Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tina May's Great Escape

Tina is cuddled by Jess, a RAPS volunteer dog walker.

Tina the terrier has a vice, and it's landed her in trouble more than once.

She suffers from severe separation anxiety. And children supply the antidote.

When Tina's left alone and hears kids' voices, she can't help running away to join up with the fun. That's probably what earned this escape artist a spot in the shelter in the first place.

And then, when someone adopted Tina from the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS), she was discarded again because of her habit. Tina hadn't been living in her new home long when she took off to track down some kids. Animal control picked her up at a nearby schoolyard.

"She bonds with you instantly, and then wails if you try to leave her," said RAPS executive director Carol Reichert.

Tina's guardian came to collect her, but she wasn't thrilled about her new pet's sense of adventure. The next day, she listed her on Craigslist for $200. Thankfully RAPS staff members troll the listings religiously, and promptly got Tina back.

This past Saturday, Tina was at it again. It was her last weekend at the shelter. A retired couple had fallen in love with the little dog and planned to pick her up on Monday for the trek back to their home in Victoria.

But mischievous Tina had her own plans for a Great Escape.

A little girls' birthday party was happening at a house across the street, and it proved too much for Tina to resist. As Carol prepared to close up for the night and hauled bags of trash out to the dumpster, stealthy Tina slipped past her feet unnoticed.

It was getting late when Carol left, after 8:30 p.m. But Carol, one of the hardest-working shelter directors I've ever met, wasn't done with her workday yet. At 11:30 p.m., she returned just to check in on her charges and make sure everyone was tucked in safely.

You can imagine how her heart dropped like a stone when she discovered that precious Tina was missing from her spot in the lobby, where she hangs out all day greeting visitors.

Despite the late hour, Carol swung into action telephoning staff, asking if they'd returned to take Tina home for the night. No one had. But they weren't going to let Carol fret alone. She was soon joined by others in the search for Tina.

"It touched my heart because of what good staff we have," Carol said.

Someone thought to check the voicemail, and there was a message from a neighbor who had guessed Tina was a shelter dog. She had headed across the street to visit seven little girls who got together to celebrate a birthday. Tina was an instant hit, and the appointed guest of honor.

"When I got to the house, seven little girls came running out," Carol said. "They were holding Tina saying, ‘We named her May.' They had been playing outside and she ran right to them. She just runs right up to anyone. They had a ball with her."

So what does the future hold for this escape artist who finds child's play irresistible?

"These people have promised they'll only be away from Tina on Sunday mornings for an hour when they go to church, and they said if Tina was upset by that, they would take turns," Carol said.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rescuers train for when the worst happens

Delta riding instructor Julie Coles demonstrates how fingers can look like carrots to a hungry horse, and warns rescuers to feed with a flat hand.

When disaster hits, it's not just cats and dogs who will require rescue. The people who are running from the fires and the floods will leave a virtual Noah's Ark behind in their wake. Horses, chickens, cows, roosters, even exotic birds and reptiles will need passage to safety.

That's when groups like Noah's Wish swoop in. Named after the boat in the Bible that was built to rescue pairs of animals from the floods, Noah's Wish has a singular and noble mission: to save animals during disasters.

The Northern California-based organization conducts eight or nine training sessions a year in the U.S. and Canada for people hoping to join their rescuing ranks. Last weekend, they brought their road show to Richmond, British Columbia.

Animal control officers, veterinary technicians, shelter staffers, independent rescuers, and an animal communicator participated in the two-day sleepover held at a union headquarters near the Vancouver International Airport. To mimic disaster conditions more closely, participants were instructed to bring their own supplies, including air mattresses, sleeping bags, food and water.

Rabies, pet CPR, animal intake procedures, and disaster safety were covered in the classroom. But the liveliest part of the demonstration was the animals that were on hand for rescuers to practice their techniques on -- a snake, a skink, chickens, a rooster, a dog, and a set of bottle-feeding kittens. And two horses, who held up the event by an hour and a half because they were stuck in traffic.

Spending the night together allowed the rescuers to mingle and get to know each other better, which can bode well when disaster strikes if they end up converging on the same scene.

"When you're in an unfamiliar situation and you meet people you saw before, it makes it a little bit easier," said JoEllen Cimmino, director of animal health services for Noah's Wish.

