Thursday, April 30, 2009

Me and girl rescuer get up to no good

When two ferals get together, you'd better get a damage deposit.
Calli and I couldn't resist taking a few practice hops on the hotel room bed.

Calli catches a four-year-old's eye at a restaurant. Eventually his charm wears her down, and the two of them end up in a tickle match on the floor.

A belated birthday lunch out starts out with a game of Go Fish...

...and ends with Calli's favorite dessert.

Princess and the pee

Life is short from down here.

A long-haired Chihuahua named Princess visited Winnipeg's North End today with her family. The fancy doglet is touring one of Canada's most dangerous neighborhoods. A gang-infested, drug-addled heart of darkness. Dogs and cats -- whether strayed or barely owned -- wander the streets.

This is just a few blocks from the dumpster where 10-year-old rescuer Calli Vanderaa heard a puppy crying last summer. The soot-covered dog survived despite being set on fire and tossed like trash. Jessie's two siblings weren't that lucky.

But Princess isn't phased. She's got it a-a-a-l-l-l under control.

For a round-up of stories detailing what girl rescuer Calli Vanderaa and her dog Jessie have survived living in this rough and tumble neighborhood, go to Stumbling across the ghosts of childhood past, March 6, 2009.

Bald is beautiful for this dog groomer

Three-year-old Willow lets the wind ripple through his hair.

People who do something for a living would rather not perform the same task when they relax. I've met cleaners with outlandishly messy houses, mechanics who don't change the oil in their own cars, and estheticians with chewed-up nails.

So when I ran across this dog groomer with a mostly hairless dog, it made perfect sense. In fact, Natalie Delorme has two of the Chinese cresteds.

"I like the hairless part of it because I'm a groomer," said Natalie, owner of Indogneat-o Pet Grooming in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Still, Willow and his sister Flower -- who stayed home this particular day -- aren't without spiffy hairstyles. Willow's locks are dyed blue, while Flower sports pink.

Natalie stops to chat about Willow, who turns heads wherever he goes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three generations of animal rescuers

Magic rests while Marj and Calli share animal rescue stories.

I met up with little girl rescuer Calli Vanderaa this week in Winnipeg, and we had a fine time.

First we stopped off to see Marj Jamieson, who showed us around her secret garden built for creature comfort.

You might remember Marj from my earlier post Library in the sky is a lookout post for animals.

Marj has a backyard that's been built as an animal paradise. Bird feeders swing in every direction to avoid driving snow. A pink hose is positioned to spray a fine mist for hummingbirds craving a shower. Birds are treated to a heated bath. And caches of food -- raisins, peanuts, and seed -- are stashed everywhere. Squirrels, birds, raccoons, and rabbits take part in Marj and Wilma's buffet.

Calli was fascinated by Marj, and Marj was energized by Calli. It was pure brilliance to watch.

Marj, Calli and Wilma feed and water the animals that come to visit.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Waterlogged bison saved!

A herd of soggy bison is high and dry now, thanks to some kind help from local government officials.

When the plight of the 250 animals standing knee-deep in floodwaters hit the news, the municipality of Rockwood offered the Balmoral, Manitoba farmers a perfect solution: a nearby dead-end municipal road that's hardly used.

Rancher Len Epp was grateful for the offer, and got to work right away on his new makeshift corral. He used steel paneling to barricade both ends of the farm road so the bison wouldn't take off, and then dropped hay bales down to lure the gigantic beasts to their new stomping grounds.

Epp reports the bison are thrilled about their new road-worthy accommodations.

"They're going to be OK now," he said.

A boy and his dog

Quinn and his pup Lokki share a togetherness moment on the stoop.

Lokki's father is a black Standard Poodle, and his mother is a Golden Retriever. He enjoys a leisurely life in Winnipeg with his boy Quinn.

Lokki takes a taste of his leash...

...and then goes in for a slurp of my camera lens.

Friday, April 24, 2009

This home on the range is a miserable swampland

Photo courtesy of Joe Bryska and the Winnipeg Free Press.

