Monday, January 26, 2015

Is the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Obstructionist to Animal Progress?



Is abolition the path to removal of animals from our world?
"Is the abolitionist approach to Animal Rights obstructionist to animal progress?"
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The above is a question I have grappled with for some time, particularly as it regards the local controversy in New York City on carriage horses, but also on wider and more global scale.
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What is the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights?
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It is the basic philosophy that it is, "immoral" to eat, wear or use animals in any way and that "domestication of animals is inherently wrong and we should stop producing domesticated animals for human use."
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The above quotes are from Rutgers Law Professor and noted Animal Rights author, Gary Francione and derived from his Abolitionist Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/abolitionistapproach
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Not all Animal Rights advocates subscribe to all or most of this philosophical position, but many do -- even if not directly and openly expressed.
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For example, the campaign to ban carriage horses in New York City is an "abolitionist" position as opposed to extolling the virtues and reciprocal benefits of engagement with horses or advocating for better conditions for them. One suspects that even were spaces allotted  in Central Park for horses to graze upon or all traffic challenges ameliorated, the activists would bitterly oppose any amenities by referring to them as,"obstructionist" (i.e. "happy exploitation") to the primary goal of an outright ban.
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Put simply, there is no room for negotiation, evolvement or positive change when the base line is that the animals are nothing beyond "horse slaves" -- they are to be pitied rather than revered and they should be removed from New York City and society at large.   
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With that in mind, could it not thus be argued that the abolitionist position on carriage horses diminishes them and is in fact, obstructionist to any actual progress for these animals other than complete elimination of them from our midst?
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And, on wider consideration of the abolitionist philosophy of elimination of domesticated animals from our world, is such to the ultimate benefit of the animals or to their detriment? 
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Should extinction ever be the goal of Animal Rights?
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Or, is the goal rather to have domesticated animals only on sanctuaries or as adornments on estates of the very wealthy? But, doesn't the former ultimately become a situation like zoos --something most AR activists oppose? And isn't the latter elitist and dismissive of animals' rights to have purpose and role in life?
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A couple of days ago, I lamented that even though overall meat consumption has dropped considerably in the United States over the past three decades (due to greater public awareness of animal suffering, health, environment and availability of alternatives), farm animals are still exempted from basic and minimal protections under the federal Animal Welfare Act. (Additionally, all birds and rabbits are exempted from protections under the Humane Slaughter Act -- even though they represent by far, the bulk of animals slaughtered for meat.)  
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Since these laws were enacted decades ago and are open to amendment, one has to wonder why that is?  Why has there been no significant and national movement to include legal protections for the animals most abused for meat, even with the drop in meat consumption and rise in both, veganism and vegetarianism? Should not these positive developments make it easier to finally pass meaningful legislation to protect the most expolited animals in our country -- so called, "food animals?"
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Apparently not.
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The "no use" wing of the Animal Rights movement appears not so interested in new "welfare" legislation to improve the lives of animals as much as it seeks some utopian world where no animal "suffers" or in way, directly engages with or is used by humans. (The exception according to Francione and others are those domesticated  animals rescued and cared for by humans, but prevented from breeding. Such animals would eventually become "extinct through attrition when existing ones die off.")
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Thus, the base mantra and perfect world of Francione, PETA and others of the "no use" fringe of Animal Rights is that, "Animals should only be enjoyed from a distance."  Rescuing animals is OK, but "ownership" is not.  Ownership is rather, akin to "enslavement."
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Personally speaking, I have numerous problems with this philosophy.
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For one matter, it completely discounts some animals' choices to freely engage with humans and in many cases, actually work with humans in reciprocal partnerships, and even love humans. This is particularly true of horses and dogs -- animals long domesticated by humans over many thousands of years and significant to advances in civilization.
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Is a dogless or horseless world truly something to aspire to?
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While many Animal Rights activists (including Francione) readily acknowledge and seemingly appreciate the love that animals and humans frequently share, they would just as soon deny future generations of the experience of such love in their quest to ultimately end all human/animal "use" and connection.
