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National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Souls Awakened: The Animals Who Have Shaped Us

Souls AwakenedAll of us who share our homes with them, work with them, or campaign for their welfare have a reason why we devote a portion of our lives to animals. For many of us, we can think back to the exact moment when we looked into an animal’s eyes and thought, “This is a life worth valuing.” Maybe it was our first dog, or the first horse we rode. Maybe it was an animal seen at a zoo that filled our minds and hearts with amazement and wonder. Maybe it was an animal in need, sick or injured, that inspired in us the humanity to help. The National Museum of Animals & Society exists because of these connections, these bridges between the human and nonhuman animal worlds that touch our hearts and enrich our lives.

Souls Awakened: The Animals Who Have Shaped Us is a way for YOU and the animal who changed YOUR life to become a part of the bigger picture. Your image and story will contribute to a larger exhibit on the way animals throughout history have changed how we feel, how we think, how we act, and – ultimately – who we are.

To become a part of Souls Awakened, simply send us a digital photograph, drawing, painting, or other visual rendering of one specific animal who shaped you. Then, write us a short paragraph (3-7 sentences) telling us your story: Who is/was this animal? What did s/he do to affect the way in which you view the world?

Visit our exhibit page for the submission form and all the details!

Remembering Our Four-Legged Veterans

Animals in War Memorial, London.

Animals in War Memorial, London.

Animals have always been tied into human affairs, and war is no exception. Humans have used animals in war since the beginning of time. Many epic battles are depicted being fought on horseback, from Ancient Rome to WWI. However, animals have been used in many areas of the military.

Horses are, of course, the classic image of the cavalry, used primarily for transportation and mobility in and to the battle, as well as for hauling loads. Elephants have also served a transportation function since ancient times. Hannibal infamously used elephants in the Second Punic War to great effect, but they were used as late as WWII for hauling loads smaller animals could not handle. Camels, mules, and oxen have served similar functions throughout the world.

Other animals have served as weapons or attackers in battle. Mastiffs were trained by conquistadors to attack in war, and many of today’s conception of “fierce” breeds of dogs come from their former use in war. Additionally, in more modern warfare, animals such as dogs, rats, and pigeons are used as unfortunate living bombs.

Speaking of pigeons, their function in warfare is nearly as ancient as that of horses. Homing pigeons have been a major component of warfare, delivering and concealing messages as late as WWII.

Since the advent of increasing technology and transportation, animals have fallen out of use in many areas of the military, but they still serve a function in military service today. In the Vietnam war, dogs in service rescued thousands by alerting soldiers to booby traps and pulling the wounded to safety. Dogs are currently the largest animal group currently used by the US military.  An estimated 30,000 dogs have been used in military service since WWII. Generally, their primary function is as search-and-rescue dogs rather than as offense. As of 2005, some 2,300 dogs are currently in military use as guard dogs, bomb detection, and in search-and-rescue work.

In addition to dogs, the Marines currently use trained sea lions and dolphins to detect bombs underwater. They are trained in such a way as to put themselves in no danger near bombs, but to inform their handlers.

While war is an ugly business, and is almost certainly nothing to do with animals, who are content to not wage it on a global scale, the influence of animals in warfare both today and historically is exceptional. They may not be driven by a sense of honor, bravery, and patriotism that makes our human heroes so admirable, but they are motivated by loyalty to their trainers and dedication to their training, qualities that make them just as worthy of our respect and recognition.

You can learn more about animals in wartime, as well as the Animals in War Memorial dedicated to them in London, at the website of the Animals in War Memorial Fund.

Farm Sanctuary: 25 Years of Making Waves

Farm Sanctuary

Farm Sanctuary's Watkins Glen location. Image via Wikipedia

Before starting the National Museum of Animals & Society, I had the great pleasure of working for a wonderful , precedent-setting organization: Farm Sanctuary. As the nation’s leading farm animal protection nonprofit, they work to protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living.

While we’ve become a very dog- and cat-centric society, farm animals have been at the forefront of historical efforts for animal protection. Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin, the 18th century parliamentarian from Ireland, passed the first modern law in defense of animal welfare, specifically for oxen, sheep and other pastoral critters. Since then the ASPCA, MSPCA, and other domestic groups gained their footing by targeting the treatment of horses in the city and the incredibly long and tortuous transports farmed animals faced around the turn of the century.

