Archive for the ‘human behaviour’ category

Meatless Monday and vegetarianism in the Guardian

June 21, 2009

When Hadley Freeman wrote last week about how awful it was for her to be a vegetarian, I was puzzled. If it’s so awful for her, then the only thing keeping her from eating meat is that she finds it revolting. OK, I can sympathise with not wanting to be evangelical about it – having once been involved in evangelical religion, evangelical vegetarianism is not what I’d want to stand for either.

Now that I think about it, what puzzled me the most was when she mentioned she had “crap hair” and somehow related that to her vegetarian diet. Crap hair can be the result of many things, but plant eating? Not likely. Nutritional deficiencies can result in poor quality hair – but you can be a meat eater and still have nutritional deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, folic acid and beta-carotenes. Drug abuse will eventually give you crap hair. So will unfortunate hair genes. Also: post-pregnancy hair loss; extreme stress; crap shampoo; too many perms and colourings; excessive blowdrying. But not a plant-based diet. Hope I’ve cleared that up. I have a full head of thick, straight hair (thanks dad…) and my vegetarian diet has not made it thin out or go frizzy. Granted, I still eat eggs and cheese, because I think that dairy and egg farming are at least potentially redeemable enterprises in animal husbandry. My hens are very happy to leave eggs for me in return for the shelter and food I provide, and they are especially happy to have the run of the yard. If I could work around the logistics of keeping a cow and milking her twice a day, I’m confident we’d work out a good relationship too.

I was glad to see a response in today’s Guardian, by Seth Freedman, one of those rare vegetarians by upbringing. He wrote a straightforward response, in which he says : “the worst thing about being a vegetarian is that most people aren’t.” I’d say that’s true – there’s nothing like contemplating going out for a meal at a restaurant, and then realising you’ll probably be eating a chef’s salad and a bun, again.

I appreciate the way he points out that some of the animals we see as pets are seen as food by different cultures. He is more direct than I’m able to be when he says:

There is no defence of eating meat or fish that stands up to the cold light of moral scrutiny. If there was, then people wouldn’t keep animals as pets or differentiate between which species are or aren’t fair game for slaughtering and consuming. When the Venn diagrams of friends versus food inevitably overlap (dogs being eaten in Korea, horses in France, and so on), the duplicity of the meat-eating public is plain for all to see. One man’s pot roast is another’s pet, and neither side has a leg to stand on while they refuse to take an objective view of whether there is something ethically wrong with tearing the flesh off a carcass just to sate one’s appetite.

As much as I wish it weren’t true, he has made a very important point about our relationship with animals.

Hadley’s column was in response to Paul McCartney’s promotion of Meatless Monday, an effort to encourage more people to consume less meat. A great initiative.

Pandiculation

March 20, 2009

That looks a bit like me doing the downward dog, if it weren’t for the fur, tail and claws – oh, and I don’t usually yawn while I’m at it. Yoga has become a big part of my life over the past few years, to the point where I wonder how I used to manage without it.

When I go for a few days without yoga, as per lately due to too much time at the computer, my body starts to let me know that things are starting to go awry. Protests start to emanate from my neck and shoulders, lower back, hips, knees and ankles. Even if I do other exercise, such as walking, or karate – it’s the yoga that brings everything back into harmony again. Not all at once, mind – it’s more of an ongoing process built around a regular practice that creates gradual but real results. Ya, kind of like any exercise – I know.

What intrigues me about yoga is how it resembles what my cats do every single day, at various moments and without a regular schedule (at least not one I can decipher). Sometimes, they’ll do an energetic, yang-like spinal twist movement out of the blue and hold the pose for a several seconds while they lick that itchy spot on their back or comb out the matted fur in the lumbar area. Other times they sit on their sacrum to take a bath in a movement reminscent of a spinal curl or butterfly. They lie in passive yin poses for hours as they sleep. Upon waking, they do a few stretches, yawns and shakes, and they’re ready for action – just like my yoga DVD instructor does before we start sun salutations. My cats are so beyond sun salutation; those ritual moves are for beginners – for lower beings who have forgotten, and have to be taught how to inhabit their own bodies again.

So I like to think of pandiculation as feline yoga, or for that matter, a very primitive, pre-human kind of yoga – and I’m not using “primitive” pejoratively. Primitive as in sensual, in a context where the nerves and synapses of the cerebral cortex have less influence, and sensual information gets processed more directly- whether those senses communicate pain, pleasure, proprioception, information on surroundings, and instincts on what to do, now.

Healthy cats do yoga at any time, in just about any situation. Cats who don’t pandiculate don’t feel quite like cats. I can think of at least four reasons why cats I see at the clinic pandiculate less often than the cats I don’t see. Number one on my list has always been (and I hope won’t always be) – obesity. Or as we put it more delicately in French: embonpoint. While I am willing to allow that some humans can be simultaneously very healthy and overweight, this is rarely the case for cats. Embonpoint in cats leads very early to all sorts of woes, such as feline urinary tract disease, and later in life, it is the most significant risk factor in developing diabetes. In the time it takes for a young and svelte kitten to develop into a young obese cat who is one or two years old, it has lost a lot of body awareness and comfort. Overweight cats are generally grumpier, less active and have slower reflexes than slender cats; so it’s not all about weight and appearance, it’s also about movement and suppleness. A cat is definitely carrying too much weight if she is unable to turn around and wash her back – and has the matted hair to prove it.

A second case of decreased or absent pandiculation happens in long-haired cats who have been bred to grow unnaturally long and fine hair that they can’t manage without human help. If these cats are abandoned or neglected, they develop painfully matted coats that prevent them from stretching, twisting and holding positions that should normally be very comfortable. The hair is matted to the root, and pulls on the skin as they move. These cats are also very grumpy and inactive.

