Thursday, 14 November 2013

Saving the Deer of Invermere

By Barry Kent MacKay
Director, Animal Alliance of Canada
Canadian Representative, Born Free USA

Part 1: There's No Paradise on Earth, but...

Published 11/13/13

When I drove into Invermere, population near 4,000, in the Columbia River Valley of the interior of British Columbia, I was both enchanted and worried. Animals totally fascinate me (and that includes human animals, as I’ll discuss in a future blog) and I greatly enjoy seeing them, drawing and painting them (I am a wildlife artist, too), photographing them, interacting with them, and being in their presence. It’s just the way I am; not everyone is like that. We’re all different. Diversity itself is as natural as a beaver’s dam, a robin’s song, or the wide-eyed, innocent expression of a baby screech-owl.

But, of course, the beaver’s dam may flood a roadway; the robin’s song may awaken an exhausted shift-worker; and there could be a trace of blood and fur or feathers on the beak of the baby owl. I get that.

Still, what I saw in Invermere was a community that I could envy, where a dusky grouse strode boldly up to us, where a pileated woodpecker met us near the door of a home we visited, and where mule deer wandered on lawns, in parks, and on sidewalks, even crossing roads.

We tend to think that wild animals “should” be afraid of us—should flee—and deer usually do, unless left alone. These deer were different (although not unlike mule deer I’ve seen in California). Indeed, I met my first mule deer when I was six years of age. She walked up to me at Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles, reached down, and chomped off the top half of the banana I was eating. Was I terrified? Nope. I ate the second half. But that’s me. I have touched a wild beluga whale, have had chickadees alight on my shoulder, and have had foxes, who have never met a human, trot up to give me a sniff. Animals fear us, but not necessarily instinctively; we give them ample reason.

I was in Invermere with my Toronto-based colleague, Liz White, to help support a “no” vote in a referendum that asked Invermere’s residents if the town’s deer should be baited to enter a large, square frame, where they would be trapped until men arrived to collapse the trap around them, holding the panicked, struggling animals down. Then, a metal bolt would be driven into their brains, sometimes after many botched tries—ultimately rendering them unconscious so that they could be bled from the back of a truck into a pail, until dead. (That’s not how the ballet was worded; it just asked if the deer should be culled.) Doing that would, citizens were told, prevent the things about deer that concerned them.

We tried to expose the truth, which is hard to do with a population that’s unaware of wildlife population dynamics, with both real and imagined concerns about the deer. With our colleagues, local citizens banded together as the Invermere Deer Protection Society (IDPS). We methodically canvased every part of town (about 1,000 houses), speaking to approximately 300 people about why culling does not work. It seemed that the majority of people supported us. But, when the vote was held on November 2, only 26% agreed with us and voted “no.”

Do we stop there? No. As I will explain in a future blog, the canvasing reinforced formal studies in why people act illogically. Based on figures from the cull in Cranbrook (see here and here), it’ll cost the good folks of Invermere more than $600 per deer removed, with, as I suspect they will discover, no significant improvement.

Luckily, the referendum is not binding. So, we have something to build on: a means to show a less costly and more effective suite of options. The night of the poll, we were already planning for the work ahead—and, by the next morning, we had already met with IDPS members to strategize.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Merlin Andrew: 1915 – 2013

By:  Barry Kent MacKay, Director

It was wartime, during the Blitz, and each morning the young woman would find a flower on her pillow, left there by Oscar, thereafter always referred to by her as “the love of my life”.  She drove an ambulance, as did he, different shifts, both dedicated to saving others.   Oscar did not survive the Blitz and died in the streets of London.  Merlin did survive the war to lead a life rich in experience.   She died October 19, 2013.

In 1945, Merlin Andrew was the first civilian liberator at Bergen-Belsen, in Germany.  It had originally been built as a prisoner-of-war camp but in 1943 it became a Nazi concentration camp where some 50,000 prisoners died, mostly from typhus that ravaged the camp just before Merlin’s arrival on the heels of the British 11th Armoured Division.

