Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Chicken Comes First

In this 2 minute video, briefly see the conditions of a conventional egg farm. Does this make you want to eat eggs? If you do eat them, this is why you should only buy free-range eggs, ideally from farms you research.

Before buying eggs, ask: How much room do the chickens have to range in? Do they debeak? How do they dispose of male chicks (conventional farms actually throw them in the trash can and suffocate them. There's video of it on YouTube if you search for it). Be aware that "Cage Free" is better than caged, but still results in cramped indoor quarters. "Free range" means the chickens have access to outdoors and can live more naturally. Wild Oats, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's no longer carry conventional cage eggs; good for them.

If you don't want to support factory farming in these conditions, don't buy conventional eggs or order anything in restaurants that contains eggs. When baking at home, use only free-range eggs or substitute 1 T. ground flax seed, mixed with a little water or the oil in the recipe, for an egg. You can find more egg substitutes here or by searching the web, and more videos of conventional chicken living conditions by searching YouTube.com. (Hope you have a strong stomach).

Two More Gorillas Murdered: Down to 698?

The African Wildlife Foundation is reporting that two silverback mountain gorillas were recently killed by insurgents in Congo who invaded Virunga National Park. Read the report for details here. Mountain gorillas are highly endangered, with an estimated 700 left in the world - or should we now say 698? Although gorillas have made a comeback from the very edge of extinction in the late 1980's, they are still extremely vulnerable to extinction. Political unrest and instability is one of the greatest threats to the animal's survival.

Mountain gorillas do not survive in captivity (like Americans in New Hampshire, they apparently have the motto "Live Free or Die!"), so we are not able to do zoo-based breeding conservation programs to assist in their survival. Observations of these animals in the wild reveal that they live in tight family groups, protected by an older male silverback, and composed of immature males, females and babies or youngsters. They are not violent, but if provoked will protect family members, usually trying to scare off intruders rather than attack them. When a silverback is killed, the family group will split up as there is now no mature male for protection. Females can join other family groups, but then assume a low social status position, subordinate to the females there before them, which can make life tough on them and their offspring. Young gorillas may also be killed when their mothers join a new group, as nature has a strong impulse for the male in charge to get the females receptive to bearing his offspring, and he is generally not too interested in raising the offspring of others. (This behavior appears to be much like lions, but with lions the killing of cubs appears to be a given, whereas with gorillas it is not guaranteed and some young are adopted). Thus, the killing of a silverback with a family to take care of often results in the deaths of immature gorillas as well.

Dian Fossey lived with and studied gorillas in the wild, in the Parc de Volcans and the Virungas. She was murdered for her conservation work, and after many years, the man responsible for arranging her death, Protais Zigiranyirazo, was finally charged with her murder. You can read about the murder investigation here. Protais was supposed to be in charge of protecting the park and the gorillas, but Fossey had discovered he was actually assisting poachers and undermining her conservation efforts. Supposedly she was going to expose this, but was murdered in her sleep before she got the chance. (Protais has other problems as well, as he is charged with being one of the key organizers and instigators in the Rawandan genocide; you can read the official record of his case, still on appeal, here). The movie Gorillas in the Mist is supposedly Dian Fossey's story, though her book by the same name is far better if you are more interested in the gorillas she sought to protect than in her life story. Her detail of gorilla behavior in the book is fascinating, and she traces the lives (and deaths) of several family groups.

Currently, gorilla tourism helps to ensure their conservation in part, as high park fees go towards salaries for park guides and rangers who protect the gorillas from poachers. Several gorillas groups have been habituated to humans, and there are controls in place to ensure that each group is only exposed to limited human contact, so that throngs of tourists are not visiting them each day. Tourists are not allowed to touch the gorillas, and tourists have to trek into the jungle to find the gorillas in their natural habitats, as they are not contained. It's not an easy safari, but one I am greatly looking forward to taking in a few months, in both Uganda and Rwanda. (I want to see mountain gorillas in the wild, before it's too late, despite the risks of doing so.)

Unfortunately, due to the recent insurgency, Congolese park rangers were forced to flee in December, and shortly thereafter, left without protection, the two silverback gorillas were killed.

In 1999, a group of tourists on a gorilla safari were murdered by rebels from the Congo who crossed the border into Uganda. Read the article here. The goal was allegedly (per a note left by attackers) to destroy Uganda's economy. The killings had a sharp impact on tourism and were in fact very harmful to the economy. Uganda struggles to maintain a gorilla eco-tourism industry and strives to protect tourists from militia violence across the border. Supposedly it is relatively safe to travel there currently, but given the political instability in the Congo, there are of course no guarantees.

