform. Although thousands of people have shared this video for its “cute” factor, we and others question why the bear appears to lack teeth and consider her likely to be leading an unhappy and unhealthy life.
Examining rabbit videos alone, a couple that have gone viral in recent years include a rabbit being bathed (rabbits can become hypothermic when submerged in water) and a baby rabbit named “Wheelz” who was left in freezing temperatures, injured and then attached to a handmade skateboard by farmers raising rabbits for slaughter.
Yet another shows hundreds of domestic rabbits chasing a woman who bears food on Japan’s “Rabbit Island.” The viral video incited tourists to flock to the deserted, barren island to feed the hungry bunnies, causing a population boom that harmed both the rabbits and the ecosystem. The video also promotes the myth that domestic rabbits can thrive in the wild, teaching people that it’s OK to dump rabbits outdoors – where they quickly fall prey to predators, illness and the elements.
It can be difficult to discern the difference between cute and cruel, but any person who loves and/or respects animals knows they are never the same.
The next time you see a video featuring an animal, consider the source and whether it truly advocates for animals. While the Dodo and One Green Planet are sensitive to this issue, sites such as Bored Panda and Buzzfeed promote videos depicting cruelty to animals even after abuse has been shown.
Try also to discern the circumstances. Abuse isn’t always obvious. If anything looks suspicious, it’s wiser to play it safe and not share it. Sharing “cute” videos of animals in harmful situations rewards and teaches irresponsible behavior. Instead, leave a comment asking probing questions, or if you’re certain the video depicts abuse, call it out wherever it occurs and ask that it be taken down.
Let’s acknowledge but set aside for this brief piece the soul-crushing fact that most animal cruelty is institutionalized and profit driven.
Let’s look instead to Richard Adams, someone who got it right. Adams was the author of several important books, including his seminal work of animal rights fiction, Watership Down, which describes the plight of a group of rabbits searching for a safe place to live while under constant threat from humans.
I finally opened this book when I was forty-something. And its pages quickly enveloped me, resonating not only with my empathy and respect for animals, but also with my experience advocating for another ground-dwelling species – the black-tailed prairie dog.
Adams put into words what I could only feel. In telling the story of Bigwig, Hazel and Fiver, the author articulates the horrors of misappropriated and abused power – horrors that indeed continue to surround animals including humans every day, threatening us, threatening our future, though hidden like a trap they may be.
The best use I can put to my keyboard at this moment is to express my profound gratitude to Richard Adams and encourage you to avail yourself of his story and his works.
And as to that “difference” thing, as Adams himself wrote in Plague Dogs, “It’s time people started thinking of Man as one of a number of species inhabiting the planet; and if he’s the cleverest, that merely gives him more responsibility for seeing that the rest can lead proper, natural lives.”
Richard Adams passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 96, leaving behind a wife, two daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and generations of readers born and unborn who have been, are and will be better people for having read his works.
It’s official. Over the next several years, the State of Colorado will kill hundreds of mountain lions and bears in a tone deaf, misguided effort to increase deer populations for hunting.
With its December 14 decision, the Colorado Wildlife Commission continues its lockstep march with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as the two move forward with yet another lethal, ill-conceived and anachronistic attempt to make the state more hunter friendly.
The commission voted unanimously – unanimously! – to allow trained killers to use cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs to immobilize mountain lions and bears. Then those caught would be shot. Dependent young likely will die of starvation.
Several things of interest here. 1) In the continuing Orwellian tradition, the media is widely referring to these killings as euthanasia. 2) The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an unscientific body, mostly appointed by the governor and heavily skewed toward “consumptive” use of wildlife. 3) Governor Hickenlooper, despite a demonstrable history of understanding the plight of wildlife, continues to stack the commission with anti-wildlife appointees.
This aggression may stand for the time being, but this decision may well sound the death knell for business as usual for the governor and the state’s wildlife agency. The time has long passed for those who love/cherish/respect wildlife and wild places to have a voice in how Colorado – and indeed states across the country – manages its wildlife.
Nothing less than the soul of this state is at stake.
A year ago, as we moved into December, Animal Help Now asked for your support for the year ahead, specifically toward our goal of doubling the number of people who use our app.
You delivered, and so did we.
Before this year is out, more than twice the number of people will have used Animal Help Now than did in 2015.
It’s not possible to determine the actual number of emergency uses of our program, but based on our updated analysis, we put that number, for year-to-date 2016, between 1,114 and 20,898. Our analysts are working to tighten up that range.
As to the doubling in usage: In 2015, our platforms hosted 46,400 sessions. So far in 2016, our platforms have hosted 94,847.
