a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Don’t Be A Turkey This Season

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Maybe you only purchase turkey once/year. If you live in the U.S., it’s usually in November and/or December. So, if I only buy turkey this one time, how important is it that I buy organic and local? From a turkey’s point of view? Plenty!

Factory-style turkey farms do a huge business this time of year and to meet the “consumer” demand, they have been allowed and encouraged to raise and slaughter these animals in outrageous conditions. Turkeys have long been genetically modified with hormones for better eating (not theirs), causing them to grow flesh twice as big, twice as fast. Most unfortunately, their skeletons are unable to support the excessive weight, leaving them unable to walk and in pain. More messing with their genetics for the preferred breast meat leaves them with absurdly-sized chests, further limiting their mobility. This diabolical science also causes many painful respiratory, heart and skeletal diseases, despite heavy doses of antibiotics.

Turkeys raised in factory farms live in crowded warehouses – government standards require only 2.5 feet square of space for each hen and 3.5 feet square of space for each tom turkey – as many as 17,000 turkeys crowded together. For months, they are left to stand in the bacteria and amonia from their own waste. These unnatural conditions force them to literally fight for their lives, so they are debeaked and detoed without anesthesia. (FYI – You can apply these facts in various forms to all factory-raised animals. For more information (and happy rescue stories), visit Farm Sanctuary.)

I know I probably ruined your appetite, but before you stop reading, understand two things. One – we, as consumers, have allowed these practices to continue (we keep buying) and two, we, as consumers, can put an end to the horror, both for the animals and the environment that is also being abused in factory farming.

I used to believe the entire world could be vegetarians. Then I woke up. I understand now that it is important to change the hows and the whys of our food sources rather than perpetuate a “them and us” standoff. We used to know how to do this right and we can once again bring compassion and common sense back to all farming practices. But to do this, we need to make it impossible for factory farms to sell their products and- make it economically feasible for small (and sane) farming to survive. I support veganism and vegetarianism, but I’ve come to believe that my being vegan was less an “activist” model of change than my now unfailing support of local farms. And I’m not alone.

Humane Farm Animal Care is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the lives and welfare of farm animals by providing viable, credible, duly-monitored standards for humane food production and ensuring consumers that certified products meet these standards.

The impressive and extensive staff brings in knowledge and experience, including animal science, philosophy, systematic ecology, and government and international relations. Executive Director, Adele Douglass, launched the Free Farmed Program and was awarded the ASPCA’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2006. Their site can tell you more about this process and give you information about where to buy “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” animal products.

Keep in mind that very small family farms, possibly not yet certified, have almost always practiced compassionate treatment of animals and environmental stewardship – it’s tradition. Get to know your local farmers or read about them online at Local Harvest.

Fawn Update

Friday, July 25th, 2008

This morning, I received this update from the rescue:

Hi Tracey,
I wanted to give you a real quick update on how the fawn is doing.  We kept her with us until this evening.  She’s really too big to be inside and really didn’t care for being inside, but we felt that her condition warranted watching.  Given the head trauma, she was “nodding off” often and that worried me.
Today she began staying awake more and more, so we decided the best thing for her was to be with her own kind and breathing fresh air.  So we took her to the pen with the other babies.  She is by far the largest we have!  It took her a while, but after several long drinks and a big rub down by me, and then a total deer bath from her new friends, she was doing well.  She is up and around.  Not fast, mind you, I’m sure she’s achy from the car accident, but up and around none the less.
For her age, she is very trusting of us, which, for now, is a good thing.  We are still treating her eyes and several other wounds, and it sure helps to have her put her head in my lap to do this!
So, for now, her prognosis is good.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your life to help this beautiful girl!  She deserves every chance she can get to live wild and free!!!

Thank you,
Kindra D. Mammone
Executive Director, CLAWS, Inc.
Donations needed.  We are a non profit organization funded solely by donations.  Please help.  All funds go directly to the animals.

Rainbows and Sparkling Bugs

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Day two of a head cold has left me a little spacey. I was going to write about the hybrid converter, recently available to turn current hybrids into plug-ins…but, I’m not lucid enough to do the research, so I’ll instead give in to my impulse to be dreamily respective instead of informative. My apologies!

Besides, I haven’t quite let go of the experiences in VT – how it felt to swim in the cool river, hike near a mountain in a long warm rain, see so much history in one place, and meet new people who are making change happen. Some of it was just out there, but much of it was simply in the details. Sometimes, just paying attention is what matters most.

On Monday evening, when I stepped out of the airport, there was a rainbow stretched across the sky and that seemed a significant ending to the trip. But the bliss wasn’t over yet…

In fact, I arrived home just after dark, grateful for a giddy greeting from the dogs, whom I immediately took walking in the woods behind the house. Suddenly, we were surrounded by fireflies blinking a strangely blue, sparkling light. There seemed to be hundreds. We stopped and basked in this glow for long, sumptuous moments and in it, I heard hope for the future.

