Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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The art of stillness.

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Another fabulous lesson we can learn from our dogs.

Stillness. It is a very simple, single word yet, somehow, it sounds as though it belongs to a different age. As though stillness is a very long way from the modern society that millions and millions of us subscribe to.

The dog is the master of being still. Being still, either from just laying quietly watching the world go by, or being still from being fast asleep. The ease at which they can find a space on a settee, a carpeted corner of a room, the covers of a made-up bed, and stretch out and be still, simply beggars belief. Dogs offer us humans the most wonderful quality of stillness that we should all practice. Dogs reveal their wonderful relationship with stillness.

Now watch this entrancing talk from Pico Iyer.

Published on Nov 26, 2014
The place that travel writer Pico Iyer would most like to go? Nowhere. In a counterintuitive and lyrical meditation, Iyer takes a look at the incredible insight that comes with taking time for stillness. In our world of constant movement and distraction, he teases out strategies we all can use to take back a few minutes out of every day, or a few days out of every season. It’s the talk for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the demands for our world.

Why you should listen.

Acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer began his career documenting a neglected aspect of travel — the sometimes surreal disconnect between local tradition and imported global pop culture. Since then, he has written ten books, exploring also the cultural consequences of isolation, whether writing about the exiled spiritual leaders of Tibet or the embargoed society of Cuba.

Iyer’s latest focus is on yet another overlooked aspect of travel: how can it help us regain our sense of stillness and focus in a world where our devices and digital networks increasing distract us? As he says: “Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds. Nearly everybody I know does something to try to remove herself to clear her head and to have enough time and space to think. … All of us instinctively feel that something inside us is crying out for more spaciousness and stillness to offset the exhilarations of this movement and the fun and diversion of the modern world.”

What others say

“[Iyer] writes the kind of lyrical, flowing prose that could make Des Moines sound beguiling.” — Los Angeles Times

Written by Paul Handover

August 22, 2015 at 00:00

The tale of a rescue dog.

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We rarely get to know what a rescue dog has been through.

Of the ten dogs that we have here at home, two are pedigree dogs purchased from breeders, that’s Pharaoh and Cleo, two are rescue dogs that came from known sources, Oliver from neighbours who couldn’t cope with him and Pedy from the local Merlin dog pound, and the rest are all ex-rescue dogs that Jean took from the streets of San Carlos, Mexico.

The last rescue dog to be taken in by Jean before we both left Mexico was Hazel who was abandoned outside Jean’s house in San Carlos a few weeks before we left for Arizona. The picture below is of Hazel taken in March 2014.

Hazel is the most loving and adorable of dogs and the love that I feel coming from her towards me is real, tangible and precious. Yet this is a mother dog who very shortly before she was deposited in front of Jean’s house in Mexico had had all her puppies removed from her as Hazel was still in milk. (The poor in San Carlos frequently sell young puppies for a few Pesos.) It’s beyond the comprehension of us humans, especially women, to imagine what it must be like for a mother to so catastrophically lose her young babies.

That’s why a recent article over on Mother Nature Network really reached out to me. We never know what homeless dogs have to contend with before they find loving homes.

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Why our Great Dane is so scared to be alone

Most of us will never know what our rescue dogs have been through. We found out.

By: Ali Berman, August 12, 2015

Author Ali Berman discovered she had a new shadow when she met Cooper. (Photo: Ali Berman)

In February 2015, David and Glenda Berman — that’s my mom and dad — drove from New York to Connecticut to meet Cooper, a 13-month-old Great Dane. When they were introduced, 100-pound Cooper rushed over to give them an enthusiastic greeting, burying his head in their legs, leaning on them, and asking to be petted. My mom and dad fell in love, and Cooper took the two-hour drive back to their house, the place that would become his forever home.

During those first few weeks, my parents got to know Cooper. They went for walks in the snow, played together, and snuggled. (He’s a major snuggler.) But, in addition to those normal doggy behaviors, they noticed something else. Cooper was reluctant to leave their sides. If they left the room, he went with them. He took trip after trip to the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the laundry room. When they moved, he moved.

I didn’t believe the extent of it until I got the chance to meet him myself. I traveled back to New York to visit my family in May. For me and Coop, it was love at first sight. We played, we ran, we cuddled, and by the end of the first day, I found myself with a 115-pound shadow. As soon as I showed any sign of movement, his head perked up and he was ready to follow me. In the morning when he opened his eyes, he went directly to my room to wake me up. When I napped in the afternoon, he came with me, opting to sleep right next to the bed. And when I went out to dine with a friend, my parents distracted him so he wouldn’t see that I was leaving.

Now, when a small dog follows you everywhere, it’s not a big deal. But when a Great Dane follows you around, it’s not stealthy. Seeing how much he craved to be near people, I welcomed him wherever I went — even the bathroom. Still, I wondered: Why was he so reluctant to be alone? Did he not believe we’d come back?

