On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Owney, the Postal Service Pup


Image by Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

You might think that postal carriers and dogs don’t mix, but history points out that they do. Back in 1888 on a cold, rainy night in October,  a little terrier mutt made his way into the Albany post office and into the hearts of Americans nationwide.

Adopted by the postal workers, Owney seemed destined for a life of mail delivery. He was allegedly attracted to the scent or possibly the texture of the mailbags and soon began to accompany them on their routes via wagon and eventually on trains. His travels grew longer in distance and time, soon leaving the state to venture throughout the U.S. As no train he ever rode crashed, a common occurrence back then, Owney was considered a good luck charm. In 1895, Owney made a landmark trip around the world and has inspired current day teachers to use his travels in geography and cultural lessons.

It became customary for postal workers to attach tokens or tags to Owney’s collar when he visited their particular branch, and you can see the Smithsonian’s incredible 350+ collection online. It didn’t take long for the average Joe to also give Owney his or her souvenir tag. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that,

“Nearly every place he stopped Owney received an additional tag, until now he wears a big bunch. When he jogs along, they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon.”

Because of the sheer number, Owney was provided a vest so that he could display the tags without overburdening his neck. Excess tags were mailed back to the Albany post office where they were put on display.

Sadly, an altercation at a Toledo, Ohio post office ended Owney’s life prematurely. Owney was shot by the town marshal after he bit a mail clerk who got too close for comfort when trying to examine Owney’s tags, something he apparently was never very comfortable with. Instead of burying their canine mascot, funds were raised to preserve his body which can be seen today at the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C.

Share a little piece of this tenderhearted American history by purchasing Owney stamps from your local post office. They were just released yesterday, July 27, 2011. We also recommend the children’s book Owney: The Mail-Pouch Pooch by Mona Kerby. You can find this book on the Museum’s Recommended Reading List.


Reflections on AR2011

Wiley, a rescued wolf-dog hybrid met at AR2011.

Wiley, a rescued wolf-dog hybrid met at AR2011.

The Animal Rights National Conference 2011 has now come to an end, and hopefully all participants and attendees agree that it was an enlightening and inspiring event. Personally it was my very first animal protection conference, and I so enjoyed getting to spread the Museum’s message and learn about so many other amazing organizations campaigning to protect non-human creatures.

I learned about the efforts of Shark Shavers, who are working tirelessly to pass AB 376, which would ban the possession of shark fins in the state of California.

I met Christine Dorchak, President of GREY2K USA, an organization devoted to ending the cruel practice of greyhound racing in the United States.

I heard about the mission of the Galapagos Preservation Society, a team dedicated not only to protecting the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, but also to finding humane solutions to quelling the stray dog and cat populations which threaten the Islands’ delicate ecosystem.

I even met Gene Baur, President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary, the world-renowned group which rescues cows, poultry, pigs, sheep, and other farm animals and allows them to live out their natural lives on their beautiful 175-acre sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY.

Overall AR2011 was a thrilling, surprising, and invigorating journey into the world of the modern animal protection movement. I hope everyone who stopped by the Museum’s table was similarly excited to learn about what we are doing to preserve the history of this movement, and to highlight the many facets of the human-animal bond. It was a distinct pleasure to meet each and every one of you who stopped by and chatted with us!

Did you attend AR2011? What were your favorite exhibitors, speakers or panels? Give a plug to your group!

Come Join Us on the ARC!

Animal Rights Conference 2011

Animal Rights Conference 2011

We’re busy as bees here at the Museum! As you know we just got back from the HSUS’ Taking Action for Animals in Washington, D.C. This weekend we’re very excited to be participating in the 2011 Animal Rights National Conference (ARC) right here in Los Angeles, CA, at the Westin LAX Hotel. A program of Farm Animal Rights Movement, ARC is the largest and oldest animal rights gathering in the world, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year! With more than 100 speakers from 60 different organizations and 90 exhibits FREE and open to the public, ARC 2011 is sure to be an exciting and enlightening event for anyone interested in animals or their welfare.

ARC started yesterday, and you’ll find us in the exhibit hall starting today. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, NMAS staff and volunteers will be on hand to promote the Museum’s mission, as well as showcase our gorgeous new merchandise! In addition to our exhibit, NMAS Founder and President Carolyn Merino Mullin will be a presenter on two panels on Sunday morning. At the 10:30 panel on Running a Local Group, Carolyn will speak on recruiting and engaging interns, as well as the mutual benefits internships can create. Then at 11:30, Carolyn will speak on Commonality of Oppression, discussing the history of America’s animal protection movement and how it has coincided with other social movements to correct systemic inequalities.

