Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seriously? Just $270,000?

I was 9 when I made the decision to never, ever attend a circus.

I grew up in Winter Park, FL, and the summer I turned 9, Momma took me to watch the Ringling Bros. circus come through town then, as a birthday present, we were going to go to the circus. 

August in Orlando is about as hot and humid as it gets. We were standing with the crowd lining the sidewalks of downtown. My mother loved elephants, and for that reason, so did I, even more than the cowgirl in me loved horses. I remember how excited I was to see them lumbering down the street--legs in shackles, trunks swaying. I didn't see it happen; the elephants had passed us when one of them collapsed in the heat and died, but we were part of the crowd that surged down the street to see what happened.

Then Mom and I went home.

Lately, this adorable video has been circulation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od7U9GhZg_g
I've watched 2 or 3 times, but since yesterday, my eye has been drawn to the behavior of the adult elephant behind the bars just to the left of babies.

Why yesterday? I received this from a friend. It's a message from PETA.

"I'm thrilled to tell you about a historic breakthrough. It has to do with elephants who are beaten with bullhooks by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Feld Entertainment, Inc., parent company of Ringling, will now pay a penalty of $270,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act dating from June 2007 to August 2011. It is the biggest penalty paid by a circus in the history of the United States."

And this: http://www.ringlingbeatsanimals.com/bound-babies.asp?utm_campaign=1111%20Ringling%20Bound%20Babies&utm_source=PETA%20E-Mail&utm_medium=Alert
Ringling Bros. personnel training a baby elephant
  If you can't stand watching the slide show, at least let these 3 pictures infuriate you enough to send this to everyone you know, post it on your Facebook page, whatever you can do to stop your friends from every spending a dime to see a circus.

Seriously? Only $270,000? Let's really hurt them.

It took one young woman closing her account and circulating a petition to back Bank of America down from raising ATM fees. Surely we, if we send this to everyone we know, can break the back of Ringling Bros. circus. 
Training a baby elephant to sit on a stool

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lost and Found

On Sunday morning, my Yellow-naped Amazon parrot started her warning grunt, which means she sees something in the yard: a deer munching my hydrangeas, or the neighbors riding by on their horses. Ocassionally, it's been an escaped cow or two on the road, once a bear, once a mountain lion. Her alarm always alarms the cats. They jump up on the back of the couch or a table for a better view. This time, two of them shot out the cat-door, taking them straight into whatever danger lurked. The third cat crawled under my desk and up into a drawer. The fourth is 19. She slept on. Such a panicky reaction usually means a stray dog, which could really be trouble to the fools who fled outside.

However . . .

Found dog look-alike
I don't have a dog, but before the day ended, I was truly tempted. The chihuahua was wet, cold, and terrified, but hungry enough that I quite easily lured him into the house with cat food. I gave him a little dish of food and called the Humane Society. We have a 'no-kill' shelter here on the Coast, but they weren't open, and the message said I would have to call the Sheriff. Our local Animal Control facility closed down a couple of years ago in response to budget cuts. Now all animals picked up as strays are taken to the Sheriff's department to be transported to the county animal control facility in Ukiah. This was not a well-cared for dog. He was not neutered, wouldn't let me touch him, had ticks and fleas, and a ruptured boil on his side. I called my friends at Second Chance Rescue instead.

Second Chance Rescue began in 2003. At that time there were very few small dogs available for adoption on the Mendocino Coast, but more and more older people were moving here to retire; people who would love the company of a small dog. In the San Francisco Bay Area there were many small dogs looking for good homes but stuck in overcrowded animal shelters. Jeanne Gocker and Steve Sapontzis started bringing the supply to meet the demand. They brought older, small dogs and found homes for them on the coast with folks who wanted a mature little dog. In four years they found homes for over 100 dogs.

I asked Steve to give me more background for this post.

"In the 1990s, even before we were doing the rescue work, we started bringing up hundreds and thousands of pounds of dry dog food to the Ft. Bragg Food Bank to distribute to its dog-owning clients. We are continuing this program, especially in these tough economic times, when many folks can barely afford to feed themselves, much less their pets. The Food Bank does a great job of distributing the 250 pounds of food we bring every week. In 2010, we started also supplying food to Ft. Bragg’s Lighthouse Church and Willits’ St. Anthony’s Church to give to dog owners at their free kitchens.

