My mother called a couple of weeks ago to let me know that their dog would have a new Halloween costume in 2007. After several stints as Count Dracula ("he loves wearing the cape!" she insists), King will be hitting the dog park this year dressed as a spider. I can’t help but wonder what his wolf ancestors would make of all this. It seems a little ridiculous, and well, undignified. But I remind myself that King, as far as we know, had a rough life on the street before arriving at the shelter where my mom was volunteering. Despite that, my parents brought home that day the gentlest, most loving animal ever to break into the Franzetta candy-stash. Who am I to say this old dog shouldn’t enjoy their excessive affections--and sport Halloween finery to rival his neighborhood doggie friends--for the second, easier part of his life?
Since I’m not really feeling the "girl-who-just-got-her-face-clawed-off" theme for my own Halloween disguise, I opt not to dress my two cats--the squishy white and tabby Seamus and his even-huskier tuxedo brother, Theo. The year that Roy (of Siegfried & Roy) was injured by his white tiger Montecore during a routine performance of the duo’s Las Vegas act, I decided to tell everyone that Seamus was passing as the Mirage’s man-eater for the day. Joining in on the captive-mammal theme, Theo looked every-bit the pint-sized Shamu.
I look forward to showing up at the ALDF office on Halloween morning each year to see how my officemates’ animals will be decked out. Some wear modest bandanas or those bopping-antenna things on their heads. Setting the bar high will be, as always, Joyce’s dog Edgar. I’m not sure how he’ll outdo the many-layered irony of last year’s "hot dog" costume. But considering that Edgar spent the first years of his life living in a wooden crate--I wouldn’t deny him an inch of organza.
I’m still amazed when I think about it—my daughter, Maggie, falling madly in love with a cat. People assume that she’s a clone of me, possessing all of my passions and interests. But, she is her own person, with her own set of interests and joys.
Of course, Maggie was raised with dogs and cats. There are the dogs and cats who have lived with our family over the years; they were there before she was born and their status as revered family members was taught to her from the start. And, then, there were the temporary visitors-- dogs I found running loose on the street and cats who somehow landed on our doorstep. We would take them in, try to find their original homes, get them medical care, and find a new home, if needed. Maggie accepted all of this gracefully and was always respectful and loving, but it was “her nutty Mom’s thing,” not hers.
Yet, that changed in the blink of an eye. A very tiny blue eye, that is. On a Tuesday afternoon with a deadline looming, I answered my office phone and heard Maggie’s voice, trembling with excitement and nervousness.
“Mom, a man in front of the grocery store was giving away kittens and I took one.” What? Had she learned nothing from me in 16 years?
“He’s really tiny, Mom.”
I moaned, thinking that we might be dealing with a newborn.
“How tiny, Maggz? Describe him to me in inches.”
“Are his eyes open?”
“Yes.” (Whew; he’s not a newborn).
“Are they blue?”
“Yes.” “What do I feed him?”
“Go to the pet food store, get some canned kitten formula and some kitten food.” “Mom?”
“I love him and I want to keep him.”
“Maggie, see if he will eat the food. I’m on a deadline; we’ll talk about with this when I get home.”
Deadline met, I drove home to find Maggie standing in the kitchen cuddling a scrawny, undersized five week old orange tabby kitten. She looked at me with imploring eyes. “Can I keep him? I named him Marley.” She had never gotten so attached to an animal before and I was curious—what was so special about this little guy? He was cute, sure, but all kittens are cute. And, I really didn’t need another animal to care for. You’ll notice that I said “I,” because in our household, guess who gets stuck with the feeding, the cleaning, the trips to the vet? And, with two dogs and three cats already, my dance card is full.
Then, my tough soccer playing teenager did something even more unusual—she cried and begged me to let her keep Marley. I was taken aback; this was serious. I made her promise that she would take responsibility for feeding him and cleaning his litter and, with a sigh and a smile, I welcomed the newest member of our family.
And, each day, I watch in awe, as Maggie walks into the house and Marley runs as fast as he can to greet her. She picks him up and holds him close to her chest. She kisses his head and he licks her nose. His purr is so loud that I can hear it from across the room. She tells him how much she loves him and that she missed him while she was at school. And, when she finally does stop holding him, he follows her all around the house.
They were meant for each other, those two, in ways that are unspoken and wondrous. I know the feelings she is feeling; I have felt them myself. Theirs is a strong and powerful bond that will last for a lifetime and hurt like hell when it’s over. They have discovered that magical place where two souls connect.
Last week brought many causes for celebration.
First, ALDF launched its Free Baby Mendes campaign aimed at educating the public about the cruel confinement conditions for calves at Mendes Calf Ranch. We’ve already collected nearly 20,000 signatures for our letter to Land O’Lakes and Challenge Dairy asking them to end their relationship with Mendes Calf Ranch until these cruel practices are stopped.
October 4th was World Animal Day, "a day of celebration for anyone in the world who cares about animals." World Animal Day encourages everybody to use this special day to commemorate their love and respect for animals by doing something special to highlight the importance of animals in the world. Any day that encourages the celebration of animals is a good day!
Another piece of wonderful news came from the Michael Vick dogfighting case. After evaluations by a team of animal behavior specialists, it was recommended that 48 of the 49 dogs rescued from Vick’s property be placed with families or in a sanctuary where they will be socialized and cared for. What a huge victory for these dogs! Not more than a few weeks ago did these dogs face certain death because of the situation in which they were found. Thanks to thousands of caring individuals and organizations who didn’t sit quietly as these innocent animals were going to die, these beautiful dogs have been afforded the same right that every companion animal should be -- to be treated and evaluated as individuals.
The world is undoubtedly becoming a better place for animals… one day at a time.
