Mama’s last Hug

MAMA’S LAST HUG: Animal Emotions and What They tell us about ourselves by Frans de Waal, 2019.

Reviewed by Linda DeStefano

Translated into Spanish by Rob English

Many anecdotes, a sense of humor, an uncluttered writing style, and a passion for his subject make de Waal’s book very readable and enjoyable. And I smiled that he dedicated the book to his wife: “Catherine, who lights my fire.”

His respect and love for animals is obvious. Trained as a biologist, he has done non-invasive research on chimpanzees and bonobos for many years. Much of that has been at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center near Atlanta, Georgia. The chimps at Yerkes have a large outdoor area where they can climb, run and socialize. Much of the research is observation of their behavior but sometimes it involves engaging a champ in a task. The researchers must make these tasks interesting and rewarding because the chimps can choose whether or not to participate.

This is in stark contrast to the type of research which has been done by other researchers on chimps, such as infecting them with diseases. Extreme isolation was also used. I still recall in horror at an experiment in which each chimp was isolated alone in a tiny barren container with no stimulation. They literally went insane. The famous primatologist, Jane Goodall, once visited this chamber of horrors and tried to explain to the researchers that chimps in the wild are very active and very social. I find it incomprehensible that they wouldn’t have been able to figure that out for themselves but perhaps money from their grant allowed them to harden their hearts.

Sometimes researchers and chimps become friends. This was the case of Mama, who was a matriarch in her group, and Jan van Hooff. She had known Jan for 40 years; Jan visited her when she was very old and near death. She embraced him and gave him a huge chimp smile.

According to de Waal, animals share all our emotions – both the ones we regard as positive and the ones we regard as negative. He is indignant that researchers for many years refused to accept this reality but the field has now opened up to this recognition. An example of similar behavior is that chimps are sometimes violent and cruel – even killing each other. For more positive emotions, look at the bonobos.  Their mantra could be “Make love, not war” as they seldom fight, never kill each other, and use frequent sex as a means of pleasure and social cohesion.

Chimps also have a peaceful side. The top male in a troop might be a tyrant but – more often – is a peacemaker. “In fact, the smallest male may become alpha if he has the right supporters. Most alpha males protect the underdog, keep the peace, and reassure those who are distressed.” (p. 175)

Besides primates, de Waal reports on studies which demonstrate emotions in other animals. For example, rats enjoy being tickled and will come back for more if the researcher stops. It makes me sad to think that so many rats and mice suffer during invasive research and that not enough researchers have turned to modern, better methods of research that don’t use animals.

And animals can have empathy for each other. One study used bonobos. A bonobo would be given a pile of fruit. A bonobo in an adjoining cage had none, but the “wealthy” bonobo opened the door between the cages in order to share the fruit. Another study put one rat in a small glass container while another rat observed that the trapped rat was distressed. “Not only did the free rat learn how to open a little door to liberate the other, but she was remarkably eager to do so. Never trained on it, she did so spontaneously. Then Bartal challenged her motivation by giving her a choice between two containers, one with chocolate chips – a favorite food that they could easily smell – and another with a trapped companion. The free rat often rescued her companion first, suggesting that reducing her stress counted for more than delicious food.” (pp. 117-118)

The author learns from observing his own companion animals too – cats and fish. Regarding fish, he bemoans the low esteem in which they are generally held. He notes that they feel pain, exhibit depression, curiosity, sociability and playfulness.

de Waal is pleased that the U.S., Japan and the Netherlands no longer do research on chimps. He is active with Chimp Haven, which provides a beautiful home for chimps who were formerly used in research. He worries about the other animals still suffering in labs and the animals suffering on factory farms. Factory farms contain hundreds or thousands of animals (such as cows, pigs, chickens) in very crowded, unnatural conditions. He thinks transparency can make a change for the better. If labs and factory farms were open to the public there might be an outcry for better treatment. One of his suggestions is a label on meat that the consumer could scan and see on her smartphone the condition of this animal before being killed.

This book review barely scratches the surface of the intriguing knowledge de Waal reports on various species both in the wild and in captivity.

Linda is President of People for Animal Rights. For a sample of the organization’s newsletter, contact PAR, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358 or people4animalrightscny@gmail.com or (315)488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Birds of a Feather by Lorin Lindner

Provided by Linda A. DeStefano

Book Review by Collette Charbonneau

Translated into Spanish by Rob English

This is a true story – a sort of autobiography of how two parrot sanctuaries in California came to fruition. It is a recollection of life events by the author, Lorin Lindner, an animal lover and vegan. She recounts how she transitioned from running her own psychology practice to creating a rehabilitation program for veterans (and parrots). It all started when she took in a parrot while still in college. She was determined to navigate through the complexity of how to properly care for such a bird. She realized many people do not know how to do so and she had to do something to help.

