National Geographic Article on Exotic Animals as “Pets”

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By Paula Fitzsimmons

I was pleased to see that the cover story on the April, 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine is about the keeping of exotic animals as “pets”.  As expected from a National Geo article, Wild Pets – The Debate Over Owning Exotic Animals by Lauren Slater is full of facts, perspective, and gives the reader room for thought and reflection.

The author brings up pivotal points  – including state and federal laws restricting exotic animal “ownership”, the dangers associated with keeping inherently-wild animals captive, statistics showing that more exotic animals are kept as “pets” than in zoos, and that there are unscrupulous operators who use their “rescue” status as a means to exploit and profit – and has insights from animal advocates, including Adam Roberts of Born Free USA and Patty Finch of Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

One of the things I found telling was the perspectives from people who “own” inherently-wild animals; a couple themes being that exotic animals give them a sense of uniqueness or makes them feel connected to the natural world.  Notice the common denominator: My needs. Although there are people who may genuinely care about their animals, or who believe they are contributing to conservation efforts by “owning” these animals, the bottom line is that the needs of the animal seems secondary. I think if people are completely honest, take themselves out of the equation, and look at the situation solely from the animals’ perspectives, they will realize keeping them as personal “pets” is not in the best interest of the animal or species.

Insects! We Need Them

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I think we take Insects for granted. Because we perceive them as small, and in some cases not very attractive invertebrates, we also tend to think of them as not important. Quite the contrary. As biologist Jonas Salk has been quoted as saying “…if all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish…”

So in essence, our lives, the lives of other animals, and the health of the planet is dependent upon the well-being of insects. They are an integral component to the balance of life. To name a few of their essential contributions, they pollinate plants, including those we eat; are food sources for other animals, such as Birds; and act as decomposers, breaking down and disposing of waste matter – imagine the cesspool we would inhabit if insects weren’t available to clean up the mess.

Now I’m not suggesting we invite cicadas, mosquitoes, flies, and such into our homes. But with spring upon us in just a few days, why not think of ways to better care for the insects that go to work for us on a regular basis? Adding plants that attract insects – such as butterflies, bees, ladybugs  – to our gardens, patios, and even balconies, is one way to accomplish this. Checking with your local arboretum, visiting a garden shop, or even doing an online search should provide you with all the help you need. If you’re new at this, start small, experiment, and find what works best for your situation.

Insects may not always be pretty, but they are beneficial and an integral part of life on Earth. They work for us, so let’s give them a helping hand.

The Courage of Our Convictions

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If you are passionate about animals and their welfare, the environment, or any other group that is regularly exploited, then you know how unforgiving a planet this can be for them. It’s up to those of us who care and who are able to stand up, to do the right thing – by making our voices known, writing editorials, making phone calls to our legislators, uniting with others who share the same passions, volunteering.

As Albert Einstein has been quoted: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” We can become upset, sad, frustrated, and angry when we hear about industry abuses, but those feelings won’t mean much if we sit back and remain silent. The thing that will ultimately matter is our willingness to be a voice for those who are unable to speak.

Chicago Bans Sales of Puppy Mill Animals

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Breaking news coming from the Windy City today: Chicago aldermen passed an anti-puppy mill ordinance 49-1. The ordinance will no longer allow city pet shops to sell commercially-bred cats, dogs, and rabbits. (It doesn’t make mention of birds, guinea pigs, and other animals). This is certainly a step in the right direction. As animal rescues and shelters are filled to the brim with unwanted animals, some having to turn animals away, this measure is sorely needed. If pet shops want to offer cats, dogs, and rabbits, they will have to acquire them from organizations including shelters, humane societies and pounds.

Chicago is not the first city to pass an ordinance banning the commercial sale of animals. It joins the ranks of such cities as Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Albuquerque. Visit Best Friends Animal Society to see a full list of cities that have retail pet bans.

Is your city next?

Carl Sagan: Brilliance Coupled With Compassion

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I was reminded of the great Carl Sagan the other day while reading another of his insightful quotes: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”  You may know of Carl as a brilliant planetary scientist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of scholarly works, as well as fiction and nonfiction books; the movie, Contact was based upon his novel of the same name.  Although his scientific contributions were substantial, I believe his ability to think deeply and with empathy were just as important, if not intertwined.

His compassion extended to animals, as well as to people, as evidenced in this quote:  “…It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeeling toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer.”  I wonder if his understanding of our primordial beginnings helped give him a unique perspective on the connectedness of all life.  Or if his sense of empathy gave him the means to delve deeper into the larger questions of life. Perhaps it was both.

We don’t have to be accomplished scientists to understand that animals are capable of suffering – I think this belief is intuitive.  That people think otherwise is confounding.

Animals Do Feel the Love

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By Paula Fitzsimmons

With Valentine’s Day just ten days away – and love in the air – we want to give our animal friends a shout-out, too. Humans are not the only species capable of love. In spite of what critics – who love to use the term “anthropomorphism” –  say, other species feel love, too.  (Of  course, every species – heck, every individual – has its own definition of what love means.)

Science backs this up. In 2012,  a group of neuroscientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which states “…convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors…”

This Declaration confirms what many of us already knew – that animals are sentient beings, capable of great emotion, and even complex thought. If a group of prominent scientists can conclude that animals are creatures with consciousness; and if researchers and others have witnessed what appears to be sophisticated animal behavior, then why is it such a stretch to believe that they can feel as we do?

