With a Million Species at Risk of Extinction from Human Causes, What’s an Individual to Do?


Note: This piece was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 24, 2019.

The recently released summary of the upcoming UN report on nature describes a biosphere rapidly degrading under the profoundly deleterious influences of Homo sapiens. (Yes, the upright species with the opposable thumbs and magnificent brains.)

Most of us have seen the headlines covering one of the study’s more frightening conclusions – that humans are putting a million animal and plant species at risk of extinction. That’s one in every nine.

The summary’s key messages:

  • Nature embodies biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Nature sustains and inspires humans.
  • Nature is deteriorating at an increasingly accelerated rate at human hands, and in turn is increasingly less able to sustain and inspire humans.
  • “Transformative change” is required to effectively address this crisis.

The authors define transformative change as “a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Transformative change is a rather tall order in a world of conflict and competition, diminishing resources and increasing human population – where one human’s disappearing ice caps and starving polar bears are another’s emerging trade routes.

Spoiler alert: the humans who value nature over wealth acquisition are the only ones who can guide us out of this mess.

The good news, I suppose, is that with one in nine species at risk of extinction, we don’t have to fly to Africa or bus down to the zoo to see endangered animals. They’re right in our backyard! The study essentially asserts they’re actually inside our homes, too – get up close to a mirror to see one.

The assessment’s authors rank the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. They are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use (2) direct exploitation of organisms (3) climate change (4) pollution and (5) invasive species.

It will not surprise you, reader, that our species is singularly to blame for these adverse impacts … though I do fault prairie dogs, too; more on that below.

I think it was Einstein who said, “Transformative change cannot be achieved by the same ninnies who created the need for transformative change.” Maybe not verbatim. The good thing is that change can happen in a generation. Perhaps we’ll lose only a half million species!

In the meantime, it’s high time for us – each of us – to get right. Those deleterious changes in land use? We’re fattening up animals to fatten up ourselves when we should be feeding our fellow humans. We need to eat lower on the food chain. More plant protein. More local. Same with “the direct exploitation of organisms.” The biggie there is commercial fisheries. Consuming more plant protein covers those first two, and arguably it’s the best thing you can do to combat climate change, not to mention that fewer wild horses and badgers and coyotes and mountain lions will be killed by ranchers and government agents in your name. And we need to buy less stuff. Stuff is not the stuff of happiness.

Now that we are surrounded by endangered species, our everyday actions can effect transformative change. This starts by valuing the wild animals and plants around us. Cherish and support pollinators. Keep cats indoors; better yet, give them access to the elements from inside a screened-in deck or porch. Domestic cats and dogs kill billions of wild animals every year in the United States. Make your windows bird friendly – a billion birds die in this country each year from window strikes. Drive carefully. Animals haven’t adapted to our highways and fast-moving vehicles. Don’t use glue traps – they are criminal, whether they ensnare a target or nontarget animal. If you see abandoned fishing line on your next hike, retrieve it. If you’re tempted to abandon fishing line/gear, just abandon fishing instead, please.

Be ready if you encounter injured, potentially orphaned or distressed wildlife. Downloading our free app. Hug your local wildlife rehabilitator. Hug a hunter, too, if you want to, but let’s modify the funding mechanisms for our state wildlife agencies so those of us who don’t hurt and kill wildlife have much more say in wildlife “management.”

Be humbled. We humans are not that great. We could be, but that would require … what’s the term? Oh yeah, transformative change! Read the nature study summary (bit.ly/IPBESReport) and the 14-page Green New Deal (https://www.brightest.io/green-new-deal).

Oh, and about those prairie dogs – I was just kidding. We have met the destructive pests, and they are us.


Beyond Name-calling: How Smarter Advocacy Can Better Serve Our Animal Friends


The Opossum Dropin North Carolina pits rural folks against people in urban and suburban communities. Advocates would be wise to keep this in mind.

Millie being lowered during the 2018 opossum "drop"

I understand that a human being can be OK with capturing a wild animal for a few days, putting the animal on display, and then releasing the animal back into the wild. I am not OK with it, and very likely you are not OK with it, but I understand that some humans are.

