Year of the Bird

The first time I witnessed a Bald Eagle magically swooping through the sky was over the Ausable River in Upper Michigan in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I was with my Dad visiting my grandparents, who were so excited to take us to see the nest way up on top of a huge tree.  They explained that Bald Eagles were making a comeback after years of near extinction due to DDT and other pesticides. We weren’t allowed to get near the nest due to federal regulations that protected the beautiful bird to help with breeding and raising their babies. Federal regulations eventually brought back the Bald Eagles and other birds.

I remember being horrified that something so magnificent had ever been in danger. Shortly after witnessing that, I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (I love this recent Jill Lepore article about her!) and I’ve had a life-long, on-going, back-and-forth obsession in my head for the last 30 years about environmental and animal issues. Our collective human apathy amazes me.

The birds that make a regular appearance in my urban, So-Cal neighborhood are Nutall woodpeckers, a Red-Shouldered hawk couple (Sean’s fave), American crows (my fave), Northern mockingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, Black Phoebes, purple finches, sparrows, and doves. We also have a pair of squawking parrots that are breeding and multiplying at a staggering pace and some lucky people have chicken clucking loudly in their yards. A few weeks ago, at the estuary near us, we spotted Great egrets, a Snowy egret, osprey and a lone flamingo that escaped from somewhere. Our neighborhood is 1000x better because of all the birds that reside in it.

National Geographic & the Audubon declare this the Year of Bird. It is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which has protected birds as they migrate for 100 years. Like so many other important policies (66 Environmental Rules on the Way out under Trump), this one is threatened under the current administration. Several articles remind us that if the new amendment had been in effect when the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, B.P. would not have had to spend millions of dollars to clean up where the birds live.  If you care about this – take some SUPER simple online actions here. Literally takes 5 minutes.

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Image credits: Daniel Biber/lensculture This photo is INCREDIBLE! Like a murmuration of Starlings we need to keep organizing.

I’m finding myself able to get lost in books again lately. And I’m so grateful for the escape they have always offered me.

Reese Witherspoon has a book club and her picks are pretty good. I zipped through Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (suburban drama) and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (love story). Both of the books are fast reads that are perfect, escapist beach or weekend reading. I LOVED Celine by Peter Heller – it’s a detective story with an older, refined, sassy female in the lead role who travels from NYC to Yellowstone to solve a decades long mystery. Heller writes beautifully about nature and humanity (Dog Stars is even better than this, but you need to be okay with apocalyptic books to pick it up).

Books that have a small supernatural element in them are my favorite (Time Traveler’s Wife, anything by Alice Hoffman or David Mitchell). Eternal Life by Dara Horn is about a woman who has been alive for centuries and has watched generations of her family live and die. The book explores the “gift” of dying and the gift of being alive. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows four siblings who are told the date that they will die by a gypsy when they are in elementary school. Each chapter follows one of the siblings and the impact that this has on their life. I couldn’t put this book down! Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin  is a super-small, one-sitting book about our inability to protect children or others. This book (surprisingly) killed it in the Tournament of Books this year! It’s an environmental horror story that is creepy and weird and lingers long after the book is put down.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is a story about female friendship, animation, drugs & drinking, trying to escape your past, and making art out of your life (and who that effects). Super good book. I’m currently reading Oprah’s latest pick, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It explores our racist legal system, being black in America, marriage, independence, and so much more. The writing  and story are perfect.

Other stuff I’m reading & thinking about…

This article by Kim Stanley Robinson about population and how we can all live on Earth, and this article by Jeff Vandermeer on Cli-Fi.

Huge upsets this year in the Tournament of Books! I’m also following The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks on Food 52.

Excited for the Great American Read.

We’ve been watching a lot of creepy Twilight Zone-like anthology TV shows lately. My fave episodes are Black Mirror – San Junipero, Black Mirror – Hang the DJ, and almost all of the episodes of Amazon’s Electric Dreams. I try not to watch them before bed because they are nightmare inducing.

On Being Podcast with guest Naomi Shihab Nye –  I swooned when she stated “You are living in a poem.” Most of the On Being Podcasts are great (love the Mary Oliver) and make me feel better when I’m losing hope or feel disconnected.

I love this blog post by Ann Patchett about her stepfather.

So far away but…Barbara Kingsolver and Kate Atkinson have new books coming out in the Fall!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life: Ruby, Story #2

Part One is HERE.

So, we found out Ruby could die if another bee stung her. In our yard we have a huge, beautiful rosemary plant that blooms with purple buds nonstop. Bees love that freaking bush, and it is our nemesis. We rent, believe me, if we owned our house that bush would have been yanked out the minute we found out about the bee allergy. San Diego has blooming flowers, and bees, year round. Avoiding bees can be a full time job…

IMG_1028We were told by multiple vets that the only thing that we could do if Ruby was stung again was to bring her immediately to a vet. That answer made us angry and feel completely helpless. Anaphylaxis can kill in a very short time, and the closest emergency vet, without traffic, is about 15 minutes away.

