Sep 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Alligators: Cuddliest Moms of the Swamp

Admit it: when you see a reptile mother, the first adjectives to pop into your mind probably don’t have much to do with nurturing. And perhaps that isn’t entirely unwarranted: countless species of animals’ duty to their progeny ends roughly around the same time as their eggs are fertilized. This includes many species of egg-laying reptiles, which leave their young long before they hatch (the scads of unsupervised baby turtles we see crossing the road each year will attest to this). But “many” doesn’t mean “all,” and in the case of a few reptiles, the care they provide to their young is truly above and beyond!

An example of this was recently captured in videos of a 3-legged alligator mom building a nest and limping back and forth to her hatchlings as she gently carries them into the water. While the video is extraordinary and heartwarming in its way, it turns out this behavior is really quite ordinary for alligators. Alligator moms guard their eggs, and even respond to unhatched young calling to them from inside their shells. Sometimes, they will even aid in the birthing… er, hatching process by carefully biting into a hatchling’s shell! From there, they stick around for up to two years, helping and protecting their offspring until they are large enough to fend for themselves. Believe it or not, the hatchlings need this help: alligators – at least the young ones – have several natural predators.

Mother of the Year!

Observing this behavior is a fascinating reminder that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It is also tantalizing in the questions it raises: crocodilians (the order alligators belong to) are actually more closely related to birds and dinosaurs than to other living reptiles, Hmmm… after seeing this, it’s hard not to wonder if nasty ol’ T-rex was actually a doting parent.

★     Bird, meet cousin alligator
★     Are Alligators Dinosaurs? How Crocodilians Are Related To Dinosaurs
★     Egg-laying lizard also gives live birth. Is this evolution before our eyes?

Sep 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Your Shelter May Provide More than Sheltering…

A surge in inflation-fueled owner-surrenders has many shelters feeling overwhelmed right now. People can no longer afford the food or vet care that their pets need, or maybe they are moving into less expensive housing that has pet restrictions – and those dogs and cats are going to end up somewhere. Filled to the breaking point with nearly 400 animals, the Humane Society of South Mississippi, a 70-year-old open-admission shelter, has basically told the public “Come back later. We are too full to accept your pet right now.”

Well, this is certainly a splash of cold water to hear, but it was preceded by a reminder of the numerous other services offered by the shelter – some of which may prevent pet relinquishment altogether: assistance with pet food and supplies, rental deposits, and even vaccines and other veterinary necessities. While many of us think of rescue for homeless pets first when talking about animal services and charities, there are several other ways shelters or animal organizations can help… many of which can be used to keep a pet from becoming homeless altogether.

★     ‘Beyond crisis’ at Indy Animal Care Services: What to know and how you can help
★     FIDO Pet Food Bank

Sep 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Lawyer Gets Dogs off Death Row, Gains Foes and Fans

Here is a fascinating and entertaining read about a tenacious animal lawyer, Richard Rosenthal, who has made a career out of getting dogs off death row. His willingness to explore each and every legal option available to “free” condemned dogs has made him a hero to some and a villain in the eyes of others. In particular, he seems to have earned the enmity of animal control officers (perhaps justifiably in some instances – public safety is in the ACO job description).

There are many things to consider in Rosenthal’s story. For example, if a dog gets off its property due to owner negligence and kills someone’s livestock, a reasonable argument can be made that the dog’s owner should pay for the livestock, rather than punishing the dog for simply expressing its natural instincts. If the law is too black and white in such situations, it should be updated to reflect our values and current understanding of animal behavior. This seems to be the case with a chicken-killing Siberian Husky named Luna that was defended by Rosenthal in 2011 (even the chickens’ owner didn’t want to see the dog put down – he only wanted to be reimbursed for the cost of his animals). Similarly, if a large dog is attacked by a much smaller dog, and things end poorly for the smaller dog, should the larger dog be euthanized on the grounds that it is an “aggressive dog?” Again, most would agree this should be case-by-case, rather than blanket condemnation for the dog that bit last.

Would you trust this dog with your neighbor’s chickens?

However, while there are clear instances where dogs should be fought for and protected from euthanization, there are other examples of Rosenthal defending dogs that have been highly contentious. For example, he defended a dog that killed a 1-year-old, which is a line many people – quite understandably – will never cross, no matter how “misunderstood” the dog may be, or whether the death was actually just a “tragic accident” (as it was framed in court). In this instance, perhaps “contentious” is putting it mildly – Rosenthal received hate mail and death threats for that one.

Another aspect of this story that is troubling is the judges’ habit of giving this lawyer wins by simply sending the dog in question off to live in another state or county. That’s not a real solution. We all love dogs, but some dogs are legitimately dangerous, and shifting this responsibility – and risk – to another jurisdiction doesn’t help anybody. Frankly, it is dangerous. There are too many examples of people’s hearts, belief systems, egos, and/or obligations pushing them into giving a vicious dog “one more chance,” adopting it out, and opening the door for tragedy to strike. This is the road we go down when dogs with serious behavioral issues are shipped off to other states.

