It’s a “Lifestyle Choice”

“You have just dined… and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It’s a lifestyle choice”.  That’s a common claim of friends and family when our discussion turns to our varying decisions on whether or not to eat animals and their secretions.  For ethical reasons, I’m a vegan.  Because I’m doing my best to live a life of non-violence, and because I wish to ease others’ suffering whenever possible, I don’t consume anything that’s derived from an animal source.  I understand that the production of animals for food entails a tremendous amount of pain and suffering.  Regardless of claims to the contrary, there’s nothing “humane” about it, and however peacefully a farmed animal spends his life, he does not go willingly to slaughter, gladly laying down his life for the pleasure of humans’ palates.  Animals who are slaughtered for food die a violent, painful death.  I don’t want to be a party to that in any way.  I consider this to be less of a lifestyle choice and more of  a categorical imperative (def: a moral obligation or command that is unconditionally and universally binding).


I use the term “benign lifestyle choice” to refer to those differences we have among each other which reflect personal preferences, but which do not cause harm to another.  I have friends who prefer snowboarding, while I prefer skiing.  Some friends would choose to vacation in the desert, while others choose the mountains, and still others choose tropical locales.  Some are baseball fans, others football fanatics.  These are benign lifestyle choices, some of which I have in common with my friends and family, and others, of course, on which we differ.  By and large, there’s an acceptance and tolerance of these differences, and we appreciate and respect each other’s prerogative to live our lives the way we want.  Even differences in the often touchy realm of political or religious orientation are tolerated, and occasionally provide material for interesting, spirited debate, and even good-natured ribbing.  But when it comes to harming another for the sake of pleasure, as in the case of eating animals, I cannot condone it as a “benign lifestyle choice”.

I doubt many people would want to be friends with a mass murderer, or a child abuser, or a rapist, or a bully toward the weak and vulnerable.  Certainly, no one would actually consider the practice of hurting and killing others to be a benign lifestyle choice.  Yet the same people who decry those crimes of violence are those who, on a daily basis, are accomplices to those very acts.  Sure, they don’t commit the acts themselves, but instead, pay others to do so, then reap the benefits in the form of food they find tasty.  Without getting blood on their hands, or even having to witness the violence, they relish the neatly packaged results, consuming the flesh of murdered innocents with abandon.

A6Gy5FACcAA-R3yBut the crimes of violence I refer to are only “crimes” in certain instances.  The various brutalities routinely inflicted upon farmed animals would be considered felony animal abuse if the victims were our dogs or cats.  But in the world of industrial animal agriculture, the mutilations, intense confinement, deprivation of food, water, and medical care, and many other forms of physical and psychological torture, are not considered crimes, but “standard practice”.  My own friends and family, whom I dearly love, and who think of themselves as compassionate animal-lovers, are undeniably in reality, party to some of the most heinous cruelty imaginable.  Though they vocally object to animal abuse, they support it through their “lifestyle choice” to eat animals.  By maintaining relationships with them, I’ve effectively aligned myself with supporters of mass murder, child abuse, rape, and bullying.  How do I reckon with that fact?  How can I respect someone who’s a willing accomplice to the mass murder of innocent victims — victims I dedicate my life to helping?

Watch for my next post!

Till then, you can learn some of the terms used to describe the common practices involved in mass production of animals for food: Farm Animal Cruelty Glossary 

And for irrefutable evidence of regularly occurring abuses in animal agriculture, check out some of the acclaimed investigative work by Mercy For Animals:

Undercover Investigations: Exposing Animal Abuse

Posted in animal rights, animal welfare, compassion, factory farming, vegan, veganism, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Calling All Ethical Vegetarians: Ditch the Dairy

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.
~ Albert Schweitzer

I can’t bear to watch this video, the product of the most recent undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals, documenting egregious torture of dairy cows.  I know most of you can’t either.  I don’t watch it, because I’m already aware of the rampant cruelty inherent in the dairy industry.  I don’t need to see the evidence over and over again, causing me nightmares.  I choose not to be a party to this cruelty, so I don’t consume any dairy products.  My conscience is clear, knowing I’m not supporting the brutality inflicted upon innocent others.   If you’re still eating dairy, and you doubt the claims of abuse, then look at the evidence and see for yourself.  What you’ll see is not the exception, but the norm.  This investigation is only the latest of many showing the same type of violence.  Closing your eyes to this reality doesn’t make it go away.

