Saturday, November 29, 2008

Melty Cats

I've been trying to save some energy by using the fireplace in the evening. The cats love this system and I find them draped all over the living room. Lizzie likes a wooden box near the stove. Oscar takes the Lazy Boy recliner. Nadia lays on top of a mesh dog crate, and Ophelia and Pepper usually drape themselves on the bed. This is Ophelia, completely laid out and completely comfortable. She likes to guard the Tivo remote and sometimes change the channel. The fire is cozy, and our heating bills are down 50%.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Get Your Wolf Comments In Before Nov. 29

There is a 30 day public comment period open until Nov 29th, 2008 for comments on removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Mail your comments to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: RIN 1018-Au53
Division of Policy & Directives Management
US Fish & Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 222
Arlington, VA 22203

Or, go to the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, or NRDC websites to fill out online comment forms.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We Know What's in Mammoth DNA Now!

This is a very cool article from National Geographic about the decoding of the Mammoth genome. This means we can compare their DNA to that of the three species of elephant alive today - Asian, African and forest elephants (also African, but a smaller species). It will be fascinating to see what's been lost and what's been retained. And theoretically you can clone extinct species with their DNA - though you would not be able to get a viable population again from just a few samples. But, it does give us clues.

The genetics section of my biology course has been very interesting and I've been impressed and surprised with all the genetic research and discoveries made in the last 20 years. I know that during my lifetime more and more will happen. Already we are learning how to use animal DNA in criminal cases to help determine what happened (and there is an interesting show ion Animal Planet about that called Animal Witness). It'll be very interesting to see what happens next.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gorillas in the Congo - How Bad Will it Be?

You can visit the site of the park in the Congo in charge of gorilla protection. Mountain gorillas only live in one teeny area of the world, which happens to fall a little into three countries: Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Fewer than 650 are left in the world and they are all in this area. The Congo portion has historically been problematic, with gorillas getting murdered there, and sometimes the Rangers trying to protect them. The park in Congo, Rwindi, was recently taken over by the rebels fighting now in the Congo, and all the Rangers had to flee.

What's happening to the people in Congo right now is awful. Things have been awful for a long time there actually but now they are seriously heating up. I don't like how little coverage the situation gets on American news channels. Sick. We can drone for hours on possible cabinet picks but not spend more than 2 minutes on the Congo crisis.

In any event, I fear for the gorillas and their habitat. Things are bad for the people - but even if the worst happens the human race won't die out - the gorillas just might. Having seen them up close, including those pictures above, I can't put into words what a tragic loss I think that would be for the universe. I am all for helping both the gorillas and the innocent people caught up int he Congo right now.

I remember a spot near Congo when I came down a mountain in Rwanda that had been destroyed as gorilla habitat during the genocide and turned into a place crops grew and shacks were built. There were two little boys playing with two little goats. We didn't speak the same language and we didn't have good ways of communicating, but I loved the goats and I could tell they were fascinated by that. We played with the goats together, and I took their pictures and showed them to them on the digital camera, which highly delighted them. Though I wish I was there and I could do something - to protect the gorillas, the kids and the goats alike - there is not a lot I can do from here, but donate to those on the ground trying to make sure everyone survives.

Africa has the very best the planet has to offer - and the very worst.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friends...and Enemies

If you don't already know about Best Friends Animal Society, you should check them out. The nation's biggest no-kill shelter, they have a lot of innovations in education, no kill shelters, animal rescue and rehabilitation. They took some of the Michael Vik dogs, and they take all kinds of animals, including cats with feline leukemia. Anyway, they have a special offer from Chase - they are eligible for $100,000 donation if they can get enough credit card applications. A portion of each charge goes to Best Friends, and that portion increases if they get a lot of applicants. To apply (you don't have to use this no fee card if you don't want to), click here. My favorite credit card uses a similar program to give a portion of charges to my personal favorite charity, African Wildlife Foundation. Many charities offer similar cards and it's an easy way to put a portion of everyday purchases like groceries towards charity, so highly worth considering.

