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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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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Giving a Voice to the Voiceless – Meet the ‘Art-ivists’ For Animal Rights

This eye-opening piece by freelance journalist Peter Yeung is from Dazed & Confused magazine, Jan 2015

Animal rights and art have not always been easy bedfellows. Belgian artist Jan Fabre got into hot water for a performance in which he threw several cats up a flight of stairs, who let out pained meows in response. Damien Hirst, meanwhile, is famed for works featuring a formaldehyde-soaked shark, a pig’s head, and even a piece that required the killing of 9000 butterflies. The most recent example, however, was at Colorado’s Aspen Art Museum, where – as part of the show – turtles were made to amble around an art exhibit with iPads attached to their shells.

(More recently the Guggenheim Museum pulled works involving live animals from Chinese Art Survey. Now terrified mice are being used in ‘art’ installation in NY gallery. Plse sign petition)

But there are also plenty of examples of animal rights being championed by the arts. Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are well-known for their anti-fur and anti-leather stances, whereas Morrissey is outspokenly meat-free, once writing the memorable lyrics: “It’s not “natural”, “normal” or kind/ the flesh you so fancifully fry/ the meat in your mouth/ as you savour the flavour, of murder”. Then, of course, Rembrandt, one of the greatest painters of all time, was a pioneering vegetarian. Here, we look at some of the most compelling animal rights artivists.

JACQUELINE TRAIDE 

Performance artist Jacqueline Traide, sickened by cosmetics testing on animals, wanted to convey the cruelty of it to the public by having the procedure done to herself. She was tortured for 10 hours in the performance, which was done in a vitrine in the Oxford Circus branch of Lush, as shocked pedestrians looked on. Amongst a number of activities, Traide had her mouth held open with a vice, was force-fed, had a strip of her hair shaved off, and was given two injections.

(Further info about the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics here

Email your MP to support global fight against cruel cosmetics here)

ZOE BIRRELL

Portuguese artist Zoe Birrell once made an art installation consisting of 420 dairy cows, each made from vegan fair-trade chocolate, and each equalling her body weight of 53kg. The life of a modern dairy cow is marked by the emotional stress of the loss of her baby calf, combined with the hormonal effect of being kept perpetually pregnant. It inspired Birrell to respond to these psychological and physiological issues, considering the ethical alternatives, as well as, how it related to her own femininity.
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Birrell’s installation was part of her school’s degree show in Glasgow via prweb.com

(Step by Step Guide to Help You Give Up Dairy)

JONATHAN HOROWITZ

Jonathan Horowitz stopped eating meat at the age of 12, after his parents took him to a bullfight when on holiday in Mexico. The artist’s heavyweight Go Vegan! exhibition at a former New York meat-packing plant, LaFrieda Meats, aimed to normalise the idea of meat-free living. Horowitz compiled a portrait gallery of more than 200 celebrity vegetarians, as well as a video installation featuring Paul and Linda McCartney, arguing for veganism through the medium of modern living: commodity culture.
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These billboards featured as part of Horowitz’s Go Vegan! campaign via biennaleonline.org

(Help to Go Vegan here)

BANKSY

Banksy, the king of street art, made a return to the road with his puntastic project Sirens of the Lambs. Making appearances around the world, such as New York City and Glastonbury, the piece was a “moving sculpture”, in which a truck full of shrieking cuddly animals being taken to slaughter, drove around. The work is designed to highlight the issue of animals being farmed for their meat, but without the usual, depressing consequences.

SUE COE

Sue Coe grew up hearing the rattling of chains and screaming from the local abattoir at her home in Hersham, England. The normalisation of mass slaughter, which she also saw at abattoirs from Liverpool to Los Angeles, became the inspiration for her graphic paintings and drawings. These works are imbued with a mind-warping darkness and death, that the viewer can hardly ignore.
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Coe’s work is certainly a damning indictment of capitalism’s influence on the food industry via http://www.graphicwitness.org

ALICE NEWSTEAD

Artist and animal rights activists Alice Newstead once painted herself silver and suspended herself from hooks to protest the fishing of sharks, who are threatened with extinction (around 100 million sharks are caught in commercial and sports fishing every year. Piercing the skin of her shoulder blades, she was hung for 15 minutes, as blood streamed down her back.