The floods submerging the Prairies have stolen hundreds of homes and lifetimes of possessions.

But the waters have also claimed voiceless victims: the animals.

Specifically, it is the herds of livestock that are in grave peril.

With drainage ditches plugged with ice, and water spreading unpredictably over flat land like an overturned glass of water on a table, it took just one day for the conditions to turn from potentially dangerous to full-out disastrous.

In Manitoba, hundreds of bison were stranded this week on the plains, miserably standing in cold water for days. The animals were forced to navigate muddy waters ranging from a few inches to five feet.

When floods roll in, people can bundle their dogs, cats and hamsters into carriers and get them out of danger. But what do you do with hundreds of massive animals? Full-grown bison can grow as heavy as 2,200 pounds.

"We have no opportunity to move them away from the area," said Balmoral farmer Bo Wohlers, who keeps a herd of 250 bison about 45 minutes north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the center of Canada. "The roads are in such bad shape that we can't bring trucks in, and we can't load them in the water. The animals are trying to stay in the shallow parts just to survive."

Feed is being brought in to the animals each day, but they continue to lose weight, Wohlers said.

Some have already succumbed to the harsh conditions.

"I know there's a couple dead for sure, and as the water goes down it wouldn't surprise us to find more," said Chris Murphy, another bison farmer from Balmoral.

It is only because of the bisons' hearty constitution that they have survived this long.

"These animals are constantly in the water," Wohlers said. "If this was cattle, they would be dead by now. It helps us that bisons are resilient getting through tough times, but time is running out."

Bison seek out the shallowest patches of water in an effort to survive. Photo courtesy of Joe Bryska.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Watch them, don't wear them

Photographer and TV celebrity Nigel Barker shoots baby seals the only way they should be shot -- with a camera. Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

There's no question that the seal hunt costs the Canadian government much more than what Newfoundland sealers take home in profits. The price tag is in the many millions of dollars.

But the costs that flow from this bloody event aren't just financial.

Canada's reputation on the world stage as a kinder, gentler nation is threatened by the inhumane hunt, an exercise that has inexplicably escaped animal-cruelty legislation. Propping up this dirty business has disastrous consequences on public relations that reverberate the world over.

How can we put a price on our reputation?

The international export markets are banning this commerce in cruelty, closing their ports to seal products. And celebrities are also using their public platforms to have their say.

Heather Mills and former husband Paul McCartney famously took to the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in March 2006 to witness the slaughter. They also appeared on Larry King Live to debate the issue with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams.

During the same month, actress Brigitte Bardot traveled to Ottawa to protest the hunt, but the prime minister refused to meet with her.

This year, a television star from the popular reality show America's Next Top Model was the signature celebrity name attached to the cause. Nigel Barker, a British-born fashion and portrait photographer, was on the ice during last year's hunt to photograph the carnage. He filmed a documentary there called A Sealed Fate? that illustrates the travesty.

"I personally will not stop nor sleep well until I know we have stopped this horrendous slaughter," Barker said.

Instead of slaughtering the seals, Barker and others say the site should be developed for eco-tourism. With last year's hunt drawing in gross revenues of less than $12 million, it won't be difficult to replace the measly sum that trickles in from 300,000 seals barbarically stripped of their pelts each season. And they aren't hunting the babies to eat. They leave the bloody skinned seals behind on the ice. This year, pelt prices plunged from $33 to a measly $15 each, so it's likely they won't profit at all. In the past, the average fisherman made just $1,100 a season on sealing, only a fraction of his annual income.

No doubt people will pay more to watch them than wear them.

"Every country has its issues, and this is Canada's," said Barker.

Nigel Barker tells the 2009 Genesis Awards audience about the horrific sights he photographed out on the ice during last year's seal hunt. Photo courtesy of the Humane Society of United States.

Nigel has designed a line of merchandise with proceeds going to save seals. To buy, go this HSUS online store.

His documentary A Sealed Fate? will be available for purchase there soon.

Lights, camera, action against cruelty!