In 2007, working with the Mendocino County spay/neuter clinics, we started providing free canine spay/neuter for coast dog owners trying to make it on a limited income. In 2009, we added the Mendocino Animal Hospital in Ukiah to this program. Preventing the birth of puppies for whom there are no homes is crucial to reducing animal suffering.

In 2008 we began helping low-income coast pet owners with vet bills for their pets. We can’t always afford to pay the whole bill, but we can provide enough (maximum of $100) for folks to get their sick or injured pets seen by a veterinarian and to get treatment started.

In November 2008, we started providing free Frontline flea/tick treatments for the dogs of clients of the Food Bank. We continue to do this, and are up to 140 dogs monthly. We now provide free collars, leashes, and sweaters, treats and toys for those dogs. October 2010 was our first annual free shots and microchips clinic at the Food Bank."

You can guess why I called Steve and Jeanne. I caught them as they were headed out the door to go to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving. Jeanne called me back ten minutes later, and had found someone willing to foster my little stray for a couple of weeks. All I had to do was catch him.

Nothing to do with this story, just too cute not to include.

I didn't want to keep feeding him for fear he'd fill up and I'd never catch him, but I needed to get him into a confined space, small enough to get a leash on him. I got a package of 'pill-pockets' (which never tricked a single one of my cats) and went to sit on the floor of my tiny bathroom. He was way to smart for that and won't cross the doorframe. After an hour or so, I gave up and went back to work on the computer. Desperate for kindness and companionship, he came and sat by my chair, and eventually lay down with his chin on his paws, his eyes rolled up to watch to me. But even moving my hand from the keyboard to the mouse was enough to cause him to leap up and run into the other room.

I finally called the woman whose number Jeanne had given me, to let her I would be there. Someday. I didn't tell her the trouble I was having, for fear she'd bail on the deal.

He had a habit of running in front of me, and glancing nervously over his shoulder. It eventually occured to me that I could corral him a room at a time. When he ran into my office, I closed the door behind us. He darted into the bathroom, where I manage to get the door closed before he could get back out again. I slipped the leash on him, and began to pet him, expecting him to growl or snap at me. Instead, he trembled and cowered, as if expecting to be beaten. It was really heartbreaking.

His foster mom and dad have two other Second Chance rescue dogs, a cat and a parakeet. We named him Sam, and from the report I got yesterday, he's doing fine.


Second Chance is a project of Hayward Friends of Animals Humane Society.  HFoA was founded by Jeanne Gocker and Steve Sapontzis (author of Morals, Reason, and Animals) in 1985 and has worked throughout northern California to help animals. They are a tax-exempt, not-for-profit, public-benefit, 501(c)3 charity. We are an entirely volunteer organization, even our office space and most of our administrative expenses are donated, so that all the funds we receive can be devoted to helping animals. All donations to Second Chance qualify as itemized deductions on both your federal and state individual income taxes. And all funds donated to Second Chance are spent to help animals on the Mendocino Coast. We welcome your help and support."

Steve Sapontzis is emeritus professor of philosophy at CalState, East Bay. He is the author of Morals, Reason, and Animals, and numberous scholarly articles and the editor of Food for Thought: The Debate over eating Meat. Steve's most recent book is Subjective Morals. They are doing a little fundraising for Second Chance Rescue with the book, so instead of ordering from the publisher, folks can get an autographed copy by sending a donation of $30 (or more, of course) to Second Chance, P. O. Box 2622, Ft. Bragg, CA  95437.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

In honor of a special Chimpanzee

There would be no Hurt Go Happy (American Sign Language for the happily the pain has ended) if it weren't for Patti Regan and her Center for Great Apes. When I was researching HGH, Patti and her small group of chimps and orangutans lived just down the street from my house in Miami. When we met in 1988, I was stumbling around trying to become a writer, and had this sketchy idea for a book about a sign language using chimpanzee and a deaf child. Patti took me seriously and let me hang out with her and her chimps, probably to the point of exhaustion. The Center for Great Apes is now located in central Florida and her work of giving a home to chimps and orangutans from the entertainment industry and unwanted pets, goes on.

