A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jul 21, 2016

Pokémon Go - AWAY

courtesy Google Images
When my kids were younger I spent a good deal of time assisting them in their frenetic need to have complete first edition sets of Pokémon cards. A graduate of the previous "have to have the original green power ranger" school of mom, I knew the ins and outs of where to score these items. To my horror, they are now into Pokémon Go, where they walk transfixed, staring into a phone screen looking for these mythical characters loitering in our world. 

Also interesting in this "Go" round, is the assertion by some that this game supports animal research (when you send a Pokémon back to the professor), animal fighting (when they engage in combat) poaching, (capturing the characters from the wild) and other animal cruelty conduct. While absolutely understanding the importance of messaging and the fears of desensitization, I also recognize the difference between real and imaginary harm. 

I have received complaints in the past that Ariel (the Little Mermaid) is a hoarder, and Gaston (Beauty and the Beast) is an animal abuser. Again, their actions definitely provide food for discussion, but no actual injury has occurred, and I lack the jurisdiction to prosecute cartoons. (Notwithstanding websites devoted to diagnosing psychotic Disney characters, it frankly bothers me more when Disney films kill off a parent within the first 5 minutes of almost every film!)

What is real about Pokémon Go is the danger that, completely distracted by the game, a child or adult  can walk into the street while walking a dog, drive into another car while searching for Pokémon, and/or simply become so oblivious to their surroundings that they are no longer safe. We should talk, teach and learn about the animal welfare issues lurking in the game, but we must take steps to prevent real harm.

If you want to help animals for real and organize safe pretend Pokémon searches, start a ResQWalk in support of spcaLA. You can download the App (free) from the App Store or Google Play and choose spcaLA as your “ResQ”.

Then promise me to PLAY RESPONSIBLY!

Jun 28, 2016

Let's Leave the "Life" in "Wildlife"

courtesy google images
An Amazon jaguar was shot and killed at an Olympic torch ceremony in Brazil when he/she attempted to escape from the organized photo shoot. I fail to see any credible, logical or humane reason to have a live jaguar at such an event and their justification that the Brazilian teams' mascot is a cartoon jaguar should both be rejected and shock the conscience of the universe.

The co-mingling of wildlife with people often results in great tragedy. Planting Walt Disney World in the natural habitat of Florida's alligator and crocodile populations resulted in the most horrific situation imaginable - the death of a toddler by alligator. Yet, the truth is that both the alligator and the child were behaving naturally. The child's family will never be the same again and Walt Disney World is busy killing alligators to ascertain the actual culprit. Was that the best place for a family theme park?

Transplanting wild animals to zoos and circuses results in all kinds of hurt. Neither the people nor the animals can behave naturally in those environments and the result is, again, harm to both. A gorilla was killed because a child entered the exhibit, and people have been hurt because animals have exited their exhibits, notwithstanding the already enormous stressors inherent to being a wild animal in captivity.

Add to the mix those like the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, who travel around the world just to invade the sanctuary spaces of our wildlife to kill them for trophies, and those who would bring a jaguar to a heavily populated press ceremony and you have one hot mess.

You should also know that under the United States Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife services can issue permits to zoos, circuses, amusement parks and researchers to possess endangered wildlife if the importer or exporter can show that doing so will enhance the survival of the species. It has been recently reported that a charitable contribution to a conservation agency mysteriously seems to grease the wheels in successfully obtaining such a permit. This is so disturbing that U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle has asked the agency to halt this practice. It is also a practice that is clearly not helping the survival of the species.

Look- this is not ok. Whether we destroy animal habitats and displace them for our convenience, hunt them in the habitats we left for them, or force them into people spaces where they can't behave naturally, we cause them physical and emotional harm. To do this is not living up to our potential nor commensurate with a humane and empathetic society. We must rethink this for the future of our planet and for any chance at raising compassionate and empathetic children.

Otherwise, there will be no more "life" in "wildlife".