So when a group of people in Brasstown, North Carolina, get together every December 31 to celebrate the new year by hoisting a live opossum in a plexiglass box above a public stage and then lowering the animal at midnight (a la the Times Square ball), even though I’m completely opposed to the activity, I can see how they view this as harmless if not good clean fun.

Those of us who oppose such activities need to understand – there’s a lot at play here.

There’s the empathy gene thing, and we advocates are well served to always keep it in mind, because some people will never, can never “get it.” But a lack of individual empathy doesn’t explain Brasstown. It doesn’t explain dogfights, cockfights, horse racing. And it doesn’t help us stop them. Our efforts must be informed by a constant awareness that such activities are closely associated with culture and community type.

But first, a little background.

North Carolina’s Be Cruel to Opossums Law

The North Carolina legislature legally sanctioned the live opossum “drop” – there’s only one – in 2015 when, after a lawsuit effectively ended the event, state legislators passed a law that suspends protections for opossums from December 29 or each year to January 2 of the subsequent year.

We call this statute North Carolina’s Be Cruel to Opossums law because it not only enabled the Brasstown “tradition” to continue, it also opened a five-day window each year that completely removes legal protections for opossums statewide.

Note: The recently passed federal animal cruelty law does not apply to the opossum “drop”. You’ll find details on this here.

Effects of the Opossum “Drop” on Opossums

Opossum experts, including veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators, have testified about the harm done to the opossum before, during, and after the opossum “drops.” They state that stress cardiomyopathy, capture myopathy, and stress-related dermal septic necrosis are common in opossums and can be fatal. We know from the opossum “drop’s” history that the event almost invariably causes one or more of these conditions in the trapped opossum, who are by nature shy and timid animals and are afraid of humans.

Millie, post surgery to amputate her leg.

Community Type: The Locals Problem

We also know from experience these facts don’t compel your average Brasstown reveler. (Stressed? Traumatized?! You gotta be kiddin’ me!)

No surprise here. It’s a self-selecting group, after all. And perhaps no surprise really that there’s little apparent local opposition to the event. This is a small and somewhat isolated rural community in the Appalachian Mountains.

A recent PEW Research Center study offers valuable insights into how rural life differs from suburban life, and how each of these differs from urban life – alarmingly, in many ways these differences are increasing. Whether political, demographic, religious, or perceptive, such differences can create massive challenges when urban meets rural meets suburban meets urban.

Consider this finding from the PEW study:

About six-in-ten rural residents say the values of urban dwellers don’t align with theirs; 53% of urban residents say the same about the values of those in rural areas.

That’s a rough foundation upon which to build meaningful dialog on a divisive issue. Nevertheless, we tried last year when the event was held in nearby Andrews, but ultimately talks broke down.

Still, the town won’t be hosting another opossum drop anytime soon. Opossum “drops” are, under the best scenarios, bad for opossums; in Andrews last year, we saw the worst.

Millie’s Story

The opossum we now call Millie was injured and sick when she was hoisted into the air in the town’s Heritage Park at 10 pm on December 31, 2018, and dangled for two hours above the raucous Andrews crowd, while music blared and fireworks were set off. After she was haphazardly lowered to the stage at midnight, she was whisked away by two caring locals who had been promised by the event’s founder and organizer, Clay Logan, that they could take her. (Score a very small point here for Logan. Fun fact: he’s a county commissioner.)

Left untreated by her “handlers” before the event, Millie’s injuries led to an infection so severe that the rescuers reported they could smell it on the stage well before they even reached the box.

The veterinarian who treated Millie after the event stated that her injuries were consistent with those caused by leghold traps and snares. She had suffered both prolonged loss of circulation to her left front paw and a broken bone in her left front leg.

Amputation was necessary to save Millie’s life.

She is learning to get around on three legs, though you can still see her left shoulder joint at work in its futile attempt to move her phantom limb. (Click here for non-graphic video.)

Ending North Carolina’s Opossum “Drop”

An effective approach to fighting animal cruelty is to marginalize it. This shouldn’t be hard with the opossum “drop,” as it was already in the margins before the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) ill-advisedly legitimized it. The NCGA isn’t exactly a bastion of progressive politics, but animal cruelty – at least the non-institutionalized variety – is condemned by Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.

