Category Archives: idiocy

470,000 Die, Receive Brief Mention In Local Paper

Just a little something I noticed today….

An egg farm near Roggen, Colorado, owned by Boulder Valley Poultry, burned to the ground on April 30.  The extremely brief article (which matches other, extremely brief articles in other papers) declares the event an accident, and winds up by reassuring consumers that their supply of eggs is unlikely to be affected.

Oh, yeah, and 470,000 hens died.  In two barns.

What an interesting, unremarked, casual aside.  These aren’t unbelievably huge buildings.  235,000 chickens in each one?  To give each chicken one square foot of floor space in an open-floor plan (an extremely minimal investment), the barns would need to be 100 ft x 2,350 ft (almost half a mile long).  How densely were these chickens packed?

Also, “many local producers have agreed to step up production”.  How do you do that, I wonder?

Horrible but Responsible

Foal photo by Taliesin, morguefile.comI read with mixed feelings an article from the Toronto Sun (which appears to be the original source) about the results of a decision ending provincial funding for the area’s harness racing industry.  The article is a tad suspect, because no sources are really named — “a number of sources”, including “an area horseperson, who asked not to be identified”, are quoted as saying “an unknown number” of foals are being euthanized “moments after birth” because breeders are facing an unanticipated, severe economic downturn.

Apparently, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission has decided to stop funding harness racing (and, it appears, other equestrian activities) with a portion of the annual revenue it gets from slot machines.  The Commission will instead be funneling the monies into funding things like hospitals and schools.  The Canadian equine world is not pleased about this, and neither are a lot of people involved in the gaming industry.

Knowing this, the article looks less like “news” and more like a desperate effort to smear those responsible for the shutdown.  I’m interested that they’re not saying, “People are losing jobs!” but “These poor baby horses are being killed!”  This smacks of some media person trying to pull on heartstrings.  It is likely true that someone, somewhere, may be euthanizing some of their herd due to the economic slam.  However, since horse slaughter is legal in Canada, it is much more likely that a breeder finding themselves with extra horses and no money will simply sell the unwanted animals by the pound for slaughter — a much more profitable enterprise than paying a vet for chemical euthanasia and disposal.  Thus I seriously doubt this story — no dates, no names, no sources, no traceable facts — just a lot of people suddenly terrified that the decision is putting people out of a job is funding necessary government programs might result in someone killing baby ponies!

Honestly, if I heard that a breeder was humanely euthanizing their suddenly unwanted foals rather than trying to, say, sell them for slaughter, give them away for free on Craigslist, or just passively neglecting them to death (please don’t make me find links to examples — I assure you there are plenty), I would be amazed that the breeder was taking such responsibility for the animals under their care.  Sure, I’d be happier if they were finding loving homes for the horses, but, in a world of awful realities, there just aren’t enough homes for everybody.  I’d so much rather the breeders took responsibility for making sure the babies under their care never got given to an inappropriate home, sent to slaughter or allowed to slowly starve to death.

The world is really messed up when I read a story (however journalistically dubious) about baby ponies (often accompanied by heart-wrenching photos of adorable, fuzzy baby horses presumably being menaced by this scourge) being euthanized because their owners are threatened by sudden economic crisis, and immediately think, What responsible owners!  Good for them not letting the poor things rot or selling them for meat!

Context is Needed

chimp and tigerThis photograph, from this article (and many others), has been wandering around the net for a bit recently.  The animals are billed as being from the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Bangkok, Thailand.

Okay, this is adorable.  However, please think to look closer:

Look in the background of the pictures.  Look at the big cat cubs kept alone in small dog kennels.  There’s a pair of them playing unsupervised on the floor.  Look at the stacks of cheap dog kennels — does this look like a reputable zoo to you?  How reputable does this photo from their “elephant show” (taken from this web site) look?  Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.com — apparently the primary moneymaker for this facility is selling crocodile skin.  It started life as a crocodile farm and seems to have picked up some random exotics for the extra cash.

Is this what you want to support?  Quit sharing this “cute” picture without the full context.  It encourages people to think you can keep chimps and tigers as pets (hint: bad idea), and it’s generating publicity for a facility which encourages tourists to pose feeding and holding baby exotics (I can only imagine they pay for the privilege), mishandles them in “shows” (more photos here, here, here, and here, and in piles from Google image search), and slaughters crocodiles for leather and meat, as well as encouraging other facilities to do the sameFacilities like this routinely mistreat their animals.  The previous example mentions China, but it happens everywhere, Thailand (and the US) included.  Don’t support this kind of thing.