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What about the other domesticated animals -- particularly those exploited for meat?
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While pigs and rabbits might be capable of existing in the wild (i.e. "free") it is less clear that cows, sheep and chickens would have an easy time of it. -- Especially animals who have been so genetically altered over the decades, as to have lost basically all of their wild instincts and physical attributes for wild survival.  These animals would also eventually (or nearly) perish from the earth in a totally vegan world. -- Put simply, eliminate all purpose and "use" for existence of domesticated animals and eventually we eliminate the animals.
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Presumably, we would then only be left with wild animals to "admire from a distance."
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But, don't wild animals suffer too?
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When eliminating all domesticated animals, would it then be PETA's goal to "euthanize" all wild animals to "free" them from any suffering or the likelihood of an eventual gruesome death? Where exactly does this, "no use" and "no suffering" Utopian world lead? What is its end goal?  -- A world with no animals at all?
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In criticizing and opposing any and all animal protective attempts to improve the lives and welfare of farm and other human-used animals, Gary Francione argues, "Yes, it is better not to torture someone that you murder. But that does not make torture-free murder humane. It's better not to beat someone you rape. But, that doesn't make rape without beating compassionate."   http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/aa_positionpaper_animalwelfare.pdf
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While making a valid point that crimes are still crimes, whether or not there are aggravating circumstances, the author appears to lose sight of the feelings of crime victims (whether human or animal).
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As one who was raped as a child, I am gratified not to have also been beaten.
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I was also mugged and robbed three times as an adult. But, when considering I might have also been raped or beaten to point of severe injury (or even murder), it is relief to not have also experienced those crimes.
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So, for the animals, is it not necessary to fight for whatever reforms or lessoning of suffering and violence can be achieved?
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Currently, in the United States, a million chickens are boiled alive every year, for not being properly stunned and slaughtered before being dipped into scalding tanks.
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And yet, apparently people like Professor Francione would oppose any legislation or amendment that would mandate the humane slaughter of chickens as it would be perceived as "welfarist" or "happy exploitation." 
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It's too bad we can't ask the chickens how they feel. One supposes that as humans, if we knew we were about to be murdered, we would choose being shot or at least stunned before being boiled alive.
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Professor Francione's justification for opposing any and all improvements in the treatment of food animals is that such reforms result in people eating more of the product due to complacency and comfort.  That may be true in some cases, but human behavior is predicated mostly on ritual. Thus, it is unlikely a person is going to eat more meat or consume more dairy because of the claim of, "humanely raised."  They may however, feel less guilty about what they do consume. 
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While such might impede Francione's and other vegan activists goals for a totally vegan, non-animal-use world, it is highly debatable that such world will ever achieve fruition in the first place.
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The reality is that guilt alone is usually not enough to compel most people to give up set rituals and moral beliefs -- especially those established in early childhood such as the societal acceptance and "morality" of meat-eating.  
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If such base and radical changes are to occur at all, they are usually achieved in small and "feel good" increments -- i.e. "meatless Mondays" for example and then expansion -- especially when easy and similar alternatives/replacements are available. (In my own case, I gave up all meat and fish nearly 40 years ago, not because of guilt or belief that meat and fish were "immoral" but because I couldn't justify paying others to do what I was personally repulsed by -- killing animals.) 
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While some people may be persuaded to give up all animal products on the basis of guilt or some personal and sudden moral revulsion or "epiphany," most people simply tend to avoid thinking about that which makes them feel guilty or uncomfortable. Denial and avoidance are powerful influences on human behavior.
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Put simply, humans (and animals) generally gravitate towards those matters and behaviors that make them feel good, not towards that which makes them feel guilty, "immoral" or uncomfortable.  If anything, people more readily adapt morality to fit behavior, rather than the other way around.
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But, unfortunately, a significant portion of the modern Animal Rights movement has become all about preaching "morality" and attempts at guilt-tripping even benign animal-using activities, such as horse carriage rides.
