Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Merry Wanderlust of Horses and Dogs


Tina, Chance and me, October, 2013.
This past Sunday, one of our Central Park carriage horses bounded from the west side stable and trotted off for four blocks before being safely corralled by police and returned.
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According to most recent reports, "Bernie is fine and back on the job."
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Anti-carriage groups are jumping on the incident as one more reason to ban carriage horses in New York City.
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I have already stated my personal position on the carriage horses in NYC (support of keeping them in the city) and that hasn't changed.
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But, when watching the video of Bernie seeming to merrily trot down the streets (am guessing Bernie to be a former racing trotter), it brought back memories of my dog, Tina who sadly, I had to have put down last month due to the ravages of very advanced age (21).
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Tina was a nearly perfect dog in every respect -- but one: She was completely unpredictable when allowed or accidentally getting off leash.
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As someone whose every dog from childhood to the present was totally trustworthy and contained when off leash, I was exceedingly unprepared for Tina when rescuing and later adopting her in 1997.
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My first attempt at allowing the then three-year-old Corgi/Spitz mix off leash came several months after adoption during the "Off Leash" hours in Central Park.
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It seemed at the time Tina was well bonded to me, knew her name and always came when called in the apartment.
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But Central Park was an entirely different story. Apparently, in the outdoors, Tina became stone deaf.
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We were around the Great Lawn one morning, an area where dog owners typically gather in the early hours to allow their dogs some running and play time.
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When I unhooked Tina's leash, she ran all right. And ran and ran and ran, without ever looking back or twitching an ear to the sounds of "Come!"
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"Tina! Tina! Come, Come!!" I shouted repeatedly, to complete futility.
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Running as fast as I could so as not to lose Tina from sight, that too was a losing battle as Tina was like a rocket shot out of a canon.  
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Time and time again, I had to ask other people, "Have you seen a little blonde and white dog running by?"
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Fortunately, hands pointed me towards the direction of Belvedere Castle.
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Frantic, out of breath and in complete panic, I finally caught up to Tina at Shakesphere Gardens, a good half mile from where we originally started. I swear I could have qualified for an Olympic running medal that day, even though I am not a runner.
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Having learned a lesson the hard way, it would be a few years before I attempted this adventure again.
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But, "attempt" I did in either 1999 or 2000.
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It was Thanksgiving Day and since Petco on 86th Street was closed, I finally had an off day from doing cat Adoptions.
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I decided to venture to Central Park with Tina despite the fact it was probably one of the worst days of that entire year, weather wise.
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Frigid, icy and damp is the best way to describe it -- at least initially. The running path around the Central Park Reservoir was completely empty of people and that was because it was covered in ice, melting snow and slush.  In other words, it was a complete and slippery mess.
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I don't know what brain storm suddenly compelled me to remove Tina's leash to give her a little "freedom," but it was probably the absence of another human soul anywhere. I figured the "quiet" would be soothing and relaxing for her.
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Wrong again.
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Tina took off like a fox pursued by the hounds of hell.
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"Oh My God!!  Tina Come BACK!!!  Come, Come!!"
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Deaf dog running.  And running. And running.
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Once again, I had to attempt the marathon sprint -- only this time with heavy boots that were quickly filling up with slush and ice.
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No Olympic medals this time as I was barely able to wade through the icy, slippery slop, without tripping, much less run.
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Though starting from the south east side of the Reservoir, I finally caught up to Tina on the far north west side of the watercourse -- nearly a full mile away.
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I wanted to ring her neck!
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But, I didn't.  Rather, I was thanking God for helping me to miraculously retrieve my wander lust, wayward pooch.
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Exhausted, wet and with frozen feet, I clipped the leash to Tina and we started very slowly to trudge through the melting snow and ice back home.
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That's when it began to pour rain!
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I don't know who was more drowned or frozen by the time we finally made it home -- Tina or me.