She also put the rescuers through their mental paces. At the end of a long day of learning that starts early in the morning, JoEllen always covers a topic that has psychological repercussions. This time it was loss and bereavement.

"I want them tired and emotional, so they recognize if this is too much for them," she said.

In 2005, Noah's Wish rose to prominence for their high-profile response to Hurricane Katrina. The temporary animal shelter they set up outside of New Orleans in Slidell, Louisiana operated for several months, and housed up to 2,000 animals at one time.

Last year, the group responded to nine disasters, including wildfires in California and floods in Iowa and Indiana.

"When you're in this business, you want people to have a plan," JoEllen said. "You're educating from the ground up. People need a plan for the two-legged, the four-legged and the winged."

Val Lofvendahl of Reptile Rescue brought Charlie the skink to the seminar as a teaching tool for the others.

Everyone suits up for a session on decontamination.

Roger the rooster visited from the Richmond Animal Protection Society. He was a great model in all but one respect -- he was too well-behaved! His good-natured temperament isn't representative of the average rooster.

Riding instructor Julie Coles demonstrates how to get more control over a frightened horse with help from Molly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh happy dog!

Benzo's ready to go running after the ball again.

If I allow myself to get too immersed in stories about animal cruelty, an odd psychological reaction kicks in.

I develop the overwhelming urge to hug every animal that I come into contact with. I need to put my arms around loved animals kept by loving people so I don't forget that they exist.

It happened last night when I crossed paths with Benzo. Lately I've been reviewing some acts by humans that make the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end. I've been reading their case files, poring over photographs, and watching news reports and videotaped investigations. Some days, the sea of cruelty threatens to drown me. People always ask me: Why would you put yourself through that? And then I'm accused of traumatizing myself needlessly.

I don't know any other way to write it. Viewing all the raw material I can find is the only method I trust. The purest way for a writer to tell a story is not to retell it through someone else's eyes. It's getting as close as possible. Experiencing it, and putting that into words.

When I write about what an animal has gone through, I feel like I'm right there watching it. My imagination fills in the sights, sounds and smells. I picture the misery and the pain, and then I explain what I'm seeing as I'm watching this movie in my mind.

Yesterday evening, the need to hug a random animal kicked in full tilt when I saw Benzo doing some master ball handling in a Bellingham, Washington parking lot with his guardian Bay Renaud.

As I watched Bay -- who is single, by the way -- playing ball with his dog, I began to wonder how secure Benzo's future was. Animals owned by single people often end up at the shelter when a new partner decides they aren't interested in the joys of pet ownership.

I wanted to find out where Bay stood. So I asked him. What if you met the perfect woman and she wanted you to get rid of Benzo? If she put down the ultimatum, the ultimate sacrifice if you will: "It's me or the dog."

Bay looked thoughtful for a moment, then came up with the perfect answer: "She wouldn't be the perfect girl then."

Good answer, Bay. I couldn't have said it better myself.

She's out there, and she's going to love Benzo.

Bay Renaud and Benzo share a tender man-and-his-dog moment.

I think all four paws are airborne in this one!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Can you adopt this torture survivor?

Foster mom Jane Simon poses with sweet brown Sugar. All photos of Sugar are courtesy of Kim Rodgers, Bark Pet Photography.

I don't usually write stories about particular animals needing homes, but that's not because they aren't newsworthy.

It's just that there are millions upon millions of them. So many that it becomes impossible to sift through and pick which ones to write about. There are practical matters of geography, too. The readership for this blog is scattered throughout America and Canada, and a local adopter is preferable if long-distance logistics are to be avoided.

Instead, I encourage people to get acquainted with their local shelters and rescue groups, and adopt animals out from there. Pets with so much love to give are being discarded as trash every day, and they are available in every size, shape, age and breed, complete with dramatic survival stories.

But once in a while, someone comes at me with eyes that I just can't refuse.

Sugar is one such dog.

The four-year-old American Pit Bull Terrier was tortured at the hands of people. She survived violence that would test the mettle of even the strongest human beings. Despite that, she made it through intact. And miraculously, so did her love and trust of people.

