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Our Vegan Thanksgiving

Today is the start of Canada’s Thanksgiving long weekend. Every year I look forward to my family coming together for a lovely dinner. For over twenty-five years, our Thanksgiving dinners have been vegetarian. We’ve done a Tofurkey Thanksgiving, a Veggie Lasagna Thanksgiving, and several Indian Thanksgivings. Each time, I’d come away feeling good. Feeling good about being vegetarian. Feeling good that at least one less turkey had been killed. Feeling good about doing my part for animals.

Recently I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy. My daughter had been suggesting we watch it for quite a while. All too quickly I realized there was A LOT more I could do to help animals.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, I hope you will. It’s about the damage the agricultural industry has on the environment. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Methane is more destructive to the environment than CO2
  • 2500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1lb of beef
  • 1000 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 gallon of milk
  • 900 gallons of water are needed to produce 1lb of cheese
  • Livestock covers 45% of the Earth’s total land
  • More than 6 MILLION animals are killed EVERY HOUR for food
  • AND THIS ONE: ANIMAL AGRICULTURE is the LEADING CAUSE of SPECIES EXTINCTION, WATER POLLUTION, and HABITAT DESTRUCTION.

I know some of you will read this and discount it as animal activist propaganda. Others will read it, feel bad, and then do nothing. But I’m hoping some of you will see this is an opportunity—A chance to make a difference.

I always thought by being vegetarian I was helping animals. And I still believe I am. But I can do more. My daughter who was one of the pickiest eaters as a child—nothing green could even remotely touch her plate, has been a vegan for several years. She gave up foods she loved (cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, cookie-dough ice-cream, cupcakes, and so many other treats) for the animals she loves even more.

My daughter is my inspiration, my role model. Attaining her level of commitment to helping animals is a high bar, one that will take me time to achieve . . . if I ever can. But what I can do is start small. I’m going to start by being vegan twice a week. And then every month, I’ll add a day. By the time it’s Christmas, I should be vegan five days out of seven. I know there will be slip-ups. Days I will fall short. Days I will be weak. I’m going to allow myself those setbacks, hoping in time, they will become fewer and fewer.

When I first became a vegetarian, I would picture cows and pigs being shipped off to slaughter. Imagine their fear as they were herded off the trucks. This was more than enough to stop me from eating a hamburger.

Now when I think about having a cheese pizza or buttered popcorn, I’ll picture the calf of a dairy cow being whisked away from its mom and sent to slaughter. I’ll picture all the habitats being destroyed to raise dairy cows. I’ll picture my daughter happily enjoying a veggie burger instead of a bowl of macaroni and cheese. And hopefully that will be enough to stop me from indulging.

So this year will be our first ever entirely VEGAN Thanksgiving dinner. And I can’t wait.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Almost every day we are bombarded by news of the atrocities humans inflict on each other and animals. It’s easy to get upset about these horrors, talk about them at work or with friends, and share our views on social media. What’s hard is to actually move from that state of ineffective venting to effecting positive change.

Sometimes the problems seem so large and overwhelming, it’s difficult to believe we can do anything to help. But as many strong individuals have shown us, it is possible.

Fetch & Releash is a great example of people coming together to make a positive difference in the lives of homeless and abandoned dogs. Founded in April of 2016, this rescue organization has already taken in 50 dogs (35 from a high kill shelter in the United States) and found loving homes for over 40. All that in a little over four months!

It’s not a huge organization. It’s five amazingly devoted people who volunteer to help dogs in need. As Trish, one of the founders of Fetch & Releash said, “Sleep, food, time with loved ones all take a backseat while we work long and hard to support these dogs that need us so desperately.”

It’s definitely not easy. According to adoption manager, Kristen, “Some days we thought . . .  how are we going to do this? But we pulled together and we did it.”

That’s the key, reaching out to other like minded people who are committed to the same cause you are. So on those days when giving up seems like the only option left, you have someone there to remind you why you got involved in the first place.