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I don't want to say this was the worst Thanksgiving of my life, but it came close. Let's just say for my one day "off," it was one of the most exhausting, stressful and WET days of my entire life!
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Fast forward nearly a decade till I adopted my Pomeranian, Chance.  I had already had Chance maybe a year or so, when one day deciding to allow him off leash during the designated hours at the Great Lawn in CP. But, then I felt "guilty" in not allowing Tina the same privilege. She is after all, much older now, I reasoned to myself. Surely, she won't run off again.
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WRONG.
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But, not only did Tina run off this time, but Chance as well!  And to add to the horrors, the two dogs ran in opposite directions!
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Paralyzed and not knowing which dog to pursue, I stood there calling, first one dog and then the other as both dogs were quickly disappearing from view.
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People stopped and stared as if I was a mad woman. ("Did she really lose two dogs or is this woman just nuts?")
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Finally, while I still could see him, I ran after Chance and finally grabbed him at the edge of one of the smaller lawns.
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But, then I had completely lost Tina on the other side of the park. There was no sign of her anywhere!
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Complete panic then, I wandered aimlessly again asking people if they had seen a small blonde and white dog running by?
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Of course, all dogs were running at that hour. It was the off leash period, so virtually no one was able to guide me to my then wandering 15-year-old pooch.
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I'm not sure how many times I circled the Great Lawn imagining the very worst.  A panicked Tina getting out of Central Park and getting killed by a car. Tina ending up in the pound again. Tina terrified, lost and gone forever. There aren't enough curses in the book to account for all the ones I called myself that day.
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Finally, despaired and exhausted, I was about to give up, go home and start making desperate calls when I noticed in the distance, people lining up for show tickets near the Delacourt Theatre.  And who was among them, but a small golden and white dog!
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IT WAS TINA!
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Running like a mad woman, dragging Chance behind me, we finally caught up to Tina.
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And though my imagination had run wild with all kind of images of a terrified and panicked Tina, she was nothing of the sort!
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On the contrary, Tina appeared disappointed that her "adventure" had ended and her leash was being attached again.  "But, Mommy, I was having such a nice time getting to know and fraternize with people! Why do you look so tired and upset? Everything is cool!" 
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By that time, "off leash" hours had ended in Central Park. But, for Tina, they had ended forever.
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There were a couple of other similar incidents of Tina actually pulling out of her collar and taking off, including one two years ago when she could barely walk. I still had to chase Tina nearly a quarter of a mile at Harlem Meer despite her then being 19-years-old. 
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Yes, Tina was a wonderful and nearly perfect dog in every sense of the word. But, she led me on many a not-so-merry chase, causing me to admit, that it's not true that I am not a runner.  Tina made me one.
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And watching Bernie, the carriage horse merrily trot off in the news video yesterday, I am reminded of all those "marathons" and how totally and dearly I miss Tina.
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May Bernie be the blessing to his people that Tina was to me and may he always maintain just a hint of merry wanderlust to keep his people on their toes, but always smiling in the end.  -- PCA
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Friday, October 17, 2014

The, "It Might as well Be Spring" Goose Power Shift


Three migratory Canada geese on Reservoir over weekend. Since then, the weather apparently too warm for stress of long flying migrations.
"Heads up!"  Napoleon this morning taking heed of incoming goose family.
"The Family" arrives with necks stretched, prepared for battle.
The family takes over rock, banishing rag-tag family of three.
Daisy seeking peace. 
Napoleon, Josie and Daisy, content for the moment, with second place status.
An unusual patch of warm, 70 degree temperatures has seemingly caused a brief halt in the fall migrations of Canada geese through the Reservoir in Central Park over the past few days. Three were observed on the water over the weekend, but none since.
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But, that is not to say there hasn't been any goose "drama" in Central Park over this balmy week that could easily be confused with spring.
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Territorial spats and power shifts have been occurring between the two resident goose families at the Boat Lake.
