Inviting Wildlife Into Your Life

 

dsc06366Enjoy bird song? The brilliant flash of butterfly wings? Or practical considerations like natural insect control? Then invite wildlife into your backyard.

Birds: Bird seed and suet will entice a surprising variety of birds to your yard. Provide a mixed seed collection to appeal to different palettes, and the birds will flock. Don’t worry about seed falling on the dirt. Ground feeders, like California quail and juncos, will gladly “clean up” after the messy eaters. Birdbaths, bird houses, and trees will also lure the feathered creatures, providing water and shelter.

Butterflies: Plant flowers* in sunny locations to provide nectar and the sun’s heat to warm these beautiful insects. In return, they’ll pollinate your flower garden. Butterflies like bright blooms that are flat-topped, clustered, or short tubed. Sow different plants to provide blooms for the whole of summer. Particular Utah favorites include butterfly bush, milkweed, verbena, clematis, salvia, lavender, and daisies.

Rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks: As you may recall from Peter Rabbit, long-eared rodents like lettuce and French beans. Rabbits also like broad-leaf weeds, berries, clover, and grasses. Squirrels enjoy a delicious blend of corn, sunflower seeds, and peanuts in the shell. Chipmunks are more omnivorous, chowing on bird eggs, worms, and frogs, as well as grains, nuts, and fungi. In addition to food, these skittish creatures need places to hide and nest. Dead wood and brush piles provide such enclaves of safety.

Bats: Did you know bats control insect populations? A single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 insects in one hour. Seventy percent of bats are strictly insectivores. However, because of chemical insecticides and habitat loss, the number of bats is plummeting. Invite bats to your yard with bat houses to provide them safety. Then, come dusk, sit back and watch their aerobatics as they swoop to catch their prey.

Bees: Bees are easy to entice: flowers, flowers, and more flowers and NO INSECTIDE. Bees are intricate to the pollination of most of the world’s flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, yet they too are threatened.  Plant a flower, if only to help save them.

*When planting, native flora is best. Natives are hardy and already adapted to our high desert conditions and soil, requiring less water, fertilizer, and general maintenance. Plus, native animals co-evolved with native plants; it’s their food of choice.

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picm_june2015First published in Pets in the City Magazine, June 2015

Of Mice, Rats, Birds and Men

Facts are often stranger than fiction.

A case in point: The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that provides basic protections for animals used in laboratory research doesn’t cover 95% of those animals, including mice, rats, and birds. While dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and nonhuman primates must receive appropriate food, shelter, and medical care, the majority lack any such consideration. Instead, researchers can subject them to excruciating procedures without anesthesia, house them in overcrowded conditions or in isolation, and dispose of them as they see fit.

It verges on a horror story.

picture3What is the Animal Welfare Act?

The AWA is the federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers by setting minimum acceptable standards. In regards to research, the AWA requires suitable housing, veterinary care, and research being conducted in compliance with the “three R’s”: replacement, reduction, and refinement.

Replacement: Where possible, researchers should perform experiments on a replacement, such as computer simulations, mathematical models, and in vitro.

Reduction: Researchers should reduce the number of animals used to the smallest amount possible.

Refinement: Researchers should design experiments to minimize the animals’ pain and suffering.

A 1970 amendment to the AWA covered all warm-blooded animals. The federal anti-cruelty law did not specify protections but directed the USDA to adopt regulations to protect the animals.

Follow the Money

Despite direction from Congress, the Secretary of Agriculture promptly excluded the majority used in research. In 2002, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, amended the Farm Bill (H.R. 2646) to legally seal the deal to exclude these animals. Why? His top contributors included tobacco companies that experiment on these animals.

So, USDA veterinary inspectors do not oversee their care. Their numbers are not even reported (though estimated to be up to 100 million).

The economics also make the circumstances worse for these animals. Cheaply bred and sold by laboratory supply companies, they’re used en masse. With higher priced animals – say rhesus monkeys – the ledgers require more carefully designed research methodology to minimize variables. The higher costs of these animals also ensure they’re better treated because, by golly, they’re more expensive to replace.

Cheap animals are disposable. You can have a study involving a thousand mice with fewer controls for variables, because the large numbers themselves will ultimately bear out statistically significant results. (Apparently, some studies are so unconstrained that they cannot be replicated in different labs.)

“Ethically Indefensible”

Many researchers themselves, including the American Association for Laboratory Animal Sciences and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, say the treatment of these animals is “ethically indefensible.”

The lack of regulation even goes against the intent of Congress. Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-KS, has stated, “When Congress stated that the AWA applied to all warm-blooded animals, we certainly did not intend to exclude 95% of the animals used in biomedical research laboratories.”

The current law is even out of whack with the National Institute of Health’s voluntary industry standards to consider alternatives and minimize and avoid pain for all vertebrates (including cold-blooded animals, such as fish and frogs), as well as the National Academy of Sciences’ Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-VA, introduced a bill (H.R. 6693*) last year to include rats, mice and birds under the AWA, basically restoring it to its 1970 scope as the bipartisan framers intended. Unsurprisingly, the bill now lingers in the Committee on Agriculture.

While Utah does not have a representative on that committee, petitions are available on the internet to weigh in on the issue and help bring it to a vote. Don’t let Congress Mickey Mouse around on this.

