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Archive for February, 2009

Earlier this week  a Connecticut woman was attacked by a 200 pound chimpanzee named Travis who had been kept as a pet for 14 years.  The woman was friends with the chimp’s “owner”, and was called to help coax him back indoors after he escaped using a key to unlock the front door.  Sandra Herold, the woman who kept Travis, seemed surprised by this attack on her friend because “He could eat at the table, drink wine from a stemmed glass, use the toilet, and dress and bathe himself.  He brushed his teeth with a Water Pik, logged on to a computer to look at photos and channel-surfed television with the remote control.”  The thing is, those abilities make him very intelligent, but they still do not make him a domesticated pet.  Travis, like all other chimps, no matter how many amazing “human-like” behaviors they exhibit, are still wild animals who do not belong to anybody else, and who will undoubtedly revert back to their instincts eventually.  In addition, chimpanzees have about 5 times the strength of a human male, so if and when they attack, it is going to be brutal – as it was for Herold’s friend, Charla Nash, who is still in critical condition in the hospital.

During the attack, Herold called police, and pleaded with them to help her friend.  In the end, police shot Travis, killing him instantly.  Now, of course I feel awful that Ms. Nash was   attacked so brutally….but it also makes me extremely angry that this poor chimpanzee was killed simply for being a chimpanzee.  Sandra Herold’s ignorance about what Travis needed – i.e. to not be kept as a prisoner, basically – led to this attack, and I blame her, not Travis, for her friend’s injuries.  What’s more is that the state of Connecticut (and the US as a whole) needs to take some of the responsibility for this.  Herold was legally issued a permit to keep Travis as a pet.   I am hopeful that animal advocates will rise to the call and try to make some legislative changes, as one has already begun to do:

A chimpanzee is not a domestic pet,” said Pricilla Feral, president of the international animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, based in Darien. “Keeping an animal like that as a pet and force-training it goes against all of its natural instincts. For an attack like this to happen should be expected.”

Feral said she was appalled to hear the state issues permits to homeowners for primates such as chimpanzees. In the wake of Monday’s incident, Feral is calling on the state to adopt new legislation that would make primate pet ownership illegal. She is also requesting that existing permits for primates be exposed and revoked.

“The state has no business issuing permits to people to keep these animals as pets,” said Feral. “The fact that Stamford allowed this to occur in its own backyard is astonishing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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All too often even the most egregious cases of animal abuse go without any substantial punishment. This seems even more true when the victim is a “food” animal.  However, I saw some good news today that gives me some hope that times may be changing (slowly, but changing nonetheless).

Around Thanksgiving last year, People for the Ethical Treatement of Animals (PETA) released undercover video footage of Aviagen Turkeys Inc. slaughterhouse employees abusing live turkeys.   I am happy to report that last week three of those workers were indicted on  19 counts of animal abuse, 11 of them felony charges that could carry significant jail time.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Each felony charge is punishable by up to five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. The misdemeanor charges carry possible sentences of six months and up to $2,000 in fines.”  These punishments are unusually harsh in a farm animal abuse case, but given the severity of the abuse, I think they are totally appropriate.  Until people like this are held accountable for their actions and severe punishments are the norm, the abuse will continue.  Companies engaged in any kind of animal production or handling need to make it painfully clear that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and our legal system  needs to punish people accordingly when such cases do arise.  I am glad that in this case it seems that the courts are taking this abuse seriously.

I met a few turkeys when I visited Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen.  Having heard my whole life how stupid turkeys are, I was surprised to see that they’re actually quite bright animals, and that they, like pigs, cows, dogs, and other animals, have rich emotional lives.  They are sweet, kind animals, and I am so happy I got to meet some of them. It reinforced even more why I choose not to eat them.  Look at how beautiful they are!

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This video just melts my heart.  It is a great example of how loving and selfless non-human animals can be.  The whole idea that so many people hold that says somehow humans have a monopoly on emotions kind of gets tossed out the window when you see something like this.  We could all learn a little something from this Hero Dog!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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I get frustrated when people suggest that all Pit bulls are a danger to society.  I work with someone, in fact, who is so prejudiced against these beautiful dogs, that she will leave a dog park with her dogs if a pit bull arrives.  While Pit bulls are incredibly strong and can therefore inflict a dangerous wound if they do attack, they are by no means the only breed that bites.  My dog was once bitten by a Golden Retriever at a dog park.  My father was badly bitten on the leg by a Springer Spaniel once and needed several stitches and hospital visits.  Not that I want to give Golden Retrievers or Springers a bad name – I’m just pointing out that any breed of dog can bite.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document that a chained dog is 2.8 times more likely to bite than an unchained dog.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Additionally, if you look at the breeds of dogs that are most often obtained to be “guard dogs”, you’ll find Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers – usually the same dogs we hear about in dog bite or dog attack stories.  Is it any wonder that a dog who is kept chained, or treated as a security system instead of as a part of the family might act out or become aggressive?  When these kinds of dogs are kept indoors, are well-trained, and treated as part of the family, they are excellent companions, and rarely aggressive.  I mean, do these Pit bulls look like cold-blooded killers to you?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

A recent article out of the Victoria Advocate sums up this issue nicely, I think:

Pit bulls are no more dangerous than any other dog. They are loving and loyal animals.

Don’t ban pit bulls. Ban abusive owners.

“There’s a chance for any dog, even a good dog, to bite someone,” said Larry Green, a chaplain for Hospice of South Texas. “The aggression comes from how people raise them.”

Owners should properly care for pit bulls – love, train and keep them humanely enclosed. Besides, banning a breed is ineffective.

“It’s the deed and not the breed,” said David Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the American Veterinarian Medical Association. “There’s quite a bit of science that says banning a particular breed of dog has not proven to reduce dog bites. Breed-specific legislation is stereotyping certain breeds as being vicious. We oppose this.”

A dog’s tendency to bite depends on several factors. Chain any dog to a tree for lengthy periods and the dog will become angry and aggressive, Kirkpatrick said.

“If the dog is trained, socialized, kept in an environment that doesn’t increase its aggressiveness, than you will have a happy, healthy dog.  Dog bites are preventable,” he said.

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