Now, the bad news. That darn Bush is trying to push through rules and regulations bad for species protections before he leaves office. Ah, that change of administration will be soooo nice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

K-9 Cops

A K-9 dog made the local news today for helping catch a gang member - and the dog actually inflicted bites. I used to have a job that required me to ride along with police officers on duty, which was very educational. I got to see K-9 dogs in action, and it was impressive - suspects who were screaming and swearing at the cops and fighting with them became REALLY cooperative the second the dog stepped out of the car.

My favorite memory of a police dog happened one time I was doing a ride along with a police officer in Nebraska. Every officer in every area is a bit different and this particular officer stands out in my mind because he is the only one who showed me where he had a rifle mounted in the car "in case I go down and there's trouble." I remember thinking "Eeek, this guy thinks there could be the kind of trouble where I have to arm myself and fire a rifle?" But actually, he was just very smart and very prepared - all of them tell you how to use the radio, but he was the only one who told me how to release the spare weapon - not a bad plan. Though more memorable still was his dog.

I forget the name of the dog though it started with a K. The dog had the backseat to himself and as a result that officer never had to have a passenger or transport anyone to jail (which may be why he could mount a weapon in the front seat). The dog only spoke German. The officer told me a few of the commands so I would have a basic understanding of what was going on as the dog worked. He also said to avoid any sudden movements. The ride along was an overnight, about a 6pm to 6am shift. During the night while on patrol we talked. At one point I was telling a story and without realizing it, I made a gesture with my hand that crossed the centerline of the car, my hand crossing over into the driver's side of the car. Instantly, before I could realize what was happening, the dog had leaped from the backseat and was pinning me very firmly against the seat, his body between me and the officer. He wasn't aggressive but he also had me in a position where I could not move.

The officer laughed and explained that no one is allowed to cross into the officer's side of the car and the dog is trained to prevent that. Very impressive! One quick command and the dog retreated into the back seat. After that the conversation didn't get animated, I made sure to keep my hands in my lap.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Submit Wolf Comments by November 28th, 2008

The Bush Administration is, for some reason, still trying to pursue the wolf delisting issue prior to leaving office. It seemed like good news for awhile as a Montana Judge refused to approve the administration's plan this summer and the federal government backed off their request. Now they are trying to resume plans to kill wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The Feds are taking public comments until November 28th. You can look up the address or fax for public comment, or an easy way to submit comments is to go to the NRDC website and fill out the web form here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Idaho State University Changes Policy on Dogs

Recently the local news reported that a Pocatello animal shelter was giving dogs that were slated for euthanasia to Idaho State University for use in their medical program. That program fell under criticism and the director of the Idaho Humane Society made it clear that dogs from the Boise shelter were not being used in any such capacity and that he would not permit it to occur because it would result in people not bringing dogs to the shelter, fearing medical experimentation on them.

Today ISU reports that it will switch to high tech models and cease the use of live dogs in response to criticism from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. You can read the article with details here if you're interested.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dog Racing Ban Approved in MA

This election, MA approved a ban on dog racing that was attempted before and failed. You can read about it in the Boston Globe. Greyhound racing will be phased out there by 2010.

This election seemed to bring some small steps for animals in MA and CA, which I am glad to see. But I wonder if I'll live to see a world that comes to recognize the cruelty in factory farming and that makes enough change to make a difference. There is some hope, at least we are taking baby steps in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Battleground Report from CO

Since it was clear Idaho's electoral votes would go to McCain, I volunteered in a battleground state and traveled to Colorado. I wasn't sure what to expect - I don't consider myself a Democrat but I am an Obama supporter, and all my previous political experience has been in the Republican Party. As a lawyer, I volunteered for "Voter Protection," which meant being familiar with Colorado election law and making sure that people had the right to vote, were not turned away from the polls or intimidated, and addressing voter problems and irregularities.

The training I attended was impressive - about 400 lawyers were present, the majority of whom were from out of state and had come, like me, to lend a hand where it might matter. The organization was impressive. There was to be a lawyer inside and outside each polling place, with the CO lawyers inside and the out of state volunteer lawyers outside. Central command stations with CO election lawyer specialists were available all day by phone with roving teams to address issues. In addition, each polling place was to have a volunteer to assist voters in finding their polling place, including a hotline to call, maps and lists of precincts and polling places and locations accepting mail in ballots via dropoff. Plus, there would be a person in each polling place checking off voters as they voted, and runners picking that info up and then getting it back to HQ for the get out to vote effort of callers and door knockers. IN ADDITION (yes, I kid you not) there would be "comfort teams" providing food and water and magazines to voters in long lines so they did not get discouraged and leave. I thought that was a really ambitious plan - at least 6 volunteers per polling place. I doubted the ability of the campaign to actually achieve that, especially with two lawyer volunteers per place.