Indeed, the number of sessions on Animal Help Now’s four platforms – desktop web, mobile web, iPhone app, Android app – has increased exponentially each year since we launched the program in 2011.
Connecting thousands of people who need help with an animal emergency with people, businesses, organizations and agencies that can provide that help? Not bad for an organization with total annual expenses of about $100,000.
A certain presidential candidate was certainly right when she said it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to do a lot of things, including raising a nonprofit.
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to give you a quick tour of Animal Help Now’s village.
Let’s start with that smart-looking bunch heading into the office building. That’s the Holland & Hart team. They give our nonprofit pro bono advice on legal matters. Lots of it.
And that guy with the glasses, over there by the barn. That’s Frank Vernon. Genius. Nice guy, too. Created our iPhone app from scratch, and maintains it to this day. Never charged us a dime. The barn? Well, that belongs to Frank and his wife Dorothy. They let us pack in there now and then for a little dancing and downtime.
Frank didn’t do the app singlehandedly, of course. He had the help of a bunch of folks here in the village. Elena Rizzo, for one. She signed on as an Animal Help Now volunteer in the early days and worked her way up to director of research, a nearly full-time, paid position.
Karl Hirschmann did the graphics for the user interface. Karl and his wife Beth are raising two kids, and at the time we brought him on Karl was paying big rent for his little shop off Pearl, so he couldn’t afford to donate his time. But he does give us half off. Sometimes, I think, much more. You do like our logo, I hope.
Speaking of art. Andrea Metzger. Good heavens, how long has she been devoting her spare time to the animals? Andrea always comes through for us with compelling, elegant images in a style all her own. There’s this, for example:
There are so many artists in this village. Have you seen Kevin’s work at FernLakePhotography.com? Kevin has been quite generous with Animal Help Now, providing virtually unlimited access to his catalog. He hasn’t yet reached the fame of a Tom Mangelsen. Not sure he wants to. Tom’s in the village, too, though – did you know?
Hometown boys Dan Ziskin and Bob Rose have played a big part getting us to the present. They were there at the start. Founders. Board members. Their technical expertise has been indispensable. Brian Field has been with us forever, too. He’s worn a lot of hats here. All three of these guys have integrity, drive, and talent in equal and large measures.
All told we have about 35 people working for the group right now. Seven are part-time and paid. The other 28 are volunteers. Our volunteers alone put in hundreds of hours every month.
My mom, bless her soul, wrote generous checks that were necessary to get AHNow off the ground and through the lean times. Scott Keating wrote some, too, as did David Worthington and Julie Staggers. Ted Wood-Prince and Dara Shalette are with us year in and year out. The Bosack and Kruger Foundation has steadfastly funded AHNow through these formative years.
So many in this village have helped us financially. Donations big and small. And to be sure, there are two ways to use those terms. We recognize that $20 can be a big donation. Some of you know one of the village’s animal heroes, Bernadette. Bernadette gives generously to a dozen or more causes every fall. A few years back she wrote the whole check just to us.
The list of good neighbors goes on and on. (I’ll stop soon.) Karen Dawson makes sure our finances are in order. Jill Bielawski makes sure our grammar’s good.
Leslie Irvine teaches at the university down the road. Big friend of animals. Writes books about them! Leslie has provided us with a good dozen or so interns through the years. A few of those students have absolutely inspired us older folks with their brilliance, goodness, and work ethic. I can say they’ve bolstered my hope for the future. Their parents must be proud.
That group of thinkers there in the coffee shop – that’s our advisory council. They’ve all signed on in just the past six months. Our business experts, Alan and Tania. Our wildlife folks, Donna and Ann-Elizabeth and Dr. Reading. Oh, and Dr. Klem, of course. He’s the country’s – maybe the world’s – leading expert on bird window strikes.
Down the street there’s PC’s Pantry for Dogs and Cats. Marylee, Colleen, and the crew have hosted AHNow donation containers on their counters for years and years. Whenever Colleen sees a loose bill on the ground with no one to claim it, she drops it in.
Our village isn’t geographically constrained. Our vol Danielle is going to school at Cornell. She makes time every week to work on improving our Google search results. Successfully, I’ll add. Neeharika is from the Bay Area. She and the analysis team are helping us better understand how people use our program. And there’s Katherine in Texas, Kelly in Wisconsin, Glenn in New Mexico, … It occurs to me I’m not even certain where a few of our villagers reside.
Our peers and partners are integral to our success, too. The folks at the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council take our calls. The Dallas/Fort Worth Wildlife Coalition picks up, too. We’re making friends with animal emergency professionals all over the country. You can’t do what we do without those relationships.
