The following piece appears in the November 19 edition of our local paper, the Palisadian Post — but without the brief video of Buster’s greatest hits that I am going to paste at the end of this blog. Any friends or activists who have stayed at our house are familiar with Buster’s Good Morning song. I send a huge thank you to my buddy Kevin Morrison for immortalizing it just a few weeks before Buster passed. And the segment from Rob Thomas’s Little Wonders? I bet not everybody knows that he wrote that song while out walking his dog — but how we animal folk understand.
Remembering Buster Dawn
Neighbors ask if I will adopt turkeys again this Thanksgiving. I am not sure. I think of last year’s turkeys lined up at the front gate with the dogs, greeting sunset passersby on their way to the bluff. I think of Buster’s patience when the turkey named Bruce, later renamed Brucilla, usurped Buster’s bed on the porch. Mostly I think that this year Buster will not be here to guard the turkeys. This will be the first holiday season in twelve years without Buster Dawn.
Buster came to me in November 1997, a tiny puppy from the pound. I didn’t know then that I should have adopted an older dog because puppies always get homes – and because I liked my rugs, furniture and shoe collection. When I picked up Buster he looked into my eyes and started to lick my face. You can see from my favorite photo that twelve years later nothing had changed. For those twelve years my skin care regime centered on Buster’s daily exfoliation treatment. What will become of my complexion now that he is gone?
On our first Thanksgiving together I carried Buster to a friend’s house in a shoebox. The rescue folks had told me he would grow to about 35 pounds. Ha! Cafe Vida regulars may remember often seeing a 75lb mutt poised across a man’s lap. That was Buster Dawn, with Jim, my ex.
Buster and I took our first walk together on Christmas. I strolled the Soho streets with my beautiful puppy, awed that for once I was not walking alone. A few weeks later we wandered over to the Village and I called my friend Eric to tell him to come down and grab a coffee as we were right on his corner. His response: “Oh Karen, I just love that you are a ‘we’ now.”
Yes, Buster changed me to we. Nights in my apartment watching television had always been so lonely; with Buster they were cozy and fun. And I think Buster opened my heart and made it possible for Jim to enter a year later. The day Jim and I first met, for lunch, he dropped me back at my apartment and met Buster and also Paula, Buster’s newly adopted sister. Buster immediately suggested a ball game, and Jim obliged. When Jim picked me up for dinner that night I was running late and asked if he would mind waiting in the book store across the street. He said, “Sure. Or do the dogs need walking?” My heart almost burst – I had found my canine kids a wonderful daddy. Buster led Jim on our usual walk around Soho. Soon we all moved to Pacific Palisades and became a family.
We were a close family. Jim insisted that we never take family holidays anywhere we couldn’t take the dogs. Once he had heard Buster’s fantastic rendition of Happy Birthday he couldn’t bear a birthday without it. Buster had quite a voice; what he lacked in tone he made up for in gusto.
Thanksgivings were spent at home. I would cook for days and then invite vegan friends over to share the feast — plenty of Wild Turkey (bourbon!) and veganized versions of classic dishes. Buster loved sweet potatoes. I once made the mistake of leaving a bowl of them on the lower shelf of our serving trolley where Buster clearly thought they had been left for him. Thank heavens my guests were all animal lovers who cackled when they saw Buster swigging back our sweet potatoes. They were happy to dig into the dish once I had skimmed Buster’s personal gravy off the top.
