An open apology to Limba, our beloved elephant.

Dearest Limba, the world owes you an apology.

I am sorry for your life of servitude and loneliness.

I am sorry you were taken from your precious Vietnamese family in 1964, robbed of your tribe (your mother and father, sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles), robbed of your culture, and the warmth of the native country you should have lived your life in.

I am so very sorry for the fifty plus years you ended up living in Canada — a country known for its weak animal protection laws. I deeply regret the reality of your small pen, the insufficient space, your inability to roam freely, and the bitter cold.

I’d like to apologize for the countless performances and tricks you had to do — tricks that were unnatural to you and your physiology — and for the fact that you were forced to endure loud music and all the vibrations of the crowds that you were naturally so sensitive to.

I am sorry for the bullhooks and chains that are part of the captive elephant’s reality. It has been so saddening to read of the anger of your early years and to see what appears to be the learned helplessness you exhibited in your final years.

I am sorry for the life-long humiliation you endured. Like the time you were painted pink and yellow, and made walk down a street in Montreal as a gag. And all the Christmases where you were dressed in silly Santa outfits, and reduced to a sad spectacle in the name of so-called entertainment.

I was sorry to read reports on public days where you obsessively opened and closed your mouth, demonstrating at the most, stress, and at the very least, boredom. I profoundly apologize for the litter and cigarette butts you reportedly ate when you were given the chance to explore public areas. I am sorry your eyes, ears and trunk were almost always turned downwards.

I am sorry you were robbed of your own kind. I am sorry you lived an unnatural life, were stuffed into transports, and shunted from location to location, probably stressed and afraid.

And I am most sorry no one ever saw fit to reward you for all your hard work and incredible compliance by releasing you to one of the southern sanctuaries that were willing to welcome you.

Dearest Limba, the world owes you an apology, sadly, one that you will never get.

Does it help you to know that thousands of Canadians, and even more international folk, advocated for you? That there were 2,500 “likes” alone for one call for your liberation? That year over year demonstrators showed up with flowers, candles, healing messages and intentions for you? Does it help to know that newspapers wrote articles bringing your plight to the attention of the masses? That a nearby town stepped up and banned your being used as entertainment within their town limits? That your name and plight were known around the world?

No. But it helps us, those you’ve left behind.

Animal advocates worldwide are grieving you girl. We will forever remember you.

We loved you. We saw you. We are so very sorry. We tried.SweetLimba

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Giving Thanks for One Precious Canadian Life

Three weeks ago, a small miracle took place in Hay River, Northwest Territories: Loki, a semi-feral northern Canadian dog was brought into safety just short of the September 30th deadline to get him “off the streets” …i.e., shoot him. As we celebrate this particular Thanksgiving, I am deeply grateful to all who went to such lengths to save his precious life.

In 2010 a local puppy mill was raided. 23 dogs were seized by the Town. Only one survived: Loki – because he bolted and ran during transfer. The other 22, to our knowledge, no longer exist.

LokiAfter bolting to safety, Loki roamed the Town’s streets for three years.  One might ask what’s safe about living outdoors in the Northwest Territories without the benefit of parents teaching you to fend for yourself, nor extended family to protect you. On his own, Loki’s instincts kicked in. Thankfully, also, a very caring local woman had eyes out for him: Bonnie Dawson.

Bonnie is an advocate whose compassion and pro-action towards animals in need knows no bounds. Bonnie kept watch over Loki, going out every day to scout for, and feed him. Month over month, she would ensure that Loki was alive, and that he was anchored to her in any way possible. Like all rescuers in situations with animals in peril, at any given point over that long-suffering time, Bonnie experienced heartache and joy, despair and hope, fear and comfort, desperation and resolve.

As the seasons rolled on, local and regional authorities had been warning Bonnie that Loki could not be left to stray indefinitely. Two efforts to “dart” Loki by a wildlife officer proved unsuccessful.