Numerous celebrities have opposed Canada's commercial seal hunt, including:

Richard Dean Anderson, Charles Aznavour, Nigel Barker, Kim Basinger, Juliette Binoche, Sir Paul McCartney, Heather Mills, Kasabian, Mick Jagger, George Harrison, Pamela Anderson, Martin Sheen, Mogwai (band), Pierce Brosnan, Paris Hilton, Sara Quin, Loretta Swit, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Rutger Hauer, Brigitte Bardot, John Paul DeJoria, Ed Begley, Jr., Dave Foreman, Farley Mowat, Linda Blair, Berkeley Breathed, Rolf Harris, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jet, The Vines, Hawthorne Heights, Pink, The Darkness, and Good Charlotte.

Heather Mills was on hand at this year's Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills to show her support for seal pups.

I interviewed Nigel Barker at Genesis. The event was dedicated to ending the Canadian seal hunt.

The pictures don't lie

Note that only the skin is taken. The rest of the animal is discarded on the ice. Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

I received an email today from Sue Hirsch, an animal advocate who works tirelessly for the ProtectSeals campaign. She was in tears over the news coming out of Ottawa today.

Peaceful observers of the commercial hunt released footage documenting extreme cruelty to baby harp seals slaughtered this month and last off Canada's East Coast. They recorded apparent violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations, which fall under the Fisheries Act.

The evidence was shown at a press conference on Tuesday held by Humane Society International's Canadian branch and Senator Mac Harb, the first Canadian parliamentarian to introduce a bill to end the seal hunt. The legislation has come to be known as the Harb Seal Bill.

"This is not a viable industry," said Harb, whose office has received more than 30,000 emails from people who are outraged about the hunt.

"The cruelty we filmed this year proves that the slaughter is as cruel and inhumane it has always been," said Rebecca Aldworth, director of HSI Canada. "We filmed seals being shot repeatedly in open water, seals cut open as they appeared to respond to pain, injured seals left to suffer on the ice, and wounded seals allowed to escape beneath the water's surface where they endured a slow and painful death. It's time the Canadian government ends this cruelty by buying back the sealing licenses."

Veterinarians have repeatedly condemned the hunt as inherently inhumane.

"Despite its best efforts, the Canadian government simply cannot regulate a commercial activity that is carried out in such dangerous conditions in such a short time frame," Harb said. "The derby style of the commercial hunt means it will never be humane, and given the economic realities of the cost of the hunt and the lack of markets for luxury seal fur, it will never be profitable either. I have witnessed with my own eyes the dangerous conditions and the shocking brutality of the hunt. The majority of Canadians want the commercial seal hunt stopped for good."

Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

Do you want to help save baby seals?
Try these links to action:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Seal pups slaughtered for sport, not profit

Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

As Canada's hunting season for baby seals draws to a bloody close, East Coast sealers are trading in their skins for cash. They are finding out their skull-crushing efforts were for naught. Prices were a measly $33 per skin last year, and this season, the bounty plunged further. Pelts fetched from $15 to $17 each, not even enough to cover expenses such as gas money.

The message to hunters is clear.

The world refuses to give its seal of approval to Canada's barbaric ritual, which has claimed the lives of one million pups in the past four years. The United States has been prohibiting seal products since 1972. And now global markets are shutting down like dominoes: Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Panama and Mexico have either banned trade in seal products or announced their intentions to do so. In mid-March, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin banned the hunting of baby harp seals in the White Sea region, labeling the hunt a "bloody business."

"This news regarding the depressed seal pelt prices does offer us a small ray of light in what is otherwise a fairly dark tunnel," said Bruce Foerster, president of the West Coast Anti-Sealing Coalition. "The people we are dealing with here seem more determined than ever to continue this barbaric and senseless slaughter despite there being no market for their bloody harvest."

Supporters of the seal hunt argue that out-of-work fishermen need the money from the skins to supplement their incomes. Seal hunting is an off-season activity conducted by about 5,000 people at the most. Hunters come from Newfoundland fishing villages known for high unemployment rates because of depleted fish stocks.