Just as roadshows featuring diving mules and chimpanzees on rollerskates have been pushed to the margins and off the page, so must and so will opossum “drops.”

This is not a Brasstown issue. This is a North Carolina issue, and surely a majority of North Carolinians will recognize their representatives should correct the mistake made by the General Assembly in 2015 and repeal SL 2015-73. Millie is going to help us in this regard. She is surviving proof of the injustice of this ridiculous law.

What You Can Do

First, keep in mind that name-calling won’t get us anywhere. We may never see eye to eye with people who have little respect for animals, but insulting and berating them is not going to help, and indeed it may result in their treating animals even worse.

Second, click here for a list of actions you can take to honor Millie and to relegate opossum “drops” to the dustbin of history.


Breaking a Habit of Abuse — The campaign to end the “Possum Drop” in western North Carolina


Co-Authored with Kathleen McCurdy, Concerned North Carolina Citizen and Member of Team Millie. Team Millie is a cooperative effort led by Animal Help Now and The Opossum’s Pouch Sanctuary, Rescue and Rehabilitation, seeking year-round protection for opossums in North Carolina.

A young, wild opossum spends hours suspended in a box above a group of New Year’s Eve revelers in a small town in western North Carolina. It’s still a few hours till midnight, at which time she will be lowered to the stage, in a misguided attempt to add a local flavor to New York’s Times Square “ball drop” tradition.

She is no doubt stressed from the cold and rainy weather, the loud music and fireworks, and most importantly the festering wound in her front left leg. According to a veterinarian who later examined and treated her, she would be in this box on this miserable night with a snapped bone in her leg, with blood flow to her foot severely restricted, and with an infection growing in the accompanying flesh wound. Rescuers who later that night got the opossum to safety said they could smell the infection from several feet away.

Although North Carolina law normally prohibits such treatment of wildlife, what is happening to this opossum is legal, because it is the New Year holiday. See, the North Carolina state legislature passed a law several years ago stripping the species of all protections over the New Year, all so that one family could have the go-ahead to continue profiting from a sad and cruel little western NC tradition called the “possum drop.”

It’s almost a year now since the injured and sick opossum was left dangling in the noise and cold for hours above that stage. Thanks to caring people who attended the event just to help the opossum, she received urgent veterinary attention shortly after her ordeal. The shy and gentle animal we now call Millie survived the abuse, though she will never recover from her injury. Her leg was amputated 10 days into the new year, despite her veterinarian’s every attempt to save it. 

Millie is learning to get around on three legs, though you can still see her left shoulder joint at work in its futile attempt to move her phantom limb. Click here to see the sad, but not graphic, video of Millie in recovery.

Millie also is slowly learning to trust her caregivers, which is important, as she will live out her life in a wildlife sanctuary, unable to ever return to her woodland home.

It’s worth noting here that publicity for the event states it’s OK for people to enjoy themselves because the animals aren’t harmed. Right.

“‘Possum Drop” promotional poster with “zone of lawlessness” making light of suspension of cruelty protections. The organizer’s website prominently proclaims, “We just want to let you know that we do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to harm the ‘possum.”

Compassionate people and animal advocacy organizations have been working for years to put a permanent end to this practice, either legislatively or by convincing the organizers to abandon their anachronistic “fun.” The event has alternately traumatized, injured, and killed animals throughout its 25-year history. The fate of most animals will never be known, because after they’ve been captured, held, and subjected to a raucous crowd, they tend to be simply tossed back into the wild. Some have surely not survived and likely suffered prolonged deaths, including the one who was blinded in one eye during the five-day ordeal before being discarded. 

Millie may change all of that. She is the proverbial smoking gun. She is living, surviving proof that what happens at opossum “drops” is anything but good, clean fun.

We are hopeful that Millie’s experience will help North Carolina legislators come to their senses and ensure that what happened to Millie will never happen to another animal. Certainly the appalling treatment of Millie is the reason more than one 150 thousand people signed the petition calling for the repeal of the state’s inane “Be Cruel to Opossums” law.

In the meantime, a member of the Logan family has communicated to us that there will be yet another opossum drop this year in Brasstown.