★     Luna The Dog To Get New Home
★     Pit bull is euthanized after mauling face of 11-year-old boy
★     Owner of dog rehab connected to fatal pit bull attack charged with illegally importing animals

Sep 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

17,000 Electric Vehicles Powered Up… Thanks to Cow Manure

Is this just a cow pie in the sky? Sure, the puns practically write themselves, but powering electric vehicles through dairy farms isn’t funny business in California. It’s happening now! Using a covered lagoon and “climate-smart digester,” Bar 20 Dairy, a farm based near Fresno, is capturing the methane from their cows’ manure, and converting it into electricity. Digesters, most simply put, are microbe-filled, sealed reactors that consume the waste we put into them, producing something useful (or at least less harmful) during the digestion process.

This is truly amazing stuff. Bar 20 has been using its digester since late 2021 and has already seen great results. The eventual goal is to produce more energy than is used at the farm, which is not at all unrealistic. Reducing carbon emissions from both vehicles and agriculture while simultaneously gaining something positive are obvious boons, but there are other benefits, as well: fertilizer and animal bedding are also produced by the digestion process. The catch? Getting started with this process is expensive. There are currently 40 operational digesters and several more on the way, but at least currently, these projects are generally unaffordable without the help of state incentives and private investors.

★     (EPA) How Does Anaerobic Digestion Work?
★     Bar 20 Dairy

Bycatch Begone

For such an anodyne-sounding term, the word “bycatch” can be quite the grenade. It is generally associated with commercial fishing, and, at its most basic level, refers to any species of animal you didn’t intend to catch while fishing. Crabs, the wrong species of fish, and – perhaps most famously – dolphins all come to mind as examples of bycatch. However, while the term is accurate, albeit vague, “bycatch” is also viewed as an enraging, industry-manufactured euphemism by animal rights activists and some of the more vociferous critics of commercial fishing. To them, it is a term that “sugarcoats the indefensible” – waste, suffering, ecological devastation (you know the drill). OK, that’s predictably over-the-top, but we’ll concede that bycatch sits among industry buzzwords like “harvest” or “free-range,” that, even when well-intentioned, have the potential to raise at least as many questions as they answer.

Love your fishsticks? Hug an Alaska pollock today!

Subtlies of language aside, bycatch is indeed a serious problem (ask the world’s 10 surviving vaquitas their opinion on this issue). However, it must be acknowledged there have been many recent techniques and tools devised to reduce bycatch, several of which have already been implemented. Some of them are already enjoying dramatic success.

Off the coast of Alaska, where pollock are caught (pollock are the white groundfish that often end up in fish fillet sandwiches), there is a long history of salmon bycatch. This is bad news, as there are indigenous people who depend on salmon for food, and some of the Pacific salmon species are endangered. However, the nets used by Alaskan pollock fishers now use salmon excluders, which allow salmon to escape from pollock nets.

A more colorful solution comes from Oregon, where it was recently discovered that an ecologically vital smelt, the eulachon, will follow LED lights (especially green ones) placed on the bottom of a shrimp net, keeping them from being inadvertently scooped up. Interestingly, nobody is quite sure why eulachons follow the lights – but follow they do, and that is the important thing.

For seabirds, the oft-forgotten victims of bycatch, streamers (called tori lines or, more aptly, bird-scaring lines) have been equipped on many boats, flapping threateningly over fishing lines, and more importantly, over the tantalizing bait that birds sometimes attack and get hooked on. When used properly, these lines have been hugely successful.

And finally, for our beloved cetaceans, instead of visual cues, a device called a banana pinger (surprise! – it looks much like a mechanical banana) is now being attached to fishing nets, emitting obnoxious high-frequency pings when submerged. The good news so far: dolphins and porpoises are not fans of it! There has been some fear that hungry porpoises, clever as they are, would become habituated to the noise, and begin exploring the delicious interiors of fishing nets once again, but so far, there is little evidence of that happening.

While none of these innovations are perfect, they make a difference and are chasing an important ideal… and more are finding their way into the field (and the water) every day.

★     Streamer (tori) lines
★     A sound idea: ‘Banana Pinger’ audio device could help reduce porpoise bycatch
★     ‘Cocaine of the sea’ threatens critically endangered vaquita

Aug 5, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

USDA APHIS Ends “Teachable Moments”

This month, due to a congressional directive, USDA APHIS discontinued its use of “teachable moments” with licensees when enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. Teachable moments occurred when inspections found small, isolated non-compliances that didn’t affect the overall care and welfare of a licensee’s animals. These non-compliances were able to be corrected quickly with a little guidance, and they were documented for the record and future inspections. It is important to note that licensees with histories of multiple or serious non-compliance issues were not eligible for teachable moments.

Individuals with historical knowledge of USDA APHIS enforcement practices find this change incredibly unfortunate and counterproductive. Teachable moments were a valuable tool for producing honest relationships, education, and better animal welfare outcomes. Moving to an “enforcement only” model breaks a vital connection between licensees and inspectors; it creates an environment where even the best operations no longer view the USDA and its inspectors as collaborative sources of knowledge and improvement, but as adversaries to distrust and fear. This change helps no one and no animal.