She weaves her miraculous story into the sad, but true, story of why she had to build a parrot sanctuary in the first place. She presents honest, horrifying, and hopeful words to the plight of the parrot, a bird that is taken from his/her home in the Amazon as a baby and transported to the U.S. and sold to the highest bidder – overcrowded and uneducated/untrained pet stores or breeders who sell to unassuming people who just want a “pet”. As Lindner explains several times throughout her book, parrots need companionship, attention, proper food, clean cages, and room to fly around and spread their wings. While this can be easy for people to provide early on in their relationship with the parrots, it becomes harder as their lives get busier and the parrots continue to need a high level of attention and support. Most people do not realize, myself included, that parrots can live up to eighty years in captivity! It is hard for parrots to move around from home to home because they “imprint” or develop a deep connection to another bird, animal, or even a human. When they are separated by life circumstances, the parrot can have a difficult time recovering and moving on from that incident. Lindner wanted to help parrots.

Early in her career, after being approached by a homeless veteran needing someone to talk to, she realized other veterans needed help too. She began working with veterans at a nearby VA hospital and brought her two rescue parrots to work with her. The veterans often found it easier to communicate with a parrot than a person. She opened a parrot sanctuary for parrots in the community who could not stay with their human companions. Some of the veterans accompanied her each week to help clean cages, prepare their food, and socialize with them. Lindner then founded a rehabilitation program for veterans at the much closer VA hospital, that also happened to be a place for parrots.

Serenity Park, which opened in 2005, is described more like a garden sanctuary next to a hospital complex. The parrots, many of whom are severely traumatized, warm up to the veterans over time. They establish trust and help one another cope with the trauma they have experienced by learning that not all encounters with other humans are bad.

Lindner ends the book with hope for the veterans and parrots for whom she dedicated her life’s work. This book is a gentle reminder that people and our non-human companions both have feelings and past experiences that need to be recognized and addressed, in order for lifelong, meaningful relationships to exist. Just like us, they can find new meaning in life with the proper attention and care. Lindner reminds us that if we treat every living being right, we can all achieve true happiness and be successful in life.

Collette is a member of People for Animal Rights. You can contact People for Animal Rights at P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse 13215-0358, people4animalrightscny@gmail.com, (315)488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.  Visit us at peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org

Plant-Based Diet

Oxford University Study Again Shows Vast Environmental Advantage of Plant-Based Diet
by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spansish by Rob English

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-bigg est-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

Published in the journal SCIENCE and described in the May 31, 2018 magazine THE GUARDIAN, an extensive study by Oxford University in the U.K. concludes: “Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet…” And without meat and dairy, “global farmland could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equal to the U.S., China, the E.U. and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of current mass extinction of wildlife.”

Joseph Poore, the lead researcher, says: “Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.” And THE GUARDIAN adds: “The scientists found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.”

If you want to move toward a vegan diet, check out recipes and other resources at atlantic2.sierraclub.org/conservation/biodiversity. You can also get free information and mentoring from various organizations, such as Vegan Outreach. Contact veganoutreach.org

And you can get a free copy of the brochure “Give a Wolf (and the World) a Break Today: Go Veggie!”
from the Biodiversity/Vegetarian Outreach Committee of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club by contacting the chair of the committee, Linda DeStefano at LDESTEFANO3@twcny.rr.com or (315)488-2140 (8 a.m. – 10 p.m.) or 5031 Onondaga Rd., Syracuse 13215-1403.

Horse Racing

by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

As a child, I was taken once to a race track. I loved the beautiful horses. Only as an adult did I learn about the cruelty and death caused by racing horses.

Patrick Battuello’s website horseracingwrongs.com provides a wealth of information. For example, he lists racing horse deaths by state. In 2018 there were 98 horses killed racing and training in NYS. And this number is lower than the reality because the Gaming Commission typically only discloses deaths occurring on-site (or occasionally at equine hospitals) and those within 72 hours of injury. And nothing from the many private facilities across the state. He lists all the victims by name, date and type of injury. Here are just a few:

Old Dubai, January 19, Belmont T “fell at the 7/8 pole, suffered fracture to front leg – euthanized on track”

Desert Affair, May 6, Belmont R “suffered a fatal musculoskeletal injury and was euthanized on the track”

The Berber, May 14, Finger Lakes T “catastrophic injury to shoulder – euthanized”

Battuello lists the wrongs of the horse racing industry:

The Pounding of Unformed Bodies: The typical horse does not reach full musculoskeletal maturity till around six; the typical racehorse begins “training” at 18 months and is raced at two – or the rough equivalent of a kindergartner.

The Extreme Confinement: Most active racehorses are kept isolated in small stalls 23 hours a day, making a mockery of the industry claim that their horses are born to run, love to run. No affection, no stimulation – just an existence.