I know many people are aware on some level of their own complicity in this cruelty by endorsing it through their consumption of animal products. They don’t want to see it, so they won’t feel guilty.  It’s very easy to alleviate that guilt: Stop eating meat and dairy.  It’s easier now than ever before, with many delicious vegan products readily available.  Plant-based diets have become increasingly mainstream, and even devout “foodies” like myself can enjoy a richly varied, tasty array of dishes, from simple to gourmet.

If you think you’re being more “humane” by avoiding meat, but still eating dairy products, you are wrong.  All animals raised for food suffer immensely, and miserable dairy cows are ultimately slaughtered for their flesh.  Milk = Meat = Murder.

From Mercy For Animals’ press release:

“A breaking Mercy For Animals investigation reveals sadistic animal torture at Bettencourt Dairies—a Burger King dairy supplier in Idaho.

The investigation has already led to three workers, including a manager of the dairy, being charged with criminal cruelty to animals.

MFA’s hidden camera captured:

§  Workers and management viciously beating and shocking cows and violently twisting their tails in order to deliberately inflict pain

§  Workers and management repeatedly shocking a downed cow and then dragging her by her neck using a chain attached to a tractor

§  Extremely unsafe and unsanitary conditions, including feces-covered floors that cause cows to regularly slip, fall, and injure themselves

§  Sick or injured cows suffering from open wounds, broken bones, and infected udders left to suffer without veterinary care

Far from leading the carefree lives portrayed in the dairy industry’s “happy cow” commercials, cows exploited and killed for Burger King endure lives of near constant misery and deprivation.

Treated as mere milk-producing machines, these intelligent and social animals suffer unimaginable abuse from the time they are born and ripped from their mothers’ sides until they are so physically worn out from repeated pregnancies and constant milk production that they are sold for slaughter.

MFA is urging Burger King to immediately implement meaningful animal protection guidelines for all dairy suppliers, including zero tolerance for animal abuse, care for “downers,” and an end to mutilations without painkillers. Burger King has the power and the moral responsibility to help end some of the worst forms of animal abuse in the dairy industry.

The most powerful choice that compassionate people can make to help cows is to ditch dairy in favor of healthy and humane vegan alternatives to milk, cheese, and ice cream.”

Previous Mercy For Animals Dairy Investigations:

Of related interest:



Posted in animal rights, animal welfare, compassion, cows, dairy, factory farming, Uncategorized, vegan, veganism, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Company of Spiders: No Ignoring the Eight-Legged Elephant in the Room

Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.
~ Albert Schweitzer

As a compassionate citizen, I do my best to respect fellow earthlings, allowing them their own lives, and the space in which to live them.  I recognize that this attempt at harmonious coexistence requires compromise and accommodation of others’ preferences, needs, and idiosyncrasies – and sometimes requires active intervention.  An example is my resolution to living in the presence of garden snails, sparing them from harm, the story of which is related in my post, “Snail Relocation Project”.  

I have a couple rules when it comes to living with spiders.  One regards their safety, the other my own.  I essentially make the effort to stay out of their way, particularly when I encounter them in their own natural habitat, and if they happen to be in mine, I evaluate the situation using those rules.  Rule 1: If the spider seems to be at risk of injury due to its current location, either by the activity of we humans or that of our feline cohabitants, I make the effort to remove it to a place out of such harm’s way.  Rule 2: In respect to my own safety and comfort, if it appears there’s a likely possibility that the spider might end up on my person, specifically entangled in my hair, I also immediately take steps to remove it.  On occasions when I discover a spider in some remote corner, unobtrusively lying in wait for some stray insect prey, I might very well just let it be. 