Following the war Merlin headed for South Africa, where she sank everything into a new enterprise: growing oranges.   Alas, the enterprise failed and she lost everything.  Always resilient, Merlin spent a very miserable year working under terrible conditions at a restaurant, earning enough of a nest egg to allow her to return to England.  She spent some time in India, working with Mother Teresa.  But she thought the nun put appearances ahead of efficacy by maintaining an unnecessary degree of squalor.  In spite of her negative memories of South Africa, and her loyalty to Britain, she decided to immigrate yet again, this time to Canada.

An only child, Merlin was a fearless adventurer who toured all of North America, including Mexico and Alaska, on a scooter, her sole companion a cat.  Merlin never again developed a relationship with men, whom, indeed, she often seemed to hold in fairly low regard.   Her intimate relationships were, thereafter, always lesbian.   Oscar had been the only man she ever loved.

She was a dedicated worker, politically on the left, mostly, but also fond of British pomp and tradition.  She worked as a proof reader for The Toronto Star.  She later boasted, “There were never any mistakes while I was there!”  Her love of animals led her to found a grassroots group of animal protectionists, Action Volunteers for Animals, at a time when an extremely hostile strike, complete with a mysterious car-bombing, was underway at the Toronto Humane Society.   She and her band of volunteers would cross the picket line to feed and clean the animals.

At one point she owned a horse, boarded out as she was very much an urbanite.   She was often seen driving about town, as well as far from the city, on her scooter, a figure small of stature, helmet and goggles in place.  She was particularly passionate about cats, rescued many stray pets, and was a regular at the Toronto Humane Society.  There she was most effective as a critic, known for her booming voice, formidable vocabulary and sonorously delivered sarcasms needing no microphone to be heard from the floor at countless meetings.  When, in the mid-1980s, she joined the Society’s board, she would still complain about “them”, the decision-makers, until it was explained that she was now one of “them”.

Known to everyone in the Toronto region who helped animals, the rest of Toronto got to know her a little when, a couple of years ago, CBC radio featured her talking quietly, eloquently as usual, about how the elderly were so invisible to so many, their life experiences counting for so little.   She emphasized her love of animals and her dedication to their welfare.  Many listeners requested that she be made a regular feature.

Merlin lived in a small house near the Don Jail, close to the Don Valley, with various rescued cats and kittens.  She remained a pillar of the city’s animal protection community until the end.  Always tough, when she broke her arm a few years ago, she demanded a stiff Scotch, first, but then, at the hospital, refused morphine.  Recently she suffered a broken hip and mild stroke, and again refused the morphine.   She fought against hospitalization and died after only two days in palliative care.

Many of us, even when on her side, tasted at least the odd splinter of her sarcastic scorn, but no one who had the privilege of knowing her doubted her dedication to the animals, especially the cats and kittens, she so loved.

Monday, 16 September 2013

To Kill a Dove

By Barry Kent MacKay
Director, Animal Alliance of Canada
Canadian Representative, Born Free USA

This blog is not about Syria or foreign policy, but the subject I am about to discuss did arise in early September, 2013, just as world leaders debated the appropriate response to the images of citizens dying from gas attacks in or near Damascus.  Luridly horrific descriptions of how sarin gas kills, filled newscasts. A “red line” had been crossed, and the Canadian government was agitating for a military response, as were
other countries, while still others demurred, out of fear of the situation and still more innocents dying in subsequent retaliatory warfare.   Some argued that anti-government rebels used the gas to discredit the government.  Other wondered why this kind of death, however ghastly, was so significantly different from the previous deaths of equally innocent children, women and men by “conventional” weapons any less deserving our condemnation and intervention?

And throughout the debate I wondered, how could we, any member of my own species, do such things?

And at the same time, September 8, news surfaced of the inquest into the death, 11 years ago, of Jeffrey Baldwin, aged five.  He was systematically starved and beaten, and, at the time of his death he weighed 21 pounds, one pound less than he weighed on his first birthday.  His grandparents…grandparents!...were charged.

