On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Israeli Dog Sentenced to Stoning

Painting of the Trial of Bill Burns, the first...

Image via Wikipedia

Each week in my inbox I receive animal-related stories that are making headlines around the world, and recently I learned about a dog sentenced to a stoning in Israel. She wandered into the Monetary Affairs Court in Jerusalem’s ultra-conservative neighborhood of Mea Shearim and was allegedly identified as the reincarnation of a secular lawyer who, over 20 years ago, insulted the judges of the court. Taken off guard and frightened, one judge made the stoning sentence and enrolled neighborhood children to see that it was carried out.

Days later, the secretariat of the court put forth that it was “bitter humour”, and that the Israeli equivalent of a dog catcher removed the canine. “There is no basis for stoning dogs or any other animal in the Jewish religion, not since the days of the Temple or Abraham.,” a court statement read.

This story, whether it has validity or not, brings to mind the animal trials of the medieval era and those well into the 1700’s. For infractions such as stealing a person’s grain, causing injury to humans, or even committing fraud, an animal could be tried in the courts. Many lawyers were evaluated on their skills during such trials. Bartholomé Chassenée of France became famous for his innovative tactics to keep his client, a rat, out of the courtroom. He pleaded for the safety of the rat, explaining that his life was in danger in route to the court because of the number of neighborhood cats in the area.

But what I find most intriguing about these animal trials is the length people would go to treat defendants as humans, including dressing them in human attire during the court case or execution. This same mindset applied to the reasoning as to why an animal was sentenced or exonerated. In 1750, a female donkey was acquitted in a sodomy case after her neighbors served as character witnesses that knew her to be of good moral standing. In 1386, the six piglets of a pig hung at the gallows for her murder of an infant were spared the same sentence because of their tender age and the poor example set by their mother.

And even today, animals are sentenced, sometimes in and sometimes out of the courts for their character or actions. And many times, like the Israeli case (whether true or falsified), the judgements made are based on  superstition or fear of the unknown. Have you heard about an animal who was unjustly accused and sentenced? Or perhaps one that was reasonable?

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Reverence for Life

Albert Schweitzer, Etching by Arthur William H...

Image via Wikipedia

Reverence for Life is a concept developed by Dr. Albert Schweitzer (b. 1875), a jack of all trades. Trained as a musician, medical doctor, and man of God, Schweitzer was also a dedicated humanitarian and friend to animals.

Our education intern, Caroline Shapiro, spent a good amount of time researching the life and accomplishments of Dr. Schweitzer for a featured article on our website. On the subject of Reverence for Life, she discovered that:

“While traveling downriver to tend to the ailing wife of a missionary, Schweitzer’s mind suddenly struck on a simple three-word phrase: Reverence for Life. In Schweitzer’s concept of the universe, all living things – mammals, reptiles, fish, birds, insects, plants, fungi, bacteria – were united by their will to maintain that common status: to keep on living. “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live,” he wrote. In translating this to an ethical viewpoint, he believed in the simplest terms that “it is good to maintain life and to promote life; it is evil to destroy life and to restrict life.” Those who are a part of the chain of existence have a duty and a responsibility to maintain and promote other life, and above all respect and cherish all other organisms’ right to exist. Reverence for Life. Such a simple philosophy; such a revolutionary idea.”

Schweitzer would go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for this philosophy, one that would also become part of the National Museum of Animals & Society’s mission:

The National Museum of Animals & Society is dedicated to enriching the lives of animals and people through exploration of our shared experience. To this end, NMAS promotes reverence for life and compassionate ethics in advancing healthy, meaningful interconnections with the animal world.

In this day and age, museums can recognize that as a society we have values. Museums are a place to not only learn the facts or see objects on a particular subject, but to gain perspective on how these facts or objects affect us and the world in which we live. And what do we do with the information or insight once we have it?