Sugar's rescue began when a man brought her into a Los Angeles-area shelter at the end of a rope. Rescuer Jane Simon was at the North Central Care Center on Lacy Street picking up a feral cat for a relocation program she managed, and that's when she spotted Sugar.

"She was so pathetic, and in such horrible shape, that I just burst into tears upon seeing her," Jane recalls.

Sugar was emaciated and near death. Pieces of her ears had been chopped off with scissors. She was scalded so badly with acid burns that her shoulder bone was exposed. Multiple back-alley C-sections left her suffering with internal infections.

"They more or less ripped the puppies out of her," says Jane, who took Sugar home and patiently nursed her back to health. "Despite all this, she is as sweet as can be. It took her only a couple of days to trust me, and ever since she has been the greatest dog."

But Sugar's story doesn't have its happily-ever-after ending yet. Jane is moving to Colorado to attend grad school, and large pockets of that state have a breed ban on against pit bulls in a discriminatory act of canine racism. In Denver, hundreds of well-behaved dogs lost their lives. They were hauled from their homes by authorities and euthanized.

Sugar hasn't been cat-tested, but like other types of dogs such as Huskies, Jack Russells, and Rottweilers, pits are known for having a high small-prey drive, so a home with cats isn't recommended. She's not aggressive with other dogs, but does get frightened and a bit snappy with them sometimes. Sugar loves people of all ages, but a home without small children is preferable. That's because she loves to nibble their toes.


If you're interested in finding out more about Sugar, please get in touch with her foster mom. Jane Simon can be reached by phone at (323) 447-3462, or email her at You can meet Sugar most Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. at Petco on 200 S. LaBrea in Los Angeles. That's near 3rd, next to Ralphs. She's on display as part of the Tails of the City adoption fair.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Here's to you, Sonya!

RAPS' assistant manager Sonya Kamp models this year's most humane accessory -- a shelter dog.

Sonya Kamp is one of my favorite shelter workers.

She's always got a grin on her face when I stop by her shelter. Even on the days that would choke some of us with sorrow, Sonya soldiers through them free from rage or harsh words. I am in awe of her state of perpetual good cheer.

When I walked into the Richmond Animal Protection Society near Vancouver yesterday, Sonya was working the front desk while cuddling this bit of pup who looks like a cross between a Shih Tzu and a guinea pig. Four-week-old Katie was away from her mom for the first time. While Mom was being groomed, Sonya was keeping Katie warm and mothered.

As soon as I pulled out my camera, Sonya started to give me a little show modeling the pup as her accessory. I told her the pictures were going to make the blog. Let's see if I can make her blush.

This one's for you, Sonya. Keep smiling. ☺

Hope shines from shelters

Birds in a barrel: these adorable ducklings were rescued from a roadside.

I'm always talking to animal-loving citizens who are too scared to go near a shelter. I understand their fears, because I used to be one of them.

I viewed shelters as places soaked in sadness. Row after row of lonely eyes looking mournfully from behind bars, eyes that seem to be pleading for clemency.

But then I started to research the comings and goings of shelter daily life. The more time I spent behind shelter walls, the more I realized how wrong I was. It's true that I witnessed tragedy and heartache at times, particularly in the back areas that the public doesn't see. But I also experienced hope and inspiration of mind-altering magnitude.

I started shedding my prejudices and began to look forward to visiting my friends on the front lines of animal rescue. They care for their charges as if they were their own, nurturing animals who have been thrown away by society with patience and compassion.

Shelters are filled with animals with sad stories, but there are umpteen happy tales there, too. Animals whose pain has been soothed. Those who finally have a place to lay their head, a pit stop that's replete with fresh clean water and delicious food. A safe haven where they are loved and comforted by staff who have devoted their lives to rescuing them.

Unfortunately the public's fear of shelters has a negative impact on adoptions. Some people opt to buy animals from breeders or pet stores rather than brave a visit to the local shelters. What a shame.

Yesterday I visited the Richmond Animal Protection Society. Check out some of the current residents.

No one knows where the mother of this duckling disappeared to.

A tiny furry pod of baby bunnies is off-the-charts adorable.

