Sunday, October 27, 2013

How To Actually Help Animals In Need

Animals.  You read this blog because you love them, I write this blog because I love them.  At some point, that common denominator has to count for something.   At some point, a shared passion for understanding, protected, and conserving animals has to result in actual, you know, ACTION for animals.   

The manatee on the right lost most of its paddle thanks to some boaters who didn't feel like following the law.

Sometimes, though, we get lost in the emotion of the moment.  So I'd like to share some helpful hints on how to help animals.  So many times we think we need to be apart of some massive movement, or do something so extraordinary that we forget there are things we can do TODAY that will directly benefit (or save) the life of an animal who has no choice but to hope we aren't lazy morons.


"Oh puh-leez", you say.  "That's such a cop-out answer."

Oh, puh-leez.  Littering kills unfathomably large numbers of animals, directly and indirectly.  What may seem like a simple solution (you know, not throwing your Sun Chips back into the ocean) is what makes me so enraged and sad when I see photos of animals whose stomachs are packed full of human garbage.   How hard is it to place these items securely into a trash can?  

Is it the same psychological phenomenon as I Can't Possibly Push The Shopping Cart 20 Yards To Its Designated Collection Space?  I mean, I get that.  I stand there at my car in agony, knowing that I have to dig deep into my energy reserves to find auxiliary power to get to the spot in the parking lot where I'm supposed to put my cart.   But I hate pulling into a spot and seeing a cart just sitting there, taking up the whole dang space.   So I do my duty and push the cart back, realizing it isn't so bad to use 3 seconds to do my part.   But I digress.


 If you blow off that something like picking up after yourself as a cop-out, easy task that doesn't "really" help, then you need a serious reality check.   Pick up your plastic bag, put it in the trash (or better yet, recycle it).  Know that your simple action of not littering decreases the odds that an animal will eat it or become entangled in it.  The plastic bag you just tossed could've easily been the bag that a loggerhead sea turtle ate.  And if the first thing that can to your head was, "oh come on, stop being so dramatic", then I'd like you to ask yourself if the reason you believe that is because you require immediate, physical proof an animal ingested something you've littered.   Perhaps volunteering at a wildlife rescue facility will change your mind about how often this happens.

One of the most common things I see at my job are people leaving their trash, everywhere.  I live near a beach, and see it there.  Every time I drive to work, I drive past a boat launch to a bay that looks like a dumping ground for beer cans.  I spent some time at a state park the past week, and saw food bags, cups, and random articles of clothing left throughout the park.  And when it's commented on, the general response is one of apathy or irritation.   I've heard countless times people say that their "one piece of trash won't make a difference in the ocean."  I've heard, "They've got people to clean that up", too.   It's a problem, and most people don't care. Or they believe there is a Magical Cleaning Crew who will also Put Your Shopping Cart Away.


When you can't recycle your trash at home (some of our towns are still stuck in 1940), recycle wherever you can.  Zoos, aquariums, office buildings, work places, theme parks, restaurants; most places have committed to a recycling program and you should use it whenever possible.  It DOES matter, beyond not contributing to a giant pile of plastic garbage floating in the ocean, or slowing down the fill rate at landfills.   It reduces the need to make MORE (especially plastics).

And! This is the coolest part of recycling, you can shop at antique stores and thrift shops for the most fun recycling ever.   Finding awesome furniture and clothing means the resources used to create the items you've just bought (e.g. wood or plastic in furniture, textiles for clothing, plastic or glass for cookware/diningware) are, well, recycled.   The larger picture is nuts.  Plus, you save money and get a lot of cool stuff in your house.

Side note: Not totally sure about the historical accuracy of this image.


What are the local wildlife laws in your area?  If you fish, follow the bag/slot limits and seasons.  If you're allowed to take two redfish, don't take three.  Think you're the only one that's going to fudge the rules? Nope.  You're joining the ranks nickel-and-dimers who think the rules don't really apply to them, and meanwhile devastate a breeding population of slow-reproducing fish.  Apply to whatever animal humans are allowed to hunt.

If you're on the boater in a motorized boat, follow the law.  You go slow in manatee areas because your hull can break the ribs of a manatee and cause it to drown in its own blood.   Wait for wildlife to come to you.  Stop your boat and wait.  Don't chase and persue.

Don't feed wildlife, for god's sake.   A simple non-action can save a life, isn't that awesome?

I waited patiently to see deer.  This old gal decided she was comfortable enough to do her business.


Pick a place in your town.  Animal shelters, wildlife rehab centers, nature centers, state parks, county parks, non-profit zoos and aquariums, habitat clean-up crews, colleges/universities, etc. all need help with their animal and environment-related tasks.    What's something that really interests you?  Do you like the idea of picking up trash in a county park, or along the medians of highways (where, by the way, some of the most amazing plant life grows and provides homes to millions of animals, which include insects and hey, they count too).    How about washing towels for dogs and cats in shelters who need them for comfort and warmth?  Do you want to learn how to hand-feed baby squirrels?  Pick what interests you, find out who does that (or something close to it) in your community, and GO!