(Sign petition to Ban Shark Fin Sales in Florida)

ASHER JAY

Asher Jay uses her digital graphic skills innovatively to inform the world about animal abuse. In Africa, Jay made screensavers of a poached rhino horn dripping with blood. In China, she integrated elephant tusks into Chinese language characters to encourage a halt in ivory buying while her enormous images of elephants killed for their tusks were projected in New York’s Times Square. “I wanted to visualize the scale and brutality of the crisis and use art to tell the blood ivory story,” she says. “Each year, 35,000 elephants are slaughtered; that’s one every 15 minutes.”
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Originally trained in fashion at the New York School of Design, Jay has gone on to become a conservationist artist via asherjay.com

(Born Free’s Blood Ivory petition)

ROCKY LEWYCKY

Rocky Lewycky’s project Is It Necessary? addressed the problem of factory farming in a violent new way. The work was comprised of hundreds of ceramic animals – pigs, cows, turkeys, fish – neatly positioned together. Each day Lewycky would enter the gallery space, elect an animal, and brutally smash it to pieces, leaving the white sculptures to reveal their blood-red interiors.
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Each sculpture was coated red on the inside and then either smashed or ‘liberated’ via rocksart.com

DAN WITZ

New York artist Dan Witz came over to east London to create his project Empty The Cages. For it, he placed chicken claws and pigs heads in 30 different locations around the streets of Shoreditch, in order to subtly raise the issue of animal consumption, and its dire consequences. Witz explained: “Climate change, deforestation, wildlife extinction, water waste, air pollution and ocean dead zones (among other things) are all directly attributable to meat, dairy and egg production.”
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Witz was part of a PETA campaign that also involved Sir Paul McCartney via danwitz.com

(I urge you to check out what Dan has to say about some other work he did with PETA, and how it made him feel)

GALE HART

Different societies and cultures always tend to draw the line of what sort of animal is okay to eat differently. Elephants, dogs, and silk worms are all consumed in places around the globe. Sacramento-based multimedia artist Gale Hart tackled this issue with her project Why Not Eat Your Pet? It juxtaposed images of devastating animal cruelty with pets that have sinister, child-like innocence.
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Other paintings in Hart’s collection included Pinocchio on his first caged hunt via galehart.com

Source: The Artists Pushing Animal Rights Further

Bits in brackets, mine


Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it

Berthold Brecht

There is power in the hammer of these 10 art-ivists – let us hope they succeed in shaping us a kinder world


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What Is It Like To Be a Dog? (Or a Dolphin)

“I can’t imagine not living with dogs. That would be really sad for me”, says Gregory Berns, author of ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’. A statement which will surely strike a chord with dog-lovers everywhere.

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Gregory enjoying the company of Callie & Cato

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, Gregory was blessed with the companionship of Pretzel and Popcorn, two golden retrievers. “Kids and dogs go together” he says. (Don’t they just!) Later there were 3 pugs, Simon, Newton and Dexter and another golden retriever, Lyra. Now there are Cato, Callie and Argo, “a yellow dog of some kind of mix.” 

Gregory’s hope for his new book is that understanding how animals think will revolutionise the way we treat them.

It was the loss of his beloved Newton in 2013 that prompted Gregory – a neuroscientist at Emory – to switch from studying the human brain to exploring the way dogs’ – and other nonhuman animals’ – thought processes work. And you will be particularly pleased to know, as I was too, that his studies are entirely non-invasive – no captive lab animals with electrodes implanted in their heads here, thank goodness.

We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” said GB.

What does go on inside a dog’s head?

This is something we’d all love to know. GB decided to use the same method with the dogs as is used to examine human brain activity, fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Nothing if not ambitious. Because of course, for fMRI to give useable results, the subject needs to keep completely motionless and yet alert for considerable periods. GB and his assistants had to give his new subjects, the dogs, extensive training to be able to do this.

In what proved a ground-breaking achievement, he opened a window, figuratively speaking, straight into the doggy brain, and recorded what he saw happening in there in real time –  this had never been done before. He was looking for answers to questions like:

  • Do dogs prefer praise from their human, or food?
  • What happens in the doggy head when we make them sit and wait for food or a treat?
  • What’s happening in that doggy head when they smell the scent of their human?
  • How do dogs recognise faces?

And the answer to the first question is: they like the praise from their human as much, and often more than the food. The interesting thing is that when the dog is praised, the activity in the doggy brain is located in the caudate nucleus part of the brain –  the same area active in ours when we receive some praise.

The second? When we ask our dog to sit and wait for the command before he/she is allowed to eat, the mental activity occurs, Gregory says, in a part of the prefrontal cortex, again the same as in humans. Not that we have to sit and wait for the command to eat, but it’s the same part of our prefrontal cortex that’s active when we have to exercise self-control.