Poor Pandora refuses to eat, despite the tasty treats that are strategically placed near her snout. She was rescued while running through rush-hour traffic on the freeway near the Alex Fraser bridge. It took animal control officer Shane Burnham more than two hours of chasing Pandora on foot before he finally caught the terrified dog. She was so afraid that she mutilated the catch pole used to capture her. "Shane saved her life," said RAPS executive director Carol Reichert. "He phoned in after an hour, but we had no other calls for him, so the chase continued on. She kept trying to get back onto the highway. He had to run through fields and blackberry bushes to get her."

Texas was rescued on the grounds of the Vancouver International Airport while running inside the fenced areas. He could have sprinted along the airplane runways had he wanted to. Texas was riddled with infected open sores, and a rotting tooth indicated he sustained a forceful blow to his face.

But look how happy Texas is now...

This shelter is always coming up with innovative ideas, and here's a good one. They've buried three plastic pails in the dogs' play yard, punched holes in the bottom, added a solution called Septonic, and turned them into composters. No wasteful plastic bags required, and the results will be great fertilizer.

The shelter animals and the people who care for them always appreciate a friendly face, a donation, or even a helping hand. At RAPS yesterday, this local manufacturer dropped by with an offer to use her fabric remnants to make soft felted cushions for the shelter cats. Carol (on left) was thrilled. Gestures of support from community members such as these keep the staff's mood upbeat.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quote of the day

These apt words were uttered by one of the most profound women in history.

Today, I'm posting them as a shout-out to all the animal rescuers out there who can't turn their eyes away when they see a creature suffering. Even at their own peril.

In a line of work mottled by failures, it would be easier to give up. There are days when the endless cruelty sickens the soul and make you feel helpless. Like you aren't making a difference.

For the rescuers having a hard time today, and one in particular (you know who you are), I hope your heart finds peace and comfort. The animals thank you for everything you do for them. You make the world a gentler place.

"Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

- Helen Keller

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The power of paws-itive thinking

Pongo sits graciously as he receives his Woof and Whiskers award.

A teacher who has integrated animals into her curriculum to inspire her fifth-grade class. A dog working in mental health. A pig sanctuary where the residents have no fears of being turned into tomorrow's breakfast bacon.

The animal community honors its heroes just like any other: with awards ceremonies. And last week, I attended Whatcom Humane Society's version called Woof & Whiskers, in northern Washington State. Its mandate is to recognize local individuals, businesses and animals who have gone above and beyond the paw of duty to help animals.

This was the 7th annual. Every year I'm inspired meeting people out there who gathered their own creative momentum to make life better for the animals.

"This is my favorite event," WHS executive director Penny Cistaro told the crowd, which included veterinarians, shelter workers, rescue groups, and other animal lovers. "It's wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded people."

And animals.

As inevitably happens when an animal arrives on the scene, Pongo was the star of the show. The Delta Society-certified dog won the animals are kind to people award. He's done his share of work to be proud of: he's served for children as a reading dog, and visited patients in hospitals and nursing homes.

Then there's his most challenging work to date -- crisis response. The four-year-old is a first responder for people who have survived a traumatic event. Pongo arrives on the scene to provide his special brand of canine care and comfort.

The official designation he uses is FMHS -- Furry Mental Health Specialist.

His first trip was to a university in Illinois, where six people were shot dead. Locally, he helped the Red Cross with a shooting in Algiers last fall, and attended to a second grade class in Lynden. He comforted the children because a classmate had died.

Pongo's calm and competent demeanor kindles peace in the minds of his patients.

"You go home and look at your own dog and say, ‘Why can't you be more like Pongo?'" joked WHS outreach director Laura Clark. "This dog has a work schedule that rivals most CEOs'."

The humans who picked up awards included politicians, veterinarians and journalists.

Government leaders are recognized each year, and this time it was the city of Ferndale that received kudos for putting more teeth into local animal laws and ordinances. Mayor Gary Jensen accepted the public service award.

And a schoolteacher known for integrating humane education into her curriculum arrived with a small parade in tow -- her entire fifth-grade class! Each child proudly stepped up to the microphone in turn and gave an acceptance speech for the kids are kind to animals award as Kendall Elementary schoolteacher Judy Davis stood by beaming.

