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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Boycott List -- Does It Really Matter?

I recently realized how many things are on my boycott list. Then I started to wonder, does a consumer boycott ever really make a difference? Or does it merely give those of us who boycott something a sense that we are doing something rather than just sitting around and stewing about some injustice. I do know that I will not give my money to any company, state or nation that does things to harm animals and the environment. But I don't know whether a boycott ever achieves the change desired.

Back in the 1970s, when whale killing was rampant, I did my best to boycott all things Japanese. I also added Norway and Denmark to the boycott list, since those countries also engage in whaling. At the time, most electronics were made in Japan, so like boycotting made-in-China products these days, a boycott was not easy. I will buy something made in Japan if there is no alternative, although the country still engages in blowing up whales. And although I like Norwegian Jarlsberg cheese, I refuse to buy it or any other product from Norway or Denmark.

Here are some of the other companies and countries I boycott:
  • China: I boycott anything made in China for a number of reasons. Recent, repeated reports of Chinese manufacturers using toxic chemicals in pet and baby food to cut production costs are one reason. I refuse to buy anything that could enter my body or the bodies of my daughter and dogs, if it is made in China. This includes toothpaste and dog treats. Another reason is the Chinese attitude toward animals, as evidenced by the photos shown on Facebook of a Chinese woman roasting a live puppy over an open flame, and nobody did anything to stop the atrocity. Widespread pollution and disregard for human as well as animal life are the other reasons. I have walked away from clothing, watches and household goods made in China and I will continue to do so.
  • Any state that allows, and especially encourages, the slaughter of wolves. I won't buy Idaho potatoes or anything made or grown in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming. These three states couldn't wait to start the wolf-hunting season -- with bows and arrows, by airplane and snowmobile, traps or by any other means. They just want to murder wolves. So the bag of Idaho potatoes I picked up at the grocery store went right back on the shelf. And there it will remain. Likewise, I won't be taking any vacation trips to any of those states, either, although I would love to return to Glacier National Park in Montana.
  • Nike recently renewed its contract with animal abuser and convicted felon Michael Vick. It has been documented that Vick not only bankrolled a dog-fighting operation on his Virginia property, he also apparently took great delight in personally murdering dogs that didn't fight well. He electrocuted them, hanged them, drowned them and slammed them repeatedly against the ground. He laughed as family pets were torn to shreds by his fighting dogs. There will be no Nike products purchased with my money. If Nike thinks having a murderer like Vick on the payroll will entice people to buy their products, they are badly mistaken. 
  • Subway sponsored the BET sportsman of the year award, which went to Vick. Although Subway tried half-heartedly to distance itself from the honoree by stating that it simply sponsored the award but did not select the winner, my money will be spent at Quizno's, Dion's or some other sandwich shop until Subway figures out that its association with a felon who murdered animals for fun, and who still hasn't figured out that what he did was wrong, is not good for business. 
  • I recently added beef to my list of boycotted products because the attack on wolves is being led by cattle ranchers. If enough consumers start foregoing steaks and burgers, ranchers might start to pay attention. I also boycott anything made of wool, and have done so for many years, since sheep ranchers also are vocal advocates of wolf slaughter.
    Will cattle ranchers feel pain when I order chicken rather than beef? Will Subway notice the loss of a sandwich sale because I won't eat there? I doubt it. But if thousands, even millions, of people take their business elsewhere, maybe the company won't be so quick to defend its marketing choices. And maybe it will be a bit more thoughtful in the future before sponsoring an award over which it has no control. Same goes for Nike. I don't like Nike running shoes, so I am not a major consumer of Nike products. But if I need socks or other athletic gear, you better believe that I won't be buying anything with the Nike swoosh on it.

    Corporations don't often listen to consumers; the only thing they seem to respond to is profit. Letters, e-mails and phone calls have little impact on corporate decisions. But if enough of us hit these companies where they live -- the bottom line -- maybe, just maybe, we can wake up a few of the corporate gazillionaires who run these companies.

    I don't know how effective consumer boycotts are. Japan, Norway and Denmark still engage in blowing up whales 40 years after the boycotts of the 1970s. Nike still stands by its corporate felon spokesperson. Ranchers and hunters in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana still take pleasure in slaughtering wolves. Whether my refusal to provide financial support to those whose policies I disagree with will matter in the long run isn't clear. But at least I know that my money isn't going to support those who either take pleasure in harming animals for fun and profit, or who turn a blind eye and do nothing to stop the slaughter.

    At the end of the day, the decision to boycott a company, country or product is a personal one. Each of us has to do what he/she feels is right. At the very least, we need to be informed consumers when we make our decisions about how and on what to spend our money.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    Share the Love

    Oh, joy. It's Valentine's Day again. A day to spend a small fortune on the obligatory jewelry, fancy dinner, roses and/or chocolates. A day of compulsory romance and $5 greeting cards with sappy verses.

