On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

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!


World Farm Animals’ Day

Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Wikipedia.

On October 2, 1869, in the Indian seaside town of Porbandar, Karamchand and Putlibai Gandhi welcomed into the world an infant who would grow up to become an incredible force for change – for both people and animals. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, often referred to as Mahatma, is recognized for leading his countrymen (and women!) in a crusade for independence, but he’s less widely known for his genuine compassion for animals.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.

Animals too, he believed, benefited from the tenets of nonviolence and justice. Gandhi advocated for better, more humane farming practices as well as for a vegetarian diet. During his years in the UK, Gandhi was involved in the London Vegetarian Society and contributed quite a bit to the weekly newspaper aptly named The Vegetarian.

To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.

I feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.

Fast forward 142 years after Gandhi’s day of birth. October 2, 1983 marked the first celebration of World Farm Animals Day, an event created by the Farm Animal Rights Movement in memory of Gandhi’s life and contributions towards farm animal welfare. In the 28 years that this event has taken place, participants the globe over have initiated creative means for enlightening the public to the plight of farm animals on factory-style farms: vigils, marches, leafleting, tabling, cage-ins, and video displays. 2011 promises to be another innovative year with the use of the new Pay Per View campaign. Participants, who would otherwise shy away from knowing what takes place on factory farms, are paid $1 to watch a few minutes of undercover footage. They say an image speaks a thousand words. These videos speak millions.

Vultures in Symbolism, Myth and Lore

Sky burial

Sky Burial. Image via Wikipedia

I have a soft spot for vultures. Even with their bald heads and carrion-eating ways (they’ve even been known to urinate on their feet as a form of sanitization), I relish the chance to see them soaring, so free-spirited in the skies. Little did I know that vultures have made their presence widely known in both the belief and operating systems of different cultures in the “New World” and “Old World.”

  • Ancient Egyptians viewed vultures, who are very protective and nurturing of their young, as wonderful mothers. In Egyptian mythology, Nekhbet, a local goddess of childbirth and feminine energies, is usually illustrated as an Egyptian white vulture. Also known as Mother of Mothers and the Great White Cow of Nekheb, she is considered the mother of the godly aspect of the pharaoh. In fact, the priestesses of the city of Nekhbet were called mothers, or muu, and sported robes made of vulture feathers.
  • Sky burials, or jhator, is a practice in Tibet, whereby Buddhists will prepare the body of the recently departed and expose it to the elements and animals, namely the Eurasian Griffon or Old World vulture who will consume the flesh, upon a mountaintop. Depending on how many bodies are available, the birds may have to be coaxed to eat through a ritual dance. If the vultures do not eat the flesh, it is considered a bad omen. Jhator helps to teach the impermanence of life and live out Buddhist principles including compassion and generosity to all beings.
  • In the same spirit as the Tibetan Buddhists, Zoroastrians also offered their dead up to the vultures upon a raised platform known as a dakhma. In their belief system, vultures are the ones that help release the soul from one’s body.
  • And of course all throughout North and South America, vultures play a large symbolic role in native cultures. The Mayan believed vultures regulated rain. Some Native Americans interpreted their flight patterns as a way to assess and predict the weather.

Who knew? Seriously, who knew?

Lap-dog Poetry

Mexican lapdog

Image via Wikipedia

Our last two posts on the NMAS blog focused on the ever eccentric and inspiring poet Margaret Cavendish (1623 – 1673) and canines in historical portraits. Both fluttering away in my thoughts, they eventually brought to mind the genre of lap-dog poetry that erupted in the 1600’s and 1700’s across Europe and in America too.

As a way to express one’s emotions about, devotion to, or love for their companion canine, Europeans took to the pen (or quill and ink!) with vigor and generated incredibly sincere prose. This was largely due to a societal shift in thinking about animals. The Enlightenment spurred people to consider non-humans and their pain, happiness, individuality, and personalities.

Here are a few poems – some happy, some not so much – for your enjoyment.

Epitaph On A Favourite Lapdog

I never barked when out of season;
I never bit without a reason;
I ne’er insulted weaker brother;
Nor wrong’d by force nor fraud another.
Though brutes are plac’d a rank below,
Happy for man could he say so!

— Thomas Blacklock (Scottish, 1721-1791)

On the Death of a Lady’s Dog

Thou, happy creature, art secure
From all the troubles we endure.

— Unknown (Virginia Gazette, 1775)

An Elegy on a Lap-dog

Shock’s fate I mourn; poor Shock is now no more,
Ye Muses mourn, ye chamber-maids deplore.
Unhappy Shock! yet more unhappy fair,
Doom’d to survive thy joy and only care!
Thy wretched fingers now no more shall deck,
And tie the fav’rite ribbon round his neck;
No more thy hand shall smooth his glossy hair,
And comb the wavings of his pendent ear.
Yet cease thy flowing grief, forsaken maid;
All mortal pleasures in a moment fade:
Our surest hope is in an hour destroy’d,
And love, best gift of heav’n, not long enjoy’d.