But the financial data doesn't support this economic plea. According to Canada's Department of Fisheries statistics, just 1.3 percent of Newfoundland's fisheries income came from seals in 2008. Because of depressed pelt prices, that's expected to dip even lower this year. The rest of the fisheries revenues in the province come from seafood.

After years of pleading their case, animal welfare groups have finally decided to hit the sealers where it hurts most: their wallets. And that meant targeting seafood exports to the United States, a $2.5-billion industry. In 2005, a network of animal welfare groups including Humane Society of United States instigated a Canadian seafood boycott. The ProtectSeals campaign has successfully lobbied 5,000 American restaurants and grocery stores to stop carrying Canadian seafood. Iconic chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's won't buy Canadian until the seal hunt ends.

Seafood exports from Newfoundland and Labrador have been halved in recent years. The value of Canadian snow crab exports alone to the U.S. has declined by more than $750 million. The ProtectSeals spokespeople say the boycott is working.

Last year, the seal hunt amounted to just $12 million in gross revenue, and half of that money was eaten up by hunters' expenses. For a mere $6 million, 300,000 baby seals were cruelly clubbed to death. At least half of them were skinned alive.

This year, sealers won't break even.

"Why anyone would risk their lives and endure torturous conditions in order to slaughter baby seals for no net return is a mystery to us all, although some sealers have admitted that they do it not for the money but ‘just for the fun of it'," said Foerster.

And revenue figures don't take into account what the Canadian government pays to keep the business of the hunt supported -- probably 10 times that much. So goes the estimate by Toronto lawyer and journalist Murray Teitel.

Traveling to the remote ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where the baby seals frolic is dangerous, and defies nature. For seven weeks, the Canadian Coast Guard is deployed to help the hunters with a 10-vessel fleet that includes icebreakers, helicopters and patrol planes. Just one of the icebreakers known as The Amundsen costs $50,000 per day to operate in winter.

The fleet helps break up the ice for hunters, and rescues stranded sealers trapped on the ice. Last year, four sealers died. Another two almost lost their lives. Searching for the sealers cost the government many millions of dollars.

And millions more are paid out for boats damaged by ice.

That's not the only cost.

High-level trade delegations are sent abroad many times a year to argue the merits of importing Canadian seal products. They spend taxpayer money to promote animal cruelty.

Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Library in the sky is a lookout post for animals

These burrowing owls in Florida are protected by laws that don't allow people to disturb their habitats, but other wildlife isn't so lucky.

The animal people that enchant me most are those whose love and protection goes beyond the interests of their own personal pets. They are the ones who see beauty and worth in all kinds of animals eking out an existence.

Yesterday I had occasion to catch up by phone with a friend from the past. Marj Jamieson was the head librarian at the Winnipeg Free Press when I was a young cub reporter there for a few years in the mid-1990s. Hanging out with Marj in the library was my favorite escape if I was having a rocky day.

Marj and I hadn't kept in touch since I'd left town, but the conversation soon picked up right where we'd left off -- about animals. She's a dedicated animal lover always looking out for creatures in trouble. Marj is 78 now and retired from the paper, but when she worked there, she kept her own lookout post for animals in the area. The building had been constructed in a new business park that was developing quickly, pushing wildlife from their homes in the process. Using binoculars, Marj would survey the surrounding industrial properties from her perch at the Free Press library's third-floor picture window.

If she witnessed a burrow being destroyed by men with shovels or heavy equipment, she'd be on the phone immediately to the offending business requesting that they halt the activity immediately. She'd inform them that those holes and tunnels belonged to wildlife.

One time when she called, the person who answered was startled as it became obvious Marj was watching the exterminators as she spoke.

"Where are you?" the employee demanded.

"I'm up here," Marj said, adding this explanation: "I'm God. And yes, I am a woman."

Jackrabbits, gophers, and foxes all benefitted from Marj's eagle eye.

She helped domesticated animals, too. At the newspaper's previous downtown location, she set up a trapping mission and nabbed six cats across the street from the paper on land that was hosting the Air Canada offices. The airline staff were caring and cooperative, she recalls. The cats convalesced and met with potential adopters in her backyard summerhouse.