If there's a hug going on, Cooper wants to be a part of it. (Photo: Ali Berman)

If there’s a hug going on, Cooper wants to be a part of it. (Photo: Ali Berman)

Thinking we knew the full story behind his upbringing, we all wrote it off as him being a little insecure. In just over a year he had experienced four different homes. After he left the breeder (his first home), Cooper went to live with a young woman who loved him very much. Unfortunately, they learned that while Cooper enjoys meeting other dogs on his walks, he has trouble living with other dogs. He got into fights with another pooch in the house and with great difficulty, the young woman sent Cooper to live with her uncle. As he also had animals at home, the problem repeated itself.

Cooper needed to live with a one-dog family. The uncle — who could easily have sold purebred Cooper for a handsome sum — instead decided to put him up for adoption to find the best family possible. My parents had been looking for a Great Dane to adopt, so they sent their references, along with pictures with their previous Great Dane who had died two years before, and a heartfelt message. They were chosen to be Cooper’s new and final family.

Because Cooper was loved and well treated in all of his homes, my parents thought the insecurity came from the many moves.

But that wasn’t the full story. Not even close.

In an email from the woman who originally took Cooper in, my mother learned the truth. Cooper had been born with the rest of his litter in the home of an Iowa breeder. One night, when the breeders were out bowling, their home caught on fire. Everything went up in flames. Cooper’s mother and siblings all tragically perished. Baby Cooper was found alone in the debris in the yard. In just one night, he had lost his entire family, suffering more trauma in an instant than most experience in a lifetime.

After the fire, the breeders had to rebuild their lives, so they put Cooper up for adoption. That’s when he started to move from house to house, finally finding his perfect match with my parents. Now, he starts out every day with a multi-mile walk, a nap in the office while my dad works, and then Cooper spends an hour or two playing with his friends in the dog park in the afternoon. If he’s not snoozing or walking, he’s out in the garden with my mom soaking up the sun.

Some serious trauma as a puppy made Cooper never want to be alone. (Photo: Ali Berman)

Some serious trauma as a puppy made Cooper never want to be alone. (Photo: Ali Berman)

Just part of the story

When we rescue an animal, most of the time we never get to know their complete history. Why do some cry when their humans leave the house? Or some bark and growl at men who wear hats? Like people, animals remember the various difficulties and tragedies they have suffered. Those scars go through life with them, just like our own scars follow us. The only difference is they can’t tell us their fears, and we can’t explain to them that they are safe. The best we can do is show them they are loved and hope with enough repetition, they’ll get the message.

In an ideal world, every dog would only have good memories. Their first Frisbee catch or trip to the beach, their favorite person who knows how to pet the ears just right, and the safety of a single home where they will live their life right through to ripe old age. That’s not the case for every dog. Some need a little extra help from us as they learn to trust, move on from the past and accept that their new reality is the one they can count on.

With time, Cooper might just learn to keep snoozing while his mom or dad goes to get a cup of tea. Until then, we’ll all keep showing him that he’s loved, and that this home and this family are forever.

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When one thinks of how dogs, Cooper, Hazel and tens of thousands of others, so beautifully offer their unlimited love to us humans it is just a great shame that we humans haven’t emulated our beloved dogs across mankind in such a widespread manner.

Picture taken by our guest Don Reeve of Hazel (and me) Wednesday afternoon.

Picture taken by our guest Don Reeve of Hazel (and me) Wednesday afternoon.

Gorgeous Hazel. Who would have thought from that smiling face of hers that she had ever suffered the catastrophic loss of her puppies that she had.

 

Five years, in the blink of an eye!

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How time flies.

We have a guest staying with us for twenty-four hours and the last thing I wanted to do was to spend time at a keyboard composing a new post for today.

So just for fun, I thought of reposting what appeared on this blog five years ago: August 18th, 2010.

And here it is.

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New thinking is our only solution

Came across an interesting organisation the other day, the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Do drop in to the web site and read what they are all about.

Common sense!

And then reflect about Easter Island.

It’s almost unimaginable that Planet Earth could go the same way.  Then again, anyone over the age of, say 60, would find where we are today, in terms of mankind’s long-term survival, equally unimaginable from how the world looked 40 years ago.

An early predictor of Planet Earth?

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Written by Paul Handover

August 19, 2015 at 00:00

The glory of trees

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Imagine a tree being over 2,500 years old.

This is an article that I saw on Mother Nature Network in the middle of June and thought at the time it would interest readers of this place.

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2,500-year-old tree witnessed Magna Carta signing

The Ankerwycke Yew in Berkshire, England, has been an important meeting spot for hundreds of years.

By: Michael d’Estries
June 15, 2015,

The Ankerwycke yew is estimated to be between 2,000-2,500 years old. (Photo: Wiki Creative Commons)

The Ankerwycke yew is estimated to be between 2,000-2,500 years old. (Photo: Wiki Creative Commons)

As the world celebrates the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, [Ed. That was on June 15th, 2015] a document that laid the foundation for modern liberties and law, it’s worth remembering that one silent witness to that historical event remains alive and well.