We’re certainly humbled by the support we get from our community. I like to think people recognize that we’re just as committed to our village as they are. It’s pretty obvious they appreciate that the little nonprofit they’re nurturing already is saving lives and spreading love and hope and compassion all over the land. : )
Two writers for the Dear Science section of the Washington Post stated today that injured and “lost” wildlife should be left alone. The authors correctly write that many young animals who appear to be orphaned are simply being left alone while Mom is out getting food or distracting predators. They also correctly state that helping distressed wildlife can be dangerous and should involve professional help.
But somehow they convince themselves that a bird hitting a window is part of a natural process. Their conclusion references a quote by Don Despain, a retired National Parks Service ecologist. Here the authors liken a typical human urban environment with the relatively intact Yellowstone ecosystem:
In nature, an injured animal — say, the bird in your back yard with a broken wing — will become food for a predator — perhaps an owl. The remains that the owl doesn’t eat will go on to feed microbes that fertilize the soil, which in turn gives rise to new plants, which will feed the insects that become a meal for future birds. This whole system is the “wildness” that Despain speaks of. It’s worth thinking about the next time you come across an injured bird.
Actually, it’s not worth thinking about. That’s time wasted that could be spent trying to save the bird’s life. Here’s our response, published in the comments section:
Dear Science, we couldn’t agree more about the dangers of “kidnapping” young wild animals whose parents are simply out of sight. And we couldn’t agree less about the conclusion you’ve come to regarding letting nature take its course. Prof Daniel Klem states in peer-reviewed literature that about one billion birds are killed by striking windows in the United States each year. Prof Klem estimates that another billion are injured. That’s 30 per second killed, and another 30 per second injured. Surely nature can’t be so out of balance as to benefit from this anthropogenic disaster. Another billion small mammals are killed by cats in this country every year. Two billion birds. And another 500,000 animals are killed in the U.S. every day by motor vehicle strikes. So we should let the millions of survivors suffer and die? No! We should try our best to help them. This country has an amazing network of wildlife emergency professionals who can help us. As you rightly point out, it’s very important to bring them in as soon as possible on an emergency. To help you find them, our nonprofit humbly suggests using our website (AnimalHelpNow.org) or our phone app.
The authors downplay the value of helping individual animals and instead regurgitate the tired assertion that conservation is about populations. Yet we all should know the unfortunate truth that a species’ long-term chance of survival usually depends at least to some degree on a human or group of humans ascribing value to it. Welcome to the Anthropocene, Science.
AHNow was recently alerted to a situation in the Midwest, where a wildlife rehabilitation facility is at the center of a federal investigation into the care and handling of animals.
We’re not naming names here, but anyone with basic web research skills will probably find the organization without much difficulty.
From what we can tell, this operation is more of a petting zoo than a legitimate wildlife rehabilitation operation – perhaps operating with even less integrity than most other roadside attractions that exploit live animals.
The concerns are manifold. The operators breed animals, they allow the public to handle wildlife, and they oversee an operation with multiple repeat violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
And yet somehow the state’s wildlife rehabilitation licensing agency doesn’t see fit to revoke this facility’s license. Perhaps this is because the facility has a large social media following. That’s our best guess – our only guess, really.
We’ve expressed our concerns to that agency. And we’ve pulled the organization from Animal Help Now’s listings.
When questionable practices arise, we refer to two guidelines:
The Code of Ethics for Wildlife Rehabilitators jointly developed by National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC). This is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to know the standards by which wildlife rehabilitators should operate.
The standards promulgated by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
The facility in question failed in measuring up to these standards.
This doesn’t mean such facilities can’t redeem themselves. It does mean we won’t send anyone there until they do.
We are hoping in this case that the federal investigation results in significant changes at the facility and positive outcomes for the animals, which would of course ripple out into a better educated and more sensitive public.
People advocate for animals in so many different ways, but ever popular is the protest. Make some signs. Alert the media. Congregate. Educate.
Actually, protests went out of favor following 9/11. If you were objecting to pretty much anything happening in the United States, you were labeled anti-American. No surprise that the media played along.
But protests are back. And that’s a good thing.
What’s not so good is that young advocates – certainly in the animal rights movement but probably in many movements – fail to avail themselves of the knowledge and experience of those who stood on protest lines before them. And to some extent, that those who have gone before fail to share their wisdom with their successors.
Not that the predecessors were infallible. Far from it. They made many mistakes. That’s the idea here. Let’s learn. Let’s register our lessons. Here are a couple.
Focus on the Common. If I’m an animal counting on you to free me, and you’re letting some petty disagreement with a colleague consume your time and focus and energy… well, thanks but no thanks. You’re failing.
