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Meanwhile, Back at the S.P.C.A.

Posted by Eliza, February 18th, 2011

Compared to most other animals, rabbits have the neatest poop ever. That’s one thing I was grateful for this morning as I cleaned cages in the Small Animal part of our local animal adoption center. I was also enjoying how quiet rabbits are until Houdini, a white furred, pink eyed, good sized, Easter-style rabbit huffed at me. Hufff hufff huff!

Here am I, Bunny Goddess, about to bestow fresh bedding and alfalfa pellets, and he has the nerve to get all huffy at me. But I gave him some space and hurried up with the food, so he got quiet again and munchy. I tried to remember if any divinities were ever so humbled by those they patronized in the old stories.

Later in the morning, I took on a new job helping with a show and tell and story program for young children. We set up coloring stations and put on music, placed quilts on the floor for the story time, and greeted our guests. They were so young that they were mostly pre-verbal, but bright-eyed and pink cheeked. Today’s animals were conures, small parrots with large black eyes, green and blue bodies, red tails and almost iridescent, sturdy beaks. We put a little fence around the cage against the curiosity of little fingers.

Encouraged not to expect too much from such little ones, I noticed that some wandered off or sat down to coloring. Before long children and adults surrounded the cage where One, Two, Three, Four and Five were perched like a line of clones. Five pairs of birds’eyes followed us. Our leader pointed out the special features of birds – wings, feathers, beaks – and a few children flapped their arms and grinned. They got it, the sameness and the difference of these jewel bright animals.

As the room filled up with toddlers, infants, and adults, the birds suddenly relaxed and moved to the bars, the swing, the seed cups, whistling and calling out – to each other and to us. Suddenly we weren’t people staring here and birds frozen in fear there, but two communities appreciating one another, talking and connecting in ways you could barely see but could feel. The room got noisier and noisier and the leader clapped her hands so the people knew to settle in for a story. And the five green birds, they grew quiet, too, and stayed that way until the story’s end.

Being with animals often reminds me of my perch in the grand schematic, which is good for the ego and lifts the spirit, kind of like wings.


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Early One Morning

Posted by Eliza, February 10th, 2011

The long stare. Designed on purpose to make you feel like prey, the long stare is what they call the look some canines give to, well, their prey. Grabbed by that stunning stare, my friend and I were mesmerized. What was that animal? A large German shepherd? Too tall and healthy looking to be a coyote. Maybe a wolf? No, not in New England. No any more.

Most probably it was an eastern coyote, which can have a little dog or wolf mixed in. Canis latrans (barking dog,its scientific name) is one wild animal we have in common. Clever, elusive, and adaptable, coyotes range throughout most of North America to slightly south of Mexico. As our local predators literally lose ground, coyotes move into the vacuum, even in urban areas. How do they manage to thrive in so many places? They’re opportunistic, hunting day or night, and easily evading us, one of their few predators.

Today most of us live in range of a coyote, which means coyotes hunt, mate, and whelp in our neighborhoods. (Over 10,000 live in Massachusetts alone.) Some of us like this idea, some of us are rightly nervous for our pets or even our young children, and some of us want them dead. While it makes sense to be aware of their untamable nature, fear too often leads to panic and violence against them.

It also makes sense to think about things from the coyote’s point of view. Small animals equal food, garbage cans contain food, and so our landscape becomes hunting grounds. Some people feed coyotes, in effect training them to think people = food, which is rarely a good idea. (But then seed producers have started to market squirrel food which, if you’ve ever tried to get squirrels out of your attic, you know is super unsmart.)

Like many of you, I live in a place where wild, domestic and human animals share space. We build porches and skunks build their dens under them. We feed birds and squirrels come running. We let our cats out and coyotes seeking food for their young come hunting.

Yes, coyotes are killers. Just like us, they’ve got to eat. And they’re also parents, faithful partners, and helpful pack members. They eat mostly rodents, the kind that can become pests, like mice and rats. They sing and howl, bark and huff, like we do. Indians had such great respect for the coyotle that they made him a star trickster and a deity in their stories.

I was relieved to find my town is smart about these neighbors. Animal Control has a very useful coyote page that shows where they’ve been seen and how they’ve been behaving. The deep snow we have means they’re spotted more often, but they’re being very good given how hard the hunting must be. The story this site tells is that we’re being good, too. We’re being sensible about our pets and other things, like pet food, that might entice them to come closer to humans than is wise.

A world without wild is an empty world. We’re all safer – wild and tamer – if we respect one another, letting each species do what it needs to do to survive with a minimum of conflict.


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