How could we, members of our species, do such things?

I have, over the last few years, read many books and scientific papers that reference scholarly efforts to determine the source, the cause, of our inhumanity, but when we see innocents abused, the reaction is emotional.    And ever since childhood, especially in childhood, I have been told (and taught) “don’t be emotional”.

But I am; we all are, although obviously different in what we are emotional about.

I know from experience that I’ll be castigated for daring to do what I am about to do, but I don’t give a damn.   What I am about to do is compare what I have written with something else that happened in early September; the federal and Ontario provincial governments – meaning Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, calmly decided to open a hunt for Mourning Doves in southwestern Ontario.

© Carol L. Edwards Photography
Of course there will invariably be those who snort that I’m putting animals ahead of people – an accusation animal protectionists frequently hear from the small-minded types who can’t conceive of enough compassion to go around.  Look, both children and doves are innocent and harmless, and both are capable of suffering.   Doves can live at most only a couple of decades…most die much sooner, and yes, they never develop the cognitive ability that makes us humans so proud of ourselves.   No dove will ever create great art, pen profound thoughts, develop a scientific theory or contribute to a just cause.  No dove will drop bombs, or sarin gas canisters, either, or trigger mass extinction or beat and starve little tots.

I get all that; honest.  But why should they therefore suffer or be killed for, what, sport?   Why should their lives be ended?   Why should they suffer?

Most of us don’t really want them to.   To us they are a garden bird, a familiar visitor to bird feeders whose gentle cooing in late March or early April is a placid portent of spring.  Occasionally they will nest in the yard, and often do so precariously, making a frail little platform of twigs where they lay two eggs, rarely more, and sometimes only one.   Because they nest from April to September, some will be nesting, with dependent young, while gunners legally search them out.

© Carol L. Edwards Photography
Mourning Doves eat weed seeds and other vegetal matter, and, in the nesting season, snails (the shells of snails provide the calcium used in forming their eggs), making them ecologically friendly friends of the gardener and the farmer, one might think.   They please us with their gentle beauty and many of us enjoy their softly modulated cooing and are delighted at the way the courting male puffs his neck out and bows in front of his lady, mating for life, which, for a dove, tends to be short, thanks to us.   So even those “masters of the universe” who think animals should only be valued to the degree they serve our needs, would, you would think, treasure these birds as the rest of us do.

Even if you think it is okay to kill them, given that they will eventually die (an odd viewpoint that I would not apply to anyone, but I’ve heard that argument made – kill it now so it won’t get a disease or be caught by a predator and suffer later) it is in the nature of dove shooting that many will be wounded.   They fly fast and shotguns fire handfuls of small, round pellets that spread out in a “pattern”, losing velocity and becoming ever more broadly spaced as they leave the gun’s barrel.   Ammunition manufacturers’ experiments show that on average, if six or more pellets hit a bird, it will likely be enough to kill or severely wound it.

Hunters prefer that the pellets are made of lead, a highly toxic substance whose weight increases the ballistic qualities of the pellets, giving them greater penetrating ability.   Now non-lead shot must be used, which, hunters claim, will increase wounding, but is not highly toxic.  Even now, years after lead shot was banned for waterfowl hunting, ducks, geese and swans still die horribly from lead poisoning when they mistake the pellets for gravel, called “grit”, which they swallow to aid digestion.

But why not our alternative…the one that you, I, and the vast majority of Ontarians choose: just don’t hunt them at all?   That way we don’t have to worry about increased wounding vs the horrors of lead poisoning, and guess what?   We haven’t had a legal Mourning Dove hunt since 1955, when such a hunt was held for one year and stopped in response to public opposition.   We don’t need one now.    The amount of meat on a dove’s breast, the part that is eaten by hunters, equals about half a wiener.   It’s not worth the shot gun shells needed to kill the birds.