★     USDA APHIS: Letter to Animal Care Stakeholders Regarding Teachable Moments
★     AKC: USDA APHIS Announces It Will No Longer Use ‘Teachable Moments’ In Working With Breeders

Jul 29, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Texas Man Arrested After His Dog Mauls Another Man to Death

Last week, a 71-year-old Texas man, Freddy Garcia, was mauled to death by seven dogs while walking to the store. This week, the owner of those dogs is being held in county jail after being charged with the state’s “Lillian Law,” which holds dog owners liable for injuries their dogs cause while running loose. The dogs’ owner could face up to 20 years in prison. “Lillian’s Law” came about because of a similar 2005 mauling of a 76-year-old woman.

Garcia’s tragic and senseless death highlights the vital importance of enforcing animal control laws (which are first and foremost about protecting public health and safety) and fostering an environment of responsible pet ownership. It is exceedingly rare that something horrible like this simply happens out of the blue. After a serious attack, you can nearly always dig up complaints about strays running in packs, residents feeling unsafe walking through their own neighborhoods – even previous reports about incidents involving the same dogs. In this case, for example, it was initially assumed the dogs were simply strays, rather than owned, which speaks to the need for more outreach and enforcement. It is good to hold individuals legally accountable when their negligence in dog ownership harms others; it is far better to keep things from ever reaching that point at all.

★     (2005, Origin of “Lillian’s Law”) Dog Pack Mauls Elderly Woman
★     Animal cruelty, dog attacks going unaddressed in Nashville
★     NAIA: Constructing successful pet friendly ordinances

Jul 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Support the National Service Animals Memorial Act!

In a shocking plot twist out of Washington, D.C., Congress is offering up something nearly everybody can agree on: H.R.6353 & S.3447, better known as the National Service Animals Memorial Act, which would honor service animals and their handlers with a memorial in the United States capital.

We still primarily think of seeing-eye dogs and recent history when the subject of service animals comes up, but service animals have been a loyal and beloved part of the national fabric since the foundation of this country, performing countless different tasks… and they aren’t just dogs: count horses, dolphins, and even sea lions among their number.

The National Service Animals Memorial Act is a bipartisan chance for us to show appreciation for these wonderful animals and their trainers who have given so much to others.

Contact your congress member today and let them know you’d appreciate their support of the National Service Animals Memorial Act. You can find your congress member’s contact info here and in the resource links below.

Click on the links below for more information.

★     National Service Animals Monument
★     S.3447 – National Service Animals Memorial Act
★     NAIA Trust: Find your Congress Member’s Contact Info
★     Subscribe to the NAIA Trust Mailing List!

Jul 23, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Eastern Indigo Snake: An Apex Predator Returns to Alabama

The eastern indigo snake is an eight-foot-long bluish-black, nonvenomous beauty that hasn’t been seen in the wilds of Alabama for five decades. That, hopefully, is about to change, because a few weeks ago, Zoo Atlanta released 25 eastern indigos into the Conecuh National Forest as part of an ongoing program to reestablish the snake’s original range. 200 snakes in total have been released so far.

These apex predators are the longest snake in North America, and their genus, Drymarchon, basically means “forest lord.” And that title really isn’t an exaggeration: eastern indigos make a meal out of just about anything they can fit in their mouths – including rattlesnakes! Alas, during the last half of the 20th century, they proved no match for habitat loss, cars, and human antipathy. However, vehicular collisions and ophidiophobia aside, their ability to keep other species in check is a remarkable and vital part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and part of why conservation projects like this are so valuable.

★     (2018, Florida) The Eastern Indigo Snake Returns
★     9 Snakes That Eat Other Snakes (Even Rattlesnakes!)

Jul 12, 2022 - Uncategorized    No Comments

The Great Veterinary Shortage Continues

When your pet is suffering from something as alarming as a necrotic wound, you probably don’t expect that you’ll have to call 50 vets and wait for a week before it can be treated. But unfortunately, long waits and short-staffed hospitals are becoming the norm when it comes to veterinary care.

This isn’t a new problem. Staffing was an issue prior to COVID, but things have gotten much worse over the last two years. A combination of older veterinarians retiring, a switch to less efficient curbside service, new clients with “pandemic pets,” and overworked staff departing due to abuse from clients and/or competitive pay in less stressful fields has forced veterinary clinics into perpetual triage. Getting help for problems that are not life-threatening can take days or weeks longer than usual; even emergency care is not guaranteed in some areas. And alarmingly, for both veterinary hospital staff and pet owners, it is likely to be a long time before any semblance of balance between supply and demand is reached – Mars Veterinary Health predicts we will still face a shortage of 15,000 veterinarians in 2030.

★     Tackling the Veterinary Professional Shortage
★     Americans adopted millions of dogs during the pandemic. Now what do we do with them?