You like tigers?  Go here and support them.  Love chimps?  Go here and support them.  Put your effort into places that deserve it.  Don’t lend your time or blog space to this facility, unless this is the kind of animal husbandry you wish to support.

Activists’ Surveillance Helicopter Shot Down by Hunters

A while ago I commented on the discovery, by a man flying a model aircraft equipped with a camera, of a “river of blood” behind the Columbia Packing Company, a Dallas, Texas meatpacking plant.  I was interested that the immediate public reaction, in some forums, seemed to be not “What is that river of blood doing there?” but “Wasn’t that photo a violation of the packing company’s privacy rights?”  I felt that that kind of attitude could make it difficult for anyone to document anything — including animal rights violations — which happened to be taking place on private property.

Recently, a South Carolina animal rights group with the acronym S.H.A.R.K. sent a reconnaissance helicopter over a group of hunters who were, on private property (Broxton Bridge Plantation), having a “pigeon (or dove) hunt” (according to them — probably one of these) or a “pigeon shoot” (according to S.H.A.R.K.).  S.H.A.R.K. planned to shoot video of the event.  Of course, the hunters promptly shot down the drone.

Ironically, both the pigeon hunt and the drone launch in this case were apparently perfectly legal.  The shooting of the drone might or might not also be legal, but neither it nor the launching of the helicopter was probably the most enlightened way to make the feuding parties’ respective points.

Colorado Tourists Feel Threatened By Sheepdogs

As someone who used to work extensively with wolves, I have something of a background with, and fondness for, livestock guarding dogs.  These dogs are a primary, generally quite effective, defense for ranchers against local predators, including wolves.  They live and roam with the flock, providing 24 hour protection, at little cost.  The process works via carefully raising dog puppies with the flock, so that the pups become socialized to the sheep — the pups become kind of “honorary sheep” and fiercely defend their adopted “conspecifics”.  This can be protection for both predator and prey.  In Africa, dogs are employed to defend livestock against cheetahs — protecting the stock from the cheetahs, and the cheetahs from the wrath of the livestock owners.

Today I found myself looking at an article which suggests the dogs might be a little too fierce.  The dogs “snarl”, and “on some occasions, chase” tourists around the Molas Pass area in the San Juan National Forest.  I am curious as to how close the tourists are getting — in the wild back country of Colorado, which I recall being a very wide-open place — to the flocks for the dogs to become alarmed.  The dogs generally do not roam far from their flocks and do not usually become aggressive unless they, or the sheep they protect, are directly and closely approached.

In any case, “snarling” and “chasing” things that get too close to the sheep are kind of required behaviors for livestock guarding dogs.  They aren’t trained to be aggressive, but they are not specifically bonded to humans, either.  They are designed to deter the approach of unfamiliar mammals (and that includes humans) to their adopted flock.  Wasn’t that kind of the point?

However, this is just a briefly trending argument between two groups of people (ranchers and tourists) who want to use the same piece of land for two different activities, and it isn’t a particularly new thing (people have been arguing about land use for years and years).  What is most interesting to me is the photo accompanying the article I first saw (which was not the original, source article).  The original, source article has photos of Akbash guard dogs doing what they do 99% of the time — standing in a field, quietly surrounded by sheep.  The article I first saw used a “file photograph” of two dogs fighting to illustrate the exact same story.  Also, contrast the two titles: the original title, “Problem dogs in backcountry?“, and the title of the story with the fighting dog photo, “Fierce sheepdogs alarming tourists in SW Colorado“.

Same article, two entirely different slants — brought about simply by changing the title and the accompanying photo.  Another good reason to always check the source of an article, no matter where it’s published.  (For full disclosure, the photo I used for this post came from this site.)

This is Not How You Make a Point

Arkansas Democratic campaign manager’s cat killed and left for children to find, with political message scrawled on its corpse.

This is not how grown-ups say, “I disagree with your position on the economy.”

This is a chimpanzee threat display.  Pure and simple.  Except, honestly, that chimps are nicer in that they generally use inanimate objects to threaten each other.

This very human tendency for frustration to emerge via the arms when it can’t fit out through the mouth is why I had to wait three years to start working out what I had to say about the treatment of laboratory animals and the current state of the system.  My original expressions of outrage, while I was still open-mouthed and freshly damaged by the experience, might have looked a lot like this — flailing, gibbering, violent — except that I am a grown-up and I don’t argue through violence.  People don’t listen to what you have to say when you are hurting them — they just turn around and hurt you back.  And then it goes on and on, like chimps throwing rocks at one another.  This ultimately decides nothing except which chimp is bigger, and it certainly does not make the losing chimp likely to change its mind and side with the winner — it results in a very angry chimp who starts stockpiling more rocks.