It's a shame the gorillas had the bad luck of being able to survive only in a habitat located in an area which has had decades of political unrest. Based in the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, the gorillas have no doubt seen their share of the seedy side of human beings over the years. This is not a problem we can solve, however. Each country has to work out its issues, and unfortunately, they have a tough time doing it.

What we can do is try to protect a small part of the only habitat on earth these animals have left, and try to arm and train rangers willing to protect the gorillas so they aren't killed for sport by insurgents, or for dinner meat for the militia either. I admire immensely the risks and sacrifices each park ranger makes...they risk their own lives to protect gorillas. If you want to assist in the protection and conservation of the few mountain gorillas we have left, visit the African Wildlife Foundation website and join or make a donation.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

One Month Into Radical Change

It's been a month since we started trying to eat under new rules, consuming animal products only if we can verify the animals' living and slaughter conditions, trying to go increasingly vegetarian with a goal towards eventual vegan, and focusing on organic products. Since I hate vegetables, including beans, this has been a hard path for me to take. I accept that this will be a gradual learning process, and one month in, I feel that substantial progress has been made.

I found it was not too tough to get information online or from product packaging that helped me determine whether the company producing the food was one I would want to support. Unfortunately, you can't always have everything. For example, it's a lot easier to find organic butter than to find organic butter with cows living in humane conditions. While most producers tout "organic," not all address their animal husbandry habits.

At first the shopping was quite a process - it took me about three to four hours to plan a week's worth of menus and to do the shopping - in part because I was reading labels and taking a long time to find things in the store. Now I have it down to about two hours, and I expect efficiency to continue to improve as we develop regular recipes we can rely on instead of trying so many new ones each week.

I cheated once: I bought a steak sandwich after a hard morning at work. I knew it was cheating - but I told myself beef was the best way to cheat, as opposed to eating chicken, which I simply will never do again unless it's free range and organic. I didn't beat myself up about it, it was only one lapse in a month and it's hard to eat things you don't really like all the time. I am gradually learning to tolerate, and even sort of like, a few things. I have always hated soup, for example, and now I make several a week and have learned to like several.

I'm happy that we are down to zero waste in terms of food. Organic can equal expensive and so I am very careful to use every single thing we buy completely, not leave anything to languish in the fridge. It's about $100 a week for two people, though that includes some household items like laundry soap, etc.) . We are using up things from the freezer, and therefore once in awhile we still have some meat, but we've gone as much as 10 days without any, which for me is a personal record. I have found that meat is less appealing now so when we do have it, I don't enjoy it like I used to. Now if I could just learn to love whole grains (which I despise), vegetables (yuk), beans (eeww), or tofu (eh). Yes, there is still a ways to go.

Packing lunch every day is a good thing, and I have much more control over my diet and I hardly ever snack as there is nothing around within easy reach that I haven't planned into a future meal or, if I'm out, that meets my new criteria. Overall, this is probably good, and I think our diet is healthier. It's more of a pain, for sure, but not as bad as I thought.

We have mastered an egg substitute out of flax seed. Personally I don't think biscuits are as good made with soy milk and flax - and they smell a bit funny - but they can be done. Vegan pancakes even turned out, albeit they are not something I enjoyed, particularly.

The environmentally friendly cleaners are among my least favorite in "the new regime." The dishwasher soap seems sandy and leaves a residue. The laundry detergent is fine, and the hand soap is actually better, though perhaps not enough so to justify the cost difference. (I just remind myself I'm doing this for the environment and the animals, not for my budget).

The web resources for vegetarian and vegan recipes are better than I thought, though it's still hard for me to choose one when they all contain lists of ingredients that don't appeal to me. Although it's hard, I do believe in the mission. I don't think it's ethical to support animal framing practices I think are morally and ethically wrong, and if I have to sacrifice everything I like to eat in order to behave in a responsible manner towards the animals, I will...but I won't kid myself into thinking I can revolutionize my habits in 30 days. I can say I have made progress, and that vegan no longer seems IMPOSSIBLE, just very difficult. I won't rush it - I still need my organic cheese as a crutch.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Seeing Wildlife in the Wild

I always dreamed of going to Africa, as far back as I can remember. My parents never traveled much, certainly not for recreation. They raised a large family on a single and modest income, living below the poverty line most of their lives, and never accepting any form of assistance. Travel was something people with money did. We were not encouraged to pursue such folly. If you were ever lucky enough to have extra money, you should save it for the times when you had none. A sound, conservative philosophy – but one I no longer subscribe to.

