Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The incident at Seaworld

This evening I am heartbroken by the news of the trainer at Seaworld who was killed by a Killer Whale named Tillikum, or Tilly.  The news strikes closer to home than you'd think because I was at Seaworld in Orlando just five days ago, and attended the "Believe Show" that features this and other whales.  I also paid a good deal of money for a special opportunity to "Dine with Shamu," which involves dinner in a small facility where you have the opportunity to see the trainers up close as they interact with one of the whales.  At times you are just a few feet from the whale as it glides through the pool and responds to hand signals.

It is very likely that the whale I saw that night was Tillikum.  I say this because they told us that night that the whale we were visiting was the largest orca in captivity in the world, and that's what the news reports have been saying about the whale involved in today's incident.  When I saw this whale, he appeared to be an incredibly intelligent animal, and very gentle.  He relaxed for a good hour before the trainers began working with him, just bobbing his large black and white head quietly at the surface of the pool and watching one of the trainers who kept watch nearby.  When the "show" began (it really didn't feel like a show) we were told repeatedly about the deep relationships built between the whales and the trainers over many years, and the respect the trainers have for these animals.  The whale seemed completely in synch with the trainers, understanding every hand signal, every cue, and never being asked to do anything harmful.  The announcer made it clear that the whales receive only positive reinforcement, and are never forced to do anything they don't willingly do.

Still, as much as I loved being so close to such a beautiful creature, and as impressed as I was by the educational value of these programs and the wonder on the faces of the people who got to see this animal up close, I couldn't help having conflicting feelings.  I enjoyed the "Believe" show as much as the next person, and allowed myself to get caught up in the sentimentality of the presentation, which is built around the story of a young boy who loves whales and dreams of becoming a trainer.  I wanted to "believe" in the relationship between the whales and the humans, the impossible come true.  But I couldn't help thinking about the size of the tanks, and the size of the animals, and wondering if such intelligent creatures could be truly happy living in captivity.  I know that the Seaworld staff and facility are known to be among the best and most caring in the world, and that they take steps to ensure that the animals have stimulation and companionship and good lives.  JP and I talked about the fact that they have everything they need -- they're well fed, they have companions, they are loved.  But at one point I asked, "would we be happy if we had everything we needed but were forced to live in a few rooms?"

I know many animal activists feel that no wild creatures should be kept in captivity, certainly not such large and intelligent creatures as whales, or even dolphins.  Still, I swam with a dolphin at Discovery Cove and watched children's eyes light up with love for the animals.  I knew that the people who interacted with them were gaining knowledge and respect that they would most likely carry with them for the rest of their lives, hopefully into efforts to help wildlife.  The experience is one I'll never forget.  And so I'm confused and conflicted.

 One thing is certain; I don't believe whales or dolphins should be captured from the wild in order to be used in shows.  Tillikum was taken from his pod in the wild, I believe, when he was just a couple of years old (not by Seaworld).  Nothing about that makes sense to me.

On the other hand, most of the animals I encountered at Seaworld, including Iggy, the dolphin I swam with, were born there.  They have never known any other life, and from everything I've read, it would be difficult or impossible to safely release them to the wild.  Iggy was clearly a happy dolphin.  He was curious and sociable and seemed to enjoy inspecting us and interacting with us.  His trainer clearly adored him.  I could see it on her face whenever she looked at him.

There are no easy answers here.  But one thing is for sure.  A 40-year-old woman lost her life today at Seaworld, and that is a tragedy.  She had been working with the whales for a long time; the news reports say she was one of Seaworld's most experienced trainers.  Maybe I even saw her five days ago; I don't know because her name has not been released and I don't know the names of each trainer I saw.  But I'm sure she was a wonderful person, and I'm sure she loved those whales, and my heart goes out to her family and to everyone at Seaworld.

I'm also sure she believed in what she did for a living, and wouldn't want us to stop loving the whales -- even Tillikum, who likely had no idea that humans can drown or that he killed her.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Story of Nursing Home Cat that Predicts Death a Best Seller

This weekend a book about a calico rescue cat who lives and works in a nursing home entered the New York Times best-seller list at the 12th slot.

"Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat,"
by David Dosa, is the true story of one animal's ability to foresee death, as written by a cat-averse doctor who just didn't want to believe it. However remarkable the book's success, it's not all surprising, given the multiple sociological sweet spots it hits. Read the rest of this story by Alyssa Giacobbe at AOL News.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blind Cat Rescue

A Paws reader just sent this link to a wonderful organization that rescues blind cats and helps to find them "forever homes."

Check it out:  www.blindcatrescue.com  

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Swimming with the dolphins





Last weekend, JP and I had the opportunity to swim with a young dolphin named Iggy at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida.  It was a very special experience.