*UPDATE: This bill died in Congress. Of course.

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picm_oct2013First published in Pets in the City Magazine, October 2013.

“Blue Bear and Snow Toad”: Pre-Order a Copy on Kickstarter

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/308107807/blue-bear-and-snow-toad-picture-book

The Blue Bear and Snow Toad Kickstarter campaign has officially launched!  Please help turn this dream into reality and pre-order a copy today for a child in your life.

The campaign only has 20 days to fully fund, so don’t delay. There are lots of goodies to thank you: a copy of the book (of course), bookmarks, winter hats, embroidered fleece blankets, puzzles, and limited edition giclee prints. There are reward levels for everyone.

I thank you in advance. And so do Blue Bear and Snow Toad.

Dreams Do Come True: Kickstarter to Kick Off

Blank book cover vector template isolated on white background.Some years back, I wrote Blue Bear and Snow Toad, a rhyming children’s picture book about a young bear and toad who resist hibernating, so they can experience the sights and sounds of winter. Like every child, they just want to stay up a bit longer, just in case they miss out on something exciting.

My dream now is to see it in print.

I’ve paired up with a talented illustrator who brings the words to life with his charming, playful art. Richard Svensson, an artist from Sweden, brings a long list of publishing and film credits to the table, and you can see why. His illustrations are beautiful, and many make me laugh.

Blue Bear and Snow Toad is now ready to go out into the world. We’re currently planning a limited run of 1,000 copies of the 8.5″ X 8.5″ hard-bound picture book to be available in time for Winter 2017 and holiday gift giving. The picture book will be full color, coffee table quality. After all, it will be a work of art, in the vein of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Toward that end, I’m setting up a Kickstarter page, complete with some fun goodies at various reward levels, including copies of the book.

As you may already know with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. If the goal is met, the project goes forward. If not, your money is refunded.

Hopefully, there is a reward level right for you or a child in your life. So, watch out for news in the next few days of this project going live, and please, please help the dream come alive.

In Our Sights: Police Dog Shootings Every 98 Minutes

In mid-July*, a Salt Lake City police officer encountered a family dog in a fenced backyard. When the dog, Geist, approached—presumably to defend his property from a stranger—the officer shot and killed him.

While dog shootings often receive little attention, the dog’s owner, Sean Kendall, recorded his initial encounter with the police. The posted video went viral, and the pet community rallied.

picture4The SLC police department defensively reacted with arguments that the dog was “extremely close,” “the officer felt threatened,” the officer was “a hero” on another case, they were searching for a child, and—my favorite irrelevant red herring—that they’ve seen less public outcry “when certain human beings have lost their lives” (which simultaneously implies that the dog’s life was not valuable).

No apologies. No condolences.

Turns out that police shootings of pets are common. No government agency keeps statistics on such, but the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges that the majority of intentional firearm discharges involve animals, with dogs being the primary victims. According to the ASPCA, most reports involve family animals in their own yards.

Animal abuse activists have tallied a conservative count by tracking news stories: a pet is killed by law enforcement every 98 minutes in the United States. Often those animals are lying down, wagging a tail, or running away. Their owners are also prevented from intervening. The officer only has to “feel” threatened, a low bar for justifying lethal force.

The prevalence of the problem across the U.S. is quickly illustrated with a Google search (see inset).

The standard, consistent reasoning behind these shootings: the dog was “aggressive.” This is where we, the public, are supposed to roll over and blithely accept the “necessity” of killing the animal.

Sorry, not buying it.

While some of these cases may have been justified, the majority of these killings reflect ignorance about dogs, at best, and cruelty at worst. Basic training and revised policies and procedures concerning dog encounters would have avoided most of these incidents. Even if a dog barks, snarls, and even postures to intimidate, danger is not necessarily imminent and can be mitigated. Postal deliverers deal with this issue all the time, and they aren’t killing off dogs on their routes. Alternatives are available if an officer is nervous: yelling, backing up slowly, tasers, batons, pepper spray, and, as a last resort, a shooting a leg.

Some police departments and officers, like “Cops for Canine Compassion,” are recognizing the issues and stepping up. However, the momentum seems to be building too slowly. Just the sheer number of potential animals in officers’ sights, let alone the changing attitudes toward animals, should incite all police departments to revise their tactics. In the United States, 37-47 percent of households have canine companions, numbering 70-80 million dogs. That’s a lot of dogs, and that’s a lot of people who care.

Back to Geist. It’s doubtful that the officer will be held accountable. However, at a minimum, the SLC police department needs to implement the training tools already provided by the Community-Oriented Policing Services within the Department of Justice. Their printed materials and free video training services, entitled “Police and Dog Encounters: Tactical Strategies and Effective Tools to Keep Our Communities Safe and Humane,” address, among other topics:

  • Assessing the Situation
  • Communicating with Dogs: Police and Dog Body Language
  • Using Force Considerations

An apology would be nice too.

Our dogs are more than “personal property,” despite the legal definitions. We emotionally connect with them as we would a friend or family member. And, unlike an inanimate couch, when destroyed, a life is gone. A dog’s death hurts us to the core.

The SLC Police Department, as well as departments across the country, need to recognize this. Otherwise, they will continue to face increased scrutiny, litigation, and loss of community trust.

*****

picm_aug2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, August 2014