A Troubling Dilemma – Should We Kill to Save?

“The most melodious wild music I have ever heard”

These were the words naturalist Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, his response to the exuberant rhapsody of birdsong filling the air as Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour dropped anchor in the paradise that was Discovery Bay in 1770.
If Banks and Cook were to make that same landing in 2017, they would hear – silence. Little did either realise that their own expedition, the first to map the coastline of New Zealand and study its wildlife, bears in large part the blame for today’s uncanny hush. For the Endeavour was carrying more than its crew. It also brought stowaways, in the shape of Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. And it’s rats that have brought that music to a stop.

New Zealand’s native birds were/are endemic, ie. unique to that country, occurring nowhere else in the world. And, having no natural ground predators and therefore no need to take to the sky, they’d evolved over millennia flightless. So, easy pickings for the voracious invaders inadvertently brought to their shores.

Since that time, more than 70 species of birds native to NZ have been lost to the world, with more likely headed in the same direction, including the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, and possibly the cheekiest, the alpine kea.

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The endangered kea

A shocking 26 million of the nation’s birds are killed by invasive predators every year.

Of course this is not a problem exclusive to New Zealand. The pattern is repeated all over. On Hawaii for example, the most isolated land mass in the world, native plants and animals evolved, as in New Zealand, without aggressively competitive or predatory species. The native species, not having had to compete themselves, are “more gentle than others, leaving them vulnerable to the ‘meaner’ species … being introduced to the islands.”

This is one of the ‘meanies’, who indiscriminately demolishes Hawaiian birds, insects, plants and flowers. He doesn’t belong there, but he sure has made himself at home.

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The veiled chameleon, invader in Hawaii, all the way from Yemen

Islands that once were regular Gardens of Eden where all lived in harmony, are today red in tooth and claw. And most often, the teeth and claws belong to Rattus norvegicus, or Rattus rattus, the black rat. Rats have found their way, courtesy of humans, on to more than 90% of the world’s archipelagoes, and embody everything that characterises an invasive species:

  • Rapid reproduction
  • Fast growth
  • High dispersal ability
  • Ability to live off a wide range of foods
  • Ability to adapt to different environments
  • Association with humans

Mammals like the rat are not native to oceanic islands, which are predominantly the domain of birds. Two-thirds of extinctions over the last 500 years have occurred on islands, largely at the paws of invasive mammals. Islands make up only 5.5% of the Earth’s land mass, but are home to 15% of all land species. They are hotspots of biodiversity. And that makes islands in particular, critically important for conservation.

So, how to stem the alarming losses in biodiversity?

Money for conservation is always at a premium. So much to be done, and never enough funding to do it. $21.5 billion is being spent annually, yet in places it’s hard to see much impact on biodiversity. It’s vital to direct funds to projects that will yield good results. And conservationists have found, especially on islands, the only effective method of stemming biodiversity loss is eradication of the invasive species that are pushing the natives to extinction. When the invaders are removed, the beneficial effect on native species is dramatic.

Eradication methods

Different lands, different species demand different eradication methods. What works in one locale, fails in another. Our own ‘meanie’ here on the island of Britain is the American mink brought across the Atlantic to be farmed for its fur. Now escaped into the wild, these invaders have eaten their way through the water vole population, pushing the little rodents to the cliff edge of extinction. Mink are being trapped with the help of volunteers, and then shot in the head.

“It’s not something I get any satisfaction out of, but I am trained to do this, and we dispatch them as quickly and humanely as possible to cause minimal distress to the animal,” says river biologist Jamie Urquhart.

( I once saw a mink in the river at a National Trust property. I began an email to notify the Trust, but then couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for the animal’s death, and deleted the email.)

In the Galapagos Islands, feral goats spread like wildfire, munching their way through forests and native fauna until nothing was left but bare grass. Native birds, invertebrates and the famous Galapagos tortoise were all endangered. Rangers hunted the goats down on land and by air, and shot them, 55,000 of them just on one island. The now goat-less islands reforested and recovered with gratifying rapidity.

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Galapagos lava heron

In the Seychelles, where the invading Indian red-whiskered bulbul was ousting its native cousin, nets were used, and “rifles to get the last remaining few.”

In New Zealand, lethal traps and poisoned bait have been ‘successful’ on small islands, but as they are labour-intensive (requiring constant checking and resetting) they’re not practical over larger areas. Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) is developing more effective ‘tools’, from “more attractive lures to electronically monitored traps.” The traps being used kill the rats instantly.  “You don’t get those kills where it just breaks the back; we don’t want prolonged suffering,” says Aitken, one of the government-employed eradicators.

This is ZIP’s latest prototype: “Nailed to the tree a few feet off the ground is a shiny orange-and-black contraption called the GoodNature A24. Powered by a gas-fired piston, it delivers a quick, fatal blow to an animal’s head as it tries to snatch the bait inside. The device can kill 24 rats or stoats with a single canister of gas, requiring fewer of these strenuous, time-consuming trap line tromps, thereby saving on labor costs.” 

The ethics

Whatever method is used, eradication means no more nor less than the killing of every possible individual animal of the unwanted species in that territory. ” Most critics point to the ethics of the matter. Killing animals whether they are invasive or not is wrong, they argue, and uncompassionate. Killing wildlife for conservation seems counterintuitive. Isn’t conservation supposed to be about conserving wildlife?”

Some critics even see eradication as another manifestation of racism – prejudice against the non-native. “Certainly the Nazi drive to eliminate non-indigenous plants was related to the campaign to eliminate non-Aryan people.”