On a recent night, as my husband and I retired to bed, our pillow talk was interrupted by my discovery of a spider directly above us, at the highest peak of our vaulted ceiling.   No way to reach it without a very tall ladder.  No way to sleep with it there.  With a sigh of resignation, my husband fetched the long-handled pool-cleaning net from the garage.  We stripped the comforter off the bed, down to the white sheets, so we could easily spot the spider if it landed there.  My 6’ 3” hubby had to stand on top of the bed, arms and pole fully extended to reach the ceiling.  It was an exercise in balance and finesse to gently nudge the spider, now on the move, and get it to drop into the net without injuring it.  I stood below, holding a repurposed plastic beverage mix container, prepared to capture the wayward visitor.  What a scene — at 1am, no less!  The two cats who’d already made themselves comfortable on the bed, ready for their customary pre-sleep petting, had scattered, but sat nearby, watching with apparent curiosity — and perhaps anticipation of receiving a new “plaything”.

I held my breath, stifling gasps, as I watched the frame of the net come perilously close to the spider’s delicate legs.  In a moment’s flashback, I recalled prior spider-rescue attempts that ended in fatal injury to the spider when it suddenly moved into the path of the trapping device.  Despite the accidental nature of the killing, occurring during a life-saving attempt, I felt terrible for failing, actually blurting out an apology aloud to the hapless victim.  I also recalled the long-ago image of my mother, when we first moved to our house in the as-yet-untamed hills, calmly scooping a fist-sized tarantula into a 1-pound coffee can. 

On this night, our efforts were successful, THANKFULLY!  The spider was netted, and I carefully guided it into my container, then released it in a corner of the yard, a location much more suitable for all of us.  I watched as it crawled away into the darkness, confirming that it was intact.  My hubby, however, didn’t come out of the ordeal quite as uninjured as the spider, as he banged his leg during his dismount.  He gets the Compassionate Citizen Purple Heart!  And my everlasting gratitude.

Posted in animal rescue, animal rights, animal welfare, compassion, spiders, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Kids Learn Where Their Food Comes From — Or Do They?

If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.
~ Sir Paul McCartney

A mother cow nuzzles her baby, a natural interaction denied most animals in the dairy industry.

A story was recently published in our local paper, the Daily Pilot, about a visit by a dairy cow to an elementary school.  The Mobile Dairy Classroom, sponsored by the Dairy Council of California, makes trips to schools to teach kids about “where their food comes from”.  In my work for animal rights and welfare, I’ve seen all too graphically exactly where our food comes from.  And it is not as the meat and dairy industries would have us believe.  I knew that the kids (and their parents) meeting “Feisty” the cow were not being told the truth, and were deliberately misled in order to ensure their continued support of Agribusiness.  Even people who don’t eat meat for ethical reasons may be surprised by the inherent cruelty in the production of dairy products.  Dairy cows and their babies suffer tremendously.  It is this reality which has led many vegetarians to take the next step toward ethical veganism.  The bottom line is that Milk = Meat. 

I felt compelled to comment on the article, and submitted my composition to the Daily Pilot, which published it in print and online.  Following is the entire unedited commentary as it was submitted to the publisher:

“In ‘A visit from Feisty the cow’, Sept 21, 2012, school children were reportedly given the opportunity to see “where their milk comes from, where all their food comes from”.  But the representatives of the Dairy Council who brought Feisty to meet the kids neglected to tell the real story.  They purposely hid the truth from the children, because if those kids truly knew where their food comes from, they likely wouldn’t want to eat it.  The Dairy Council spends many millions of dollars to mislead the public, portraying “happy cows” gladly offering their secretions for human consumption.  But in today’s world of factory farming, the vast majority of dairy products consumers purchase come from animals who are subjected to horrific conditions, then die a violent, painful death.  The animals do not offer up their lives willingly for humans’ pleasure.

I’m sure the representative of the Mobile Dairy Classroom did not tell the children that dairy cows spend their lives being kept forcibly pregnant in order to keep their milk production constant, a practice which leads to a number of health maladies, including extremely painful mastitis, among others.  Nor did he tell them that when the mother cows give birth, their babies are wrenched away from them soon after, deprived of their own mother’s milk and affection.  The separation is agonizing for both, and the crying and bellowing that ensues, often lasting for days, is heartbreaking.  The male calves are either chained into crates, their young bodies forced into anemia through a malnourishing diet, to become veal, or slaughtered within days of birth for a cheaper form of veal.  The female calves are put into the dairy line to suffer the same fate as their mothers.  Cows can live to be 20 years old, but dairy cows usually go to slaughter at only 5 years, their bodies so depleted, they often can’t even walk.  Dairy cows’ flesh is turned into cheap hamburger.  Like all mammals, cows’ milk is intended for their babies.  Human beings are the only species who continue to drink breast milk after infancy.  And not only that, it is the milk of another species! 