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Number 3 (from the National Geographic) This takes us back to our friend, the caudate nucleus. That is the part of the brain associated in humans with reward and positive expectation. And the caudate nucleus was precisely the area GB and his team found activated in the dogs again, this time by the scent of the dog’s own human. And only by that scent. The smell of an unfamiliar human, another dog in the same household, an unfamiliar dog, and even their own scent got little response. Though we may not be too thrilled with theirs from time to time, our smell makes our doggies happy!

Lastly When the dogs were shown 50 photos of different people and 50 of everyday objects, recognition triggered activity in the same area of the dog’s brain, the temporal lobe, as with humans. “Dogs are the only members in the Canidae family that can recognize faces of people without training. Dogs can tell when we are smiling or not and are able to notice differences between two faces, something that even primates like Japanese monkeys aren’t able to do. Dogs also spend more time examining new faces compared to familiar faces.” Psychology Today

So the next time you’re wondering if your dog can read what’s on your mind, the answer is probably yes.”

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All I can say is, those dogs must have been getting some pretty dee-lish-us treats

(Admit it cat-lovers, as wonderful as cats are, can you imagine trying to get a cat to sit completely still while being shown 100 photos? I reckon after the first couple they’d give a bored yawn and start licking a paw.)

Now that Gregory has what he calls “a basic understanding of canine cognition”, he is interested in finding out what it’s like to be this dog, rather than that dog, what makes an individual tick. But the main take from his research is, how very very like our own are the processes inside the doggy brain. Hold that thought.

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Moving on to even bigger things –  the Brain Ark

What could be more important than sussing out the canine mind, you ask. Well, Gregory is doing something else that’s truly amazing – creating the Brain Ark, which aims to be a digital archive of the three-dimensional brain structures of megafauna: big cats, great apes, elephants, bears, wolves and so on.

What does this involve? Using technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to map the neural pathways of long-dead animals held in museum collections, starting with dolphins. “Dolphins are incredibly intelligent social animals but they’ve remained relatively mysterious. We provided the first picture of the entire dolphin brain and all the white matter connections inside of it.”

And “This year, we reconstructed the brain architecture and neural networks of the extinct Tasmanian toger, also known as the thylacine, using two brain specimens from museums, both of which were about 100 years old.”

And not just brains in museums, the brains of today too. But don’t worry – still entirely non-invasive. For the brains of species still hanging on to existence, like tigers, lions and other of the big beasts, he and his team hope to access creatures whose lives have ended in zoos. Gregory’s collaborators in this project include scientists from 8 other academic institutions across the globe, including the University of Oxford and the Smithsonian Institution.

The WWF has given the warning that 2/3 of animal species will be lost by 2020. To say that is a shocking possibility/probability, is a gross understatement. GB believes that since mapping brains of different species helps our understanding of their behaviour, the open-access store of information in the Brain Ark could prove not just a scientific treasure trove, but an invaluable aid to conservation. This awesome person is taking us on a new journey of exploration into the minds of the other animals who share our world.


So, what drives Gregory Berns?

Not just the scientist’s mission to pursue knowledge simply for its own sake. Nor even the prospect of helping conserve the Earth’s wildlife, vital though that is. Something more radical, more important, more potentially world-changing. In his own words:

“In the grand scheme of things, I’d like to explore the commonalities we have with other animals. That has important ethical implications for how we treat them and their right to exist in the first place. Animal welfare laws cover things like abuse – pain and suffering.
“I think we should go beyond that and acknowledge that animals also have a right to lead a good life – whatever that means for that animal.”

Go Gregory!


Books by Gregory Berns:

What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

How Dogs Love Us: a neuroscientist and his dog decode the canine brain


Sources

Neuroscientist explores ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’ – Phys.Org

A dog’s dilemma: Do canine’s prefer praise or food? – ScienceDaily

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You Love Animals, Right? Ever Wondered Why Others Couldn’t Care Less?

It’s mystifying, isn’t it? We find ourselves suffused with joy watching the sparrows bathing in the bird bath, spotting bees, butterflies and dragonflies on a walk, discovering a small crab in a rock pool, watching swallows gathering on a wire in autumn, hearing the geese migrating south for winter, or stroking a donkey over the fence. We can’t let a dog or a cat walk by without moving in for a cuddle or a stroke, and telling them how beautiful they are. But most of all we love our own fur babies, sometimes (often!) more than other humans. So how can it be that there are actually people who couldn’t care less? It’s incomprehensible.