According to some historians, King John signed the Magna Carta beneath the Ankerwycke yew, a 30-foot-wide behemoth, which in June 1215 was already a well-known ancient landmark. Estimates of its age today range from 2,000-2,500 years — making it one of oldest trees in the United Kingdom and the world.

The famous yew is located along the banks of the River Thames on grounds previously occupied by a 12th-century nunnery called St. Mary’s Priory. Historians point to a 19th-century reference to the nunnery, now in ruins, that hints at its importance in the signing of the Magna Carta.

Here the confederate Barons met King John, and having forced him to yield to the demands of his subjects they, under the pretext of securing the person of the King from the fury of the multitude, conveyed him to a small island belonging to the nuns of Ankerwyke [the island], where he signed the Magna Carta, wrote J.J. Sheahen in 1822.

History credits the yew as playing host to several other important meetings, from a place of council for Saxon kings to secret meetings between Henry VIII and a young Anne Boleyn. Earlier this year, saplings grown from the cuttings of famous yews from all over the U.K., including the Ankerwycke, were planted in a hedge in Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens.

‘We are losing ancient yews all the time, to climate change, development and vandalism,” said Martin Gardner, who is leading the preservation initiative. “These are the most iconic trees in the world. We have to conserve every single one.”

Published on Apr 9, 2013
A short film about a remarkable ancient tree in England. It is the oldest known tree on National Trust land and is believed to be the location where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Surrounded by myth and legend, this tree is also believed to be the place where King Henry VIII began his first liaisons with his future (ill-fated) wife, Anne Boleyn in the 1530’s.

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I will close the post with this much-circulated picture reinforcing the fact that trees have been an important meeting spot for hundreds of years.

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Where would we be without our beloved trees!

 

Written by Paul Handover

August 18, 2015 at 00:00

When dark shadows fall across our hearts.

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One of the most important lessons we can learn from our dogs: coping with death.

In writing about the lesson of death that we can learn from our dogs I am, of course, speaking of our own death, of the inevitability of our death. That largely unspoken truth that Sharon Salzberg described in her book Faith: “What does it mean to be born in a human body, vulnerable and helpless, then to grow old, get sick and die, whether we like it or not?” [page 34.]

Anyone who has loved a dog has most likely been intimately involved in the end of that dog’s life. It is, to my mind, the ultimate lesson that dogs offer us: how to be at peace when we die and how to leave that peace blowing like a gentle breeze through the hearts of all the people who loved us.

Our beloved dogs have much shorter life spans than us, thus almost everyone who has loved a dog will have had to say goodbye to that gorgeous friend at some point in their lives. Very sadly, perhaps, saying goodbye to more than one loved dog.

All of which is my introduction to a recent essay published on The Conversation blogsite. The essay is written by Bernard Rollin, Professor of Philosophy, Animal Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. The essay is called: When is it ethical to euthanise your pet?

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When is it ethical to euthanize your pet?

August 12, 2015 6.18am EDT

In the 1960s, I knew people who, before going on vacation, would take their dogs to a shelter to be euthanized. They reasoned that it was cheaper to have a dog euthanized – and buy a new one upon returning – than pay a kennel fee.

Two decades later, I was working at Colorado State’s veterinary hospital when a group of distraught bikers on Harley-Davidsons pulled up carrying a sick chihuahua. The dog was intractably ill, and required euthanasia to prevent further suffering. Afterwards, the hospital’s counselors felt compelled to find the bikers a motel room: their level of grief was so profound that the staff didn’t think it was safe for them to be riding their motorcycles.

These two stories illustrate the drastic change in how animals have been perceived. For thousands of years, humans have kept animals as pets. But only during the past 40 years have they come to be viewed as family.

While it’s certainly a positive development that animals are being treated humanely, one of the downsides to better treatment mirrors some of the problems the (human) health care system faces with end-of-life care.

As with humans, in many cases the lives of pets are needlessly prolonged, which can cause undue suffering for the animals and an increased financial burden for families.

The growth of veterinary medicine and ethics

In 1979, I began teaching veterinary medical ethics at Colorado State University’s veterinary school, the first such course ever taught anywhere in the world.

A year later, the veterinary school hired an oncologist to head up a new program on animal oncology. Soon, our clinic was applying human therapeutic modalities to animal cancer. The visionary head of the veterinary program also hired a number of counselors to help pet owners manage their grief – another first in veterinary circles.

I’d been under the impression that people would be reluctant to spend much money on animal treatments, so I was genuinely shocked when the following April, the Wall Street Journal reported individuals spending upwards of six figures on cancer treatments for their pets.

As a strong advocate for strengthening concern for animal welfare in society, I was delighted with this unprecedented turn of events. I soon learned that concern for treating the diseases of pets besides cancer had also spiked precipitously, evidenced by a significant increase in veterinary specialty practices.

