Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Day at the Zoo

Okay, I admit it...I have mixed feelings about zoos and aquariums. On the one hand, it seems fundamentally wrong to "contain" wild animals for human entertainment. On the other hand, I believe that people care more about things (i.e. people, places, animals, etc.) they've actually seen, smelled, and in some cases, even touched. And as habitat for many of the earth's inhabitants is confiscated by human beings for our own purposes, animals need people that care more than ever. And let's face it, unless we as a species get a handle on the human population issue, zoos may actually become the only places some other species exist anywhere.

So given the important role of zoos with regard to education, research, breeding, and preservation of species, I believe they are obligated to do everything possible to ensure the quality of life of the animals in their care, providing not only food and medical care but also enough space and stimulation that each species can behave as naturally as possible. There's no excuse for tigers pacing back and forth behind bars or great apes sitting in a corner facing the wall.

Fortunately, a growing number of zoos are taking their mission as animal arks seriously. The San Diego Zoo, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, the Columbus Zoo in Ohio are just a few of the outstanding zoos in the United States alone.

Earlier this week as I strolled around the National Zoo in Washington, DC, I noticed many improvements--for both residents and visitors--since I'd been there more than a decade ago. The Asia Trail wove through exhibits bordered by foliage punctuated by occasional viewing places; this approach offers the animals more privacy and quiet while still allowing controlled visual access by visitors. A learning center for apes allows for regular mental stimulation. And the elephant house is undergoing a much-needed renovation. Educational stations offering comprehensive information abound. And there are even misting stations along the major paths where hot and weary children--and adults--can cool off.

So as I say, I'm still ambivalent. But as I stood by the great cats exhibit, a little boy--he must have been about 5 or 6 years old--on a school trip looked up at me and asked, "Are you a discoverer?"

"Yes, I am," I replied. "And the zoo is a great place to be a discoverer because I love animals."

"Me too!" the child declared enthusiastically.

And I think to myself that if the world's wildlife has a future of any kind it will be because children like this little boy learn to love them. And where better than at a zoo?

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Theory

I should have known better. There's a reason I don't go to the shelter regularly to assess potential dogs for the foster program of the SPCA/Humane Society of Prince George's County. It saddens me to see all the animals that end up there--usually through no fault of their own--knowing that many won't make it out. Plus, given the dog-aggressive tendencies of our dog Tango (which means the establishment of complex schedules when there's a foster dog in the house), I'm trying to limit our fostering role. So avoiding the biggest source of temptation seems only prudent.

But a few weeks ago, I threw caution to the wind and volunteered to help choose some dogs for our program. Following a case of Parvo, a serious and highly contagious canine disease, the shelter had instituted containment measures that included limiting the number of dogs any visitor could have contact with to one. More volunteers on site meant more dogs we could evaluate "up close and personal."

Which was all well and good...in theory, at least. Armed with a list of dogs whose time at the shelter was running out, we found several that were good matches for our available foster homes. But...while there, a 6-month-old brindled puppy caught my eye. To be honest, she was hard to miss. She wiggled and wriggled and play-bowed as I paused in front of her kennel, determined to interact with me.

Although I couldn't touch her (I'd already handled my one dog), I knew she was special. Convinced that other shelter visitors would be as captivated as I was, I was certain she'd be adopted quickly. Therefore, I reasoned, there was no harm--at least in theory--in asking shelter staff to let us know if anything happened to jeopardize her future.

But fate has a way of reminding us that nothing in life is certain, and last week the SPCA/HS adoption coordinator received a call that the puppy's application had fallen through and that her holding time at the shelter was running out. Would we take her into our foster program?

Well, it's bad enough to know intellectually that nameless and faceless dogs and cats die in shelters across the country on a regular basis. But it's absolutely unbearable to know that the life of an animal you interacted with, spoke sweet nothings to, and expressed interest in might be snuffed out. I just couldn't let that happen.

So the sweet brindled puppy is now a guest in our home, where she will stay until the right "forever" family turns up. Given her four white feet, I named her Ghillie--the word for Irish dance shoes worn by women in shows such as Riverdance. My husband had suggested Boots, but even though I grew up with a dog with that name, somehow--in an era of dogs named Abby, Sandy, Phoebe, and Jocelyn--that just seemed too pedestrian for a canine of Ghillie's distinctive looks. So Ghillie she is.

And once again, I'm shuttling dogs from inside to outside and one room to another so that Tango's and Ghillie's paths don't intersect. And I'm feeding in shifts (with Ceiligh eating either with Tango or Ghillie). And my life is a bit more complicated, but also greatly enriched. And not just in theory.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Saved from a Life on the Streets: A Special Mother's Day Post

A friend of mine works in construction...building, renovating, and remodeling homes. Her most recent contract took her to a Baltimore neighborhood of rundown, abandoned row houses in sore need of a facelift. During her months on the job site, she befriended, fed, rescued, and found homes for a number of street cats. But one cat in particular captured her heart.

This beautiful medium-haired cat visited the job site almost daily--not only for the food my friend distributed but also for some human interaction. She seemed to crave attention...and the comfort of my friend's truck, where she would spend hours dozing in the front seat or on the dashboard. She even ran after the truck when my friend left for home in the evening.

Given the cat's sociable nature, my friend thought crating her and taking her to a vet would be easy. But she was wrong. Although the cat loved being in the truck, she absolutely freaked when placed in a closed-door crate. In a complete panic, she thrashed about to the point that she scratched and bloodied her face and caused the crate to tip over. Afraid that the cat might get out of the crate in the truck during the drive, my friend reluctantly let her go.

But the cat's situation continued to weigh on her mind...especially as it became apparent that the cat was pregnant. And then the cat disappeared...only to materialize again on my friend's final day at the job site. She showed up for food and then led my friend to the backyard of an empty row house. There in a box of trash under a table, my friend discovered three kittens just two or three weeks old.

The proud mama purred with pleasure and allowed my friend to take the box of kittens back to the job site. With the kittens under her watchful eye, she even deigned to ride in the truck with them...no crate necessary.

Today, mom--now named Biddle for the street on which she was found--and her kittens are safe and sound in my friend's garage in a large crate (with the door always open) full of blankets. They've been seen by a mobile vet and determined to be in good health.

Biddle is a wonderful, doting mom. And she loves sharing her family with visitors--and being petted while she nurses. She purrs constantly (making it difficult for the vet to listen to her heartbeat). Like her kittens, she will make someone a fantastic pet!

All four of them will be made available for adoption once the kittens are weaned and they and Biddle are neutered. In the meantime, they are enjoying their new life of safety and comfort...far from the mean streets.