Thursday, August 21, 2008

Animal Rights Organizations

While growing up (in India) I was part of a family that included dogs. However, I have never had a pet here in the States till recently. I always wanted one but I also always had excuses for why I couldn't have one right then. At last, recently, we were selected by a little cat at the Humane Society Shelter and we brought home Neobe. It has been a revelation in many ways. Not least of which has been an introduction to the health care system and issues facing non-humans in the United States.

I have always believed in and supported organizations that fight for animal rights such as PETA, HSUS, ASPCA and WWF. I thought that by supporting organizations like these, I was helping to make the life of pets and other animals better. I just never realized how they worked. While most of these organizations lobby for and advocate better treatment of animals, this doesn't translate into better care for the household pet in most cases. A recent example is that of the HSUS rescuing many dogs from a puppy mill in Tennessee. The HSUS is doing its best to provide all the animals care and to try and place them in homes and it has shut down the puppy mill. However, if you walk into any HSUS shelter across the nation, you will realize that they are mostly "kill" shelters. This means that animals that don't get adopted are euthanized within a set period of time. Contrast this with many local no-kill shelters that don't receive the kind of money and support and even recognition that the HSUS might receive but that still manage to care for all animals received. Two of these in the Denver area are the MaxFund and the Animal Rescue and Adoption Society. Another wonderful example is D.E.L.T.A. run by Leo Grillo out in California.

Here's another strange fact. Despite the proliferation of all these wonderful high-profile, animal-rights organizations, the United States continues to suffer from overcrowded shelters. I did not see a problem on this scale in other developed nations. Despite all these years of advocacy for pet sterilization, shelters swim in puppies and kittens come a certain time of year. And it is very much a hidden problem unlike the developing world where strays end up on streets to live miserable and brutishly short lives. Here we like to keep them out of sight and mind- in shelters where they can live cramped, anxious and short lives generally.

Despite the presence of this many wonderful animal-rights organizations, the United States also suffers the ignominy of being perhaps the only developed nation where you can take your cat to your vet and have her/him declawed. This is a practice labeled unethical and inhumane in most developed nations. Why aren't we fighting harder to prevent something known to be cruel every where else? How did the other nations ensure that this doesn't happen to innocent cats?

Another revelation is that you cannot find charitable veterinary organizations in communities. Veterinary offices charge a lot of money every time you visit their offices. This ensures that the poor and those with financial challenges (such as students, the unemployed, the elderly) are unable to afford pets or if they are still determined to have pets, then they are generally unable to provide the pets with good health care from a veterinarian without digging themselves deeper into the hole. This also means that if you find an animal in distress, you may hesitate to pick it up and walk into a vet's clinic if you know that every visit will cost you about $50 not including the medications or any treatment.

The cost might also explain why many people won't get sick pets treated. What, you are surprised that there are sick and untreated pets in many households? You can read about sick and untreated pets in most animal care organization reports and veterinary reports (Case in point: It is recognized that owners will often ignore and not treat cat illnesses, and so research into cat illnesses and treatments for them lags behind that for dogs).

Normal household pets need advocates too. Just because a pet is adopted doesn't mean our societal responsibility to it is at an end. This is nowhere more obvious than in this time of foreclosures in the United States when so many former pets are now abandoned or surrendered to shelters with no guarantees to life.

I had thought that the animal care situation in this country would look rosier after so many years of active work by so many wonderfully committed organizations. Yes, let's fight against veal crating and battery farming and puppy mills and seal clubbing and KFC. But let's also educate and make shelters a place of warmth and life and change our philosophies towards pets and their care. Let's not make having pets a luxury only few can afford. I still support these organizations but now I am also finding myself appreciating local and no-kill shelters that try to better the quality of life of so many domesticated and feral animals.

Click on the photos of kittens and puppy to see where they were found. The cat sleeping is Neobe. :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Woeful Waste

For years now when I print a document I stand by the printer with paper in my hand and feed it in one sheet at a time. When the printer spits out a page, I flip it and re-insert it in order to make double sided documents. I was puzzled that American photocopiers had the ability to turn documents of all kinds into double-sided copies but American printers somehow never developed the technology to make double-sided prints.