How You Can Help

Visit www.JusticeForMillie.org, and see the suggested action items at the bottom of the page.


Euthanasia: The Quiz.


It’s time for a new term. Malthanasia, perhaps?

Euthanasia is defined as a kind death, generally applying to animals outside our own species, mostly to our animal companions, whom we deem to no longer have (or to soon no longer have) an acceptable quality of life, due to injury, illness and/or advanced age. Euthanasia is mercy killing.

Another “eu” word is euphemism, defined as the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.

Euthanasia is often used as a euphemism. An example of the euphemistic use of euthanasia is when a dog or cat is killed because an animal shelter is at capacity. Another is when a black bear is killed for rummaging through human garbage. And another is when a perfectly healthy raccoon or squirrel is killed because (for whatever reason) the animal cannot survive in the wild. (Most US states require wildlife rehabilitators to kill such animals.)

Bear rummaging through garbage left out.

These are not mercy killings. They often are done as humanely as possible, but they are not mercy killings.

People are using euthanasia as a euphemism so often that now we’re starting to see the term humane euthanasia. Please. No.

I’m almost more saddened by humane euthanasia than by the euphemistic use of euthanasia. Almost.

To the quiz. Do the authors of the paragraphs below use the term correctly?

Raccoons are listed in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “furbearer” category, along with red/gray foxes, otters, beavers and bobcats. A permit is required from ODFW in order to capture and euthanize any of these animals on your property. Homeowners can also contact a licensed wildlife control operator to remove and euthanize the animals. Excerpted from What to do about uninvited diggers in the garden.  

The bobcat, who’d been wounded in an encounter with a vehicle, was later euthanized humanely by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which then used the story as a Twitter reminder of how not to let your best intentions get in the way of your common sense. Excerpted from Bobcats in Back Seats and Other Bad Choices Around Colorado Wildlife.

As soon as it can be determined that sick or injured wildlife is not likely to recover within 180 days, it must be euthanized, unless prior Division approval is given for extended care, provided further, however, that the Division may authorize the transfer of any raptor determined by the Division to be recovered, but non-releasable, to any person in possession of a valid federal permit issued for the express purpose of conducting conservation education. Excerpted from an exemplary (in the second sense of the term) state wildlife agency regulation.

Life was good for everybody until she broke into that building. Who knew there were rules? Humans. Grizzlies have been protected since the 1970s. We have rules about keeping our properties clean, but nobody holds us accountable. “Windfall” paid the price because this time, we didn’t. Our bear resistant garbage cans weren’t locked. We were too proud to install electric fences so Windfall would have been wary. What were we thinking? On the day that officials euthanized Windfall, we cried. Some of us are still crying. Excerpted from Swan Valley residents mourn loss of grizzly bear family.

The rate of cats and dogs euthanised in RSPCA shelters has dropped by about two thirds since 2000. Excerpted from Cat and dog euthanasia rates slashed as rescue culture and ‘fur babies’ on the rise.

Quiz Answers: Not one of the above uses the term correctly.

Just the same way we can speak up when we hear humans use animal references to insult one another – They say, So-and-so is a pig! We respond, I’ve never met a pig I didn’t like! –  it’s important that we keep ourselves and others honest and mindful about what is a mercy killing and what is not.

Let me be very clear. As a rule, the people who are tasked with the actual killing of healthy animals are not at fault. Shelter workers, wildlife rehabilitators, and veterinarians, among others, end up with the terrible task of killing healthy animals because they’ve stepped forward to do their best to help any animal they can, and they’ve done so in a society that treats animals poorly.

The shelter workers, wildlife rehabilitators, and veterinarians, the sheriff deputies and other law enforcement officers who must shoot the injured deer by the side of the road because they have no options: they are to be thanked and honored, they are to be treated compassionately, they are to be supported, they are to be given access to mental health professionals who can help them deal with the stress and trauma of their work.

Societal changes are required and overdue. We need to value other species much more than we do. We need to treat all animals with respect. We need to work harder to eliminate anthropogenic threats to animals. We need to direct more resources to wildlife rehabilitation, animal shelters, and rescues.