"Any cat who was brave enough and smart enough to live at the corner of Portage and Carlton deserved a new life. We did find homes for all of them," Marj said.

Here's me with Panda, the dog who kept me company through childhood.

Dog fur spiffs up birds' cribs

My childhood dog was an Old English Sheepdog, and Marj Jamieson had one of the same breed named Humphrey when I worked at the paper. It wasn't long before we were sharing stories about our dogs again, this time about brushing their long, fine coats.

Grooming for these dogs must be done every couple of days. I recalled our dog Panda lying sacked out on her side as my mother brushed her while soap operas played on the television set in the background. One of the chores assigned to my brother and I was checking Panda daily for woodticks. We each took half a dog.

Marj also had brushing memories. She talked about grooming Humphrey on the deck. She'd sweep his hair from the brush periodically, setting the fur bundles down. She'd watch with glee as the Orioles swooped in and the squirrels raced over, snatching it to feather their nests.

"It was a race between the squirrels and the birds. What nests they must have built," Marj remembered fondly.

Like Marj, I'm always impressed when animals make use of materials discarded as trash by human beings. Their ingenuity is a natural survival skill that exemplifies the brilliance of nature. Animals find what they need in their natural environment without requiring fancy linens and fluffy pillows to satisfy them.

Once in a while, when the birds and squirrels were still waiting for more than Humphrey could deliver, Marj couldn't resist giving them a little extra insulation, and would set out a box of Kleenex.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas

Louisiana is one of the big dog-fighting states. The Louisiana SPCA created this logo as part of their campaign to stamp out the blood sport just before Hurricane Katrina hit and the shelter and the entire city surrounding it was submerged.

It's been more than a week since I returned home from the Animal Care Expo. Perhaps you've noticed that I've been at a loss for words ever since.

It's not because the conference was a snoozer. As you'll see in the coming days, there were many compelling stories that came out of the event, which was sponsored by the Humane Society of United States.

Shelter workers, veterinarians and independent rescuers listened at full attention to the prestigious line-up of presenters. The nation's best-known investigators shared their experiences working on high-profile animal cases. That included the people who helped convict Michael Vick of dog fighting. And expert witnesses who testified in the San Francisco murder trial of Diane Whipple, who was mauled to death in the hallway of her apartment building by two Presa Canario/mastiff mixes named Bane and Hera.

So why my somber silence?

I can't shake the thoughts of the photographs and videos we viewed for days. It boggles my mind to imagine the mental make-up of the human beings that derive satisfaction from inflicting pain on helpless creatures. Images of neglect, cruelty, and even bestiality were screened. At times it was tough to watch. Pictures of animals in agony are still creeping into my mind.

Sadly, I know it won't be long before the images presented at Expo will be replaced by fresh ones from somewhere else.

Still, there is an inspiring side to Expo. Being surrounded by like-minded people who have devoted their lives to helping animals makes one feel less alone in a calling that seems hopeless at times.

I'm just reviewing my conference notes now. More to come on dog fighting, forensics, and puppy mills, so please keep reading.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Home foreclosures leave animals in the cold

People aren't walking away only from their homes in this collapsed housing market.

Shelter workers at the Animal Care Expo in Las Vegas report that citizens are leaving their pets behind, too. Animal care officers are finding more animals than ever before abandoned in backyards, apartments and houses.

"I've never seen it this bad," said Sheri Peek, shelter supervisor for the City of Moreno Valley's animal services. The number of surrendered and abandoned animals taken in by her shelter has jumped 26 percent. "And my shelter was at capacity last year," Peek added. "We tell people -- this is a permanent solution to a temporary problem -- you don't need to regret this, you don't need to do this."

In response to the housing crisis, rescuers are trying to cook up creative solutions to help keep animals with their owners.

Leilani Vierra, the chief executive officer of Placer SPCA in California, concocted a forward-thinking solution. When a 25-year-old woman showed up at the shelter in tears because she couldn't afford to keep her cat, it spurred the staff into action. Vierra's shelter raised $35,000 for an SOS fund. It's used for things such as pet rental deposits to be given out as grants or loans, and can be paid back in small increments over time.

