New Jersey is a place I think of when I think of a place where animal rights ideology has become quite pernicious. It is a densely-populated state that still has a lot of wild areas still left within its borders, but wildlife management decisions that include lethal control are quite controversial in that state.
For example, in my state of West Virginia, we have plenty of black bears. Black bears are state symbol, and if you go to any gift shop in the state, there will be black bears featured on so many different object. We love our bears, but we also manage them with hunting season.
New Jersey has the same species of bear, and this bear species is one of the few large carnivorans that is experiencing a population increase. Biologists know that hunting a few black bears every year doesn’t harm their populations at all, and in my state, bear tags go to promote bear conservation and to mitigate any issues between people and bears. Hunting these bears also gives the bears a healthy fear of humans, and it is virtually unknown for a bear to attack someone here. New Jersey has had a bear hunt for the past few years, but it has been met with far more controversy there than it ever would be here. Checking stations get protesters, as do wildlife management areas that are open to bear hunting.
Since the bear hunt began, human and bear conflicts have gone down dramatically. The population is thinned out a bit, and the bears learn that people aren’t to be approached. But those potential conservation gains are likely to be erased sooner rather than later.
The animal rights people have become powerful enough in that state that no Democrat can make it through the primaries without pledging to end the bear hunt. The new Democratic governor wants to do away with the bear hunt.
But the bear hunt isn’t the only place where the animal rights people are forcing misguided policy.
A few days ago, I posted a piece about the inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and conservation, and it didn’t take me long to find an article about red foxes in Brigantine, New Jersey. Brigantine is an island off the New Jersey coast.
Like most places in the Mid-Atlantic, it has a healthy population of red foxes, but it also has a nesting shorebird population, which the foxes do endanger. One of the shorebirds that nests on the island is the piping plover, a species that is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN. Red knot also use the island on their migrations between South America and their Canadian arctic nesting ground. This species is also listed as near threatened, and both New Jersey and Delaware have enacted regulations and programs to protect them.
At Brigantine, people began to discover dead red foxes in the sand dunes, and because red foxes are canids and canids are charismatic. It was speculated that the foxes were poisoned, and the state DEP was asked if the agency had been poisoning foxes there.
The state apparently answered that it had no been poisoning foxes on Brigantine’s beaches. It has been trapping and shooting red foxes.
To me, the state’s management policy makes perfect sense. North American red foxes are in no way endangered or threatened. Their numbers and range have only increased since European settlement, and they are classic mesopredators. Mesopredators are those species of predator whose numbers would normally be checked by larger ones, but when those larger ones are removed, the smaller predators have population increases. These increased numbers of smaller predators wind up harming their own prey populations.
This phenomenon is called “mesopredator release.” It is an important hypothesis that is only now starting to gain traction in wildlife management science. What it essentially means is that without larger predators to check the population of the smaller ones, it is important to have some level of controls on these mesopredators to protect biodiversity.
Animal rights ideology refuses to consider these issues. In fact, the article I found about these Brigantine foxes is entitled “These adorable foxes are being shot to death by the state.” The article title is clickbaitish, because the journalist interviewed a spokesperson at the DEP, who clearly explained why the fox controls were implemented.
The trappers who took the foxes probably should have come up with a better way of disposing of the bodies. One should also keep in mind that New Jersey is one of the few states that has totally banned foot-hold traps for private use, so any kind of trapping is going to be controversial in that state. So the state trappers should have been much more careful.
But I doubt that this will be the end of the story. The foxes have been named “unofficial mascots” of Brigantine, and it won’t be long before politicians hear about the complaints. The fox trapping program will probably be be pared back or abandoned altogether.
And the piping plover and red knot will not find Brigantine such a nice place to be.
And so the fox lovers force their ideology onto wildlife managers, and the protection of these near threatened species becomes so much harder.
This sign was posted in 2016 after the first dead foxes were found:
But I don’t think many people will be posting “Save Our Piping Plovers.” Most people don’t know what a piping plover is, but red foxes are well-known.
They get their special status because they are closely related to dogs, and people find it easy to transfer feelings about their own dogs onto these animals.
This makes sense from a human perspective, but it makes very little sense in terms of ecological understanding.
And it makes little sense for the foxes, which often die by car strikes and sarcoptic mange, especially when their population densities become too high.