I looked around at the nearly 400 lawyers at my training - and when they said it was the 8th training like that held, I was duly impressed. I was assigned a polling place in Araphaoe County that served three precincts. I knew the higher priority precincts were in downtown Denver so I assumed if resources would be cut it would be in an area like mine. But wow, was I ever in for a surprise. There were THREE lawyers, five runners, three poll checkers. People brought us food and water all day long. There was not a shortage of volunteers - if anything there was an excess!! It was exciting and impressive. The organization was intense. And, I felt like my efforts did end up mattering - I was able to assist a number of voters with all sorts of issues, and sitting in the cold from 6:30 am to 7:05pm was totally and completely worth it.

The GOTV (Get Out the Vote) effort was incredible. My nephew who lives here was at the polls when they opened at 7:00am. By 8:00 he had a phone call from the campaign and by 8:30 they knocked on his door. Two more phone calls before 10am, when they clearly got the result that he voted from their poll checkers as they stopped contact after that. Clearly a machine working well.

I felt good about voter protection because it means helping all people have access to the ballot regardless of the person they are voting for. Clearly, the Obama campaign expected that more people having trouble voting would support him than McCain but the training was clear: prevent NO ONE from voting, help EVERYONE have access to the ballot box, challenge NO PERSON's right to vote, protect EVERYONE from challenges from others, allow NO voter intimidation. I truly believe if you can't win fighting fair you don't deserve to win - and I was thrilled to see this attitude throughout the Obama campaign. Every single volunteer at my polling place was polite, courteous and helpful to people of both parties - including those who self-identified as Republicans. Never did I see one single sign of disrespect from the Democrats to the other side - instead I saw offers of assistance to the handicapped, help handling issues, etc. Everyone was optimistic about Obama but firmly committed to letting everyone have their say - and I could not have been more pleased. The group at my polling place were all white middle class Obama supporters. I am pleased to say the voters were much more diverse - young, old and minorities of many types. It was really, really cool to see the turnout.

I was exceedingly disappointed in the conduct of the Republican election Judge in charge. She was highly partisan, bitter and mean and totally unfair at every turn, enjoying a power trip not well deserved. Several of the Republican election judges were entirely appropriate, friendly, and non partisan, as were the Democrats. But the one Republican "in charge" was vile. There were no McCain volunteers presents except one who dropped in during the day briefly and one McCain legal team member who stopped by late in the day. The rules were not evenly enforced as the Democrats were not allowed to use cell phones in the building but the Republicans were. Any time the legal team inside observed a challenge or tried to ensure ballot access and not allow voter intimidation (ie the head Judge sitting at a table WHILE a voter is voting, looking over their shouder) they were told they were "impeding" and threatened with being ejected and having the police called on them. I personally saw the abuses of the Judge - and to my great pleasure, the utterly appropriate response of the legal team - not fighting over petty issues, treating her like a crqazy Judge in Court and being deferential but making sure the people got the right to vote.

Even at my "dull" polling place compared to many in the country, there were a lot of issues and I feel like my work and time were worthwhile. I was really pleased to be a part of something I believe in, and though the difference I made was tiny and the volunteering I did small compared to many, it was a great expereince. I was disheartened by the hateful and bitter conduct of some McCain supporters and I think McCain himself wouldn't have approved. He gave a GREAT concession speech - we finally saw the old McCain again, the one who is moderate and reasonable and a public servant, not the petty, negative, crappy campaigner of the last few months.

I loved Obama's acceptance speech as well. I am pleased to report that in addition to "the new regime" there is more good news - the ballot measure in California to require more humane confinement of animals passed. Another step in the right direction!!!

I, like so many other Americans, begin this new day with new hope, new enthusiasm, and a renewed commitment to participating in the process. I am encouraged to see so much participation nationwide and such a great turnout. If Americans can STAY ENGAGED, what can we not accomplish?? It is a happy day. And, CO went for Obama - and he earned it.