Since its founding in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has dramatically influenced and changed many landscapes in our society. One of the most incredible, in my humble opinion, is that of farm animal geriatrics. Because the majority of farm animals are killed while they are still quite young, Farm Sanctuary – in providing a safe, forever home to their rescued animals – have become the experts in farm animal geriatrics, especially for factory-farmed animals. Their caregivers face and treat on a daily basis the consequences of selective breeding, overuse of antibiotics, and a callous industry that neglects the basic needs and welfare of these animals.

On the political scene, Farm Sanctuary has launched, passed and paved the way for landmark legislation to ensure basic protections for farm animals. In fact, this was how I first got involved with the organization. As a teen in Florida, I gathered more than 8,000 signatures to ban gestation crates, a confinement system for pregnant sows that restricts their movement for the good part of 4 years. (Due to their frequent insemination, sows are in these crates unless they are giving birth, and will be kept in production until their productivity drops off, which is around 4 years.) Pigs in Florida are now protected in the constitution – imagine that! A federal ban is on the horizon for these intensive confinement systems as well as those used for egg-laying hens (battery cages) and calves (veal crates).

But what I think Farm Sanctuary does best is highlighting the emotional world of farm animals. Like us and our companion animals, cows, pigs, chickens, ducks and the rest of the barnyard residents maintain friendships and love interests. They enjoy frolicking, caring for their little ones, and investigating new enrichment in their pastures (mud bath, anyone?). You too can see the sentience and intelligence of farm animals firsthand by visiting a farm animal sanctuary. Thanks to Farm Sanctuary, many similar sanctuaries have popped up in their wake across the country and abroad too.

Farm Sanctuary is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and I was only too glad to be a part of the festivities by organizing the Los Angeles Walk for Farm Animals fundraiser. Taking steps towards compassion for all beings is something we should all embrace. Lace up!

The Origins of Animal Worship

Decorated Indian elephant.

Decorated Indian elephant.

Throughout history, people of various cultures have practiced animal worship (or zoolatry). There are many theories as to why certain cultures find certain animals to be sacred.

In Greco-Roman myths, the gods would often disguise themselves as various creatures. Zeus, for example, famously seduced women in the guises of both a swan and a cow. Thus, in these cultures, the respect and elevation of animals came from the belief that animals were of use to a god, or that an animal could in fact be a god in disguise.

In religions with the belief in incarnation, the idea of treating animals fairly comes from the belief that anyone could be an animal in the next life, or had been one in the past.

In classical Egyptian myth, animals were often intermediates to the gods, and many deities had animals sacred to them which they had special communion with. Cats were especially sacred to ancient Egyptian culture, which in turn actually influenced their perception of the goddess Bastet, who transformed from a lioness to a cat goddess during her worship.

The cultural question becomes, why were certain animals viewed as sacred to certain people? While cats were significant to the Egyptians, they had little to do with the ancient Indians, who were more concerned with, say, elephants. Sociologically, it makes sense why different animals were fixated on in different cultures. In Egypt, cats were acknowledged and esteemed for their ability to catch vermin. In India, elephants were mysterious, gigantic beasts that could not be easily tamed or understood.

Due to the usefulness of a creature, or the mystery or danger of it, the perception of certain animals differed from culture to culture. While a cat’s use was not much known to other cultures at the time, it was well known to the Egyptians, who are among the first people to keep cats as pets, and thus, among the first to understand their function as vermin hunters. Outside of India, an elephant was not much known, and so could not be regarded as mysterious or awe-inspiring, a quality that the Indians were well aware of. These are but a few examples.

Animal deities and reverence are found in every area of the world, from Japan, where the owl is an omen, to North America, where ravens were thought to embody departed human souls.

While some religions, the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) in particular, did not worship animals, animal imagery is still heavy in their holy books, with their God being compared to various creatures such as lions, lambs and doves, and other animals, such as ants and eagles, used to emphasize moral lessons.

Even today, the awe and respect one feels before certain magnificent animals is not diminished. The sense that certain animals embody certain human traits has also not lessened: we still perceive foxes as clever, cats as aloof, dogs as loyal. The truth is, humans sense both the differences and similarities between themselves and animals and seek to close that gap. In ancient cultures, this took the form of holy reverence. Today, it takes the form of friendship.

The Dark History of Black Cats

Trio of black cats. Click for source.

Trio of black cats. Click for source.

During the Halloween season, we are bombarded with images of black cats on the heels of wart-nosed witches. Not only are black cats an essential part of Halloween decor and costuming, but they are present in almost all popular depictions of Halloween in film and television.

In many parts of the world, the black cat is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, but not so in the Anglo-American world.