Methinks I see her frantic with despair,
Her streaming eyes, wrung hands, and flowing hair
Her Mechlen pinners rent the floor bestrow,
And her torn fan gives real signs of woe.
Hence Superstition, that tormenting guest,
That haunts with fancied fears the coward breast;
No dread events upon his fate attend,
Stream eyes no more, no more thy tresses rend.
Tho’ certain omens oft forewarn a state,
And dying lions show the monarch’s fate;
Why should such fears bid Celia’s sorrow rise?
For when a lap-dog falls no lover dies.

Cease, Celia, cease; restrain thy flowing tears,
Some warmer passion will dispel thy cares.
In man you’ll find a more substantial bliss,
More grateful toying, and a sweeter kiss.

He’s dead. Oh lay him gently in the ground!
And may his tomb be by this verse renown’d.
Here Shock, the pride of all his kind, is laid;
Who fawn’d like man, but ne’er like man betray’d.

— John Gay (English, 1685 – 1732)

Ethics and Your Plate

The source allows use of image with credit to ...

Sows in Gestation Crates. Image via Wikipedia

Companion animals aside, the majority of Americans interact with animals on a daily basis primarily through their dietary choices. And in breaking down the numbers, where 10 billion land animals are slaughtered each year for consumption, food ethics and farm animal welfare become a very important discussion to be had in our society – one that affects many more animals than say those found in the nation’s shelters, parks, etc.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is “driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.” Realizing the vastly important role animal agriculture plays in society, a Commission was formed on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) to “conduct a comprehensive, fact-based and balanced examination of key aspects of the farm animal industry. Commissioners represent diverse backgrounds and perspectives and come from the fields of veterinary medicine, agriculture, public health, business, government, rural advocacy and animal welfare.”

By now, most Americans should be aware and concerned by industrial agriculture, an industry that keeps animals concentrated in factory-like warehouses and confined to a point where movement is severely restricted, and the issues it brings to the table. Public health, the environment, animal welfare and rural communities are all effected by the move towards raising animals in these concentrated systems rather than the traditional, extensive, decentralized family farm system.

In their latest report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, The Trust recommends the following solutions to the problems, which you can read more about in their accessible Executive Summary:

  1. Phase out and then ban the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials.
  2. Improve disease monitoring and tracking.
  3. Improve Industrial Farm Animal Production regulation.
  4. Phase out intensive confinement.
  5. Increase competition in the livestock market.
  6. Improve research in animal agriculture.

Do you think these six objectives, if met, will fix our broken food system?

NMAS recognizes the power of our food choices and the votes we cast (for better companies, values, nutrition…) with our dollars each time we make a purchase. With this in mind, we’re proud to announce the details on our Fall Lecture Series’ Symposium, Ethics and Your Plate: A Conversation on Animals and Food, taking place on Saturday, November 12th at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. We hope you can join us for this stimulating day that will explore contemporary issues surrounding animal agribusiness through presentations by speakers representing a variety of perspectives from vegan to the “ethical omnivore.”

An Eagle Hero

Old Abe the Screaming War Eagle of the Wiscons...

Image via Wikipedia

I treasure animal biographies that represent a little snippet of our nation’s history. Recently I was given a copy of the children’s book Old Abe, Eagle Hero which profiles the life of an incredible bald eagle named after President Abraham Lincoln.

The following re-telling is taken from the website of an old-time portrait company named after the famous bird –

Old Abe, the American War Eagle, was the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Regiment in the Civil War. He had been captured in the spring of 1861 from a nest in a tall pine tree in northern Wisconsin.  A Native American named Oge-ma-wa-ge-jig took him from the nest, and the eagle was later sold to a local farmer, Dan McCann, in exchange for a bushel of corn.

Dan McCann later presented the eagle to Captain John E. Perkins of the Eau Claire Badgers,Company C of the 8th Regiment. In honor of President Lincoln, they named him
“Old Abe”.

As the newly formed company made its way to Madison,Wisconsin in the fall of 1861, word spread that they were carrying a live eagle at their head. Thousands gathered in La Crosse to see the eagle, and the scene repeated itself in Madison when they arrived at Camp Randall in September 1861.

From this time on, the Wisconsin Eagle Regiment became known all through the army, and to the Confederates as well. Old Abe was not just a mascot, but became a patriotic symbol for the entire nation. Confederate General Price ordered his men to try to capture or kill Old Abe, adding that he would rather get that bird than a whole regiment.

Old Abe was in thirty-nine battles during the Civil War including Fredericktown, and the Siege of Vicksburg. One of the Wisconsin soldiers at the Siege of Vicksburg was a young soldier named Henry Hamilton Bennett.

