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.

How Wildlife Prepares for Winter in CNY

How Wildlife Prepares for Winter in CNY
by Collette Charbonneau
Provided by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

As the summer glow fades until next year, the warm colors of fall begin to appear. Soon, blankets of snow will cover the ground, the trees, and also our cars. As you shuffle from one building to the next, from one heated room to another, do you ever stop to wonder what is happening outside your window?

While you may not hear as many birds at 5am this time of year, those who have chosen to stick around and brave the temperature drop are still out there, hunkering down at night and waking up to a chilly, snowy froth above their heads each morning. They worked hard in the spring to build their nests and raise a new generation. But, most abandon their nests by fall, preferring to create a new nest the following Spring. They must now find ways to survive the winter and often have to get creative with finding an unoccupied bed for the night.

Cardinals are one common winter bird here in Central New York. The male’s bright red color is a welcome sight against the snowy backdrop. Like most birds, they do not sleep in nests during winter months. Walk outside, early in the morning, on a winter’s day and you might find a cardinal sitting deep in an evergreen tree. (These are the trees that keep their green needles all year long). This is the preferred winter home for cardinals.

Leave out your birdfeeder in the winter, well-stocked with sunflower seeds or a mix of seeds from a bag of local songbird food, and you just might see a cardinal, blue jay, or other winter resident in your yard. It is harder for them to find food in the winter so leaving food out for them all year is a good idea. Note: do not do this if you live in an area where black bears have been spotted. This will encourage them to leave their dens early (they can smell the food), which makes it nearly impossible for them to resume their deep sleep until Spring.

So what are those nests we see high in the treetops in the middle of winter? Let me give you a hint… think of the most common mammal seen in rural, suburb, and city neighborhoods.

Squirrels are the opposite of birds. They prefer to sleep in nests in the winter so they can get some relief against the cold, windy nights. They do not use these nests in the spring or summer. In early Spring, squirrel nests are sometimes destroyed by their creators or birds will swoop in and take what they need to make their nests.

Other mammals, including deer, mice, chipmunks, foxes, skunks, and opossums also need to find shelter (dens and burrows provide protection from wind, snow, and ice) and food in the winter. Giving them your patience, and plenty of space, will help ensure they get what they need too. Planting native bushes, shrubs, and nut-producing trees (oak, walnut, hickory, beech) can provide food for these animals too.

While taking steps to help wildlife in the winter shouldn’t turn into a feeding frenzy in your yard, if you are concerned, talk to your local town board or community association about creating a community garden/wildlife-friendly zone where the animals can safely gather foods and find shelter. I encourage you to look out your window, or step out onto the sidewalk one winter’s day, and look at all the wildlife around you. Winter is a time of rest, survival, quiet beauty, and perseverance that will be colorfully rewarded within just a few months.

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

EATING YOU ALIVE

Film reviewed by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

Syracuse Vegans Meetup Group organized a showing of EATING YOU ALIVE so I went to see what it was about. This excellent film held my attention because it included many personal stories. Several people told how they or a loved one was very ill with a chronic disease – some even to the point of being told they would die soon. Most received no useful advice from their physicians so had to discover on their own that a plant-based, whole foods diet could literally save them. This film was very upbeat because it had so many happy endings. For example, his doctor told an elderly man he would die in a month or so from cancer and that the doctor could do anything for him. After a year on a plant-based, whole foods diet, the man recovered and walked into the office of the astonished doctor.

Besides these recovery stories, several physicians, vegan chefs, a pharmacist, an actor and others were interviewed. They spoke about the lack of nutrition education in medical school, the seductive power of food ads, the scarcity of preventive medicine in the U.S. and the restorative power of healthy food. Chefs provided a few recipes.

A very brief segment showed the horrific abuse of animals raised for food. Another brief segment told of the environmental damage caused by animal agriculture, such as the methane emissions from cows.

For more information, read HOW NOT TO DIE by Michael Greger, M.D. It also is helpful to try out a new way of eating (or stick with it once you’ve tried it) by eating with others.

Consider joining Syracuse Vegans Meetup Group. Contact Marybeth Fishman, mfishman4282@gmail.com or call (315) 729-7338. You can find the group on Facebook, Instagram, and on the Meetup.com website.