Death by a trapper’s gun is far more humane than mange. The traps used are mostly off-set jawed ones, ones that cannot cut the fox as it is held. The trap is little more than a handcuff that grabs it by the foot and holds it. The traps are checked at least once a day, and the fox dies with a simple shot to the head, which kills it instantly.
And the fox numbers are reduced, and the island can hold rare shorebirds better than it could before.
In trying to make a better world for wildlife, we sometimes have to kill. This is an unpleasant truth.
And this truth becomes more unpleasant when we start conflating animal rights issues with conservation issues. Yes, we should make sure that animals are treated humanely, but we cannot make the world safe for wildlife without controlling mesopredators and invasive species.
I think that most of the fox lovers do care about wildlife, but they are so removed from wildlife issues on a grand scale that it becomes harder to understand why lethal methods sometimes must be used.
My guess is these people like seeing foxes when they are at the beach and don’t really think about these issues any more than that.
It is not just the wildlife exploiters and polluters that conservationists have to worry about. The animal lovers who extend too much animal rights ideology into conservation issues are a major problem as well.
And sadly, they are often the people that are the hardest to convince that something must be changed.
I don’t have a good answer for this problem, but it is one that conservationists must consider carefully as the future turns more and more in the favor of animal rights ideology.
I got this email from a listener:
“I need a muzzle for my pitbull. She is great with me, but I don’t trust her with cats in the house, so when she is in the house she is crated. I want to transition her to give her more freedom without risking harm to my cats. I planned to let her hang with me on the couch with the muzzle on. What type do you recommend?”
My answer was:
“A muzzle is an excellent idea on your part instead of crating! My recommendation would be a Baskerville Ultra Muzzle designed by British dog trainer and guru Roger Mugford, whose Company of Animals has many innovative products for dog wellness. This muzzle has a flexible fit for dogs with wider noses and also allows the dog to eat, drink and pant while wearing it. The ergonomically designed safety strapping ensures the muzzle remains securely in place and features two additional points of secure attachment. It is made from strong but maleable thermo plastic rubber (TPR), so that the muzzle can even be molded to best fit a dog’s muzzle by warming in hot water then cooling in cold to create a broad muzzle for a boxer (or possibly your pittie if he has a broad head) or a narrow muzzle for a Borzoi.
However, you need to introduce a dog slowly and gently to a muzzle, by using positive reinforcement and high value treats. Offer your dog some pieces of cheese, hot dog, or Halo-Liv-a-Little freeze dried cubes of salmon or chicken while adjusting the muzzle on your dog’s face the first time. Let him wear the muzzle while you are around for increasing amounts of time until he doesn’t fuss with it and looks to you for those treats,which he will associate with wearing the muzzle. Periodically give him more treats through the openings in the front while he’s wearing it the first few times, until he can even lie comfortably on his bed (or on the couch with you!) while wearing it.”
After getting this email I wanted to raise the question of whether a cat is ever truly safe in a dog household with Gayle Watkins, a renowned Golden Retriever breeder and one of my Avidog International co-hosts on my dog training show GOOD DOGS! Our recent podcast on the topic makes it clear that jeopardy for the cat always theoretically exists, especially when the humans are out of the house. On the show I talk about how a cat can quickly become prey, even to a dog she has lived and played with – but when the cat takes off, the prey-drive instinct takes over in many dogs and tragedy can happen. Especially when adopting or rehoming a dog – even one that you’ve been told is “good with cats” – please be aware that this possibility exists. I have heard of newly-adopted dogs who went after a family cat and then the people couldn’t bear to live with the dog anymore and discarded him.
So our recommendation is to always separate dogs and cats in different parts of the house when you leave them alone – or muzzle the dog so that the kitties stay safe.
Tracie Hotchner is a nationally acclaimed pet wellness advocate, who wrote THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is recognized as the premiere voice for pets and their people on pet talk radio. She continues to produce and host her own Gracie® Award winning NPR show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) from Peconic Public Broadcasting in the Hamptons after 9 consecutive years and over 500 shows. She produced and hosted her own live, call-in show CAT CHAT® on the Martha Stewart channel of Sirius/XM for over 7 years until the channel was canceled, when Tracie created her own Radio Pet Lady Network where she produces and co-hosts CAT CHAT® along with 10 other pet talk radio podcasts with top veterinarians and pet experts.