Yes, yes, I understand what the pro-hunt people are saying…that there are enough doves around that those kinds of people who like to kill things can do so without wiping them out.  That applies to American Robins and Blue Jays, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Savannah Sparrows.   Is that the only concern?   If there is enough to kill, we should kill?   Surely we can do better.

And of course we should not forget that they said the same thing of the only other species of dove native to Ontario, at the time the most common of all our birds, the Passenger Pigeon.   Even so, they don’t make that argument any more about it, since it has been extinct for 99 years.  The last one known and documented, named Martha, dies in Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.   But the Passenger Pigeon lived in a time when we didn’t know better, and when cruel practices against people and animals abounded.    Do we not progress?

We do, and that could be why the gentle doves, symbols of peace in part because they are so utterly harmless, are now killed.   Too few hunters.   In Ontario sport hunters are in decline.   As Scott Petrie, Executive Director of Long Point Waterfowl and a staunch proponent of killing doves, has been quoted as saying, it will be good for young hunters.  “Because we have so many,” he said, referring to doves, “it’s a good opportunity for them to get out and shoot and practice their skills.”

And that brings me back to the reading I mentioned at the beginning…why are we cruel?   Part of it is through the mechanism of teaching.   Show me a boy who hunts and the statistical odds are that his father and grandfather hunted as well.    Hunters are dwindling…they like to kill and they want more to do so.  Usually they mount some arguments to justify the killing…the species is “too common”, or it is dangerous or that there is some conservation need, or at least for food.   But no…this little creature, the Mourning Dove, is to be killed for practice…practice in killing.   Don’t these people ever read the papers?   Are we not good enough at killing?

And it is that tiny minority who feels that way who have convinced the Harper government, in charge of Mourning Doves, that we need to teach kids to kill, to be better killers.   This tiny minority hopes we don’t notice or care…and why should we in a world full of horrors…the terrible things we do to each other are so ghastly and horrific; those are what should occupy us.  Ah, but stopping the dove hunt, is something we have done before.  I was just a little kid at the time…now it’s my turn, and yours, to do what we can do to reverse this stupid, ugly and cruel decision.

If you agree, write to:  

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Phone:  1-800-62206232
TTY: 1-800-465-7735
Fax: 613 941-6900


And to:

Premier Kathleen Wynne
Legislative Building
Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Phone:  416 325 1941
TTY: 1-800-387-5559
Fax:  416 325 9895


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Call for Canvassers for the Toronto Street Cats "Regent Park Project"

Animal Alliance is part of the Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition, along with nine other groups, including Toronto Street Cats.

We've been working like stink over the past year to help the cats in Regent Park.  We're making progress but we need some help.

Please see below, from Vanessa of Toronto Street Cats.

Thank you to all of you who helped out with the last Toronto Street Cats clinic - your hard work has contributed to another positive outcome.

We are preparing for the upcoming clinic on March 13th and we are seeking people to canvass in the Regent Park community. In order to increase the number of participating cats, we really need your help. This week is supposed to be milder in terms of weather so it will be a great chance to head out and talk to people. 

Canvassing is done within the boundaries of the Regent Park community. Teams of two go out to assigned area residences and speak to community members about the project and guide interested caregivers through the registration process. Canvassing is typically done during the day, the week leading up to the clinic day and the times are flexible. Canvassing materials are available at the Toronto Street Cats space housed in the Toronto Humane Society where Bill will meet with you for a brief review on the process and answer any that questions you may have. 

Talking to people about the project is a very rewarding experience and because the clinic services are free, people are generally very open to having a conversation. Canvassing is an essential part of the project and we would so appreciate as much help as we can get to ensure we reach our goal of helping 600 cats overall.

If you are interested in volunteering for canvassing, please email me your availability and we will be in touch shortly with more information about when and where to go. Canvassing is an vital component to the success of the clinics and any time you can dedicate to this task is deeply appreciated.

Also, please note: there will be a Toronto Street Cats volunteer orientation happening this coming Sunday, March 10 at 12pm at the Toronto Humane Society. This is a great opportunity to come together to learn more about the project, meet other volunteers and get answers to  your questions. Please RSVP if you would like to attend - bring a friend, everyone is welcome.