But an argument for eradication is that often, the native wildlife needing protection is found nowhere else on the planet, whereas the invaders such as the rats, are generally very widespread. Reading that sentence back and substituting the word ‘Aryans’ for ‘native wildlife’, and ‘Jews’ for ‘rats’, it does sound horribly like the Nazi justification for the Holocaust, doesn’t it? And labelling a group (Jews or rats) ‘vermin’, makes them so much easier to eliminate – it transforms eradication from a murderous crime into a public good.

Even if we accept that the uniqueness-of-the-endangered-native-wildlife argument makes sense at species level, does it justify killing thousands of sentient animals who are just getting on with their lives best they can?

Suppose eradication is a necessity, aren’t there non-lethal methods that could be used?

Yes, there are. Some are not always a practical option, some are just bizarre, and some pose unknown risks.

The impractical

The obvious solution would be to trap the invaders and transport them back to where they came from. And on occasions this has been done. But imagine the politics, the logistics, and of course the cost involved of say, catching, keeping alive and shipping every veiled chameleon from Hawaii back to Yemen. And where on earth would you take the tens of thousands of feral goats from the Galapagos? Multiply that by thousands of conservation projects and it’s clear that can rarely be an answer.

The bizarre

Researchers in Australia have a novel approach. Remember the native species are invariably ‘gentler’ than the invading ‘meanies’ whose successful proliferation at the expense of the natives is down to their adaptability and aggressive competitiveness? Since there is little to no hope of ridding the whole of Australia of its mercilessly predatory feral cats, researchers there are trying to “force natural selection’s hand”.

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They’ve placed hundreds of small endangered endemic marsupials in a pen with a couple of the cats. The hope is that the smartest marsupials will learn to survive, and pass on their cleverness genes to their offspring. But such human-contrived evolution of the marsupial could take 100 years or more. And if it seems like a big gamble, that’s because it is. No need for me to list possible objections, practical and ethical. They are all too obvious.

The risky

Genetic technology already available to us would be by far the most effective nonlethal tool for dealing with invasive species. Scientists have now found a way to not only alter the genes of a species – in this case a gene for producing male offspring only – but make that alteration inheritable. It’s called a self-propagating gene drive system [which] promotes the inheritance of a particular genetic variant to increase its frequency in a population.”  This would obviously require “fewer invasive organisms to be released in order to spread infertility and ultimately eliminate the pest population.” The animal basically would be programmed to (re)produce its own extinction.

New Zealand is one country taking a good hard look at this technology as a much easier, and definitely more humane way to rid the land of the invasive rats, mice, stoats and possums that are so destructive of its native wildlife. There is no question the gene technology would work. The invaders would die out, allowing the native species to flourish once more.

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One of the invaders, an Australian possum

But, and it’s a big but, what it would also do, is create in effect a new species still retaining all the characteristics that made it such a successful invader in the first place. In other words, it would be impossible to contain these modified animals in the target location. Invasion is what they do best – they would spread far and wide with unknowable, and most likely catastrophic results.

The self-propagating gene drive is the perfect example of technology moving ahead at such a pace, it is way in advance of any ethical agreements surrounding its use. The international community needs to catch up fast, formulate, and sign up to a binding accord. New Zealand is by no mean the only country looking at the self-propagating gene drive as a conservation tool. And if something can be done, you can guarantee it will sooner or later.

The dilemma

To kill to save, or not?

“Not doing anything to prevent these extinctions is, in and of itself, an action—which is not compassionate to native species. We can sit there and watch animals go extinct, or we can do something about it,” says conservation biologist Holly Jones. “Killing things sucks. But when you realize the gravity of not acting, which in many cases equates to watching extinction happen in front of your eyes, I think there is no other choice,” 

“We do have the ability to fix our damages. Which is why many conservationists believe we have an obligation to right the wrong when it comes to invasives since humans are, more often than not, solely responsible for introducing species into places they shouldn’t be.” Peter Haverson, another conservation biologist. “No other species has this capability, unfortunately.”

We’ve carried invasive species to every corner of the world, either deliberately – sheep,  goats, dogs, cats and so on, then escaped and gone feral – or inadvertently, as with the rats. The cats, who are particularly pernicious predators of endangered wildlife, fall into both categories.

As we have caused the problem, should we be taking action to fix it? We can refrain from eradicating invasive species. That means standing by, letting individual endangered animals be killed by invaders, and allowing entire species to go extinct. Or, we can opt to kill the invaders – bearing in mind that rats, stoats and possums are people too. In conservation there is no fence to sit on. By not doing one, we are of necessity doing the other.

This is a cowardly cop out I know, but I’m so glad it’s not me having to make the decisions. What is your take on this most troubling of questions?

The most invasive species of all

We don’t just transport invaders around the globe. We ourselves are by far the worst invaders of the lot:

“From Africa, we’ve spread out onto every continent on Earth settling into jungles, plains, forests, deserts, mountains and more. All environments we touch experience extinctions and suffer from varying degrees of degradation. Many scientists even believe we are currently causing a mass extinction event of global wildlife, like the one that ultimately claimed the dinosaurs.”

“Believe”? The 6th mass extinction is no more a matter of belief than climate change. Strangely, I don’t hear anyone suggesting as a solution to the catastrophic loss of the planet’s precious biodiversity, the eradication of this, the most deadly of invasive species, Homo sapiens. Why is that?