There is a line in Hurt Go Happy where Joey turns to the lab tech at the research facility, after she rescues Sukari, and says, "Genetically chimps are over 98% human; that's more human than you people are."

Here's Sam's story which only goes to prove that point.

 Chimpanzee Sam, a dignified elder
Sam at Christmas time
Once again we have the very sad news of the loss of a dear chimpanzee, our 43-year-old Sam.  He was found early in the morning this past Babies tickle SamMonday curled up in his nest of blankets with his head on a pillow and all of his covers pulled up over his shoulders.  He had gone to bed the night before and appeared to have died peacefully in his sleep.
A longtime friend of Bubbles (Michael Jackson's chimp)(my note), both in California and in Florida, Sam also lived for Sam in aerial trailwayyears in a group with his companion Oopsie and her daughters Boma and Jessie and her grandbabies Kodua and Bobby-Stryker.  Sam was a wild-caught chimpanzee born in Africa around 1968 and was captured for the exotic pet trade.  He spent his first years as a pet in Los Angeles and then later lived at a Hollywood compound.  He never sired any offspring, but was a guardian and playmate to many young entertainment chimp babies who were kept with him for socialization.
Sam arrived at our sanctuary seven years ago when his owner/trainer decided to stop working great apes in the entertainment industry.  Sam was a gentle and sweet male who enjoyed sitting at the top of Sam tickles Koduahis 40-foot high tower in the dome gazing out over the orange groves surrounding the sanctuary.  He loved to play with the kids, Kodua and Stryker, having daily games of "tickle and chase" with them.  But most of the time Sam, Oopsie, and Bubbles would sit for hours high-up in the cupola relaxing with each other.  Sam was protective of his group (especially 37-year-old Oopsie), and he was fatherly and playful with the Sam and Bobby Strykeryoungsters. Sam was our dear old boy...after Marco, the oldest ape here.
On his last day, Sam spent the entire time with his family - being groomed by Oopsie, Boma, and Jessie and tickling and grooming little Stryker and Kodua.  He ate well and seemed to be content to lounge around with them in the aerial chute system.
Chimpanzees in the wild have been observed gathering around a deceased group member for final inspection and farewells.  So, Monday morning, after his group went outside, our caregivers carried Sam's body down to the floor and first let Oopsie alone back inside the nighthouse. She went to Sam, pulled the blanket off of him, and very gently lifted each leg and arm as if trying to wake him up. She patted him and groomed him for awhile, and she sat next to him for about 20 minutes. Then Oopsie got up and walked back outside. We then let the rest of Oopsie, Sam, Kodua, Jessie, Stryker and Bomahis group back inside to see him. The two chimp kids poked at Sam and seemed confused, but Oopsie pulled them away. Boma and Jessie very gently touched Sam and sat near him. They all stayed with him about 45 minutes and then eventually left the nighthouse together appearing to have had thier closure.  
It's been difficult for our staff to experience this sadness once again so soon after Grub's untimely passing, but we are grateful that Sam had some happy days before he died and that he went so peacefully in his sleep. He was a sweetheart, and he will be greatly missed...not only by his chimp group, but also by the humans who loved him.
  If you would like to make a contribution in memory of Sam, please click here. 
Your donation will help continue the care for Oopsie and her chimp family and is always appreciated.
Sam, 1968-2011 
Center for Orangutan & Chimpanzee Conservation, Inc. P.O.Box 488 Wauchula, FL 33873 | A not-for-profit organization

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Where did it go?

North Pacific Giant Octopus

When I was 15 my parents took me and my sister on our first vacation ever. We lived in Winter Park, north of Orlando. The vacation was to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I remember two things about that vacation: my sister having a shrimp cocktail and a hot fudge sundae at the Columbia restaurant in Ibor City then throwing up on the drive home. The other was finding a baby octopus on the floor of the car. The baby octopus looked like a tiny mobile clump of wet sand. It came out of a what we thought was an empty conch shell we'd picked up on the beach, and would never have noticed it if it hadn't crawled out (in search of water, no doubt) and across my mother's foot.