One Christmas we drove to Mexico and rented a guest house. Its front patio, and that of another patio leading to the main house, was attached to a mutual landing that had stairs down to the street. In the main house, Chumaka and Amiga, a rottie-mix and a coyote-mix, lived with their humans. As we brought stuff up from the car into our Christmas abode, Chumaka and Amiga guarded the landing like customs officers inspecting imports. Everything passed their muster but for Paula and Buster. The canine guards at first refused to let our guys past the landing. But Buster somehow slipped past the sentinels into our guest house. A moment later he emerged carrying a new dog toy that Jim had put under the Christmas tree. He slunk out onto the mutual landing, darted over to Chumaka and Amiga’s patio, dropped the toy, and darted back. Chumaka and Amiga gave up their post to check out the peace offering. For the next week we were a pack of six. Walks to the beach involved all four dogs – the peacemaking mutt, the rottie-mix, the coyote-mix, and the pitbull. Nobody fracked with us!Paula recently reminded me of that sweet gift-giving gesture. Though she had lost interest in Buster as he weakened over the last few months, her grief in the days after we let her explore his lifeless body was undeniable. After we placed him in his grave, she lay beside it for hours with her paws hanging over. She brought up a toy and dropped it in on top of him. Unsure the move had been intentional, I gave it back to her. She dropped it in again. We buried her sweet offering with our sweet boy.
I have never loved anybody the way I loved Buster. Some might say that because human relationships are hard I had settled for a lesser relationship with a dog. But was it lesser? Who has a human who howls down the house whenever they get home from work? And what human could make my heart sing just by walking into the room, every time, no matter how many times a day? The intellectual conversations about books and films that a human might offer – and not all do – cannot outweigh the joyful camaraderie of walks along the bluffs, the trusting head on my lap when I curled up with a good book, or the simple and silent companionship Buster would offer as he supervised my holiday preparations.
What a strange holiday season this will be without Buster Dawn. He was the heart of our little family. When Jim or I were out of the house, Buster would wait all night in the front yard, until the missing pack member was back safe in our cave. Jim moved out just after last year’s holidays, and now, without Buster, there is really no family at all. Yet, oddly, I am dreading the holidays less than I had expected. Buster’s love changed me, and it will be there this season even without the loving licks and the heavenly howls that were its physical signs. Buster opened my heart, and it did not close when he passed. Though our little family is no longer, I know there will one day be more love in my life, and more holidays with family. That will be Buster’s legacy.
This little video of Buster Dawn is on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIQyhk0narc
I am finally back at the blog; lured back by this weekend’s CNN web article and soon to air show on In Vitro Meat. (Sunday August 9, 7pm ET, CNN International.) It is a topic I have considered carefully as I covered it in Thanking the Monkey (p184) in a section headed “In Vitro Meat: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?”  Then, later in this piece, you will see that I cannot resist the perfect segue from In Vitro Meat into Food Inc, a film I have been meaning to plug since I saw it on opening weekend last month.
A few years back, the MTV reality show “Big Urban Myth” examined the myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had changed its name to KFC for legal reasons, because the chain was no longer using chickens. Instead it was said to be using headless, featherless, brainless, organless, living lumps of chicken-meat that were the result of genetic modification. As there was suspicion that the myth was being spread by animal rights activists, I was interviewed as to my knowledge of the truth of the accusation. I assured viewers that unfortunately KFC was still using real chickens, raised in hideous conditions on factory farms and slaughtered with no protection from the federal Humane Slaughter Laws. Funny, not all of those facts made it into the final cut for MTV.
Who would have thought that a few years later the myth would be on the verge
of becoming reality?
So how does it work? The CNN report describes some In Vitro Meat production as follows:
“‘Pork’ is made from pig ovaries retrieved from slaughterhouses, which are fertilized with pig semen, transforming them into embryos. They are then placed in a nutrient solution, where they grow and develop.”
Ick, ick, ick, ick, ick.
In Thanking the Monkey I quote an article in the New York Times that describes a process that sounds similar, but which I find somewhat less disturbing — at least there is no mention of semen and embryos:
“The process works by taking stem cells from a biopsy of a live animal (or a piece of flesh from a slaughtered animal) and putting them in a three-dimensional growth medium – a sort of scaffolding made of proteins. Bathed in a nutritional mix of glucose, amino acids and minerals, the stem cells multiply and differentiate into muscle cells, which eventually form muscle fibers. Those fibers are then harvested for a minced-meat product.”
While that’s still not something I am going to eat, I realize that the product isn’t aimed at me, it is aimed at people who are currently consuming the muscle fibers from the legs of animals — animals who have been factory farmed and then slaughtered. And some of those folks have been known to turn up their noses at my veggie burgers! Go figure.