One of the school children remarked about cows, “I think they’re really cool”.  Children do tend to relate to animals, and have a natural affinity for them.  They’ll tell you that they love animals, and are fascinated by them.  But there is an enormous disconnect when it comes to meal time.  The same animal they think is “really cool”, is now a slaughtered corpse, which they’ll eat with gusto.  Every day, children eat the tortured remains of intelligent, sentient creatures they consider to be their friends.  This is because the truth about where their food comes from, and what it really is, is strategically hidden from them in order to sustain the interests of Big Agribusiness.  If given the opportunity to learn without prejudice, and employ their own critical thinking, most children would certainly choose to not harm others unnecessarily.  And it is unnecessary, in the developed world, to eat animals. 

I’m glad to see that organizations such as the Institute For Humane Education are also making trips to schools, presenting children with factual information about the lives of animals, and giving kids the chance to draw their own conclusions about how they want to treat their fellow earthlings, human and otherwise.  Humane Education programs, in fact, are now a required part of California’s curriculum.  Parents who pride themselves on providing a well-rounded education for their children would be wise to be candid about the reality of food production, rather than employ deception every time their kids eat.  Otherwise, they’re doing a disservice to their children, and sending mixed messages about being kind and compassionate citizens.” 

I was pleased to see that the paper published my commentary with only some moderate editing, omitting a small portion for the sake of length.

  • To see the commentary as it appeared in the Daily Pilot, click here.
  • To learn more about the dairy industry, click here (this link is text only, and does not contain photos) and here (contains some mildly graphic photos).
  • That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, by Ruby Roth, is a highly acclaimed book which teaches kids about animals, contrasting their lives in the wild to the conditions of factory farms.  It is candid, but not overly graphic, encouraging children to see all animals as deserving of their own natural lives.


Posted in animal rights, animal welfare, compassion, cows, dairy, factory farming, vegan, veganism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Tale of Two Puppies

Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.
~ William James

A while back, in my post entitled “Tribute to a Neighborhood Mascot”, I wrote about the grief I experienced when a favorite neighborhood dog passed away.  Jackson was such a kind and gentle soul, leaving indelible paw prints on the hearts of all who loved him.  I’m happy to report that Jackson’s people recently brought a puppy into their lives.  “Beauregard”, as was Jackson, is a Golden Retriever named for a Civil War general.  He’s full of spunk and irresistible cuteness (not that those are necessarily traits shared with his namesake).

On a recent morning, I encountered Beauregard out for a stroll with his mom, our neighbor across the street.  I stopped to meet the newest four-legged resident of our community.  In chatting with Beau’s mom, I asked where Beau came from.  She told me that he’d been purchased from a private breeder.  She described how she and her husband had made the hour-and-a-half drive to the breeder’s home, where they met both of Beau’s parents, and saw how the dogs were cared for.  Of course, being an advocate for animals, I would’ve preferred that my neighbors had adopted a dog rather than purchased one.  There are so many dogs – including purebreds – in shelters, the majority of which don’t make it out alive.  Rescue groups provide foster care for as many as they can get out of the shelters, caring for animals till the perfect forever home can be found for them.  It seems a shame to me to support additional breeding when tens of thousands are being killed every day simply for not having a home.  That said, at least my neighbors used the services of a private breeder, whom they met in person, rather than buying their puppy from a pet store. 

More than 90% of the puppies in traditional pet stores come from commercial mass breeding facilities, commonly known as “puppy mills”.  Thanks to public education campaigns such as Best Friends Animal Society’s “Puppies Aren’t Products”, pet lovers are becoming ever more aware of the atrocities inherent in puppy mills.  Abundant in the mid-western states, the breeding dogs at these operations suffer unimaginable cruelty, languishing in deplorable squalid conditions, deprived of adequate shelter, basic veterinary care, and human contact.  Crammed into filthy wire cages, they can barely even turn around, much less ever feel the joy of running on grass or a gentle hand stroking their fur.  For the commercial breeder, these poor dogs are mere commodities.  The less money that is spent on care and shelter means more profit.  Animals are fed just enough to keep them alive, and if they become ill, they either suffer till they die, or are sometimes killed (often by gunshot) by the breeder.  Disease and infections are common, both in the mother dogs and in their pups.  Puppies are shipped across the country to retail pet stores, enduring the stress of transport. Pet stores command a high price for these “products”. 