I worked full time all through college and graduate school, and still came out owing a small fortune in student loans, enough to buy a very nice home in most places in America. While I still dreamed of travel, it seemed much more prudent to pay off loans, and I was, if nothing else, very responsible. But then something happened that changed my perspective. My father, who had always dreamed of seeing Scotland, died without doing so. It was one of the things he wished he had done, but never did. I didn’t want to let that happen to me. Still, for a few more years I didn’t travel, I just had an increased commitment to finding a way to do so in the future.

Then I realized, at 30, I could be halfway through my life, or get hit by a bus tomorrow, and what would I really regret? Not having seen the places in the world I want to see. So, I started traveling. Africa still seemed too far off, too expensive, the ultimate, once in a lifetime trip…so I started smaller, with Europe, which is easy and can be inexpensive if you plan well. For a few years I enjoyed travel, but finding a bargain was always very important, as I did still have those loans to pay off. I found I could live with having a little debt for travel, not just for my education, and I could pay it all off, eventually.

I wanted to go somewhere special when I turned 35, and as I was researching costs I thought fleetingly of Africa. I decided to look into the cost – and I was surprised that it wasn’t as expensive as I thought. You can actually get to Africa and see wildlife for $2,000 to $3,000. (Budget Travel magazine has the best travel specials, IMHO). I ended up taking a more expensive trip to go with a company I really trusted, since I was traveling as a lone female, and far away from modern conveniences. I wanted air evacuation in case of medical emergency, I wanted the Land Rover that doesn’t break down, the English speaking guide who has a satellite phone, the company that does not go bankrupt on the eve of my trip, etc. I chose Deeper Africa, which arranged a wildlife intensive trip through Kenya for me in October of 2005.

I don’t have the words for what a rewarding experience it is to see wildlife in the wild, as it should be. If you have dreamed of Africa too, find a way to go there. Save, sacrifice, do whatever it takes, but do not deprive yourself of the chance to see the vast continent with its incredible animals. I thought it would be a once in a lifetime trip, but instead it made me vow to go back as often as I can before I die, to see as many countries and habitats as I can. It is easy to fall in love with Africa.

In part, this blog will catalog my attempts to see wildlife in the wild, and I hope I can encourage anyone who’s “animal crazy” like me to explore too. In 2007, if all goes as planned, I will be back to Kenya to see some places I loved and some I missed last trip. I’ll also be going to Uganda and Rawanda to see endangered Mountain Gorillas, and to Madagascar to see lemurs and other rare and endemic species.

I took the photo above, of a young male cheetah, on my last morning in Kenya, in the Masaii Mara. He let me sit three or four feet away from him as he ate breakfast, a hare. There can't possibly be a cooler way to start the day than sitting next to a cheetah. Go see for yourself.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tag, Not Trophy, Wall

Idaho Fish and Game is asking the Legislature to approve hunting tags for killing wolves. Click here for an article in the Statesman covering the story. The proposal places wolf tags at $26.50 for in state residents and $256 for out of state hunters. As I was complaining about this to my boyfriend last night he pointed out that I could buy a tag and save a wolf. So, we started joking about establishing a "trophy wall" of tags, instead of animals, each tag representing an animal NOT killed, but spared.

Not a bad idea. If we can't stop the de-listing, or the hunting, maybe we can at least get as many Idaho citizens as we can who oppose wolf hunting to buy the rights to hunt. All things considered, it's not a bad fallback position, though I am concerned about the number of permits to be issued, and would not want to take actions which encourage more permits to be issued in future years.
Unfortunately, based on what I have seen in the past, most Idaho Legislators are rabidly anti-wolf and will probably support the plan to allow hunting tags - and to make them cheap. In all probability, wolves will be de-listed, lose their protections, and then fall prey to recreational killers who malign, misunderstand, or just don't care about what a wonderful animal the wolf is. Although this makes me sick, the truth is I'm just as sick over bears or mountain lions or elk or any living creature being mowed down by man. What's particularly disturbing about killing wolves, bears and mountain lions though is that the meat goes to waste, and the killing is generally just for "sport," i.e. the glee of killing, which to me is revolting.
It's an issue that literally makes me nauseous, and one I'll be following closely. I hope that the Defenders of Wildlife or other wildlife groups can find a way to tie the plan up in Court and buy the wolves some more time. The State doesn't seem to be considering eco-tourism or other options or alternatives to hunting for revenue. It also doesn't make sense to me that we have spent thousands conserving wolves and then literally turn around and start killing them off - and for $26.50 each! Why not sell each tag for $2,500 if the argument is we need the revenue?
In the meantime, we'll stay tuned and save a little wall space for a "tag wall," just in case.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another Inconvenient Truth

I had the opportunity to hear Al Gore speak in Boise on Monday night. While it wasn't much different from his movie, he did have some updated studies and some Idaho specific points and examples, and it was interesting.