One of the family

So what’s behind the shift in how pets are perceived and treated?

For one, surveys conducted over the last two decades indicate an increasing number of pet owners who profess to view their animals as “members of the family.” In some surveys, the number is as high as 95% of respondents, but in nearly all surveys the number is higher than 80%.

In addition, the breakdown of nuclear families and the uptick of divorce rates have contributed to singles forming tighter bonds with companion animals.

Such attitudes and trends are likely to engender profound changes in societal views of euthanasia. Whereas before, many owners didn’t think twice about putting down a pet, now many are hesitant to euthanize, often going to great lengths to keep sick animals alive.

Vets caught in the middle

However, veterinarians continue to experience extensive stress as they experience two opposite – but equally trying – dilemmas: ending an animal’s life too soon, or waiting too long.

In a paper that I published entitled Euthanasia and Moral Stress, I described the significant stress experienced by veterinarians, veterinary technicians and humane society workers. Many chose their profession out of a desire to improve the lot of animals; instead, they invariably ended up euthanizing large numbers of them, often for unethical reasons.

These ranged from “I got the dog to jog with me, and now it’s too old to run,” to “If I die, I want you to euthanize the animal because I know it can’t bear to live without me.”

In other cases, the animal is experiencing considerable suffering, but the owner is unwilling to let the animal go. With owners increasingly viewing pets as family members, this has become increasingly common, and many owners fear the guilt associated with killing an animal too soon.

Ironically this, too, can cause veterinarians undue trauma: they know the animal is suffering, but there’s nothing they can do about it unless the owner gives them permission.

The consequences are manifest. One recent study showed that one in six veterinarians has considered suicide. Another found an elevated risk of suicide in the field of veterinary medicine. Being asked to kill healthy animals for owner convenience doubtless is a major contribution.

How to manage the decision to euthanize

Here is my suggestion to anyone who is thinking about getting a pet: when you first acquire it, create a list of everything you can find that makes the animal happy (eating a treat, chasing a ball, etc). Put the list away until the animal is undergoing treatment for a terminal disease, such as cancer. At that point, return to the list: is the animal able to chase a ball? Does the animal get excited about receiving a treat?

If the animal has lost the ability to have positive experiences, it’s often easier to let go.

This strategy can be augmented by pointing out the differences between human and animal consciousness. As philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, for humans much of life’s meaning is derived from balancing past experiences with future aspirations, such as wishing to see one’s children graduate or hoping to see Ireland again.

Animals, on the other hand, lack the linguistic tools to allow them to anticipate the future or create an internal narrative of the past. Instead, they live overwhelmingly in the present. So if a pet owner is reluctant to euthanize, I’ll often point out that the animal no longer experiences pleasant “nows.”

In the end, managing euthanasia represents a major complication of the augmented status of pets in society. Ideally, companion animal owners should maintain a good relationship with their general veterinary practitioner, who has often known the animal all of its life, and can serve as a partner in dialogue during the trying times when euthanasia emerges as a possible alternative to suffering.

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So much to learn from these beautiful creatures and so many ways to return the unlimited love we receive from them.

Back to wolves.

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Another example of the fabulous ways in which blogging connects people.

In the last twenty-four hours, Learning from Dogs has attracted a new follower. As always, I went across to this person’s blogsite and left a ‘thank you’ note. I loved what I saw because the blogsite was called Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin authored by Rachel Tilseth. Better than that, there were a number of posts that I know LfD readers would enjoy very much.

Let me offer you an example of what you will find over on Rachel’s blog: Compassionate Conservation. Republished here with Rachel’s kind permission (but see my note at the very end of the post).

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Compassionate Conservation

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When I think of compassionate conservation several well known conservationists, scientists, and psychologists come to mind. On a scale one to ten Dr. Jane Goodall, Joy Adamson, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, and Marc Bekoff Ph.D all rate in the top ten for their compassionate ideals and work regarding wild animals. I believe that it is wrong for humankind to kill off one species to save another because it is not acting in the best interests of wild animals and the ecosystems they support.

In a recent Facebook post on Todd Wilkinson’s timeline I was alerted to a column by Dr. Marc Bekoff on the subject of ‘compassionate conservation’ and decided to post Beckoff’s thought provoking article on my blog.

Compassionate Conservation Meets Cecil the Slain Lion A recent meeting focused on whether we should kill in the name of conservation Post published by Marc Bekoff Ph.D. on Aug 09, 2015 in Animal Emotions

The broad and interdisciplinary field of conservation biology(link is external) has received a good deal of attention in the past two weeks that has stimulated researchers and others to weigh in on what sorts of human-animal interactions are permissible as we try to save nonhuman animals (animals) and their homes. For example, some of the challenging questions that arise are: Should we kill in the name of conservation? Is it okay to trade off the lives of animals of one species for the good of their own or other species? Is seeking the “most humane” way of killing animals the only way to move forward? Is it possible to stop the killing of other animals and factor compassion that centers on the lives of individuals into our decisions? Should we try a “hands off” policy to see if it works where it’s clear our interference, despite our best intentions, has not solved the problems at hand? How do we factor in the interests of other animals and humans as we deal with the numerous — and growing — challenging and frustrating conflicts at hand? The field of anthrozoology (link is external) focuses on these and other questions.