Bonnie continued to fight for the welfare of northern dogs and had even worked to amend the Dog Act in the Territories.  Undeterred, she reached out for help from rescue networks. As her blogs extended into the southern Canadian and international communities, some 9000+ advocates signed on to follow the story: “Friends of Loki – Sole Survivor” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-LOKI-Sole-Survivor/188340937903082

The situation came to a head this summer when Town officials decided they’d had enough. People were expressing a pervasive fear about this “lone-wolf” roaming the streets, who might aggress? Who knows why. He had never shown any aggression whatsoever. In fact, Loki had pretty well made friends with every off-tether dog in the entire community, often showing up with one of his “collared” pals for supper. Being fed regularly, he was not likely to kill for food. Realistically, unless Loki was aggressed and had to defend himself, chances are he wouldn’t. But there’s no changing old ways and dated perceptions. And not being supporters of spay/neuter programs, indeed, not even a local vet in situ, roaming dogs sadly plague our northern towns. The usual solution is to shoot them in the street. A very painful death.

The Town of Hay River was inundated with pleas to spare this innocent dog. Hundreds of emails brought greater attention and resources, including funds for a fenced-in pen. The last week of September found a reknown US specialist dog trapper, Eldad Hagar, journeying to NWT to help Bonnie secure Loki. We all breathlessly awaited news on the rescue effort – and Loki’s reaction to it. It took an approximate twelve hours to capture him. Eldad slept face to face with Loki the first night, in a local garage.  Loki2

Weeks later, Loki’s shock is subsiding. He is adapting to his altered freedom, and is being socialized to other dogs. He is experiencing love and caring touch, learning to walk on leash, and to trust humans. Loki Dawson is now the proud owner of a Hay River Dog Tag, soon to be inoculated, neutered and habituated to the house. Bonnie is also in shock, adjusting to her new responsibilities, learning to handle a semi-feral dog.

Yesterday, Bonnie published photos of Loki in his enclosure with his new housemate Hemi. His ears are still held slightly back, signaling wariness, but the smile on his face is genuine. He is safe. Bonnie is relieved and hopeful. Rescuers worldwide are rejoicing in his rescue and his adaptation to same.

 

The Town, we hope, has learned a little something about compassion. Having legal and political interests to juggle, town officials were indeed between a rock and a hard place. We remain grateful to them for extending Loki’s deadline to September 30th – which allowed Bonnie to marshal the exact human and materiel resources she needed to secure Loki properly.

Loki, the gentle giant, now serves as a model for thousands of hapless northern dogs. On this Thanksgiving, 2013, I am humbled by the gratitude I feel for each and every advocate who went to the wall to save his life, most notably Bonnie Dawson and Eldad Hagar of Hope For Paws US, but also the thousands of supporters who advocated for a safe and successful transition to a normal dogs’ life.

 

Well done, Loki. Well done, Bonnie. Each of you bravely held up your end of the rescue. With a giant sigh of relief, I celebrate this Thanksgiving in your honour.

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A love letter for all mothers on Valentine’s Day

One of the purest of loves is that of a mother for her child.  Recently, at Farm Sanctuary’s Orland California farm, (www.farmsanctuary.org), a beautiful sheep mother gave birth to two baby girls, Zuri and Elizabeth.  Scads of folk have been overjoyed by regular updates on their young lives, the happiness they exude, relishing photos of their farmyard gymnastics, and witnessing the enduring closeness they are allowed with their mother. If only they knew how many humans are monitoring their progress and how many human hearts they have healed just by being alive – straight across the North American advocacy community and beyond. This little sheep family will happily live out their lives just being sheep, doing sheep things, having their sheep needs met. In their first three weeks, the babies have been “liked” thousands of times, everyone anxiously awaiting the latest photos of the little darlings and their ultra-proud momma Dolly.

This was juxtaposed with another recent event, where humans witnessed and reported a mother bear killing her own child and then herself. Now, I’m up to my ears in animal issues, but I’ve never heard of animal suicide. I could almost not believe what I was reading. Sadly, the mother bear was trapped in a bile manufacturer setting, where the animal is imprisoned in a cage with a tube permanently inserted in to her stomach that removes bile for commercial purposes. The mother, knowing what they were going to do to her baby, rushed the young one when she had a chance, smothered it to death and then ran herself straight into a wall head-first and killed herself. http://bit.ly/qmxViC

Working in animal advocacy is always tough. Bridging the discrepancy between our societal beliefs on animals (and how much we love them) and our actual treatment of them (how we exploit them), is a near impossible goal that animal advocates work on 24/7, straight across the globe.

This valentine’s day, as I think about Dolly and her babies, and the poor dear bear and her young one, I am reminded of my own mother. Now nearly five years gone, my mother’s love lives in my heart, her voice comes out in my words, her spirit comes out in my actions, her teachings guide my life. My mother’s name was Mary. She taught me to never walk away from someone in need.