 It died, of course.

All my life--to that point--I'd collected small dead animals and kept them in jars of alcohol. I had quite a collection by the time the baby octopus was added: snakes, lizards, baby turtles, newly hatched birds. This rather morbid curiosity about animals eventually led me to pursue a degree in biology where it was a perfectly acceptable practice to collect and preserve dead things.
I don't know what happened to my dead animal collection. I'm sure my mother put ever jar in the trash the same day I moved to Miami, but since finding that baby octopus, I've loved them. Yesterday, someone sent me this amazing video. As they say, It's awesome!

Octopus opening a jar with a screw lid
From Wikipedia
"Octopuses are highly  intelligent, likely more so than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they show evidence of a memory system that can store both short- and long-term memory. It is not known precisely what contribution learning makes to adult octopus behavior.
In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guest Blog: Ronnie James with a little help from the Cornell Lab, and Google images, and yours truly

You might mistake this hawk for an owl

For me, the Northern harrier, formerly known as the Marsh hawk, was always the easiest hawk to identify. It forages by flying low and slow over open marshes, meadows, prairies, pastures and grasslands. If the manner in which it forages isn't a dead giveaway, wait for the moment it rocks one way or the other and you see that white rump patch. Bingo.

The northern harrier is also the only sexually dimorphic hawk I can think of. Dimorphic? Oh, please. It means the sexes don't look alike, except for matching white rump patches. In this case the male is pale gray and the female is a mottled brown. Dimorphism in birds often means that the males have multiple partners, and lo and behold, that is true of this hawk. The male may have more than one mate, possibly as many as five in a season.

Why are so many female birds drab and homely? Mostly because they need to be inconspicuous, especially if your nest is open and exposed. As you might have guessed by the female northern harrier's coloration, they nest on the ground.

So how come this hawk looks like an owl? For the same reason owls look like owls. They rely on hearing to find prey (mostly mice and other rodents) and so does this hawk. The stiff feathers of the facial disk direct sound to their ears.


Two baby harriers in their ground nest

Ronnie James

In July, someone noticed a fledgling Harrier standing in a meadow eating a dead rodent held tightly in its talons. The young bird was so intent on its meal, a man walked up, grabbed it and stuffed it into a box he had with him. The man suffered a few nasty puncture wounds to his hand in the process. Then he brought it to me because he was sure there was something wrong with it since it did not fly away when he approached. 

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the bird. Harriers nest and feed on the ground and this one was a juvenile, intent on his meal, which he refused to give it up--even to a giant predator. 

I fed it for a few days, then volunteer Elly and I took it back to the meadow where it was found and released it. It stood on the ground for a long time. Just as we turned to leave, we heard a distant cry. The young hawk replied, and as we watched, it rose into the air and was last seen flying behind its mother screeching and begging for food.  It’s so rewarding when something works right. We follow rehab protocol, but never know if it really works. In my 30 years of releases, this was the first time I’ve actually witnessed a reunion.

Ronnie James,
Woodlands Wildlife
Author of Touching Wings, Touching Wild

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Snakes in the Everglades: More than you might want to know.

 Lost in the River of Grass is based entirely on the true story of an ill-fated day-trip of my husband's into the Everglades. In the mid 1960's he took his then girlfriend for a ride in his airboat, which he  inexplicably (unless you know my husband) washed first. He removed the stern plug so the soapy water would run out, and put the plug in his jacket pocket. That's the last thought he gave to that plug until well after he and his girlfriend had been at one of the hunting camps in the 'glades for some time. By then it was too late. The airboat was right where they'd left it but only the propeller cage showed above the surface of the water.

But that's not what this is about. For Doug and his girlfriend the 3-day walk out of the Everglades was perilous enough, but things have changed. People have been releasing their over-grown pet pythons into the Everglades and now their numbers have reached almost inestimable numbers. Just last week the Miami Herald  ran a story about a 15.2 foot python eating a 76 pound deer. 

