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.

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!

We Mother

mother vt to give birth to, to give rise to, to care for or protect like a mother

Is it wrong for me to expand the concept of Mother’s Day? I hope not, ’cause here I go!

First off, a happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are mothers in the conventional sense. May your special day be filled with peace and love, and may you know your hard work is appreciated.

A happy Mother’s Day, too, to all of you who have found other or additional outlets for your maternal instincts. To you who work to make the world a better place. To you who mother the world or even the tiniest part of her as if she were your own child, day in, day out, year upon year upon year.

Animal Help Now is building out its board of directors and advisory council. We need mothers! We need people to care for our fledgling organization and nurture it into adulthood. We need leaders, workers, people with vision and determination.

Animal Help Now is more than a service that connects people who need help with animal emergencies with people who can provide such help. We are more than a wildlife 9-1-1.

Yes, Animal Help Now is the best service of its kind. But the organization also plays a crucial role in educating the public about mitigating threats to animals and strengthening the increasingly important bond between humans and wildlife and indeed all animals.

The organization this year is ramping up its collaborative work with humane wildlife conflict resolution professionals to teach and empower people to live more harmoniously with wildlife.

Just as sure as the world needs the best kids, the world needs the best nonprofits. And the best nonprofits have the best mothers.

Is your nest empty? Does it have room? If so, please let us know! And if another person comes to mind who might be good for a leadership role in Animal Help Now, please forward this email to her or him.

As always, thank you for reading and for your kind consideration. Have a great weekend!

Women’s March Brings Love and Hope

The Denver Women's March, in Animal Help Now's backyard.
The Denver Women’s March, in Animal Help Now’s backyard.

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.

Denver march participant

Beware what you share! “Cute” videos are often cruel.

Guest Blogger
Jill Bielawski
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.

A loris being tortured. Click image for associated ABC News feature, including expert commentary on "cute" animal videos.
A loris being tortured. Click image for short ABC News feature on “cute” animal videos, including expert opinions.

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.

For information on what to do if you see or suspect cruelty to animals, visit Animal Help Now’s Resources page.

Thank you, Richard Adams

Recent research showing bats quarrel and confirming rats are ticklish further erodes the already staid position that humans are so very different from other species.

This position, of course, is the refuge of scoundrels who assert that human otherness (read: superiority) justifies just about any human activity involving other animals, whether that’s force-feeding a new and improved bleach to helpless mice in a laboratory or keeping sows in criminally confining cages.

Copyright: The Guardian

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.

Colorado Government to World: We Kill Mountain Lions and Bears

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.

We Did It!

Friends,

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.

Historical usage

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.

Cedar Hill, TX.
Rue Ann used Animal Help Now to reunite this lost pup with his guardians. Cedar Hill, TX. August 2016.

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.

Can we double our usage again in 2017? We intend to, but we can do so only with your support.

Can we count on you again this year? If you haven’t contributed before, will you please consider adding Animal Help Now to your list of favorite nonprofits?

Animal Help Now is arguably one of the most effective, cost-effective, and innovative animal advocacy organizations in the country.

In just the past few days, Animal Help Now has successfully assisted with:

  • A House Finch trapped in a chimney (Colorado)
  • An electrocuted Great Horned Owl on the ground in a residential neighborhood and unable to fly (Georgia)
  • A domesticated raccoon cruelly released into the wild to fend for herself (Illinois)

Your donation:

  • Helps maintain and improve Animal Help Now’s lifesaving program.
  • Raises awareness of the availability of Animal Help Now.
  • Improves the quality of life for people who care about animals and who are willing to help those in crisis.

Donate text box

With your support, Animal Help Now also raises awareness about the threats leading to animal emergencies and empowers the public to help mitigate those threats.

If you donate through our page on ColoradoGives.org, all processing fees will be waived and a small portion of your gift will be matched through the Colorado Gives program.

This is on top of the leverage your gifts already get from the combination of Animal Help Now’s amazing team of volunteers and the organization’s low overhead.

Please make your tax-deductible donation right now!

A village, indeed. Or, say, an aspen stand.

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.Holland & Hart logo

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.

Here's one of the corporate partners logos Karl produced for us.
Example of Karl’s work.

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:

dolphin rescue

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.

aspen stand
Individuals, united like aspen. Click image to see our staff list. (Thanks to Kevin for the image : )

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.

bielawski
Jill’s good with words, and she’s a dedicated animal advocate, to boot.

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.

Let him suffer and die? No!
Dr. Klem estimates a billion birds die and another billion are injured from window strikes each year in the United States. That’s 30 injuries per second. We have a lot of work to do.

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. : )

“History repeats itself.” I coined that!

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!