Dolly the sheep is now teaching her young how to navigate farm life, how to stay together as family, and how to watch out for and protect each other. I wonder what that dear bear mother would have taught her young one, had she not been cruelly trapped and forced to live a life of hell.  But perhaps in reflecting on it, the bear mother showed the greatest love of all: protecting her child at all costs from a world that only cared about money and commerce, and didn’t care about love and life. Showing the greatest emotional and physical strength, she put an end to it for herself and her baby.

I hope anyone reading this will take the time to remember just how much every mother loves her children, whether they are human or animal, and take conscious action to help reduce the suffering for animals. This Valentine’s Day, I’m holding that momma bear very close in my heart, and I’m making sure in the only way I can, that her love, her story, her voice, will live on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farm Sanctuary’s Compassionate Communities Campaign: How to help the most animals…

Dear Animal Lovers, Animal Advocates, Animal Rescuers:

Happy New Year everyone!  It’s great to be back safe and sound. The internship at  Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, California was a heartwarming and heartening experience.
One of the best events was a webinar Nick Cooney and Bruce Friedrich presented via concall on the last week at the farm.  They run Farm Sanctuary’s “Compassionate Communities Campaign http://ccc.farmsanctuary.org/ The presentation was on advocacy for farm animals going forward and a concomitant plant based diet. I tried to capture as much as I could – with their permission, below are my notes.
Why?
- To spare these individual farm animals a lifetime of suffering.
- By not eating any meat at all, over the course of a year, you save 31 animals.
- If you reduce meat consumption by only half, you save an approximate 14 animals per year.
Why not? Reasons people don’t go vegan:  taste, convenience, overwhelmed, negative perception

How? Note: how to consume less (meat/dairy) is as important as why.
- One of the most important things to convey is that animals are individuals: they are someone, not something:
- Vegetarian or vegan advocacy will spare the greatest number of them.
- Capitalize not just on doing “good” but how to “do the most good”.
- Put your limited time, money, and energy towards the greatest effort.
- Focus on the day to day, quote Warren Buffett “as looking for one foot hurdles – not ten foot hurdles”. The people around us are the one foot hurdles.
- Keep an hour a week for advocacy: distribute vegetarian starter guides, leaflets, etc.,  where you can (available through http://ccc.farmsanctuary.org/ ) in places like yoga studios, coffee shops, etc.
- People are hard to convince. It’s a “numbers game”.  Get to the general public, don’t worry about friends and family. You may reach hundreds of people and out of that number, a small number will change. So the more people we reach, the greater the impact.
- The most critical point is that we need to move towards the greatest reduction in numbers: we can reach dozens, or we can reach hundreds, or we can reach thousands.
Tools to be more effective and persuasive:
- Get a foot in the door on the subject.
- Use the animals’ stories versus using statistics. Stories are twice as effective as stats.
- Use more compassion and less guilt/judgment with your human friends.
- Social norms are more effective for change:  share with human friends how vegetarianism and veganism are popular, healthy, growing trends.
- Encourage less meat consumption, even by 10%. Don’t shoot for perfection.
- Focus on commonalities – compassion for animals, wanting to adopt healthier lifestyle. Leverage similarities you have with them.
- Promote “plant based diet”.
- Leave “other” issues off the table, seek commonalities.
- Encourage  small behavioural changes.
- Tell them “what’s in it for them”, how any positive change in diet is in line with who they are, and the values they hold.
- Encourage them to bring their actions in line with their values; talk to them about the environmental social justice climate.
- Be a positive example.
- Teach/share how to find veg foods, how to cook, prepare & plan. Join or start a club/internet group, promote on social media.

 

Highest predictor for change?  Help them believe they can do it.