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When last writing of the seven geese posturing and battling for top rank at the lake, it appeared that Napoleon, his feisty mate, Josephine and their "adopted" daughter, Daisy had temporarily taken over dominance position from the established family of "Man, Lady" and their two fledglings, hatched over the summer.
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But, that assessment was apparently premature.
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This week it apears "Man" had enough of the intimidation and humiliation of Napoleon and decided to stand up to the gander who has well earned a reputation over the years of being the class "bully" of all Central Park resident geese. Either that, or Man did some simple arithmetic and figured that his family of four had distinct advantage over the three -- especially considering that Daisy, the adopted, tag-along daughter of Napoleon and Josephine was not one to take part in any conflict. (She usually veers off to the sidelines of any anticipated battle.)
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But, Man has evidently "schooled" his two kids in the art of intimidation, along with giving his mate, Lady some directives.
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This morning, while spending some time with Napoleon, Josie and Daisy on a rock at the Boat Lake, loud and raucous "warning" honks could be heard from a distance and within a minute, all four geese of "the family" were visible, aggressively flying towards the rock to harass the rag tag family out.
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Even before Man, Lady and the two honking kids arrived to the rock, Napoleon, Josie and Daisy had quickly departed, spreading out in the water.
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A mild skirmish then took place in the lake with lots of honking and wing flapping, the end of which resulted in Napoleon, Josie and Daisy quietly swimming away.
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The family then came to the rock to celebrate their "victory" with lots of wing flapping, honking and water splashes. 
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If all this seems too easy for a take-over in the power balance, the real battle apparently took place over the past couple of days according to my friend, Liliana. 
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She called on Wednesday to report how "distressed" she was at failing to play referee between the two battling families. Despite Liliana's efforts at trying broker some kind of peace deal between Napoleon and her "Man," the two ganders got into head to head combat the other day while the other family members looked on. Man apparently came out on top of that battle, though neither gander sustained any actual injuries.
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Power is thus, once again restored to the "real" goose family -- the one with actual goslings to school and recruit to the little wars of intimidation, dominance and hierarchy.  
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For now, Napoleon and Josie have to be content with second place status on the lake. As for Daisy, she is just happy to have any family at all -- even if just comprised of "wicked stepparents."
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All this will however change, once the cold weather actually sets in and water birds have to consider more important things than hierarchy and pride battles. Once lakes and ponds start to ice over, its amazing how former "enemies" quickly become comrades in survival and bosom buddies. 
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That is when one sees, instead of birds battling for hierarchy on the water, all geese and ducks hunkering down for warmth and taking shifts to swim circles and try to maintain open water.
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The motto quickly becomes then, "The enemy of my enemy (old man winter) is my friend." -- PCA
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Point, Counterpoint -- Animal Rights




Animal/human connection, the truth path to Animal Rights?

Doug from California wrote in comment today:

Thank you for your reply/counter. You're certainly correct that we don't come out on precisely the same page regarding the "line" on abuse and use. Nothing startling about that; it's a premise of the article I wrote. I will, however, specifically disagree with you that using animals as food is inherently cruel. In fact, by your own following line, it is in the manner of death and the quality of life before that is involved with the cruelty. Stated another way, to put the potato on the fork (country thing, don't try to figure it out...:) I distinguish killing from torture; and I do not think the former for food by itself is wrong, the latter is. Similarly, I don't think milking a cow, as you apparently are willing to do, is wrong if the cow is decently treated. You are probably right, and the evidence I guess is pretty overwhelming, that some "factory farm" practices are abhorrent. That should be changed. Naive? Perhaps, but I hope not futile. The concern I have, as you see from the article, is that staking out positions in the name of "animal rights" that challenge the morality of people that want to eat a duck sometimes or other animal "users" (whether that be working with a carriage horse, playing with a dog) is 1) dismissive of animals' capacity for reciprocal affection/loyalty and 2) so alienating to so many that the cause will flutter hopelessly with respect to serious, actually achievable reforms. That would certainly include improvements in food production (probably possible only, I agree with you, with reductions in demand such as by patronizing what you sometimes call "mom and pop" farmers - start there?) and education or when that fails merciless punishment of, for example, punks of whatever age or gender that torture/kick animals for laughs. Doug from the Gold Country, California
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Reply:  Thank you in kind, Doug, for your prompt and thoughtful response.
