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Life Lately

[blows dust off keyboard] Well, those were a few busy months!

Okay, part of it has been me, also. Not gonna lie — I just haven’t been in the mood to write lately. Thankfully, that feeling has passed, and I’m ready to start pounding the keys again!

There have been some additions to our eccentric menagerie and it looks like some changes are on the horizon, but all good ones. Working full time jobs in addition to caring for the farm has left us little time to do much of anything else, but we’re learning to love our new lifestyle and are figuring out how to make it all work.

We finally had our housewarming party a few weekends ago and now that that’s out of the way, I’m looking forward to slightly more (however slight that may be!) free time.

So, here’s a recap of life lately:

Anfisa is doing fabulous! She’s a real character and loves, loves, LOVES attention! And watermelon! She goes nuts for it! Her feathers have all grown in and she’s a beautiful, silly girl. We are so happy to have her here with us.

"No, dad, I don't want to take a selfie with you. Gimme some watermelon!!!"

“No, dad, I don’t want to take a selfie with you. If you’re offering watermelon, though, I might reconsider…”

About three weeks after Anfisa’s arrival, we welcomed another chicken, Libby, to our farm. Libby came from the same poultry market as Anfisa did, but she was raised for meat, unlike Anfisa, who was raised to lay eggs. Because her only value was her weight and how “meaty” she was, Libby is huge — probably about three times the size of Anfisa — and because of that, it’s a bit hard for her to get around. The cruel reality for meat birds is that they’re bred to grow to unnaturally large sizes in a very short time, resulting in a plethora of health problems and early death. We realize that Libby will become a victim of her breeding eventually, but for now, she seems happy and healthy and we are doing our best to keep her that way.

Beautiful Libby!

Beautiful Libby!

We now also have three Pekin ducks! We had a few possible duck surrenders in the works, but they never panned out and honestly, we were really bummed that they didn’t. We couldn’t wait to welcome some ducks to the farm, so I contacted a rescue and found an adorable trio of boys who had been found abandoned at a lake and were in need of a permanent, loving home. They’re now known as The Three Stooges and are slowly, but surely, warming up to us. They are simply adorable and so much fun to watch!

The Stooges!

The Stooges!

Penny’s kittens are all grown up! They turned 10 weeks old on Sunday and although adorable, they are the craziest little fluffballs I’ve ever encountered. I don’t think they sleep. Ever. We’ve decided to keep two kittens, along with Penny. (That brings our cat total to five! Yes… we are crazy.) The others will be adopted out and sassy miss Chloe has already gone to her forever home. Sending her on her way was a zillion times harder than I ever imagined it to be. I felt like I was giving away my own kid. She’s in a wonderful home, though, and I’ve gotten lots of updates and photos. She is settling in just fine and I know that she will be adored and spoiled, just as she should be!

big cheese 10 weeks

Big Cheese

chloe 10 weeks

Chloe

james 10 weeks

James (We’re keeping him!)

lil cheese 10 weeks

Little Cheese

mac 10 weeks

Mackenzie aka Mac

sparrow 10 weeks

Sparrow (We’re keeping her, too!)

penny new pic

Mama Penny

We survived that tornado/derecho/storm-pocalypse/whatever-it-was that tore through southern NJ back in June. We lost power for about three days and since our house runs on a well and pump, no power = no water (or flushing toilet!), so it was an interesting few days, to say the least. We were so lucky, though. Many, many people suffered major damage when giant trees came smashing through their homes or toppling onto their cars. Our area was one of the lesser-hit ones and we managed to escape anything major. A few big limbs came down and a section of our pasture fencing (which we needed to replace, anyway) blew over. It could have been so much worse. I now have a renewed respect for Mother Nature and her forces. And a new-found appreciation for electricity! I don’t know how people survived summers back in the days before air conditioning. I had a hard time making it through three days!

An eerie, orange sky after the storm passed.

An eerie, orange sky after the storm passed.

What else?