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How exactly does all this proselytizing and "holier than thou" morality judgments help any animals? How does referring to people taking horse carriage rides as "rubes, yokels and bumpkins" inspire them to consider seriously, the legitimate arguments for animal rights, respect and protection?
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Wouldn't carriage horses benefit more from efforts to uplift and extol their place, beauty, value, contributions and enhancement to New York City, rather than efforts to diminish, tear down and "banish" them?
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How sad and actually contrary to animal empathy and respect is it to secretly hope for some accident to a carriage horse or even further atrocity done to food animals in order to attract further support for one's cause to remove animals from the human world?
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To openly oppose any and all reforms or attempts to improve the current lot for animals in favor of crusading for some Utopian world where no animal ever suffers "use" at the hands of humans is to render to zero, the significance of animals existing now.
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It's akin to saying, "I'm not going to provide sustenance and comfort for my children now because I am waiting for the day I hit the lottery and can provide them with mansions and caviar." Or, on another level, "Human children should not be in custody of and beholden to or controlled by parents. They should be free to pursue their own interests."
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Actual reality is that some suffering and even at times, injustice is part of every human's and animal's life experience. Our true moral quest as humans is to lesson that suffering and those injustices as much and wherever possible and to embrace kindness. Human welfare and animal welfare are closely related and similar in pursuit and hopefully, goal. Even the Bill of (human) Rights, doesn't guarantee happiness for all humans -- only the pursuit of it.
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Elimination of all suffering (whether human or animal) will only occur with the end of all life on earth.
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Thus, I believe that although the "Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights" may look good on paper or sound good in the halls of prestigious universities, it is actually obstructionist to true progress for animals in the real world of absurdity, unequal justice and evolvement in increments. --PCA
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Friday, January 23, 2015

For a Little Taste of Flesh -- Past Due to Include Farm Animals Under The Animal Welfare Act


 


One of the primary challenges of being an advocate for animal justice is what issue(s) to pursue and focus on.
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As animals are abused and killed in so many different ways and for so many reasons, it is difficult to discern which are the areas in which to put most of our efforts, as well as evaluate where such efforts are likely to be most productive and effective.
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Do we direct efforts towards the most egregious forms of animal torture and killing on global and national scale? Or, do we focus efforts more locally -- on issues pertinent to the community and more likely to meet with some modicum of success?
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There is noted phrase from the Environment movement, "Think globally, act locally," to which I personally (and apparently, many others) ascribe.
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Thus, in New York City, the three issues arousing most animal activist attention are carriage horses, the killing of cats and dogs in city shelters and (sadly, last on the list), the killing (or banishment) of wildlife from city parks and properties. (Personally, I don't believe that carriage horses clip clopping through Central Park belong on the list of major animal abuse issues in New York City, but more about that later.)
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But, on wider scale, by far the greatest and seemingly limitless abuse of animals occurs on our nation's "factory farms" and slaughterhouses. And if we think that the confining, crowding, genetic manipulation and pumping with drugs, steroids and antibiotics of billions of farm animals is already bad, let us consider that the USDA, animal agriculture industry and top universities are working and pumping millions of tax dollars to seemingly make the torture and exploitation of these animals even worse:
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Of course, the powers that be don't see what they do as abuse and torture at all.
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Rather, scientists attempting to discover new ways to force cows, sheep and pigs to produce even more offspring than they already do, while cutting down costs and care, tell themselves (and the world) that they are merely trying to "solve the problem of feeding nine billion humans by the year, 2050."
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Were they even minimally concerned over destructive impacts on the planet and contributions to climate change of animal agriculture or the compromising of the effectiveness of antibiotics through over-use on animals, they would be seeking modern and inventive ways to produce greater supplies of plant and grain foods, not more animals to abuse and slaughter for the sake of cheap and always available meat. Reality is that the latter is unsustainable over the coming decades simply from environmental destruction and contribution to greenhouses gases alone.  
