Sunday, June 16, 2013

Disasters – Another Perspective

Whether it is war, fires, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods or chemical plant explosions, it seems that the numbers of disasters are increasing.  And the scope of these disasters seem to greater than they have been in the past.  Sometimes there is advance warning, allowing people to escape, other times there isn’t time.  The news reports are generally the same:  how many buildings or homes were destroyed, how many people were injured or killed.  Reports on the complete toll documented.  I’m talking about the non-human animals who are injured, lost or killed.  Even when there is some warning for the animals (smoke in the air), the animals can’t outrun the fire nor can they find shelter from the storm.  Floods, tornadoes and hurricanes don’t provide any warnings in advance for the dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, horses or wildlife.  Then there are those in captivity, at rescue facilities, zoos and aquaria.  

tiger in Bagdad Zoo

Some of you will find fault with my concern for the non-human animals.  I will admit that I have a heightened concern for them.  For some, they didn’t choose where they live – they are in that location because of humans.  For native wildlife, this is their home.  This is where their food supply is, where their dens and nests are.  They can’t hop in a car and drive to the nearest evacuation shelter or hotel/motel.  More often than not, animals of any kind aren’t welcome in evacuation shelters or hotels/motels.

How many of you even give a thought to the turtles, lizards, flightless birds and insects in the path of these monstrous disasters?  What about the caged animals, trapped in those cages who can’t escape.  Evacuating captive animals – rescued dogs and cats or those wild animals on display for our entertainment in zoos and aquaria?  What about the dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, gerbils and other so-called pets left behind when their human families flee?  Sometimes their stories are told, after the disaster has passed, but more often than not their fear, panic, pain and deaths go unreported, unnoticed.  I still remember my horror and outrage at the time of the great Yellowstone fires when the reports said “there were no fatalities.”  Wildlife managers even said that the wildlife fled the fires.  No one with an ounce of intelligence could possibly believe that every or even most animals could escape.  All we have to think about is the natural behavior of animals when danger is sensed.  Bear cubs react to a threat by climbing the nearest tree.  Baby birds, not yet fledged, are trapped in their nests.  Just how fast can a turtle or a lizard run?  Can they outrun a raging forest fire?  I think not.  Others will retreat to their underground dens, which during a flood, serves as a death trap.  I realize that it isn’t possible to save wildlife in advance of an approaching disaster, but I rail against the insensitivity of reports of “no deaths” in the aftermath.  It isn’t simply human life that has value.  

Adding to my anger is that we humans have left little wild habitat for wildlife. We continue to encroach upon what little remains.  We give little or no thought when more wild lands are gobbled up to build more and more homes.  We further insure the demise of native species by fragmenting their native habitat, limiting the number who can find enough food, sufficient territory and mates.  The fewer the individuals of a species, the more limited is the gene pool.  The Florida panther is a perfect example of a species in decline because of how all of the above have guaranteed the doom of this species found only in Florida.  The male panthers have damaged hearts and usually only one descended testicle, limiting their ability to breed.  These were regressive genes, but due to limited access to mates has made these genetic abnormalities dominant instead of regressive and therefore of rare occurrence.  

While I sympathize with those families who have lost their homes, their possessions and family members and friends they, at least, have options.  Picking up the pieces and starting over are traumatic and difficult.  However, they had access to insurance, federal and state aid, along with support from many non-profits to help them get their lives back together.  While there are more and more non-profits and individuals who respond to help the lost and displaced non-human animals (mostly domesticated animals), what about the wild animals who survived?  They have no shelters or food sources since all of these have been destroyed in the disaster.  If they survive many, if not most, will either starve or end up as food for predators.  There is no place for them to go – they don’t have the option of moving in with family – their habitat, the only home they have ever known is utterly destroyed.  

I hope as you follow the news about the latest disaster you will include in your concern the non-human animals whose lives have been impacted as well.   Expand your sphere of compassion to include all of the lives damaged or ended, all too often due to human greed, stupidity or selfishness.  There are always innocent lives not counted in the death toll.

For further reading about non-human animals and disasters, check out these links:

The Bagdad Zoo and the death of Lawrence Anthony, who helped save the remaining animals following the American invasion of Iraq.  And the NPR interview.

And The Eco Cat Lady Speaks asks on her blog - What Would You Save?

And some animal rescue sites:

After Japan's tsunami, the rescue continues:

Black Forest fire links here:


Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Happy Ending

Most of the time I am a pessimistic cynic.  Although I voraciously read fairy tales as a child, as I aged I have found them to be a horrid influence and should be avoided at all costs.  Happily Ever After?  Maybe sometimes, but certainly not for the vast majority of people.  So, why the title of this post in light of how I view the idea of a happy ending? 