RDLS_logo-copy

 

Update 6th December 2017

Genetic tool that can doom a species under UN review

Gene experts set to tackle pest control

Sources

Eradication nation

Hawaii’s Invasive Species Might Be Cute, But They’re A Huge Island Threat

Invasive Species – Wiki

Alien invaders: American mink removed from Scotland

Confronting introduced species: a form of xenophobia?

When killing off a species is the best solution

Gene-drive technologies for ecosystem conservation: use with care

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Creative Crashpads for Funky Felines

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”

Calling all cat-worshippers! I have to ask: are you 100% satisfied in your own mind that the Pets-At-Home igloo bed you selected for your feline is up to scratch? Or did you go straight for the cat’s whiskers and lavish £50 on the deluxe Mr Snugs KatDen, only to find kitty curled up in the closet on your sweaters?

For a crashpad truly befitting your furry god or goddess, maybe, just maybe, you should have called upon the services of an ar-cat-ect. Yes, really. I’m serious. There is a wonderful organisation called Architects for Animals

logo-for-websitewhich every October invites architects and designers to make, submit for display, and donate their creative catnap-eries at their annual “Giving Shelter” exhibition and auction. All proceeds go to animals in need. This year, Architects for Animals’ 10th, the recipient is FixNation, an L.A. charity that spays/neuters stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Isn’t that purrfect?

Take your pick from these fabulous puss palaces.

7.-HKS_photo-credit-MeghanBobPhotography-810x1272
HKS’s “CAnT WE ALL GET ALONG,” a fish-shaped shelter with birdhouses above
11.-Perkins-Will_photo-credit-MeghanBobPhotography-810x1202
Perkins+Will’s “UnFURled,” a whimsical spiral shelter that’s actually assembled from a kit of interchangeable parts
13.-Standard-Architecture-_-Design_p-hoto-credit-MeghanBobPhotography-810x1092
Standard Architecture | Design’s “Catosphere,” a concrete and reclaimed teak pod
1.-AbramsonTeiger1_photo-credit-MeghanBobPhotography-810x1166
Abramson Teiger Architects’ “White Jack”

There’s no doubting who’s the star of that show!

Now, a quick flip of the coin, from the money-givers to the money-makers  – from the compassionate donors to the fat cats of re-tail.

(Apologies for all the corny cat puns. But you’d better brace yourself for more to come – I can’t resist😄)

A certain business better known for its vegan meatballs and Scandi style has also been getting creative for cats. Available for purr-chase is the ‘Lurvig cat cube’, designed to mix and match with the human furnishings. Infinitely adaptable to cat-er for every possible puss preference.

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Even so, I can imagine Felis Catus looking on with cool disdain as we wrestle with the flatpack – a disdain that despite our best efforts, may well extend to the finally completed cat-ready creation.

Oh well, it can always double up as a bedside cabinet.

So that takes care of the cat crashpads. Now how about the fur-niture?

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort”

Recent pet industry consumer research shows –

  • 80% of millennial companion-animal ‘parents’ regard their pets as family members. (What is wrong with the other 20%, one has to ask)
  • Americans spend more on cat food in a year than on baby food
  • And, music to the industry’s ears, 76% of millennial pet parents are willing to splurge on cool stuff for their pet before buying something for themselves.

Discovering just how much millennials are in thrall to their felines, the pet industry is naturally keen to create new product opportunities for the splurging. Would you splash out on these miniature marvels from Japan for your fur baby?

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This sofa, made by Okawa Kagu is furniture intended to satisfy a ‘selfish cat’ that doesn’t do sharing  (Photo: Okawa Kagu)

This is fur-niture for felines of the highest craftsmanship. Nothing but the best.

So, now that’s all the kitty comforts sewn up, what does Santa Claws plan on bringing this Christmas?

“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want”

  • I’m sorry, but I have it on the best authority, the standard supermarket pet stocking is not going to cut it this year. Don’t you know, a cat needs some a-mews-ment? A chance to show off her cat-leticism? So how about one of these?

cat-bridge-furniture

Catastrophic Creations make these ‘Indiana Jones Bridges’ to order. If you are cat-crazy enough to measure up your home for one, expect to get ambushed from on high, that’s all I can say.

Or, maybe you’re this crazy…

L_55-1

Or, for the irredeemably bonkers, this…
new-cat-furniture-releases

Now that’s one website worth looking at!

From the pampered puss who has everything, back where we started – to the cat who has nothing. We too can help give a cat a home.

If you’d like to help feral cats near you, click here for simple instructions, using materials that would probably otherwise be thrown away, to make a cosy shelter. It may not be as zany or stylish as the ones above, but it will keep them snug from the winter cold and wet.

And/or sponsor a cat pod with the RSPCA. The charity took in 6,390 cats to its shelters last year. “With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats – more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined – [the cats] need our support more than ever.” 

And if you are considering bringing a new companion animal into the family, don’t forget #AdoptDontShop!

For more stylish designs from Architects for Animals, take a look here


Sources

L.A. Architects & designers build imaginative outdoor cat dwellings for charity

Home Furnishings Industry Creates Comfy Digs for Man’s Best Friends

Behold! Purr-fect furniture for cats

Quotes: Terry Pratchett, Joseph Wood Krutch, James Herriot – in that order

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You Love Animals Right? Your Brain IS Different from Those Who Don’t

Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.

Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.

We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.

Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!

Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain

Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.

All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:

“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.

Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.

The results of the fMRI:

  • The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
  • The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
  • The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
  • The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
  • The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
  • Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans

All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.

The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?


Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:

In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.