As far back as the fourteenth century, the cat became closely associated with the Devil, in part due to its more-than-keen senses, silent walking, glowing eyes, and mysterious nature, all of which were seen as otherworldly. For a time, cats in general suffered at the hands of superstition, and thousands of cats were burned to death in England for allegedly being demons or witches’ familiars. This resulted in an increased rat population, which in turn led to the spread of the bubonic plague. After the plague tore through England, the role of cats as rodent control was acknowledged, and their reputation was mostly restored.

But for black cats, the association has lingered far into modern times. The black cat’s reputation has remained forever tarnished, probably because of its sleek shiny coat and the association of the color black with evil and demonic practices. The early American settlers took to accusing owners of black cats of witchcraft and sorcery, and black cats themselves were viewed as witch’s companions or spells conjured up to do ill deeds. This has led to the more modern superstition that black cats bring about general bad luck.

According to some myths, Halloween is the day of the year when the boundaries thin between our world and the next. Black cats, with their mystical association, become highly visible. Traditionally, the black cat was sought after as a semi-magical entity in order to aid in Halloween rituals — sometimes with cruel and unfortunate results.

While most modern Americans perpetuate the bad luck association for tradition’s sake and nothing more, some take the enigma surrounding the black cat very seriously. Many cat shelters refuse to adopt out black cats during the Halloween season. Cat owners are also often advised to keep their cats indoors for similar reasons.

While these rituals are few and far between, the fact remains that black cats are a misunderstood creature, especially as one of Halloween’s most visible representatives. And even where superstition is not a problem, it is a good idea, in general, to protect one’s cats by keeping them indoors and locked away. Cats are easily stressed by strangers and change, and hundreds of children roaming the night, asking for candy, dressed as ghouls and witches, certainly spells bad luck for them!

Monday DIY: Vegan Candy Corn

We’re starting a new series here on Bipeds & Brutes: Monday DIY, where we’ll feature animal-friendly recipes, crafts, and other fun stuff you can do and make at home yourself! Today being Halloween, it’s only appropriate that we start off with a recipe for a homemade, animal product-free version of a popular sugary sweet.

This recipe for Vegan Lemon Candy Corn comes to us from DJ Karma over at VegSpinz. She has graciously given us permission to reprint her excellent home-crafted adaptation of this Halloween favorite which dates back to the 1880s. Although the conventional candy corn you get at the store contains honey, egg whites, and various and sundry food dyes, this version is free of animal products and artificial coloring, and can be made any flavor you want!

Vegan Lemon Candy Corn

Note: To make traditional vanilla-flavored candy corn, just omit the lemon. Experiment with other extracts to make variations of your own.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup Earth Balance Margarine*
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp lemon juice
2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup soymilk powder
1/4 tsp salt

For coloring:
Yellow: 1/4 tsp tumeric
Orange: 1/4 tsp tumeric + 2 tsp beet juice (from canned beets)

You can make these any size you like, and if you get tired of making candy corn, it makes a good fondant for cupcakes or to make other shapes (a lot like playdoh).
*These turned out a little on the soft side, so next time I might reduce the amount of margarine.  For fondant, it’s perfect.
I’m pretty sure this makes over a pound of candy — pretty time consuming by yourself, so make it a fun project to do with friends or kids!

Sift together the powdered sugar, soymilk powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  Heat margarine, sugar, brown rice syrup, extracts, and lemon juice in a saucepan, and stir until boiling and frothy.

Take saucepan off the heat, and add the dry mixture until well incorporated (a few lumps are ok).

Using separate bowls, divide the mixture into half, then divide one of the halves into half (to make three dough balls, one twice as large as the others).  Note: You can make equal parts if you like, but you’ll need to adjust the coloring.  Into the large dough ball, add the beet juice and tumeric to make it orange.  It won’t be bright orange, so if you want more vibrant color, add food coloring if you must.  Also add 1-2 Tbsp of additional powdered sugar.  To one of the smaller dough balls, add tumeric to make it yellow (don’t worry, you won’t taste any of these). When cooled enough to handle, knead each one until smooth and color is even.  If it’s too sticky, you can add a little powdered sugar, but not so much that it won’t stick at all. If it’s too dry, add a few drops of water.

Now you’re ready to roll!  Spread a VERY light layer of powdered sugar onto your flat work surface.  Make ropes of equal thickness of the white and yellow, and a larger rope of the orange (for the middle).  Press the ropes together gently, then lightly roll the top with a rolling pin to flatten a bit and to further press together.  Then cut into triangles as shown above.