Veterinary clinics always figure prominently, such as Village Veterinary Hospital, which won for treating neglected exotic birds who were rescued from a hoarding house. Steps taken to curb overpopulation were also recognized, such as Mountain Veterinary Hospital for providing free spay-neuter surgeries to clients who commit to a vaccination series. And the WeSnip program, for giving low-cost spay-neuter surgeries to more than 1,300 animals in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

A place called Pigs Peace Sanctuary was the winner that intrigued me the most. Two hundred pigs hanging out on a 34-acre sanctuary in Stanwood featuring ponds and walking trails.

The media award went to a cub reporter from the Bellingham Herald named Isabelle Dills. She's been chasing animal stories for the paper, something most mainstream media can't be bothered to do. Congratulations, Isabelle! Keep up the great work on the fuzz beat.

Oh, and I got one, too. I was honored and touched to receive the act of kindness award, for writing stories about shelter workers and other front-lines animal rescuers. The stories discuss compassion fatigue, euthanasia, and other challenges rescuers face.

Penny presented the award to me with a speech that brought tears to my eyes. The tender moment was bittersweet because it's Penny's last Woof and Whiskers -- she's taken a job in California, and will be leaving town in a couple of weeks. It was Penny who first opened my eyes eight years ago to the reality faced by open-admission shelters when I brought a feral cat in to her to be spayed. I can't imagine this place without her. We'll miss her terribly, but our loss will be a gain to the animals of Sacramento.

I'm not satisfied I've got the full scoop, so I'm going to keep following these stories of animal lovers in action. Next week, I'm headed to Kendall School to see the humane education program. And I'm going to get over to the pig sanctuary soon, too. From what I'm hearing, it's a paradise for pigs like no other.

Pongo, unchanged by stardom, ponders his acceptance speech.

How vegetarians get bird flu

Photo courtesy of Cyndi Bennett, Northern Design.

I couldn't resist! : )

The eagle has flown the nest

I'm always finding these little cocoons around the house. A cat built it for a nap, then crawled out and went on to do something else. Perhaps have a nibble of food or lay in a sunbeam.

I found this photo in my files. Could this be the innovative nest-builder?

Field of cows: if you don’t eat them, they will come

When I came across these bison last week, I thought I'd repeat my impromptu cow pasture party. But the keepers of these animals gave me a stern warning: I would be trampled in short order if I tried it. Particularly since a new baby had been born the day before.

I was driving along a Washington State country road when I spotted a pasture dotted with grazing cows. And a wild impulse struck me.

I pulled my car over to the side, jumped out and ran towards the fence that contained the lowing beasts. Sprinting a short distance into the field, I spread my arms wide and cried out: "Come to me, cows! Come on over. You're safe with me. I'm a vegetarian!"

And lowing behold, one by one their heads began to turn my way. Slowly they started trudging in my direction. Before long, about 50 cows had formed a circle around me. They even left a comfortable safety zone, a six-foot radius that allowed me to stand amidst them.

I was surrounded by a sea of wet noses and big brown eyes and soft velvety fur. The occasional "moo-oo-oo" floated above the crowd, but other than that, the gathering was quiet.

We stood there for a few moments, taking each other in -- majestic, powerful beasts versus a wimpy, curious human being. They could have crushed me if they wanted to, but their gentle nature caused them to come over and greet me instead.

Then, sensing it was time for us to part ways, the cows began dispersing with their slow, determined gait. A few lingered behind, and I rubbed their noses before saying goodbye.

Apparently this animal looks much more easy-going than he actually is.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Miracles come in small packages

Miracle is a Dachshund-Yorkie mix.

When police descended on a Whatcom County house to seize 50 neglected animals, the hoarders living inside were issued a strict directive as their dogs, cats, ducklings, and exotic pheasants were being carted away.

No more animals.

But hoarders have a 100 percent rate of recidivism. They always re-offend. And when these ones heard the sheriff's department was coming back to check up on them, they knew they were in trouble.

They had already obtained a mother dog and her three six-week-old puppies. Now they had to dispose of the evidence.

On another property belonging to the hoarders, police discovered the ditched pet carriers in a bramble patch. Inside were four tiny bodies. Their throats had been slit, and they had been abandoned there to bleed to death.

For two days, little Miracle had laid there clinging to life beside her dead mother in the bloodied plastic carrier.