I’m currently looking to make a career change. I need a job with more predictable hours. Oh, and weekends. Weekends would be fantastic! My commute is grinding on my nerves too, and since we now live in the middle of practically nowhere, it’d be stellar if I could land a work-from-home position. I’d love to get into the non-profit sector, too, since I haven’t been happy in the corporate world in the past and am absolutely dreading having to go back to it. I’m not being too picky, am I? If I have to leave a job I love, I’m trying my damnest to find one I won’t hate. Leads, anyone?

Like I mentioned earlier, we had our farm/housewarming party a few weeks ago and my mom and dad proved (once again) that they’re pretty much the most awesome parents, ever. My mom ordered a few things from Vegan Treats and my dad made the long trek (about 2 hours, each way!) to pick them up! They were a hit at the party, like I knew they would be. That place doesn’t make anything that isn’t knock-your-socks-off delicious!

Lousy pic. Delicious cake! Vanilla sponge cake with lemon-pineapple filling.

Lousy pic. Delicious cake! Vanilla sponge cake with lemon-pineapple filling.

I’ve been getting a lot of  backlash lately about my life choices, my activism and my stance on certain subjects. I try not to let stuff like that get to me, although I’m the type of person who has a hard time letting such things go, and to be truthful, it’s sort of gotten me down. In a weird way, though, it’s also helping to fuel my passions even more and has made me stronger in my convictions. I hope to use some of these experiences as fodder for writing, so be on the lookout for some intense posts in the near future.

I signed up for Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Care Conference in September. I think it will be an awesome opportunity to gain the valuable, hands-on experience that we’ll need to care for the types of animals we hope to have at our own sanctuary, down the road. It’s an intense, 3-day workshop and I’m hoping to come home with the knowledge and confidence to take on more complicated rescues.

Oh, and I’m gearing up for my trip with World Vets! In less than five months, I’ll be headed to Honduras and it’s about time for me to start doing some fundraising to cover my airfare and vaccinations. Has anyone used a crowd-funding site successfully? What are your recommendations?

Well, that’s what’s been up with me. I’ll try not to go so long without at least popping in to say hello, okay? Hope you’ve all been having a fantastic summer!

🙂

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You’re A Hypocrite, Thanksgiving

turkey hypocrisy

I just don’t get Thanksgiving.

It just seems like a big, fat hypocrisy to me.

Let me explain…

On this day, Thanksgiving, we gather with the ones we love to celebrate and give thanks for all the blessings we’ve received. And on this day, the star of the show, the creme de la creme, is the tortured and mutilated, yet perfectly basted, stuffed and roasted turkey.

The turkey, which, ironically, was not even a part of the very first Thanksgiving way back in 1621.

The turkey, which Ben Franklin argued would make for a much more appropriate national symbol than the eagle.

The turkey, of which one or two of its species are “pardoned” by the President each year. For what crime? Being born?

The turkey, which is genetically modified to grow so quickly and so unnaturally large that their bodies become too huge for them to move, leaving them with heart problems and painful deformities.

The turkey, which is crudely de-beaked and de-toed (without anesthesia) to prevent injuries to other birds while forced to live in filthy, cramped spaces.

The turkey, which is slaughtered at only 5 months of age — just a baby, and under no protection by any humane slaughter laws — for the sake of a damn tradition.

I just can’t wrap my head around that.

What is a tradition, anyway? Dictionary.com defines a tradition as “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice,” but, put more simply, isn’t it something you do just for the simple reason that you’ve always done it and those around you always have?

Think about that. How much sense does it really make?

I think this meme sums up the notion of “tradition” perfectly:

tradition

And you can replace “stupid” with another adjective, like, “cruel” or “wrong” and the point still sings very clearly. Just because something — a tradition — has been a certain way for so long, that doesn’t make it right. And it doesn’t mean it has to continue.

Why can’t Thanksgiving traditions change and evolve to include showing thanks for all blessings and all life, instead of just some? During this time of year, we’re keen to the suffering of others and offer to help in the ways we can — we donate food to the hungry, we buy toys to give to kids who wouldn’t get Christmas gifts, otherwise, we gladly donate our outgrown coats to make sure the homeless stay warm through the winter — but we’re absolutely oblivious to the suffering that’s right in front of us, on our plates.

