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Friday, April 22, 2011

Our Disposable Society

Today is Earth Day, and a recent incident at Target started me thinking about how disposable our society has become.

I hate the non-recyclable plastic bags Target uses. Unlike plastic bags from grocery stores, these cannot be returned for recycling. If I do get a plastic bag, I reuse it, usually as a liner for a small trash can. But I much prefer not to get any new bags. Small bags from take-out food get reused to pick up after my dogs during our walks.

Generally I take my reusable Target bag with me. But one night I took a previously used plastic Target bag, since we were buying just a couple of small items. As usual, I placed the bag on the conveyor belt ahead of the merchandise. I was stunned when the cashier picked it up and tossed it aside, then started to put my purchases into a new bag. "I want to use my old bag," I told him. "I hate getting a new plastic bag every time." He looked surprised, but did as I asked.

On a trip to Walmart, the clerk muttered something about "Oh, you have one of those" as he spied my reusable cloth bag. I have seen people leave Walmart with shopping carts containing 20 or more plastic bags in their cart, and I would bet that only a tiny fraction ever gets recycled.

I don't care if reusable bags are not as convenient for the clerks. I do care about pollution and wasting non-renewable resources. And why does everything have to be put into a bag, anyway? My gallon of milk already has a handle, so why put it into a flimsy plastic bag? If I buy a bag of apples, oranges or potatoes, why put that bag into another bag?

When I was in Ireland 7 years ago, I noticed that everybody took their own reusable bags. Since I was on vacation and didn't have a bag with me, I had to pay for the plastic bag for my few items from the grocery store. I think this should be common practice in the U.S., too.

From plastic bags, my thoughts turned to disposable animals. Someone recently abandoned his 14-year-old German shepherd dog at an animal shelter in California because the dog had trouble walking. Rather than stay with his old dog during his last weeks on Earth, this person dropped him off at an animal shelter, where the poor old dog spent several days in fear and confusion. We humans are doing a terrible job of caring for domestic animals (wildlife, too, but that's another story). A woman in England adopted a Jack Russell terrier, then returned it a few days later because it "didn't match the curtains." I know this sounds far-fetched, but it is a true story.

How many millions of people in this country get a dog or cat, tire of it when it's no longer cute or little or young, then dispose of it?

Then I started thinking about all the other disposable things in our society:
  • diapers
  • bottles of water, iced tea, etc.
  • appliances (how often do we have appliances repaired these days? It's usually cheaper and easier just to replace the defective item).
  • cameras
And don't forget the electronic devices such as cell phones and MP3 players that are always coming out with more memory or fancy new features to entice people to upgrade to the latest models. Electronic waste is a huge environmental problem, as it contains several toxic chemicals that can leach into the soil or water if not disposed of properly.

At my house, we recycle paper, plastic, aluminum and bi-metal cans, as well as cardboard and newspaper. We shred regular paper (mostly junk mail) and donate it to a wolf sanctuary, where it helps provide bedding for the animals. We recycle what can't be shredded. Our recycling service won't take glass bottles or jars, or Styrofoam, so we save these things in a bag and drop them off at a recycling bin behind Sam's Club.

Recycling is a way of life. It's something we do automatically, without really thinking about it. I pick up discarded bottles and cans when walking in my neighborhood. It's a small thing, but it's important to me and it keeps the area from looking trashy.

Today is Earth Day. But really, shouldn't every day be Earth Day?

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    A Gift from Patrick

    This weekend marks the 1-month anniversary of the discovery of the skeletal body of a young pit bull in a trash bag at the bottom of a garbage chute in a 22-story Newark, NJ, tenement building.

    By a stroke of luck, a custodian saw slight movement in the bag, opened it and discovered a dog, nothing more than bones with a taught layer of skin. He notified his supervisor, who contacted authorities, who rushed the dog to immediate veterinary care at the Associated Humane Societies. From there, the dog, whose body temperature was so low it wouldn't even register on a thermometer, was taken to Garden State Veterinary Specialists. Amazingly, the dog survived the night.

    Named Patrick in honor of St. Patrick's day, the tenacious little red dog clung to life. Patrick was too weak to even lift his head and had to be carried outside. With around-the-clock care, he very slowly started to regain his strength.