The process is not limited to beef or pork. Pescatarians concerned about the scientific prediction that every major fishery will have collapsed by 2048 might choose a creation that is said to resemble fish sticks. These alluring delicacies have been produced by slicing a bit of muscle from the abdomen of a goldfish and placing it in a serum solution to grow. The serum can be made from Maitake mushroom. Apparently researchers have battered the fish sticks, fried them in olive oil, and then subjected them to a “sniff panel.” While the panelists weren’t allowed to eat the fish sticks they said they smelled appetizing. Yum, yum.
The current CNN piece on In Vitro meat, to which you will find a link in today’s DawnWatch alert, opens with the line: “Meat is murder? Well, perhaps not for much longer.” That is indeed, for animal advocates, the immediate obvious advantage of in vitro meat: Omnivoric appetites could be sated with no suffering. The process could spell the end of factory farms and slaughterhouses.
There are other related benefits:
Laboratory meat production would not foul rivers with manure or heat up the atmosphere with methane. It would end soy farming for animal feed, which is responsible for rainforest destruction. And as a third of marine catch becomes fish meal, most of which goes to feed factory farmed animals, in vitro meat, and not just the fish finger type, would help save the fast emptying oceans from devastation.
The researchers explain that not only would intro meat reduce the risks of diseases such as swine or avian flu, and also save us from salmonella, it could actually be designed to be healthful. For example, saturated fat could be swapped out for healthful fats high in omega amino acids. People might one day walk into the local health joint and order a delicious burger with the fat profile of a strip of salmon — hold the mercury.
Then there is the issue of antibiotics. On modern factory farms animals are doused with antibiotics to curtail the spread of disease in the cootie-conducive jam-packed environments. You might think that’s a good thing, given the state of our health system: millions of uninsured Americans probably rely on the antibiotics in their cheap daily burgers as the only medication to which they have access. But sadly those antibiotics no longer work for humans. Some of our last defenses against several serious human infections are currently being given to cattle, the result being that the bacteria fast become resistant and thereby remain deadly to us. The advent of in vitro meat would leave what’s left of our lifesaving antibiotics for curing human illness.
Now for the downside:
I don’t see any. But I will briefly share what I have seen on a few comment pages.
There are some comments stating concern over the employment fate of livestock farmers. Could the comments be posted by folks still unaware that the vast majority of animals are now raised on factory farms, which are not farms at all? Factory farms, where one person might be in charge of thousands of animals trapped in a huge shed, have already put actual farmers out of business.
There are also people within the animal rights movement, whose commitment seems to be not just to saving the animals but also to saving the souls of those who currently consume them. They hope to persuade people, or perhaps scare them, into changing their sinful ways. In Vitro meat could end the animal suffering, and end mass animal execution, while still allowing the majority of humans to be omnivores. It would save the animals but not punish the people who eat them. Bummer, eh? Not really. Surely those intent on punishing people are an unfortunately raucous yet tiny minority of our movement.
Many articles on In Vitro Meat suggest that even carnivores will find the product hard to swallow. They talk about “the yuck factor.” As you saw above, I would call it the ick factor. But we have all seen yuck factors to be surmountable. A lot of children feel pretty yucky when they first learn that spare-ribs come from Wilbur. But they get over it. I bet it turns out to be even easier for them to get over learning that their meat came from a petri dish — after all, isn’t that pretty much how it looks in the supermarket fridge section anyway, all wrapped up in plastic? As for the yuck factor for adults — when they learn about our current meat supply, in vitro meat will seem comparatively yuckless. That brings us to Food Inc.
I saw Food Inc the weekend it opened in New York last month. I am thrilled to learn is now in 155 theatres and doing phenomenal box office for a documentary. The Rotten Tomatoes website tells us that 72 out of 74 reviews of this film were positive. I believe the two thumbs downs came from one reviewer who upchucked his just-eaten burger all over his date’s shoes during the cattle feedlot scene, and one who has a job application in at Monsanto.