Finally, mold corners with fingers if desired.  Place them in a single layer on parchment or wax paper, and let dry.  DO NOT pile them up until they’re dry, or they will stick together! These were deliciously lemony, with a good chewy texture and shiny outer shell.

That’s all there is to it! Thanks again to DJ Karma of VegSpinz for allowing us to share her awesome recipe. We hope you all have a happy, safe, and animal-friendly Halloween! If you’ve got a vegan recipe, craft, or do-at-home project you’d like to see on the Monday DIY, feel free to email caroline@museumofanimals.org.

10 Animal-Themed Horror Movies

Image via MovieGoods.

Image via MovieGoods.

With Halloween fast approaching, are you looking for some scary movies to put some fright into your night? We’re here to help! Animals have played an important part in our ghost stories since time immemorial, and they’ve been a fixture in our horror films since the invention of the genre. Here are ten scary movies – from the spooky, to the silly, to the downright terrifying – that feature animals in some way, shape or form.

Island of Lost Souls (1932)
This first cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1896 science fiction novel The Island of Dr. Moreau stars Charles Laughton as a mad scientist bent on controlling the powers of evolution by transforming animals into humans.

King Kong (1933)
This seminal adventure film stars Kong, the quintessential movie monster, an ape of gigantic proportions who unforgettably scales the Empire State Building in the movie’s oft-parodied climax.

The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as the prototypical movie werewolf in this Universal horror film, which was recently remade in 2010 starring Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro. That version won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Cat People (1942)
This eerie film noir thriller tells the story of a woman who believes she will transform into a black panther if aroused to passion. Produced by the legendary Val Lewton, there’s also a 1944 sequel, Curse of the Cat People.

The Killer Shrews (1959)
If you’re looking for something a bit on the lighter side, this B-grade scifi picture featuring clumsily-costumed dogs in the titular roles should do the trick.

The Birds (1963)
This brilliant Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Tippi Hedren shows just what happens when birds stop being nice.

Night of the Lepus (1972)
A plot to control the pest population in a small town goes hideously awry, causing widespread destruction and the death of dozens of townsfolk – by giant, mutated bunny rabbits.

Jaws (1975)
The film that’s most likely single-handedly responsible for the public’s current misunderstanding and fear of sharks, nevertheless, is a well-made and thrilling Steven Spielberg production.

Frankenweenie (1984)
Something that the whole family can enjoy, this short and sweet Tim Burton-directed homage to Frankenstein tells the story of a young boy who will do anything to get his dog back – including resurrecting him from the dead.

The Fly (1986)
This gruesome remake of a 1958 film of the same name stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who accidentally merges his DNA with that of a common housefly, with terrifying (and often stomach-turning) results.

This is of course just a small sampling of the movies out there which use animals to bring out our deepest human fears, or just to scare us silly. What are some of your favorites?

Vegetarian Athletes Go Pro

Prince Fielder. Click for source.

Prince Fielder. Click for source.

Though there are no conclusive studies as of yet which show that a vegetarian diet improves athletic performance, neither are there studies which prove that a diet including meat does so. You don’t have to be an animal-lover to realize from the following examples that a meatless diet can be the best decision an athlete or just a physically active person can make.

With the major league baseball playoffs now in full swing, the Milwaukee Brewers are relying on their hulking all-star first baseman Prince Fielder to smash homeruns. Weighing in at 275lbs. on a frame that is under six feet tall, at first glance Fielder looks like your stereotypical massive steak consumer. But Fielder is actually more introspective than this image portrays. Never much of a carnivore, he gave up meat entirely after conversations with his wife Chanel, who gave him the diet book Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. Since beginning his animal-friendly diet, Fielder’s homerun production has seen no major drop off, while his overall performance and durability during the grind of a 162-game season have improved, making him even more valuable to his team as they vie for a spot in the 2011 World Series.

In 2007, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. After reading T. Colin Campbell’s nutrition exposé The China Study and taking advice from outside medical personnel, Gonzalez switched over to a vegan diet. The elimination of animal products from the diet is believed by some to help alleviate the symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Gonzalez is a sure-fire hall-of-famer who, at 6 feet 5 inches and 245lbs., can still dunk a basketball with ease while being weighted down with all of his football gear. He says he initially lost some of his strength and endurance, as well 10lbs. So he did what many athletes do: he started juicing. But this is not juicing in the steroid sense, but juicing as in the Jack La Lanne infomercial sense. He was quickly back up to his preferred playing weight and is currently catching passes and scoring touchdowns as well as he ever has. Even in a contact sport such as football, it would seem a meat-based diet is not necessary for success.