It's true that in general, "swimming with the dolphins" is a touristy thing to do, and I have a hard time when I think about some of the places that offer this activity.  I worry that the dolphins -- incredibly gentle, beautiful and intelligent creatures (more intelligent than humans, I'd argue!) -- are not cared for properly in many facilities, and don't have the space, love and attention they deserve.  Some people would argue that no dolphins should be kept in captivity anywhere, and I would have a hard time arguing against them.  At the same time, I can't deny the educational value of people meeting and learning about dolphins, and the love and respect I see on people's faces when they interact with these unique animals.  I hope these interactions inspire more people to work to protect them and other marine mammals.

I did get the strong sense that the dolphins at Discovery Cove were well cared for, respected, and loved by the staff.  They had very large pools; we couldn't even see to the end.  Their time with visitors was limited and they got a lot of time out of the reach of humans.  We spent a half hour in the water with Iggy, who was born at Seaworld and whose mother and grandmother are still there with him, and we were taught all kinds of things about him while he inspected us, let us pet him, and interacted with us through hand signals and responses.  The instructor in the water with us clearly adored Iggy and knew him well, and didn't force Iggy to do anything he didn't want to do.  She made it very clear that whatever happened was up to Iggy.

The experience was something I will never forget.  Iggy was fun-loving, curious, intelligent and gentle.  I miss him already.

It is incomprehensible to me that some countries, like Japan, actually hunt these creatures.  If I think about it too much, I can't sleep at night.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love Your Pet Expo links to Our Place to Paws Kids' Corner

A great animal-loving site at www.loveyourpetexpo.com discovered the Our Place to Paws Kids' Corner, with all of our fun animal-related projects for kids, and linked to it on their site.

See the link and check out their site here:

http://loveyourpetexpo.com/crafts.htm

Enter our March contests!

Our Place to Paws is now accepting entries into our March "Readers Photo" contest and our "Cats vs. Dogs" essay contest (write about a favorite cat story or dog story, or why you love cats vs. dogs or dogs vs. cats!).

Winners receive either an Our Place to Paws T-shirt or a special hand-painted pet portrait on a chicken egg by animal artist Peggy Sigler Dey (see www.DeybyDeystudio.com).

To enter, send your pictures or essays to OurPlacetoPaws(at)aol.com (replacing the (at) with @ of course).

Deadline is February 22 for our March contest. We'll be updating the site with the winners and other new content in early March.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It's a challenge!

Temperatures in the Boston area have rarely hit 30 degrees over the past couple of weeks, and have dipped into the single digits most nights. It's been a challenge keeping water available for our little feral colony because it keeps freezing.

I've been following the advice of Alley Cat Allies and putting warm water out (not too hot to drink), and sometimes adding a spoonful of sugar. I've also been changing the water as often as possible; on the coldest days the bowl is frozen after just a few hours.

I can tell our little friends appreciate the effort. Franklin, the gray and white "Outdoor King," often heads straight for the water when we put it out, even before the food. Sometimes he even takes a nap on top of the food shelter. Flika, the little white cat, has been spotted more than once emerging from one of the houses we set out for them. Although we still can't get close (they run away as soon as we step outside the house), I've noticed that they don't go too far now. They just watch from a distance, and wait for us to go back inside before turning right around and coming back.

It's a great feeling to know we're making their lives a bit easier during the cold winter months.

Monday, February 1, 2010

From Crossed Paws Rescue: Super Urgent

JADE NEEDS YOU TO SPREAD THE WORD TO HELP SAVE HER LIFE!!! DON'T LET HER GO BACK TO THE SHELTER. THIS IS JADE AND SHE IS URGENT AND WOULD LOVE A FOREVER HOME OR EVEN A FOSTER!! JADE IS A YOUNG FEMALE PIT BULL TERRIER AND WAS SAVED FROM EUTHANASIA ON 1/8/10 FROM THE MANHATTAN, NY SHELTER. JADE IS FRIENDLY, LOVING, PLAYFUL AND HAS HAD A LOT OF TRAINING! SHE JUST LOVES EVERYONE!! SHE IS IN A TEMP FOSTER BUT SHE WILL NEED A LOVING FOREVER HOME/FOSTER ASAP WITHOUT CATS. SHE IS VERY EXCITED AND PLAYFUL SO OLDER CHILDREN WOULD BE BEST IN CASE SHE WERE TO JUMP UP. JADE KNOWS LOTS OF COMMANDS AND DOES LISTEN VERY WELL. SHE PLAYS WELL WITH OTHER DOGS AND IS GREAT WITH MEN, WOMEN AND OLDER CHILDREN. SHE IS MICROCHIPPED AND ALSO HOUSE TRAINED AND UTD ON HER VACCINATIONS. JADE WOULD LOVE SO MUCH TO HAVE A FAMILY OF HER OWN. SHE IS A REALLY GREAT GIRL AND JUST WANTS TO BE LOVED. PLEASE HELP US HELP HER!!

http://www.crossedpawsrescue.com