Critic Roger Moore, from the Orlando Sentinel wrote,
“After you see what IBP is doing to cattle, what Tyson is doing to chickens, what farmers are doing to us and what Monsanto is doing to farmers in the new documentary Food, Inc., you may never eat again.”
Well not meat anyway. Unless it is in vitro.
First, let me get past complaints that animal advocates, including myself, had about the film. It gives organic animal products way too high a sell. The viewer is taken on tours of organic farms where animals happily roam through fields. We are given the impression that those farms are typical of the organic sector. In Thanking the Monkey I discuss the shocking laxity of organic standards. If you have the book you have read about the cows on the Horizon organic farm who live mostly in the barn. You may have also read of new guidelines for organic standards that insist that cows get at least one third of their diet from pasture, four months out of the year. That’s one ninth of their diet from pasture –hardly what most people imagine or what Food Inc implies.
Even scenes on the better farms to which we are taken are troubling. For example, we watch Joel Salatin and his workers slaughtering chickens by hand under more humane conditions than in industrial slaughterhouses. As he chats merrily with the camera, the hens soon to be slaughtered await their fate while crammed together in tiny cages stacked high on top of each other on the summer day. They have a hen’s eye view of their companions being killed. I suspect that most of us were taught as children that birds are stupid — probably too dumb to realize what was going on and what was about to happen to them. But people who have spent time with hens in sanctuaries or on farms where the birds are acclimatized to nonharmful humans, know that isn’t true. Hens will come when they are called, and they enjoy affection. They can count, and can even be taught to play tic tack toe. And such skills are less impressive than the way a mother hen will raise and care for a full flock of chicks.
I have personally spent close time not with chickens, but with similarly abused birds, turkeys. My meeting with Olivia was life-changing. So were the weeks I spent over last Thanksgiving with lovely Bruce and Emily turkey. So I was horrified during those scenes on Salatin’s farm and disturbed by the blasé manner of the farmer and filmmakers .
Overall, however, the film is fantastic in its ability to teach millions of people about factory farming and the insidious power of the industries that control our food supply. While the lead spokesperson in the film, Michael Pollan, is not an animal rights guy, his anti factory farming message has hit home for for millions of people. He nudges people in our direction as he challenges them to think seriously about animal welfare and to reassess their diets.
I particularly loved how clearly Food Inc drew the connection between the oppression of animals and humans, something I have been thinking about much of late. We meet a Mexican family whose whole income goes to pay for the diabetes medication needed by the father. I found myself thinking that if he were only educated to eat properly, he wouldn’t have diabetes and need the medication. Then I saw the family at the supermarket, unable to afford a bunch of carrots while the
subsidized junk food, and hamburgers, were so much cheaper. The solution is not simple, but mass awareness can be the first step toward change, and Food Inc is helping on that front.
I am going to share with you the trailer for Food Inc. Don’t be tempted to think that the trailer shows you all the good bits — the whole movie is strong, and gripping. Go see it. And take every member of your family, and every friend.
1. I think I may have stolen that sliced bread line from Bruce Friedrich.
2. 12/11/05 The 5th Annual Year in Ideas,” — “In Vitro Meat” by Raizel Robin
3. Chicago Sun Times 7/16/06 CONTROVERSY; Pg. B05 Traci Hukill
4. Boston Globe 9/01 CASINO OFFERS $10,000 FOR BEATING CHICKEN AT TIC-TAC-TOE; Online Associated Press
When Michael Vick got out of prison last week, news reporters speculated about who would pick him up. Nobody expected the answer to be the Humane Society of the United States! Best Friends got the Vick pitbulls, and HSUS got Vick. I think Best Friends got the better deal.
I heard a woman on the radio say that we should forgive Michael Vick – everybody makes mistakes and deserves a second chance. I thought about that, and about dogfighting. I can’t imagine what would make a person want to watch two dogs tearing each other to pieces, but then I don’t understand the appeal of boxing either, and millions of supposedly normal people call it entertainment. Of course the two aren’t the same — the men in the ring choose to be there. One can argue that socioeconomic concerns mitigate that choice, but not down to the powerlessness of the dogs. Plus, the humans are not expected to fight to the death.