The Commodification: Most racehorses are bought and sold several times over during the course of their “careers” – traded and treated like common Amazon products.

The Drugging and Doping: Racehorses are injected with various drugs – some legal, some not – with a singular goal: to keep them running, even thru pain and injury.

The Whipping: What happens openly at the track would qualify as animal cruelty if done to our pets. What’s more, in what other sport do lashes provide the motivation?

The Killing: Horseracing Wrongs estimates that upward of 2,000 horses die while racing or training on American racetracks annually.

The Slaughtering: Although the industry downplays the extent of the problem, the prevailing wisdom is that most “retired” American racehorses are bled-out and butchered in foreign abattoirs. One final profit on their heads.

Linda is President of People for Animal Rights (PAR). For a free sample of our newsletter, contact PAR, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse 13215-0358, (315)488-PURR (8 a.m. – 10 p.m.), people4animalrightscny@gmail.com You can visit our website at www.peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org

How to Be A Good Creature

How to Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in thirteen Animals
by Sy Montgomery, 2018, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Reviewed by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

How to be a good Creature is an intimate portrait of a woman who forms deep attachments – to humans and a wide variety of other animals. Since the author shares so much of her life, I feel a kinship with her and will refer to her by her first name – Sy.

Sy’s first beloved animal was a strong-willed Scottish terrier, Molly. From Molly, she learned independence, determination and the love of adventure.

Sy’s adventures have taken her to many remote areas around the world, including Australia, Africa, Asia and South America. These were expeditions to do scientific research and to gather material for her several books for adults and children. Her determination was tested by such challenges as ticks, mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, dangerous plants and an arduous uphill trek that left her with hypothermia and altitude sickness. But she persisted and valued each adventure.

She and her husband, Howard Mansfield, rescued a runt piglet, an unloved border collie (and, later, another), and a puppy who is blind in one eye. After many years of a pampered life, Christopher Hogwood (who had grown to be a huge pig) and Tess, their beloved border collie, died within a short time of each other. Sy went into a deep depression but came out of it through her curiosity and open-heartedness regarding other animals.

One of her featured creatures is Clarabelle, a tarantula. Sy and her colleague on a spider expedition discovered Clarabelle on a plant in the building where they were staying. She was a species of tarantula known to be docile, and she readily walked on to Sy’s outstretched palm. Later, they borrowed Clarabelle to teach a lesson to the local children, who had acquired the common human fear and dislike of spiders. Even the girl who had admitted to being afraid of spiders, allowed Clarabelle to walk on her palm. Another whispered: “She is beautiful, this monster!”

Athena and Octavia, octopi at the New England Aquarium, became friends with Sy. Sy describes her first meeting with Athena: “The moment the aquarist opened the heavy lid to her tank, Athena slid over to inspect me. Her dominate eye swiveled in its socket to meet mine, and four or five of her four-foot-long boneless arms, red with excitement, reached toward me from the water. Without hesitation, I plunged my hands and arms into the tank and soon found my skin covered with dozens, then hundreds, of her strong, white, coin-size suckers. An octopus can taste with all its skin, but this sense is most exquisitely honed in the suckers. If a human had begun tasting me so early in our relationship, I would have been alarmed. But this was an earthbound alien – someone who could change color and shape, who could pour her baggy forty-pound body into an opening smaller than an orange, someone with a beak like a parrot and venom like a snake and ink like an old-fashioned pen. Yet clearly, this large, strong, smart marine invertebrate – one more different from a human than any creature I had ever met before – was as interested in me as I was in her.” (pp. 141-142)

Sy considered her family complete with her husband, their animals and their friends – not needing biological children. I got a chuckle from her explanation: “I had never wanted kids of my own, even when I was one. When I discovered, as a child, that I would forever be unable to conceive or bear puppies, I crossed having babies off the list. The Earth was grossly overburdened with humans already.” (p. 55) But Sy enjoys having children as friends. Intrigued by Christopher Hogwood, two girls who lived next door came almost daily to feed, pet and wash him. They became good friends with Sy. Eventually, the children, their mother, Sy and her husband, and the animals became like one family.

I would say that Sy herself has learned well from each creature and is a good creature herself.

This book is easy to read and has charming drawings and interesting photos.

Linda is President of People for Animal Rights. For a sample of our newsletter (which comes out twice-yearly), contact PAR, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse 13215-0358, (315)488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., people4animalrightscny@gmail.com. You can visit our website at peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org

Bald Eagles

Let the Bald Eagles Fly
by Gabor Hardy

Today there are plans underway in Onondaga County, state of New York, to build a pathway around the perimeter of Onondaga Lake which is in Syracuse, New York. Much has been constructed and the end is near. However, there is a twist to this story. Basically, this pathway is designed for leisure, exercise, relaxation and overall enjoyment of people everywhere who wish to visit the shores of this wonderful lake. However, there is a barrier to this story that is supposed to have a happy ending. It involves the final completion of a secondary trail that goes onto Murphy’s island – an appendage of Onondaga Lake. This small (one half mile or two) trail is scheduled for construction starting in late spring of 2019.