Exactly!! (why are all of these people in workout gear, btw?)

Here's some more helpful tips, and some of this might be a little upsetting or disillusioning.  But I encourage you to read it and really think about it…because you can make a huge difference to the life and lives of animals.  YOU.  Not someone else.  YOU.

* Clean-up crews are becoming more and more common in most towns and communities.  Schools are a good place to start, because they often get their students involved.  County governments will also have information on those things.   Hey, you may be at the point where you want to organize one.  You'll see some sad things; you'll realize that even though YOU care so much about the environment, lots of people don't.  They just don't.  And they leave evidence of it everywhere.  It's sad and frustrating and seems sometimes like there is no end in sight, but channel those feelings of anger and sadness to do a kickass job of cleaning up.  Then commit to do another clean-up, and another.  And get your friends involved, which brings their level of awareness to yours.  

* Volunteering at an animal shelter is not for everyone.  Why? Because it's sad.  Because it's another scenario where you see how awfully animals are treated by people.  I'm not going to hold anything back here, because I've seen so many people think volunteering at an animal shelter includes snuggling with fuzzy kittens and happy puppies.   Here's what it is: animals who have been abandoned, forgotten, neglected, and/or seized.  Dogs and cats who had a life with a human being who they thought cared for them, and then unceremoniously dumped them in the night drop-off box at a local humane society.  Dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and rodents who became inconvenient.   

But they need dedicated, loving volunteers.  Desperately.

When I volunteered at my local humane society, the volunteer coordinator told me that a man brought in a 8 month old puppy and said he didn't want her anymore.  She whined and cried for days while she was held in quarantine.  Then, the man came back and demanded to see his dog.  Thinking he'd had a change of heart, the humane society staff let him back to see the puppy, who perked up and wagged her tail, excited to see the man.  He opened the kennel door, knelt down to the puppy who was up on her hind legs trying to lick his face.  He took off her collar, pushed her away, and left her there.

I know, that is an awful (TRUE) story.  DON'T put your head in the sand.  The feelings you're having now?  Those awful feelings where you just want to scoop up the little puppy and save her?  

Harness those.  

Go into an animal shelter, and go be of service.  Those animals need as many friendly faces in their lives as they can get.  Why? Well, not only for obvious reasons, but they need people who provide clean towels and blankets to sleep on.  They need people who can look beyond the filth left in kennels by animals ridden with anxiety…which translates to thorough, deep kennel cleaning.   All the while you're providing husbandry care for these animals, you're seeing how non-animal lovers work.  You're seeing their victims pile up in animal shelters.  And you will spread the word to your friends and families.  That's a big deal, that's a HUGE deal.  You're directly helping the animals, and you're getting other people involved, too.  You didn't read about it on the internet, you didn't watch it in a documentary, you're seeing it with your own eyes and you're doing something to help.

And you know what?  You'll see the happy side, too.  You'll see animals get great homes, and sometimes you're the one responsible for that.  That's worth all the sad stuff.

* Wildlife rehabbing is similar in terms of disillusionment as I described above.  If you want to actually get involved in rehabbing wild animals, you'll need a permit and probably rabies shots.  But if it's something you really want to do, you'll put in the time, effort, and money to make a difference.  

And if that's not possible, there are always kennels and habitats to be cleaned, and diets to be prepped, and endless laundry to do.  And you'll see plenty of animals come in with human-related injuries or illnesses.  And the same exact situation will occur as aforementioned; you'll learn, you'll share, you'll directly influence animals' lives.


* Nature centers and county/state parks are always looking for volunteers.  While you may not have any animals to care for, you are assisting in educating visitors who come to the park.    That ranges from the fun stuff, like talking to a group of kids or narrating a wildlife tour, to the not-so-fun but equally-important stuff, like yelling at someone who's feeding the wildlife, or someone who just tossed their garbage in the water.  Nonetheless, you're making a difference, and you're interacting with the general public who, again (have I said this enough yet?) don't really care or understand.

* Zoos and aquariums who have a volunteer program need volunteers for education, habitat and area maintenance, diet prep, and, in some rare cases, assisting directly with the animals.   The education element is critical; you will hear some incredibly crazy questions and assumptions.  And it's your job to correct them.  And then shudder to think what those people would've continued to think/do had they NOT visited your facility.

Had a guest the other day insist he could have an alligator as a pet.  After we discussed why that was an awful idea, he changed his mind.  I'm glad he visited my workplace and I could help prevent an exotic animal disaster.

Go to google.
Search for your local zoo or aquarium.
Go to its website.
Scroll through the list of animals and find one (shouldn't be hard) you know virtually nothing about.  Better yet, find one you never even knew existed.