Miracle made a full recovery at Whatcom Humane Society, where outreach director Laura Clark speculates that she might have survived because she was last in line. If so, the blade was likely dull by the time the killers reached her.

Miracle -- who is called Mira for short -- made a full recovery, and shows her spunky side by tearing around the grass like she's airborne.

Probably because of her traumatic experiences, she doesn't like to be crated. The only physical remnant of her ordeal is the occasional cough from damage sustained to her trachea. She loves people and other dogs, especially an English Labrador named Kobe who lives next door.

After she was rescued, Miracle recovered from her ordeal at the Whatcom Humane Society.

Miracle is a little pup with big-dog confidence. Zachary isn't phased by her bravado.

Does humanity have a price tag?

Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker.

I'm starting to get pretty sick and tired of debating the nonsensical economics of the Atlantic Canadian seal slaughter.

Yes, it's true the seal hunters make a miniscule amount of money on the pelts they cut off the baby seals, who are still alive when they do it half the time.

And it's true that the Canadian government spends many millions of your taxpayer dollars to keep this money-losing industry propped up, while the world grows increasingly intolerant of the cruel annual ritual of smashing in 300,000 baby seal heads.

But despite all the economic arguments that spell out how much we spend -- not make -- to hold the title for the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth, I'm left wondering about something.

Does it even matter whether this sadistic blood sport earns us any money or not?

If Canadians could make $15 a head beating cats and dogs to death with spiked clubs, we wouldn't embrace the activity as a creative way to make money. Just like our family pets, seals are sentient beings capable of feeling pain and anguish. They are animals deserving of our compassion and humanity.

When I was at an information event for saving the seals recently, I asked senior researcher Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare about the mentality of the fishermen who kill them. Fink has been out on the ice viewing the slaughter every spring for about eight years. By law, observers are allowed to get within 10 meters of the sealers. It's a grisly scene she likened to an "open-air abattoir."

"You can hear the men singing, whistling and joking," Fink said. "Last time I went they were singing Jingle Bell Rock. You can hear the wet thud of the hakapik as it hits the seals' skulls. The smell out there is unique. It's a mix of blood, diesel fuel from the boats, and cigarette smoke."

Fink described the breathtaking sight of the newborn seals moving about the ice as they learn their way in the world, wriggling right up to the human beings who are there to slaughter them.

"They're like puppies sitting there chewing on pieces of snow. I've asked the men -- don't you ever enjoy just watching this? They say no, that all they see lying there is a $20 bill."


Click on these links to get involved.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

You can also send an email of support to Mac Harb, the only Canadian parliamentarian courageous enough to put forward a bill to stop this atrocity that is a global embarassment to our kind and peaceful nation. Mac is taking the letters, emails and petitions -- all 518,000 of them -- to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office by the wheelbarrow load.

Email the Senator at

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A year’s worth of second-look beauties

WHS executive director Penny Cistaro attempts to corral a skittish Arabian horse so we can photograph her. Red was emaciated and neglected when she was seized by the shelter, so she panics when people come over, fearing she will be taken away.

For the past six springs, I've hit the road for a week interviewing animals with death-defying survival stories. The project showcases Whatcom Humane Society's successes -- 12 animals who beat the odds.

Here's the best part: it gives me the chance to write about happy endings. In our business, there are never enough of those.

This week I've been interviewing dogs, cats, and horses. Fuzzy yellow ducklings, mischievous goats, and even charging buffalo have made cameo appearances.

I admit it. Despite our animal handling experience, the shoots don't usually go smoothly. The ones selected to model the days of a month aren't aware that fame comes at a price -- the invasion of their privacy. And for those with backgrounds dominated by neglect or cruelty, they are often uncomfortable meeting new people. Particularly those of us sticking cameras in their faces.

My job is to lure the guardians away from the animals by asking questions. Then WHS executive director Penny Cistaro helps pose the pets for the photographer. Chasing them around houses and yards to get a good shot is standard protocol.

There are always animals who make us laugh at their antics, and those who make us cry for their stories.

I'll let the photos tell the rest.

Shelter director Penny Cistaro and photographer Steven Kennedy help Bandit pose for his moment of fame. This cat was living in a filthy cage in the back of a moving van at a Wal-Mart parking lot when he was taken in by the shelter.