"It doesn't make any sense to have somebody in there sobbing because they have to give up their animal," Vierra said. "This is a human problem, because in the U.S. most of these animals are treated as family members, so this is like losing a family member."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dog seeks career in show biz

Okay, so here it is. This really doesn't fit into the mission of my rescue blog, but it was too cute to resist posting. Sometimes I just can't help myself when the cuddle factor is off the charts.

I received this email today from Les Palmer, the guardian of Kaiya Bella. He is seeking acting and modeling opportunities for this itty bitty dog. She's a cross between a Maltese and a Bichon Frise. Could she be any cuter?

Here's what Les said about his beloved Kaiya Bella, a 4.7 pound ball of fluff:

"Kaiya is a puppy and has no previous experience but I'm actively perusing projects for her to get experience under her paw. She is very photogenic, and is currently being trained to take the world by storm.

Kaiya Bella is an adorable little dog with an outgoing personality and an appetite for the spotlight. She loves people, dogs, haute couture, eco-friendly products, modern design, liver biscotti, belly rubs and afternoon naps. She is also known by her fans as K-Bella or Bella. Kaiya is waiting for her big break. Hollywood or bust! Ruff ruff!"

Sin City hosts a convention of kindness

About 1,500 of the nation's most passionate and dedicated animal rescuers flocked to Las Vegas this week to network and share knowledge at the world's largest conference of its kind.

Shelter workers, veterinarians, rescue groups and independents met at Bally's hotel for the four-day event hosted by the Humane Society of United States, which offered eight certification courses and 48 workshops. Topics covered were varied, and the continent's best experts were there to teach them.

Participants learned crime scene investigation techniques while documenting animal cruelty and neglect. Tips for gathering evidence on dog fighting rings were presented. The horrors of puppy mills were exposed. Rescuers were schooled in how to stay safe while rescuing animals from methamphetamine labs. Disaster rescue, the ins and outs of running a shelter, wildlife rescue, and the tragedy of elephants in entertainment were just some of the workshops offered.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How baby seals become easy prey for hunters

A mother nuzzles her baby. Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

Each spring, hundreds of thousands of female harp seals travel from Greenland, gathering on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. From late February until mid-March, mothers give birth to their pups, transforming the once-barren ice into a massive nursery set in tones of whites, pale greys and blues.

The pups are nursed with their mothers' high-fat milk until they are about 12 days old, giving them enough blubber to survive when they are abandoned and learning how to feed themselves. Their mothers leave them to join adult males for the annual mating ritual.

Hunters used to be allowed to slaughter the pups when they were still snowy white and snuggling beside their mothers. But skinning them alive while their mothers looked on in panic was a public relations disaster for sealers. Now hunters have to wait until the pups are at least 12 days old, when their coats begin to molt to a silvery grey and their mothers have already gone.

The baby seals -- still too young to swim -- remain on the ice. They mew for their mothers at first, then grow quiet as they realize they have been left to fend for themselves. The silence is broken only by the creaking of the ice as the floating pieces rub and grind together.

These pups are called "beaters", but it's not because of how they are killed. They are named for the way their fins beat the water as they try learning to swim.

That's when the sealers descend upon the helpless pups and turn their icy paradise into a bloody scene rivaling the goriest horror movie. In fact they are closing in right now with boats, helicopters and snowmobiles, killing hundreds of thousands of baby seals. The men are armed with guns and spiked clubs called hakapiks that are used to smash the heads of the seals.

In 2001, an independent team of veterinary experts studied the bodies of animals killed during the hunt. In 42 percent of the cases, the seals didn't show enough evidence of cranial injury to guarantee that they were even unconscious before being skinned alive.

Fully 95 percent of the harp seals killed over the past five years have been under three months of age.

They are utterly helpless and trusting, and wriggle right up to their killers with open curiosity.