And Vick didn’t “just” organize and watch dog fights. He admitted to participating in killing dogs outside of the ring. Perhaps the most stomach turning tale was of the loser lying in a puddle, who was electrocuted with a toaster.
People do change. Many of us in the animal protection movement can’t even imagine wanting to hunt, yet there are activists in our movement who used to enjoy hunting. My own background includes animal abuse. At college I did experiments on rats, which involved giving them injections to nauseate them, causing “aversive conditioning” to their favorite drink. I knew that the poor little fellows were killed after the experiment as they were no longer deemed useful. The tests certainly weren’t useful – we knew in advance what the results would be. I didn’t like the whole thing much, so I didn’t think about it much, I just did it.
Oh God. Then there was the mouse in my apartment. Unable to stand his droppings or sleep through his midnight munchings, I set a glue trap for him. When his squeaking awoke me I was horrified to find him twisted and desperate on the plastic tray. What had I expected? The only thing I could think to do was to put him out of his misery as quickly as possible. I put him in a bag and slammed it hard many times against the wall till I was sure he was dead.
I just wrote the lines above finding it hard to believe that the sad scene really emerged from my own memory. But it really was me, and I doubt I am uniquely Jekyll and Hyde. Michael Vick’s hideous Hyde has been so publicly displayed and whipped, it is hard to believe in his better side. But when I think of what I have done in the past – some would say not comparable to Vick but I know that mouse would disagree – and think of my work now, I have to accept that perhaps anybody is capable of just about anything, of being the best or the worst that a person can be.
The mouse in my apartment brings to mind a more fun story. As anybody who does TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release) of feral cats knows, killing the mouse did not take care of the problem – more mice soon moved in. But there was no way I was going to kill again. So I bought a humane trap, and figured that I would catch the next mouse and take him to nearby Washington Square Park. I worried he might get eaten there by rats or fall to some other fate, but at least he would have a chance.
What I should have figured, but hadn’t, was that the trap would go off deep in the night, and that I was not going to get back to sleep with a freaked out rodent rattling around in a cage under the sink. So at the clack of the trap one morning at 4am, I put on my roller blades, and leashed up my dogs, my mix-breed Buster and my pitbull Paula, who were at that time my mush team for getting around Manhattan.
We came out of the apartment building onto Spring Street. I had never seen it so deserted. But the street wasn’t completely deserted: on the benches next to the basketball court we were about to pass, I saw a gang of rough looking youths. We approached and I wondered if in attempting to save this mouse’s life I may have forfeited my own. But as we glided by, with the gang giving us sidelong glances but making no move, I heard the muttered yet unmistakable word, “Pitbulls.” Ha! It had not occurred to me that my little honeys were protection, but I guess it should have – after all, I had never read a newspaper headline that said, “Young woman mugged while out with her pitbulls.”
This last weekend I couldn’t resist putting together a little video to introduce you to one of my lethal weapons. It’s the first video I have ever shot and edited, so when I accept my Best Picture Oscar (for a fantastically animal friendly film of course) you’ll know you were there at the beginning! It is only fitting that fabulous Paula Dawn, who graces my book cover and countless posters, and likes to boast that she has even been on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, now has her own (brief) music video:
Now you know why I have never thought of my pitbull as protection! And you know why I, like anybody who has ever had a pitbull, have such a soft spot for them. Pitbulls are known as “leaners” because they will never just sit next to you, they have to lean against you. And Paula, as you probably picked up from the video, is so dangerous that I have to warn people not to get too close or she might stick her tongue in. It hurts to think that people hurt them, or get their kicks from watching them hurt each other. That’s why I know I would find it hard to work with Michael Vick, as I feel so personally offended by his past, but I heartily commend those willing to, in order to help the other pitbulls. Pitbulls need all the help they can get.