I got to reflecting on how partisan politics play into global warming, and why. (Not that I have great answers). I never cared much for Al Gore, to be honest, but I do respect that he is taking a message he believes in to the people, not just in America, but all over the world. He's not doing it for profit, he's doing it because he believes it needs to be done, and he was not successful in getting our government to listen and take action. The whole "take the message to the people" thing and the passion for a cause I have to respect.

I don't think I've ever been in a room with as many Democrats before. (Despite what one might assume, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Democrat). Out of 10,000 attendees, I would guess the majority were Democrats based on the crowd reaction to a few political comments made by Gore. I think this detracts from his message, personally. I realize people who agree with him may get energized by banter or slight slams at the Republicans, but fundamentally global warming should not be subject to political partisanship, and such jabs only perpetuate that thinking. (Not that I blame him - who could resist a few good slams? The quote Gore used from Ex-Governor Jim Risch about not taking a position either way on global warming was priceless, for example, I wish I had it word for word).

I give Gore credit not only for taking his message on the road and being active and passionate, but for taking a complex problem and distilling it to the average person in a way they can understand, and care about. Taking complex, sometimes dry data and making it into graphics that work, and a message that remains interesting, is no easy task, as any trial lawyer who faces the same challenge with a jury can tell you.

As I listened, I wondered: how did this become a political issue anyway? Why are conserving species, protecting the environment, advocating for humane treatment of animals, preserving migration corridors, considered largely Democrat issues anyway? Why are these "liberal" issues? Shouldn't we all care equally about the problem, and debate ways to solve it, rather than debate its existence, or brand people as "radical environmentalists" or "animal rights extremists"?

Unfortunately I've been around enough Republicans, and politics in general, long enough and deep enough to understand the answer. It is an inconvenient and ugly truth that politicians don't take action on these issues because doing so would cost them votes and money. Oil companies lobby and make campaign contributions, caribou don't. And the non-profit groups that advocate for animals and the environment don't make campaign contributions. Business lobbyists don't want extra regulations or increased expenses, so they tend to advocate for the status quo or maximum freedom, including freedom to pollute or take actions that increase global warming. they have higher priorities than the environment: making money. Sure, we could create incentives rather than regulation, we could reward environmentally responsible behavior rather than ban bad behaviors, we could take all kinds of actions to encourage the market to reward "being green" not "making green," but largely, we don't.

If we want this to change, I believe it has to come from direct pressure on politicians from their constituents. For the first time, I plan to vote based on the candidates stand on these issues, rather than others which are also important to me, and to let candidates know why I am, or am not, voting for them. If this means voting Democrat, I'll certainly do it. I am also making it a personal policy to take all the actions we can in our own home to be environmentally responsible, and to only buy products from environmentally responsible companies. (Yes, it's a bit more expensive, but in the long run I believe it's worth it). Every time I make a purchase I am supporting a company that has chosen a path I believe is the right one. It does mean paying more attention. It is a pain. So is walking or biking to work instead of driving, so is buying only organic, buying animal products only from humane farms, etc. It's all a pain....it's all inconvenient. But the truth is, that's what we all need to start doing if we want to change the big picture of how things are going.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Is Wolf Hunting Really Inevitable in Idaho?

Today at an event sponsored by the Idaho Environmental Forum, two speakers were asked to comment on Governor Otter's recent plan to allow wolf hunting and reduce the wold population to 100 if wolves are de-listed in Idaho. State Senator David Langhorst noted that many of the group Governor Otter was addressing when he made his comments about wolf hunting were in favor of the idea. (No surprise, as he was talking to a group of hunters, by the way. Langhorst is a hunter himself, by the way). Langhorst went on to say that he did not believe that getting wolf population down to 100 animals was going to happen, and that there would be debate on the numbers of wolves to be hunted and the hunting methods to be allowed, but that it was "inevitable" that there would be wolf hunting in Idaho. He said hunting is "required."