The problem with these plans is the fact that the proposed trail will be going directly through the habitat or roost area of the bald eagles (there are as many as 35). Eagles are known to have a greater fear of the human form than they have for cars, trains, or airplanes.

Various perspectives are offered; these perspectives translate into many pro and con positions.

Some pro positions are:

A) The freedom of individuals to roam where they want supersedes the needs of bald eagles
B) We need this trail for the benefit of bikers and runners
C) Bald Eagles are tough birds and will adjust
D) No great danger because the trail will be closed for a few months out of the year when the Bald Eagles are roosting
E) We need this trail in order to complete our plan for a pathway leading all around the lake

Con positions:

A) The eagles will permanently leave this area due to human disturbance
B) Murphy’s island is polluted, so why build on it?
C) Even if you close the trail human beings will venture on the pathways – thus creating more expense by hiring security guards
D) Practically all bird experts agree that the pathway is way too close to the Eagle roost
E) Building an observation platform will satisfy those who come to look at Bald Eagles, yet far enough away so that they will not be scared away.
F) Constant disturbance of the Bald Eagles will deplete their reservoir of energy resulting in loss of body weight

There is an important consideration that is often overlooked in discourses concerning animals. It is that animals do not speak, read, or write English or any other human language. We (human people) stand in for their feelings, concerns, and needs. What becomes rather important then – are authentic voices. By an “authentic” voice I mean those individual humans who spend their lives studying the life cycles of these magnificent birds. It is to the “experts” that the legislature, ecological groups, and all other parties who have a vested interest in this trail should look to for answers. It makes sense to give priority to the experts in the field of eagle behavior because most of us have not had the time or the knowledge to study these birds and hear their language.

So, why is this not done? Very often the opinions of experts are ignored, disputed, or taken out of context. Too often the lure of wealth obscures clear thinking as well. If we establish the common ground that bald eagles are worthy of protection, that bald eagles are an endangered species (at least here in Onondaga county), or that Bald Eagles are a distinct asset to this region – then why not err on the side of caution? This county can build a viewing platform or simply not build a trail at all. These two courses of action are a small price to pay because the payoff is significant: the eagles will continue to make their home by the shores of Onondaga Lake.

Bald Eagles are wild creatures. As such, I have no doubt that, if asked, they would say that they prefer solitude and undisturbed areas where they can live and breed. Their habitats at one time encompassed practically the whole USA. Over the years the areas where Bald Eagles can roost has dwindled significantly. Is it not our responsibility … even our moral obligation to give these Bald Eagles a haven of rest? This county should NOT build a trail on Murphy’s Island but should proceed with plans to build a viewing station at the end of the Creekwalk. The viewing station would be close enough to Murphy’s Island to observe the eagles but far enough away to avoid disturbing them. Is it not time to defer to the needs of our wild brethren?

This article was provided by Linda DeStefano and written by Gabor Hardy. Gabor is a member of the board of People for Animal Rights. PAR is one of the organizations helping Save the Bald Eagles of Onondaga Lake. If you want more information about PAR, contact us at PO Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358 or by email at peope4animalrightscny@gmail.com or call us at (315)488-PURR (7877) 08 a.m.-10 p.m. Go to our website at peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org.

Ziggy Stardust

by Gabor Hardy

A meow worth a thousand words
A paw swipe in the dark
So dumb creatures leave their mark
within solitary hearts

A dingy white kitten arrived one day, yellow eyes blazing
Appearing in a patch of snow, torn fur, and ribs outline
His ears were bleeding with one torn paw

We, in curious wonder, opened up our hearts
willing him to remain

This polished cat, destined to roam
Assured and undefeated, down vacant streets
Backyard alleys and slanted rooftops are the places where he ruled
Like some lord of the hunt, ready to pounce
upon a mice or rat which had strayed across his path

We always thought that every night, he would come home
However, he was on loan
From some Transcendent Being
the Creator of his wild heart

We never dreamed of a time of goodbye,
When a high jump and a soaring heart would
greet us no more, as the days and weeks drift by

Note from Linda DeStefano, President, People for Animal Rights: We urge you to keep your cat inside where she/he will be safe. In this case, the cat was half-wild and a decision was made that he wouldn’t adjust to indoor living. There are many other cases in which a feral (half-wild) cat does adjust well; I had a beloved one who I rescued from outdoors; with patience, she became a happy, affectionate indoor cat.

People for Animal Rights can be reached at P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse 13215-0358, people4animalrightscny@gmail.com, (315)488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., Our website is peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org.