If we only stopped for a moment and really thought about our food — what it is and where it comes from — maybe things would be different.

This poem, written by my favorite poet — the brilliant Shel Silverstein — will do that for you, if you don’t want to do it yourself:

point of view poem

 

If only we sent our kids to animal sanctuaries for their field trips, instead of zoos, maybe things could be different.

If only we weren’t so reluctant to question the status quo, maybe things could be different.

If only we could look past our blind ignorance to the fact that every action we take — including the foods we choose to eat — affect so much more than just ourselves.

But instead, tradition continues. People go on eating turkey on Thanksgiving because, that’s just what you’re supposed to do. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say that they don’t really even like turkey, but they eat it on Thanksgiving, anyway, because it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if they didn’t.

Really? Really?! Is that really what Thanskgiving is about? The food?

Would Thanksgiving be any less special if it didn’t include a turkey? If you said that yes, it would, I think it may be time to reexamine your priorities. Any maybe consider getting a new group to celebrate with. Thanksgiving is about the memories, the conversation, the laughter, the moments shared with loved ones. Not about the food. And certainly, not about the turkey.

For me, Thanksgiving has never quite been the same since becoming vegan. Although a day full of time well-spent making memories with my loved ones, it’s incredibly difficult to look at the world through compassion-colored glasses and not have a different viewpoint on Thanksgiving. Truthfully, it makes me sad. My sadness is, first and foremost, for the turkeys, but also for those who just can’t see or who refuse to see how the choices we make affect each other, other species and our planet.

That’s why I’m incredibly grateful for the small glimmers of hope that show that things can and are beginning to change. Pieces such as this, on mainstream media, highlight the wonderful programs that animal sanctuaries around the country have been holding for years. Celebrations where guests feed the turkeys, instead of the other way around offer guests a chance to hang out with these incredibly social and friendly birds up-close. I haven’t attended one such celebration yet, but having spent time with turkeys during visits to sanctuaries over the last few years, I can assure you that if you got the opportunity to get to know a turkey, you would definitely think twice about digging into his/her cousin lying in front of you on the Thanksgiving table. Many sanctuaries are offering turkey sponsorships (we “adopted” Lennon, who lives at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. We met him during our visit last month and he is awesome!) and a collective art project called 46millionturkeys is raising awareness of the plight of turkeys in this country. Some awesome and compassionate people even open up their hearts and homes, adopting turkeys and allowing them to live out their lives, ensuring that they’ll never become someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

So maybe, just maybe, things are slowly beginning to change. That will lessen the sadness just a bit on Thursday.

Lennon selfie

Someone close to me told me I shouldn’t post this piece. That I shouldn’t push my views on anyone else and that, frankly, no one wants to hear about this stuff. At first, I was taken back, but then I came to the realization that that is exactly the reason why I needed to post it. Because it’s true. People don’t want to hear about it and they’ll do everything possible to make sure that they don’t. They’re not going to stumble upon this information on their own, so if things are going to change, I’m going to have to put it out there for them to see. Present some facts. Spark some change. Change has never happened because someone stayed quiet. And that’s why I won’t.

So, if I come off as a zealot, maybe I am. If this sounds like a rant, I agree. It does. If it seems like I’m condemning all turkey-eaters, though, that was not my purpose with this piece. I’m not forcing anything on anyone. All I am trying to do is open a few eyes.

I make no apologies, though. I started typing this post and my heart just kind of burst open and spilled out into it. I can’t remain silent about the things I am most passionate about and sometimes I can come off a little intense. It’s how I deal with the feelings that I have that are so incredibly strong that sometimes they make me want to just curl up and cry and at other times, make me want to shake everyone I meet, bombard them with the truth and demand to know why they don’t seem to care at all. Compassion is a double-edged sword, both a blessing and a curse. I can’t find the words to describe it, accurately, but remarkably, stumbled upon them this morning in a post from the incredible Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess, as she quoted social activist, Andrew Boyd:

compassion hurts

I’m working on it.