And there’s always the joy of seeing the good come out of all your hard work, to carry you through the tough days.

“On the days when we felt most exhausted and overwhelmed, the universe somehow conspired to pick us back up again. It was always THOSE days that we would receive a heartwarming message from an adopter thanking us for giving them the chance to save a life or a photo of a dog in their new home. And our energy was renewed for yet another day.”

And so far, all their adoptions have been successful. The key, according to Kristen is two-fold. First of all, they put in a lot of work up front to ensure they are matching the right dog to the right family.They make sure the potential adopter knows the realities of dog ownership and is prepared to make a life long commitment.  And second, their support does not end once the dog has been adopted. The folks at Fetch & Releash are always willing to help with any issues that arise. According to Trish, one of the most common reasons someone surrenders their pet is due to behavioural issues. As such, Fetch & Releash has partnered with a dog trainer and offers six complimentary training sessions for their adopters.

One of Trish’s favourite success stories is Joey. He was recently adopted by a family who recognized his “gentle temperament and passion for spreading love”. They plan to enrol Joey in the St. Johns Ambulance program to become a therapy dog. Trish said that “knowing Joey will be giving love to people who truly need a reason to smile makes us SUPER PROUD.”

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Joey!

I asked them how they deal with the reality of not being able to save them all.

Kristen said it’s “especially hard” on their intake manager who “receives emails daily from shelters across North America begging for our help. There are usually photos of dogs looking sad and desperate.” But Kristen knows they can’t over commit beyond their capacity to find volunteers to foster the dogs until a permanent home can be found.

How can you help Fetch & Releash?

  1. Consider becoming a foster parent to a dog in need. Fetch & Releash can only rescue as many dogs as they have foster homes. They provide the foster with all the supplies and support they need. The foster provides the love and shelter for the dog.
  2. Spread the word about Fetch & Releash and their wonderful adoptable dogs.
  3. Fundraise for them
  4. Donate

On a personal note, Fetch & Releash brought us our newest family member, Poppy. I was impressed by their extensive screening process. We completed a detailed questionnaire, they contacted two references and our veterinarian, AND they did a home visit to see for themselves that Poppy was loved and doing well. Also, they still make themselves available to answer any questions we have. This is invaluable. Adopting a dog can be stressful and having the support and experience of Fetch & Releash makes it a lot easier.

Seeing Poppy’s picture on their Facebook page with the caption “Poppy’s been adopted!” was beyond wonderful. Fetch & Releash has effected a positive change for our family and I will always be grateful for that.

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For more information on this amazing organization and the adorable dogs waiting for a loving home, check out their website.

http://www.fetchandreleash.ca/

 

Are You Pet Worthy?

I’m a little late with this blog post, but I have a good reason (well, at least I think so). We adopted a six-month old puppy. Earlier this year, we had to say goodbye to both our beloved Billy and Cassie. Billy would have been fourteen on July 11th and Cassie fifteen on June 5th. Not only was this loss devastating to the humans in our family, it was very hard on our dog Jakey. He missed his siblings and was lost without them.

So now we have Poppy, and she is just what Jakey and the rest of us needed. But with all the wonder and fun and joy she brings into our lives, she also brings a whole lot of work, chaos, and stress.

Pets are wonderful. They’re our bedside buddies when we’re sick, our running buddies, our relax and watch tv buddies, our exuberant greeters when we come home, our truest friends in dark times, our enthusiastic cheerleaders in happy times, and so much more.

But how many of us are truly worthy of such devotion? Based on the number of pets abandoned every single day, I think very few.

Poppy was rescued from a high kill shelter and there are still many Poppys out there waiting. Waiting for someone to love, but sadly, many are waiting to die.

