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.
I’ve often thought people who support torture should submit to it. Not necessarily to the extent Christopher Hitchins did, but at some level. Stand in a cold shower for five minutes, or tear off a fingernail, or poke your armpit with an exacto-knife.
Of course, these actions hardly simulate torture, because you are in control. But they at least would provide one with a tiny little taste of the physical pain associated with many torture methods.
Pierce your armpit with an exacto-knife, and I’ll put some credence in your support of torture.
In my early years of animal activism, I developed a fantasy – a common one, turns out – of subjecting people to the same tortures they perpetrated on animals. If you forced animals to live in hopelessly cramped spaces, if you took their children from them, if you forced chemicals into their eyes or down their throats, I imagined doing the same to you.
Somewhere along the way – a good 12 years ago or so – I dropped the fantasy. It wasn’t good for me, carrying around that vengeance. And it wasn’t compatible with my compassion, my reverence for life, my love. And my faith in love, because that’s where my hope lies. In love.
If broadcast media are left leaning, if Hollywood is progressive, then why are torture, vengeance and capital punishment the tools/traits of so many of our fictional protagonists?
I can’t begin to answer that question, but I do think that books and TVs and movie screens are too often vehicles for fantasy retribution.
To make matters worse, this constant messaging makes it harder – and all the more important – to separate fact from fiction and to form our values and beliefs on reality.
We need to be able to defend our beliefs and take responsibility for our actions.
Those of us who support torture should be OK when our own troops, friends, family members – our own selves – are tortured. Those of us who do illegal drugs should be OK with people being viciously murdered in Mexico and Central and South America to support the drug trade. Those of us who buy Tide should be OK with putting chemicals in a restrained rabbit’s eyes. Those of us who buy inexpensive goods without regard to labels should be OK with children working in sweatshops. Those of us who sit down to bacon for breakfast should be OK with keeping pigs in crates (which arguably is the same as keeping dogs in crates) and slaughtering them before they reach what would in human years be their teens.
The smart trade of years is wisdom. One of the advantages of getting older is freeing ourselves from fantasies that not only don’t serve us but in fact disserve us – and disserve, or much worse, others.
Acknowledgements (paraphrasing here and there)
Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.
Shaw: Tradition will accustom one to any atrocity.
South: Walk a mile in my shoes.
Steve, Derek, and Esther: Esther the Wonder Pig (EstherTheWonderPig.com).
Esther photos: TheThinkingVegan.com, LushUSA.com, HuffingtonPost.ca
People who encounter injured or distressed wildlife often don’t know where to turn for help. Some go straight to 911. Some call their vet. Others call a national animal advocacy group or search the web for help.
There’s really only one place to go, though. And that of course is AnimalHelpNow.org (AHNow.org, for short). None of the other options is consistently effective. Not one. (For a comparison of AHNow against other approaches, click here.)
But Animal Help Now is a long way from being a part of the public consciousness the way 911 is for human emergencies. People will be visiting unhelpful websites or calling vets and animal orgs and law enforcement dispatch – and getting unacceptable assistance – for the foreseeable future.
Now, this isn’t an intractable problem. In fact, AHNow educates vet clinics, animal orgs, law enforcement dispatch and wildlife emergency professionals about how to use AHNow so they can in fact effectively assist people who visit their websites or call them about injured or distressed wildlife.
Our latest effort in this regard is a six-minute video showing how to use Animal Help Now as a referral tool. This video is a must-see for anyone who fields wildlife emergency calls.
Do you know someone who works for a vet clinic, an animal advocacy organization, an animal shelter, a wildlife rehabilitation center, or an animal control or law enforcement dispatch agency? If so, please share this post or the video with them.
In doing so, not only will you save lives and reduce animal suffering, you also will help these people do their jobs better and help increase awareness about Animal Help Now among the U.S. public.
Knowing how to use Animal Help Now in a referral capacity is useful even for your everyday average member of the public, especially those of us who care about wildlife, because one day the phone may ring, with a friend contacting you for help with an injured wild animal.