Clearly, there are going to be differences among the people who are trying to save other animals and their homes and also take into account the interests of humans. And, this is what makes the field of conservation biology so exciting, for we are the only animals who are able to do what needs to be done to reverse the rather dismal and depressing situations in which humans and other animals find themselves in conflict. It goes without saying that the major problem is that there are too many humans and if we don’t stop making more of us it’s going to be a long and hard battle to right the wrongs for which we are responsible. And, given all of the information that is currently available, I like to call attention to a quote from William Wilberforce sent to me by Sadie Parr of Wolf Awareness(link is external), “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know. (link is external)”

Compassionate conservation comes of age

A recent meeting that centered on the rapidly growing international field called compassionate conservation (link is external) brought people together from all over the world, all of whom are trying to reduce or eliminate human-animal conflict. The conference was sponsored and coordinated by the Born Free Foundation (link is external) and the Centre for Compassionate Conservation(link is external) at the University of Technology, Sydney and hosted by the Animal Welfare Program(link is external) at the University of British Columbia (for more on compassionate conservation please click here, here (link is external), and here (link is external)). A most exciting part of the meetings was the presence of numerous students and young researchers. And, also very stimulating, were the obvious differences of opinion — the expected shades of gray — in what is possible and what methods are permissible as we try to deal with rampant and growing global human-animal conflicts. Some people argued that in the “real world” the “most humane” ways of killing are the only ways forward, whereas others argued that compassionate conservation is not about the “most humane” way of killing, but rather centers on stopping the killing because it is unethical and in many instances it really hasn’t worked. For them, individual animals are the focus of concern and the guide for compassionate conservation and “First do no harm (link is external)” means not harming or killing other animals “in the name of conservation.”

There also was very valuable discussion of the words people use to refer to the killing of otherwise healthy animals “in the name of conservation,” with the recognition that it is not euthanasia, or mercy-killing, but rather “zoothanasia” when it’s done in zoos or slaughter when done in other situations (please see “Animal ‘Euthanasia’ Is Often Slaughter: Consider Kangaroos“). Also of interest was the use of the word “pests” to refer to animals who are causing problems. Many agreed that it’s humans who are the pests, but because we can dominate and control other animals, they pay the price for just doing what comes naturally for them but is bothersome for us.

Clearly, there were many valuable discussions, and the abstracts of the broad array of papers that were presented can be seen here (link is external). They are a goldmine of information on the broad topics that were covered, the numerous different species discussed, and anthrozoologists should them to be indispensable for future studies of human-animal relationships. We learned that many wild animals really aren’t free (Yolanda Pretorius of the Centre for Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria told us that elephants in South Africa are fenced and can’t migrate) and that “methods to assess the well-being of elephants are not included as a requirement for developing an elephant management plan.” Moles are ruthlessly killed in the UK because they destroy gardens and in many locations geese are killed because they poop on golf courses. We take away the geese’s habitats and then we kill them because they have nowhere else to go.

We also learned in a paper by MarÍa Fàbregas and G. M. Koehler of Save China’s Tigers(link is external) that in order to reintroduce critically endangered captive South China tigers back to restored protected areas within their historic range in China, they are allowed to practice killing ungulates. Many people were rather concerned with this practice, and it reminded me of breeding golden hamsters to allow endangered black-footed ferrets to practice killing them before being released into wild habitat. For many, these sorts of trade-offs are unacceptable.

In another project that was the focus of discussion, almost 900 wolves and other non-target animals were killed in Alberta, Canada (please also see and and), to try to save woodland caribou (it didn’t work) and not only were families broken up but there also are trans-generational effects. Simply put, far too many other animals are harmed or killed because we move into their homes and they have nowhere else to go and thus, they, innocent victims, become the “problems.” It’s a no-win situation for millions of other animals and we need to do much better so the killing stops.

Compassionate conservation meets Cecil the slain lion

It was also rather timely, and of course incredibly sad, that news about the thoroughly unnecessary killing of Cecil the lion(link is external) by Walter Palmer (please also see the numerous articles listed here (link is external) and Jennifer Jacquet’s “The Shaming of Walter Palmer (link is external)“) was making world-wide headlines as the meeting got under way. A few of us received requests for interviews the first morning of the meeting and Cecil was the topic of conversation at a number of talks and also at the coffee breaks, as was Marius, the young giraffe who was mercilessly killed at the Copenhagen Zoo in February 2014, because he didn’t fit into the zoo’s breeding program. Marius us a classic case of an animal who was zoothanized, not euthanized, as claimed by zoo administrators.