As more people learn the truth about the horrors of puppy mills and their ties to pet stores, there is a growing trend to adopt furry family members instead of buying them.  The now-familiar phrase, “Adopt, don’t shop!” is frequently seen on posters, t-shirts, and other merchandise.  The way to put an end to puppy mills is to reduce the demand for their “products”.  Many stores that formerly sold puppies have successfully converted to an adoption-only business model whereby they offer rescued animals for adoption, and sell food and pet accessories.  Consumers have embraced this animal-friendly model, and cities across the nation have taken legislative measures to prohibit retail pet stores from operating within their jurisdiction.  I’ve personally been active as a foot soldier in this campaign, educating the public, speaking at city council meetings, and protesting pet stores that support puppy mills. 

Not long after welcoming Beauregard to the neighborhood, my husband and I joined some friends on their boat for a cruise around the harbor.  Toward the end of the evening, they mentioned that they’d recently gotten a new puppy.  “Congratulations”, I exclaimed, and then asked where they got him.  “Russo’s”, they told me, referring to the pet store at the nearby upscale shopping mall.  I couldn’t contain my horror at this news, and reacted as if I’d just taken a shotgun blast to my gut.  “Oh no!” I cried, my hands covering my suddenly blanched face.  Russo’s is a notorious dealer of puppy mill-bred dogs, and the subject of much local controversy.  The Irvine Company, which owns the mall property, created a policy a couple years ago whereby they will not lease, nor renew any existing leases, for businesses which sell companion animals.  This laudable stance against the commercial breeding industry was highly publicized and praised by the animal rights community.  Russo’s is allowed to continue operating at their present location until their lease expires in a few years.  Meanwhile, the store is the target of periodic protests designed to alert the public to Russo’s unscrupulous ways.  It’s the sole pet store in Newport Beach, the only other one having been forced to close after doing business for less than a year due to sustained public outcry. 

At my friends’ revelation, I did try to enlighten them on the pet store-puppy mill connection.  They know of my activism, seem to be informed citizens, and I actually thought they were already aware of the facts.  To my great dismay, they became very defensive, rebutted my claims, and regurgitated the propaganda that had been fed to them by Russo’s employees.  So entrenched were they in the deception, that they simply would not consider the substantiated information I offered.  They even knew that their puppy came from Missouri – widely recognized as the puppy mill capital of America!  This fact did not disturb them in the least. 

Typical mid-west puppy mills, representative of where our friends’ puppy originated

Having been fighting so hard on behalf of the dogs who are suffering in the puppy mill industry, I felt disgusted that my own friends were actively contributing to the problem.  Our boat ride was nearing its end, otherwise I would’ve been tempted to jump overboard and swim to shore rather than spend one more minute in the presence of these selfish, uncaring people.  I’ve lost respect for them.  I can forgive ignorance, but not indifference.  

To learn more about puppy mills:

Posted in animal rights, animal welfare, compassion, dogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Snail Relocation Project

Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.
~ Bradley Miller

I’m not much of a gardener, and am more a “yard work” kind of gal, though I appreciate the beauty of landscaping, and admire those who tend to theirs with love and skill.  I revel in the splendor of my friend’s lovely garden through her fascinating blog, Gardening Nirvana.   I’m a “tidier”, and gravitate toward outdoor chores that allow me to create neatness, such as raking, sweeping, and pruning.  Our yard is jungle-like, and requires regular rigorous maintenance due to a never-ending abundance of fallen leaves and other organic debris.  This, just to keep it fairly neat, not pristine.   I don’t fuss too much over our plants, thinking them rather hardy.  Flora in our yard must be able to survive with little care, as they won’t be doted on.  Our landscape is more wild and rugged as opposed to manicured – nothing one would consider a showcase of finely finessed foliage.  So when I occasionally notice snails munching on some of the greenery, I don’t fret over whatever destruction they’re causing, figuring the plants can tolerate a little chewing.  Sure, a few leaves look rather decimated, but hey, the snails have to eat something.  So for the snails, I say live and let live.  My husband, not so much.   He doesn’t care for their destructive ways, and expresses disdain at their appetite for his more favored plants.  I have a fondness for gastropods, having written previously about my appreciation for their apparent sensuality in my post entitled “Evolution: Escargot, Erotica, Empathy”.