Tracie also is the Founder and Director of the annual NY Dog Film Festival, a philanthropic celebration of the love between dogs and their people. Short canine-themed documentary, animated and narrative films from around the world create a shared audience experience that inspires, educates and entertains. With a New York City premiere every October, the Festival then travels around the country, partnering in each location with an outstanding animal welfare organization that brings adoptable dogs to the theater and receives half the proceeds of the ticket sales. Halo was a Founding Sponsor in 2015 and donated 10,000 meals to the beneficiary shelters in every destination around the country in 2016.
Tracie lives in Bennington, Vermont – where the Radio Pet Lady Network studio is based – and where her 12 acres are well-used by her 2-girl pack of lovely, lively rescued Weimaraners, Maisie and Wanda.
Whether you want this for the classic style of the black lava beads and silver tone paw charm–or to use with your favorite essential oils, this elegant stretch bracelet easily transitions from…
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I feel like hoops and tassels are all I’ve worn for earrings in the past year, so I went searching for something unique and fell in love with all of these above. I love that they’re mostly statement earrings, but they’re understated. (Does that make them Understatement Earrings? Hmmmm.) Which is your favorite?
(All of these earrings are from Madewell, but this is not a sponsored post. Just love them all!)
I hate biology by Facebook meme. We’re living in a time of great natural history illiteracy, but we’re also living at a time in which people want to respect and learn about nature.
Virginia opossums are one of the most common species in the United States. They fit nicely in suburbia, and they are quite often encountered.
They are not cute, at least by conventional standards of cuteness, and when you encounter them, they stand with their mouths open in a gape threat display. They usually drool and generally look nasty.
So well-meaning people have tried to make the opossum look good, and in doing so, they have decided to bullshit people.
Bullshitting about any animal is a bad conservation strategy.
One common statement is that “many studies” or “a study” have shown that opossums are smarter than dogs and cats.
I had to hunt to find that citation! You’d think that such a groundbreaking discovery would be all over the clickbait science press, but no, it’s actually rather obscure study.
It was a study that was performed in the 1950s using the Fink arrow maze. It is really just a test to see if an animal can remember where it was fed before. The researcher who did the research was a W.T. James, and he performed some other studies on the species, which did not show such a marked ability among the opossums. They are capable of learning.
Other researchers looked into the opossum’s intelligence and have generally found it lacking. Indeed, a 1965 study revealed that opossums were much worse than rats at learning how to follow a maze.
The 1950s study is the only one that compared dogs and opossums, and we live in a time in which a new cognitive study on dogs is released every month or so. Dogs are pretty intelligent animals. They have evolved some cognitive shortcuts that have allowed them to live in close concert with humans and to learn from humans.
So you have one study that shows opossums are more intelligent than dogs and you think that is worth posting on a Facebook meme?
It’s bullshitting people.
The truth is opossums don’t have to be smart to be successful. What makes them successful are two simple things: they reproduce rapidly and they will eat virtually anything.
They also can live their whole lives next to people and never really bother anything. Opossums are far less obnoxious to have around than raccoons are. Raccoons tear things up. They open up garbage bins. They den in chimneys. They kill cats and eat their food.
A raccoon is an intelligent animal. They know how to open up chicken coops and eat all the chickens. They know how to open up gates and get into cornfields.
An opossum will just trundle around and not cause too much trouble.
It works for them.
And yes, they eat ticks and can prevent the spread of Lyme disease.
But they aren’t smarter than super social carnivorans.
So when you see these memes posted on Facebook about how wonderful opossums are, keep in mind that the claim about opossum intelligence being greater than dogs comes from a single study.
It’s bullshitting people. This study is useful, but it’s 60 years old. And no one has attempted to replicate it or tried to draw deeper meaning in the general comparison of cognitive abilities between dogs and opossums.
So yeah, one study. Interesting discovery, but it hasn’t been replicated. Also it doesn’t match what else we know about the two species.
It’s just one of those things you run across in a literature review and wonder about.
A much better understanding of opossums is they are primitive mammals. I don’t mean that they are inferior in this sense. I mean that they very similar to the first mammals that ever existed, and they have retained these primitive, generalized traits for tens of millions years.