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First, allow me to address those things we appear to agree on.
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I agree that, "staking out positions in the name of 'animal rights' that challenge the morality of people that want to eat a duck sometimes or other animal users" is to put it succinctly, a mistake.  Unless deemed "immoral" by recognized law or religion, most people don't react well to being called "evil," "immoral" or being lectured to, regardless of the particular behavior.  On the contrary, attempts at "guilt tripping" tend to mostly result in rebellious actions and/or self-fulfilling prophecy that reject the so-called "moral" premise being sought. (Example, teenagers and young people rebelling from "wag of the finger" moral authority of parents or even society in general.)
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Morality, except where dictated by actual law or religious/cultural beliefs is a very individual phenomenon that we all arrive to in our own ways and according to our individual consciousness and experiences. It's generally not something that can be dictated to or forced upon us.
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That said, I believe we need to consider present day realities, particularly as regards the most prevalent "use" of animals for "food."
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Truth is, that we are a long way from Little House on the Prairie scenarios of a family living on their own land with a barnyard of chickens, a cow or a pig that they raise, milk and kill for their own survival needs.
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One would, for example, be hard pressed to find anything of the "reciprocal" nature that has been so discussed (with relationship to humans' positive connections and interactions with dogs, cats and horses) on the typical factory farm. Put simply as matter of logistics and practicality, it would be impossible for the owner of a facility that holds 50,000 chickens or 300 pigs or cows to "emotionally connect" with his/her animals or care significantly about their individual welfare. Animals on factory farms are numbers, not names. If an animal becomes ill or in a cow's case, incapable of producing milk or offspring, they are either left to die in the pile or shipped off to slaughter. Everything is predicated on the theory of "maximum sustained yield" for profitability and not on animal welfare.
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Of course, today, as people become more aware of how their food is actually produced (and in the case of meat, cruelly treated and slaughtered) and hopefully weigh these realities within their own consciousness and personal convictions of what is right and wrong, (not just in terms of animal treatment, but also environmental and personal health) there are many options from which to choose as have been lightly discussed.
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In 1978 for example,  when I was transitioning to vegetarianism, there were no vegetarian "meats," "free-range eggs or dairy," or the huge array of plant foods that are widely available today. If eating out, there were rarely if ever, vegetarian options on menus other than salads or french fries.
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But, today it is comparatively easy to experiment with or transition to vegetarianism or even veganism with little in the way of actual "sacrifice" or personal hardship. Supermarkets, specialty stores and most restaurants now contain bountiful supplies of delicious, nutritious, exciting and inventive alternatives to the old and typical "meat and potatoes" diet.
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Put simply, it doesn't have to be that way anymore.
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Unfortunately, I am compelled to agree with you that many of the tactics, campaigns or "marketing tools" of the current Animal Rights leaders and movement are sadly misplaced and misdirected. 
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Restrictive, condescending or even tyrannical moral platitudes are tiresome and boring -- especially in a generally more liberal culture that clearly rejects old moral judgments of pre-marital or gay sex being "wrong" or even abortion.  People (especially, Americans) generally don't like being told how to live, what to do or how to act, much less, what to eat.
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It seems it would be far wiser to adapt some of the tactics and marketing tools of, let's say, the exercise and running industries. 
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Its hard to imagine the CEO's of Nike or Road Runner's Clubs calling people lazy slobs or "immoral" if not choosing to run or saying to someone who can only run a block, "Don't call yourself a runner unless you're able to run a marathon!"  (e.g. "Don't call yourself Animal Rights unless you're a vegan.")