And we need a term for the kind death of an animal who shouldn’t have to be killed. I don’t know what that would be. Humane killing, perhaps? Situational euthanasia? Malthanasia? Dysthanasia? At least according to my dictionary, the term is definitely not euthanasia in and of itself.

When euthanasia is used euphemistically, it is almost always hiding the “unpleasant” fact that human action or inaction or incompetence led to the killing.

Until we face this fact, until we call this spade a spade, the inexcusable killing of healthy animals due to a lack of political will or resources will not receive the public attention it so desperately deserves. It is only through such attention that we will eliminate this gross injustice.


Careful What You Prune and Fell


With apologies to Mr. Kilmer:

I know I must look hard to see
A squirrel’s nest in a leafy tree
Raccoon dens, too, elude my sight
As tree trunks reach their tow’ring heights

Most of us know by now that landscape and tree services can imperil our wild neighbors and their homes.

The climate crisis is making things worse, as in many areas squirrels, for instance, are now giving birth three times a year instead of two.

The rules are pretty simple.

  • Is the work even necessary? Dead trees provide habitat for hundreds of species. Keep them around, if you can.
  • Schedule the work for the times of year when wild animals are least apt to be raising dependent young. November through February and late May to mid-July are still the best times in most areas of the United States, but global heating is impacting this.
  • Before work begins, watch for any activity that might indicate the presence of nests or dens.
  • Ask anyone you hire to keep a lookout for nests and dens while they do their work.
  • Tell anyone you hire you do not want any animals harmed or active animal homes disturbed.
  • Tell anyone you hire to alert you immediately if animals are harmed or left homeless.

If the worst happens, use Animal Help Now to find expert assistance in caring for injured or orphaned animals.

Woodpecker, dead tree (snag)
Dead trees, whether standing or down, are priceless. Here’s a great resource
to find out more: http://cavityconservation.com/saving-dead-trees/.


A hidden crisis, an abundance of opportunity


(They’re safe.) 

Another baby/busy season is well under way, and again we at Animal Help Now are deluged with reminders that even in an age of increasing appreciation for wildlife, the critical work of wildlife rehabilitation remains woefully under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded. 

You’re a young raccoon in the State of New York (not that you’d call it that), and you’re out for the night with your mom and sibs, learning to find food. You come upon a roaring river, but there’s no water. Just a lot of lights and dark masses zooming by. Mom is being extremely cautious in getting you across. She waits and waits, and then she goes. But – no! – she shrieks and is violently taken by a dark mass that roars by so close you could touch it. You see her far away. She is struggling to move. She’s crying. You and your sisters go to her even though it’s not safe. But the dark masses keep coming and they strike. They strike your sisters. They strike your mother. And now none of them are moving. Mom is not moving.

She is gone. They are all gone.

You stay close, by the side of the road. The violent masses continue to roar past. You’re filled with fear, you’re dizzy, disoriented. You stay there hoping somehow something will change. You have never felt alone or scared, and now this is all you feel.

At some point the sky lightens and one of the masses slows to a stop. Something scoops you up, bundles you, and then you are carried off on a roar for who knows where, … 

If you’re this raccoon – again, this is just a very small sample of what’s happening around the country and world every day – the chances right now are very good that your life is over, that you may feel a few loving hands, but eventually you’ll hear soft voices, and then you’ll feel a short sharp pain and then your world will end.

Every day right now in New York perfectly healthy orphaned raccoons are killed not by motor vehicles, but by people who are trained to save lives. That’s because the facilities that are equipped to rehabilitate these youngsters – preparing them for life in the wild and then releasing them when they’re ready – are almost all at capacity. They cannot take more animals. And that’s because of (a) human activities result in so many wildlife injuries and deaths and (b) wildlife rehabilitation is under-appreciated, under-supported, and underfunded.

Some people will use the term euthanasia to name the killing of a healthy orphaned raccoon under these circumstances. I won’t. Though it is better to have the animal killed than to release her into the woods to fend for herself.

These are terrible options, and they exist only because wildlife rehabilitation gets short shrift while wildlife agencies focus their attention on the hunting and fishing dollar.