Langhorst also stated that he had been involved in some of the initial re-introduction efforts and that "pro-wolf" people had recognized that hunting may be a necessary part of wolf population management. He encouraged "pro-wolf folks" to remember this "part of the bargain" and said that there was not going to be a way to manage the wolf population without allowing hunting.

Nate Fisher, with the Office of Species Conservation, managed to avoid direct comment on the Governor's plan (understandable, I suppose, as he reports to Otter). He instead addressed the fact that Idaho's wolf population has been explosive, and that there is a need to avoid animosity between the wolf-advocates and the anti-wolf people so that a calm dialogue can take place. He noted the original agreement to have 10 wolf packs in each of three western states and pointed out Idaho has done well in its mission and de-listing will likely occur. He recognized it was an emotional issue and seemed interested in diffusing it.

I agree that there is a need for rational dialogue and discourse on the subject. Because it is such an emotional one, it is particularly un-helpful for our State's leader, Governor Otter, to make inflammatory and outrageous statements and outline a clearly ludicrous "plan" to eliminate all but 100 wolves. If he wanted to give the "pro-wolf folks" something to get excited about, make a polarizing statement, and generally anger conservationists, he certainly succeeded. Too bad he doesn't share more of the mindset of Mr. Fisher and seek to promote reasoned dialogue.

The truth is, it's not an easy problem. But the solution won't be found through glib, politically popular or unpopular sound bites. And if we are going to get interested parties to the table, Otter needs to shut up and leave the wolf speeches to those in his administration who can avoid further polarization....and make amends for his idiotic comments. Alternatives to hunting must be explored, and the recovery effort must be thoroughly examined to ensure that it is not setback or undermined to a point that we undo all the long, hard progress undertaken to protect this species.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Revenge of the Deer

Ah, if only it ALWAYS happened this way, maybe people would stop hunting. This deer decides to turn the tables on the hunter and attack. Good for him. I hope he wasn't wounded, and that the hunter gave up the sport. If nothing else, he shoudl have firmly received the message that deer DO NOT like to be hunted, that the DO have emotions, and that they are QUITE capable of expressing them.

Miami MetroZoo Review

I visited the Miami MetroZoo during the first week of January, 2007. I was staying downtown at a hotel, and it was hard to get to the Zoo from downtown. Unlike many cities, which have easy public transportation to the zoo, Miami does not. Clearly they expect you to either rent a car or give the zoo a pass. The hotel concierge assured me a taxi would be over $100 each way and I would be better off renting a car from the hotel. He said public transportation was "unthinkable" given the number of transfers I'd have to take and he was loathe to even try to map out a route. Hating to drive in strange cities, I opted to take a taxi anyway, which was $50 one way. Unfortunately, the taxi refused to come pick me up afterwards, stating it was "too far away," as did five other cab companies. Luckily, they have a bus stop at the zoo, and luckily, if you get on it, then transfer to the Metrorail, then transfer to another bus, you can get downtown again for under $5 - but it takes over 3 hours. Not too fun, but not a lot of choices when stranded at the zoo (in the rain).

To walk through the entire zoo (3 miles), at a leisurely pace with pauses for photos, took only about 2.5 hours, unlike some zoos where you can easily spend a full day walking around. They have a tram tour, which I would recommend against, as you don't need it. They also offer an aerial tram you can catch at four locations so that you can get from one "dead end" part of the zoo to the other without retracing, which is nice. It's only $1 for unlimited rides. They also rent pedal-operated carts, sort of like bikes but in the shape of golf carts. Not necessary, and it makes it harder to see the animals, but it's an option. There's one "restaurant" where you can get buffet style pre-cooked hotdogs, burgers, etc., but the healthy eating options are minimal to non-existent. The best I could do was a pretzel with fake "cheese."

The animal containment areas are very nice. The habitats are roomy and natural. I didn't notice a lot of animal enrichment items, but it could have been the time or day I was there. Most animals had a companion with them and seemed relatively content. Many had natural family groups, which was great to see. There was no animal display area that made me feel sorry for the animal having to live within it, which I can say of few zoos indeed. None of the animals were pacing back and forth or seemed distraught. The zoo has suffered through a few hurricanes, which most zoos have not had to contend with, and so it seems to be a little tattered here and there, but that's understandable.