    I hate this day. It is so artificial, so contrived. Shouldn't those we love receive our expressions of love every day? Wouldn't a dozen roses mean a lot more if they were a surprise, presented for no reason other than to say "I love you"?

    "It's the smallest things, the tiniest measures.. 
    The heart remembers, and always treasures." 

    I don't know the author of this quote, but I think it is wonderful. This artificial holiday isn't about flowers and candy and what we buy for people. It is the little things in life that make it special. The point of this day, as contrived as it is, is love. We cannot put a price on love; it is priceless. And it has the greatest value when it is shared.

    So today, tell your loved ones (two- or four-footed) you love them. Spend time with them. Give them a hug. Do something special with or for them. And while you're at it, how about sharing your love with those who really need it -- those in nursing homes who may not have family nearby; animals waiting, alone, in animal shelters for a family to love them. Donate some time at a food pantry, soup kitchen, animal shelter or pre-school. I would much rather have the $80 (average cost for a dozen roses this Valentine's Day) donated to a struggling charity than wasted on flowers that will be in the trash in a few days. So today, I paid for a cup of coffee or tea from Greenbeans Coffee ( to be provided free to 10 members of our armed forces serving overseas. It's a small way to brighten the day of someone serving far from home.

    Love is like the proverbial candle under a basket; it has so much more impact when it is uncovered and shared.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Helping in Small Ways

    I love animals, but I find it difficult to volunteer at animal shelters and humane societies due to the large number of unwanted and homeless dogs. (I care about cats, too, but dogs have always held a special place in my heart).

    I worked for a very large humane society in California for eight years, until I got burned out. I volunteered with a variety of animal shelters and rescue groups after that. Then I found I couldn't handle the cruelty and heartbreak and never-ending stream of homeless and unwanted animals any more. I have had to 'unlike' numerous Facebook pages because I can't bear to read about yet another horrible abuse case, or another dog in desperate need of rescue or funds for medical care. I simply cannot save them all. So my volunteer efforts have been focused on wolf rescue and feeding the hungry at a local food pantry.

    But yesterday, I did something to help dogs by volunteering at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic sponsored by New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. I didn't have to worry about seeing homeless animals at risk of being killed due to a lack of homes. There were no abused animals. All the dogs and cats I saw were there because their humans care enough about them to have them sterilized.

    I put in 4-1/2 hours, mostly comforting dogs post-surgery, bringing dogs back to the recovery area after their operations, cleaning dirty cat cages and keeping a tiny Chihuahua warm until his family came for him. It wasn't difficult work, but it was rewarding. Each of the 27 dogs and 12 cats spayed or neutered that day should have a happier, healthier life as a result of a simple surgical procedure. And they will not add to the millions of homeless, unwanted dogs and cats in this country.

    The dogs ranged from a tiny Chihuahua to a 91-pound dog named Brutus. Some were frightened, all were confused and stressed. Some were quiet, while others howled and barked their displeasure at being confined. Volunteers comforted and spoke to those most distressed. I enjoyed sitting with a beautiful Rottweiler named Grim, and talking to Brutus and his son Beast. A pit bull puppy named Zoe was absolutely adorable, and covered anybody she could reach with kisses.

    There was a steady stream of people arriving all afternoon, some seeking vaccinations or microchips for their dogs, others wanting to sign up for next month's spay/neuter clinic. It was gratifying to see so many people caring enough about their dogs to bring them in for treatment. And where appropriate, people were gently educated about how to take better care of their animals. I pray that the woman who feeds her dog a diet of chicken nuggets will realize that despite how much she loves her Chihuahua, that diet is a major reason he has ear, teeth and skin problems. He needs to be put on a diet of quality dog food.

    I definitely plan to volunteer again next month, maybe for a longer shift. I can no longer handle the emotional stress of volunteering at a facility filled with homeless animals. But I can, and will, support the proactive efforts of New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society to improve the health of dogs and cats and at the same time keep them from adding to the already staggering numbers of animals in shelters throughout the state.

    It felt good to do a little something to help eliminate the problem of too many animals and not enough homes. I didn't organize this monthly effort; I can't do the surgery; I donated just a few hours of my day. My efforts were minimal; other volunteers were there all day. Some set everything up the night before the clinic opened.

    So to those who comment that "I could never work in an animal shelter; it's just too sad," I say "I understand your feelings. Why don't you sign up to volunteer at a vaccination clinic, a spay/neuter clinic or some other program that helps animals?" It's a great way to contribute in a small way, and to be inspired by those who make these programs possible through their dedication and hard work.

    My hat is off to all who work so hard to make these clinics not only possible, but such a success that there is a waiting list for spay/neuter surgeries. See you next month!