We’d be so happy to have you stop by our table at ARC this weekend and say hello. With so much to do and see, and free admission to the exhibit hall (not to mention FREE vegan snacks!), ARC is guaranteed to be an enriching, educational, and enjoyable experience for all its attendees and participants.

Mules in the Mine

This pair of mules were working a plowing exhi...

Image via Wikipedia

Museum staff have been jet-setting across the country to partake in animal-inspired conferences. Last weekend we brought the “Our Shared Experience” mobile exhibit to the Humane Society of the United States’ Taking Action for Animals Conference in the nation’s capitol. This weekend we’ll be at the annual National Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. We like to make the most of our trips.

While in the Washington D.C. area, we decided to do a little touring of the neighboring vicinities and discovered fascinating human-animal tales in American history. In Lansford, Pennsylvania, we stumbled upon the annual Coal Miner’s Heritage Festival held at the No. 9 Coal Mine & Museum – what a fascinating place! Visitors not only wander through an amazing array of artifacts in the Museum, but are able to hop onto a mine car, tour the mine itself and learn about the hard reality of life as a coal miner. My ears perked up as I learned that canaries weren’t the only critter used down in the mines; mules made their way to the scene very quickly.

David Kuchta contributed the following research on Mine Mules to the No. 9 Coal Mine Museum. I think you’ll find the information at times amusing, definitely fascinating and historically enlightening.

I think most people would find the subject of Mine Mules intriguing. They are part of the long history of the mining industry. In the 16th through the 18th century in the United Kingdom, the mine industry used humans as a beast of burden. Most times, it was children and women who carried or dragged the baskets of coal or rock to the main shafts. In 1842, the United Kingdom passed laws against girls and women working in the mines. Then in time they used small ponies to do the job. Later, the United Kingdom passed laws against ponies in the mines but for a short while they used boys to pull the cars to the shaft. In the United States, some of the oldest mines used oxen and then mules to pull the coal cars inside and outside the mines. Here in the Panther Valley, the Lehigh Coal & Navigational Company used mules right up to the period of shutting down most of the mine operations in the early to mid 1950s. They kept the last mules probably more as a memento to the past but the company also utilized them in areas where the electric mine motors might cause certain problems. In some areas there might have been a minor gas problem and an overhead electric trolley line could spark an explosion so they utilized the mules. Mules are very smart and along with that, they could be very thick-headed. They know what they can do and would never do any thing they couldn’t or would not want to do. Mules were known to pull at least three full mine cars full of coal. If you hooked up a fourth car they would balk at any commands and just stand there. No way would they pull the fourth car! Some mule drivers figured that the mules were counting the cars as they were hooked up with the chains. So when it came to the fourth car, they did it real quiet and discreet. The mules pulled the fourth car, unknowingly, without any problems.

In the early years when the coal companies had canals they tried using horses to pull the barges of coal. They soon found that on a hot day, the horses would want to take a dip in the canal to cool off, often dragging a young mule driver into the water which could end up with some of the drivers getting drowned. Horses are also known to pull more then they could handle and they literally would work to their death. They found out that the mule didn’t like water and would never work himself into the ground like a horse. With this experience, the job of pulling the barges on the canals was eventually turned over to mules. A good mule driver knew that treating the mules with kindness got better results then mistreatment. Some drivers were mean and ruthless and if the mule didn’t want to pull any mine cars they would hit them with the wooden sprags that were throughout the mines. The sprags are a piece of wood that you jammed in the openings of the wheels to brake the cars. When mules were mistreated they often got even. Many a miner or driver was killed by mules, by getting kicked in the chest or head. Another favorite way of evening up the score with a mule driver was to squeeze him against the rib (wall) of the mine. Most drivers kept away from any squeeze points and just treated their mules with respect. In the same case, mules were just plain cantankerous and ill mannered. Some mules wouldn’t work with any driver. The company had to find someone who the mule would work with. Yes, some mules were just like humans and just didn’t want to work. Mules also liked to get treats such as apples, carrots and believe it or not, chewing tobacco.