NMAS agrees that all animals have a will to live, and that this one precept should be kept in mind when we’re talking about the animals in our midst. And like Albert Schweitzer’s hospital in Lambaréné which treated people and animals, NMAS follows the same approach. This is a Museum for people, but it’s also a museum for animals; a place where both voices can be heard.

Have you voted for your favorite shelter yet?

Previously on the blog, we introduced readers to America’s Favorite Animal Shelter Contest that runs until July 10.  NMAS Intern, Michelle Wong, writes today about her choice and their innovative programming…

For this year’s America’s Favorite Animal Shelter Contest sponsored by Care2, Adopt-a-Pet.com, and the ASPCA there’s a snazzy place I’d like to nominate that is filled with love and compassion.  The Santé D’Or Foundation, a nonprofit, no-kill, holistic animal shelter, is a place where animals are rescued, cared for, and given homes.  Located in Los Angeles, California they operate through donations and currently house cats, rabbits, and dogs.

The animals that are rescued and brought into Santé D’Or are given a second chance of finding a loving home with individual pens cleaned daily, three square organic meals, clean filtered water, and plenty of recreational activity.  Litter boxes are cleaned multiple times a day and fresh vegetables are provided from the farmers’ markets for the rabbits; these animals are encouraged to exercise, socialize and sunbath.  Due to the tender loving care from volunteers these rescues learn to trust humans and show affection; Santé D’Or has rescued and given homes to nearly 1,400 animals so far.

“The mission of Santé D’Or Foundation is to rescue and provide shelter and holistically-based medical care to animals, while attempting to secure them permanent homes. We act as an educational resource in our community through our rescue and adoption services and community outreach efforts.”

There is a diverse group of individuals all with distinct personalities that are suited for different families.  Some are shy and quiet while others are more amusing and rambunctious, but each have their own perks and can offer companionship. All of the animals have their vaccinations, are spayed or neutered when they reach the appropriate age and are house-trained.  The physical and emotional health of the residents are a top priority as the name Santé D’Or or Health of Gold implies and each are given proper and immediate medical treatment when needed.  Since the animals are given time to socialize with other before they are ready for adoption they make ideal additions for households with multiple pets and/or children.

It is because Santé D’Or is able to provide a nurturing atmosphere for animals in need while operating only through donations and volunteers that I have given them my vote for this year’s America’s Favorite Animal Shelter.  Santé D’Or appreciates their volunteers by providing them with refreshments and prizes through monthly raffles.  Rather than trying to clear out pets as soon as possible, each adopting residence is given a home check first to ensure that it is a good fit for the animal under consideration.  Pets can also be returned if the owners or pets are unhappy since the well-being of the pets is most important.

Sante D’Or is opened Fridays through Sundays to the public for adoptions, although you can also find a profile and match through PetFinder. Donations and volunteer opportunities are also available through their website at www.santedor.org where you can make a difference in an animal’s life.

To vote for Sante D’Or or your own favorite animal shelter, click here.

If you have any comments or suggestions regarding animal shelters, adoptions, or cute kittens and puppies we’d like to hear them!  Was your fluffy or scaly companion also a rescue, and what joy have they brought into your life?  Do you want to recommend an animal shelter for volunteering or adopting?  Then please comment, and remember “a dog wags his tail with his heart” –Martin Buxbaum

Nature’s Engineers: Pest-Inspired Innovations

Photo taken and supplied by Brian Voon Yee Yap...

Termite Mound. Image via Wikipedia.

By: Michelle Wong

Many animals or insects that live within the city are considered pests, but are they solely a nuisance? Engineers and ecologists would disagree; they can see the contributions animals add to our wellbeing and the inspiration they provide for future technology.