Animals and Nature speak to us every day in many ways. Stop, look and listen to the magic. You never know what you may hear..

Healing Happens – and River Runs

Monday, May 12th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

As a student and teacher of yoga, I always tell my students that half of what we learn and do in a yoga practice is a result of our efforts. The other half just happens.

I’m compelled to share this story involving my dog, River, because it demonstrates our human potential on all levels. Just like in yoga practice, sometimes we need to tap into something bigger to complete what we do on a conscious level.

Bonnie Illies is an animal medical intuitive and healer. Rather than try to explain that, I’ll tell you River’s story.

River, my Cattle Dog, loves to run – hard and fast. One day, at full speed, she became tangled in a vine and the result was a torn ligament in her back leg – not a hopeful diagnosis for a herding dog. After 4 months of orthopedics visits, supplemental and physical therapy, her condition continued to worsen. Facing a dire prognosis of increased, long-term pain and/or extensive surgery, confinement and rehabilitation, I turned to Bonnie for help.

Bonnie lives 1,000 miles away. On the phone, rather than asking me to explain the problem, Bonnie told me to wait while she “checked in” with River. She came back to the phone and told me that River had pain in a back leg. Surprised but impressed, I didn’t need to hear much more. Bonnie scheduled a healing “session” with River for the next day, asking for a time when she would be quiet and at rest.

I came home that evening filled with curiosity. Although my dog was slightly favoring her bad side, for the first time in 3 months, she was not limping. I called Bonnie, excited and hopeful. She recommended a second session for the next day.

The next night, I returned home to a dog that ran to the door to see me without any visible sign of discomfort. I immediately took her outside and she raced around the yard. I watched nervously. Nothing – just a happy, healthy dog. I called Bonnie, thrilled but hesitant about letting her run too much too soon. But Bonnie said all was well – she was healed. The next day, River and I ran 4 miles through the woods – and has been doing so every day since then.

If your animal is sick, distressed or injured, Bonnie can help. She has been specializing in medical intuitive/healing work since 1998. Visit her website and read other testimonials from across the country at

My own experience has not only helped my dog but helped me have faith in our abilities as human beings to heal each other and the planet.

Bats in Hell

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto
Bats are dying in mass numbers in at least 6 states in the Northeast. Reports show 40% dead in 4 caves in New York State alone, predicting a loss of approximately 1/2 million in the region.

A mysterious fungus, showing up on the noses of the dead and dying bats, is thought to be a symptom of what is still an unknown affliction causing the mass extinction. Ten laboratories are working on the issue, studying what could be causing the fungus as well as what appears to be a severe decrease in body fat on the bats which normally provides the warmth and nutrients needed during hibernation.

Since bats migrate hundreds of miles and colonize by the thousands, the disease can and is spreading rapidly. Decreasing populations at this rate is compounded by the fact that female bats give birth to only one pup each year.

Scientists wonder if recently introduced pesticides are contributing to to the the problem, either as a toxin causing illness, depleting immune systems, or by decreasing their natural food supplies. Read this NY Times article for details.

Nobody is yet talking about global warming in this issue, but, as revealed in both West Nile Virus and the tree-eating beetles, it’s bound to link up in some way. I don’t know about you, but I keep hearing Mama Earth saying, “Can you hear me now?”

Bats play a large role in keeping insect populations balanced, protecting crops and people and are an important part of our fragile eco-system. You can help protect bat populations in your area by decreasing light pollution and providing safe nesting sites by hanging bat boxes. In return, they will decrease your populations of bothersome insects. Besides that, you’ll barely notice them as they are clean animals who work the night shift.

I recently purchased a bat box at my local hardware store – a small, affordable, specially-designed box that is easily attached under your roof line or to trees. I’m now thinking of getting a few more. You can read all about bats and bat boxes here.

Hunting 101?

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

I’m still thinking about death. And life. And death.

Where do I stand on hunting? That’s a tough one. I don’t like the image of it. But when I see large numbers of deer roaming through neighborhoods and lying dead on highways, I find myself grateful for the hunters that help in controlling a population that, without natural predators, can no longer control itself. When my sister, who lives in Nevada, walked out her door last year to find a bear in search of the food, I feel conflicted. Afterall, bears can break down doors as easily as we open them.

Yet, I was the kid who never recovered from the movie, “Bambi”, and still can’t watch “Babe” without sobbing. More recently, while on an Autumn hike in the mountains , I witnessed a newly killed black bear being dragged down a trail by hunters. My entire body reacted so strongly to the scene, that I took off running downhill, falling over my feet and in tears.

IS hunting the necessary balance? If so, is it simply an attempt at balancing a system which our overzealous land-hogging has messed up in the first place? Or, is it ultimately part of our story as humans? If we are carnivores, are we even obligated to be witness and participant in the process of killing the food we choose to eat? I’ve conveniently avoided these questions most of my life, being vegetarian for half of it and wistfully dreaming about birth control programs for over-populating wildlife, while hesitantly grateful for those that can pull the trigger when necessary.