Jun 23, 2016

The Rage Against The Majority

courtesy google images
I was positively transfixed watching the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives stage a
sit-in and then actually teared up when they burst into "We Shall Overcome". Why? I am no stranger to activism and civil disobedience. What made this different is that the protestors and the "protestees" are on the same team i.e. not us versus them but rather them versus them - a body rising up against itself. Also, the method of protest was old school despite the aid of Periscope and Facebook. What is going on?

It is what happens when a majority pushes a minority too far, leaving no dignified method of recourse, and becoming, in effect, the ultimate bully.

Our constitution, drafted in response to a revolution against a British king, imposes and defends minority rights, freedom of religions, and the right to equal protection under the law. In essence, a system designed to protect the vulnerable, and ensure fairness without having to wait for the majority to voluntary relinquish some of their power. (After all, why would they?) It is an anti-bullying document designed to protect the minority against abuse by the reigning clique by allowing a civil road to redress and justice. It, and the system of laws derived from this are crafted to act as an equalizer between the oppressed and the bully so there is no need to devolve into blind rage and violence.

In this case, both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, are the ones responsible for making sure laws are enacted commensurate with the constitution and that in doing so they behave with the recognition that their status changes from majority to the minority frequently enough. Currently, the Democrats are at a disadvantage as the minority party in both the Senate and the House. They have been unable to introduce bills, call for votes or even confirm presidential nominees. In the House, there is not even the possibility of a filibuster - the relief valve for the minority party. In adult discourse, these advantages are played fairly and graciously so that when positions reverse and the advantage changes, they still can get along and accomplish their work.

In this instance, the minority party acted and appeared to feel that this majority, like a bully, kept pressing the advantage and ceding nothing, until there was no recourse but to rise up.

The second interesting thing that happened here is the form of the protest was old school. In a world where we click, tweet, like, snap, and electronically sign petitions to express ourselves and effectuate change, our lawmakers resorted to civil disobedience. The House Democrats occupied the room, obstructed the business of the House, and broke rules by using social media to ensure that they were seen and heard. This behavior does not come without risk and requires a higher temperature and commitment than sitting safely in a lounge chair and retweeting something using a pseudonym.

In October of 2010, Malcolm Gladwell published an article for The New Yorker entitled “Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”. Comparing the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and other social  revolutions. Gladwell describes the scene where 4 black college students sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina and stayed in their seats when they were refused service. More protesters gathered on their behalf, sit-ins began and eventually 70,000 students were actively involved in the protest. He argues that this type of   “high risk strong-tie” commitment is not created through social media platforms which are built upon “weak-tie connections” and don't involve sacrifice.

It is therefore interesting that a veteran of said civil rights movement, John Lewis, the choreographer of the House sit-in, and his colleagues, felt strongly enough to replicate this type of "high risk strong-tie" action against this majority's oppression with its attendant risks. Normally they would issue press releases, send letters and tweet. It was truly amazing to watch.

It's a tale as old as time. A story of abuse of power in one form or another. People will only stand for so much, even against their own "families". The choice is to either lay there and take it, or fight back.

Here, they sat up and sang.

May 20, 2016

Animals Happily Await Beer Drinking Boaters & Litterers!

see more photos from linked news item
A Florida brewery has proven that you can simultaneously be decadent and righteous - the ultimate multi task!

The company has created edible six-pack rings that can feed sea turtles, birds and other animal life that comes in contact with them. They are made from the byproducts of beer, including barley and wheat and are 100% biodegradable. This is so cool because the widely used plastic rings can entangle wildlife, cause digestive problems and can kill those ingesting them!

I also love this idea because it turns a problem into a solution. It acknowledges that you can't make everyone stop drinking and littering but you can ask them to, at least, use their litter to feed animals! How great is that!

There are already good corporate citizens that give back to non-profits like your spcaLA! We encourage people to indulge and spoil their pets by shopping in our marketplace, the proceeds of which support pets who have yet no home.

Imagine though, what more creative and exceptional innovation can do for us all!

Let's drink (and feed) to that!