Rebecca Aldworth has been witnessing Canada's seal hunt for 11 years. She's also the director of Humane Society International Canada. You can follow what's happening by clicking over to her Live from the Ice blog. She's on scene documenting the hunt right now as it's happening. She reports sealers are more aggressive to the unarmed, peaceful observers than ever before, threatening them with promises of "ricocheting bullets." A rifle was pointed at them, and four sealing boats repeatedly tried to ram their Zodiac.

Helicopter photo of Rebecca Aldworth courtesy of Humane Society of United States.


The annual seal hunt is going on right now. To be part of stopping this atrocity for good, follow this link to the ProtectSeals campaign.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

40 years later, baby seals face the same brutal fate

A trusting harp seal pup slides over to investigate. Photograph courtesy of Nigel Barker.

I was still just a pup myself when I discovered the horrors of baby seal hunting.

The annual barbaric ritual had been taking place in Eastern Canada for 300 years in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But the public couldn’t get close enough to witness what was happening on the remote ice floes. When animal welfare groups rented helicopters and filmed the carnage in the 1960s, people were outraged.

Three hundred thousand helpless and trusting seal pups were being killed by Newfoundland fishermen each year. The hunters used spiked clubs to beat the seals to death, then sold the pelts to top up their incomes.

Children across the continent were shocked when information films depicting the hunt were screened in schools. The fluffy white mammals were so young that they hadn’t yet learned to swim or eat solid food. Grisly footage showed live baby seals being smashed in the face and shorn of their skins. The animals whimpered in pain as they cuddled close to their terrified mothers. The wake of violence left pools of red blood on pristine white ice.

Like other kids, I was sickened and appalled by the bloodbath. I needed to do something to protect the pups that were even more helpless than I was. My brother was four and I was six when my mother took us to our first protest. At the Canadian National Railway’s Union Station in Winnipeg on the corner of Broadway and Main, we took a stand against the biggest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth.

The protest had been organized by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which was born the same year I was -- 1969. Their founding mission was explicit. To save the seals from this cruel commercial hunt. I carried a tiny picket sign I had made myself. We wore white T-shirts silk-screened with baby harp seals and emblazoned with the words “Save the Seals”.

Now it’s 35 years later, and the hunt is back on in full force. And I’m still speaking out against it, but there’s a difference.

I feel even more powerless than I did at six.

In the past three years, nearly a million pups off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador have been brutally slain for their fur, the highest number since the 1950s and ’60s. Back then, mass killing caused the harp seal population to be depleted by two thirds.

When I attended the Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills last week, the night was dedicated to ending the Canadian seal hunt. The red-carpet affair is organized by the Humane Society of United States (HSUS), and recognizes actors, writers, directors and producers for works that highlight animal welfare issues.

Renowned fashion and portrait photographer Nigel Barker of television’s America’s Next Top Model was the special guest. This time last year, he spent two weeks on the Atlantic Canadian ice photographing the seal pups as they were being born. And then he stayed to document the carnage that followed.

“The methods used to kill them that I witnessed were brutal in the extreme,” Barker said.

Heather Mills came to the Genesis Awards, too. She and her ex-husband Paul McCartney witnessed the hunt the year before Barker, drawing world attention to the slaughter.

At my table, I sat beside Susan Hirsch, a consultant for the ProtectSeals campaign. As we ate, we talked about the hunt. I told her what I felt every time the topic came up.


As a Canadian, I am ashamed that we haven’t managed to stop this cruel event. Clubbing baby animals is not what our peaceful nation stands for, and studies show that most Canadians are opposed to it. In fact, many don’t realize it’s still going on.

If animals were being slaughtered in this manner openly in our neighborhoods and not on unpopulated ice floes, this brutality would have been outlawed long ago.

We must stretch our arms wider and protect those animals struggling to survive in Earth’s remote corners. They deserve humanity just as the rest of them do. That would be something for Canadians to be proud of.

Photograph courtesy of Nigel Barker.


The annual seal hunt is going on right now. To be part of stopping this atrocity for good, follow this link to the ProtectSeals campaign.