As regular readers and friends, you know that I've been involved in animal rescue for a number of years, although not so much any longer.  That is primarily because I generally don't do adoptions and those cats and dogs I've rescued have remained with me.  At my age and state of physical and financial health, I just can't take on any more.  I chose not to do adoptions because I have seen all too often the animals who have been tossed aside as if they were nothing more than trash.  We humans can be a cruel and uncaring species and I can't trust that a stranger will provide a permanent, loving home for a rescued animal.  Only once in the few times that I re-homed an animal did I allow a cat to go into the home of someone I did not know. 

This is the story of one very special kitty that went to a couple that I know well and then she subsequently was re-homed.  I could never have imagined just how much she would be loved. 

Several years ago I was at my veterinarian's office with one of my animals - I don't remember which one or even the purpose of the visit.  Craig, one of the vet techs asked if I could help to find a home for a cat that had been brought to them by the owner for euthanasia.  Craig, for all the years that I had known him, had never shown an interest in cats but when he brought her into the exam room, it was obvious that he felt she was special. 

First let me say that this photo does not do her justice.  I have seen, and fallen in love, with many, many kittens and cats over the years, but when Craig brought her into the exam room she lit up the room.  There was something really special about her.  Even now, years later, when I think of her it seems as if there was a glow or aura surrounding her.  Once seen, I knew I had to find her a home.  There was absolutely no doubt in my mind.  I left the office with her in a carrier. 

Dharma's life didn't start out well.  She was apparently born with a neurological problem.  It wasn't as severe as I've seen in other cats, but she was wobbly when she walked and she couldn't stand up and eat from a bowl.  Her original owner brought her to my vet to have her declawed.  To this day I don't understand why he would do that to a cat with her problems.  (For the record, declawing should rarely be done).  Not only did she need her claws for some semblance of stabilization but anesthesia could worsen her condition.  Soon after the surgery, her owner brought her back to the vet, saying she could no longer "handle" her and wanted her KILLED (my word, not hers, but euthanasia does not apply here).  The fact that my vet didn't kill her still amazes me because it's the only case that I'm aware of that he tried to re-home an animal. 

It's been my experience that cats with disabilities don't realize that they aren't "normal."  Whatever disability they have, is normal for them and they continue to carry on.  I kept Dharma (well, this actually was the new name she would be given by the couple who adopted her from me) overnight.  She had a method she had developed to eat dry cat food.  She would use her paw to get the food out of the bowl.  Then she would stretch out one front paw while pushing the food with her other front paw into the outstretched one.  Then she would eat the food trapped against her outstretched leg.  Although it took her longer to get where she was going, she went wherever she wanted to go, including into the litter boxes. 

I brought her into my office the next day in hopes someone would fall in love with er and take her home.  Joe took one look at her and was smitten.  His girl friend, Eli, would be coming in to work in the afternoon.  He said, "I don't care what Eli says, she's going home with us."  Well, Eli arrived, took one look at Dharma and melted too.  I was thrilled because I knew both of them loved their cats dearly. 

As the days passed, the two of them fell even more deeply in love with her.  She got along great with their other two cats, Pudge and Root.  They named her Dharma.  Eli is an old soul in a young woman.  She's a fan of the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan.  Other than that she and I have very similar taste in music (the 60s).  Joe's sister visited them and proclaimed she was going to take Dharma, because she, too, had fallen in love with her.  Then Joe's parents - both his mother and father - fell head over heels for her.  Within the year, Dharma had become the darling of Joe's parents and moved in with them. 

Over the years, Eli would tell me how pampered Dharma was.  Joe's parents got stairs for her so she could get onto the bed.  And, no doubt because of the love lavished on her, her instability lessened over time.  All of them moved to California just over a year ago and Dharma is esconced as the princess she really is.  Although Dharma's original owner did a horrible thing by rejecting her, she also made it possible for this kitty to find the home she truly deserved, where she is honestly cherished.  That's something I wish for each and every cat and dog on the planet.  A chance - whether it's a first, second or even third chance,  to live in a home where they are loved and given the care they deserve. 

The above are some photos Eli sent me of Dharma with her "mom & dad" in California.  Dharma likes to sunbathe on their patio by the pool.  They've installed fencing around the pool to insure Dharma is safe.  And she is supervised at all times -

I can't express how grateful I am to Eli, Joe and his parents for taking this wonderful cat into their lives and cherishing her.  If I've served no other purpose here on earth, this one act makes my time here worthwhile.  Sometimes there really is a happy ending.