May 17, 2016

Let Bison Be Bison

Tragically, a baby bison was euthanized in Yellowstone National Park after tourists, thinking the newborn needed help, put the calf in their car and drove to the ranger station. After unsuccessfully trying to reintroduce the baby to the herd, the National Park Service concluded that they lacked resources or options to care for the baby, and the baby was euthanized.

Wildlife and domestic pets are not the same. Wildlife responds differently to human intervention and unwanted touching. They are not domesticated. They abide by the rules of the wild. As such, there are laws that criminalize such interference whether it be a hummingbird (The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918), seals on the beach (The Marine Mammal Act) or United States Fish and Wildlife Rules regarding bison, In other words, the danger to humans notwithstanding, these laws are designed to allow our wildlife to behave naturally, in the wild.

Unfortunately, whether you mean well but are simply ignorant of the issues, determined to torment an animal in order to take a selfie, or just have an irresistible impulse to touch and get a closer look, the result is the same. The animal always suffers harm.

President Obama just declared the bison the Official Mammal of the United States. It is worth it to mention here that in the 1500's an estimated 30-60 million bison lived here. Now, there are about 500,000.

Today, there is 1 less.

Apr 21, 2016

The Painfully High Cost of Adorable

puppies from mill seized by spcaLA
I recently appeared on a radio show to discuss the harm caused by irresponsible breeding practices and the avarice of some breeders, specifically, bulldogs. These dogs should be the "poster children" for everything that is wrong with this system. They are extremely expensive, have extensive medical and skin issues, and are magically adorable. Despite the former and because of the latter they are in high demand. The other guest on the show billed herself as a bull dog breeder who loves these dogs, yet orders them from mills in the Ukraine forcing them to travel when only 7 weeks old to suffer all the perils of transit aggravated by the respiratory and other medical complications caused by inbreeding, nutritional deficits and the like. A caller to the show lamented that her french bulldog cost $10,000 and a lot more than that in medical upkeep and surgeries to ease all the congenital defects in the dog. A very common story that in many cases ends with the dog being turned into a shelter. The fact that everybody wants one plus the huge price tag of one, is all the breeders need to hear to create a supply of these dogs.

The same day, a shipment of 23 unresponsive puppies (pure breed and mixed) found in a hot car at the US-Mexico border were confiscated by officials. Again, people looking for a specific breed or in some cases a "reduced price" for an expensive breed create a demand for the puppy mill breeders on the Mexican side of the border. People pay cash only for these dogs, often via a street sale, for less than the going rate, only to find the dog dead within 48 hours and nothing but the number to a burn phone and fake paperwork left in his or her wake.

This has to stop. The dogs are sick, the families who care about them are heartbroken, the breed is decimated and these unscrupulous people laugh all the way to the bank.

If we stop creating the demand the suppliers will suffer. Isn't that better?

Apr 6, 2016

Secret Cat Adoption Tip Inside!

Some of you have expressed concern with a tweet from Hill's® touting the advantages of purebred cats. In fact, they have a similar statement regarding purebred dogs,

It is critical to know that purebred animals can come with their own set of "purebred problems", including major health and temperament defects. This is exacerbated if the source of your pet is a puppy or kitten mill where earnings and not responsible breeding is the driving business goal. It is also important to realize that breed is more predictive of appearance than anything else.

Shelters around the world are coping with an excess of animals who need loving homes. To that end we must adopt from the existing supply of homeless pets rather than to create a demand for unscrupulous breeders to fulfil. Additionally, about 25% of shelter populations are, in fact, purebreds. It is therefore possible, with patience, to get a specific type of dog or cat without contributing to our pet overpopulation problem.

I have reached out to Hill's and was assured that they would make some changes in their materials. They do spend a lot of corporate capital working with shelters and I am confident that we will be pleased with the results. When they do I will gladly share it with you.

Finally, here are some spcaLA faqs for adopting a pet.

PSSST: Here is my secret for success when adopting a cat: Sit in our cattery, wait for a cat to pick you- and voila - done!!