On Monday mornings before the trash collectors get to our house, I trot out to our bin at the curb with last minute deposits (i.e., the morning’s litter box collection).  Upon opening the bin, I’d often find snails and slugs clinging to the sides and lid, having worked their way up through the sometimes heavily compacted leaves and trimmings, a feat which quite amazed me.  I didn’t have the heart to leave them there, to end up in the trash truck or crushed by the load being dumped into it.  So I’d carefully remove them, and discreetly place them back into various areas of our yard.  Admittedly, this was probably not the best plan, and I might’ve rescued the same snails every week.

One morning, after being out front for quite a while due to the large number of snails to extract and replace, my husband emerged from the garage saying that if I was going to insist on saving them, we might as well do it right, meaning getting them out of our yard completely.  He presented me with a plastic shoe box, and thus began our snail relocation project.   Together we canvassed our yard, collecting all the snails and slugs we could find, with the plan to take them somewhere else far away.

This is a favorite hiding place for snails, deep within the leaves

The collection begins, leaves supplied for comfort and snacking till transport

Some thought was required in determining where to release the snails.  I wanted to put them where they’d have an optimal chance to survive and thrive.  We live in a suburban area where most landscaping, even that which appears “natural”, is at least occasionally tended by professional gardeners.  Despite how inviting (from a snail’s perspective, of course) some of these areas look, I knew that if I released our snails there, there’d be a pretty good chance that at some point they’d be plucked or poisoned by the gardeners, thereby meeting an inhumane demise.  I wanted to save these creatures, not send them to a killing field.  So I began scouting for an appropriate safe release zone.

My husband suggested the wild foliage alongside an infrequently used nearby service road.  Upon my inspection, I determined that it did indeed appear to be a viable option as a snail habitat.   So I donned my rubber-palmed gardening gloves and ferried my cache to their new home.  The greenery looked lush, with dark soil beneath.  I was concerned for the snails’ wellbeing, and didn’t want to release them into an inhospitable environment, such as one which was too dry and scrubby, thinking they’d prefer dampness and succulent leaves to live on.  This place appeared suitable, if not exactly perfect.

A wild space near our home has a mix of vegetation

Releasing the snails and slugs isn’t as simple as overturning the shoe box, and letting them tumble out.  Obviously, they’re sticky, and cling to the surface of the inside of the box, invariably making their way to the underside of the lid.  Each one must be gently removed individually, and carefully placed into the greenery, thus making for a somewhat time-consuming effort, depending on how many I’ve got.  But as long as I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere – and I do try to make that the case – I don’t mind.

Box o’ snails, ready for release

This will be the snails’ new home, where I hope they’ll thrive

I returned from my inaugural snail-release with a sense of satisfaction, relief, and optimism.  And then I had another feeling: itching.

My wrists and forearms displayed a mild rash.  Hm.  While scratching, it occurred to me that the lush foliage I’d been rustling around in could possibly be poison oak.  It’s not uncommon in the coastal sage scrub landscape of our region of Southern California.  In fact, I was familiar with poison oak from my own backyard where I grew up.  Under our large oak trees, the surrounding hillside was dotted with it.  I knew what it looked like, and could identify it by its telltale red-tinged leaves.

The poison oak of my youth

The greenery at the snail release site did not look like that at all.  But I really was itching, and the rash didn’t go away, and it was on the only part of my body which came in direct contact with the plants.  So of course I consulted the omniscient Internet for answers.

In a matter of minutes, I was able to examine photos of the various varieties of poison oak.   Lo and behold, I was staring at a photo of shiny green leaves that looked just like the ones where I’d placed the snails.  So pretty and harmless did they appear.  And ah yes, there was the signature three-leaf structure of the stems.