So we have:

Wild Animals with whom we have little contact

Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on

Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens

Animals for entertainment – racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria

Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities

Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc

And let us not forget

Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’

What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.


That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.

So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.

If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”

Philosopher Janet Stemwedel


One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.

But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.

Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.

Help to go vegan here

 

Sources

Veg*n Brains & Animal Suffering

Empathy for Animals is all about us

The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood

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Animal Rights Stickers – Yay!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a brand new emoji app for animal champions everywhere. Senior Advocacy Strategist Michelle Feinberg invites us to download the peta2 sticker app available now from both the App Store and the iMessage-specific App Store. All the stickers are 100% vegan and cruelty-free!

To give you a flavour –

 

Let’s get downloading. This app is going to clock up some serious mileage! Fun with an important – the most important – message…

ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS

TO EAT, WEAR, EXPERIMENT ON, USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, OR ABUSE IN ANY OTHER WAY


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The Internet’s Favorite Baby Beaver Finally Finds Love

This is just too adorable not to be shared around, in case anyone has missed it. I particularly love it when her paddle tail takes her by surprise!

Animal rescuers in Canada have just shared some seriously heartwarming updates about two injured baby beavers they took in, who have since found companionship in their care.

Last year, the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC) took in a young female beaver who had been found alone and injured, far from water in an area where there were no known beavers. Rescuers believe she may have been snatched by a predator, and then left, and estimated she was only five weeks old.

With care, she recovered from the ordeal, and captured the hearts of millions of people after an Instagram video of her taking a bath went viral.

But she has been alone ever since.

As AIWC explained, “Beavers are incredibly social animals. Both parents raise their young together for 2-3 years before the kits naturally disperse on their own. After extensive research and consultation with other wildlife rehabilitators experienced in caring for beavers, we determined that our young beaver patient needs to similarly remain in care until she is 2-3 years old to properly prepare for her return to life in the wild.”

Unbeknownst to her, things were about to change. Earlier this summer, the organization took in a young male who had been found injured in a storm drain in Calgary. After being treated, he was later moved to an outdoor enclosure next to the female, where the two started to stealthily bond through the fence that separated them.

“Beavers are primarily nocturnal, so we didn’t see the two beavers interacting until one evening AIWC staff witnessed them walking along the fence line together,” AIWC wrote. “Introducing strange beavers to one another can sometimes be very challenging and result in serious injuries, but we were thrilled to see these two bonding together on their own, so the decision was made to slowly make introductions.”

Because they’re both so young, AIWC says their relationship so far is purely platonic, but it’s no less precious, and the pair have taken to doing a number of activities together.

Although they’ll spend much more time in AIWC’s care, the organization expects to release them together next year when they’re old enough to go out on their own. Hopefully they will thrive when they’re returned to the wild, and their story will inspire more people to appreciate these little ecosystem engineers.

For more updates and info on how to help, check out the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation.

Photo credit: Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation/YouTube

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Now is the Time for Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy

“In the fight to protect farm animals, our metric should be progress, not perfection”

At the bottom of this post  –  forgive the reblog, since it is always and only for the animals – you will find the link to an exerpt from Tobias Leenaert’s book, “How to Create a Vegan World.” The gist of it is that there will be a time for pure vegan idealism, but we’re not there yet. Right now guys, pragmatism is the name of the game. It seems like the HSUS and its CEO Wayne Pacelle are on the right track.

“HSUS’ anti-meat crusade is taking its toll on the beef industry and convincing kids to go green will only make matters worse.”
 The Humane Society of the United States “has almost single-handedly forced pork producers to change their policies.”
“The Humane Society of the United States is hitting the meat industry where it hurts. They’re convincing cooks to reduce the amount of meat from their menu.”

What is the relevance of this to us vegans and animal advocates here in the UK? Well, apart from the obvious – that HSUS‘s progress improving the welfare of farmed animals and encouraging people to cut back on meat, means fewer animals enduring less suffering – HSUS is the biggest animal charity in the world, and with its high public profile possibly the most influential ideologically.

CEO Wayne Pacelle opens what is clearly a deeply felt and thoughtful post in Alternet with those quotes, because they’re confirmation that his (and the organisation’s) pragmatic approach gets tangible results.

So it is hardly surprising that both the charity itself and Wayne personally are subject to frequent hostile onslaughts from Big Meat. That’s no more than you would expect. But sadly, vocal and sometimes vitriolic attacks also come from fellow activists, especially hardcore abolitionists. They have no time for HSUS, regarding the charity as paddling around in the shallows, or worse, fraternising with the enemy. (The charity also finds itself under attack from Big Meat stooges posing as hostile fellow animal activists)

Abolitionism condemns welfarist single issue campaigns such as those HSUS runs to get gestation crates and veal calf cages banned, for instance. The argument is that s-i-cs divert focus, time, energy and resources away from the only acceptable aim, which is to achieve full animal rights, to arrive at a world where animals are liberated from their present status as property for human use. That is what we all want and work towards, it goes without saying.

And that’s not the only perceived problem with ‘welfarism’, the dismissive term opponents apply to the one-step-at-a-time strategy employed by HSUS and other animal charities like CIWF, and here in the UK the RSPCA. Opponents argue that focusing on welfare improvements implicitly condones the use of animals for human purposes and allows people to keep right on eating meat and dairy with a clear conscience. We’ve all heard that old chestnut, “Oh yes, but I only buy high welfare meat.”

But activist-on-activist attacks, not welfarism, are the real waste of time and energy, taking the focus away from what really matters – the animals.