In the No. 9 Mine Museum in Lansford, Pennsylvania they have a death certificate for two mules that died in 1913. Their value was placed at $200 a mule. Most mining companies valued the mules life over that of a common mine labor. The Coal Companies also did not take lightly any mistreatment of mules. If a miner decided to kill a mule, he had a good chance of being fired. Many people think that the mules were never taken out of the mines and were blind. Not so! Mule stables in the mines were usually lit up with electric lights (after 1920 or so.) Mules were also taken outside to a mule barn when the miners went on strike or during a vacation period. If any mine mule was hurt or sick they would bring him out for recuperation. When the mules were brought out of the mines they would romp and run around the area. They would like to roll on their backs and just kick up their heels. Mules enjoyed getting out of the mines every so often. They often walked the mules from one mine to another such as from Spring Tunnel or No. 9 Mine to No. 6 at the other end of Lansford. Around 1964, the government passed laws outlawing the use of any animals, as beasts of burden, in any mines. It was at this time that the illustrious career of the “Mine Mule” came to an end.

In the Not-Too-Distant Future: A Zoo Without Animals?

The eZOO concept. Image via eZOO Facebook.

The eZOO concept. Image via eZOO Facebook.

Recently, the Spanish animal advocacy association LIBERA! and the Swiss environmental organization Fondation Franz Weber teamed up to propose the concept of eZOO, which, if completed, would be the first virtual-reality zoological park in the world. Planned for construction in Barcelona, Spain, eZOO would combine animatronics, 3D projection, interactive displays, and immersive virtual environments to plunge guests into a multisensory experience of simulated animals in their natural habitats. The programming and content of eZOO could also be specially customized and altered to appeal to specific demographic groups or to highlight particular aspects of the natural world. For example, one program could be tailor-made for elementary school-aged children, while another program could be designed for teenagers, and yet another for adults, teachers, scientists, or even policy-makers. A room which highlights the effects of global warming one day could be reprogrammed to showcase the deforestation of the world’s rain forests the next. (You can watch a video of some of the technologies that eZOO is planning to incorporate, as well as listen [in Spanish] to its organizers further explain the concept, on Vimeo, or read more about eZOO [in English] on Elephant Voices.)

The proposed eZOO sounds infinite in its dynamicism, scope, and educational possibilities. As the world changes and new environmental concerns arise, eZOO could change along with it and continue to bring guests face-to-face with the multitude of serious issues plaguing the natural world. But what does it mean for animals? For one, visitors would be able to interact more personally with (virtual) creatures. Animals that previously could not be contained in a zoo – blue whales, for instance – or which are known to suffer when kept in captivity – such as elephants and great apes – could finally have their presence felt by humans in a more naturalistic way. It sounds silly to think that a virtual projection of an animal could be considered “naturalistic,” but that is exactly what eZOO aims to achieve: bringing the experience of animals in the wild, behaving as they would naturally behave, to humans in a virtual but fully realistic manner.

eZOO sounds like a fascinating concept, but also looks like a massively-ambitious project that will take years (most likely decades) to fund and build. But are virtual animals really the “future” of zoos? Certainly modern zoos have improved by leaps and bounds on their forefathers, and are actively working to find even better ways to keep both their animal residents and human visitors happy, stimulated, and comfortable. Zoos are not the “animal prisons” they once were. However, it’s also important to take into consideration that keeping captive animals as happy as their wild counterparts is a challenging – and expensive – task, even for the best zoos.

Furthermore, the purpose of the modern zoo is less akin to the circus and more focused on promoting conservation of species and the natural spaces which they inhabit. Zoos operate on the notion that there’s nothing like seeing a living, breathing example of a species up close to inspire one to want to save his or her brethren in the wild. Is it ethical for zoos to keep live animals in captivity to inspire humans to be more aware of their wild counterparts? Can a virtual zoo possibly capture the effect of seeing a live animal – or will eZOO lead to a further disconnection between humanity and the world in which we live?

We’re Taking Action for Animals!

Taking Action for Animals

Taking Action for Animals - July 15-18, Washington DC

Join the National Museum of Animals & Society this weekend in Washington, D.C., at the Humane Society of the United States’ annual Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) conference! Now in its seventh year, TAFA is the largest event of its kind, intended to unite both seasoned veterans of animal advocacy and those new to the movement to network, share ideas, and come away equipped with new tools and strategies for making the world a better place for both human and non-human animals alike.

NMAS founder and president Carolyn Merino Mullin will be present at TAFA this Saturday and Sunday to promote the Museum’s mission and raise funds by selling our gorgeous NEW Museum merchandise! If you’re headed to TAFA, or happen to be around Washington Marriott Wardman Park this weekend, be sure to stop by; entry into the exhibit hall is only $10! We’ll have a report back from Carolyn on this marvelous and inspiring event up on the blog sometime next week. Hope to see you there!