That’s pretty amazing.
And it’s not bullshitting people.
The Destigmatization of Hunting is the Only Way to Save the North American Model of Wildlife Management
The North America wildlife management strategy is best described in this video:
Just a few days ago, NPR reported that the percentage of people hunting in the United States has dwindled to 5 percent, and this lack of hunter participation is hamstringing wildlife management departments all over America.
The North American model’s main funding mechanism, which isn’t really mentioned in the Rinella piece, comes from two main sources, hunting license and taxes paid on hunting equipment. Right now, if you buy ammunition or a sporting gun, there is an 11 percent sales tax, which comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act. There is a 10 percent sales tax on pistols and revolvers, and that money goes to the Department of the Interior, where it is then distributed to the states and territories for conservation purposes.
With gun and ammunition sales often driven by speculation and fear-mongering about gun control (which is now in the news again), it is unlikely that this source will dry up in the near future.
The real problem is lower hunter participation. With fewer and fewer hunters taking out after game each year, the coffers of state wildlife agencies become emptier and emptier. The election of so many Republican legislatures nationwide also means that the states are less likely to offer up alternative revenue for wildlife management agencies. So many people who are hunters vote Republican, but in the end, the Republican Party isn’t about increase taxes on anything to keep spending money on what some view as a socialist enterprise in our wildlife management system.
So we live at a time when our public management system is under attack from conservative force but is being starved by an increasingly urban and liberal public. Yes, an increasingly liberal and urban society isn’t going to be spending money on hunting licenses.
It is a perfect storm of bad ideas from the right and the left. It is easy for hunters to attack urban people. We all have this concept of the New Jersey cat lady, who has 25 cats in her house and does TNR with the alley cats and goes to great length to raise hell when the bear season comes every year. That is someone who definitely does exist, but it is a caricature of what liberal, urban America actually is.
Most people who live in these areas vote Democrat, but they don’t really have a strong opinion about hunting. And because they really don’t know anyone who hunts, they are very easily manipulated by animal rights organizations. They are manipulated by ignorance.
Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m ignorant about many things. We all are. If your day-to-day existence doesn’t include much wildlife, it is easy to think that those animal rights people actually do know what they’re talking about. If you don’t know anyone who hunts, it is easy to accept the premise that all hunters are right wingers who love their Donald Trump and Ted Nugent.
And hunters have responded to this stigmatization by wrapping themselves up in right wing politics, which will likely turn out to be the biggest strategic move that hunters could have made.
Right now, the Republican base is aging, and fewer and fewer young people each year register as Republicans. By wrapping hunting up into the greater ideals of conservatism rather than conservation, hunters are going to suffer greatly as the next generation of voters shuns the Republican Party.
That’s going to be bad for wildlife, too. They will not be buying tags for hunting, and they won’t be buying guns and ammunition either.
So both revenue sources for the North American Model will be drying up.
One could simply add canoes, camping equipment, and cameras to the goods subject to the Pittman-Robertson taxes, because then you’d have non-hunting wildlife enthusiasts paying for conservation.
That solution would require legislation, and I am not certain if people who are engaged in those activities would support those taxes. Businesses that sell those items would likely not be happy with adding a cost to their sales prices.
So the only real solution is to find a way to destigmatize hunting for the younger and more urban generation.
The first thing that hunters who are interested in the future should do is take on the cause of conservation. It is not helpful for hunters to be deniers of scientific facts, especially when it comes to climate change. People under a certain age will not buy any of that stuff. Demographically, that battle has been lost, whether you’re right or not. (And you aren’t).
If you can sell hunting as an ethical way to manage forests, say show how killing a some white-tailed deer every year promotes the regeneration of oak forest, then you’re making some headway. Also show how humanely you kill a deer, explain that a single shot to the heart, which is kills in seconds, is far more merciful than a lingering death in the March woods when all the acorns are gone.
The other thing hunters must do is realize that conservatism is a lost cause. Conservatism isn’t going to save your guns, because consevatism is a discredited ideology for the generation that is about to take power. What will save your guns is recognizing the need for meaningful gun legislation and making dead certain that you understand that hunting is primarily about conservation. It is a “green” idea to hunt deer, and being green isn’t a bad thing, because it ensures that wild places will continue to exist.