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As a vegan of 31 years standing Wayne knows all too well the frustration many of us feel, and the sense of urgency to end the horrific treatment and slaughter of billions of animals -the anger, the grief, the emotional pain of knowing what these poor animals are enduring this very minute at human hands.

But dogmatic insistence that everyone sing from the same hymn sheet, accepting nothing less than total animal liberation, and hostility towards those with a different approach to animal issues will never get us where we want to be. Idealism alone, without pragmatism, rarely produces the goods. Diplomacy rather than confrontation, getting people on side, moving the animal agenda into the mainstream inch by inch, practising the art of the possible, is proving a very good way, maybe the best, to progress our common cause.

“Do you ever win friends by scolding others? If you want to repel someone, there’s no better way than to act like a know-it-all, condemn them and show that you have all the answers and that others are fools or callous and heartless.”  

(That just alienates people, as I’ve learned the hard way!)

“The fact is, you win friends by earning trust, by listening and responding to their views, by showing respect and tolerance. Why should we expect these principles not to apply when we are trying to win people over on the matter of eating with conscience?”

There’s no denying that HSUS’s strategy is working. In the last year it has got 175 companies including McDonald’s to agree to phase out cage confinement of laying hens. And nearly 100 companies – including Burger King and Safeway—to make the same commitment for gestation crates.

That is huge. It’s making life more tolerable for millions of farmed animals. And just as importantly, it is moving the case for animals and their rights higher up the agenda. It is focusing attention, opening the doors on what is happening inside those factory farms and slaughterhouses. Making people more aware. Concern for animals has become so mainstream now that 30% of Americans believe animals should have the same rights as humans. So the cause of animal rights has clearly not been harmed by advances in animal welfare. On the contrary,

“It’s no accident that the biggest gains in reducing meat consumption have been coincident with the biggest reform efforts to reduce the most suffering on factory farms. Nor it is coincidental that nations which have stronger farm animal protection laws tend to also have higher rates of flexitarianism and vegetarianism. I cannot tell you how many people have told me, after they saw our television ads in Florida against gestation crates or in California on battery cages that they decided right then and there to go vegetarian. You prick someone’s conscience on a single subject, and you never know where it will lead.”

So true. It’s hard to argue with such a common sense approach. The proof of the pudding and all that.

I’m sure I’m not the only vegan though, who sometimes feels tugged first this way and then that by the seemingly polar opposites of animal advocacy ideology, the pragmatic and the pure. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be either/or. I think I’ve found a kind of way of reconciling the irreconcilable. I’ll be a welfare-abolitionist hybrid, embracing both – like Wayne himself.

I remain an abolitionist at heart, in  faith, in hope and in making my life as free from animal use as is humanly possible. Who can there be who does not yearn to see all animals freed and given back their intrinsic rights? Until that day comes, I’ll just keep signing all those single issue petitions, keep supporting every cause that’s making the world a better place for animals, and keep trying to push our fellow earthlings to their rightful place – at the top of the agenda. Here’s to the peaceable vegan hybrid and more and ever-increasing wins for the animals!

All quotes from Wayne Pacelle. Read his full article on Alternet – it’s well worth it.

“Our play is for the mainstream, to reach the millions of people who have yet to make any move at all, to help as many animals as possible”

Link to Leenaert’s piece on Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy from his book “How to Create a Vegan World.”

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Because THEY Are Worth It

Cover pic Cruelty Free International

L’Oréal

Imagine yourself in a focus group, being asked to blurt out the first words that come into your head when L’Oréal is mentioned. Would they be ‘beauty’, ‘skincare’, ‘make up’?
Or would they be ‘cruelty’, ‘suffering’, ‘inhumanity’? Because underneath the company’s flawless façade of glamour lies an underbelly of ugliness – brutal testing on animals.

In the EU, not only is testing on animals for cosmetics banned, but as from 2013 there’s also a blanket ban on the sale of any cosmetics and/or their ingredients tested on animals outside the EU. Similar measures have also been enacted in India, Israel, Norway, and Switzerland. More than 1.8 billion people can now only buy cosmetics that will never be tested on animals again. American cosmetic companies must already comply with these laws in order to sell their products internationally. Guatemala, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and four states in Brazil have also passed laws to end or limit cosmetic animal testing.¹

There is, as yet, no such ban though within the USA itself where untold millions of animals undergo extreme pain and distress in research for cosmetics, as well as drugs and household products. ‘Untold’ because the most commonly-used animals are rats and mice, which the USDA does not define as animals for the purpose of animal experiments. So they slip conveniently under the radar.

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L’Oréal and their ilk are rubbing chemicals into animals’ shaved skin, dripping them into their eyes, and even force-feeding the chemicals with a tube down their throats directly into their stomachs, for months at a time, to test for signs of ‘adverse effects’ like cancer or birth defects. All up till now sanctioned by US law.

L’Oréal clearly cares nothing for animal welfare. And such a huge corporation – featuring 198th on Forbes’ List of The World’s Biggest Public Companies, and reckoned to be worth $107.5 billion – can easily afford to forego sales to vegans!

But now there is a brighter side. Enter EpiSkin

What is EpiSkin? “EpiSkin is an in vitro, reconstructed human skin (just the epidermis) cultured on a collagen matrix at the air-liquid interface.”

L’Oréal are pumping some of their lovely big profits into the EpiSkin project. Not because they’ve seen the error of their ways, or out of the kindness of their heart, you can be sure, but because EpiSkin gives a “much better simulation of human skin than animals.” Which means beauty products tailor-made for the end user, rather than best-guessed. Which means increased profits. And as a spin-off, no more torture for the animals, we sincerely hope.