After the Civil War, Old Abe was given a permanent home in the Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison. He was a popular attraction and was viewed by thousands. He was also taken to various parts of the United States, being in great demand all over. He attended national conventions, was taken to the great Centennial Exposition in 1876 at Philadelphia and other noted gatherings, where he was the center of attraction.

In 1879, H. H. Bennett visited the capital to take stereo photos of Old Abe, one of which is shown on this page.  It was one of his most popular images.

Just two years later, a small fire in the capitol building near Old Abe’s cage created so much smoke, that Old Abe was nearly suffocated. While he survived the fire, he never fully recovered.  A few days later, on March 26, 1881, he expired in the arms of his keeper, George Gillies.

That’s a wrap!

NOAA agent counting confiscated shark fins.

Image via Wikipedia

Countless global citizens have been made more aware of shark behavior, anatomy and their plummeting populations as Shark Week 2011 wraps up. But what do we do with this information?

Animal advocates across the oceans are calling on people to voice their concerns on one significant issue that has decimated shark numbers: shark fin soup. According to our neighbors, Shark Savers, a few towns over in Simi Valley, Calif.,

Research indicates that each year, the fins of up to 73 million sharks are harvested and sold, mostly for shark fin soup. Together with other forms of shark fishing, including unintentional ‘bycatch’, over 100 million sharks are being killed each year.

Shark fin soup, which can run $80 a serving, is considered a gourmet delicacy in high societies of China and here in North America too among Chinese-American communities. It’s also considered a cultural legacy with health-benefiting properties and is popularly offered at weddings and banquets.

The “harvesting” of shark fins isn’t a pretty process. After having their fins removed, these  sharks are typically still alive and unable to swim. They are tossed back into the ocean where they slowly sink toward the bottom and are eaten alive by other fish. Other sea animals are also effected by the methods used for capturing sharks. We’ll let you explore that on your own.

But the question to be asked is: Is it a fundamental cultural right to use animals – despite their endangered status – for consumption? Leeway has been made for native tribes that have depended upon whale meat for centuries, despite the endangered status of certain whales. On the other hand, some traditions that have long existed and were thoroughly weaved into society’s fabric, such as eating dogs and even veal, have been not only challenged, but expunged and are now looked upon universally (with a few exceptions) with distaste. Will that be the case with sharks?

Do we have the right to dictate what another culture is allowed or forbidden to consume? In this global society and marketplace, how much of your response depends on where the animals used for food come from? Are the oceans and its inhabitants up for grabs? Does locavorism need to come into the discussion?

If you’re in California, you may be interested in Bill AB 376, which would ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins in the state. Find out how you can get a hold of your senator on this issue and express your concerns.

It’s Shark Week!

Great white shark. Photo by Terry Goss, copyri...

Image via Wikipedia

Don’t you just love products and legacies of the 1980’s? Bad hair, neon colors, and New Kids on the Block; the list goes on… and on. Come 1987 and we have the first ever Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. This week-long series of action-packed TV programming has now become the longest running thematic event on cable and is aired in 72+ countries.

And there’s little wonder why; sharks have notoriously held a mysterious and threatening mystique in coastal and landlocked cultures alike for eons. Jaws of steel, piercing eyes, and powerful bodies add up to a worthy predator, one of the few that could – in theory and, to a small degree, actuality – prey on people. Through several decades of recent research and study, scientists are discovering that we (humans and sharks) are more alike on the genetic and cellular levels than we thought:

  • A 2006 University of FL (Go Gators!) report outlined that humans and sharks shared a common ancestor some 450 million years ago. During their hunts, sharks capitalize on their cells which are programmed to detect electrical signals emitted from their prey. These cells apparently also fashioned human cranial and facial features. Do you think we look shark-like?
  • Our immune systems are similar. Like mammals, sharks have all four types of blood cells.
  • Researchers at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore have found that genetic sequences in humans and elephant sharks are very similar as are sets of genes on chromosomes. We also share certain physiological and biochemical processes, including internal fertilization and live births.

Research is also explaining away or at least providing insight into the number of unprovoked shark attacks which still feed our shark-as-predator hysteria. The warming of waters through climate change may be driving sharks to new hunting grounds, food may be more readily available inland than in open waters , and some scientists argue that sharks are developing an affinity for human flesh. A leading proponent of the latter is Mexico’s Jose Leonardo Castillo who says that crime lords that dump human bodies into the ocean are fostering a shark’s palate for people.

Regardless, the facts still point out that shark attacks are rare and when they do occur it’s usually a case of mistaken identity, e.g. – a surfer lying flat atop his or her board looks an awful lot like a seal, from a shark’s point of view.

Happy Shark Week! I hope you’ll enjoy our shark-themed blog entries this week and will spend a little time exploring our interactions with sharks either on your own or through the Discovery Channel’s website or cable channel. So much to learn about these fascinating animals, and how we can live harmoniously.

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.

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.