The crowds at the zoo were unusually loud. I don't know if it's a cultural thing, or an exceptionally LOUD zoo day, or what, but tons of families with small kids were yelling to the kids across a distance, with the kids yelling back, and no one seemed the least bit concerned about the animals being bothered by lots of screaming people. The animals seemed used to it - which did make me feel sorry for them. I myself had to stifle the urge to tell people to shut up for most of the visit. (Particularly at the idiot who didn't know the answers to the questions his kid asked, so he just made them up, wildly misinforming the next generation about the animal kingdom).

There's a nice giraffe feeding area, where for $2 you can feed and touch a giraffe. The giraffes have lots of space, seemingly more than the elephants, which was interesting. The elephants had a sprinkler to play with, which they really enjoyed. A tapir was having a great time in his pool, which was also fun to watch. The Asiatic otters (minature compared to the American version) are adorable. The zoo's breeding program has led to a young Black Rhino, which I was happy to see, given the level of trouble that species is in. They have two rare Indian One-Horned Rhinos (one pictured above)...see those while you still can, they are on the way off the planet. Many, if not most, of the exhibits had a few iguanas in them, and I was never clear on whether those were "native" or intentional zoo inhabitants - nothing was said on the signs about them.

The signs about the animals were below-par. They contained very little data if you're interested in learning about the animals. They didn't even say where they were from - they have unmarked maps. While adults might recognize the continents (we'd like to hope so) many kids won't, especially younger kids. They could easily have labeled where the animals were from and told more about them - something about social structure, etc. Instead they only tell you the animal is common, threatened, or endangered and a small paragraph of basic info - very basic. The reticulated giraffe sign doesn't tell you anything about what makes reticulated different from the other types of giraffes (shape of the spots) or how many other kinds there are, etc. I also ponder why zoos, which are supposed to be in existence at this point largely to help breed species in danger and do species conservation work and public education, are spending their time on the Reticulated rather than the endangered Rothschild giraffe. (I have no answer).

Overall, I give it four out of five stars, primarily because of the good conditions the animals were living in. As far as a pleasant zoo experience, given the transportation hassles and the loud, obnoxious crowds, not to mention the heat, even in January, it wasn't that fantastic, but it was still worth my time. Of course, I would rather spend a day with animals than not, and on the road zoos are one of the only ways to do so.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lizzie the Cat

There's a certain intensity about Lizzie that was quite clear from the very, very beginning.

Her mother was a ranch cat, a white Manx who was incredibly tough and had quite the attitude. I took her in to have her last litter and then get her spayed. She used to wake me up by placing her claws under my eyes and literally prying them open. Suffice it to say, she had my full attention.

I had never seen anything born before. I knew I was going to keep one of the kittens, and I had one from the same cat's prior litter who was my first cat (and will undoubtedly appear in future posts). I could see the tiny kitten claws pushing against her stomach, anxious to be born, making tiny imprints. One day I came home for lunch and found a tiny wet kitten had arrived, so I stayed to greet the others.

I wondered how I would pick the one to keep when no doubt they would all be cute. The first four came out as little wet blobs and made their way to a nipple. I couldn't tell colors for sure, certainly not genders, and they didn't look much like kittens yet. Number five to come out was instantly different: the second the jaws passed the birth canal, they opened and began screaming. It was instant love: I wanted that one; she had something to say. Lizzie hollered her indignation at being thrust into the world and didn't stop for several minutes. She went the opposite way from the other kittens, crawling around the back of her mom to get to the nipple in front. She chose her own path from the start.

Before she could walk, she was the fattest of the 6 kittens. She scraped the others off the adjacent nipples with her paws acting as little windshield wipers so she could get more milk for herself. But, as soon as her legs worked, she became the thinnest, because she ran circles around all the others. She was the first to learn to climb onto the bed, and from the beginning she liked to sleep there with me after she tired herself out.

I was never a cat person; the first one arrived when I was 33. Lizzie came a year later and if I'd ever had any doubts about my conversion to a cat-person, she wiped them out completely. She's independent but affectionate at the same time. She rises up to meet my hand and get petted. She meets me at the door, whether she's inside or out. She gives me "presents" of non-maimed, but deceased, mice and birds. She loves to hunt. She still likes to talk. Every day she demands a few minutes of my full and complete attention, during which she gives me a narrative I desperately wish I could understand. Then she's quiet - until it's time to ask to go out or be served food. In protest when we take in foster animals, she deserts the bed, but returns within a few days of reclaiming the house when they're gone. She sits on command, and fetches fake mice, and comes every time she's called. She has a kink in her partial tail - the last vertebrae goes a different direction, and she has only a third of a tail, thanks to that Manx heritage. I can't believe how much personality she packs into 7 pounds. I miss her intensely when on the road.