The other night my mother sent me a disturbing email. She had just read that Herceptin, a cancer-fighting drug she took when she had breast cancer a few years ago, is made from Chinese hamster ovaries. She had always assumed that it was a synthetic concoction. She asked me if I had known this information during her treatment, and if I had kept it from her so I wouldn’t add to the huge amount of stress and fear that she was already dealing with at the time.
I confess that I did not know anything about the drug or how it is made. And after doing some further investigating, it appears that the ovarian cells, while no doubt originally taken from hamsters at some point, are genetically reproduced in a lab without actually using the hamsters or ovaries themselves. Although I was relieved to discover that millions of hamsters are not killed for their reproductive organs, her email got me thinking: if the drug really was made from hamster ovaries and I had known it at the time, what would I have done? Would I have pointed this out to my mom, heaping guilt on top of the other painful, frightening emotions she was feeling? Would I have taken the risk that telling my mother, and her possible refusal to take the drug, could have led to her suffering and death? How could I, as her daughter, have ever lived with myself had that happened?
But on the other hand, how could I have not told her? She would have had the right to know, wouldn’t she? And what about the millions of animals who are purposely given cancer in laboratories or are otherwise used in cruel pharmaceutical tests, including for the same drug she took? Where are their rights? Aren’t their lives important? Having once been the adoptive parent of two domestic rats, I know how sensitive they are, and it’s unbearable to imagine the pain they must suffer.
Of course, we who want to protect animals and who therefore try to follow a certain code of ethics say that their lives do count, and that they should have the right to not be used, abused and exploited. But “doing the right thing” sure doesn’t seem quite so crystal clear when we’re talking about our loved ones taking a drug that quite possibly could save their lives.
My mother is the person from whom I inherited a desire to protect animals from suffering, and she seems to have inherited this trait from her mother. My mom was the brave little girl who stood up to the (big) neighborhood bully, threatening to hit him with her lunchbox when he refused to stop shooting birds with his bb gun. She is someone who refused to eat poultry after seeing a chicken slaughtered on a family farm in Michigan when she was a child. And she is someone who told my aunt, the matriarch of the family, that she could not bring her fur coat into our house one cold Christmas Eve when I was young. (You can imagine how that went over.)
My mom ended her recent email to me by saying that it must sometimes be difficult for me to sleep at night, knowing all the things I know about animal cruelty. She said that this knowledge must be, in her words, “a blessing and a curse - a blessing to know and make better choices, and a curse to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issues.” In some ways, I think she’s right. I’m glad I know about these things, but sometimes I think that ignorance would indeed be bliss. It’s not always easy to face the smaller ethical dilemmas, much less the bigger, life-or-death ones.
For example, the holidays are just around the corner. For many of us, ethical issues, especially concerning food, become front and center during the holiday season. Do you attend the Thanksgiving feast with the turkey carcass as the table centerpiece, or do you give up spending the day with your loved ones so you can eat dinner with like-minded, vegetarian friends? Do you go to Uncle Bob’s house to spend the holidays with him and his mounted dead deer heads on the wall, or do you skip seeing him because you just can’t stomach hearing yet another hunting story (and seeing the evidence hanging on his wall)? If you’re vegan, do you eat those buttered vegetables that your well-meaning but obviously clueless Aunt Marge specially provided for you, scraping off as much butter as possible (but no doubt eating some), in order to recognize her efforts and maintain family harmony? Or do you stay true to your beliefs and refuse to eat them?
When these big or small moral questions inevitably pop up from time to time, I think the important thing is that we do the best we can and make these decisions with compassion. That includes compassion for ourselves and each other, when there just isn’t a perfect choice to make and we are forced to choose the lesser of two (or three or four) evils.
However, we should never forget that the animals are counting on us to ask the tough questions and to stand up for them. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult to make these decisions, but what the animals go through is much, much worse. The number of people who pause to consider these issues is growing every day, and that gives me hope. I am very fortunate to work with such a group of people at ALDF. I’m also grateful that my mom, who started me on my mission to help animals, is still with us, and continues to contribute her own unique form of compassion to the world.
Can I just say that if I hear someone say one more time “why is there such an outcry for animal cases when humans are hurt all the time and those cases don’t get the same outcry as animals” my head will explode? Because I am really just so sick of it, especially when it comes from folks who should know better, like police officers and prosecutors and even media commentators. Perhaps if they merely thought it through they’d see the answer, but allow me to express how I usually respond to such comments: I have enough compassion to empathize and be truly concerned about both kinds of cases—my compassion is not a finite amount, nor is it mutually exclusive in how it is expressed. How silly to suggest that folks like me would be any different! Perhaps it is the commentators themselves who are unable to care about or address more than one problem at a time.
My household includes both children and nonhuman animals, and I am deeply concerned about the world they live in now, and the one we’ll be leaving them. However, one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that our criminal and civil justice system was long ago set up to protect and accommodate human victims--even children and the mentally incompetent have innumerable laws and agencies and regulations protecting them, and they must have advocates appointed to represent their interests in court. We trust the courts will work to help them, as they’ve done for a long time, without any outcry needed.
But our courts are sorely lacking in even recognizing nonhuman animals, let alone protecting them or giving them any measure of justice. Changing that fact is my particular concern and passion, and that is what I spend my days working to improve, through better laws and educating those who work in the legal system. The fact I work for animals does not mean that I do not also hurt when I read about people who are hurt, or write letters or put my dollars toward those cases as well. My compassion cannot be compartmentalized.
In the meantime I and other like-minded folks understand that change for animals is still a long way off, and until it comes there will be a huge outcry when we see them harmed and those cases come to light, and I won’t apologize for it.
Now let’s go out there and make this a kinder, gentler world for all of the vulnerable creatures with whom we share it.