I  believe we usually have the best intentions when we bring a pet home, but what many of us don’t realize is that these cute adorable beings are work. They will chew the legs of our antique coffee table. They will pee and poop on our very expensive carpet. They will wake us up in the middle of the night with their cries. They will leap up and bite holes in our new sweater. They will bark at our visitors. They will shed all over our pristine sofa. They will take away our freedom to stay out for hours and hours, because not only do they need to be let out to go pee and poop, but they need us—our company. AND they’re not cheap. Food, toys, vet bills- not just regular vaccines, but the unexpected costs of tests and surgery.

Every day, someone makes a decision to bring home a pet, but that same day, so many more decide to abandon theirs. And there are a slew of ‘reasons’.

“She peed on my carpet.”

“We’re too busy with the new baby.”

“I’m not paying that much for a sick dog.”

“We’re moving and the condo won’t take pets.”

“He growled at the kid next door.”

“She was cute when she was little, but now she’s so big.”

Yes, these are all true. Pets pee on rugs, a new baby makes life crazy, veterinary care costs money, people move, dogs growl, and pets get bigger.

But these are things we need to think about BEFORE we bring an animal into our life.

If carpets, floors, furniture . . . basically stuff, means a lot to you—then don’t get a pet.

If you’re thinking you may eventually have a baby and can’t think of your pet as your first baby—then don’t get a pet.

If you’re unwilling or unable to afford proper veterinary care—then don’t get a pet.

If you don’t think you’d be willing to ensure any place you live allows all of your family to live there too, including your pets—then don’t get a pet.

If you’re unwilling or don’t have the time to train your pet and work on behavioural issues—then don’t get a pet.

If you can’t commit to love and take care of your pet for their entire lives  (anywhere from ten-?? years)—then don’t get a pet.

Yes, pets bring so much joy into our lives. For me, home doesn’t feel like home unless there are animals in it. Of course I still get frustrated with them, just as I do with my human children and husband for that matter. But just as I would never abandon my children or my husband, I would never turn my back on my pets. They are family.

People often say pets offer unconditional love. I disagree. There should be conditions to that love. We must promise to take care of them for the rest of their lives and not quit when there’s a rough patch, because there will be rough patches.

So I ask . . .  Are you pet worthy?

 

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Jakey and Poppy!

 

 

A Challenge

I’m putting out a challenge and I hope you’ll accept it. Come back in time with me. Back to the early 1970’s. What’s so great about this era, you might be wondering? Well, there was the music. Hits like Bridge Over Troubled Water, Let It Be, and I’ll Be There, just to name a few. And TV shows, such as All In The Family and MASH. But there was something else. NO PLASTIC SHOPPING BAGS!

Plastic shopping bags were first introduced in the 1970’s. Almost fifty years ago. Yes, that’s a long time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop using them. I’m not always oozing with optimism that people will make changes in their lives to help animals. But I do think people can stop using plastic shopping bags! And here’s why.

It’s really not that hard. It’s not a huge lifestyle change like becoming vegan (though, how great would that be if we could all go vegan once or twice a week!)

I admit, I often forget to grab my stack of re-usable bags when I go shopping. It’s only when the cashier asks, “Do you want a plastic bag?” that I remember my collection in the trunk of my car.

So what do you do? I imagine most of us would just take the plastic bag. It’s the easiest way to go. We’re all rushing around. Always late. And having to ask the cashier to set our paid stuff aside while we go ALL the way back to the car and get the bags, and then go ALL the way back to the store for our purchases, is not very convenient. But I do think we’d eventually remember to bring our re-usable bags, just like we remember our purses, wallet, phones, and keys.

There’s also the issue of keeping the bags clean. Yup, we’d have to wash them. But really, how much of a hardship is that? We wash our clothes. We could easily do a load of our re-usable bags as needed.

Because at the end of the day, I think the slight inconvenience of having to go back to the car to get my re-usable bags, and having to wash them, is worth it if it means saving animals.

Plastic bags are flimsy. They are easily carried away by wind and often end up in the water. There, they pose a terrible threat to marine life.