Check out the Compassionate Communities Campaign here – surf their info – they’ve got some great stuff:
Or, join the Compassionate Communities Campaign itself and get updates:  

http://bit.ly/Pocw7n


The time on the farm with my friends the animals was absolutely priceless. It was really hard work – harder than anything I’ve ever done.   But to be in those yards all day, witnessing the antics, seeing the individual attributes, hearing the stories of each and every last one of them, and actually helping them, well, there’s no better feeling.
There is only one way to describe what it was like to hold Harry’s head in my arms, smell his fur, stare into his deep brown eyes, to hold Ramona in my hands and talk to her, to stroke Violet’s head resting in my lap, to help Russell get up and walk out of his barn, to stare at Jimmy and Macy curled up together in their yard, to witness Papa Ed caretaking the youngsters, to listen to the turkey girls sing: it was just true love.
Back to the real world.  C4P is back to publishing the weekly newsletter, which then gets posted here as a blog.  Thanks to everyone for their good wishes and support. Anyone with questions on interning at Farm Sanctuary don’t hesitate to consider it, don’t hesitate to call me.
For my new friend, beautiful Maria, m.
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Jan.06.13: Epiphany with the birds at Farm Sanctuary, Acton, CA

The first surprise at Farm Sanctuary was  that we had house chickens. Knowing the crowd I was getting in with, I suspected there would be rescue animals stashed hither and thither. But I never imagined we’d have house chickens, and it just so happened we did. From day one, three little birds nestled their way straight into my heart – as well as everyone else’s at Intern House. Hazel and Piper were two tiny chickens, enjoying attention and care every day with 150 other farm animals. One of the first things we learned was how to catch, hold, carry & negotiate fences with two birds in hand, always keeping them facing away from each other!

Hazel (brown hen) & Piper (black hen) could not stay in the regular chicken barns because the others would pick on them and they were too small to adequately defend themselves. Tho, to be clear, neither had any problem pushing back. They were just outweighed by others and they, and the others, knew it. In the morning, we’d let them out of their kennels to peck around the kitchen floor for an hour, then we’d round them up and carry them down to the chicken barns … (Hazel & Piper’s limo service …) Hazel was hilarious because she didn’t like to be caught, let alone be carried anywhere – you had to corner her and be quick!  Piper was easier. All you had to do was dangle a piece of spinach or grape in front of her and she’d gladly run over and be caught. Even the smallest pieces of grape were huge in their beaks. Hazel knew the spinach/grape trick and would run in the opposite direction!

By the time we got down to the barns to start the day, all the regular chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were already let out of their barns, and the little ones could then go in the barn, and peck, and be regular chickens for the day. At night, we’d bring them back to the house. They’d roam around the common area for an hour or two, before being kenneled for the night. During those evenings I found out how loving, curious and interactive they could be.  It was fun to watch them spend time with humans, wonderful to have them perch on the spine of the couch behind you staring you down, cocking their little heads when you spoke to them. Sometimes they’d let you cuddle them, if you gave them enough time to settle into your lap or your arms, but only on their terms.

One of the goals of spending time with Piper & Hazel was to socialize them to humans, so that they could be adopted out.  Who’d have ever thought of adopting a chicken as a house-pet? Not that I’m encouraging any new pet fads by any means,  but in my experience as a rescuer, there’s always a chicken or goose in need somewhere, and it’s a wonderful option to consider just taking one in, as opposed to searching for a rescue farm with room, etc. (NTD: Can I have one? Just a little one?)

A week later, we acquired another little house chicken named Ramona. I must say if Ramona had been able to endure the flight to Toronto, I’d have brought her home – she was just such a darling little girl.  She was picked up from a local shelter and was probably a “garage chicken” – chickens that people keep in their garages to slaughter for food. Incidentally, Toronto has thousands of garage chickens. I’ve called in many such homes in my day (and encourage others to call Board of Heath too!)   Ramona’s personality was quite calm, she took everything in stride. On the first night, she accidentally flew into the garbage can in the kitchen … I mean, flew right into it, sank, and couldn’t get out.  She wasn’t even ruffled. I just went in, and picked her out, and put her back on the floor and closed the lid.   There is no feeling on earth that compares to holding a bird in your hands. This is Ramona being retrieved from the garbage can. 

Perry and Andy are two honkin’ male turkeys, about 50 lbs each.  And they are not nice turkeys! Perry lived with Chico, a white rooster, who was also a nasty piece of work. We all had good reason to fear them.  I was ok to get in their pen and clean, as long as I had an extra large plastic rake in hand to block them with. You’d not be surprised to see a rooster fly at you, but I’ll tell you, seeing a fifty pound turkey take flight and aim directly for you, is quite another thing!  Perry especially liked trying to bite you as you undid the chain on his pen. He knew exactly where and how to hit your hands with his beak. Premeditation was Perry’s game! Here, he’s just waiting on you to enter his pen, with Chico as defenceman. 