Most hunters sincerely claim environmentalist status. From Sierra Magazine, “According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, most hunters and anglers have strong conservationist leanings. A study the organization completed in January 2000 found that 83 percent of hunters and 86 percent of anglers support keeping the remaining wild areas in national forests free of roads.” This sounds like a logical, even necessary part of today’s politics.

I do believe that we cannot have it both ways. Rather than kill the wolves that mildly threaten livestock, it may have to be a considered the compromise for displacing them from a natural habitat. We cannot kill simply to support a style of living before we determine if our desired lifestyles are necessary. We are responsible for creating and maintaining some kind of natural balance before we sublimely continue our world takeover.

I have a friend, David Knight, who was raised in a family of hunters. He also happens to work in environmental law for the Nature Conservancy. His gentle nature and sweet personality always made me curious about his love of the hunt. Then one day, he told me that after he kills a deer, he wears, for that day, a cross of its blood on his forehead. My first, and only, meal of venison was with him.

The Greek goddess, Artemis, is considered the goddess of the Hunt, yet she is also considered the goddess of Childbirth and protector of the young.

There’s a lot to think about.

(Artwork in photo by Michael May)

Death and D[en]ying

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

We are a death-denying society. We don’t like to talk about it or even think much about it. Yet, we all know that death is an important part of life. Indeed, nature has a plan that includes birth, death and rebirth in equal parts. It takes a great understanding and more than what our culture can offer for us to reach this kind of faith and acceptance in the process.

My cat, Jazz, died on Saturday. He was old in cat years – 14 – yet showed no current signs of sickness. He heart just gave out. Within my sadness was the relief that he did not have prolonged suffering. There are few ways that the death of a pet can compare to that of a human loved one, yet it confronted me, once again, with the strange ways that we handle – or mishandle – death in this society.

I recently watched, “Darjeeling Limited”, a covertly thought-provoking movie and I was moved by a scene where a father prepared his son’s body for a cremation ceremony. This struck me because modern societies have moved so far away from any nature-based rituals concerning death. Instead, we send bodies to be embalmed and dressed by strangers, covering them with make-up and put into fortress-like caskets before we bury them in the ground.

Associate Professor of religion and women’s studies at Skidmore College, Mary Zeiss Stange, speaks about death in Sierra Magazine, “Our culture has a kind of schizophrenic relationship with death and dying. On the one hand, we are obsessed with youth – fearful and shocked by any idea of aging. In old age, we choose a drug and technology-filled existence over quality of life. On the other hand, we are literally and figuratively numbed and indifferent to the images of violent death we watch daily in tv and movies.

I have hope that the wave of awareness of nature washing over the world will include new and/or old ways to help us acknowledge and handle aging and death. For I believe it holds more clues about life.

For more on aging and death, try this.

Cattle Call – cows good for the planet

Monday, March 10th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Stay with me here. I know what you’re thinking. After all, I became a vegetarian and then vegan at the age of 16 and I did it for the animals and for the planet. Following a lot of personal research, I returned to eating dairy and eggs after moving to Carrboro, where I was introduced first-hand to the natural and humane practices at local farms. I saw chickens completely free to roam (and in fact, hanging out on the farm-house porch), as well as contented cows and goats grazing in spacious pastures.

But could I eat meat again? I wasn’t completely sure. What about the land and the resources used to raise grazing animals? I’ve read about the carbon footprint created in this industry and the release of methane – a potent green-house gas. I needed to know more.

It turns out I didn’t have to look farther than my local Independent news source. Reporter, Suzanne Nelson does her homework and then goes directly to the source – the farmers – to give us the whole story. In fact, there is so much enlightening information, I encourage you to read the entire article here.

The bottom line turns out to be that animals grazing on small farms in fact keeps soils rich in nutrients and allows for the aerobic decomposition of manure, preventing the release of much methane into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the vast majority of cattle are raised in feedlots or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), which, besides being inhumane, is proven to be an environmental disaster in every way.

Here’s a couple of excerpts and only a few of the fascinating facts of raising our animals in humane and environmentally sane ways. Read more!

Rich, fertile soil contains large quantities of carbon. Poor soils contain very little. So grazing cows on depleted soils not only makes the land more fertile, in the porcess it traps carbon. Happily for climate stability, the process of making soils rich in organic matter, and thus carbon, can be accomplished relatively quickly. And the catalyst is the presence of ruminants.

Yet by far the most abundant contributor to nitrous oxide emissions [300 times as potent as methane in terms of greenhouse gas] is “agricultural soil management,” according to the EPA. And here again, feedlot animal operations – and the chemical fertilizers used to grow crops when cows are taken off small farms – are directly connected.

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