I will happily admit that this is as much an indictment of my gullibility as of the manufacturers of printers in America who like to keep consumers in the dark. I was disabused of the seeming backwardness of printer technology when I got the opportunity to work at a university in the U.K. where all printers were capable of printing double-sided documents with no extra trouble. You just made the appropriate selection on the print set-up screen on your computer. It seems that the regulations for recycling etc., being more stringent across the pond, the very same manufacturers were indeed able to surmount this problem of printers that could print on both sides of a sheet of paper.

Even today, I am unable to find double-sided printing as a feature on common household American printers. If you search you can find some 'special' printers marketed for having this 'fabulous' money and paper saving feature!! Paying extra for such printers is something a few corporate companies may do. But most small businesses as well as academia and those of us regular folks at home often get by with the state-of-the-art for home printers which hasn't changed for the last decade or more. So folks like me have to stand by the printer and feed it one page at a time and take about 10 times as long to print a document as a double-sided printer would take.

Here's a guy, who missing his corporate double-sided printer figured out another way to overcome his lack of double sided printing. Again, you will note the convoluted steps one has to go through to do something that is good for all of us- i.e., use less paper and save some trees. What is it about being located in the world's number one economy and a place where a lot of new research and technology is developed that we can't get manufacturers to take us seriously as consumers? What would it take to get broad access to something as simple as a cheap double-sided printer?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Progress Report On The Dongria Kondh Story

In a tragic fait accompli, the Indian Supreme Court has approved mining by Vedanta and Posco (a South Korean company) in the hills of Niyamgiri in Orissa. There were many strenuous campaigns against mining in this eco-system by the indigenous dwellers of Niyamgiri, forestry officials and farmers to name a few. The Norwegian government went so far as to divest itself of Vedanta stock in order not to be tainted by a project that has and would continue to adversely affect human rights and the environment. (You may read the whole story in a previous blog I wrote.)

The Supreme Court has mandated that a certain sum be spent on tribal development and welfare. But this sum is a pittance and not something desired by the tribals. And leaving the welfare of Indian citizens in the hands of some multi-national seems a very shoddy road-plan for human rights and economic development.

The rush to development claims new victims. The gap between those who are benefiting from the economic development and those who are not continues to grow. India continues to feel the pressure to be counted as one of the two emerging economic giants even as China has left it far behind in developing infrastructure and education. Indian corruption continues to siphon off funds directed towards the poorest and the most disadvantaged. Indian politicians need to consider new ways of achieving goals as the old ones never worked. We need to be smart and develop in such a way that we don't spend decades recovering from the damage done by the rush to develop. And we certainly shouldn't victimize the citizens of India in order to meet development goals. Otherwise, how can we claim the democratic high ground?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Celebrity Circus

We had been lulled into complacency in a post-Hilton world. No longer did we have to have inane heiress famous for being famous thrust at us instead of world news and events. The serious business of the U.S. choosing its next president was beginning to heat up. And then Mr. McCain had to go and bring back Inanity to primetime. Grrroan. What was he thinking? Who is advising the septuagenarian? In an ad aimed at making people think of Obama's "celebrity" status, he uses footage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Ms. Hilton, never one to miss an opportunity for self-promotion, has now made a faux campaign ad thanking McCain for his endorsement. One has to admit though, that the ad is funny.

But Mr. McCain, who has not been doing too badly- considering that Obama has the novelty factor and has attracted tons of younger blood to the election campaigns- does not have my thanks for bring Ms. Hilton back into the public eye. Mr. McCain could easily have focused on other aspects of the Obama campaign, which has been far from perfect. Mr. Obama has been frittering away the passionate support from the liberal and younger end of the spectrum instead of securing it and expanding into the other demographics. Soon after being endorsed the Democratic nominee, Mr. Obama has been moving to the center and those who had so hopefully supported him as the agent of change saw him backtrack and espouse ideas which seem antithetical to one who claims not to be adept at playing politics. Obama should have taken the high ground and stuck to his campaign finance promises. He should have not given in to pressure from big business and said that phone companies should not be penalized for supporting wrong-headed policies on wire-tapping, etc. etc. He should not try to be loved by everyone all the time. Clinton (the president) was good at that and even convincing.

There are other policy issues that Mr. McCain could challenge Mr. Obama on. To pick on him for his celebrity status just seems like a cheap shot. And one that has inflicted Paris on us again!

[Click on picture of Paris Hilton to view original ad at]