Plastic bags look very similar to jelly fish, which is a favourite meal for turtles. Once ingested, the plastic cannot be digested or passed by an animal, so it remains in their gut and can lead to a very slow and painful death.

So, I’m asking all of you to stop adding to your stash of plastic grocery bags. I’m going to try. From today on, I’m going to make an effort to only use my re-usable bags. For my garbage, I’m going to buy compostable bags- the same ones I use for the green bin.

I hope you join me and if you do, I’d love to hear about your progress. I really believe this is something we can all do that would make a huge difference in helping animals.

 

 

Trophy Hunting

It has been almost one year since Cecil, the beautiful male African lion, was killed by a trophy hunter. Cecil was not the first or last animal to be slaughtered for their head, skin, tusks, or horns. But his tragic death raised awareness about the horrific existence of trophy hunting.

I, along with many across the world, was outraged. We are good at that—expressing outrage, but then what? The posts of anger eventually subsided, as we moved on to something else. Sadly for the animals who are killed every single day, outrage is not enough.

There were some positive changes:

  • Two subspecies of the lion were added to the US endangered species list, making it difficult (though not impossible) for US citizens to kill those lions.
  • Some airlines banned the transport of hunting trophies from the so-called ‘African big five species’: African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and White/Black Rhinoceros.
  • France and The Netherlands banned the import of lion trophies.
  • Widespread awareness of the disgusting ‘sport’ of trophy hunting.

But will it actually do anything to protect animals from being hunted? My family and I just returned from a holiday to South Africa. In the airport, I was appalled to hear two men loudly discussing their plans to kill a wildebeest. Though they were really hoping to kill an elephant. And then a few minutes later, one of them was skyping with his child. What kind of values is this man passing on to his children?

During our holiday, we had the privilege of seeing many beautiful animals on safari. Families of animals feeding, lounging, and taking care of each other. I always thought if someone actually saw these amazing animals in the wild, saw them bonding with their young, they would understand that these animals care for each other like we care for our families. I hoped that once people witnessed the love and affection the animals had for each other, they wouldn’t be able to kill them. I was wrong.

At dinner one night, a man (who had just returned from safari) said he was looking forward to buying a zebra skin to take home. Really? Even after seeing zebras in the wild with their young, seeing them protect each other, seeing them care for each other, the idiot sitting next to me still wanted to ‘decorate’ his home with dead animals. What about decorating his home with beautiful photos of the animals instead?

Another point that is often given by hunting advocates in support of trophy hunting is that it actually helps the species. This to me is outrageous. If they really want to help the species, why not simply donate the money to conservation efforts? Why do they need to slaughter an animal for a souvenir?

While on safari, we came across a team of anti-poachers. Though their intentions are well placed, I wondered how successful they would be in protecting the animals. They weren’t armed with those massive rifles the poachers have. And there weren’t very many of them. The team we saw was made up of three people. It must be hard to encourage people to protect animals when they are likely paid more to help poachers or hunters track the animals. Unfortunately, it all comes down to money. It’s easy for those of us living far away to condemn the actions of locals who help the hunters and poachers. But we’re not struggling to feed our families.

Education must be a priority. The community must be shown that preserving the animals is also good for their own preservation. I read one article that said the hunter who killed Cecil reportedly paid US$50,000 for the permit, guide, etc. But the drop in tourism revenues in Zimbabwe, subsequent to the killing was greater than the money generated from the hunt.

Then there is the argument (people always have an endless array of arguments to kill animals) that hunting is necessary to control populations. In my opinion, it’s not an issue of overpopulation of animals, but an overpopulation of humans expanding into the animals home. Instead of culling animals, maybe it’s time to look at controlling the human population. I can almost hear the fallout from that comment. And that’s because of the fundamental belief most people have that human life is worth more than an animal’s life.

As long as we hold on to that belief, I fear there is little hope for the animals we are meant to share this planet with.

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African Lion

July 2, 2016 is World Heritage Species Day. What lasting changes will you make to ensure the survival of all species?