And there is more good news

L’Oréal is making this research open to all:

“EpiSkin models are also available to the global scientific community to support academic and corporate research and development activities across industries,” Charbel Bouez, vice president of advanced research at L’Oréal’s America Zone and president of EpiSkin, told CNBC.

And more

EpiSkin is not the only cultured human skin under research. It has a twin – EpiDerm launched by MatTek in 1993. MatTek does the ultimate in recycling: they use surgical waste skin from cosmetic surgery to grow its two adult humans worth of skin per week.

And still more

EpiSkin“already works so well that it’s outperforming animal testing in most scenarios.

Its applications could reach far beyond the beauty industry, hopefully into medical research. These two competitors, plus other research labs around the world, are looking to expand the technique to make cells for human organs, organs other than skin. This could make even today’s cutting edge technology of organs-on-a-chip obsolete.

For companies and institutions engaged in research, testing on cells in petri dishes is a huge financial saving on keeping those millions and millions of unfortunate animals in labs. Plus the benefits in terms of accurate results are off the scale.

And yet more

The United States itself is close to finally saying “no” to cruel cosmetics.The Humane Cosmetics Act is being reintroduced in Congress with bi-partisan support. This week is the week! The Act would bring US legislation in line with that of many other countries, as well as the EU. It would prohibit the use of animals to test cosmetic products and ingredients, and phase out the sale of cosmetics tested on animals overseas.

If you live in America please urge your legislators to support the Humane Cosmetics Act

#BeCrueltyFree

Hopefully the time is not too far off when we will look back at animal testing and will not believe how we could have been complicit in the barbaric torture of others, just because we could. That we were drawn into parting with our cash on products of cruelty that promised to magically transform us into an Eva Longoria, a Jennifer Aniston.

But meanwhile, for everyone, everywhere:

  • Sign the Humane Society’s petition to Support Legislation to End Inhumane Cosmetics Testing on Animals here
  • Check out Cruelty Free International’s campaign page with 8 petitions to sign
  • Get ‘The Little Book of Cruelty Free’ handy pocket guide here
  • Or search here for Leaping Bunny certified cruelty free products
  • Sign up for CFI’s email updates
  • Donate here – every single donation received, large or small, helps animals in laboratories

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¹One Green Planet

Other Sources

The Humane Nation – Wayne Pacelle’s Blog

Lab-grown human skin might finally spell the end for animal testing – ZME

Cosmetics Tests That Use Animals – HSUS

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Jewish Survivor of Nazi Holocaust Dedicates Life to Victims of Today’s Holocaust – The Farmed Animals

“Polish born Dr Alex Hershaft believes he survived the Warsaw Ghetto in order to commit his life to stopping the oppression of animals in the meat industry. Speaking at the final leg of his European tour at the Jewish Museum in London this week, 82-year-old Alex told the astonishing story of how his harrowing experience resulted in a lifelong passion for animal rights.”

Last week the London Evening Standard featured the story of Dr Hershaft, one of the few Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.

To put the miracle of his survival in context:

  • 400,000 Jews were trapped inside the ghetto (1940-1943)
  • 245,000 of them were sent to Treblinka concentration camp
  • In all 300,000 Warsaw ghetto Jews died in concentration camps
  • A further 92,000 of them died of mass shootings, starvation and disease, in the valiant uprising against the Nazis, and the final destruction of the ghetto

Estimates of the total number of Jewish people annihilated by the Nazis in World War II –  between 6 – 11 million.

Each one was not of course simply a statistic, but a real person with a life of his/her own. And mere facts and figures cannot convey the unspeakable horror of the World War II Holocaust. So it’s even more inspiring that Dr Hershaft, this incredible man, channeled his years of suffering and trauma into compassion for other sufferers of oppression – those others now confined just as he was then, often brutally treated, robbed of dignity, and denied their basic rights as sentient individuals – the animals that humans farm for ‘food’.

Estimates of animals killed in the world every year? More than 56 billion, and tragically rising. That is even without counting fish and other marine animals.

The dictionary definition of ‘holocaust’ is ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale.’ Yet if we dare to apply such an emotive word to the monstrous flood of life blood flowing from the bodies of those billions of individual cows, pigs, chickens and sheep, slaughtered (like Hitler’s victims) by human hands, we are swiftly shouted down with cries of outrage. But is there a better word to describe what is happening behind closed doors this very second? Click here and I can guarantee you some surprise, if not downright disbelief, at the numbers of different species being stripped of their lives second by second so humans can eat their bodies.

Is this not holocaust on an unimagineable scale, passing unseen, unremarked, and mostly unprotested, right under society’s collective nose? A horror of dystopian inhumanity, insanely become acceptable, for which society at large feels no compunction or concern.

It’s not using the H-word in this context that’s an outrage. This present day holocaust itself is the outrage. So good people, let us close our ears to those cries of indignation, and let’s not stop using the H-word. The outraged will just have to suck it up, because there can be no more authoritative validation for its use in this context than from a Jewish survivor of the Nazi holocaust himself. Dr Hershaft likens the treatment of animals in the meat industry to his experience within a concentration camp, including the use of branding and witnessing piles of body parts on a regular basis.”

The London Evening Standard continues:

“Following a successful career as an environmental chemist, a work trip to a slaughterhouse made him realise his true vocation. As a result in 1976 he co-founded the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and became a vegan in 1981.”