Friday being cat blog day, my first is in tribute to Lizzie. You might as well meet her now, as she is bound to appear in future posts, thanks to her many adventures, which help keep my life interesting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hunting & Killing Wolves: A Leap Backwards


Reportedly, Idaho Governor Butch Otter is planning to try and legalize wolf hunting the second the wolf's protection under the Endangered Species Act expires. Click here to read the article. The plan is to kill all but 100 wolves in Idaho...apparently dropping below 100 could trigger new protections.

If this doesn't highlight the need for the Endangered Species Act, I don't know what does. Scientists and researchers have worked since the 1970's to repopulate and reintroduce the gray wolf to Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, where it was largely wiped out by hunting. So the second we get it back - having spent about 25 years and no doubt a ton of money - the Governor wants to wipe them out again. They annoy ranchers and kill livestock, but there are reimbursement programs for ranchers to be paid for downed stock, and ranchers could acquire guard dogs and implement other methods to literally keep the wolves at bay. The wolves kill elk and deer hunters would prefer to shoot - well of course they do. They actually need the meat to survive, unlike hunters, who are killing for recreation (and I'll set that appalling concept aside for another time).

Part of the hunter's justification argument for hunting is that deer and elk will over-populate if we don't license hunting. However, the over-population occurs because we have managed to kill off the natural predators of those animals. Now that we re-introduce the predators, and they eat the wild elk and deer, the hunters apparently complain that they aren't getting to do the killing.

This announcement by Butch Otter is revolting and appalling. I hope someone at the federal level is able to stop this insanity before a single wolf is killed. Defenders of Wildlife is raising money and encouraging people to write to legislators about the problem. To donate or get information on helping the cause, go to their website, http://www.defenders.org/. You ccan also sign a petition to keep wolves in ID and WY protected by clicking here.

This is the first time I'm aware of where we've successfully repopulated a species and then faced the problem of idiots trying to wipe out all the progress that has been made by racing back down the path that led us to protect the species in the first place. It would be a crime to allow the protections of the Act to be wiped out in one fell swoop. The Act came about because people could not be trusted to think ahead and not wipe out other species for sport, out of carelessness, or in the name of alleged progress. Otter's actions just go to show the ESA is still very much needed.

Simon's Survival Story


We have this dog, named Simon, and he is quite a survivor. He used to be camera-shy, but here he is looking at it skeptically. I was thinking about his story this week because we had to rush him to the Emergency Clinic Sunday (he's fine now) and I was reflecting on our time with him, and his attitude about receiving vet care. Simon's prior owners decided to have him and their other dog, a terrier, killed. Yep - it wasn't enough to just drop them off at a local shelter, or even just set them loose - they actually took a hit out on the dogs. Apparently they hired their neighbors, two boys 19 and 21, to kill the dogs for $25. The boys drove Simon (who knows what he was called then) and friend to a cinder pit outside town and there they shot him. The terrier was fatally wounded, but apparently Simon was tougher.

They shot him twice in the head - but each time they missed the brain and got the jaw, destroying some of his teeth and puncturing his tongue. The photo above is of one of the bullet wounds. As the shooting didn't work, they apparently tried to run over him with a truck, injuring his right front leg. He must have appeared dead, because they left.....and then he rose again. It was around the fourth of July and it was hot, but Simon walked a mile down a dusty road, dripping blood, and rested in the shade of a tree, completely traumatized. A Sheriff's Deputy followed the blood trail and took him to a vet - who was kind enough to repair the damage, knowing there would likely be no loving owner to pay the bill.

Since he came to us, Simon's attitude towards vets has been pretty friendly. In fact, whatever happens, his attitude seems to be "I'm not getting shot - this is okay." He rarely complains about anything, despite being subordinate to our very bossy (yet adorable) other dog, Callie. He has a strong dislike of men in baseball caps, and usually tries to run them off the property. He clearly spent much of his life tied up, as he knows the boundaries of any leash or tie and respects them immediately. He wasn't fed enough, so he eats anything and everything in about 2 seconds. He can't get enough attention, and he doesn't have a clue what toys are for. Simon will not fetch - I guess he figures if I wanted the ball, I wouldn't be throwing it away; he certainly sees no reason to retrieve it for me. He hates violence, even in play - he separates the cats whenever they are mock battling each other, and he calls to us in desperation if Callie is playing with the cats. No tussling on his watch, period.