Emma was dropped off at a gas station when she was six months old with a note attached from her family saying they couldn't take care of her anymore.

It was plain that Roberta -- a hoarder house survivor -- had a fiery personality when she rocked up for her shoot. Her cage was marked "I bite." She stayed true to her cantankerous image by dive-bombing us. Her new guardian Rick Reed used to hunt birds until he realized their charms. "I don't care to kill birds anymore," said Rick, who now keeps 15 of them as pets.

A stallion named Moxie breaks into a gallop with his pal Barney. So much for that close-up shot!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ranch kid viewed cows as pets, not steaks

Cyndi Bennett (on right) has always been enamored with animals.

To this day, Cyndi Bennett despises shopping.

That's how her mother coaxed her away from the family's ranch when it was time to slaughter the cows each week.

Finally her father tried to put an end to Cyndi pleading for their lives.

"If you can name all the cows in the herd, I won't slaughter any of them this week," her dad told her.

There were 300 of them.

That didn't deter the fifth grader. She set up a computer spreadsheet noting all the cow's ear tags alongside the names she had given them.

When the time came, Cyndi was ready. One by one, her father pointed to a cow or yelled out an ear tag number. Cyndi recited each name from memory.

"No cows died that week," she said. "And that's why I hate shopping to this day -- because it reminds me of my mom taking me away so I wouldn't see the cows being slaughtered."

There was one cow who always escaped the table, though. Bessie was Cyndi's favorite, and became a family pet.

Northern Design owner and photographer Cyndi Bennett and I were out on a shoot together this week when we came across this St. Bernard named Barney who loves the ducklings growing up at his house. When the ducks come out to roam, Barney follows them around the yard with utter fascination and focus.

Cyndi cuddles Emma, a Whatcom Humane Society calendar hero.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Canadian politicians want their pet blood sport represented at Olympics

Photo courtesy of Nigel Barker

Unwanted pelts are piling up in dumpsters and getting tossed onto burn piles as markets around the world are closing to the trafficking of slaughtered baby seals.

On Tuesday, the European Union's 27 member countries voted to ban the import and sale of seal products. It was a landslide -- 550 were for the ban and 49 went against. There were 41 abstentions. Add these EU countries to a long list of others including Slovenia, Croatia, Mexico and Russia.

But instead of finally hearing the voice of the world -- and its own citizens -- who are speaking out against subsidized cruelty, Canada's Members of Parliament have come up with their own bizarre response to the ban. Just when I thought it couldn't get more ridiculous, MPs from all parties voted unanimously yesterday in favor of a Bloc Quebecois motion to integrate seal pelts into uniforms for the Canadian athletes.

Just picture it: our Olympic athletes out there draped in sealskin, leaping around the parallel bars and rounding the race tracks with fur flying. Not exactly the moment of patriotic pride we should be striving for.

"With the upcoming Winter Olympics that will be in Vancouver in 2010, the government has a chance to offer some concrete action to promote seal products," Bloc Quebecois MP Raynald Blais said.

That will allow them to use up a few of those unwanted pelts while thumbing their noses at the European Union, a block of countries we are currently negotiating with to increase free trade. The trade dealings are potentially worth billions in wealth to Canadians.

All that to save a dying industry that costs taxpayers millions annually.

Still, Canadian Olympic Committee president Mike Chambers said the idea of sealskin uniforms isn't going to take flight. It will hinder the performance of the athletes and politicize the event.

"I'm used to those in the political arena wishing to attach their issues to the Olympic arena," he said. "But this is one...that will not and cannot be allowed to occur. It's our intent for our athletes to remain free of the politics that arises in and around the Olympic Games. The seal issue, while important, is an issue that has become politicized."

Clearly it's political, because it isn't economical.

And at a time of celebration when our athletes are serving as role models for our nation, we shouldn't be branding them with this badge of cruelty.

Even if it is made of sealskin.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mac fights to keep Harb Seal Bill from being iced

Mingling after his speech in Vancouver, Mac Harb stops to talk to Jason Windtalker, an aboriginal who is appalled by the reckless slaughter of innocent marine mammals.

If they are to survive public life, career politicians must grow a hard shell.

