A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

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!!

Mar 1, 2016

Hippo Selfies - That's a Thing!

Courtesy Google Images
No sooner did I express my outrage at those taking selfies with wildlife, to the demise of the wildlife, that it was brought to my attention that selfies with hippos at the Los Angeles Zoo is now a thing!

The "Hippo Encounter" tour allows customers to observe hippos as well as to touch them and take a photo with them. Notwithstanding a pending federal complaint that this exhibit violates the Animal Welfare Act, there is the question of what we are teaching our children, violation or not.

Hippos are wild animals and extremely dangerous. The fact that the zoo would allow people to stick their hands in and pet them seems quite risky to say the least. It also sends the message that it is ok to approach a wild animal, touch them and, yes, try for the selfie! This could end very badly for the child who simply assumes that this behavior is just fine in all instances.

When my children were young we took them to a lot of children's theatre performances. There, they were encouraged to interact with, shout at, and often join the cast on stage. A great time was had by all. However, the first time we took our kids to a Broadway play, they assumed the same rules applied, and that if Hamlet asked "to be or not to be" a loud response from them was expected. The worst case scenario was that we were mortified and/or required to run after them as they headed for the stage in response to a "come hither", but not faced with the tragic and life changing consequences of a wild animal attack while chasing a selfie.

The point, is that if the zoo wants to be considered seriously as an educational facility, it should educate responsibly and not recklessly.

Feb 24, 2016

Death by Selfie - Please Stop

coutesy google images
The obsession with selfies has become dangerous to living things.

In China, a peacock died of fright as he was passed around to tourists for selfies. An Argentina crowd did the same with a rare dolphin with the same result. A man dragged a shark out of the water on a Florida beach to take a selfie, also killing the shark. I have seen people, who should know better, attempt to grab a raccoon for a photo, or others in our deserts unable to resist a selfie with a tortoise.

In these instances there is certainly a risk to the photographers, but I must speak up for the risk to the animals. Whether they die on the spot, (how do you explain that to your children) or dehydrate and die slowly as is typical with tortoises, (you miss seeing that) it is an abominable thing to do and most certainly can be a crime. In one car commercial taking a selfie with your dog is used as proof of love and a reason to buy that car.

The craze has evolved from just posting photos of social encounters and meals, to staging weird and dangerous poses. This is not a new problem. Think back to shows about funniest videos or David Letterman's stupid pet tricks. They started out harmless and natural to choreographed daredevil stunts and a dog "trick" that was achieved by breaking the dog's back so he would walk funny.

Whether you are addicted to or apathetic towards selfies, you must agree that killing an animal by shooting a photo is the same as doing so with a gun. Let's think about our animals and not just about our "selfs".