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The Animal Right movement has, in many ways, dug itself into a hole. Instead of looking for common ground and encouraging and welcoming people of diverse backgrounds, skill sets and even lifestyles under the "big tent" so to speak of Animal Rights, it rejects all who not in the same exact place and along the same exact path of recognition and acceptance of Animal Rights.  It shuns discourse and tends to "ban" from web pages those who in any way, disagree or challenge pre-conceived notions and platitudes. 
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Such is to ultimately alienate many who would, otherwise be on one's side if given a little time, patience, latitude and ironically, "compassion."
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True and eventual achievement of Animal Rights can and will only come as does victory in a marathon.  It is not to condemn the person who can or will only run one block, but rather to encourage him/her to run one more. It is to say, "Just move -- we are beside you to catch if you fall."
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Truth is, Animal Rights will not be achieved by civil war or revolution. Its actual path is through evolution and the awakening of connection, consciousness and interaction with our fellow animal species.
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I thank you for your willingness to engage in positive, if not always totally "agreeable" discourse.  -- PCA
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Animal Rights -- The Debate Evolves



Canada goose, Central Park, 10-14.

On this Monday afternoon, I want to thank Doug from California for sharing his views in Guest Commentary yesterday regarding some questionable, complex or potentially confusing and disturbing trends in the quest for Animal Rights.
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What is Animal Rights? Where is it going? What are its ultimate goals? Does achievement of Animal Rights mean loss or lessoning of human rights? 
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These are all important questions and ones without easily definable answers. As the writer correctly discerns, it depends upon who one talks to.
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For the millions of people who, in one way or another, self-identify as supporters of animal rights, there are probably as many interpretations of exactly what Animal Rights means as there are individuals. To one person, it might simply mean being "kind" to the animals one personally encounters in life or owns as pets. To another person, "Animal Rights" means the eschewing of all animal products and animal based services (e.g. "use" of animals). To others, Animal Rights means legal and political efforts on behalf of animals and to still others, it means rescue and care of animals in distress or who are victims of cruelty, neglect or homelessness.
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How does one even begin to mesh into something cohesive and holistic, such divergent and widely encompassing perspectives?
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It isn't easy. 
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For example, while I personally agree with Doug that not all "use" of animals is nefarious or "immoral" (On the contrary, much is reciprocal and positive for both human and animal -- even many "working" animals), it is not clear we draw the use/abuse line in the exact same place.
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I gave up all meat and fish almost 35 years ago for one simple and basic reason:
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I realized that I was not personally willing to kill a cow, chicken, pig or even fish for the sake of taste buds, whereas I would (if necessary) be willing to plant and pick vegetables, fruits or even milk a cow if there was no one to pay to do these things.
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It thus seemed "hypocritical" to pay others to do what I personally would be unwilling and unable to do under any, but the most extreme, life and death circumstances.
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(Of course when learning how nearly all of the billions of animals who end up on our plates are actually suffering on modern intensive factory farms, it only reinforced the decision. One can actually understand the claim by some that modern meat eating is not only hypocritical for many people, it is morally questionable for those who otherwise identify as loving and/or caring about animals.) 
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Even if most of us could agree that not all "use" of animals is immoral, it seems most of us would have to intellectually concede that the most common use of animals (i.e. "food") is inherently cruel, not only for the fact the animals are brutally killed, but also for the conditions they are forced to endure before they are killed. (On the latter note, modern dairy and egg production also present serious moral and ethical challenges to otherwise, self-described, animal loving people.)
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But, even if self-questioning and realizing our inconsistencies and/or hypocrisies regarding animals, where does that leave us? Does one suddenly give up all animal products, usually in defiance of families, friends, tradition and even spouses? Does one seek out "humanely raised" meat and dairy? Or, does one give up some products, while keeping others? (Such as "fishtarians" or vegetarians who consume dairy and/or eggs.)
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We all draw the line in a different place, don't we?  (For my part, it took a full year to go entirely vegetarian and I am still not fully vegan, though I feel guilty about that.)