Also contact Linda DeStefano at People for Animal Rights, P.O.Box 15358, Syracuse 13215-0358, (315) 488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. or people4animalrightscny@gmail.com or see our website at peopleforanimalrightgsofcny.org Ask for a sample of our newsletter, our membership brochure, and/or recipes. I also can make a copy for you of the 16 page report from Kaiser-Permanente (a large Health Maintenance Organization) called “The Plant-based Diet: A Healthier Way to Eat.” The HMO can save money by preventing health problems in their patients so this tells me that they think a plant-based diet really is good preventative medicine.

THE CROWS

A short essay by Richard Weiskopf
Compiled by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

The crows flew over – pair mating, no doubt. Caw Caw! The sound pierce my ears. It was as if they carried a black shroud and were the messengers of death.

One on the very top of a tree surveys the surroundings and controls the entire area, even the human who works powerless underneath. Inside that black shroud he carries the memories of centuries. The Caw Caw warns the others when humans are approaching and where they are going. His searching eye follows their every move; then he glides effortlessly through the air, his fimbriated wings still and hardly moving. Sometimes they fly in groups, and you’d think it was a city of ants flying. Then there is a romance of two flying like planes in a dog fight, rough and tumble, one over the other, sometimes a piece of branch or string in their beak. They raise their young to grow into the black shroud like the parents.

Even in death – and I saw a dead one in the cemetery where I was walking – they retain their grace and majesty. Black, sleek, silken feathers, a satin gown surrounding them. The crow makes me feel like a part of the earth, not as if I own the earth.

Richard is a semi-retired physician living in Syracuse. He enjoys journal writing and writes essays, poems and letters to the newspaper. This short essay is used with his permission.

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People for Animal Rights encourages appreciation of wild animals and the Earth and the attitude of being part of nature rather than separate from it. We work against exploitation of all animals and strive to protect the Earth, which sustains us all. If you want our general brochure and a sample of our newsletter, contact us at PAR, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358 or call us at (315) 488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. or people4animalrightscny@gmail.com. Our website is peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org.

LARGE AUDIENCE FOR DR. VEGGIE

by Linda DeStefano
Translated into Spanish by Rob English

There were about 95 people who came to Onondaga Free Library on May 9 to hear Ted Barnett (“Dr. Veggie”) talk about Plant-Based Nutrition and Evolving Medical Paradigms.

Dr. Barnett is a partner in a radiology practice and somehow finds the time to also be the C.E.O. of Rochester Lifestyle Medicine, which he founded in 2015. This practice helps people to be healthy through plant-based nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction and other lifestyle improvements.

Dr. Banett used imaginative images to help him tell the story of how difficult it is to change medical paradigms, in one case taking a century. The first example was the importance of surgeons washing their hands after doing a dissection and before seeing a patient. The person who introduced this concept demonstrated that it worked by reducing the number of patients dying from infection. Nonetheless, this simple habit was ignored for many years while more people died needlessly.

The second example was the common practice of radical mastectomies to treat breast cancer. In addition to removing the breast, the surgeon would remove the muscle and lymphs. This extreme surgery stopped only after it was shown that a simple mastectomy was just as likely to stop the cancer as a radical mastectomy one.

The third example showed that surgery was not needed to treat ulcers; after proof that ulcers were caused by a bacteria, antibiotics were the proper treatment.

The point is that change happens slowly but physicians like Dr. Barnett are leading the way to a non-invasive approach to illness and health rather than undue reliance on surgery and prescription mediation. This is why another of his nicknames is “The high-tech doctor with the low-tech solutions”.

He also spoke at Upstate Medical University to about 30 medical students and one physical therapy student.

This popular event was co-sponsored by People for Animal Rights and the Syracuse Vegans Meetup Group. If you want to explore a plant-based diet, these groups can help you by inviting you to socials where all vegan food is served (but you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to attend). They also invite the public to films and speakers on this and related topics.

The contact for the Syracuse Vegans group is Marybeth Fishman, mfishman4282@gmail.com or (315)729-7338. You can find the group on Facebook, Instagram, and on the Meetup.com website.

Contact for People for Animal Rights is people4animalrightscny@gmail.com or (315)488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. or PAR, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358.

We can also provide you with contact information for national organizations which can offer lots of material and support, including free personal counseling if you are ready to try a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet means eating veggies, fruit, grains, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and all the tasty food made from them while avoiding animal flesh and animal products (particularly dairy and eggs). YUM!