    As word spread via Internet, Patrick's will to live sparked a world-wide outpouring of compassion and outrage. Donations poured in, more than enough to cover the costs of his care and treatment. He was flooded with offers to adopt him, as well as countless packages of toys, blankets and sweaters.

    Soon someone suggested that to mark the 1-month anniversary of his rescue, people wishing to honor Patrick do so by donating to their local animal shelter or rescue group. Thus was born A Gift From Patrick Day.

    My daughter is donating several comforters from her old bed. We also have a new dog bed that is too small for our dogs, as well as a bag of dog food, several boxes of dog biscuits and three gallons of bleach for cleaning kennels.

    I encourage everyone who cares about animals to make 'a gift from Patrick' this weekend. It doesn't have to be much to make a difference. Maybe you have some old towels or blankets taking up space in your linen closet. A bag of dog food, some bleach, paper towels and of course, money of any amount, will be a big help. Many animal shelters have wish lists on their Web sites. You also can sign up to volunteer -- become a foster home, help groom dogs awaiting their forever homes, walk dogs to give them a break from their kennels. And of course, the greatest gift of all would be to give a permanent, loving home to an animal in a shelter.

    My daughter spent hours at a local shelter last summer, doing anything and everything. She walked dogs. She did laundry. She cleaned. But I think the greatest thing she did was to spend one-on-one time with the dogs that were so frightened, so traumatized by being in a shelter, that they just sat in their cages. One dog was too scared to even leave his kennel for a walk. So she would sit quietly with these dogs, talking to them, stroking them and encouraging them. And gradually, they began to blossom. A happy, outgoing dog is much more likely to be adopted than one cowering in a corner. These success stories didn't cost a dime of money. Time and effort made the difference.

    So please, think about making a gift from Patrick this weekend. There are so many wonderful animals needing homes. If everybody does a little bit, together we can make a huge difference. And tell them "Patrick sent me."

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Do The Good Guys Ever Win?

    With all the reports of horrific abuse of animals on the Internet lately, I began to wonder whether the good guys ever win. Despite the efforts of all the people who care about animals and who want animals treated with respect, and there are many, it seems that we are simply applying a Band-Aid to a systemic infection. No matter how hard we try, the bad guys always seem to win.

    Somebody abuses an animal. There is (maybe) a big uproar. The guilty party gets community service or probation. Some self-righteous reporters use their bully pulpits to claim that those seeking better protection for domestic animals have their priorities backwards, that we should instead focus our energies on abused children. Why do these misguided reporters assume that concern for one group of innocents is mutually exclusive to concern for others? By criticizing the 'misplaced priorities' of those seeking stronger animal protection laws, they suggest, wrongly, that we are ignoring 'more important' causes.

    Of course, it is only fair to ask these same reporters what they are doing to help abused children. Are they involved, or do they, as I suspect, simply sit at their computers and spew criticism of people who ARE doing something? And how dare they assume that those of us who work on behalf of animals don't do anything to help people. It's easy to hide behind the computer screen and criticize the choices and actions of others. It takes a lot more effort, energy and passion to actually get involved and do something to change the status quo.

    Animals are my passion, but that doesn't mean I don't care about people. I adopted my beautiful daughter from a terrible childhood in another country. I am mentoring another woman who has had problems with her internationally adopted child. She, in turn, is mentoring other families with similar problems. I have raised thousands of dollars to fight cancer and multiple sclerosis. I donate food and winter clothing to those in need. So, pompous reporter, don't tell me my priorities are misplaced.

    As many have pointed out, children's abuse cases are different, due to privacy issues. And children have advocates. Every state and most counties have state-funded agencies tasked with protecting children. Sadly, the system doesn't always work as it should, and children still die at the hands of those who should protect them.

    Animals, however, have no formal, state-funded advocates. We, the citizen warriors, must be their advocates. We must press prosecutors and district attorneys to prosecute animal abusers. We must advocate for stricter penalties for those convicted of animal abuse. We must raise funds and awareness for the non-profit agencies tasked with watching out for animals in our society.