 

Consider making a new tradition this year. Try leaving turkey off your plate. I think you will find that dinner tastes a whole lot better without all that suffering, misery and hypocrisy.

May all beings know peace.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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Live Chickens In Casino Games: Just Because It’s Legal Doesn’t Mean It’s Right!

Two weekends ago, Anthony and I spent a glorious long weekend in upstate NY, with visits to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Catskill Animal Sanctuary, to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary (a recap to come, soon!), where we cozied up to cows, frolicked with goats and hugged chickens.

The chickens were friendly and curious and funny. It was my first time interacting with them on such an intimate level and I must say, I was blown away by their sweet dispositions and happy-go-lucky approach to life. If you’ve never hugged a chicken, I suggest you do so at least once in your lifetime.

ant chicken

 

jena and chicken

This past weekend, though, those memories of happy chickens were quickly marred by reality after I received a text from a friend with a photo similar to this one:

tic tac chicken

If you’re wondering what the hell this is, I’ll tell you what the hell it is. It’s a live chicken being exploited by humans (we humans are so good at that) in a “Man vs. Chicken” tic-tac-toe game at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.

Yeah.

I’m serious.

If you don’t get it, don’t worry — neither did I.

Apparently, it’s a throwback to casino games of old. The gist: you play against the chicken to see who is smarter. The chicken pecks to choose her spaces and if she wins, she gets food. If you win, which you are not likely to do — these games are notorious for being rigged — you win money.

If this sounds pretty innocent to you, you must not know a whole lot about chickens. Chickens are social, smart and curious beings with specific environmental and dietary needs. They have the same complex emotions as our beloved dogs and cats do. They feel pain. They get scared. They experience loneliness.  Placing them in a glass box inside a casino for the sole purpose of generating money from a few saps who want to test their smarts against a chicken is inherently cruel and goes against everything chicken-like in a chicken’s life.

If that’s not bad enough, how about this fact? According to everyone I’ve spoken to and what I’ve been able to garner from online research, this is a perfectly legal practice. The chickens receive food, shelter and are rotated throughout the day, so there is no case for animal cruelty.

Okay, so it’s legal. But that doesn’t mean it’s right! In this day in age, when technology rules the world, this kind of stuff just isn’t necessary and it certainly isn’t cool. Maybe it was back in the sixties and seventies, but it’s 2014, people!! 

If you’re sensing a tone in this post, you’re not mistaken. I am infuriated that this is happening and that no one is doing anything about it. I plan to follow up on some reports I made regarding this situation and if time allows, to set up some protests to bring about an end to this “game” quickly and completely. In the meantime, I’ve started a petition on change.org. If you feel that using live animals in casino games is wrong, please visit the petition, sign it, write to Tropicana and share, share, share!

The chickens are counting on us to be their voice!!!


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Friday Faves: Esther The Wonder Pig

This is Esther and she’s changing the world!

beets by esther

People are beginning to view their food differently — more specifically, they’re looking at the meat on their plates in a new light. It’s called the “Esther Effect” and it’s all because of this pig and her two human dads.

Because, seriously, what’s cuter than a pig with beets strapped to her head? Nothing!! And look at those little teeth!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering why in the world a pig would have beets strapped to her head, it’s because that’s all part of Esther’s charm and hilarity. She’s become accustomed to life as a celebri-pig and will let her dads do just about anything to her. Her photos are always accompanied by a witty line or two, which make her just completely irresistible. Here’s the caption that came along with the beet photo:

esther with caption

Good one, right?!

Every single photo of Esther brings a smile to my face. It’s impossible to resist her adorable face and her sheer joy and zest for life make my heart sing. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for your daily dose of piggy cuteness and I’m sure you’ll feel the same.

So how did Esther end up a house-pig, turned internet sensation?

Here’s her story.