Thank you again for your dedication and support - we couldn't do it without you.

Warmest regards,

Vanessa Rich

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Please help Vernon residents secure a ban on the sale of live animals in pet stores

Many dogs sold in Canadian pet stores are brought into Canada through dog brokers in the United States.  Dogs bred and acquired through these brokers often suffer terrible neglect.  The same conditions can be found in many Canadian puppy mills.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Three municipalities in Canada have banned, or severely restricted, the sale of puppies  in pet stores: first was Richmond, BC; then Toronto (which also banned cat sales), followed by Mississauga, ON.
So the City of Vernon, BC, would be in good company should Council decide to restrict pet stores to adoptions through rescue groups and shelters.
Gina, a resident of Vernon made a presentation to Council last week, asking Council to consider a similar ban.

Vernon City Council is meeting again on January 28, 2013 to examine the impact such a decision would have on the City’s existing bylaws.

Your voice would be much appreciated.  Please phone or send a polite letter or email to Council (an example is below), urging them to take this important step forward – a complete ban on the sale of all live animals.  Let them know that you believe animals should be adopted only through rescue groups and shelters, not purchased in a store like a widget.
If you’d like to see Gina’s submission to Council, check out page 39 – 48 via this link:
Thank you for speaking out for the animals!
Lia and the AAC crew

Contact Info for the City of Vernon

City Hall: 8:30 am – 4:30pm, Monday to Friday
3400 30th Street
Vernon, BC
V1T 5E6
Fax: 250-545-7876
Mayor Robert Sawatzky
Patrick Nicol:
Cell: 250-550-6823
Juliette Cunningham:
Cell: 250-309-2432
Catherine Lord:
Cell: 250-309-1685
Bob Spiers :
Brian Quiring:
Cell: 250-309-2861
Mary-Jo O’Keefe :
Cell: 250-540-0634
Dear Mayor and Members of Council,

I write to express my support for the creation of a bylaw in the City of Vernon that will ban the retail sale of live animals on all commercial and public properties.  I strongly urge you take steps to make this issue a priority and make this bylaw a reality.
- To remove an outlet of puppy mill (or kitten factory) sales and curb impulse pet purchases, both of which play significant roles in pet overpopulation; after all, hundreds of pets are euthanized each year in our city alone simply because they are “unwanted”.
- To combat the perception that companion animals are commodities, promoting the responsible procurement and ownership of pets.
- Vernon would not be the first: Richmond, BC’s ban took effect April 2011, and in September 2011 Toronto’s bylaw passed unanimously.  In the United States, more than a dozen cities already have retail pet sale bans in place, including Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas.  In April 2012, the city of Los Angeles passed a ban on the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits. Laguna Beach, CA followed on May 2, 2012 with a ban on the retail sale of dogs and cats.


Retail pet sale bans have been shown to contribute to an increase in pet adoptions and a decrease in the euthanization of unwanted pets – two improvements that will directly financially benefit our city’s Animal & Bylaw Services, as well as help ease the burden of the several local rescue agencies that routinely find themselves at capacity.
Retail Pet Sales
The commercial sale of pets is not permitted by breeding organizations such as the Canadian Kennel Club, which explicitly prohibits their members from providing puppies to stores, auctions, or other retail outlets.  Therefore, the question remains: if not from members of established breeding clubs, where do retail stores get their animals? 
The point of the bylaw is not to limit one’s ability to obtain a pet, nor to handicap retailers (several pet retailers have been very successful not selling pets), but rather to improve the way residents think and act with respect to pet ownership and care.  Greater visibility of adoptable pets, together with education, benefits both Vernon pets and their owners.  Even with a ban there will still be no shortage of available dogs and cats.
I thank you very much for your consideration of this issue and I look forward to seeing it discussed formally by City Council in the near future.
Best regards,
Name: _____________________________________
Street Address:  ______________________________