We were already intuitively convinced that animals feel deeply, prior to the Declaration, but we’re happy with the science. And to celebrate, get ready for more pictures of animals expressing love within the coming weeks. : )

Loving Wildlife Means Taking Ourselves Out of the Equation

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By Paula Fitzsimmons

Born Free Primate Sanctuary director, Tim Ajax’s blog post about the recent tragedy in Ohio involving Brodi, the young spider monkey is yet another reminder why keeping wildlife as pets is a bad idea. Brodi, acting on natural instincts, bit someone who attempted to touch him, and consequently was euthanized. Brodi did nothing wrong, yet paid a penalty just for being what he is: an inherently-wild creature. This is not the first time this sort of tragedy has occurred, and until there are bans in place that prevent people from keeping exotic animals as “pets”, it’s hard to fathom that we won’t read about similar scenarios in the future.

Perhaps the person who was responsible for Brodi loved him very much; unfortunately, that type of love wasn’t enough to save him. Isn’t it time to collectively redefine our definition of true love for animals? The word Love has different connotations, and where wildlife is involved, that love needs to be selfless. As has been said, true love means letting go of someone when warranted. In the case of wildlife, it requires acting for their best interest, not our own.

As difficult as this can be, true love for wildlife requires taking ourselves out of the equation. It means allowing wild animals to be who they were meant to be, not who we would like for them to be, and not expecting them to fit into our lifestyles. By keeping a wild animal as a pet, are we truly displaying love for that individual – as well as respect for the species – or fulfilling our own need to be close to something wild and exotic? If we’re honest with ourselves, can we really claim that inherently-wild animals are more content being kept as pets,  rather than living in wild habitat?

With Valentine’s Day just a few weeks away, the word Love will be appearing more often. Let’s show our love for wildlife by allowing them to be free.

Martin Luther King, Jr: Never Be Afraid

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I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr, that when we remain quiet about important things, our souls – or consciences, spirit, psyches, or whichever term you prefer – become wounded. Keeping silent also affects our dignity, I believe. How good do you feel about yourself if you don’t stand up to something that is wrong?

Remaining silent also gives more power to the exploiters. When we don’t speak up, animals become even more victimized. This is something that any person who is dedicated to animals most certainly does not want.

So why are some afraid to speak up? Who are we trying so hard not to offend?

Look at what happens when we do speak up – when thousands of us take time to write (always factual and polite) letters, make phone calls, lobby our legislators, make savvy purchasing choices. One only need to look at the myriad accomplishments of  animal welfare organizations, including those of Humane Society of the US, Born Free USA, and others, to know that our collective voice does indeed matter. Positive change can be slow – and seemingly nonexistent – but I’m convinced that things would be a heck of a lot worse for animals and the environment if we didn’t stand up and speak out.

Thank you, Martin Luther King, Jr, for leaving an unforgettable legacy. How do we pay homage to his life? By cherishing his words and deeds, and by having the courage of our convictions.

Cosmetics, Plastics, & You

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What you put on your face and body can have implications for our waterways. Namely, those tiny microbeads – made of polyethylene and polystyrene, and smaller than grains of sand – found in numerous cosmetics products can pollute our water and potentially harm marine life.

In an article by Stuart Coleman, called The Dangers of Microbes, (found on the Spirituality &  Health website), most major cosmetics companies have agreed to phase out the use of plastic microbeads in their products, although in some cases, this may not occur until 2017.

It’s reassuring that the mainstream cosmetics companies have chosen to do the right thing in this case, but I think I’ll stick with my natural brands – those whose products consistently meet or exceed the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database criteria. Of course, the products I use must also be truly cruelty-free, so when in doubt I turn to The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics on the leapingbunny.org website for confirmation. Don’t forget about nature’s own cleansing agents. Many beauty experts will tell you that plain old baking soda is an excellent exfoliator.

I truly believe that conscientious shopping – which includes an understanding of ingredients – can make a difference for animals, the planet, and for us. It’s a concerted effort, however. A large number of people need to become aware in order for change to occur.

Animals and Dangerous Weather

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The weather has been brutal for certain parts of the country, and will continue its dangerous trend – in the Midwest, temperatures are expected to dip into the minus double digits. My thoughts are with both humans and animals who stand to be unfortunate victims of this weather.

Common sense dictates that you keep your beloved companion animals indoors – if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them. Sadly, not everyone knows better, or if they do know better, are being reckless.

There are also other animals who may need some assistance. For instance, although feral cats may live outdoors, they are not suited for brutally cold weather. The Humane Society of the US has a guide called How to Care for Outdoor Cats. The article discusses, among other things, providing warm shelter for outdoor cats. Alley Cat Allies also has feral cat shelter options on their website, which include a suggestion for creating a shelter out of a Styrofoam cooler.

Wild northern Birds have evolved to handle cold weather. Audubon Magazine has an article called How Birds Cope With Cold in Winter that will explain how they can do this. They still need a helping hand with food and water, which is where you come in. Please note, this only applies to native birds. It is imperative that companion birds, such as parrots, finches, and doves – those who are acclimated to warmer climates – be kept indoors. Again, this is common sense, but I’m mentioning this just in case.

There may be some wild animals who may become sick or injured, and who will need your assistance. Please read this article on the HSUS website – posted just two days ago – about helping injured wildlife. If you haven’t already, this is an ideal time to get to know your local wildlife center or sanctuary.

Stay safe, stay warm.