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The above investigative article link is from the New York Times and published on the front page of the newspaper on January 19th. It concerns and describes a long list of grotesque animal experiments, starvation and neglect occurring on a meat animal research complex in rural Nebraska, funded with 24 million tax dollars.  Though lengthy and  disturbing, the article is a must-read for every American, but particularly those still eating meat.
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The reality is that every dollar spent to purchase products of incalculable suffering and brutal slaughter of sentient animals is viewed as "support" of the egregious practices of the meat, egg and dairy industries and fosters continuing "consumer demand" of the products. -- In other words, it is in order to meet a "growing human population and demand for the products" that the tortures of the damned can and are inflicted upon billions of these animals. "Cruelty ends where profit begins" as the saying goes and no where is this more true than in the meat, egg, dairy, leather and suede industries. (Although the latter two are by-products of the meat industry, they still represent animal cruelty and slaughter.)
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In 1977, I transitioned to vegetarianism when learning of the deprivations and cruelties inherent in factory farming.  I and other Animal Rights advocates wondered then why farm animals were not included in and afforded the protections under the federal Animal Welfare Act passed in 1966 (and since amended over the decades).
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Should not the animals most used and abused by humans be granted even minimal protections under federal law?
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But, in those days it truly seemed a hopeless task to advocate, much less fight for such inclusion. Veganism was virtually unheard of and even vegetarianism rare. A vegetarian or vegan in those days pretty much lived on salads, pasta and french fries. We were more or less considered "freaks" of the human world.
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But, it is thankfully a very different world today. Books, articles, organizational efforts and the proliferation of (mostly undercover) YouTube videos have brought the realities of factory farms and slaughterhouses into many American homes. Additionally, concerns for health and efforts to fight obesity and the diseases associated with it have prompted a diet richer in plants and grains and lower in animal products.  Though the percentage of people identifying themselves vegan is still very low (7%), both it and vegetarianism have risen exponentially over the past three decades. That is not to even mention those uncounted millions who have lessoned meat consumption or switched to only purchasing organic, free-range products. (i.e. "humanely raised.")
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Both the US government and the meat industry need to wake up to the new realities which are not now, what they were in the middle of the last century when few people had any insight as to how meat and other animal products ended up in supermarket cases or restaurants.
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Walk into any supermarket today and one is apt to find almost as many vegetarian alternatives to meat and dairy as the animals products themselves. Obviously, these animal-free products (which have improved dramatically over the years) are selling as there is greater consumer demand for them.
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With greater consumer awareness and demands for both, replacements to meat, as well as "humanely raised" animal products, it appears many in government and particularly those running the US Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska are entirely out of touch with reality and living in their personal ivory towers in which anything they do to animals is acceptable to the culture and public they're supposedly "serving." Nothing could however, be further from the truth.
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Proof of this delusion is readily observed throughout the New York Times article.
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For example, despite the fact that lamb consumption in the US has plunged to an annual average of less than one pound per person from nearly 5 lbs in the 1940's, the mad scientists at the research center have devoted efforts to forcing sheep to produce triplets, rather than the average one or two lambs. Not only do such twisted actions fly in the face of dropping consumer demand for lamb, but they also result in far greater losses of newborn lambs due to maternal abandonment, starvation and predation due to lack of care and oversight. ("Easy care" lambs apparently meaning no care at all.)
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In the voodoo "scientists" further twisted efforts towards producing twins and triplets in cows (cows normally only produce one calf at a time), cows have been surgically altered, doused with hormones and tethered to what are essentially, "rape racks" where they are mounted by multiple bulls over a period of hours to "test" bull libido. In one case described in the article one cow suffered broken legs and despite a denied plea for euthanasia by the observer, died hours later.  
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According to the article, even most ranchers aren't buying into the insanity, one of them astutely stating, "Cows weren't meant to have litters."
