Every year at this time of year I go through the same conversation with my parents. They ask what I want for Christmas and I say, "Oh don’t buy me anything." I mean, I’m 43 years old! Train sets and Legos are just not that exciting anymore. And clothes? Well, let’s just say my parents, being in their 60s and 70s have different taste.
My main concern is that I don’t need things. It’s amazing how even a relative minimalist like myself can accumulate things. I often look in my closet and think, "What is all this stuff?" And, of course, my parents are living on fixed incomes and so it’s kind of silly for them to be spending their limited funds on stuff I don’t need.
But, the reality is, try as I might, they are going to get me something -- because they love me and, well, because that’s what you do for the holidays.
My solution? Well, everyone who cares about me knows that my passion is animals. It’s always been that way. So, as you can imagine, I’ve gotten my share of animal-themed merchandise through the years – please, no more stuffed wolves! But now, given the work that needs to be done on so many fronts to protect animals, I ask my family and loved ones to make a donation to ALDF – or any animal protection group that they feel is effective – in my name.
That way they feel good about getting me something they know I will be truly grateful for. I feel great because they honored my passion and gave me something really meaningful. And, best of all, the animals are a direct beneficiary of my parents’ love for me and of the spirit of holiday giving.
That’s what it’s all about.
Gigi, our family toy poodle, and I were inseparable growing up. She was in my family nearly a year before I was born, so she was a constant in my life until her death when I was 14. Her name was the first word I ever spoke and she was by my side when I took my first steps. When I was 6, I rode my sister’s hand-me-down bike – a hot pink cruiser with a banana seat and a plastic, daisy-laden basket on the front handlebars. It was sa-weet! Gigi sat in the basket as we rode endlessly around the neighborhood together. (Not something I would necessarily recommend for a 6-year-old today, but thankfully, I never crashed while Gigi was my passenger.) When she wasn’t acting as my bicycle co-pilot, we were playing in the yard together making mud pies or I was dressing her up in doll clothes. She was my pal and I delight in the memories of our countless fun times together.
It is memories like those I have of Gigi that make it even more difficult to hear about cases like the one ALDF filed last week against Janie Conyers of Raleigh, North Carolina. Conyers was keeping over 100 dogs, mostly toy poodles like Gigi, in deplorable conditions at her house. The details are enough to make you cry. As I looked at the pictures of their little faces and read the details of the case, I couldn’t help but feel immense sadness. These beautiful dogs deserve so much better. They deserve to have families who love them and who will share the adventures of life with them.
Animal hoarding, the act of keeping far more animals than one can care for and denying the suffering of the animals, is an extreme form of animal cruelty and oftentimes goes unnoticed and unreported. The sometimes hundreds of dog or cat victims of hoarders typically suffer horribly and, unlike most other forms of companion animal cruelty, their misery can go on for years. I encourage you to learn more about animal hoarding and how to spot an animal hoarder. Read ALDF’s animal hoarding fact sheet. Dogs deserve families, not filthy cages.
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.