Many people are interested in the status and fate of African lions and as I was writing this essay I came across a review of a book called Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns(link is external) by world renowned lion researcher Dr. Craig Packer(link is external) (the Kindle edition can be found here(link is external)). In the review by Iris Barber(link is external) called “Lions in the Balance: Can hunting save the kings of the jungle?” we learn that Dr. Packer argues, “‘Lions need trophy-hunting just as much as trophy-hunting needs lions.’ His plan: kill only male lions over the age of 6, so cubs aren’t killed by a lion mating with their mother who seeks to safeguard his own progeny. This is a fresh approach to conservation, where hunting is essential to survival.”

While numerous compassionate conservationists would argue against killing lions, when experts like Dr. Packer speaks, it’s highly worthwhile to listen carefully because it makes clear just how complex the issues are. As the book’s description notes, “Packer is sure to infuriate millionaires, politicians, aid agencies, and conservationists alike as he minces no words about the problems he encounters. But with a narrative stretching from far flung parts of Africa to the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and marked by Packer’s signature humor and incredible candor, Lions in the Balance is a tale of courage against impossible odds, a masterly blend of science, adventure, and storytelling, and an urgent call to action that will captivate a new generation of readers.”

Putting an end to dancing bears: All stakeholders count

Another tenet of compassionate conservation is that all stakeholders count, human and nonhuman. Of course, this is very challenging because various animals kill or harm humans or kill or harm animals on whom the livelihoods of humans and their communities depend. In an earlier essay I wrote about two projects in India that stress peaceful coexistence between humans and nonhumans who harm and kill the humans and destroy their businesses. Another excellent example of a project that took into account the interests of humans and nonhumans centered on putting an end to the use of dancing bears, discussed by Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani of the organization Wildlife SOS, India (link is external). The abstract for their talk reads as follows:

“Wildlife SOS spearheaded a conservation success story in India by resolving the barbaric dancing bear practice in which sloth bear cubs were poached from the wild, brutally trained in inhumane ways and spent their short tragic lives at the end of a four foot rope dragged through towns and villages to earn for the indigent, nomadic community called the Kalandars. Wildlife SOS’s initiative was to both rehabilitate the sloth bears held in captivity and the Kalandars themselves in alternative livelihoods. This in turn made a huge difference to the sloth bear population in the wild helping in its conservation.

“Compassionate Conservation and sustainability of wildlife and forests was the focus of the program which is still ongoing. Wildlife SOS also works with human-animal conflict situations similarly aiming for compassionate conservation and rehabilitation measures which educate the stakeholders, such as the villagers or dwellers around a forested area, in avoidance behavior.

“The education awareness programs are run in Maharashtra where the conflict species is the leopard and in Kashmir where the conflict species is the black bear and in Delhi and Agra the program deals with the rhesus macaque which seems to be the species humans have declared war on. Attempts at resolution involve creating safe spaces for the animals (rehabilitation centres) teaching people behaviours which do not lead to confrontation with the animals in question (awareness and education) but most importantly to inculcate a feeling for the animals in question emphasizing adjustment and acceptance of the existence of wildlife close to our human habitations. Our work with captive elephants is yet another conservation attempt at bringing down an ancient Indian traditional bastion that emphasizes training elephants using pain, fear and physical abuse by replacing it with compassion.

“Our training school – the kindness school provide straining to elephant keepers on modern and humane elephant management systems, compassionate handling, replacing negative management with positive reinforcement. However conservation also demands use of the law so the Wildlife SOS Anti-Poaching enforcement unit works to gatherintelligence on wildlife traffickers and smugglers and enforces the law working in partnership with the Indian Government.

“Compassionate conservation is the key to the future ahead of us.”

Another wonderful project in which human and nonhuman interests were taken into account and satisfied was concerned with how to deal non-lethally with “problem” raccoons at a fast food restaurant in Vancouver. Dr. Sara Dubois, who works with theBritish Columbia SPCA (link is external), outlined various strategies for coming to terms with urban “pests.” She noted, “The overall goal of developing humane standards for nuisance wildlife control is to create an educational and enforcement tool, setting a higher bar for control measures, whether they are done for conservation or nuisance purposes.”

The coming of age of compassionate conservation: It’s a “sad bad” if killing is the only viable option for “peaceful” coexistence

The field of compassionate conservation is slowly coming of age and it’s essential that all opinions come to the table to be discussed. Ethicist Bill Lynn, who supported the experimental humane killing of a few thousand barred owls to try to save endangered snowy owls, called this practice a “sad good.” While it may be a “sad good” for the snowy owls, it’s surely not for the slaughtered barred owls. I would call it a “sad bad” for the barred owls and many other animals if killing remains the only option. A “sad good” is a very slippery slope that sets a lamentable precedent for opening the door for the more widespread “experimental killing” of barred owls and other species just to see if it works.