So, yes, there were some difficult birds, just as there were difficult cows and pigs (but not the goats, they were perfect!) :) There were also some stunningly sweet birds: chickens, geese, turkeys – every color, shape, size and personality you can imagine!

Look at this golden beauty!  Does anyone remember Peter Gabriel’s song called “Excellent Birds”? That kept recurring in my head as I would watch them.
These gorgeous “domestic fowl” come from all walks of life: they are pulled from shelters, dropped off at farm gates, fall off slaughter trucks, get turned in for stupid behavioural reasons (usually unmet needs), get bought for cash and “saved” at Thanksgiving (controversial topic in rescue circles), and if they’re really lucky, they get saved by (a) farm sanctuary.  At Farm Sanctuary, every bird lives a good, stable, needs-met, happy, healthy life. They bond with others, they hang, they do their chicken, goose and turkey things. I couldn’t quite get over how, when you’d clean their waters and pools in the morning, the second you were finished 2-3 of them would jump straight in and dirty all the water up again. When you dumped the dirty water from the night before, they’d go crazy sucking it up and crunch any ice. What was particularly endearing, was that small bowls were always laid upside down beside the pools, so the smaller birds could get in using the bowl as a step stool.

In factory farms, to quote my new friend Alex, … ‘they suffer from ”standard practice” abuse. They have their beaks and toes cut or burned off and are inbred to have unnaturally large breasts. Even “free range” turkeys live in disgusting, confined spaces, often developing respiratory problems from the feces, urine and overall squalor that they are forced to spend their short lives in. When turkeys are slaughtered, they are malnourished, diseased, exhausted and stressed.’ Broiler chickens like these “Southern Belles” pictured with Mari, are the most abused animals of them all in factory farming. Read:  Kentucky fried cruelty.

Two of the most precious turkeys, Leopold and Russell, were, like Andy and Perry, 50 lb males, but they had much better attitudes. (You gotta wonder what was going on with Andy and Perry, if Leopold and Russell could be so nice…) Russell was especially endearing – he has serious trouble walking. His breasts are so large, he’s absolutely overbalanced, and to add insult to injury, his feet were badly, and intentionally, maimed by some human, as a job spec in factory farms. Such a sweet boy!  In the morning, he was always the last to leave the barn, as he was the slowest. But he was given all the time in the world he needed to negotiate his own way in or out of the barn.  He even had his own little ramp. Every caregiver, and all the time necessary. Each day. Always with respect, and genuine love. Compassion in action.

This is a batch of absolutely gorgeous turkey ladies who were dropped at the farm gates last year just before Thanksgiving. Someone obviously had mercy on them. There’s about 10 of them. I’d have given anything to decipher their language.  Especially the “pa-pa-pa-pa” sound they make. Cause they made it a lot and I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad! They seemed to enjoy being sung to. Their playlist included the “birthday song” in honour of one of my sweet friends, and a perennial favourite, “Don’t Fence Me In”.  If you took the time to sit with them, they’d come over and explore you, peck you, sit quietly beside you. Some would let you hold them.

Isn’t this girl beautiful? Sweet, fragile little lady. I’m so glad she didn’t end up as a meal. It seems a fundamental thing, that everyone has a right to keep their life. It’s all any of us ask. They are no different.

 

 

And what of laid eggs? Eggs offered up by the chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were all taken to intern house to be boiled and brought back to the shelter office. There, the eggs are smashed up and fed back to the birds, as birds have been bred to the degree now where they are chronically calcium deficient. Sometimes eggs were used to entice animals to take their medication as well. This is a pink egg that one of the interns found. At least once a week you’d see someone with their front pockets soaked. Usually you’d pick up an egg, and put it in your pocket and forget about it. Within minutes if you didn’t deliver it to office right away, some other animal would bump into you and smash it in your pocket. Wet pockets are “standard practice” with rescuers – rather more humane take than Alex’s earlier reference with regard to “standard practices” of factory farms.

I was in the supermarket tonight, picking up some food. I do have to say that thanks to this recent exposure at Farm Sanctuary, my eyes seem to have developed a new acuity and my central nervous system has a fresh, absolutely visceral response to dairy sections and meat bins. I stopped for a moment and looked at the frozen turkeys. With my hands over my heart, I said a mental prayer, and came home to publish this blog.

 

Excellent birds, and one hot mess!

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