About 2 months after the bee sting incident I was in a yoga class, and the receptionist came in and whispered to me that my husband was on the phone, and it was an emergency. I ran to the phone and Sean told me to pick him and Ruby up from the park, he thought she’d been stung by a bee because she would not get up. As soon as I arrived, I started breathing easier because I knew that Ruby was not in the middle of anaphylactic shock because she jumped in the car and her tail was wagging.

To be safe and because she was acting a little weird (and Sean still felt really nervous), we took her to the nearest vet, which ended up being total kismet. The vet was about to close, but we explained the situation and they let us in. The calmest, gentlest vet I have ever met listened as I explained to him that we were freaking out taking Ruby outside because of the bees. He fully understood our concerns, and he proceeded to give me an injection kit of epinephrine for Ruby. He measured it out, put it in 2 needles, and then he made me practice giving Ruby an injection. He told us to make sure we carried it everywhere that we went, to always carry gel benadryl tablets (they dissolve faster), and to take a deep breath before doing the injection. I’m not writing the vet’s name down because he is retired now (he retired about a week after we met him, but I’ve emailed with him several times) and because a lot of vets tell you not to use an epipen on your dog.

Having the needles made us a feel a little better. We stopped worrying quite as much. And then, on an early Saturday morning walk, with Ruby smelling like skunk from her run-in a few days before and me jet-lagged from arriving from South Korea the previous night, Ruby lifted up her paw and stopped walking. We were over a mile from our house. We knew almost immediately that she had stepped on a bee because she had a terrified look on her face, and damn it, we did not have the freaking bee kit with us. We debated for about a minute about what to do, and then Sean started running to the house to grab the car and the bee kit.

Once again, I watched Ruby fall apart. Her eyes glazed over, she threw up, and she did not move. Sean runs fast and incredibly he picked us up in about 7 minutes…it felt like forever. I knew I was going to have to inject Ruby with the epinephrine and I braced myself for his arrival. The reason a lot of vets will not give clients epipens is because it can causes paralysis if injected wrong. Scary stuff.

By the time we got Ruby in the car she was almost comatose and barely breathing. Poo started coming out of her (in our brand new car…but whatever), her gums were turning blue, and her eyes were barely open. I thought she was dead. As Sean drove (breaking every traffic rule), I took the scruff of Ru’s neck and injected the vial into her. She gasped, opened her eyes, and I could hear little teeny tiny breaths coming out of her. I tried to stay calm and I repeated over and over that she was a good girl because I did not want her last minutes on Earth to be full of terror and sobs. Once again the emergency vets met us with a stretcher in the parking lot…

I did not think Ruby would make it through this one. I thought they would come out and tell us that she had died. Somehow, the tough little girl survived again.

Most of us have experienced traumatic situations where instinct takes over and things happen in slow motion. The horror and ugliness of the events generally don’t hit until after, and then it is all that you can think about.

Here’s a short list of things that changed after the 2nd bee sting:

  • Always locating the nearest vets before we travel with Ru (and not traveling with her if noIMG_0383 vets are nearby)
  • No more hiking in canyons, trails, or anywhere it would be hard to get a car to
  • Avoid parks where we had previously played fetch (too much clover)
  • Walks before sunrise/after sunset
  • Always walking Ru together so one of us could get the car if needed (she refuses to walk with just one of us now)
  • We tried making Ruby wear booties (not very successful, it made her pretty angry)
  • We did not take Ruby outside if only one of us was at the house
  • Ruby became terrified of things that fly by her (I am sure it is because she watched us freak out)
  • The beach became our safe place
  • Always, always carrying a bee kit and cash in case we had to offer a stranger money to drive us to a vet

We’ve learned from vets that a lot of people euthanize their dogs who have bee reactions like Ruby. Obviously, that option never crossed our minds, but the stress, and the expense of it, is intense.

Part #3, and how we’ve been dealing with the bee allergy coming up…

 

 

LIFE: Ruby, Story #1

I am not over-exaggerating when I say that Ruby has almost died AT LEAST 5x in her 4.5 short years. Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for her. This dog has a good life, and like all animals she has a story. I’m thankful her story is wrapped up in mine.

A few weeks ago I read an article about Dr. Martin Blaser and it made me think a lot about the risks vs rewards of science. Blaser’s research focuses on missing microbes because of antibiotics. An article on the NPR website states:

We have had antibiotics since the mid-1940s — just about as long as we have had the atomic bomb, as Dr. Martin J. Blaser points out — and our big mistake was failing long ago to appreciate the parallels between the two. Antibiotics have cowed many of our old bacterial enemies into submission: We aimed to blast them off the planet, and we dosed accordingly. Now we are beginning to reap the consequences. It turns out that not all germs are bad — and even some bad germs are not all bad.

Blaser believes that antibiotics in young children can cause a gut imbalance of the positive bacteria which may cause a susceptibility to severe allergies. Our overuse of antibiotics, one of the very best discoveries of the 20th century, causes repercussions that are slowly emerging.

For the last few years, I have been 100% convinced that Ruby, our wonderful, crazy, weird lovebug of a dog has horrible allergies because she had 4 courses of antiobiotics in her first 8 months of life. Reading about this research confirmed my suspicions.

