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Monthly Archives: October 2011

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!

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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.

Animals in Domestic Abuse Shelters Help Humans To Heal

Therapy dogs. Image via Wikipedia.

Therapy dogs. Image via Wikipedia.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and though violence in the home is tragic, there are stories of triumph that are important to learn about as well. When someone flees their home due to domestic violence, often they have to do so with little more than just the clothes on their backs. This is clearly a trying time as they are separated not only from their homes but also from loved ones, as they must avoid providing clues as to their whereabouts while escaping from their abusive partners or guardians. This is where a little-known type of therapy animal steps in. Domestic abuse shelters are increasingly employing dogs and cats to lift the spirits of adults and children who have fled abusive environments.

Many people already know that dogs and cats are used in hospitals and rest homes in order to bring love and comfort to the patients and residents. Domestic abuse shelters are now implementing a similar strategy. Studies have shown that interaction with an animal can lower blood pressure, battle depression, and help increase mental stability. Also, for those who had to leave their pets behind, having a therapy animal in the shelter brings a little bit of home to an unfamiliar place.

Safe Horizon, an advocacy organization for victims of domestic violence, explains why therapy animals are so beneficial: they don’t judge, they just love. Also, “a physically or sexually abused child may not want anyone – not even their non-offending parent – to touch them. Yet they will want to pet, hold, or even hug a dog or cat.” The animal can also provide a non-threatening presence to whom the child may verbally communicate feelings. Somewhat like when a child speaks through a doll to let go of secrets and feelings, when the child talks to a therapy animal s/he does so with his or her guard down because the child knows that the animal doesn’t understand the specific words. The child can say anything s/he needs to release and not fear having it come back.

This is just another example of how animals can bring joy and peace into the lives of humans in a multitude of ways.

National Veterinary Technician Week

This week, October 9-15th, is National Veterinary Technician Week. Veterinary technicians, also known as animal health technicians or paraveterinary workers, are the nurses of the veterinary world, performing duties ranging from taking an animal’s temperature or pulse, to cleaning and dressing wounds, to analyzing biological samples such as blood or skin scrapings, to operating machinery such as x-rays and electrocardiograms. I feel the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), the creators of Vet Tech Week, explain the need for this event best, so I’ll let them take it from here.

Pets are important members for many families, yet sometimes they don’t receive the care they deserve. As a member of the veterinary healthcare team, veterinary technicians are educated in the latest medical advances and skilled at working alongside veterinarians to give pets the best medical care possible. They work closely with the veterinarians, veterinary assistants, practice managers, patients and owners [sic] to provide the essential link with all involved in the care process.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Inc. (NAVTA) has proclaimed October 9 – 15, 2011 to be National Veterinary Technician Week. “Technicians are an integral part of the veterinary healthcare team, and celebrating National Veterinary Technician Week gives them the credit they deserve. It also provides an opportunity to teach the public about what veterinary technicians do on a daily basis,” says Sandy Sponaugle, NAVTA Communications Director. This annual event recognizes veterinary technicians for their contributions in pet healthcare, as well as veterinarians, assistants, practice managers and others involved in this care. This year, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a company dedicated to helping pets reach their full potential through quality nutrition and healthcare, is sponsoring the week-long celebration.

NAVTA is a nonprofit organization that represents and promotes the veterinary technician profession. NAVTA provides direction, education, support and coordination for its members. Incorporated in 1981, NAVTA is the national organization devoted exclusively to developing and enhancing the profession of veterinary technology. Pets give us unconditional love and veterinary technicians give us peace of mind. For this reason, they should be celebrated during National Veterinary Technician Week. More information about NAVTA and this special week can be found at http://www.navta.net or by calling 888.99NAVTA.

On Search and Rescue Canines

Red Cross dog, 1909. Image via Wikipedia.

Red Cross dog, 1909. Image via Wikipedia.

Dogs are among some of the most beneficial animals to humans. They have long been appreciated for their loyalty to humans above most other animals, and valued for their heightened senses. Their sense of smell in particular is extraordinary, which makes them an invaluable aid to humans in an investigative capacity. Dogs are internationally used in police and security outfits as drug detectors for this reason, and more impressively, as search and rescue (SAR) dogs.

One of the earliest uses of dogs in the search and rescue position was during World War I. Dogs were used by the Red Cross across Europe to search for the wounded on the battlefield. The French Army also employed the animals as “ambulance dogs” for a similar purpose. Today there are several national services, including the Red Cross, the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA) and FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, who raise and train dogs for this purpose. Red Cross, ARDA, and FEMA have been present at many of the major disasters in the last decade, including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the recent Japan earthquake. At the World Trade Center after 9/11, an estimated 300 SAR dogs were present.

There are two types of SAR dogs: airscent dogs, who are trained to sniff the air for and detect a scent and alert their handler to the location of the scent; and tracking dogs, who nose the ground to track a scent given them ahead of time, allowing them to track a person through their steps. The most common dogs trained for airscenting are Golden and Labrador Retrievers. Due to their sturdy build and playful nature, they are generally not stressed by the work of a SAR dog, and their naturally docile temperament makes them easy to work with and extremely loyal to their handlers. It also raises their protective instincts towards humans. Collies and Shepherd breeds are also common due to their strong herding instincts. Most dog breeds can be trained for tracking, however the most common are hounds, who are renowned particularly for their ability to follow a scent.

Handling a SAR dog is a constant task, with training beginning usually in early life, puppyhood preferably. The dogs must be trained in basic obedience in order to maintain their own safety. They are also trained in agility and, of course, scenting. The most essential training for a SAR dog, however, is bonding with their handler. The handler must not only be a trainer to the dog, but also a friend. The reason, after all, that dogs make such effective creatures for this line of work stems from their natural inclination to serve, protect, and obey their human pack.

While the training can be difficult, and dogs are sometimes put in dangerous situations in order to protect human life in the line of SAR work, the dogs lead, on the whole, good and happy lives. They are necessarily well-cared for by their trainers, praised for their work, and kept in constant exercise and diversion in the course of the task. Most importantly, the dogs serve an essential function that humans who have been found by them will forever be grateful for, and humans who train them will always respect.

World Animal Day

St. Francis statue. Image via Wikipedia.

St. Francis statue. Image via Wikipedia.

Initiated in 1931 by a convention of ecologists in Florence, Italy, seeking to bring awareness to the plight of endangered species, World Animal Day is now held every October 4th, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Known as the patron saint of animals due to a popular collection of folktales, Fioretti di San Francesco (Little Flowers of St. Francis), penned a century and a half after his death, St. Francis is said to have preached the duty of men to protect nature as well as the duty of non-human animals to give glory to God. In recognition of his feast day, many churches hold a Blessing of the Animals, which has also been carried over to synagogues and other places of worship along with nondenominational community centers, animal shelters, and parks.

This is the Blessing of Pets commonly read over animal visitors at Franciscan churches:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.

The mission statement of World Animal Day designates October 4th as a day “to celebrate animal life in all its forms; to celebrate humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom; to acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives – from being our companions, supporting and helping us, to bringing a sense of wonder into our lives; [and] to acknowledge and be thankful for the way in which animals enrich our lives.” On October 1st, the National Museum of Animals & Society launched Souls Awakened, an online community art and photo exhibition designed to show and tell the individual stories of animals that have changed how we feel, how we think, how we act, and who we are. While you spend time today reflecting on how animals have impacted your life, consider contributing your image and story to our collection and becoming a part of our shared history.