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Dr Hershaft with fellow survivors on a boat to America
Dr Hershaft says of his experience:

“This is when I finally realised that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving. This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression.”

Ever since, Alex has spent his life campaigning for the rights of farm animals; as a member of the Advisory Council of Jewish Veg in America, Patron of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, and the current President of FARM. 

For the truth about the animal holocaust in 60 seconds flat – watch here

If you can take it (and even if you can’t, you should. You owe it to the animals), see more here

And if you believe it couldn’t possibly happen in the UK where we have ‘good animal welfare laws’, take a look here

So don’t be a denyer of the animal holocaust – face the truth, and go vegan

Sources

Vegan Holocaust survivor says the reason he survived was to end the oppression of animals – London Evening Standard

The Warsaw Ghetto – Wiki

The Holocaust – Wiki

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The Pig Trial – It’s Not Over Yet

Just why are Gary Grill and James Silver, Anita Kranjc’s legal defence team in the infamous ‘Pig Trial’, not popping corks and toasting each other over glasses of champagne after their client’s welcome acquittal last week?

As we all know, in June 2015 Anita was attending one of the regular Toronto Pig Save’s vigils for animals headed to the slaughterhouse. She gave water through slats in the truck to pigs suffering from heat and thirst. The truck driver angrily confronted her, and the next day she was charged with two criminal offences.
Last Thursday animal advocates everywhere were rejoicing. Anita’s act of compassion was ruled not criminal and she was saved from a possible 10 year jail sentence.
So why were Gary and James not in celebratory mood? Because it wasn’t the win they (and Anita) had hoped for. “Contrary to the claims of many activists, the case did not put the ‘industry on trial’ or result in a ‘victory for animals’.”

On the charge sheet, Anita’s alleged offences were ‘criminal mischief’ and ‘interference with property’. So in a nutshell, the trial hinged on those two things: whether or not Anita was guilty of criminal mischief, and whether or not she had interfered with the property of a third party.

As for the criminal mischief, her team argued that giving water to thirsty pigs was acting for the public good. The judge agreed and dismissed the prosecution’s flimsy argument that the driver did not know if the water was in fact just water.

He also ruled that as the driver of the truck had no qualms about sending the pigs to slaughter in spite of Anita’s action, it was evident he did not believe the animals had been contaminated. The pigs’ ‘owner’ had suffered no financial loss, and his operation had not been affected in any way. There was no ‘interference with property’.


The most important part of Anita’s defence in terms of animal advocacy was the assertion that pigs are not property. As fully sentient, social, thinking, feeling beings, they are as much persons as we humans, and should be recognised as such in law. After all, if even corporations can be legal persons (and rivers and glaciers in some countries of the world), how much more pigs?

The defence called upon several expert witnesses, including Dr Lori Marino. Dr Marino sought to provide evidence that pigs are indeed persons, based on her years, if not decades, of rigorous scientific observation of, and research into different species of animals. Justice Harris chose to dismiss the eminent biopsychologist’s evidence as unscientific and biased – presumably because Lori is a vegan and animal advocate?

Justice Harris made it clear that under Canadian law, dogs and cats are property, and there are no legal grounds for considering pigs as anything other than property. Disappointing, but not surprising.


Ultimately commonsense prevailed with Anita’s acquittal. Commonsense would wonder why anyone performing the compassionate act of trying to relieve a fellow creature’s suffering should be charged with a criminal offence to begin with.

Which leads us to the sting in the tail of this whole story. The incident that sparked the whole commotion emanated from escalating tensions between the animal rights movement and the meat industry.

Gary and James believe that the truck driver’s confrontation of Anita in 2015 was deliberately staged in an attempt to put a stop to Toronto Pig Save’s thrice-weekly vigils. Unsurprisingly, the worst nightmare for those in the meat industry would be animal activism affecting their bottom line. It’s always all about the money.

Consequently, Van Boekel Hog Farms Inc are not happy with Thursday’s verdict. Fearmans Slaughter is not happy. Livestock farmers in Ontario at large are not happy.

“Organisations representing farms in Ontario expressed their disappointment with the decision, highlighting concerns that it would embolden animal rights activists and spark further confrontations between the two groups.

“Actions by Krajnc and activists like her should not be condoned by the courts as they threaten acceptable and legal farming practices and are a threat to food safety,” said Bruce Kelly of Farm and Food Care Ontario.” The Guardian

He added, “We can’t have a food system where people can interfere with food in any stage of the delivery. It’s not safe.” Global News. Some would say, including me, that slaughtering pigs for food is not safe – not safe for the pigs, and not safe for those who keep eating them.

This time, with this pig trial, the vested interests failed. They failed to shut the lid down on Toronto Pig Save, and by default other like-minded activists.

But Justice Harris’s summing up has practically handed the industry a blueprint for winning a conviction next time round. It’s ludicrously simple. Van Boekel Hog Farms’ prosecution of Anita fell down because the truck driver allowed the pigs to go to slaughter as usual, hence into the food supply chain. So all VBHF needs do next time is ‘euthanise’ just one animal declaring it tampered with, contaminated, and no longer fit for the food chain. Hey presto – ‘criminal mischief’ and ‘interference with property’ are proven, the defendant found guilty.

They will try again.


But meanwhile, “one of the unintended consequences of leveling criminal charges against her [Anita] is that the Pig Save movement has taken off. Last year, there were 50 such groups in North America. Now, she said, there are 150.” The Star

And here is this amazing, compassionate, fearless woman on the courthouse steps, after the trial.