Believing that their newly-acquired “mini-pig” would never grow beyond 70 lbs., Esther‘s owners, Steve and Derek, were in for the surprise of their lives when their house pet hit the 70 lb. mark, then just kept growing. She is now a full-sized “commercial” pig (the kind that bacon, pork, ham, etc. come from) and lives peacefully alongside her canine and feline housemates. After her dads started a Facebook page for her, Esther became a global phenomenon and, in the process, has become an ambassador for farmed animals everywhere. She’s made vegans out of her former meat-eating dads and has convinced countless other people who have fallen in love with this precious porcine to do the same. It’s the Esther Effect in action!

esther in pond

esther mud face

esther window

Esther’s family has recently purchased land to build a farmed animal sanctuary in Ontario, Canada. It will be called “Esther’s Sanctuary” and will serve as a safe haven for animals just like Esther — animals who were fortunate enough to escape their fates of ending up as someone’s dinner. The sanctuary will welcome visitors from all over the world and will continue to spread the messages of kindness and compassion for all beings.

What can you do to support Esther and her work? First of all, make a contribution to the sanctuary project, if you can. It’s an enormous undertaking, but one that is vitally needed in our world. And second, consider taking meat off your plate. Each bite of meat you eat was an animal. A living, breathing, feeling being. An Esther. Think about it!

Thank you, Esther, for brightening my days and for bringing awareness to the plight of farmed animals everywhere!!


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I Didn’t Write This, But You HAVE To Read It!

I love pit bulls and can’t wait to have a bigger house so we can add a few to our menagerie, but I know not everyone feels this way about them.

Regardless of your own opinion on pit bulls, please take the time to read this article, which was recently published in Esquire. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful and I’d be willing to bet it changes a few perceptions of this very misunderstood and misrepresented class of dogs.

Read it! Then let me know what you thought of it. And if you have a pit bull of your own, tell me about him or her. I’m a sucker for a good animal story!


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The Paw Project: A Review

Last night I watched The Paw Project, a documentary by the non-profit organization of the same name, and my eyes were opened.

the paw project

This film is about feline onychectomy, more commonly known as “declawing” and while I believed I knew what declawing wasn’t before viewing this film (it’s not just simply snipping off a cat’s claws, as many people seem to think), I definitely didn’t know all that this procedure is.

Declawing is a very painful and medically unnecessary procedure in which a cat’s toes are amputated at the first knuckle. In humans, our nails grow from the skin, but in a cat, the nail (claw) grows from bone, so to remove the nail, the bone must be removed, as well. Declawing can be likened to removal of the first knuckle in a human. Ouch!! But wait, it gets worse. There’s also a procedure that I had never heard about before, called tendonectomy, in which the tendons that enable a cat to flex its paws and claws are snipped, resulting in a floppy and essentially useless paw. What?! Why?!

This is an attention-grabber, isn’t it?!

Aside from being barbaric, these practices can leave cats with a lifetime of painful feet and they often suffer from debilitating arthritis, lameness and a host of other ailments as a result. It is also not unusual for cats to change their behavior after declawing. Removing claws removes a cat’s natural defense and without their claws, many cats begin to defend themselves by biting. And, because their feet are so painful, it hurts for them to dig in their litter boxes and sometimes, they begin eliminating in undesirable locations. You know what happens to cats who bite and who don’t use their litter box, right? They end up in shelters where they will likely face euthanasia because of “behavioral issues” that were completely human-generated. In other words, declawing = a death sentence for many cats.

Cats are natural scratchers. It’s what they do and people should know this when they decide to add a cat to their family. To amputate a cat’s claws just because it scratches is absurd. A veterinarian featured in the film said that we don’t remove all of a puppy’s teeth when it teethes and chews on things in the house, so why would we declaw a cat because it scratches? It’s not the correct solution to the perceived “problem” and that’s what The Paw Project is trying so hard to make people realize.

This film also exposes the effects of declawing big cats in captivity. The founder of The Paw Project, Dr. Jennifer Conrad, an exotic animal vet, was inspired to form this organization because of the devastating effects of declawing that she witnessed in the patients she cared for. In big cats, the effects of declawing can be even more detrimental than those in domestic felines. Because of their large sizes, big cats who have been declawed are oftentimes so crippled and in such pain that they cannot get to their water sources. The film mentioned several big cats who were believed to have died at young ages because of dehydration from being unable to reach their water. Oh my God! Why is this allowed to continue to happen? Yet another reason, in my book, how the captivity industry completely fails animals.