Compassionate conservation requires a large change in heart and practices, and like any other revolutionary paradigm shift it will take time. Many hope that this most needed paradigm shift in conservation biology that entails stopping the killing “in the name of conservation” will endure its growing pains as more and more researchers and others realize that killing is not the answer. I hope those who see the “real world” as mandating killing will change their minds and hearts. Future and young researchers are critical to the development and implementation of compassionate conservation, as are those careerconservation officers, zoo administrators, and researchers who come to realize that using “the most humane killing” is not what compassionate conservation is all about. I like to imagine a world where killing is no longer part of the conservationist’s toolkit. The welfarist calculus patronizes other animals and when push comes to shove, or often when it’s merely convenient, the nonhumans suffer and are killed when it’s determined that the benefits to humans outweigh the costs to the animals.

It’s time to put away the guns, the traps, the snares, the poisons, and other “weapons of mass destruction” (as a few attendees called them) and figure out how to live in peaceful coexistence with the fascinating animals with whom we’re supposed to share our most magnificent planet. There does not have to be blood. I dedicated my talk to Cecil the lion and also to Bryce Casavant, a most courageous conservation officer who refused to kill two black bear cubs (link is external) near Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island and was suspended because he said “no.” More people simply have to say “no” to killing other animals. We need to stop the violence and recognize that “The world becomes what we teach (link is external).” Compassion begets compassion and violence begets violence. By rewilding our hearts (link is external) and by becoming re-enchanted and reconnecting with nature I like to think that the killing will come to an end, slow as it may be.

If some people argue the killing cannot stop, it will not stop. It saddens me to think that we’ve gotten to the point where for some, killing is the only viable option for peaceful coexistence. Shame on us. As Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani concluded, “Compassionate conservation is the key to the future ahead of us.” I couldn’t agree more. We need to leave our comfort zones and think and act “outside of the box.”

The next meeting that will focus on compassionate conservation is slated for 2017 in Sydney, Australia. I often say that compassionate conservation is a wonderful meeting place for people who would otherwise not, but should, meet. This was so in Vancouver and I anticipate this will be the case in Sydney. Please stay tuned for more information on this future gathering and the exciting, challenging, and forward-looking field of compassionate conservation in general.

Note: I just learned of an essay titled “Mutant Animals Bred to be Brutally Killed by Hunters(link is external)” in which the person offering up these freaks outlandishly claims, “Conservation is a by-product of what I do.”

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation, Why dogs hump and bees get depressed, and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence. The Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)

Source Psychology Today

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Note:

As Rachel points out in an earlier paragraph, the bulk of this essay was published by Marc Bekoff and I included the links in the third paragraph back to Marc’s essay.

However, Marc’s essay, via Rachel’s post, had a very great number of links including the many ‘link is external’ references and, sadly, far too many for me to enter in this reposting. So if you are curious about any aspect of Rachel/Marc’s essay then please re-read it here where all the links will be available to you.

Habituated to eating

with 9 comments

A startling and counter-intuitive essay from George Monbiot.

Hariod Brawn, she of the blog Contentedness.net, left a response to yesterday’s post in this place. Here is what Hariod said:

Yes Paul, I too recognise the value in understanding the neural substrates involved, regardless of what may in any case be reliably inferred and readily apparent in behavioural evidence. The social intelligence of the dog seems remarkably advanced of course, and so naturally provides a rich source for such research. Having said that, I am struck by the amount of academic funding that goes into confirming what is already self-evident, and wonder if the apportioning of funds is done quite as effectively as it could be. Much is determined by commercial interests of course.

“Much is determined by commercial interests …”

I have been a resident of the United States since April 2011. There has been much to take in and embrace at so many levels. However, one of the things that has seemed very foreign to my eyes was the extent of the obesity seen almost everywhere that one is out and about. At first it seemed more of an American issue, but over the last few years watching news items from the UK and seeing other general items on the internet from ‘the old country’ I came to realise that countries both ‘sides of the pond’ are grappling with what could be fairly described as an epidemic.

Yesterday, George Monbiot published an essay called Slim Chance. As with so many of Mr. Monbiot’s essays this one highlights issues that I am sure are not widely appreciated. It is republished here with Mr. Monbiot’s kind permission.

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Slim Chance

11th August 2015

New evidence suggests that obesity might be incurable. So why does the government propose to punish sufferers?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th August 2015

Is overeating more addictive than crack cocaine? It’s hard to compare addiction rates, or to produce a clear definition that holds true across all substances and behaviours. But consider this crude contrast. Between 10 and 20% of people who use crack cocaine become addicted to it. Across a 9-year study of 176,000 obese people, 98.3% of the men and 97.8% of the women failed to return to a healthy weight. Once extreme overeating begins, it appears to be almost impossible to stop.

A paper published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews proposed that “food addiction” is a less accurate description of this condition than “eating addiction”. There is little evidence that people who are driven to overeat become dependent on a single ingredient; instead they tend to seek out a range of highly palatable, energy-dense foods, of the kind with which we are now surrounded.