But even 25 years in politics didn't prepare Senator Mac Harb for the backlash he endured from his peers when he introduced a private members' bill on March 3. It proposed to end the massive annual slaughter of baby seals on Atlantic Canada's ice floes.

"I've never been abused so much in my life as when I introduced this bill," said Harb, who spoke to citizens this past Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

One senator -- former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell -- has even taken to giving Harb a hand signal when they cross paths on Parliament Hill.

And it isn't exactly a thumbs-up.

Campbell twirls his finger around in a circle near his ear, inferring that Harb is crazy.

In an unprecedented show of disrespect, not one of Canada's 105 senators would second the Harb Seal Bill. A second motion is all that's required to allow Harb to speak about his bill in Parliament.

"If I couldn't find one [senator] with the courage to do that, then I had to take it back to the public," he said.

Harb is the first Canadian politician in history to officially propose an end to the annual seal slaughter. He first became interested in the issue from his experience traveling on trade delegations. He faced people around the world who viewed the killing of baby harp seals with repulsion and horror. And he watched millions being spent by the Canadian government to promote and support a dying industry in the face of worldwide opposition.

"We still call it a hunt," Harb said. "Frankly it's not a hunt at all. They can't walk, can't swim, can't fly. These are babies. Give them a fair shake. This is not a hunt. It's a slaughter."

Despite the ridicule he faces from fellow politicians, Harb isn't deterred from his mission. He's pressing ahead with gusto.

"The government is on the wrong side," Harb said. "They have developed a mental block on the issue. They just don't want to hear about it."

Harb says fear of losing Atlantic Canada's votes -- largely a region galvanized by the fishing industry -- has caused politicians to shy away from ending the slaughter once and for all. That logic doesn't make sense when it's settled against public opinion. While Harb's fellow politicians aren't giving him props, the public certainly is. Forget about being called crazy. "Hero" is the word being bandied about by animal lovers. Not a word typically used to describe politicians.

In all, a whopping 518,000 Canadians have called, written, or emailed Harb's office since he launched his campaign. They've sent letters of support, petitions, and words of encouragement. That's an impressive number in a country with a population of 30 million.

Harb is bringing the letters by the wheelbarrow load to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

"We are going to see the beginning of the end of the commercial seal hunt," he declared.

The government computer system has been overwhelmed by the response from the public. Half of the Senate computers -- about fifty of them -- crashed as emails flooded in supporting the Harb Seal Bill. And the servers that handle internet traffic for the Senate and the House of Commons have crashed twice. Kids as young as four years old have written to Harb begging him to keep fighting for the seals.

"When the Government of Canada's computer system can't take the emails from the people, Parliament has to take note of that," Harb said.

As a Canadian, I am stunned by how out of step politicians are with the will of the people on this issue. Polls estimate that 80 percent of Canadians oppose the seal hunt. The exercise in government-subsidized cruelty churns the stomachs of most of us. And the barbaric annual ritual bloodies our public image worldwide.

Harb doesn't call himself an animal activist. He's not even a vegetarian. But he still "cannot understand for the life of me what the rationale is."

"How silly we are to allow this to continue. A loving, kind nation, and now we're killing baby seals," Harb told listeners, who at times gasped in shock as gruesome footage of the carnage on ice was screened. "I have letters from tourists who don't want to come here because all they think about is the seal hunt. It doesn't mesh well with the Canadian image."

The cruelty footage that played out on screen at Harb's event -- which was sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) -- left me breathless. I've viewed the worst: puppy mills, torture, dog fighting. Still, I've never seen cruelty that rivaled this.

Despite his official stripes, Harb hasn't been given any professional courtesy. When he traveled to Eastern Canada this year, the government wouldn't even direct him to the site where the bloodbath on ice was occurring, despite its claims that peaceful observers are welcome. Yet elite government ice-breakers costing taxpayers $50,000 per day escort the seal killers to the places where the pups are innocently learning to swim and feed themselves.

Harb had to spend three and a half hours flying around in a helicopter with IFAW looking for the slaughter site before he found it.

"The government could have told me as a senator, as a courtesy," Harb said. "There are a lot more horrifying photos and videos than what you just saw. These images are the tip of the iceberg."


Click on these links to get involved.

International Fund for Animal Welfare