Making the Dog Days of Summer Fun for Fido

Dogs love the beach too. Image via Wikipedia.

Dogs love the beach too. Image via Wikipedia.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the official start of the notoriously-sweltering “Dog Days” of summer. Many people believe the hottest time of the year got its canine nickname from the perceived laziness of dogs in hot weather; when the temperature and humidity rise, us humans may even describe ourselves as “dog tired.” However, the phrase actually dates back to ancient Rome, when the “Dog Days” described the period when the “dog star” Sirius (so called because it’s the brightest star in the dog-shaped constellation Canis Major) appeared in the sky right before or at sunrise. The Romans believed Sirius’ close proximity to the sun enraged the star, which took its anger out on the earth by cranking up the heat.

We offered some tips in our July 4th post on how to keep your dog safe and cool during these blazing summer months. But summer is also a time for vacation, relaxation, and outdoor fun, and there’s no reason why you can’t include your canine companion in these joyous activities. Many guardians find spending time on the beach to be a great way to bond with their dog. Just make sure it’s a dog-friendly shore – PetFriendlyTravel.com offers a comprehensive list by state of beaches which welcome dogs.

Here are some essential tips on how to keep your dog safe and happy during a visit to the coast:

  • Come prepared. Know the rules and regulations of the dog-friendly beach you choose to visit. Some require dogs to be on a six-foot lead at all times; others allow dogs to be off leash. ALL require you to clean up after your canine companion. Following the rules ensures that the beach will stay dog-friendly, for everyone to enjoy.
  • Pay attention. A dog-friendly beach is sure to be full of other dogs, as well as enticing new sights, scents, and people. Your dog has plenty to get excited about, and may over-exert herself. Watch your dog at all times, and make sure she isn’t wandering off, getting into fights, overheating, or bothering unfriendly strangers.
  • Watch out for danger. Beaches are prime places for your dog to pick up sand fleas or sea lice, or perhaps have a nasty encounter with a crab or jellyfish. In addition, dogs can ingest washed-up trash or get entangled in fishing lines. So be on the lookout.
  • Don’t let your dog drink seawater, as the salt can dehydrate him, and the pollutants can make him sick.
  • After swimming, rinse your dog with fresh water if it’s available, and give him a thorough bath as soon as you get home. Salt and other chemicals found in seawater can irritate a dog’s skin.
  • Of course, remember to always provide plenty of fresh water, protection from the sun, and a blanket or towel to sit on and rest those hot paws.

Want to know more? The American Kennel Club offers a great page of summer safety tips for pooches, including how to safely introduce your dog to swimming if it’s her first time in the water. The beach not your scene? Check out the State of California’s tips on visiting state parks with your dog, or the National Park Service’s official list of cautions for animal guardians.

What kind of summer fun does your dog enjoy? Any additional need-to-knows for guardians bringing Bowser to the beach for the first time? Leave us a comment!

The Future of Ancient Egypt’s Animal Mummies

Cat mummies at the Louvre. Image via Wikipedia.

Cat mummies at the Louvre. Image via Wikipedia.

Maybe you’ve heard (perhaps even on our Facebook page) about a popular new experiment, combining both science and history, that’s sweeping the nation’s museums and schools. The activity, designed for elementary school-aged kids, involves the do-it-yourself mummification of a chicken, fish, or other small animal as a means to allow children to travel back in time and get a feel for one aspect of the elaborate cultural practices of the ancient Egyptians. Although this approach is primarily designed to give kids a hands-on feel of what was involved in the mummification of Egyptian pharaohs, the ancient Egyptians themselves mummified millions of non-human animals – including cats, dogs, monkeys, ibises, hawks, crocodiles, even hippos – for several different purposes.

Current theory holds that Egyptian animal mummies fall into three different categories: companion animals, sacred animals, and votive offerings. It is clear from wall carvings and sarcophagi that companion animals were an important part of ancient Egyptian life. While it is possible that some were deliberately killed and mummified when their human caretakers died, there is also evidence that the preservation and internment of companion animals alongside their human guardians took place after the animal’s own natural death. Around 900 BCE, Egypt’s religious beliefs changed; some species of animal were now thought to be the living embodiment of certain gods and goddesses, and therefore came to be worshiped as holy symbols. Cats in particular were associated with the goddess Bastet; they were raised in and around her temples, and when they died, they were mummified and buried by the thousands in mass graves. Gradually, between 300 and 30 BCE, animals began being raised for the express purpose of mummification as a form of sacrifice to the gods and goddesses. Mummified cats – many of them young kittens, who were smaller and therefore easier to prepare – were sold to pilgrims on their way to the temple of Bastet to be left as votive offerings to appease the goddess.