The activation of reward systems in the brain and the loss of impulse control are similar to those involved in dependency on drugs. But eating addiction appears to be more powerful. As the same paper notes, in laboratory experiments “a majority of rats will prefer a sweet reward over a cocaine reward.”

Once you become obese, an article published in the Lancet this year explains, biological changes lock you in. Fat cells proliferate. The brain becomes habituated to dopamine signalling (the reward pathway), driving you to compensate by increasing your consumption. If you try to lose weight, the body perceives that it is being starved, and powerful adaptations (such as an increase in metabolic efficiency) try to bounce you back to your previous state. People who manage, against great odds, to return to a normal weight must consume 300 fewer calories per day than those who have never been obese, if they are not to put the weight back on. “Once obesity is established, … bodyweight seems to become biologically stamped in”. The more weight you lose, the stronger the biological pressure to get back to your former, excessive size.

The researchers find that “these biological adaptations often persist indefinitely”: in other words, if you have once been obese, staying slim means sticking to a strict diet for life. The best you can hope for is not a dietary cure, but “obesity in remission”. The only effective, long-term treatment for obesity currently available, the same paper says, is bariatric surgery. This can cause a number of grim complications.

I know this statement will be unwelcome. I too hate the idea that people cannot change their circumstances. But the terrible truth is that, except through surgery, for the great majority of sufferers, obesity is an incurable disease. In one respect it resembles cancer: the changes in lifestyle that might have prevented it are unlikely to be of use in curing it.

Fat-shaming is worse than useless. Another paper found that the more weight-conscious people are, the more likely they are to overeat: the stress it induces is a trigger for comfort eating. As Sarah Boseley points out in her book The Shape We’re In, “the diet industry … is one of the biggest frauds of our time”. For the obese, temporary reductions in weight will almost inevitably be reversed.

People who are merely overweight, rather than obese (in other words who have a BMI of between 25 and 30) appear not to suffer from the same biochemical adaptations: their size is not “stamped in”. For them, changes of diet and exercise are likely to be effective. But urging obese people to buck up produces nothing but misery.

The crucial task is to reach children before they succumb to this addiction. As well as help and advice for parents, this surely requires a major change in what scientists call “the obesogenic environment” (high energy foods and drinks and the advertising and packaging that reinforces their attraction). Unless children are steered away from overeating from the beginning, they are likely to be trapped for life.

You might have expected this knowledge to lead to acceptance, empathy and an end to stigmatisation. Fat chance. A fortnight ago, just after the figures I mentioned at the top of this article were published, David Cameron announced a review that could lead to obese people being deprived of social security payments if they fail to accept “treatment” for their condition.

This review, conducted by Dame Carol Black, has already pre-empted its conclusions: eight times it describes obesity as “treatable”. Really? How? It will consider the case “for linking benefit entitlements to take up of appropriate treatment”. Are Cameron and Black proposing that benefit claimants will be forced to undergo surgery? Or will they be pressed into a useless and punitive dietary regime? These proposals look to me like a transfer of blame for the disease away from food manufacturers and advertisers and onto those afflicted.

Why do we have an obesity epidemic? Has the composition of the human species changed? Have we suffered a general collapse in willpower? No. The evidence points to high-fat, high-sugar foods that overwhelm the impulse control of children and young adults, packaged and promoted to create the impression that they are fun, cool and life-enhancing. Many are placed in the shops where children are bound to encounter them: around the tills, at grasping height.

The disease will keep ravaging the population (and slowly overwhelm the health service) until these circumstances change. But the government’s sole contribution has been to tear down mandatory controls, replacing them with a voluntary – and therefore useless – “responsibility deal” with manufacturers and retailers. It allows them to choose whether or not to use the traffic light system, which is the most effective way of informing people about the likely impact of what they eat. And many corporations, unsurprisingly, choose not to. As far as nutritional content is concerned, food manufacturing is effectively unregulated.

Industry and government will resist the obvious solutions until they can be resisted no longer. Eventually, the change will have to happen: similar restrictions on advertising, sponsorship, display and accessibility to those imposed on the tobacco pedlars. One day, though not before many thousands have needlessly died, it will become illegal to advertise any food or drink that merits a red traffic light warning. They will be sold only in plain packaging, with health warnings, on high shelves.

Does this seem draconian to you? If so, remember that obesity afflicts a quarter of the adult population, and is rising rapidly. It causes a range of hideous conditions, just one of which – diabetes – accounts for one sixth of NHS admissions and 10% of its budget. If smoking demands fierce intervention, why not overeating?

This is the choice we face. To recognise that the only humane and effective means of addressing the obesity epidemic is to prevent more people from being hooked, by restricting the pushers. Or to continue a programme of fat-shaming, bullying and compulsory treatment, whose only likely outcome is unhappiness. Now ask yourself again: which of these two options is draconian?

www.monbiot.com

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Let me close with an image. The image that George Monbiot believes will be seen very widely and representing the same common-sense in eating that we have been used to with regard to No Smoking signs.

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