HSUS has a fantastic program, teaching kids to befriend and train rather than fight pitbulls. It is great for the dogs and for urban youth. You can learn more about it at http://www.hsus.org/acf/fighting/dogfight/programs/ HSUS hopes to expand the program from Chicago to every major city across the country, and they need support. If you or your company just might possibly be interested in sponsoring the program, would you drop me a line and let me know?
The upside of Vick’s arrest was that the whole issue of dogfighting finally got the media attention it deserved. While most people were horrified when they learned the details, some in the NFL showed different priorities. Because John Stewart of the Daily Show voiced his concern about those priorities, I get to leave you with a laugh:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M – Th 11p / 10c|
My blog page has been sitting sorrowfully empty on my site for too long. It’s time for my first blog! Most of you know I already send out DawnWatch email alerts, which let people know what is going on in the media with regard to animal rights and welfare. This blog will also deal with animal issues. My whole life deals with animal issues! Well, any part of my life I am going to write about publically anyway. But while on DawnWatch I do my best to keep myself out of the story, if you read my blog you will surely learn what I think. The blog will be full of animal news, and my thoughts on that news, and will generally have some embedded video. As our society loves celebrities and I happen to live in celebrity central, from time to time I will be sharing video of the famous folks talking about the animals.
Which brings us to this week: If you have seen any movie trailers in the last few weeks, or watched any commercial television, or driven down any highways with billboards, you know that Star Trek opened last weekend. So I am including here parts of an interview we recently did with Bruce Greenwood. You may know him for his portrayal of dashing authority figures such as President Kennedy in “13 Days,” the President of the United States in ” National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” or surfing dynasty patriarch Mitch Yost in “John From Cincinnati.” In the new Star Trek movie Greenwood plays Captain Christopher Pike. As the movie is a prequel, Pike , not Kirk, heads up the USS Enterprise. Greenwood plays Pike beautifully, but many of us will find considerably more beautiful what he has to say about cruelty to animals in the attached video. His heartfelt points are splashed with humor. And fans of Paula Pitbull Dawn, who might know her from conferences or from my book jacket or website, will enjoy her delightful supporting role.
As all of the reviews will tell you, the new Star Trek movie is good. In fact, at the bottom of this post, I am going to share a video from the Onion satirical news site in which Trekkies “decry” how good it is. But while actor Bruce Greenwood might talk about animals, unfortunately his character doesn’t — the Star Trek movie doesn’t at all. The only reference to animals is a joke about somebody having attempted to beam a dog from one place to another, with the dog having disappeared. I love totally un pc, black humor, that insults everybody of every race and nationality — we might as well just call it South Park humor. But I just can’t find blithe references to animal testing, except perhaps in such an outrageous context, at all funny. The uncomprehending, scared and lonely dogs and chimps sent into space, when there were astronauts who wanted nothing more in the world and would willingly have risked their lives to go, are a blight on human history.
Some might argue that it is not the place of the new Star Trek movie to be making statements about animal rights. But I think the original creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, would disagree. He created a character, Mr. Spock, half Vulcan and half human, with a Vulcan’s commitment to logic above all else, but with human emotion, including caring and kindness. No surprise that the character was vegetarian. That character was created in the 1960s. In the new Millennium, the impact of the livestock industry on global warming, its destruction of our environment, and our inability to feed seven billion people on meat based diets, make vegetarianism the logical choice more than ever, and it is being increasingly accepted as such by the mainstream. And the advent of factory farming with its unconscionably cruel conditions in which animals are raised, also makes vegetarianism, more than ever, the choice of compassion. So while at least JJ Abrams didn’t have his Spock chowing into beef burgers — nobody ate anything during the film — a reference to Spock’s vegetarianism was sorely missed. Let’s hope the sequel to the current film, which is already being planned, holds more true to Star Trek history, and doesn’t ignore that fundamental aspect of Spock’s logical and compassionate character. Maybe Greenwood, with his soft spot for the critters, can put in a good word.
I told you if you read this blog you’ll know my opinions!
Yours and the animals’,