Or, if you can, visit the zoo or aquarium. Those are great places to see and learn about animals who are not popular for whatever reason.  Does that make them less deserving of conservation?  No, but we as animal lovers (hopefully) already know that.  Joe Shmo does not.  Most zoos and aquariums at least have information if not directly involved in conservation efforts for some of their animals.  They are a great resource for one-stop shopping;  you see and learn about an animal you knew little to nothing about, you contributed financially to their care and in some cases, their conservation, and you can get information on how to support conservation efforts.

Regardless, I want you to somehow find an animal you never knew existed.  Preferably not one of your favorites.  Pick an animal that doesn't have eyelids.  Or, if you're a herp-lover, pick a mammal.  Or, if you love all vertebrates, go invert.

Now LEARN about them.  What is their deal? What do they do with their time on a daily basis?  What sorts of dangers do they deal with?  How influenced are they by human activity?  LEARN.

The gelada.  I didn't know this guy existed until just now.  And look at all the info I found on Bronx Zoo's website:


Look at this list I've created.  Take items 1-4.  Talk about them with people.  Tell them what you see and hear and the beach/forest/highway clean-up, the animal shelter, the nature center, the wildlife rescue.  Tell them about this cool animal you never knew shared the planet with you.  

And to the animal caretakers reading this blog: Pour yourself into education, if you don't already.  Not everyone adores talking to the public, especially if you've encountered a lot of people who really seem to not care, but you can't let that stop you.   Share your passion with each and every guest that walks through your facility.  Tell them about your animals individually, tell them about the things that plague their counterparts in the wild.  Don't skimp on the education; it's the reason the animals are there in the first place.   Your main two jobs are to provide exceptional care to the animals you love, and make the people who see them care if only a fraction more than when they pulled into the parking lot.  Don't roll your eyes or get annoyed when you're scheduled to do a keeper chat, or narrate a show, or spend time answering questions.  Look at it as an opportunity to help save the animals you care so much about.


Other than donating your time… 

Towels, blankets, food are the three main things animal shelters, wildlife centers, and rehabbers need.  But you can get a list of items that these places need, and you might be surprised at some of the things they need.  Instead of throwing things away, check to make sure someone else doesn't need them (whoa, look at how recycling keeps rearing its head!).  

Worth their weight in gold in the animal care field!

And if you want to donate money, make sure you KNOW what you're donating to.  Don't assume a fancy website and a household name mean your money is going to a good cause.  Make sure your money isn't being wasted (and, sad to say, there are causes where that is the case).  Example?  Want to donate money to your local humane society?  Make sure you donate it to your local humane society.  Don't donate it The Humane Society of the United States, because that has NOTHING to do with humane societies in your home towns.

Call the facility, visit it.  Find out where their money goes.  Does it go directly to the animals? Do providing an adequate staff to care for them?  To maintenance?   If you don't know where your money is going, then donate goods to that facility.  They are just as helpful as dollar bills. 


If there is a topic about animal conservation that just really grinds your gears, and you really want to get involved and Make A Difference, DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Recently, in light of the Blackfish movie, I read a comment posted on CNN's website.  It said that we should not just stop at freeing the orcas, but the elephants as well.

Now, let's side aside our personal feelings about animals in human care for a second, okay?  Because the point of this blog is that, well, it shouldn't matter how you feel about that topic because there are a ton of things you can do to help animals.  So focus on that.

If you believe that elephants do not belong in zoos, then before you make claims (or documentaries) about that topic, do your research.  Don't talk to people who already agree with your point of view.  Talk to people who actually work with those animals in all settings: zoos, sanctuaries, their natural habitat.   

And if you did your research on African elephants, you'd know there is no place to 'set them free'.   You'd learn via the facts, that African elephants can either be in "the wild" in unprotected areas where they are systematically exterminated in government-sanctioned culls, because they are considered agricultural pests.  Or, they can go to the protected areas, essentially like giant sanctuaries, where the people who patrol the areas work diligently to protect their animals but are ultimately out-numbered by poachers.  And you can end up with tens of elephants shot or poisoned on protected grounds.  Don't believe me?  Google "African elephant cull" and look at the news items.

So, what are you going to do about it?  See how now it really doesn't matter if you agree with animals in zoos or not?  Because your opinion on that matter doesn't save a single soul.   Do. Your. Research. Thoroughly.  Poor research and misinformation leads to distracting people from the actual issue at hand, which means, again, the animals you think you're helping get ZERO help at all.

Look, this is not a blog intended to upset anyone.  It is intended to make a point that keeps getting forgotten:


Stop trolling the internetzzzz.  Don't pretend to know something you've never experienced or seen.  Why? Because you're wasting time.  There are animals out there who need YOU.  RIGHT NOW.  They don't need you to sit at a computer screen.  They don't need you to make a documentary.  They are sitting, alone, in a kennel waiting for someone to give them a warm towel.  They are waiting for someone to realize that they are in trouble and need help.  They aren't on a movie screen. They are all in your own backyard.

No comments:

Post a Comment