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The time is past due for our legislators in Washington to consider, not how to pump more millions of tax dollars into conducting Frankenstein experiments on farm animals to produce cheaper and more plentiful meat, but rather to include these very animals under the protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act.  (Currently, the law states: "Farm Animals are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) only when used in biomedical research, testing, teaching and exhibition. Farm animals used for food and fiber or for food and fiber research are not regulated under the AWA.")
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That is what consumers and their constituents are really demanding with their comments to newspaper articles, pro-animal protection votes on ballot initiatives and petitions and most of all, their purchase dollars and consumer choices.
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(On this note, there is a new petition from the Humane Society of the United States demanding shut-down of the US Meat Animal Research Center. Please sign: https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=6694#.VMCLBbjue3F.facebook)
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Finally, on the question of which issues of abuse it is most important for animal advocates to focus attentions on, that is something to ultimately be decided by individuals and their conscious.  
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I personally believe that on the larger, national or global issues such as factory farming, wildlife extinctions, climate change and others, it is important to let our consumer choices and purchase dollars do the talking and on the more local and community issues to take more direct and active charge.
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But, that often means being able to draw lines and distinctions between "use" of animals and actual abuse as the two are definitely not the same as witness the carriage horse controversy in New York City.
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It might be considered that going after and attacking those actions involving working or companion partnerships with animals is to actually and ultimately do the animals great harm, as well as damaging the credibility of the Animal Rights cause in general.
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People may be willing to give up the option of steak or chicken seven days a week, but they are not going to so willingly give up the concept of keeping pets or taking a horse carriage ride through Central Park -- especially when they can clearly see well cared for animals doing what they seemingly enjoy doing and clearly excel at.
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On the other hand, there is not a person with any sense of conscious or justice who would deem it proper and appropriate to attach animals to "rape racks", genetically and surgically alter them to produce more offspring and douse them with drugs just to see how much more we can force out of them.
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The time to include all farm animals under the federal Animal Welfare Act is way past due and it is that which the American consumer is saying loud and clear with his and her purchase dollars. 
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That those in Washington and those defending these atrocities perpetrated on farm animals are blind to this new reality is ultimately to their own demise and peril. -- PCA
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Monday, January 19, 2015

Geese and Horses -- "Something Tells Me It's All Happening at the Zoo"




Princess and me last month at Boat Lake in Central Park.
Princess and mate, Warrior in December.
Warrior last month. But, where are the two injured geese now?
A carriage horse enjoying human attention last month at Central Park. But, will they still be here in a few years or will we have to look for horses, like geese, at the zoo?  

"What is this woman whining about? There are tons of Canada geese at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park!"
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The above question has not been posed to me yet. But I imagine it is coming -- or at least, crossed some people's minds.
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And the question would be accurate, as over the past few weeks, there have been easily more than a hundred Canada geese flying in or out of the CP Reservoir at any given moment.
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But, the number is deceptive because these are migratory, not resident geese.
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The geese typically arrive to Central Park and specifically, the Reservoir in late December or early January when watercourses further north freeze over. In search of open water, the geese can usually find at least some, at the Reservoir.
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But as fast as these geese arrive and briefly stay, they also depart. Usually all are gone by mid to late February when temperatures begin to slightly warm and the ice on northern lakes and ponds thaw.
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Throughout the other seasons, the entire of (843 acre) Central Park typically has less than 30 resident geese. (Substantially down from what it was just a few years ago.)
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In the last blog entry, I ended with a disturbing thought:  That within a few years, it is very possible that we will have no carriage horses and no (resident) Canada geese in Central Park at all. Its almost as if one of the most famous parks in the world is slowly being emptied of its resident animals (Not counting the Central Park Zoo, of course).  
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Sometimes, my friend, Liliana and I joke about this.
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"Well, not to fret!  We can always offer carrots to the vintage cars and there is excitement and adventure running across the roads to avoid speeding cyclists, swerving pedicabs or weekly marathons!  As for the geese, they will probably keep a couple at the Central Park Zoo. We'll just need money to see them!"
