Nov 21 2011

Posts of note: commonplace things usually unseen

Valerie Hayes
Dog shaking dry

Dog shaking dry. Carli Davidson Photography.

One thing that I find very striking/puzzling about the whole “but, but, but…they do so much good” argument is how it only seems to apply to animal “protection” groups.  I have yet to see anyone dare to defend Sandusky by saying that he “did so much good” with his youth group, so lets all look the other way about his being a child molester.  I don’t recall anyone defending the Catholic church along similar lines.  Both have been universally condemned, and deservedly so.  And, although I can’t think of an instance where this has happened, if an environmental group wiped out an endangered species or engaged in toxic dumping, I doubt we’d hear about how much other good they did.  Why do people, and those who like to be seen as animal lovers, no less, defend animal organizations in this way?  It is bizarre.

The perspective of abuse survivors is generally hidden and overlooked.  Whether or not any form of justice is served, the aftermath of abuse lasts and lasts.

Abuse itself is generally hidden, and often in plain sight.  An interesting article in the New York Times looks at the social dimensions of ethical and unethical behavior.

Professor Zimbardo has classified evil activity in three categories: individual (a few bad apples), situational (a bad barrel of apples) or systemic (bad barrel makers).

I’d describe the broken animal “sheltering” system we have today as a classic example of the latter category, and large national groups such as HSUS and the ASPCA as the “bad barrel makers.”  The article concludes:

“The majority of people can get seduced across the line of good and evil in a very short period of time by a variety of circumstances that they’re usually not aware of — coercion, anonymity, dehumanization,” he said. “We don’t want to accept the notion because it attacks our concept of the dignity of human nature.”

While it may be easy to give up in the face of such discouraging findings, the point, Professor Zimbardo and others say, is to make people conscious of what is known about how and why people are so willing to behave badly — and then use that information to create an environment for good.

…Although no one thinks it’s an easy task, Professor Zimbardo is not alone in his faith that people can be taught, and even induced, to do the right thing.

“I am a true believer that we can create environments to act ethically,” Professor Gino said. “It just might take a heavier hand.”


I’d never looked at a dog in quite this way.

And photography revealed these fascinating and comical views of animals doing something they do every day–shake themselves dry.  Sometimes you can’t really see what’s right in front of you.

No Kill News

The ASPCA debacles continue and include shipping dogs from one kill “shelter” to another, apparently for the publicity.  Scratch the surface…

In case you still think that “shelters” are full of hardworking people who love animals and hate killing them, there’s Memphis, TN and  McCracken County, KY for you to attempt to explain away.

Nov 12 2011

Posts of Note: Nature, art and the side of human nature we often don’t like to acknowledge

Valerie Hayes
A murmuration of starlings.

A murmuration of starlings.

…or, natural history is eternal, and those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it until they do.

The Blue Angels put on a pretty impressive airshow, but nothing quite like a murmuration of starlings.  Watch the video.  What is possible?

I stumbled across this  beautifully designed website–The Natural Histories Project, dedicated to furthering conservation through natural history and the sense of wonder that it inspires.  It got me to thinking about E.O. Wilson’s idea of biophilia.  While at Cornell, I’d become acquainted with Dr. Harry Greene, one of the interviewees on the site (he was a faculty adviser to the Herpetology Club).   While there, I’d also had the privilege  of taking the best animal behavior class to be had anywhere, co-taught by one of Wilson’s old friends, the late Tom Eisner.  He was a proponent of  stereomicroscopes as a window into an unseen world for children and their parents, and saw the connection between art and science and nature.  He wrote a wonderful book called For Love of Insects.  Natalie Angier wrote this tribute/obituary .

Citizen Science projects are a great way to put your biophilia to work.  Record sightings of butterflies and moths in your area.  Listen for frogs.  Watch for pigeons.

We are in the midst of the largest-scale crisis humanity has ever known–the Sixth Mass Extinction.  It’s already too late for the black rhino.  What can we save?

The observer, observed.

The observer, observed.

I learned a Japanese word that I wish I hadn’t–hokenjo.  Such places exist in the same country where a writer made this delightful observation. It’s not all that different from ancient Egypt, where people revered cats and  deliberately killed them for purposes of mummification, or from ourselves.   We love animals and our “shelters” kill 4 million of them a year, often abusing them in the process, and our donations to large national groups go towards protecting the people who do this rather than the animals they do it to.  It is the shadow side of expression.