As a newly adopted rescue puppy, Ruby came to us with severe giardia and stomach issues. At night, I would fall asleep wondering if she would be alive in the morning. We were at the vet every other week trying to get her fixed – luckily, we had a fantastic vet who assured us that we would get her healthy. It became our mission to cure her. We tried many, many things – among them antibiotics. We gave her antibiotics to cure the giardia 2x. The first dose didn’t work, the 2nd one worked a little better. We gave her another dose of antibiotics after she was spayed. And we gave her a 4th dose after more stomach issues caused her to have blood in her poo.

After the last dose of antibiotics did not fully cure her belly aches, at 8 months old, we had Ruby tested for food allergies. The test cost about $300 – it was worth every penny, because it showed strong reactions to poultry, peas, peanut butter, potatoes, wheat, and eggs. These were all the foods we had been feeding her while she was on antibiotics. Although her food allergies were severe, we were glad to know that there may be finally something that we could do to help her get better.

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We changed her food, and Ruby slowly got better. She gained weight and after a super stressful first year, she finally became healthy. We don’t know if it was the antiobiotics, or she started growing out of her ailments, or the food switch to avoid allergens, or the probiotics we added her to her food (she still gets them), or all the love and snuggles we gave her. In reality, it was probably a combination of different things.

About 2.5 years ago we found out that Ruby’s allergies weren’t just limited to foods.

One Sunday night at dusk, Ruby was running around the yard, and then she was running sideways like she was drunk. I told her to come in the house because she was acting like a nut – she ran in, jumped on the couch and peed all over it. Her eyes were unfocused and she looked terrified. She started towards the door, and poo & vomit came out of her, and then she collapsed. We had NO idea what happened.

We picked up her limp body, put her in the car, and raced to the emergency room vet. The 15 minute drive took forever. Sean drove, while I sat in the hatchback with Ruby in my lap. She was barely breathing, with blueish lips, and cold limbs. We called the vet on the way, and they were waiting for us with a stretcher to rush her into the operating room. After 10 minutes of anxious waiting, we learned that Ruby had been stung by a bee (in her mouth) which caused anaphylactic shock. In dogs, anaphylaxis manifests itself by shutting down the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. It is not pretty.

After we found out what happened and that she would be okay, I started shaking and crying and had a hard time pulling myself together. Ruby had to stay overnight at the vet, but before we left her, we went to see her in the back. She looked at us, snuggled into my hands, and thumped her tail a few times to let us know she’d be okay. Heartbreaker.

Bees are everywhere. We noticed this immediately after we got home. The vet told us that each time she got stung the reaction would be worse. Sean and I were terrified.

I’ll write about what happened next in a few days, but honestly, it is hard to write about. I am superstitious about Ruby. Ruby has days when she is moody and bratty, but even on those days I am overwhelmed with love for her.

I’ll wonder for my entire life if the antibiotics caused all of the allergies. And I’ll wonder if they saved her life when she was a sick pup. And what would I do if given a do-over…

Meat and Antibiotic Use: Reason #10940503403534950 not to eat meat is HERE 

LIFE: Kind

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about 100 years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Kurt Vonnegut

Last week Sean called me upset because a small bird was dying on our front walkway. As soon as he noticed the bird struggling he came into the house and looked online to see how to save it and who to call to come rescue it. By the time he went outside the bird was dead with its feet up in the air. The teeny-tiny bird broke Sean’s heart a little.

Being a witness to pain in animals triggers something very deep inside of me. How we treat everything on this fragile planet is a direct reflection of who we are. I love the quote above from Vonnegut. Love, love it. In 2014 I plan on becoming more of an animal activist and spreading kindness.

Animal activism comes in all forms. I am inspired by so many people and groups. Right now, several artists have blown me away with their work. I am motivated by their creativity and kindness, I hope that they inspire you too:

 This video promoting animal rescue from Moby motivates and influences me. I think I have watched it 25 times. T-bone, I wish I could come adopt you right now!

 

I am in love with by Shannon Johnstone’s project Landfill Dogs. Her work demonstrates the power of art as she highlights our disposable society where we are careless about animals and we generate tons of junk that ends up in a landfill. Her work has led to many lives saved because the dogs she highlights are usually adopted. Please check out her site and her work.

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Photo by the AMAZING Shannon Johnstone

Jo-Anne McArthur is another hero of mine. The objective of her work is: “to photograph our interactions with animals in such a way that the viewer finds new significance in these ordinary, often unnoticed situations of use, abuse and sharing of spaces.” She has many different projects on her website and they are all thought-provoking.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals
Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The documentary “Blackfish” horrified me. I am disgusted that I ever went to Sea World, and I think anyone that watches the movie will feel the same way. The documentary changed the way I will see wild animals in captivity forever. It must be watched and talked about, because there is no reason to keep whales in fish tanks. Please watch it.

“The Ghosts in our Machine” is another documentary about animals that I am so glad exists. As soon as I can, I will be watching the documentary.

 

These artistic statements have inspired me over the last few months. They give us a vision of another kind of future. I plan on moving towards that ideal by doing something this year that will inspire others to think about how we treat animals. I’ll keep you updated.