Oscar Owre, the most wonderful mentor I've ever had, taught ornithology at the University of Miami. He took a bunch of us on a hike into the Everglades that I'll never forget. (If you read my book, you won't either. So much of what I included was from that experience.) So knowing that there could be thousands upon thousands of pythons out there killing native species really breaks my heart.

Since my version of Doug's story takes place in the modern day, I included a fictionalized scene of a python eating an alligator. But it's only fiction because my characters are. It's happens all the time. And of course, the danger is not just for the native species that are now part of the python's diet. The Miami Herald article reminds parents to keep children away from "grassy thickets and water." I grew up in Florida. I lived in the water. What a tragedy this is.
Albino Burmese python
At my reading at Books and Books in Coral Gables, a young man from the Miami Museum of Science brought an albino Burmese python. It was beautiful as you can see. I'm a huge fan of snakes. There's no ick-factor for me. In fact one of my going away presents when I move from Miami to northern California was an Albion red rat snake. Her name was Rosie, and she grew to be 5 feet long and lived 9 years. I used her in educational programs that I did in the local schools. She was never a danger to anyone or anything.

Rosie look-alike

Here are a couple videos you might enjoy, or NOT.

This link is a video of an alligator and python.

This video is a excellent, but may be a little graphic if you aren't into snakes AT ALL.

I hope this isn't a before shot

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guest Blog from Tanya & Mason

Needles and Genny

My friend, Tanya, and her husband, are a mini unit of Greyhound Rescue.  A visit to her house and you know how that mechanical rabbit feels.

When I first met Tanya 12 years ago, she had Sable and Genny (and Needles--their landlord.) All the greyhounds then and since have been rescues from the dog racing industry, available either because they weren't fast enough to ever race, or had been retired. Greyhounds usually retire around the age 2 or 3. There are many greyhound adoption groups nationwide, and they are meeting with success (especially in Tanya's household.)

Any large-scale animal breeding operation for profit is a tragedy. It doesn't matter if it's dogs, horses, rabbits, or kittens. It used to be standard practice to "shoot and shovel and shut up," but because the dog racing industry is participating in the relocation (re-homing, re-cycling) of adult greyhounds, many have a good chance of finding a home. Their litter mates may not have been so lucky.  GR

Sable and his lamb

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to tell you all about my new little brother.  As some of you know, my big brother, Sable, died just before Christmas and I’ve been very sad. I don’t like being an only dog. Sure, you get all the attention, but it doesn’t work if you aren’t winning and the cat doesn’t count. My humans have also been very sad and I thought they needed a distraction.

We tried to drive to the Greyhound Friends for Life place in Auburn (near Sacramento) on New Year’s Day but my female human’s truck got sick so we turned around. I thought it was sort of silly to drive all day and not get anywhere but back home. Sure, we greyhounds run in circles but there are cookies at the end. We drove back up on Thursday in my male human’s car. 

There were lots of dogs at the Greyhound Friends for Life shelter. I liked them all but some of them couldn’t be my new friends because they chase cats. I understand completely but Needles wouldn’t have if I’d brought one of them home. I visited with a pretty boy named Tango but he was so scared of my humans that it sort of scared me so I didn’t take him home. Susie didn’t like me – obviously a female dog with no taste. Foxy was really pretty and sweet and liked me but liked my humans more and that made me jealous so I didn’t bring her home either. Then this 2 year old black dog came out and told me that he really needed me to be his big brother. I had to gently remind him who was in charge when he got too close to my humans but he was appropriately respectful so we ran and played. I didn’t have to bite him once. It’s the first time I’ve ever been the alpha dog. Sable was a firm but gentle big brother to me, so I know what to do.

This dog was named U da Boi by his track people. We will all try to forget that as soon as possible.  Dr. Heather Weir (the very nice vet who brought me to my humans) rescued him from his training farm in Colorado and called him Speedy. Well, that didn’t make sense. If he was, then he’d be racing now wouldn’t he?  Besides, he’s not speedier than me. After spending a day with him my female human said that he was obviously a Moose. Since he didn’t know his name yet anyway, we renamed him. Moose is it, and a Moose he is.