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But, perhaps the real question should not be exactly where each of us draws the line on our inconsistencies or imperfections regarding our relationships with animals, but rather, do we draw a line at all?
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This morning, when considering how I would respond to Doug's provocative commentary, I delayed actual thought to rather search archives on this blog to gage when migratory geese typically fly through Central Park. (Apparently, most fly through here during late October and early November.)
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While thumbing through some past entries, I came across this one from last November 16th.  Ironically, it perhaps best answers where I personally stand on Animal Rights today and hopefully addresses some of the points in Doug's well reasoned and thoughtful commentary. I resubmit it today as sincere and presently felt response, as well as welcoming further debate and discussion:
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"Respect Without Prejudice and Denial -- A New and Future World for Animals?"
(Patty Adjamine, 11-16-13)
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Recently, video of a young woman viciously kicking three geese in a public park surfaced both, on the Internet and television news:
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The woman has since been identified and rightly charged with animal cruelty.
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But, what makes this story unique is the amount of public outrage expressed and shared, when the truth is that similar cruelties (and much worse) occur everyday on factory farms across the country to a variety of animals, including millions of chickens, turkeys, cows, calves, pigs, lambs and many more.
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On the same day I posted the above story to  (61) Call of the Canada Geese Facebook page, I also posted another story of more than 20 domestic ducks and geese who were shot and beaten to death in another public park (presumably with authorization). 
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It was, however, the story of the individual woman acting in cruel and despicable manner that was widely shared and commented upon. But, wasn't the other story actually worse in terms of blatant cruelty ending in violent death to numerous animals?
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And is it not worse, the torments and cruelties that millions of animals suffer everyday both on factory farms and in slaughterhouses?
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What is it exactly that compels our outrage to rise up in one instance and seemingly go to sleep in others that are in fact, far more pervasive and egregious?
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Is it the fact that we are better able to discern clearly, those instances of civilian and individual animal cruelty, as opposed to industrial, corporate or governmental?
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Is it the fact that we are able to be more objective in identifying cruelty when we are not either directly or indirectly connected to it and derive no personal benefit?
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A couple of weeks ago, I shared on this blog my puzzlement when meeting two birders in Central Park who, though seemingly unhappy when witnessing two migratory geese chased and harassed out of Harlem Meer by Geese Police, were nevertheless resigned and accepting of the action.  I could not understand their seeming casualness with something that was obviously cruel and unnecessary under the circumstances.
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Now I wonder what the couple's reaction might have been had it instead been two rowdy teenagers or cruel adults perpetrating the action and terrorizing birds out of a park?
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Suspicion is, the couple would have complained to authorities.
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But, because the perpetrators of cruel action wore identifying and authoritarian uniforms, the action was therefore, rendered acceptable.
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Here is the pertinent question to ask:
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Isn't cruelty, cruelty regardless of the victims or the perpetrators?  Are we not talking about actions resulting in pain, distress, torment or death to others?
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An infamous Russian dictator once said, "The death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions, a statistic."
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Unfortunately, that seems true in terms of us being able to "identify" or empathize with victims of injustice, cruelty or tyranny be they animal or human.
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It is easier to visualize and empathize with the pain of one, rather than millions.
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But, that should not discount our roles (if any) in the tyranny of millions.
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Nor should we excuse and accept cruelty because it is committed by someone in a uniform.
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In less than two weeks, millions of us will celebrate a national holiday over the bodies of animals who have been mercilessly treated throughout their short, unnatural lives, often brutalized and cruelly slain for our supposed "celebration" and benefit:
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But, few of us will protest or even think about that.
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A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post ran a story about how new USDA regulations will speed up slaughter lines likely resulting in even more than one million chickens and turkeys being annually boiled alive:
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But, there was barely any outrage over this important news story, as compared to the one of the deranged woman kicking geese in a public park.