This article reminds me of the time my husband and I attended a talk by noted cave art expert Jean Clottes, author of (among other things), The Cave Beneath the Sea.  Clottes related a story of how Courtin, one of his colleagues, sent him a fax of a newly-discovered incised drawing found in the cave.  Upon witnessing the image emerge from his fax machine, Clottes initially thought this was some sort of joke, and immediately called Courtin and said so.  The image bore a striking resemblance to drawings of the same subject matter I’d seen incised into desks in high school, but scientific dating techniques revealed it to be many thousands of years old, making this one of Man’s (or at least Adolescent Boy’s) oldest artistic traditions.  Once visible only by the flickering light of torches in ancient painted caves, it is now visible by the 1 meter pixels of modern space satellites, going where no man has gone before.  Alien anthropologists will doubtless consider it some sort of ritual symbol.

No Kill News

This was a big news week in the No Kill advocacy world–it was National Shelter Reform Week, the ASPCA confirmed what many had suspected, and Detroit Animal ‘Services’ really drove home the point of why we need CAPA in every state, when it defied a judge’s order and the will of thousands of animal lovers and rescuers by killing Ace.  It was also the second anniversary of the ASPCA killing Oreo, in a case very similar to that of Ace–variations on a theme of abusing power and killing pit bulls.  One of Winograd’s all-time best posts sheds some light on how and why this is.


This is the second in a weekly series in which I  highlight blog posts, articles and such in keeping with the theme of this blog.  If you have suggestions for posts to include in the next installment of this feature, please leave them in the comments below or use the contact form.

Nov 5 2011

Posts of Note: As thinking changes, so does the world

Valerie Hayes
Owney the postal dog.

Owney was a USPS mascot in the late 19th century.

The Southeast Pet Rescue Railroad has this handy guide to making effective use of twitter for animal rescuers and advocates.  Learn how to use twitter to get the word out about adoptions, events, fundraisers, advocacy campaigns and more.  There’s more on social media in general in this older post by Mike Fry.  Getting the word out with social media increases the pace of change exponentially.

A biological anthropologist writes about grief in animals for NPR.  That animals such as cats can experience grief is not news to animal lovers, but for a scientist to write about it in the media is a sign of changing times.  And the more you think about it, the more tragic our broken “sheltering” system looks.

Not exactly breaking news, but the US Post Office has issued commemorative stamps of Owney the postal dog.  The story of Owney illustrates how attitudes towards dogs have and have not changed over the past 100+ years.

The Christian Science Monitor profiled Ryan Clinton in its People Making a Difference feature.  This terrific piece is further evidence that the No Kill movement is arriving at its tipping point.  There’s a lot to love about this article.  I particularly liked how Dr. Ellen Jefferson talked about how participating in the No Kill movement changed her thinking about how to prevent shelter deaths.  In a short piece the article manages to show what happens when you act on a simple principle:

“Everyone needs an advocate,” he says of his animal welfare work, in a modest and lawyerly way. “And this was a solvable problem.”

This post from the New York Times makes me think of how the plight of shelter animals has long been an orphaned issue, an embarrassment to be defensive about, in animal welfare.  I’d like to juxtapose it with this classic by Ed Duvin.  Are elements of the attitudes described in the Times article part of why groups like PeTA are anti-pet (or part of their internal self-justification process)?

And there’s this exciting news from Florida.

And a court ruling in Texas allows for ‘sentimental damages’ in the case of a dog wrongfully killed by a “shelter”.

Classic Posts

Not new, but worth reading (or re-reading):

“The Butterfly Effect” is a wonderful story of an amazing encounter between a Washington Post reporter and a Red Admiral.  There is more to the universe than we know.


Ryan Clinton holds a rescued dog, photo from the Christian Science Monitor.

All pets would grin like this if they lived in No Kill communities. Photo from the Christian Science Monitor.


UPDATE:  It turns out that Owney, despite  being dead for over 100 years, has a very active twitter feed.

This is the first in a weekly series in which I will highlight blog posts, articles and such in keeping with the theme of this blog.