If you’re going to hold onto these ideas and attack young people, then they will not listen to you, and they WILL listen to the animal rights extremists, who honestly don’t have a very good grounding in conservation principles at all. Animal rights extremists know how to do publicity right. They know how to do politics.
Most hunting organizations know only how to operate in a system in which conservative politics reigns or has the potential to reign. The new world for hunting organizations is figuring out how to exist in a society that doesn’t regard socialism as a dirty word and views climate change as a major issue that must be addressed.
Hunting can survive, but only if hunting organizations realize that real world has changed. And it’s up to us to be much more effective at destigmatizing field sports.
I know this is easy for me. I’ve never been a conservative. I was raised in a family of liberal deer hunters, so it’s not like I really have to change my approach.
But I am only one person.
For those hunters who disagree with me, I have two questions:
Do you really think Ted Nugent has changed the minds of enough young people to keep hunting a part of America’s conservation heritage for decades to come?
Do you think Donald Trump has added to his electoral base since the 2016 election?
You know the answers to both questions.
And that’s why we are going to have this big challenge ahead of us for the future of hunting and conservation in this country.
More video love from Hope for Paws. Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
We all know it’s not unusual to find love at an animal shelter. Usually it’s with an adoptable animal looking for a home. That’s part of why Halo donates more than 1.5 million bowls of nutritious food to shelter animals every year to help those dogs and cats look and feel great, so they can put their best paw forward to help them find love. However, some people find more than animals who capture their hearts at an animal shelter. For Katherine Zenzano, her heart was captured at an animal shelter by a very special Animal Control Officer!
Katherine Zenzano knew she loved animals. It was why she was excited to start as the Assistant to the President and CEO of a large urban animal shelter. She was even prepared to fall in love with lots of fuzzy creatures. She didn’t expect that the job would lead her to the love of her life and future spouse.
Shawn Covington was an Animal Control Officer for that same urban shelter. “I could tell that he was a hard worker and that it was on behalf of animals was very attractive,” Katherine admitted about what first drew her to Shawn. Shawn also appreciated Katherine’s care for animals. It made him want to know her better, plus, as he put it, “it also meant that we had something in common.”
Katherine grew to love animal welfare. She eventually became a Behavior and Training Counselor as well as the Cat Behavior Manager for the always busy shelter. She also grew closer to Shawn. “When Shawn brought his two dogs, Tank and Beretta, two Boston Terriers, over to my house so I could meet them, “ was a big day, according to Katherine. “I had already heard about Tank who certainly lived up to the name,” she continued, “But Beretta was so tiny and cute and in a way it just…surprised me. Here was this big tough guy with this happy, prancing little dog. I do believe that sold me.”
Dogs continued to be a big factor in their relationship. Not only did they integrate their pack, as it were, but the couple also fostered many animals together. Eventually Shawn proposed, while their dogs milled about, and Katherine said yes. She joked at the time that there was no better way to celebrate National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week! While preparing for their wedding, they thought about their dogs. They didn’t plan to have any of them at the ceremony to avoid stressing out the dogs or humans too much. However, Tank had other ideas.
According to Katherine, “On the day of our wedding, Tank escaped through an open door and Shawn had to chase him to catch him. Shawn slipped and fell, and ripped his jeans, but eventually caught Tank.” The couple discussed what was best and decided to change their plans slightly. “Our dog Tank was there for the wedding weekend, but only because we didn’t want to risk that he get away from my dad who would be taking care of our dogs,” she explained.
Now the couple has three dogs. “Little Bit is Katherine’s other soul mate,” shared Shawn. Little Bit “is a senior Terrier mix who loves to be near Katherine at all times. Tank is a troublemaker; he is the older male, Boston Terrier. He’s always getting into something. Beretta is the sweetest and always needs to find the coziest spot to nestle in,” Shawn continued. In addition to the dogs, the happy couple also has an adorable toddler daughter they say “definitely” shares her parents’ love of animals. “Beretta is her favorite dog if we’re naming favorites. And she loves having the foster kittens around and is very gentle and patient with them,” said Katherine.
Katherine feels that dogs are a big part of why she and Shawn fell in love, telling us “I definitely credit our love for animals with bringing us together.” Not everyone will meet their human soulmate at an animal shelter, but everyone can find an animal who needs their love. Who knows what else you’ll find?