Adopt A Shelter Dog

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month! Approximately 6 million animals enter into a shelter every year, and 60% of dogs in shelters are euthanized due to being unable to find good homes. This month, consider the joy you can bring to man’s best friend by becoming his new best friend. These dogs have not done anything wrong, they are animals who have been abandoned by their former families or never given a chance. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), 25% of these dogs are purebred, and nearly half of them were once companions.

Now is a great time to think about adding to your family. Dogs are a wonderful addition, being loyal, protective, and providing both a natural alarm system (useful for those who live in cities) and unending friendship. There are dogs of all personalities available in the local shelter. A quick search on the ASPCA website tells me of over 2000 available dogs within 25 miles of my hometown.

Poochini Jozette Joey

Consider Poochini, a poodle and bichon frise mix who was brought into the Sparky and the Gang animal shelter with an injured leg. Who could resist that adorable face? He’s a child friendly and cat friendly, a little dog good for families.

Or maybe Jozette from Southern California Golden Retriever Rescue suits your home best. Ending up in the shelter as a stray, Jozee learned how to use the doggy door on her first day in foster care. She’s good on a leash, in the car, and even loves to swim! This beautiful dog- and cat-friendly girl is looking for a home where she will get the love and attention she deserves.

Or perhaps open your heart to Joey at Dharma Rescue for Cats and Dogs. He is a good-natured terrier mix who was paralyzed by a terrible car accident, but is now equipped with a doggy wheelchair. A pet with special needs is a big commitment of course, but no less deserving of love. Who couldn’t adore this sweet mutt?

These are just a few examples from local shelters. On the ASPCA website you can find them and thousands of others in your area by searching your zip code.

Adopting a dog is a truly rewarding experience that will benefit both you and your new pooch. This October, consider making the commitment. It will be worth it for both of you!

Halloween Can Be Scary — For Orangutans?

Orangutans in Sumatra. Image via Wikipedia.

Orangutans in Sumatra. Image via Wikipedia.

For most of us, Halloween is the only time of the year when we actually encourage our children to knock on strangers’ doors and beg for candy. With the month of October driving our consumption of chocolate and sugar to dizzying new heights, it can be easy to forget that even if a certain treat is free of vegan no-nos like dairy, eggs, gelatin, and honey, that doesn’t mean its production was necessarily harm-free to animals. The increasing demand in particular for palm oil, a cholesterol-free vegetable fat derived from the fruit of palm trees, has led to widespread habitat destruction and is a major contributing factor in the mounting threat of extinction for endangered orangutans.

Due to recent climbing health concerns over trans fats in food, over 33 million metric tons of low-cost palm oil are produced yearly in Indonesia and Malaysia. It has become the world’s most widely-produced edible oil. In order to grow the crop, millions of acres of forest have to be cleared and burned to make way for agricultural palm trees. The vast majority of these plantations are in Borneo and Sumatra – which just so happen to be the only two places in the world where wild orangutans still reside. A devastating fire caused by an overzealous peat-clearing attempt in 1997 wiped out 8,000 wild orangutans in Borneo alone. Furthermore, the ever-expanding plantations are pushing this species to the very brink of extinction. If sustainable methods aren’t adopted, scientists estimate that orangutans will go extinct in ten to fifteen years.

It can be nearly impossible to avoid palm oil; it’s present in everything from sweet and salty snacks to frozen meals to cosmetics. It’s even being tested as an alternative fuel for automobiles. But there are many ways you can send a message to palm oil companies to increase the sustainability of their crops. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Palm Oil Awareness page is chock full of resources, consumer shopping guides, and ideas on how to help end the palm oil crisis and save orangutans from further decimation. You can make a difference for wild orangutans – Cheyenne Mountain will show you how.

Reese's Pieces. Image via Wikipedia.

Reese's Pieces. Image via Wikipedia.

“Well, great,” you may be thinking. “Here I was, all excited to stuff my face with candy this October 31st, and you’ve gone and ruined my plans with the sad plight of orangutans in Borneo.” Never fear! Cheyenne Mountain has you covered there, too. Check out their awesome Orangutan-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide (PDF) to learn the good news: due to environmentalist pressures, many companies have joined the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), making the commitment to only use oil which is certified sustainable. Chances are, most of your favorite candies are on the list, including Snickers, Twix, Butterfingers, M&M’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Skittles. Now that should make for a Happy Halloween indeed!

For more information on making ethical candy choices this Halloween, check out the Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List, which highlights vegan candy bars sourced from slavery-free areas.

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