But it’s a fact. If the presence of companion animals in the family is the measure of this phenomenon, it’s a 50/50 split, half of us love’em, the other half doesn’t. Here in the UK anyway.

(Canines or felines? Another 50/50 split, 10 million of each. But let’s leave the dog v cat debate for another day.)

If you’re in the weird 50% – the animal un-lovers – you probably wonder what we get out of caring for our dogs – they bark, need constant walking and a steady supply of poop bags. Or our cats, who have no sense of loyalty or gratitude, scratch the furniture, and are alternately aloof or needy and demanding.

We could tell you companion animals are therapeutic for us. Studies show they lower their human’s blood pressure, alleviate loneliness and depression, boost the immune system, and increase our lifespan. Apparently though, there are just as many studies that show our beloved furry friends confer no health benefits. And we who live with them live no longer than those who don’t. Health and longevity is more to do with where you fall demographically than if you live with a fur baby – which incidentally, you’re more likely to do if you’re married, white, a woman, wealthy and own your own home. All of which happen to be predictors for better health and longer life as well – nothing to do with beloved Fido or Felix. Well, whatever the studies say, we on the animal-loving side couldn’t imagine life without them.

So why the split? Nature or nurture?

We all assume that if you grow up with animals, in a family that loves animals, your fate is sealed – in a good way. The best. It’s as simple as that. I grew up with 3 cats, a dog, rabbits and a goat, and a mum who loved animals, so that works for me. I’ve never lived without a nonhuman animal by my side. How about you?

But there’s a little more to it than you might have thought. First let me ask, have you heard of anthrozoology? It is, it seems, a new science “dedicated to discovering the true nature and depth of the human-animal bond” – news to me too, but I like it! (NB though all you anthrozoologists out there – humans are animals too).

In his book “The Animals Among Us”, leading expert in animal behaviour and anthrozoology, John Bradshaw traces the thread back to our ancient ancestors to unravel how living with other animals shaped our own evolution as well as theirs.

How did some animals become domesticated in the first place?

Dogs became distinct from wolves, cats from wildcats, cattle from wild oxen, sheep from wild mouflon and so on, between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, their DNA tells us. But how did those genes for tameness evolve? Because at any stage, if the semi-tame animals got to mate with their wild cousins, the tameness genes would be diluted, and there would be no domestication. To prevent that, we humans had to keep ‘our’ animals apart, inaccessible, by physically containing them in our own habitations. And so we developed an emotional attachment to the creatures who lived among us.

Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time humans with empathy for the animals and with skills in animal husbandry thrived, and passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants. Meanwhile, those who didn’t go to the trouble of keeping domesticated animals but continued to rely on hunting, were fading out.

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The creature-carers were winning the evolutionary war.

In that case, how did we arrive at the 50/50 split? Where did the animal un-lovers come from?

John Bradshaw conjectures that at some point in history, those guys who were not living with domesticated animals came up with the brilliant idea of letting those who were (our half of the equation), do all the work, and then raiding us, stealing the animals and taking us slaves. Let’s call it the Genghis Khan M.O. And so the animal un-lover population made a comeback. (We must assume their raids weren’t always successful, or else it would have been our half dying out!)

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The fearsome Genghis Khan as depicted on a Mongolian banknote

Genghis Khan makes a good metaphor for ruthless raids and pillage, but since he made his entrance on the world stage a mere thousand or so years ago, he can’t be held personally responsible for the tribe that were evolving into animal un-loving raiders several thousand years before that. But you never know, it’s perfectly possible he was a descendant of them. Whatever, it’s a fascinating fact that 1 in every 200 men in the world alive today is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Crazy, but true. It would be even more fascinating to know if all those 16 million guys are genetically predisposed to be indifferent to animals!

But back to serious science. When it comes to engagement with companion animals, a 2015 study designed to disentangle nature and nurture, found that “genetic factors accounted for as much as 37%” of the difference in middle-aged men. Why not women? Who knows. But anyway, animal loving is in the genes!

At least in part, you really are genetically predisposed to love, or be indifferent to other animals. It’s a trait you have inherited – as well as learned – from your parents, and your parents’ parents before them. And so on, back to the time when your ancestors chose one of two different paths, to domesticate or to hunt and raid.