So this past Sunday morning I found him on the picnic table eating raisins that were out for the birds. Though he'd ignored them for four days, and they were frozen solid, he apparently discovered them and cannot pass up any food substance. As raisins are toxic to some dogs, we took him to the ER immediately and were able to retrieve said raisins before they did any damage. (When he consumed a pound of brown sugar on a prior occasion, no vet visit was necessary, and he showed no ill effects). We learned at the vet he has apparently been snacking on the magpies downed by the cats as well, to no ill effect. The dog has an iron stomach.

For the first time ever, I saw him shaking at the vet yesterday, as he got a blood draw to check and make sure his kidneys suffered no raisin trauma. It's a miracle that he can trust people at all after what he's been through. Although I know it's going to take more than a few raisins to take Simon down, he deserves to have over-protective parents who worry about him.

Like all dogs, he can be a pain from time to time - but he is at heart so good natured I can't help but wonder how awesome he might have been if he'd had a nice family when he was young. I admire him; he doesn't cringe in the corner, he gets out and enjoys life, he does his best to leave the past in the past.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Trying to Be An "Ethical Omnivore"


I'm not that thrilled with the term, but then it's handy to have some label that describes a way of eating. I have great admiration for vegetarians, even more for vegans, but I myself remain somewhat addicted to meat, not to mention cheese. Rather than turn a blind eye to the problems of factory farming, inhumane conditions of animals during their lives and at slaughter, rampant use of pesticides and fertilizer pollution , I am trying to follow a path apparently being referred to these days as an "ethical omnivore." What this means is basically that you don't eat food unless you know something about where it comes from. The "ethics" part is striving to make food choices that support organic farming and the humane treatment of animals raised for meat products. In addition, it means trying to eat locally grown foods when possible, eat foods in season, make the best choices for the environment, and focus on seafood products that are sustainable. The "omnivore" part is that you can eat meat - as long as you can verify the conditions in which the animals live and die.

I didn't come up with this idea on my own. I read "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter," by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. I was dreading a preachy book telling me to go vegan, and instead was very pleased to find a great philosophical argument, some very useful information, and the realization that I have to choose between supporting farming and animal husbandry practices I don't believe are ethical, or doing a heck of a lot more work to decide what to eat. While initially daunted by the more work part, the more I learned, the more committed I became to finding a way to make it work.

So, two weeks into the new "Ethical Omnivore" diet, here's a bit about what I have learned. It is easier than I thought to obtain information - companies have been very responsive in answering my emails and questions about their practices. Although I lament the lack of a Wild Oats, a Whole Foods, or even a Trader Joe's in my town, we do have a Co-Op that carries organic products and has a very helpful staff. I have been able to locate local, humanely raised lamb and beef (grass fed only, not grain finished). I can mail order pork products that pass the test, and the Co-Op has free range chicken. The price of these products, if nothing else, will ensure that we eat less meat - I am aiming for 2-3 times a week max. Organic produce is easy to find, though learning what's in and out of season and where things are grown is slightly harder. Eggs and dairy are tough - though I did find an organic brand I can live with, and in summer local eggs will be available, and there is soy yogurt and soy milk that are good substitutes. Planning menus takes more time, but I find I am way more careful to plan to use up all leftovers, as the cost of all organic is higher - significantly on some items. I invested in a few new cookbooks and aim to slowly learn how to cook vegetarian and vegan meals, with at least several meals a week being vegan and most meals being vegetarian.

I was even able to locate one local restaurant that basically supports the ethical omnivore diet by letting you know the source of all meat products, and using only organic vegetables. Eating out is otherwise a little hard - it's not always possible to find organic, so in a pinch I aim for vegetarian. (Which is tough since I still strongly dislike most vegetables). The worst was the airport on business travel - all I could come up with was a bag of pistachios. But, you can sneak your organic popcorn with organic butter into the theater, and you can pack a lunch to work and airline snacks for travel, and it can be done, without trauma. I find a huge upside is that it forces you to think really hard before you put anything in your mouth - no more mindless eating and no more casual calorie consumption. Planned meals and snacks from reliable, investigated sources only leads to a lot more control over your diet.

I will be interested to see what effect this diet has over time on our bank account, our health, our habits and our cooking skills. I am hopeful that next year we are in a position to move farther - maybe vegetarian (vegan is still too far off for me to actually imagine doing on a daily basis, as meat and cheese have long had my strongest affection).