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That is because too many of us apparently sanction industrialized abuse of animals and support it with our purchase dollars, whereas virtually no one condones individual animal cruelty that does not immediately benefit us.
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Humans appear to be the only species capable of infinite denial of reality. Non-human animals exhibiting such denial of realities would surely be dead and/or headed for rapid extinction.
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Still, there are small glimpses of hope on the horizon:
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That hope, I personally believe, is in the hands of the photographers, videographers and everyday people who take the time to bring the natural world into the homes of millions via National Geographic documentaries, YouTube videos, undercover videos from factory farms and slaughterhouses, nature blogs and the like.
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For example, this story on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley last night:
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Aside from the breathtaking photographs, its the statement of the photographer at the end of the video that is the most powerful and profound.
From the video:
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"With just 3,200 tigers left in the wild, Winter's become an advocate. His new book will help explain why they're disappearing.
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"'But it goes back to the viewer,''' he said. '"Do you value a tiger walking the face of this earth? And if you do, let's get involved.'"
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Of all Winter's hundreds of thousands of images, an image of a mother and cub brought him to tears, almost asking that very question"  What is the value of tigers walking the face of the earth?"
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And so we too must ask ourselves, "What is the value of the cow in the meadow, or the turkey roosting in a tree or the dog chasing a ball or the ducks swimming in a pond or the goose flying in the sky?"
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An evolved and enlightened world will hopefully one day answer, "They (like us) are value in and unto themselves as they are (like us) one strand in the inexorable and forever fragile web of life."
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The woman viciously kicking at geese in a public park has been arrested and has to account for her crime.  Presumably (unless seriously mentally ill) she will never commit such crime again.
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But, it is all the unlabeled and unidentified crimes against animals everyday that we must truly acknowledge and atone for -- the ones that too often are result of and connected to us either directly or indirectly through blind acceptance of authority, consumer demand and/or purchase dollars.
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If we truly value, we must act to protect, not necessarily by ganging up on those individuals caught committing isolated and egregious acts, but through simple, everyday actions and decisions such as what to wear and what to eat, how to properly treat and care for our animal companions and how do we accept and learn to live peacefully with non-dangerous wildlife in our parks or neighborhoods. 
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We have to once and for all, be willing to let go of our denials and rationalizations and learn respect without prejudice.
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Animals' place on earth was never intended for our industrial adornment, appetites or abuse.
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Like us, animals are simply entities caught up in the delicate web of life and (like us) cherishing that life and forever acting jealousy to guard and protect it, as well as the lives of their offspring.  -- PCA
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Animal Rights -- What Does it Mean? (Guest Commentary)




Photo: A cormorant stretching wings atop the North Gate House in Central Park.
The following was submitted in email from "Doug from California." I am running it as a Guest Commentary as it raises interesting questions regarding some current directions in the Animal Rights movement. Please note that the views expressed solely represent those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect upon nor represent wholly or accurately, the positions of the blog holder. Personal thoughts and/or responses to this essay will be reserved for later blog postings and/or comment.  -- PCA 
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Animal Rights -- What Does it Mean?
by, Doug from California
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I once regarded myself as an Animal Rights person. Now I'm not sure. I'm now aware that "Animal Rights" should be placed within quotation marks and, as a cause, embraced with caution.  The term means wildly different things to different persons, even though many self-describe that way. 
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Such should not surprise. One supposes many catch-phrases for many causes or beliefs attract a diverse and sometimes contradictory constituency who all identify under the same metaphorical umbrella. Think for example, gun rights enthusiasts (support the 2nd amendment but agree with some regulation; for others there is no quarter) or my personal favorite, "Do you believe in God?"  Yes, but I don't know what you mean by that.  Many examples.
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It has become problematic to identify with "Animal Rights" as the term is being recast. The connotations are too numerous and increasingly negative. The cause seems to be in some escalating fashion moving toward the view that relationships between animals and humans are, by themselves, wrong.   Law Professor Gary L. Francione and formidable Animal Rights presences evidently ascribe to this or similar view. 