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Unfortunately, that is what Central Park is becoming most times of the year:  Not a place to peacefully enjoy nature and animals, but rather an adventure in avoidance of speeding vehicles, overwhelming crowds and seemingly endless sporting and other events. -- Picture an outdoor Madison Square Garden, but with cars, bicycles and pedicabs.
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This is precisely why my friend was so "upset" a few days ago when helplessly witnessing Geese Police hurl a large, rock filled canister attached to a long rope on the ice to chase off two Canada geese resting on the otherwise frozen Boat lake.
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Geese Police patrols Central Park throughout the entire year with the exception of the brief period in summer when molting geese are incapable of flight and escape. Fortunately, for geese and other water birds, Geese Police does not harass at the Reservoir probably because it is difficult to get access to for harassment and it is not run by the Central Park Conservancy, but rather the DEC.
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This is evidently another reason why geese, ducks and other water birds seek out the Reservoir for refuge, despite its scant food supplies. It is the only watercourse in Central Park where the birds are not harassed on practically a daily basis and enjoy some measure of peace.
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A couple of weeks ago, Liliana was distressed about another pair of geese who had been enduring at the Boat Lake since the early summer -- Warrior and Princess.
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Warrior was always easily identifiable by what appeared, an old injury to his neck that never entirely healed and rather appeared perpetually irritated. Liliana and I considered trying to rescue Warrior and bring him to the Wild Bird Fund for treatment to the wound.  But we ultimately decided against it, because of fearing the impacts on his mate, Princess. Moreover, as long as Warrior was otherwise "normal," (i.e. flying, eating and staying close to and attentive to his mate), we decided a rescue might do more harm than good. It wasn't even clear that such seemingly old injury could be successfully treated and cured.
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Then about ten days ago, Princess suddenly turned up injured. She had apparently hurt one or even both feet when doing a hard landing on ice. Liliana described her to me as unable to walk.
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The next day, I went to meet Liliana at the Boat Lake, but both Warrior and Princess were sitting out on the edge of the ice near a small pool of open water. They were in the middle of the otherwise frozen lake with no way to get to them.
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We brought the matter up to Park Rangers who did not bother to return the call.
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Then, the following day, both Warrior and Princess were gone and not to be seen since.
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It is not clear if Geese Police finally succeeded in chasing the two injured geese out from the Boat Lake or they were spooked by a human rescue that occurred on the thin ice that particular day.
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I have looked for Warrior and Princess at the Reservoir in Central Park, but it would be hard to spot them among so many of the migratory geese coming and going.
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Also gone are the family of four geese who had been at the Boat Lake since summer. But, was it Geese Police who finally succeeding in banishing them or simply the icy and inhospitable conditions overall?   Perhaps its more likely that it was a combination of all the factors. -- Man, Lady and the two kids apparently decided, "To hell with it. Its not worth it here anymore."
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Presently, there are three domestic ducks and one mallard with wing deformity who are consistently at the Boat Lake and can't go anywhere despite the daily goose harassment. And there are mysteriously, the two geese steadfastly remaining despite drawing the daily ire of Geese Police and the Central Park Conservancy.
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But, the bottom line to all this is that matters are not always as they appear in a particular moment in time.
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Yes, there are many migratory Canada geese at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir right now due to frigid weather conditions and iced over watercourses further north.
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But, observe the goose numbers in Central Park in March, May, August or September and tell me if I whining then.
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Considering the current mayor of New York City has expressed an intense dislike of carriage horses in Central Park and considering the Conservancy's and the city's disdain (or even hatred) for Canada geese, it doesn't require a whole lot of paranoia to imagine a Central Park with few animals and natural wildlife in just a few years.
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But, as my friend and I joke, we can always offer carrots to the vintage cars and (hopefully) see two Canada geese and maybe even horses at the Central Park Zoo.
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Ah, shades and memories of Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi) and Simon and Garfunkle.
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"Something tells me it's all happening at the zoo."  -- PCA
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