Can’t Spell “Slaughter” Without Doublespeak

Even though it happens all the time, people hate talking about killing animals.  One of their favorite ways of avoiding the topic is to use euphemisms.  Rather than “killing” animals at the slaughterhouse, they “stun” them; rather than “dismembering” them they “render” or “process” them; and animals do not get crippled or maimed in transit to the slaughterhouse — instead they are “downed” — ad nauseam.

With this in mind: a quiet little law has recently been passed which makes it possible for the US to resume horse slaughter operations.  This sounds gruesome but it might be considered to be of net benefit to the horses.  Horse slaughter was originally banned in the US in order to reduce the number of horses slaughtered for meat, but the same number of horses still got slaughtered after the ban — they just got shipped to Mexico or Canada first.  The only effect of the slaughter ban was to add a horrific multi-day transit in un-air-conditioned cattle trucks to the horses’ experience.  So, we still need to do some work to solve the issue of horses in the slaughterhouse — but, in the meantime, at least we removed that awful transit experience.  Progress.

The Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman’s Association wanted to show support for the Arabian Horse Association, which came out in favor of this law — but how to show its support without appearing to say, “Oh, good, we’re killing horses again”?  The APAHA decided to use a tragically awful euphemism:

The Arabian Professional and Amateur Horsemen’s Association voted, with unanimous approval, to thank the AHA Board for continuing your support for the re-opening of the equine terminal marketplace, and to join with the AHA in support of the reinstatement of equine processing in the United States.

George Carlin is rolling over in his grave.  The re-opening of the equine terminal marketplaceEquine terminal marketplace!  What on earth is the equine terminal marketplace?  They’re not going to slaughter — they’re going shopping!

Whether you support the rescinding of the ban or not — aren’t we all mature enough to admit, out loud, that humans kill animals for meat?  How are we supposed to solve the problem if we can’t even admit that it exists?  What was wrong with “We are happy that steps are being taken to reduce the suffering of horses bound for slaughter”?  Honestly, they could have just gone with the last paragraph of the original statement:

There are issues to address, certainly, and many different options available to improve the terminal marketplace, among them mobile slaughter units and live web monitoring of plants. As horsemen, breeders, and horse lovers, we are the ones responsible for dealing with these issues, making sure that the terminal marketplace becomes ever more humane, with a quick and dignified passing, without undue stress, and where the horse can go on to be useful to man after his demise, just as he has been for the last 5000 years.

Baby Steps

from mgessford, via Flickr Creative Commons

I am an animal trainer at heart, and I understand that rewarding companies (with my money) for “baby steps” — tiny movements in the directions I consider “right” — will eventually cause them to take larger steps in those “right” directions.  With that in mind, I gravitate towards things labeled “green”, even if those things are only partly green, or even, as I sometimes find, only faintly greenish.

The pen I bought last night might be the most sideways baby step I’ve seen in a bit.  It annoys me, because the big print (of course) says “BIODEGRADABLE PEN!!  SAVE THE EARTH!  ECO-FRIENDLY!!” and then the tiny print, on the back of the carton, indicates that only “most of” the pen (i.e., the actual body of the pen) is biodegradable.  The ink cartridge, the tip, the spring, and the finger cushion are not biodegradable and go in the trash.  In addition, the “biodegradable” parts of the pen are only biodegradable under certain circumstances.  They will not biodegrade in a landfill — you have to take the pen apart, take the biodegradable bits out and bury them in your yard.

In their defense, the pen company does say on the carton that the pen isn’t all biodegradable.  They even have friendly animations on their web site demonstrating how to disassemble the pen and make sure that the bits which can biodegrade are disposed of appropriately.  (And, of course, if I were really eco-friendly myself, I would have a compost bin to put the pen parts in.  Glass houses, etc.)  In any event, I did actually buy the pen, because it is a baby step in the right direction.  If enough people vote with their wallets, perhaps the company’s next “green” pen will be 70% biodegradable, and their next will be 85% biodegradable.

The whole mess just reminded me of having to look on the back of every product, follow every asterisk, and make sure that “cage free” means “living on grass pasture” and not “packed shoulder to shoulder in an open plan barn”, and that “natural flavors” is not a euphemism for “crushed beetles“.  Sometimes it’s really hard to be earth- and animal-friendly, but, well, we’re all taking baby steps.

Bad Animal Husbandry Has Consequences

Scared Sheepless by Chris Ayers Design

Image from "The Daily Zoo" by Chris Ayers - http://www.chrisayersdesign.com

Two ranch-hands in Wyoming contracted Campylobacter jejuni infections via castrating lambs with their teeth.

I’m sure that, with some effort, they could have found some other way to do that.

This is one of those situations where I can see both with the eyes of an animal welfarist and with those of a ranch hand.  The animal welfarist says, “Why are you doing that with no anesthetic?!?  With your teeth?  Why are you castrating them at all?  You could just [insert high-maintenance management program, expensive castration alternative, or impossible immediate job switch here]!”  The ranch hand says, “I have 1,600 sheep to do — can you imagine what it would cost, or how long it would take to anesthetize every one?  Or to separate every adult ram, because they’ll fight?”

(Hate this problem?  Ask why they have 1,600 baby sheep — they have such a large flock because they’ve been forced to expand their business to compete with even larger companies, to supply people who buy wool sweaters and ground lamb from enormous box stores.  Buy local, and know what you’re buying.)

Either way, this is another one of those horrible consequences of exceeding the Monkeysphere — the sheep have become items, not individuals — and of assembly-lining the process.  Forced to do something 1,600 times in a short period, the ranch hands found the fastest, lowest-effort way they could in which to do it.  I notice that no-one checked to see if the sheep caught anything from their mouths!

Glow F**k Yourself

Photo via http://kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com/kidsnews/2009/05/glowing-animals-gallery.htmlI believe that, at this time, we have mastered the technology of making glow-in-the-dark animals.  First there were the glowing mice, then the rats, the commercially-available atrocity the “glo-fish“,  Alba, the glowing rabbit who was also an “art installation”, pigs, and a whole host of other critters, and now, apparently, we have the glow-in-the-dark beagle.

What our intrepid scientists are doing, really, is stuffing extra genes into an animal to see if they can.  (Yes, that’s apparently all the justification they need.  They probably put the word “cancer” in the grant application, though.  You never know, this might be it!)  When scientists want to swap a gene from one organism to another, they choose to transfer a gene which makes the target animal, which ordinarily does not glow, produce a glowing protein.  They do this because that kind of thing is really easy to spot and doesn’t require complicated blood testing to see if it’s taken hold.  If the resultant animal glows, voila! — you have successfully transplanted a gene.

Why do they feel that making more glowing animals is necessary at this time?  I think we’ve passed the point of “required replication” of that original first experiment and entered the world of “unnecessary duplication of results”.  We’ve been shuffling genes around for years, as evidenced by that impressive list above.  We’ve even done beagles before, in 2009.  I think we’ve certainly seen that “we can” make glowing animals.  Now that “we can”, what are we doing with this amazing new technology?

To quote from the beagle article:

“[ByeongChun] Lee said the genes injected to make the dog glow could be substituted with genes that trigger fatal diseases. He and his team would then be able to chart the course of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and more, better understanding how such diseases develop.”

It is fascinating how that paragraph doesn’t say, “The creation of transgenic beagles will allow us to give laboratory dogs a whole host of genetic diseases they don’t normally get, so that we can study how those diseases affect dogs, as if that were somehow relevant to how they affect people!

Yes.  The whole point of this ludicrous enterprise is that eventually, we will have man-made “animal models” for diseases that animals don’t normally even get — as though studying how these transplanted diseases behave in their new, unnatural hosts will tell us a damn thing about how they behave in humans.  We have reams and reams of evidence — including some generated from actual scientists doing animal-related experiments — that animal and human systems are not identical, and therefore we cannot extrapolate directly from one to the other, and here these people are, wasting time, money, and animals on making more animals to chew through while flailing helplessly in circles blathering about how they can cure cancer if only they can grind up a few more mice.

Ever notice how none of the articles point that out?  None of them say, “This will allow us to kill hundreds, maybe thousands, more dogs every year while searching for cures for human diseases.”  It’s always “Ooh, look at this adorable puppy — which may be a cure for cancer!

Am I saying that we should never, ever investigate recombinant DNA?  No.  Am I saying that perhaps we should think about using our newfound power of shuffling genes about to create hardier or more fruitful food crops that could feed impoverished nations, rather than new “animal models”, “designer fish” and “art installations”?  Yes.  We do not need to learn to cure artificially-induced Alzheimer’s disease in dogs.  We need to learn to cure it as it occurs naturally in people.

“We have learned well how to treat cancer in mice and rats but we still can’t cure people.”

— Professor Colin Garner, quoted in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

I love science.  I love learning new things, and exploring new ideas.  I understand that we can learn things from animal research we cannot learn anywhere else.  This?  This is a grotesque parody of research.  This is an absolute waste of funds.  There are human-based studies at my local VA hospital desperate for funding to help wounded veterans overcome combat injuries.  There are developers who could really use grants to help design new prosthetic limbs.  Why are we wasting money on this?

But ooooh, lookit the cute glowing beagle!