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Apparently the concept of "abuse," that I oppose and what allowed me to be in favor of Animal Rights, is becoming or has been already morphed into an emphasis on "use" as an equivalent wrong.  Under this view, an animal that is domesticated for any reason (could be pulling a cart, cutting herd animals, guarding a home, sniffing out drugs or bombs, or simply providing companionship) should not exist.  They would be better off never to have been here in the first place. I readily agree that some exploitation of domesticated animals is flat wrong (dog and cock fighting leap to mind) primarily because in addition to being cruel is either purposeless or, worse, designed to inflict pain; in other words it's "abusive." 
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Respectfully though, it is ridiculous to conflate, as has been done, an event like some psychopathic punk luring and then kicking a cat across a parking lot with eating meat on principle, or working with a horse or a dog.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyiSsEzyWWQ&sns=fb
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A premise of this emerging view is the observation that domesticated animals are virtually of human creation; and could not survive independently in the natural world.
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The latter is likely true; the life expectancy of an outdoor cat in my neighborhood, for example, is about two nights (owls, coyotes, foxes).  I doubt, as well however, that an urban human being would do well in the natural world either. (Begs the question "what 'natural world' is in mind here"?  Some pre-human condition?)  It is probably also true that domesticated animals are "virtually of human creation".  Well, so is modern corn and probably almost every plant material we eat and that vegans prefer. Does human involvement in its development make corn an inappropriate element of the ecosystem?  NativeTech: Native American History of Corn  
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It seems this "virtual creation" is better described as evolution rather than something nefarious.  These constituencies have converted an Animal Rights cause into something that when laid bare, seems not at root to be primarily concerned with abuse (although it's opposed on principle) or on animal rights at all; indeed, the apparent end game is the elimination of any semblance of rights (or, in other nomenclature, need for human responsibility) in favor of extinction by attrition.  These animals, apparently, have zero intrinsic worth as creatures of this planet, have outlived their purpose and have no expectation even in survival.  The better view is that animals do have value and worth and so do we humans that are evolved and involved with them.
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What about these observations that also has lost me is that antagonists suppose that the involvement of human beings in the planet's ecosystem constitutes a wrong. That view ignores human/animal history and denies that the two are connected and form relationships. Like it or not, human beings are part of the natural world with all the rights and responsible stewardship that goes with it. 
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Venture to suppose that when early man tossed a slab of deer carcass out of the cave to a wolf, it's doubtful there was an instantaneous domestication event.  And there certainly wasn't servitude. The evolution of wolf to dog took awhile. The wolf obviously kept coming back; later it stayed, and the dog that eventually evolved from those encounters works in one manner or another, maybe sleeps on the couch, but protects the property out of connection, not servitude.
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These relationships are reciprocal, not servile. I'm not arguing this is true of all animals and it's surely not true of all animal owners; but it's evidently true of properly cared-for dogs, horses, maybe cats; and that's whether they are "working" or not.  (Granting that the history of the modern horse probably is less romantic and more brutish, they are here now and when properly cared for, exhibit similar affection and connection to their humans as do dogs. That reality cannot reasonably be described as "morally wrong" in my humble opinion).

The Animal Rights cause appears to be presently dominated by a view that human beings involvement with animals is morally wrong, other than on a level of what, photography? The problem this creates for me and I imagine others is how to pursue actually achievable reforms where necessary or desirable (e.g eating less meat, as opposed necessarily to none; support small scale farming, as opposed to factory practices); legal remedies in cases of actual abuse (e.g. regulate against abuse of, say, carriage horses, as opposed to banning the activity entirely) without being painted with an "Animal Rights" brush that in some cases, lacks credibility. 

So, yes I believe in God, but before running with that admission in either extreme direction, a dialogue is in order to ensure we understand each other. 

It seems serious dialogue is also needed on the precise meaning and definition of Animal Rights. 

-- Doug from the Gold Country, California
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