Pretty, but poisonous: A poison oak bush at the snail release site

Thankfully I was only affected on my arms between my elbow and wrist.  Some topical ointment would manage the discomfort.  But what about the snails?!  I was immediately struck by the thought that in my attempt to save them, I might’ve instead doomed them.  What affect, if any, did poison oak have on snails?  Was it toxic to them?  Did they innately recognize it as a potential threat?  Could they eat it without injury?  Would it impair their sensitive nerve-conduction?  Hurry, Internet, tell me!

My anxious search for information resulted in a tentative sigh of relief.  I couldn’t find anything that explicitly mentioned poison oak as being trouble for snails.  I learned that snails are pretty good about sensing which plants are toxic to them, and not eating them.  For example, they might eat the harmless bark of a certain tree, but not its toxic leaves.  So I figured that even if they didn’t eat the poison oak, there’d be something else suitable for them in their new home.  For myself, it took some weeks for the rash to completely heal, but it wasn’t unbearable.  It seems Mother Nature had given me a warning and a lesson, not rendered too harshly.

The Snail Relocation Project has become a regular ritual, conducted carefully in long sleeves.  While the current release site is adequate, I nonetheless keep my eyes open for attractive alternatives as I’m out and about, eyeing the landscape for someplace just right, trying to tap my inner snail instincts.  And I chuckle to myself when I think of all the thought and effort made on behalf of what many consider to be mere backyard pests.  And why not?  Why not spare lives when we can?  Why not make some effort to live harmoniously with our fellow Earthlings, even the lowly snails and slugs?   It’s not their fault that they happen to dwell on “our” property, requiring sustenance from whatever plants we happen to grow.  They’re just doing what they do naturally, trying to survive in a territory staked out by humans.

A snail explores its new home

We may never see an overt demonstration of their gratitude, but that is not the measure.  We know in our hearts that we’ve done some good deed for another, and that it matters.  We can and should be benevolent stewards of the Earth and her inhabitants.  Call me Compassionate Citizen.  And join me!

  • If you’re curious to learn more about snails, check out Snail World (informative, but I did note some typos)


Posted in animal welfare, compassion, gardening, snails, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Tribute to a Neighborhood Mascot

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.
~ Anatole France

Jackson has passed away, and there hangs a pall over my heart and our neighborhood.  Jackson was a Golden Retriever who lived across the street from us with his guardians*, a married couple.  He was elderly, with the telltale white face that Goldens develop in their golden years, and was showing the other signs of his advancing age, such as hip dysplasia.  But his spirit remained ever puppy-like, and for this he had a special place in the heart of anyone who knew him.

Jackson was a good neighbor.  The best.  He was never quarrelsome, never inclined to petty bickering.  He was never grumpy or too busy to say hello.  He minded his business, yet was also an ambassador of goodwill.  His guardian (“mom”) accompanied him on his rounds through the neighborhood, spreading cheer to all.  He was friendly without being intrusive.  Who could resist his easygoing nature, his genuine charm?   He’d often run across the street, right up our driveway to greet me upon returning home.  Regardless of how tough the day had been, Jackson’s wagging tail and bright smile was sure to lift sagging spirits.  I instantly perked up at the spontaneous opportunity to pet Jackson and receive his warm welcome.  He was so well loved and cared-for by his people, and had an honored place of prominence and priority in their lives.  You could tell.

Jackson and his mom were inseparable.  As Jackson aged, and it was harder for him to get around, his mom helped him by affixing a special harness with a handle on the back which she could use to help support him, easing the weight on his weakening legs.  On many occasions, I saw her using a set of portable steps to help Jackson get into the back of her SUV.  Even with the steps, she still partially lifted him, no small task, as Jackson was a pretty big boy.  But she was never impatient with him, always handling him with the greatest tenderness, and calling him by terms of endearment.  The bond they shared was deep and obvious.  One of their favorite pastimes, especially during sunny weather, was to lounge on their front lawn, Jackson lying contentedly, his toys nearby, while his mom sat in a low chair, reading.  It was a comforting sight.  Yet it was this very sight which was also to be one of the last we’d have of Jackson.

As he declined in his final days, it was harder for him to walk or even get up.  So his people sat with him on the lawn, petting him, brushing him, talking tenderly to him.  Recognizing what was transpiring, neighbors stopped by to visit, sitting on the grass beside Jackson, assuring him of their love and admiration for him, and trying to savor what they knew would be their final moments with this dear friend.  All we could do was wish for a peaceful passing, which I believe he had, knowing he was surrounded by those who loved him most.