Love animals, Love Nature

Now we come full circle.  Other recent studies show that we really are two entirely different tribes. If you love animals, you will love Nature too. Or if indifferent to the one, you’ll be indifferent to the other. “It seems that people can be roughly divided into those that feel little affinity for animals or the environment, and those who are predisposed to delight in both.” 

Why are we not surprised?


If you love animals and care about the environment, and even if you don’t but care about your own health, cut back on the meat and dairy. Find out why that’s a good idea here. 10 top tips for doing it here


If you are thinking of bringing a companion animal into your home, please #AdoptDontShop  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 one an individual longing for a loving home.


Postscript If you struggle to make sense of my exposition of human and non-human animals’ evolution in pre-history, you may need to read John Bradshaw’s book, where he does it at greater length, and so much better.


Source

The science behind why some people love animals and others couldn’t care less – PhysOrg

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All the Queen’s Horses

The story begins in France. And for the lucky few, it ends in France. We’re talking police horses.

It begins in France three centuries ago with the founding of a national mounted police force, the Maréchaussée. Not only did the officers of the Maréchaussée have the distinction of being first in the world, but with their red and blue jackets, gold braid and jaunty tricorn hats, very probably the most dashing.

Deploying horses to uphold law and order was clearly seen as a good idea, because today mounted police forces are to be found in 38 different countries of the world.

But are they really still needed?

In this hi-tech age of body cameras, high speed cars and drones aren’t horses a bit old school? It seems not. Four legs can often outperform four wheels, particularly when it comes to big events with big crowds. They outperform humans too. There’s a well-known saying in the service: It would take 12 officers to do the work of one police horse.

Besides, these magnificent animals make for great PR. Here in the UK police horses are a much loved and reassuring presence at almost every public event, like the Lord Mayor’s Show, the Trooping of the Colour, the Nottinghill Carnival which last weekend attracted a million visitors – and so on. At the 2012 Olympics, the horses played their part to perfection, and continue to do so at festivals and football matches countrywide. These gentle giants are a familiar sight, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, clear testimony to the care and affection lavished on them by their officers.

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What happens when their working life comes to an end?

Well, after sometimes as long as 20 years pounding the beat, a fortunate few are now getting to kick back in the sun, contentedly living out their days at Brantôme Police Horse Sanctuary in southwest France – thanks to its founders, Roland and Alison Phillips.

A family affair

You could say Roland was born for this, since he grew up with rescued horses on the small Devon Horse and Pony Sanctuary founded by his parents, Sylvia and Terry. So what could be more natural than in later life, when he (a former Scotland Yard officer) and wife Alison decided to retire to the Dordogne sunshine, they took with them Karen and Kendrick, 2 equine retirees from the Met.

So it began – and now just keeps on growing. At present Brantôme is home to 11 retired police horses. (There are a further 16 in Devon, and a many more fostered out in the UK under the Phillipses’ auspices) Brantôme also provides sanctuary for other horses and ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, sheep, goats and chickens. Human numbers have grown too: Roland and Alison got much needed assistance in 2012 when they were joined by their daughter Debbie, son-in-law Chris and twin grandchildren Izzy and Chloe. Four generations saving horses!

A warm sunny climate, the beautiful and peaceful Dordogne countryside, and all the loving care a horse could ask for. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it is, but…

The shameful truth about police horse retirement

There is a hidden darker side to the police horse story. Roland again: “All the Police horses we take on, have been retired through old age, injury or ill health and in most cases would have sadly been destroyed if they hadn’t been re-homed.”

Destroyed? Is that the reward for these “hardworking and fearless animals” after their years of service? The Horse Trust confirms the shocking truth: “Police horses are funded by the taxpayer throughout their working career but the ‘public purse’ empties as the horses face retirement.”  Let’s say it again so there can be no doubt, “No provision is made for those that are no longer up to the job, who risk being euthanised if no one offers them a home.” ¹

As far as officialdom is concerned, these horses are thrown on the scrapheap. Their care depends entirely on uncertain charity. Isn’t that a national disgrace?

Fortunately, good people step up. As well as Brantôme and the Horse & Pony Sanctuary in Devon, there is the Horse Trust, and a Lincolnshire sanctuary Bransby Horses, also taking in veteran police equines. But there is no getting away from the fact that these are all charities run by a few dedicated people who believe that these wonderful animals deserve better than to end up in the knacker’s yard.

And giving the animals the 24/7 care they need does not come cheap. The care of the police horses Roland describes as “exceptionally expensive”, and Brantôme, like the other sanctuaries, is completely reliant on donations and visitors. Even with volunteers to groom the horses and muck out, kind donations, events like weddings and concerts, guided tours and English-style cream teas, Brantôme just about breaks even. “It’s very tight.”

And there’s more

As if the lack of official ring-fenced funding for the horses’ retirement were not bad enough, severe emotional and physical problems can be the horses’ legacy from their service life. It’s not all festivals and fun. These horses are on the front line during rowdy demos, fights between rival football fans, and in the thick of terrifying riots.

Take for instance Brantôme’s newest arrival Ranger, a chocolate brown nine-year-old. Ranger has severe arthritis, which Roland believes was triggered when firecrackers were thrown at him outside West Ham’s football ground. On another occasion a demonstrator tried to spook him by directing a laser beam into this beautiful boy’s eyes.

Ranger
Ranger

Then there’s Lewis, “a sensitive 15-year-old, badly traumatised by the violence of the urban riots of 2011. On his arrival in France, Lewis shied away from humans, spending his days lying in the back of his stall.” It took time, but the Phillipses’ loving care revived his confidence and restored him to his former sociable self.

Lewis
Lewis

“Those horses have been through a very tough time indeed,” Roland said as he lovingly stroked Lewis’s nose.

And worse

Neither is it unknown for police horses to meet their deaths in the line of duty. In the USA, Mikey C had a heart attack while on duty with his officer at a busy Chicago beach. Charlotte in Houston was hit by a cement truck. Her officer was taken to hospital with a broken leg, but Charlotte died at the scene. McHammer was the victim of his own officer. McHammer had been on patrol in hot downtown Denver. At the end of the day his officer returned him to his stall and removed his saddle – but forgot to give him water and food. This was not discovered until the following day, 16 hours later. Despite veterinary treatment, a day after that McHammer had to be put down.

“Though not intentional on his part, Officer Teeter’s forgetfulness exposed a live animal to cruel and extreme conditions,” the disciplinary letter said. Teeter was docked one day’s leave and remains a member of the Denver mounted patrol. All of which brings us to the inevitable question:

Ranger, Lewis and the rest – heroes or victims?

The Horse Trust says “… Police horses … have dedicated their lives to protecting communities from violence and unrest in the service of the Mounted Police across the UK.”

But that simply isn’t true, is it? None of them have dedicated their lives to the service of human society. Ranger’s officer had that choice when he signed up, but Ranger didn’t. Like all the others he had no say in the matter.

As with Diesel, the beautiful Belgian Shepherd service dog killed in Paris by a terrorist and posthumously awarded for ‘her bravery’, these horses are simply being used by humans for humans’ benefit, but contrary to their own lives’ best interests. And then dispensed with when for whatever reason, there is no more use to be wrung out of them. How can that ever be right?

Now in France, Ranger, Lewis and their fellow rescued service horses are discovering what life should be like for a horse who is allowed just to be a horse that no-one requires to be useful

If you would like to help the horses at Brantôme, click here

If you would like to help the horses at The Horse Trust, click here

If you would like to help the horses at Bransby, click here

“Saving one horse will not change the world but surely it will change the world for that one horse.”

Petitions

Justice for Police Horse who died after Officer left him tied in a stall without food or water

Justice for Horse Dead After Cop Reportedly Tied Him Up Without Food or Water

Stop Police Cruelty to Horses

Sources

Her Majesty’s police horses kick back in southern France

Mounted police – Wiki

¹Régine Lamothe for Phys.Org
 

Cover pic, Ranger and Lewis & all sanctuary photos from Brantôme’s website

Retired police horse banner from the Horse Trust

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Will the Great American Eclipse make animals act strangely? Watch & See

Total Solar Eclipse Day Monday 21st August 2017

What makes this one so special is that it will cut diagonally across the entire USA from Oregon down to Charleston and beyond. The last time a total solar eclipse swept the entire breadth of America was 1918, beyond the memory of anyone alive now, I suspect.

So, a particularly exciting and dramatic event for the American people. But what about the nonhuman animals? And plants? Some of the ways nonhumans react to this strange disruption of the normal day is already known to scientists. Birds fall silent and some go to roost. Cows lie down, crickets start to chirp. Whales and dolphins have been seen to swim to the surface 5 minutes before the eclipse begins, and stay there for totality and 5 minutes after. Other animals also seem to know beforehand what is coming.

But now the California Academy of Sciences needs you!

Any observations of animal behavior you make during the eclipse will become highly valued data. Whether you notice squirrels in your yard, bats, owls, horses, pigs and cows, plants, or even your own dog or cat – at CAS they want to hear about it. For starters you will need to install the iNaturalist app on your phone or tablet. Then please click on this link for full instructions on how to participate in the Life Responds Project. It’s easy.

For a taster of the day, try out this clip (With thanks to AwarenessHelps.com)

Source: Will the Great American Eclipse make animals act strangely? Science says yes

Cover pic Pixabay

Update

August 22nd 2017 How animals were observed to behave during the eclipse – LiveScience

Cool Cats & Dandy Dogs Get Ready for Clear the Shelters Day

Have you been thinking about adding to your family with a new furry? Well, tomorrow, Saturday August 19th is The Day to find yourself that one special pooch or moggie who’s sure to steal your heart away. It’s Clear the Shelters Day, when right across the USA shelters offer free or greatly reduced fees for all would-be adopters. It’s a once-a-year event to find loving homes for every fur baby in the participating shelters. Want to know more about this marvellous scheme? Click here and here

And to prod you in the right direction, here is a selection box of cat and dog trivia, facts and fun to dip into, that I hope will yield up one or two surprises.

Those of us already sharing our homes and lives with a BFF or three are pretty sure we can read them like a book, aren’t we. Every twitch of the ear, wag of the tail, arch of the back, squint of the eyes. We live with them for goodness sake. We know them so well that every time some new piece of scientific research on Felix or Fido reveals its (unsurprising) findings, we just go “Dah. Like we didn’t know that already”.

Except this time. Because I’m willing to bet these researchers have turned up an oddity that will have you eyeing your pooch anew.

The tell-tale tail

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“It now appears that when dogs feel generally positive about something or someone, their tails wag more to the right side of their rear ends, and when they have negative feelings, their tail wagging is biased to the left.

In spite of having lived with dogs all my life, I can’t claim ever to have noticed. But apparently, that left/right business isn’t as surprising as it seems at first glance. Many animal brains including humans, have a left hemisphere (which controls the right side of the body) that is activated by love, happiness, serenity. And the right hemisphere (controlling the left of the body) by withdrawal, fear, depression.

And, it’s not just, “Was that a left wag, or a right?” The language of doggy wag is a bit more complicated than we might have thought. Apart from the left/right business, the researchers noted 4 different kinds of rear end motion, and surprisingly they don’t all mean ‘I’m-so-happy-to-see-you’. Find the full wag guide here

action-2483689__340-1Cats on the other hand, just wag their tails when they are angry, don’t they? As befits the cat’s enigmatic aura, the feline wag is even more subtly nuanced than the canine. So we have:

  • The Vertical Tail and Tail Quiver
  • The Wrapped Tail
  • The Tail Flick (Or, the Straight Out and Back Tail)
  • The Swish
  • The Fluffy, Arched Tail
  • And the Twitch

What does it all mean? To whet your appetite for more, I’ll let you in on the meaning of the first, the VT & TQ: “An upright (or vertical) tail and tail quiver (or rattle tail) are often signs of a friendly greeting from your feline. An upright tail is usually a sign of a happy, confident cat” You knew that already of course! More on the cat wag guide here


It’s not fair

From a piece of research in Vienna, scientists found that dogs are right on the button when it comes to what is fair and what is not.

They put two dogs in separate cages, but where they could see each other. Each had a buzzer they could press with their paw. Sometimes when they pressed it they would both get a reward, but sometimes neither would. Sometimes one got a reward and the other didn’t. Sometimes one got a better treat than the other. What happened? The one consistently coming off worse would just give up pressing the buzzer. No-one wants to be the underdog.

But he or she would happily keep pressing the buzzer and not getting a reward, as long as the other dog didn’t get one either. Or, if there wasn’t another dog to compare themselves with – proof that it wasn’t just boredom that made them stop. The pooches were aggrieved. They stopped because it just wasn’t fair.

Is this something dogs have learned from living with us humans? It seems not. The researchers also tried the experiment on wolves – and got the same result. In fact the wolves stopped pressing even quicker, the alpha male quickest of all.

Dogs have been among us for maybe 40,000 years, but it seems their view of fairness learned long ago from dwelling as a member of a pack lives on.

Afterthought: wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how cats would respond? Would you like to venture a guess?


This dog stays wild!

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We’re talking Australian dingo here. In traditional aboriginal society, dingo pups were taken from the wild and draped around women’s waists like garments of clothing. Like you do. The women even breastfed them. In return, they kept the women warm, were an invaluable help in the hunt, a source of protection – and sometimes of food.

But before the pups reached the age of two, they were returned to the wild to breed. And in spite of thousands of years of semi-involvement in human lives, the adult dingo still to this day fails “to respond to any amount of discipline, kindness, bribery or coercion.” A dingo pup taken from the wild can not be trained up as a family pet. “Affectionate and tractable when young, eventually their carnivorous nature gets the better of them.”

The dingo’s most astounding gift though, is its ability to divine water. These wild dogs can detect water both above and below ground, and humans throughout history have put its remarkable skill to good use. Records reveal many accounts of “wild/semi-wild dingoes leading Europeans to lifesaving water springs.” And Australian place names still bear witness to this talent: Dingo Soak, Dingo Springs, Dingo Rock, Dingo Gap.

In aboriginal culture, dreaming tracks or songlines trace the dingo’s paths across the continent, from one water source to another. To one well-versed in them, the songs of the dreaming tracks serve as maps, since the words describe landmarks and waterholes. So by singing them they can navigate their way even over the vast Australian desertland. The dingo has shown them the way.

You can find out more about these fascinating wild dogs, and see an extraordinary image of Aboriginal women with dingoes wrapped around their waists here


But enough of dogs. Now for a bit of quality time with the cats.

Cuddles & Cat Flu

This research aimed to find out what effect if any positive interaction with humans has on shelter cats’ health and wellbeing. So, on arriving at a Vancouver cat shelter, each cat was divided into one of two groups. The ‘treated’ group got quality interaction with a human 4 times a day, 10 minutes each time, for 10 days. The control group had someone stand outside the cats’ cage with averted eyes for the same amount of time.

Surprise, surprise, these are the findings:

  • Human interaction by petting, playing and grooming improved shelter cats’ welfare
  • ‘Treated’ cats were more content and less anxious and frustrated
  • ‘Treated’ cats had increased levels of immumoglobulin [meaning healthier immune systems]
  • ‘Treated’ cats had less respiratory disease

cat-714358_960_720Even if that falls into the cat-egory (ahem) of research results stating the obvious, it does prove one thing: much as they pretend they don’t – putting on every appearance of just about tolerating us and condescending to live with us on their terms only – they do actually need us after all!


But before we get carried away with that good news, I regretfully have to confirm what we all always suspected –

Dogs really do love us more than cats

Five times as much in fact, so the scientists tell us. Who knew you could measure love? Find out how they do it here

Cat lovers take heart though – they do love us a bit😊


Now for something altogether more serious

Are Felix and Fido driving climate change?

American Professor Gregory Okin decided to find out. And these are his sobering findings:

  • Meat-eating US dogs and cats create 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to a year’s worth of driving from 13.6 million cars
  • That tonnage of carbon dioxide makes up 25 – 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the States overall
  • If the 163 million American dogs and cats were a separate country of their own, “their fluffy nation would rank fifth in global meat consumption behind only Russia, Brazil, the United States and China”. Now that is scary.
  • And don’t forget the ‘waste’ – they produce 5.1 million tons of feces, as much as 90 million Americans

So what’s the answer? Our dogs and cats are family. No way are we going to give them up, even for the best environmental reasons in the world. Prof Okin doesn’t offer solutions, other than his half-joking suggestion that we transfer our affections to naturally vegetarian pets like hamsters or birds – or little ponies that can mow our lawns. Well, I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. Feed your furry friend veggie/vegan dog and cat foods, like Ami, Benevo, and Yarrah. Taurine and arachidonic acid are vital for cats, but these brands do contain them, so don’t listen to those who like to tell you a cat can’t live on a vegetarian diet
  2. DON’T give up the chance to save the life of a rescue pet – a lovable little critter that might well end up euthanized – by getting your BFF from a pet store or breeder. You would simply be lining the pockets of people who exploit dogs and cats just for money.
  3. ALWAYS go to your nearest animal shelter – TOMORROW! – and give a loving home to a pet who’s been abandoned through no fault of their own. They will reward you a thousand times over.

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#adoptdontshop


And finally, just for fun!

 

Actions to take for dogs and cats

Sign up to Cruelty Free International’s campaign to put an end to cruel experiments on dogs here

Speak out for the dogs and cats suffering at Liberty research here

Sign to end the killing in US animal shelters here

(All images Pixabay)

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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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