The two babies pictured here? Let’s call them lucky, with an asterisk. And the asterisk is the two loving hands they landed in belong to Diane W. Diane is a former wildlife rehabilitator, and she’s more resourceful and diligent than most of us. 

When Diane ended up with these guys, she accessed AHNow to find help. None of the nearest rehabilitators could help her. They either were full, or they weren’t equipped/trained to accept raccoons. She used our animal filter, selecting Small Mammal, which removes from the results all rehabilitators who don’t accept small mammals and also extends our app’s search radius. Again, everyone she called was either full or, despite being able to accept small mammals, was not equipped/trained to accept raccoons.

Diane had pushed our service pretty close to the limit. What she really needed was a list of all raccoon rehabilitators in the State of New York. (For what it’s worth, transferring raccoons across state lines is illegal in most if not all states.)

Diane did the smart thing and contacted us directly. We want the public to contact us if they need us, but only after they exhaust the excellent self-service options we provide.

We produced and provided Diane with a list of rehabbers in New York that may be willing and able to accept baby raccoons.

Diane found one, and these little ones are now in good hands.

At AHNow we’ll be taking a close look at Diane’s experience as we develop our next generation user interface.

One more thing. Diane’s no longer rehabbing. She is terminally ill. Doctors have given her just a year to live.

We’re hoping Diane, like the little ones she saved here, defies the odds. We are so grateful to her and so many others like her who do or have done their best to leave this world better than they found it.

If you care to help cover the costs of transportation ($200), please click here. (Enter “raccoon” or “Diane” in the Donor Note.) Anything we raise above that amount will either will go toward something to thank Diane for all she has done and continues to do for our wild friends or will be donated at Diane’s direction to support wildlife emergency services.


A fate worse than death, then death


I’ll not soon forget one of my heroes – Jon Stewart, then host of The Daily Show – giggling while airing a video of a skunk or raccoon with her head stuck in a jar of peanut butter or some such.

Comedy is personal, and one person’s funny is another’s unfunny. I don’t blame a satirical genius for occasionally taking the easy slapstick laugh. And gods know we don’t need to reinforce the stereotype that vegans are humorless.

The stuck skunk came to mind when a friend told me yesterday that her landlord in animal-loving Boulder, Colorado, had hired a “pest control” operator to kill rats who had moved into her house after high waters displaced them from their homes along an irrigation ditch. (For what it’s worth, even among humane wildlife control operators you’ll find a few that are OK killing rats.)

This operator arrived ill equipped for the job. His snap traps were too small for rats, but they were all he had, he said, so he put one out anyway. The next day, the trap was gone. The rat was found days later in a wall some distance away, his head stuck in the trap, having succumbed to death from starvation or thirst or internal injuries after what was likely unspeakable pain and suffering. Everybody fights to live.

To its credit, the City of Boulder on its web page on “safe and effective rat control” encourages the public to provide oversight on operators: “Ensure that you understand the principles for effective trapping and don’t assume that a pest control service will use these techniques unless you require it when you hire them.”

We support the City’s advice on minimizing conflicts with rats, but we are at odds with their quick-to-kill approach. Rats are not to blame for taking advantage of the favorable living conditions provided for them in the human environment. We disparage rats and pigeons, but perhaps we need to be mindful of the adage that those characteristics we most despise in others we also see in ourselves.

Our species makes a mess of things, so is it any wonder we attract animals who thrive in messes? Is it any wonder the skunk gets her head stuck in a recklessly discarded peanut butter jar?

This year Animal Help Now debuted its wildlife conflict service, which enables anyone anywhere to get humane advice (and, in many areas, assistance) for dealing with “nuisance” wildlife. This isn’t about cash. (We’re a nonprofit.) It’s about taking responsibility. It’s about taking care of those most impacted by the havoc we’re wreaking on the world.


Ethics: Killing One Animal to Save Another


A big ethical issue in rehab is the killing of one animal to support the rehabilitation of another.

As far as I can tell, not a lot of people are talking about this, but I think it’s something each of us has to at least acknowledge, if not reckon with.

A classic example is raptor rehab. Although I’ve been behind the scenes in one acclaimed raptor rehab center, I don’t know much about day-in, day-out practice of helping prepare raptors for their introduction to life in the wild, or their return thereto. I do know that live animals are used in rehab in teaching young raptors to hunt.