I’ve been readying myself for some time for the inevitability of this day, and also dreading it.  I knew I’d feel heartbroken, and I do.  But why?  Jackson wasn’t my dog.  Nor was he even the dog of a close friend or relative.  He was our neighbors’ dog – neighbors with whom we’re friendly, but not especially close.  Jackson’s passing represents loss and grief to me in many forms, and therein lies my sorrow.

I understand the connection Jackson’s mom had with him, and deeply empathize with her loss.  I know what it’s like to care so devotedly, and to bear great sorrow.  So much of her life revolved around caring for Jackson, or simply being with him.  He was a constant companion in the very best sense.  Her daily routine, the reassuring familiarity of his presence, is no more.  I know this grief intimately.  Jackson’s death brings sadness to me not only for missing him, but for rekindling my emotions of previous losses of loved ones, as well as relating to the grief of those Jackson left behind.  I think this is what often happens to many of us when we are faced with the death of another.  It is the associative thoughts, emotions, and memories – sometimes not even fully conscious – which imbue our psyche with melancholy, as does the struggle to accept a future without those we love.

A few years ago, we were devastated by the loss of our two Shih Tzus, litter mates, who left this world as they came into it: together.  The final months leading to their passing was an agonizing time, and I still miss dear Rocky and Dweezil terribly.  But they lived a good long life, and it was just their time to go, so I am at peace with that.  But I still feel the anguish (although not as constantly or as excruciatingly) of the too-soon loss two years ago of my beloved cat, Emmett, my first-born.  It’s painful, like reopening a wound, to think about how he died, so I must forcibly push those thoughts from my mind.  I couldn’t have loved him any more if I’d given birth to him from my own womb.  There will never be another being, human or non-, with whom I’ll have that kind of relationship.  Less than a year ago, we also lost our precious kitty, Clover, whose premature departure left our home and hearts dimmer without her bright presence.  There are days when I still double over in grief, the bitter memories of the tragic circumstances of her death suddenly vivid and fresh.  But these stories of life’s final stages, of love beyond measure, of loss and guilt and reckoning, are for another time.  This is a tribute to Jackson.

As neighbors, our collective lives were somehow better for having Jackson around.  Seeing Jackson strolling down the sidewalk, carrying a favorite stuffed toy, or peacefully lounging on his lawn, was a sign to me that all was right in our little world.  These were the images of everyday life that mattered.  Now, looking across the street, seeing the barren sidewalk, the empty lawn, my heart sinks.  I can imagine what Jackson’s mom is going through, mourning inside her house, trying to cope and adjust to her new reality.  I haven’t seen much of her since Jackson passed away.  Nothing will ever be the same; our neighborhood is changed forever; Jackson has left a void.  Sure, there are other dogs who** cheerfully cruise our street, and I have a fondness for them all.  But Jackson had been elevated to the status of Neighborhood Mascot, and though he may someday be replaced, he will never be outdone.

I realize that eventually, time will soften, as it invariably does, the sharpness of our current pain.  There’ll come a time when it will be easier to recall Jackson less with an accompanying sense of anguish, and more with a sense of fond – even cheerful – remembrance.  I look forward to those future days of light-hearted reminiscing as we pay tribute to the beautiful spirit of Jackson, and the way he touched our lives.  For anyone reading this, I’m sure you have paw prints on your heart, as well, left by the special animals you’ve loved.

* I refer to those who live with companion animals as “guardians” when it’s apparent that they consider their furry family members to be far more than “property”.  I reserve the term “owner” for others who don’t hold their animals in as high regard.  However, I realize that “owner” is commonly used by many across the board without making the same distinction.

** My word-processing program tries to correct my usage of the word “who” to “that” for reference to non-humans, but I do insist on referring to all sentient beings as “who”.

Some helpful resources:

Information and resource links from the ASPCA on dealing with the loss of a pet

Information about end-of-life care/hospice and euthanasia

Coping with grief

Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, by Moira Anderson Allen

A helpful excerpt on the emotions of pet loss from the above book

Posted in animal welfare, compassion, dogs, Golden Retrievers, pet loss | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments