Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Airplanes, Teens, and Animal Rescues

When I was about 14 years old, I overheard my father and my friend’s father discussing an incident in which the behaviour of a few teens had disrupted the community. The local paper was full of letters to the editor condemning youth en masse, and my friends and I were pretty upset at being lumped in with the losers who had dragged bales of hay into an intersection and set them on fire on Hallowe’en night. (Okay, this may seem tame by comparison to some of today’s hijinks, but in a small town in the 60s, this was BIG news!) Our dads were discussing this, and my friend’s dad made a statement that has stuck with me for over forty years: “Teenagers are a lot like airplanes – you only hear about the ones that crash.”

Whenever I feel like I cannot watch another newscast, read about another scandal, or deal with another pessimistic person, I think of that statement. We are bombarded with bad news stories, and while there are a few “fluff” pieces of feel-good news, we lose perspective when we give so much attention to the negative and so little to the positive.

While I am in no way recommending we ignore social injustice or the truly horrible things that occur in human society, I think it serves us well to try to balance the horrible with those acts worthy of applause.

Yesterday, Hearts on Noses rescued yet another pig – they are stretched to the limit yet this one little (or rather, BIG) potbellied pig, with ears and tail bitten off by rats that shared its terribly inadequate and horrific living conditions, is now sleeping safely and comfortably at the sanctuary. Yes, we could focus on the abhorrent acts of the person who had responsibility for this pig –and I certainly believe he should be criminally charged – but if we dwell solely on the negative we will forget to celebrate the positive. And so I invite a mighty cheer and a standing ovation for Janice at Hearts on Noses, and for the others who brought the pig to her attention and helped with the rescue. There is one fewer animal being tormented tonight.

My friend’s dad’s phrase came to mind also when I was browsing through some of the animal rescue** blogs and forums I read from time to time. Ongoing wars, backstabbing, rescues fighting with rescues, rescues being exposed as brokers or as neglecting animals in their care, rescues that run amuck and lose sight of their original purpose – the stories are numerous, the knee-jerk reactions many.

The fact that rescues argue among themselves about such things as ethics, animal welfare, and policies and procedures is, in my opinion, an excellent thing. Such issues need to be debated and critically evaluated by people who are in the thick of it. But the fact that all rescues sometimes get branded negatively when one rescue is exposed as a broker or as neglecting its charges or when an organization makes what proves to be an unpopular decision, is, to me, the parallel of seeing only the plane that crashes and not the many safe landings that occur every hour of every day.

In my internet browsing today, I came across an attack on an organization for which I am a proud volunteer – the SPCA. One branch of the organization made a decision regarding an animal, a decision which was based on their best information, veterinary advice, resources, and sense of what was manageable for them, at that point in time……and that decision was vigorously debated by various rescue groups and individuals. One group in particular, which devotes a considerable section of its website to derogatory commentary about the SPCA, publicly attacked not only the SPCA’s recent decision but also anyone from other organizations who dared to voice support for the SPCA.

All animal rescue organizations make unpopular decisions from time to time. All animal rescue organizations have to face financial and human resource realities. All animal rescue organizations have “planes that crash”. But when it comes to the SPCA, I can think of no organization that on such a wide-spread basis does so much in this province to educate the public, to provide care for animals, to confront issues of cruelty and neglect, all on the same non-profit, donation-based budget as every other rescue organization.

Every day, at the SPCA shelter near me, every dog gets walked. Every Single Day. Every day, at the SPCA shelter near me, every dog receives personal attention. Every Single Day. Today, a dog whose penis had been virtually ripped off received his reconstructive surgery, another went in for her spay, a third was hopping around the office while she recuperated from surgery to fix internal injuries caused by someone’s boot. There isn’t a week goes by that my heart isn’t touched by the survival stories of animals in the SPCA’s care, and that I don’t feel a deep, deep gratitude to the staff and volunteers at my SPCA and at others all over the province.

Animal rescues are a lot like airplanes – you only hear about the ones that crash. It’s time to recognize the everyday successes, the thousands of animals who are helped every day and the thousands of people who help them. It’s time to acknowledge and celebrate safe landings.

To do anything less is to lose sight of the reality.

**( Note: I use the word 'animal rescue' very broadly in this entry, to encompass all not-for-profit groups and individuals who help bring animals to safety - from the individual working out of their home to foster, train, vet, and place in appropriate homes dogs that no one wanted, to community-based shelters that take in strays and owner-surrenders, to the province wide organizations like the SPCA who work on a much broader and more public level.)

One Smug Cat

Caught in the act

Someone forgot to replace the lid on the kitty treat jar while someone took Oliver out for his morning walk. Or maybe a certain cat has developed very dextrous paws. Either way, a certain cat's dinner rations will be reduced this evening!

Who, me????

(Oliver, on the other hand, is sulking because the sea walk was SOOOOOO icy with black ice that neither he nor I could negotiate it and so he didn't get his polar bear swim ).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A visit with the piggies

Snack time!

I pulled up to the gate and hopped out of the car. Buddy, the Hearts on Noses dog and official greeter, came bounding up as I slipped the chain off the gate to drive the car up to the house so I could unload some treats.

I was asking Buddy if he was going to stay in the yard while the gate was open, when I heard a familiar sound and glanced up the driveway in time to see Soda and Rickey high-tailing (or high-snouting it) towards me, Rickey squealing away excitedly. As I quickly re-closed the gate (leaving my car on the other side) and walked up the drive to find Janice, several more pigs came tearing around the back of the house and ran full-tilt down the drive to say hello. Clearly, my twelve little fosters still recognized my voice - what a thrill that was!

Foster Mama's here!

Soon I was surrounded by all my foster family except one - Scotch! Where the heck was Scotch? Where else but out in the field with Dior the horse, the object of his affection. Poor Scotch - hopelessly besotted with a horse!

I wuvs you, Dior!

However, strawberries and marshmallows are mighty persuasive and soon he agreed to come over to the field where I was handing out treats to all the pigs. And though he clearly was happy to see me (especially when I started singing him his favourite song) he also took a moment to show me that he is very attached to the Piggy Lady who runs the sanctuary. He rubbed against Janice's legs, bristles up in happiness, and showed me how very content he is with his new surroundings.

I wuvs you, too, Piggy Lady

You takes gooood care of me!

Meanwhile, Buddy was lying down on the grass and soon Whisper (I think - Janice, correct me if I'm wrong! I can't tell from the photo) meandered over and lowered himself down next to his favourite dog. Janice tells me those two have been friends since my twelve foster pigs first moved to the sanctuary - and they proved it by taking turns giving each other little sniffs or kisses as we all (Janice, me and the pigs) sat around chatting.

You don't smell like a pig!

And you don't smell like a dog! But we can still be fwiends!

I walked around the sanctuary giving more treats to the other pigs who were still in their roomy but muddy pens. One of Janice's big jobs for this summer (for which she could use many volunteers) will be to put loads of something - road mulch or pea gravel or board walk - on the paths between the pens and in the pens themselves. Well developed leg muscles and very tall rubber boots are a necessity there at the moment! Comet doesn't seem to mind, but Janice certainly does!

Iz a bit muddy, but you got any tweats fer me????

Carport Penny was having a nap in her nice big house, but agreed to stick her head out of a hole she had made in the blanket so I could take her photo. You may remember Penny could not even walk when she came to the sanctuary and she went through many health crises in her first year there. But now, she is a new pig - the excess weight is gone, her digestive tract is working just fine, and she trots all over the yard when she's not having a midday snooze.

Pig in a blanket

Mouse, who had surgery to remove a huge tumour just about the time Janice moved to the new sanctuary, is still a house pig. That's what happens when you invite a pig inside to convalesce - they get to like it and decide to stay forever. Mouse is quite happy on her blanket in the living room, keeping company with Luke the cat, though she is also very quick to come into the kitchen or the great room when she hears our voices. A pig just never knows when a tasty snack might come her way.

Mouse and her friend Luke

Several dozen more photos and it was time to leave. Here's just a sampling of them:


Hi Foster Mama

Snoutie up!

Got any more apples fer me?


May I have a treat? Or a scratch?



It is so good to see all the pigs so content in their new sanctuary home. It is a happy place - upraised snouties and smiling piggies can turn anyone's day from dreary to delightful. I encourage you to visit - volunteer an hour, a day, a weekend to give Janice a hand, and go home giggling from the inside out.

Smiling piggy

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Emma in Black and White

I've been playing around with some of the many shots I took of Emma this week (Just cropping, and switching them to black and white - I don't do photoshop) for a wall display I'm contemplating. Here's my favourites of the dozens I took. I'd love to know which ones you like best:

Emma - heads up!

Four on the floor

Emma and tongue

Emma resting

Nose to the ground

Here's looking at you

Ears, wrinkles and nose

Happy Emma

Now to work on piggy pics........and, of course, a blurb about my visit to the sanctuary.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Favourite Shot of the Week

I'm back from the mainland where I took over three hundred shots - half of the piggies and other critters at Hearts on Noses Sanctuary (you can see a few pics of my visit on Janice's blog by clicking here) and half of my Emma. I have a lot of editing to do before I select piggy and doggy ones to post, but this shot stands out as my very, very favourite. It is Janice's cat Luke, sunning himself on a blanket on the couch.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Even birds need mediators sometimes

It was early morning as I strolled along the beach with Oliver. There wasn't another soul to be seen. No sounds of humankind assaulted my ears - just the soft swish of waves on sand and the quiet chatter of gulls foraging among the shells for a morsel to eat. In the distance a heron stands knee deep (do herons have knees?), his long neck stretched forward as he carefully plans his ambush on an unfortunate fish below the surface. A cormorant sits on the edge of the wharf, and a flock of mallards pull weeds from a land-locked pond.

At the edge of the water, two oystercatchers confer, heads together.

Suddenly, the serenity is shattered as the oystercatchers begin to quarrel loudly in their high-pitched voices. John and Blanche Bickerson have been reincarnated, I think to myself. There is no other way to describe it - the birds are quibbling. Quibble, quibble, quibble, nag, nag, nag. On and on they go, as crows and gulls and ducks look on.

But one gull took it upon himself to intervene. He strutted across the sand, and plonked himself between the quibbling catchers. He wasn't obnoxious. He didn't scream at them. But he did give them a no-nonsense sort of look, and in a low, level tone made some very pointed comments on their behaviour.

They stopped their racket and had the decency to look abashed - almost startled - as Dr. Phil Seagull gave them some sage advice on communication and family relationships.

Soon peace was restored, and all the birds went back to the task of finding something to eat. Dr Phil Seagull thanked his audience, trotted off down the beach, and disappeared from view.

As for Oliver, he had only one thing on his mind - getting into the water for his polar bear dip.

Swim complete, we headed home for a quiet day of cooking, cleaning, and listening to music. I'm off to the mainland again in the morning, armed with some soups and stews and apple pie for my mom and a load of home reno receipts and other papers for my tax accountant. Back late Thursday night......so no new blogs until the end of the week.

Sunlight on partially submerged log

(You can hear an oystercatcher's song by clicking here - then click on the "listen" button in the top left of the page. )

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Morning Meanderings and a Wednesday Walk

Seagulls take flight

I really should try to post every day - or at least every other day - instead of letting the photos and stories pile up. I took over 500 photos in the last four days. The weather has been so unstable that each moment brings new beauty - mist and rain and sun and cloud present fresh opportunities for yet more shots of ocean and sea walk and sky.

I finally used up all my free photo space on Blogger, so purchased (for the piggy-bank-breaking cost of about $5.00/year) 20,000 mb of space. In the two years I have been blogging, I've used up 1,000 mb, so I should now be able to continue blogging for another 40 years.

With spring in full swing, blossoms change every day and birds migrate through or nest or simply forage for feed in the ever-changing light. Our hike to Swallowfield, albeit muddy, was spring-like enough to enable us passage across the estuary to where the river and creeks flow into the sea, and where pools are formed in the backflow to provide safe swimming areas for water-loving dogs.

So.....from the past few days of morning meanderings and this week's Wednesday Walk, here's some of the sights and scenes of the beautiful Cowichan Valley:

As mentioned, the weather was variable. Thick fog on Tuesday hid Salt Spring Island from view at the start of our walk:

A misty perspective

Watching from the shore, I see the ferry emerge, phantom-like, from the fog. It seems strangely off-course, heading for the little private wharf instead of the ferry dock.

Phantom Ship

Soon the fog begins to lift:

Mist Rising

And twenty minutes later, the sun shines brightly and boats and piers and even birds are echoed in the smooth, dark waters:

Triangular reflections

Pier reflections

Ducky reflections

On another day, the sun melts frost on the seawalk, making it slippery yet beautiful as the water reflects sun:

Sunrise on a wet and frosty walkway

And yet another day, bright sunlight reflects off the metal handrail of the seawalk, turning black to gold, and dull to bright:

Sunlight on Seawalk

On that morning, we see an eagle perched in a tree above the seawalk - watching us closely as we wander by. I kept Oliver a little closer, though I suspect Sir Eagle decided Oli was just a bit too big to carry off for breakfast.


The blossoms on salmon berry bushes (I think) along the walkway are open now,

Pink Blooms

And these cream-coloured blossoms are also fully out:

Blooms in a Blur

Blossoms also abound at Swallowfield. Though the bushes were barely in leaf, the ground at our feet reveals a myriad of colours:

Carpet of Blue


Fancy daffodil

Late Blooming Crocus

And on the estuary, I spied this whole bank of flowering trees:

Trees in Bloom

The dogs enjoyed their Wednesday Walk - the water, the treats, the play with each other, and quiet time alone:

Doggy Beach Party

Everyone into the Pool!

Kabuki and Chi Ki

Flying Sticks and Eager Dogs

Even little Teddy, new to our group (though he came as a guest with Else once before), was brave enough to go swimming:

Teddy takes a dip

After the swim, time for a snack:

Treat time!

While others sit and contemplate:

Charley on Sand

Archie keeping watch

And a couple of final shots of the newest member of our dog-walking crew:

Teddy in Black and White


It's been a very good week. Spring is here, the dogs are all well, there is no end to the goodness and beauty in my world.