Baby quails for sale.

For a human who values one animal life as much as another, this of course presents an ethical dilemma.

This dilemma likely will be influenced by whether or not one values ecosystems, in that placing high value on healthy ecosystems may make it easier for one to justify the taking of one life to support another.

Of course, one doesn’t simply value ecosystems or not value ecosystems. One might value an ecosystem that is rare and endangered over an ecosystem that is more common and not endangered. One might value an ecosystem that is relatively pristine (such as a remote Brazilian rainforest) over an ecosystem that is characterized by human activities and impacts (such as a Chicago suburb).

If one places no value on ecosystems, is it a slam dunk to decide whether to kill one animal to save another? No quail shall be bred to be fed alive or dead to a raptor. Perhaps it is.

There’s also the issue of whether to value the educational and inspirational aspects of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation? If the story of a successful rehabilitation of an orphaned raptor educates and inspires, say, a group of schoolchildren, what if any value does this inspiration hold?

And what may it hold? Increasing appreciation for and attention to wildlife rehabilitation may well result in the development of technologies and approaches that minimize the “need” for the use of live animals in learning-to-hunt situations. It’s readily apparent that the development of cell-cultured animal flesh will eventually save lives in the everyday rehabilitation of omnivores and scavengers.

I rely, perhaps too heavily, on the adage that human-created problems often defy elegant solutions. Nutria. The killing of “unwanted” dogs and cats in shelters. Climate change. Examples abound.

To be sure, what’s under discussion here is not whether or not to save a bunny from a hawk attack. What’s under discussion is whether or not to save a hawk who has been hit by a car. Few animal rights people would say, don’t save the hawk, but few too would be willing to put a live quail in an aviary as part of the hawk’s rehab effort.

To be more accurate, what’s under discussion here is the need to confront and come to terms with unpleasant truths. In the absence of elegant solutions, what is important first and foremost is that those who care enough to explore the ethical implications of carnivore (and probably omnivore) rehab recognize that there’s no one pure ethical stance.


Of Opossum “Drops” and Less Obvious Affronts


Note: For an update on Millie, the opossum referenced below, and on the “opossum drop” itself, see our Nov 2019 blog, here.

The ridiculous, cruel and anachronistic opossum “drop” in Andrews, North Carolina, went ahead last night as planned (video).

Our hearts go out to the little one who was abused as this sad public “tradition” continued.

In his or her honor, I’ll humbly suggest we all think hard about how our own behaviors – our private “traditions”, perhaps – might harm others.

Is our own entertainment truly cruelty free? Any circus involving animals is not. Nor is any zoo or aquarium. Any movie involving actual animals likely was unpleasant for them; many have been downright cruel or indeed deadly.

Four film titles (Milo and Otis, Snowy River, Flicka and OldBoy)
A tiny sampling of movies in which animals either died or were abused during production.

The food that sustains us? Are we eating in a way that causes the least harm, to both animals and to the planet?

Chickens and fish suffer tremendously.
Food production on an industrial scale leaves no room for animal welfare. After living short, miserable lives, chickens may be scalded alive during slaughter. The fish in this scene are mostly alive. They were crushed as they were pulled in massive nets from their homes, and then this worker carelessly steps on them as they suffocate to death.

Our household products? Are we still buying products “tested” on animals? They’re certainly still being produced!

Products that test on animals, and a few animal test images
New and Improved? What we need is a new and improved ethic toward animals. We humans pride ourselves on our scientific accomplishments, but we continue to kill animals to meet some archaic regulation ostensibly protecting humans. From laundry soap to cotton swabs, our purchases matter!

Our investments? Are we supporting companies that exploit natural resources?

Are we cutting back on plastics? Even just a little?

In a room full of antagonists (say, NYE revelers), the persecuted protagonist (opossum) is easy to spot and easy to sympathize with.

Profound change starts with the more difficult recognition of when we ourselves are causing problems. And profound change can be gradual. A little less meat in our diets. A reusable drink container. A little more attention paid to our animal companion…

We have a whole year to stop the next opossum “drop”. Imagine all the other positive changes we can make during that time!