In architecture, one great example of a pest-turned-muse is the termite.  Termites are known for living in colonies and eating detritus (dead plant material). For home owners, termites are renowned for gorging on wooden support beams, but more recently these insects are being recognized for the built-in air conditioning system within their termite mounds.  Mounds in Nigeria (Source: BBC) use passive chimney-style ventilation (Source: IOM3) with a large basement for air circulation.  With its location underground and the processing of latent heat through water evaporation, their basement is kept cool. Chimneys add to the process by allowing air to circulate throughout the basement and the living quarters.  Although temperatures in the desert can reach a frigid 37˚ or a scorching 107˚ Fahrenheit, the building interior only slightly changes from a mild 88 degrees.  Harare, Zimbabwe already has their own energy-efficient, termite-inspired shopping mall, Eastgate Centre, that uses 10% of the energy required to power a conventional building (Source: BMI).

Possums are often mistaken for rodents and thrown out of backyards, but they aren’t called Nature’s Sanitation Engineers for no reason.  Related to kangaroos, these urban inhabitants are omnivores that clean up the streets by eating rotten fruit, dead animals, mice, spiders, roaches, snakes, lizards, and just about any other bug or reptile.  Possums also have the lowest chance of any mammal to catch rabies due to their low body temperature and an equally low chance of passing it on to you or your pets.  If you don’t mind sharing a little of your garden harvest and as long as you keep your trashcan secure, these marsupials will provide your home a free pest control service.  They are not particularly vicious, but each homeowner will have to negate the pros and cons of keeping a backyard guest.

Beavers have a negative stereotype of being a water pest and North America has a history of turning their pelts into fur hats, but the dams that beavers build are also responsible for creating wetlands, filtering clean water, and replenishing the top soil.  These actions have earned them a new nickname, the Ecosystem Engineer, for creating meadows and ponds.  Melinda Daniels, an associate professor of geology at Kansas State University, commented that,

“A lot of rivers are in trouble and need work and restoration, but it’s amazing how little we know about the systems we’re trying to fix” and that “we know they’re broken, but we don’t exactly know what they should look like because we know so little about how many of our river systems function.”

Studying the interactions of beavers with their environment or simply leaving them be, without hunting them, will provide a valuable service to the earth and help conservationists learn how to restore our rivers and water supply.

Eric Adams, an executive director of land management for MacGregor Ranch, had this to say:

“Properly managed, beavers can be a great thing.  Beavers slow the water down, which lets it soak into the river bank. They have allowed new growth of aspen trees, which act like gigantic sponges underground for water storage.”

Unless you’re an entomologist, you might say insects are rather annoying and possibly repulsive, but the military is turning to them for inspiration in futuristic robots designs.  Insects have eyes with greater vision, their bodies are designed for mobility, and they’re small enough to go where we can’t, making them ideal robot models.  For example, flies or bees can better navigate an area or locate buried disaster victims without being noticed.  With 75% of known living animals classified as insects, they must be doing something right, and scientists are using reverse-engineering to copy their designs for more efficient cameras, cars, and aircrafts. NASA is also investing in robot bugs to explore Mars. Mandyam Srinivasan, a biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra, adds her two cents:

“Some of nature’s solutions are surprisingly simple and effective, and are not always dreamt up by engineering-style thinking.”

Even the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory used to send rockets to outer space owes its thanks to the jet propulsion movement of the humble squid.  Studying animals has literally helped us reach for the stars!  Have you noticed any behavior or feature of an animal that you think is amazing?  It might be used in the future to model a new form of technology, and, who knows; maybe you can be the one to design it!

Michelle Wong is a May-June Education Intern with the Museum.

Win $15,000 for your favorite shelter!

Image representing Care2 as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Care2.com, the ASPCA and AdoptAPet.com have teamed up to sponsor America’s Favorite Animal Shelter contest. Until July 10th, you can vote for the shelter of your choice. The shelter with the top votes will earn much-needed funds in the amount of $15,000! But, this isn’t your average contest. Even shelters that don’t rack up the votes have a chance to win. Every week, a random organization will be awarded $500. Not too shabby!

So what are you waiting for? Send your friends and family an email, post your shelter’s contest page to Facebook, tweet the contest out, or go old school and print out a flyer.

My vote’s going out to the Butte Humane Society in Chico, CA. Who are you casting your vote for?