Through Dr. Conrad’s expert testimony, along with that of other seasoned veterinarians and animal behaviorists (Jackson Galaxy, among them — love that guy!), The Paw Project drives home several messages and really makes you think long and hard about the veterinary system in our country. Declawing takes an essential element of being a cat away from cats. People who elect to put their pets through the declawing procedure are choosing the well-being of their furniture (inanimate objects) above that of their pets (living, feeling beings) and veterinarians who perform these practices are breaking one of the cardinal components of the veterinary oath to cause no harm to the patients in their care.

There’s a reason why declawing is illegal in more than 20 countries throughout the world. It’s considered to be a form of animal cruelty that leaves cats with painful, long-term medical conditions. It serves no medical benefit to cats and for the veterinarians who perform these operations, their only motives are greed. At the time of the film’s release (September 2013), Dr. Conrad and the rest of the dedicated Paw Project team members and supporters had been victorious in helping to pass declaw bans in eight California cities. That’s a great start, but it’s not nearly enough. It’s time to put an end to declawing for good. Everywhere.

Please, if you have cats, or if you consider yourself an animal activist, watch this movie. If you know someone who has cats, urge them to watch it, too. (It’s available on Netflix, as well as many other online platforms.) Its such an informative film and its messages so important! Share it with everyone you know and support The Paw Project and their initiatives to bring declawing to an end. Write to your state lawmakers and let them know that you want anti-declawing legislation passed for the well-being of the cats in your state. Get angry and for heaven’s sake, don’t stay silent. We must be the voices for the voiceless.

Have you seen The Paw Project? How do you feel about declawing? 


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Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French: A Review

I tend to be a slow reader and it’s not unusual for me to take weeks or even months to get through a book. That is, unless, it’s one of those can’t-put-it-down, stay-up-half-the-night-reading, just-gotta-know-what-happens-next kind of books.

Zoo Story was one of those books.

zoo story cover new

Written by Pulitzer-winning journalist, Thomas French, Zoo Story takes readers inside Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. The story, a sort of exposé of the going-ons of zoos, sends readers on an emotional, eye-opening, whirlwind journey into the lives of the animals and staff at Lowry Park and throws all pre-conceived notions of what zoos are and what they aren’t out the window. Whatever your opinion of zoos before reading this book, you are likely to have a significantly different outlook on them after finishing it.

It’s no wonder French has won awards for his work — his writing is astounding. It’s beautifully flowing, haunting, at times, and draws you in from the very start and keeps you there for the duration of the 237 pages of the story. The following is the opening sequence of the book:

“Eleven elephants. One plane. Hurtling together across the sky.”

Whoa, right??!!  I’m sure you can understand why I was hooked from the first page and why I was so eager to read on that I found the time to turn a few more pages whenever I could: waiting for my oil change; in the bathroom; when I should have been sleeping; instead of doing laundry or the dishes. This book had me laughing, crying, gasping, cursing and seriously reconsidering my thoughts on zoos and animals in captive settings.

If you’re into great animal stories, read this book. If you’re into mesmerizing writing, read this book. If you call yourself an animal lover, read this book. If you’ve ever been to a zoo, read this book. If you’re an animal activist, read this book, then add it to your arsenal of titles to reference and lend out to others. Really, guys, it’s that great! And although I found this title on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble and paid just $7.98 for it, I would gladly have paid much, much more, had I known what was inside. The insight gleaned through French’s account is invaluable and like none other you’d be apt to gain from a book on the same topic.

It’s important to note that there are two editions of Zoo Story. The first, and the one that I read, was published in 2010 and features an orangutan on the cover. The second, published in 2011, has two elephants on the cover. I can’t find much information about what differences are contained in the second edition, but I’m sure either version will captivate you and after reading, you’ll never look at a zoo the same way again.

Have you read this book? How do you feel about zoos?