    There is, however, a glimmer of hope. Following last year's slaughter of 100 'unwanted' sled dogs in British Columbia, a boycott of the business responsible for the deaths, widespread peaceful protests, an investigation and formation of a Sled Dog Task Force, the premier of British Columbia has announced new funding for animal cruelty investigations and introduced the toughest animal cruelty laws anywhere in Canada.

    All the recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force were accepted, and the province of British Columbia reported that it immediately began making changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, "including increasing penalties to up to $75,000 and 24 months imprisonment for the most serious offences, extending the current six-month limitation period for prosecuting offences, and requiring mandatory reporting of animal abuse by veterinarians. The BC SPCA has also received a $100,000 grant to enhance their capacity for animal cruelty investigations," according to an official April 5 news release. That is a great start. Sadly, it took the slaughter of 100 dogs to get action.

    Ignoring animal abuse also ignores the well-documented fact that some people who later abuse children or become serial killers get their start by abusing animals. Remember serial killer Son of Sam? The Boston Strangler? Ted Bundy? All began by abusing and killing animals. According to a study done by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA, "People who abuse animals are five times more likely to abuse humans than people who do not." Just one example, one little fact conveniently ignored by reporters shooting off uninformed opinions about how 'unimportant' animal abuse is.

    So what better place to start addressing the issue of abuse than at the root? Get animal abusers off the streets, and we just may reduce the later suffering and abuse of the most vulnerable humans as well.

    Maybe the good guys never will win. Maybe the forces of evil and ignorance and complacency will always be more powerful than the forces of good. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying. British Columbia has taken an important step in dealing with animal abusers. Let's hope many more provinces, cities and states will follow BC's lead. Nearly 100,000 followers of Patrick, the dog starved to within hours of death, are committed to making a difference in his honor, in cities, states and countries around the world.

    If we don't help, who will?

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Creature Comforts

    There have been so many terrible reports on-line lately about the horrific abuse to which so many animals are being subjected. Thoughts of these poor animals, most of them dogs, have filled my head at night and made it difficult to sleep.

    So it was nice this morning to glimpse my older dog, Mila, snuggled on her bed in my room. Mila adores her bed and its comfy blanket, and she often can be found there during the day. Later, as I watched her drinking from a bowl of fresh water, I was reminded of the animals who were deliberately denied access to this life-giving liquid.

    These little moments reminded me of things we provide for our dogs without thinking about it -- a soft bed, fresh water, good food, veterinary care, love -- that bring such comfort to our companion animals. They ask for so little. What makes some people totally incapable or unwilling to provide these simple basics?

    My daughter told me recently that when I went out for a walk, Mila lay down by the front door, the last place she saw me. When I went out through the garage, she lay by the door to the garage. These actions really touched my heart, because Mila has always been rather aloof. She doesn't seek or seem to need a lot of attention. I believe she spent the first 18 months of her life without much human companionship, until I found her, pregnant and apparently abandoned, in Houston. But it is clear that she misses me when I am out of the house.

    I also have noticed that when I go back to bed after my daughter leaves for school, Mila is on the bean bag in the living room. In a few minutes, I invariably hear her walk quietly into my bedroom and curl up in her bed. Should I take a nap in the afternoon, she always comes to join me. Although she loves to eat (she is, after all, a beagle/Labrador retriever mix), what she really craves is companionship.

    Our nightly routine always includes spending a few minutes with Mila on her level. Although she would probably not admit it if she could, I believe she enjoys these few minutes, with me on the floor, telling her what a good girl she is and how much I love her, gently giving her an ear rub or neck massage.

    I read recently about a large, severely emaciated dog that was rescued on the verge of death. In the animal ambulance on the way to veterinary treatment, the dog  would not lie down on any of the comfortable blankets spread out for her. Instead, she did her utmost to crawl onto the lap of the person riding with her. She finally settled down when the woman lay down with the dog, covering them both with a soft blanket.

    The saddest pictures I have seen were not just those showing the terribly emaciated bodies of animals starved -- deliberately -- to the point of death. The saddest pictures are of dogs whose spirits are totally broken, whose eyes reveal the torment and loss of hope from which they are suffering. Looking at the hollow, empty eyes of these innocent animals, so devoid of happiness and spark, is the worst thing.