Thirdly, loss of pandiculation happens in cats who are simply ill, for any reason. The ill feeling might be fever, dizziness, weakness or pain – any feeling that would prevent a human being from feeling like exercising.

A fourth reason that is really important to me to mention is that many declawed cats – not all – but many, including my own Mädchen, whom I had declawed back when I was an ill-advised vet student – don’t pandiculate as much as they would if all of their distal phalanges had not been cruelly amputated. I think that some declawed cats rightly resent the feeling of their shortened digits, and don’t feel like doing yoga because it doesn’t feel right. Others have phantom pain or are depressed.

Mädchen, in fact, is the only one of my cats who is declawed, and the only one who never joins me for yoga. Cats love being with humans while they do yoga. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but there’s youtube evidence that they are doing something cats have likely done ever since humans started doing yoga, a few thousand or so years ago in the Near East and India.


See how the kitty’s tail points straight up as he approaches – that means he’s familiar with this routine and is delighted he can participate. This guy is lucky, he can talk about staying undistracted, but I can’t – my junior cat enjoys attacking my hair when I lie back on the ground, or when it hangs down. I have to be aware of him, because I could get a claw in my eye one of these days. My senior cat generally installs himself on top of me and won’t move unless I physically dump him. He doesn’t hold it against me though – he comes right back.

Here’s a link to another long cat-human yoga session; it’s 10 minutes long and one of these days I’ll get around to watching it myself:
Stray Cat Yoga.

Animal hoarding and other abnormal human behaviour

February 27, 2009

Animal hoarding , according to wiki, is the official term describing the abnormal human behaviour of keeping many animals while being unable to properly care for them. Rather than being deliberate cruelty toward animals, it’s more of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The wiki entry also provides a lot of excellent information on this condition, and sources on how to recognise it and address it legally.

I have decided that my neighbour down the road, J-C, is not exactly an animal hoarder. Now that the weather has become milder, I walk to school in the morning with my younger son instead of having him take the bus. I’ve known J-C for 9 years now, and he is getting close to 60 now. When I moved here, he had a small herd of cattle, a few Percheron horses, some sheep and goats, rabbits, cats, and a fairly large flock of poultry and geese, none of which are ever “retired”. Over those 9 years, he’s called on my vet services at various times, and 3 out of 4 visits were to administer a remedy to a dying animal with a mystery ailment. If he had the money to investigate, we’d likely have found a combination of high egg counts in the feces (intestinal parasites), borderline nutritional deficiencies, and pneumonia or some other opportunistic organ disease that came in to finish off the poor creature. But in general, J-C means well, his animals are always fed more or less appropriately, occasionnally dewormed; they always have access to water, and social contact (maybe too much) with other animals. There is no deliberate cruelty here, in fact, there is certainly much less than what exists in the industrial system that nearly all of us participate in, in some way.

I’ve assisted one police raid in a situation where there was definite criminal neglect, and prepared the report that resulted in a conviction and confiscation. J-C is most certainly not in that category. He is also nothing like the animal hoarder I once knew. That was a woman who had over 70 dogs and was in the process of transferring them, a few at a time, from this rural area to an even more remote region in another province. During one of her trips, she had a fatal car accident. The dogs were discovered a few days later and the case made national news fleetingly as one of those spectacular cases of neglect and squalor. She was fleeing a legal process that would have removed the dogs from her property; this had happened to her before, but she just started over from scratch, as it were. Hers was a classic case of animal hoarding, because she firmly believed she was doing what was best for the animals, in spite of the graphic and smelly evidence. She had even been known to spend several hundreds of dollars on specialised vet care for dogs with conditions such as von Willebrand disease. One time, a few months before her accident, I had to convince her that the dog she brought in was on death’s doorstep, that no, I would not take X-rays or take a blood sample, and that it was more than likely her dog had parvovirus. The dog died a minute or so after I convinced her to sign the authorisation; I had just begun to fill the syringe with euthansol. I was shaken by the experience, because she was genuinely pissed off at me for not using the veterinary diagnostics at my disposal: I was unfeeling and incompetent like most vets. She did not even sound unhinged, her assessments were almost rational.

Back to my morning walk and J-C. I think I would classify him as an animal collector rather than a hoarder. Over the past few years, he has quietly reduced his herd of ruminants and workhorses, and with the participation of his new girlfriend he’s building up a collection of dogs. He’s always had a few dogs in and around the house and farm, but he seems to be going into full-dog mode lately. Besides the old-timers Mickey (a squat black dog who must be 13 by now), Belle (a boxer), Moustique (the unfortunate brother of my Principessa), Moose (a husky), and one unnamed German shepherd, in the past few weeks at various times I’ve met or seen:
– one or two beagles (not sure – one of them wears a bow, maybe it’s the same one)
– one pug
– one Esquimau-like dog
– one bulldog
– one small lab cross, possibly cocker-Lab?
– one small terrier
– one Saint-Bernard
– one Malamute

Most of them are running free around the yard, a few in the barn and some are in the house, I’m sure. The large ones are tethered. The four gigantic inflatable Christmas ornaments lie deflated in the snow; they probably met with enthusiatic dog claws at some point just before Christmas.

I’m rather worried about where these animals are coming from. For one thing, with the recession, I’m not seeing breeders at the clinic very often anymore for vaccines. Demand is obviously down, and J-C has a big heart for unwanted animals, in his own way at least, and he is known to never refuse an animal offered to him casually – partly because he knows where it will go if he doesn’t.

J-C’s presence has always left me with a dilemma. His behaviour is not (yet) reportable, but I get a sense that I should be doing something – but what? He needs dewormers, for starters. I suppose I should get on that, as a small gesture of veterinary goodwill. On the other hand, would that constitute enabling, wouldn’t it?