My humans almost called him “Sable’s Revenge” because when we go outside, he follows me everywhere just like I did Sable. But unlike Sable, I sort of like it. I’m taller than him so I pee on his head which is fun.

Moose has had a few “issues." First of all, he’d never ridden in a car before. That scared him a lot and he tried to climb over the barrier into my Mom’s lap while we were on I80 at rush hour. This was sort of exciting. I tried to tell him it is just like running fast without working so hard but he wasn’t listening. A big storm hit as we were driving home and though we made it ok, the power went out and big trees fell down in our yard so our humans were outside a lot trying to fix things and he cried when they went out without him. He had to learn that the cat is not a squeaky toy. He’s also scared of thunderstorms. He tries to steal my food – actually he tries to steal everyone’s food – thus his name.  I don’t care if he steals my food but I’m NOT sharing the couch. He’s a little shorter than me, but is a bit bulkier and he’s really strong. He pushes through when he wants to go somewhere even if my Mom says “NO”. Thus his name again. Of course he doesn’t know his name yet and just looks puzzled when someone says “NO” as though it couldn’t possibly be him they are talking to but I’ve told him that the youngest dog gets blamed for everything. He doesn’t know much actually which is sort of fun because I get to teach him. This worries my humans for some reason.   

My mom had the hardest adjustment but she’s coming around. She really misses Sable and it was hard at first because Moose is black, too. I was sorry for that but he picked me and dogs don’t see colors. We all still miss Sable horribly and Moose is certainly not a replacement. However, when he’s following me around and I’m having to be patient with him, I imagine Sable looking down at us from the Rainbow Bridge laughing his tail off.

Mason, the author

Kopi, the most recent addition

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guest Blogger: Ronnie James "Not so Wild Goose Chase"

I've known Ronnie James for 20 years. When I was president of our local Audubon chapter, I would get frantic calls almost daily from people about injured birds. It's how I got into doing a bit of rehab myself, especially baby birds. For hawks, owls, pelicans, turkey vultures and baby mammals, I'd call Ronnie. She has a million stories, many of which are in her wonderful book, Touching Wings, Touching Wild.

Ronnie James has been doing wildlife rehab for 30 years. In
1987 she followed her heart to Mendocino and Woodlands Wildlife grew out of a visit to the local veterinary office to look for cat food. She holds both State and Federal licenses to posses wildlife and teach Environmental Education programs, and her clients range from river otters and fawns to eagles and chickadees. Her recently published book Touching Wings, Touching Wild about her wildlife rehab adventures in Mendocino is available from http://www.touchingwings.com/. Proceeds go to rescue, heal and release injured or orphaned wildlife.

NOT SO WILD GOOSE CHASE:  I began receiving reports of a tame Canada goose at Van Damme State Park. It was begging for food and flying behind bicyclists and cars as they drove along Highway One--a clear sign that this goose was imprinted, having bonded with the first living thing it saw as it emerged from the egg--in this case a human. It has since grown up not knowing it was a goose. This is a very sad state for any wildlife because it will never know its own kind,  never breed, and it will not know what its wild diet should be, so can never successfully feed itself.

The goose eventually flew north into Mendocino. The people loved it, but its feet were getting bloodied from landing on the asphalt, plus flying  up and down the streets behind cars is really not a safe occupation. It was also getting pretty hungry. Someone finally caught it and brought it to me. I’ve given it a swimming pool and its feet are healed. My guess is that someone raised it as a pet, then discovered that it was expensive to feed and it left pounds of slippery goose droppings around, so they let it loose at the state park thinking it would survive on its own.

I’ve networked with the specialists and learned that if a baby Canada goose is kept confined with wild Canada geese it will grow up with dual imprinting: human and goose, and can be released. But this is an adult, and will not adapt. I’m currently searching for a permanent (confined) situation for the goose. I write this to encourage all of us who find wildlife to please contact a local veterinarian to get a referral or get on the internet and find your closest rehab facility. The good news for this goose, is that it is fat, happy, and alive.