Although modern technologies such as radiography have been used for several decades to see inside the layers of cloth and resin covering ancient human mummies without disturbing their delicate contents, because of the sheer volume and variety of specimens and the expense of performing such research, ancient animal mummies have received much less scientific scrutiny. Therefore, less is known about what these non-human specimens may contain. Recently, curators at the Brooklyn Museum teamed up with the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan to perform x-ray computed tomography (CT) scans on 32 animal mummy specimens which had been sitting in the museum’s collection, unopened and unexplored, for over 70 years. While regular x-rays allow researchers to see the contents of a mummified specimen from a single angle, a CT scan combines multiple x-rays from multiple angles, building a 3D picture of what the mummy holds. You can read more about the Brooklyn Museum’s project here, and even see video of some of the process and the curators talking about this important undertaking.

Figure of Anubis. Image via Wikipedia.

Figure of Anubis. Image via Wikipedia.

But why, exactly, is it important to know what’s inside these ancient animal mummies? Just as examining the contents of human mummies can tell us more about who that individual was, examining the contents of animal mummies can tell us more about what role animals played in ancient Egyptian daily life, culture, and religion. For example, we know canine mummies were left as votive offerings to the god Anubis – but what kind of canines? Are they dogs, jackals, wolves, or foxes? Examining these mummies can give us a more exact answer as to which species the Egyptians associated with Anubis. Furthermore, CT scans can reveal an animal’s cause of death – if there is a visible cause of death. Did these specimens die of old age, or were they killed for sacrificial purposes? If so, how were they killed? We can also learn about ancient Egyptian practices of veterinary medicine by examining the specimens for signs of disease or broken (and mended) bones. Finally, pinpointing the species of mummified animals can help paint a more clear picture of ancient Egypt’s natural environment. Some mummified species are extinct in modern Egypt; mummies can tell us what animals used to live there, or who the Egyptians traded with to get them.

For more information on ancient Egyptian animal mummies, check out their page on James M. Deem’s Mummy Tombs, or learn more about the dire need to preserve these precious specimens from the Cairo Museum’s Animal Mummy Project. Or you can check out the results of the Brooklyn Museum’s research into its own collection of animal mummies in what is sure to be a fascinating and enlightening exhibition, currently scheduled for 2013.

An Animal-Friendly Fourth

The New York City fireworks over the East Vill...

Image via Wikipedia

Like us, animals such as dogs and cats, relish their independence and freedom. Help them and your family celebrate a happy, safe and enjoyable Fourth of July weekend with these helpful tips:

  • Keep animal companions at home. Whether at a community picnic, fireworks display or neighbor’s party, there is plenty to upset animals: food they shouldn’t ingest, frightening sounds and vibrations, crowds, etc. Best to err on the side of caution, and make sure Fido is in a familiar, comfortable place, like home.
  • Speaking of home… to lessen the impact of nerve-racking fireworks, block out sights and sounds from the outdoors by closing the blinds and turning on familiar or soothing background noise such as the TV or music. Make sure your animal has their favorite objects such as a bed and toys accessible. If your dog is the type to prefer sleeping in a crate, use this as a safe place and cover the crate with a blanket to make him or her feel more secure.
  • If you notice that your animal companion is becoming anxious, spend time with them, speak soothingly, and dole out the belly rubs and back scratches.
  • Barbecues are a classic culinary treat on the Fourth, but ensure that your animals avoid scraps from the grill. Changes to an animal’s diet can upset their tummies and make them quite ill. Always avoid toxic foods like onions, avocado, grapes and raisins.
  • And human products, like insect repellent, can also be hazardous to an animal’s health. As for sunscreen, there is doggy-specific brands on the market. Review this list for other common household items and foods that are a no-no for dogs and cats.
  • It’s not uncommon for animals to get scared, escape and run away. Ensure that all your animals not only have up-to-date collars and contact information, but are microchipped as well.
  • Ensure that your pet is protected from the sun and heat. Hot asphalt can burn the pads of their paws. Dehydration is a concern too. Make water always available, use doggy sunscreen, and locate shady spots for Lassie if you plan to be outside.
  • And never, ever use or keep fireworks near your animal companions.

Check these to-do’s off your list and you’ll be sure to have a wonderful, stress-free and healthy weekend celebrating our nation’s independence with your animal companions.

Happy Fourth of July!