Remember that handy fact we activists have wielded so consistently to advance our cause – the fact that humans and chimpanzees share 96% of their DNA? In the animal activism world, two people can share 96% of their philosophies, but the 4% that divides them – say one believes feral cats should be trapped and killed and the other believes feral cats should be trapped, neutered and released – this 4% is all too often what’s focused on. To the point where those two activists may never speak to one another again.
Do you understand what I’m saying? If we want people to focus on our 96%, we better learn to focus on the 96%.
Share the Wisdom. A recently created advocacy organization held a four-hour protest last weekend regarding a municipality’s plan to kill prairie dogs. That’s a good thing to protest. But four hours is too long. It spreads thin the turnout, which makes less of an impact in whatever media coverage they get. Plus it burns out the activists.
Love. Participants also engaged in unpleasant exchanges with passersby. That’s not what the animals need. They need constructive exchanges. It’s pretty obvious when someone is trying to provoke a protester. It’s the protester’s job to not engage. It’s the organizer’s job to ensure the protesters know this.
Think Big (Picture). Animal advocacy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And the roots of animal suffering feed many other injustices. Poverty. Environmental racism. Habitat loss… The best hope for the animals is that we advocates recognize this. It’s tremendously empowering. Ours are not voices in the wilderness, after all.
Fortunately, many good books have been written on effective advocacy. Here‘s a nice selection.
What did us older activists learn from decades of prairie dog advocacy? A lot. Way too much to go into here. But we do need to organize that information and get it in front of the right people.
It’s time for the animal rights movement to grow up. It’s time for each of us to do a little accounting and figure out what we can do better. So many animals have suffered because of our hubris and ineptitude. That has to stop. We’re better than that. And our cause is just!
Your first clue that a bird in the road is alive is she’s moving or upright. Last week I was traveling with a friend on a highway in northeastern Iowa. I saw that dreaded “object” on the shoulder ahead, and as we approached I discerned a bird, and then I saw she was upright, just a foot or two from the road.
We pulled over, and with t-shirt in hand I approached her, positioned myself between her and the road, and quickly captured her. A cardinal. Beautiful, she was, with her telltale tuft.
Open your app, I said to my friend – an AHNow supporter. But he had removed it, so we opened it on my phone. The nearest help was across the Mississippi in Wisconsin. The person who answered the phone said she couldn’t accept birds from across state lines.
I examined the results. The nearest Iowa rehabilitator was an hour-and-a-half drive in the wrong direction. The nearest Minnesota rehabilitator was two hours in the right direction. We got back on the road.
And then I noticed the spot of blood on the t-shirt. She was bleeding slightly from her mouth. I googled “emergency vets” but the nearest one was a half hour away, in Minnesota. I called. The receptionist said by law Minnesota veterinarians cannot accept wildlife. We kept driving, unsure of our next move.
But then the bird went limp. Her eyes showed no life. She was dead. We pulled over, and I placed her beneath a tree away from the road.
What was her story?, I wondered. Did she have a mate? Had they been together for a year? Two years? Five? Did she have dependent young in the nest she’d built with him? Was he still alive, or had he also been killed on that treacherous path?
And what to make of the experience? Well, first, the Animal Help Now app takes up about as much room on a phone as a few photos do. (My friend had removed the app in a misguided effort to save space. He has since reinstalled it.)
The incident also further confirms what we already know:
The world needs more wildlife rehabilitators.
States prohibitions against transporting wildlife across state lines should be re-examined.
Minnesota should allow veterinarians to treat wildlife (if in fact that’s not already the case).
It’s probably also true that several people chose to drive by that helpless bird, feeling they probably could do nothing. I’m not certain that my intervention didn’t add stress to the bird’s last half hour of life. I can only hope she sensed my intentions.
Less than a week later I had a very different experience. Driving in Colorado Springs on busy Delmonico toward busier Rockrimmon, I noticed a tiny bird in the middle turn lane of the five-lane road. Again, this bird was upright, meaning I should act fast.
I stopped my car, grabbed a cloth napkin that just happened to be within reach, got out and walked carefully toward the little bird, approaching from behind. Somehow all five lanes were quiet. I dropped the napkin over him, picked him up, and walked toward the nearest trees.
He seemed OK. Just young. No sooner had I set him down on the grass a safe distance from the road than his father appeared, landing right next to us. I backed off quickly, seeing his mother also alight as I did. If he can just fly, I thought, things are going to be fine.
I scooted back to my car to get my phone for a picture, but when I returned – not 20 seconds later – everyone was gone. Just a little talk from the trees was all that remained.
It was the perfect rescue. So very very different from the likely outcome had an observant and compassionate person not come along. I didn’t need Animal Help Now on this one. But I probably will on the next.