Disclaimer I have tried to summarise in brief some of the main points of the trial, for my own benefit as much as anything, as a layperson. If I have misapprehended any of the legal niceties, please do not hesitate to bring them to my attention!

Footnotes

  1. During the trial, in presenting Anita’s defence, the lawyers refrained from referring to the Eric Van Boekel’s facility where the pigs were reared as a farm, instead using terms like ‘operation’ and ‘units’. After all, who in their right minds would consider such an intensive industrial facility a farm? Answer: the judge. Justice David Harris impatiently swept aside the defence team’s terminology and insisted the ‘hogs’ housing be referred to as barns, and the operation as a whole, a farm. He himself, he declared, was born and brought up on a farm. Does that raise questions of impartiality, I wonder?
  2. Other expert witnesses at the trial attempted to draw attention to environmental and animal welfare concerns surrounding the rearing, transport and slaughter of the pigs. Justice Harris dismissed these as irrelevant to the case and accused the witnesses of using the trial as a platform for animal activism. Well, why wouldn’t you?
  3.  Anita still faces another charge: of “obstructing police after a truck carrying pigs crashed near the Burlington slaughterhouse killing 42 of them. Krajnc was not blamed for the crash (the truck’s driver was charged with careless driving). But she was charged after Pig Save protestors at the scene crossed police lines in an effort to convince slaughterhouse workers to release some of the injured hogs to a pig sanctuary.” The Star

Sources

You can listen to Gary Grill and James Silver’s fascinating assessment of the case at Animal Liberation Currents

Judge acquits woman who gave water to pigs headed to slaughter – The Globe and Mail

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3 Genius Ways of Helping Rescue Dogs – & Cats – But Mainly Dogs!

“This was just a small, tiny, organic, nice gesture of kindness and it’s resonated with people all across the country. Anybody can do it. It doesn’t have to a be big thing; it can just be walking a dog.”

Luis Escobar, coach at Californian high school St. Joseph’s one day surprised his runners with a bunch of four-leggers super keen to join them on their run – pooches normally cooped up in the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter.

Fun was had by all, regardless of leg number. Luis made this little video.

As you can see, all relished being out in the big wide world, though one was a bit of a tortoise. And Fred – well Fred preferred to travel in style (reminds me of my own rescue canine!) It proved for him a tactic with a payoff, because he scored himself a nice new home – runner and ‘Fred-carrier’ Josh Menusa and his family ended up adopting him.

As if this little story is not wonderful enough, after Luis posted his video on Facebook, his simple but genius idea caught fire and spread all over the country. And why wouldn’t it? Runners love to run, and so do pups – a match made in heaven.

Find out more here


Now for genius off-the-wall idea no.2 – books

A good run-out, yes that makes sense, but books? For dogs? Seems the mutts are particularly partial to a good animal yarn. But if you’re letting your imagination run wild with visions of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “Lassie”, and “101 Dalmations” lining the walls in dog pens, let me bring you gently back down to earth. Dogs are clever but not that clever. Or maybe they are, because they let us do the work for them and in some choice shelters they have a child human read to them. Why keep a dog and bark yourself, is what they say.

The kids sit on the floor in front of the pens so it’s the dog’s choice how much he/she wants to interact. It’s a quiet gentle activity that seems to have a calming effect on stressed animals.

It helps shy and fearful dogs overcome their insecurities and increase their chances of being adopted.”

This little guy is rapt!

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Pic Humane Society of Missouri/Facebook

And everyone’s a winner:

  • The kids aren’t frightened of making a mistake reading to animals as they would be with people. It increases their confidence – animals are so nonjudgmental
  • A study at the University of California found that children who participated in a 10-week reading program at a shelter saw a 12 percent improvement in their reading
  • It is the perfect way to teach children the importance of compassion, and the need to adopt not shop
  • It helps create positive ties between a shelter and the community it’s in

Why not find out if your local shelter has such a scheme, and if not, suggest they might like to start one.

Plenty more lush ideas of how you can show your love for shelter animals here


Our third genius idea really is genius! Where do folk rustle up these amazing ideas? I wish I knew. Here you go – optical illusions

Under the slogan, “There’s always room for more. Adopt”, World for All in Mumbai, India commissioned these marvels that speak better than words because they speak to the heart.

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All 3 amazing pics by Amal Jadhav for World for All’s adoption event

What family could resist finding a place in their lives for a needy animal after seeing these? The pics’ impact was huge. Attendance at the adoption event was up 150 percent from the previous year, and saw 42 adoptions. The plan is to repeat the event yearly after such phenomenal success.

Thanks to the Dodo for that uplifting story


So there we have it – three stories of fun ways to help get animals out of shelters and into loving homes. When you decide to get a dog or a cat to make your home complete, ‘paws’ for thought, and ADOPT, DON’T SHOP.

Just look at these sad statistics:

  • The Daily Mail reported that the number of stray or abandoned dogs in the UK reached 110,000 in 2013, and that 21 are put down every single day.
  • The RSPCA rescued and collected 118,994 animals of all kinds in 2015 in the UK, and were only able to rehome 47,651 of those.
  • The ASPCA tells us that in the USA approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats.
  • And that each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats)

And they are not just numbers. Each individual one an aching heart just crying out for a loving home. #AdoptDontShop Helping Abused or Abandoned Animals


To end on a brighter note, a bit of doggy fun for dog slaves everywhere.

The Amazing Abilities of Dogs – Take the Quiz here

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