    My prayer is that some day, all of our companion animals will have an abundance of the simple creature comforts they crave so badly.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Turning Trash Into Treasure

    "One woman's trash is now the world's treasure."

    I love this quote posted on Facebook by someone -- if I knew who I would give the person credit -- (one of more than 93,000 people and organizations around the world) who supports Patrick, the red pit bull starved to the point of death, tossed into a trash bag and thrown down the 19th-floor garbage chute of a derelict, low-income apartment building in Newark, NJ. You can follow Patrick's story and see more pictures of him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/ThePatrickMiracle

    Patrick, who on March 16 was a few short hours from death, is now on the long road to recovery. Although he is not out of the woods yet, he has gained 5 pounds and he is building strength in his leg muscles. He barks for his food, enjoys brief walks on the grass, and likes to hang out with staff members at the Golden State Veterinary Specialists hospital in New Jersey where he is receiving around-the-clock care.

    Patrick has sparked a movement that grows literally by the minute. People from the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland, Brazil, Iceland, Australia, Thailand, France, Slovakia and Germany, among other countries, have been inspired to take action to help animals. A new movement called Patrick's Law plans to start efforts in all 50 states to seek tougher penalties for those convicted of abusing animals. All too often, animal abusers are given probation or community service. Their crimes have not been taken seriously. The animal-loving community is now demanding stricter penalties, including a national registry of animal abusers similar to the sex abusers registry.

    People also are encouraged to speak up when they suspect an animal is being abused. Don't ignore the cries and barks of abused animals, as so many apparently did during the weeks or months Patrick suffered at the hands of his abuser. Call animal control, the local humane society or the police. I called my local animal control office yesterday to ask for a welfare check on a couple of dogs in my neighborhood. The call took about 2 minutes. If we don't speak up for the voiceless, who will?

    People are stepping up to rescue animals in shelters, although sadly, the number of dogs euthanized every day continues to stagger the imagination. And the stories of animal abuse, especially against pit bulls, continue. Just last week, the body of a 5-month-old pit bull puppy was found on a sidewalk in Oshkosh, WI, the victim of starvation. Worse still, one of the people arrested in the case stated that he and his girlfriend kept the dog, named Snoop, in a metal cage in their living room and watched the poor animal starve to death over the course of a month. There is no punishment too harsh for 'people' like that.

    The weekend of April 16, the 1-month anniversary of Patrick's rescue by a compassionate maintenance worker at the apartment complex where Patrick was tortured and his plight ignored for months, people are encouraged to donate gifts in Patrick's honor to their local animal shelters and rescue groups. Donations can include money, pet beds, old towels and blankets, pet food, toys or other items needed by local shelters.

    Some of Patrick's army is focusing its efforts on eliminating the need for euthanasia of healthy, happy animals simply because there are no homes for them. The key to achieving this, of course, is to drastically reduce the number of animals ending up in shelters. This will only be done by a tremendous reduction in puppy mills, back yard breeders and others who breed animals irresponsibly and indiscriminately. The other side of the coin is to dramatically increase the number of animals adopted from shelters and rescues. Don't buy from a pet store or breeder only looking to make money by selling precious lives. Save a life and adopt.

    None of us alone can solve these problems. But if each of us does something -- donates a few dollars, saves a life by adopting a dog or cat from a shelter, donates pet food or raises awareness -- maybe, just maybe, we can together make a difference, led by a little red dog named Patrick.

    Animal abuse has been ignored, tolerated and excused far too long. It is a symptom of a very sick, perverted mind. Animal abusers need to be severely dealt with. I hope that Patrick's story truly will be the spark that ignites the flame of justice for all those suffering at the hands of our so-called 'superior' species.

    This emaciated little dog, with such emptiness and sadness in his eyes when he was rescued from the trash, has sparked a world-wide movement. He truly has become the world's treasure. Patrick also is helping to dispel the undeserved reputation of pit bulls as vicious, baby-killing predators.

    He has become an ambassador to the world. Patrick's strength and will to live have inspired tens of thousands of people. It now is up to us to put that strength, that motivation and that love, to good use.