Transgender Rights, Coyotes, Girl Scouts, and Gaslighting: with Videos

I was in the middle of working out some particularly knotty bits of writing my novels when sweet K-D doggie dropped a ball at my feet. Her message was loud and clear: it was time for a walk. A couple of blocks into our stroll, we encountered this hand-drawn sign stapled to a phone pole. Note the adorable drawings of “doggos” and “cats,” the encouragement to educate oneself under the attention-grabbing “Coyotes are Dangerous!” headline.

Photo of neighborhood poster by local Girl Scouts.
This is the adorable of neighborhood poster I encountered while walking my doggie, hand made by neighborly Girl Scouts.

The coyotes and humans of Los Angeles County make for troubled neighbors. On the one hand, coyotes were here first. The burgeoning number of humans has put a strain on the families of our four-legged population. On the other hand, the more desperate coyotes get for food and shelter, the bolder they become about snacking on small family pets. To their credit, they also munch on vermin such as rats and mice that spread nasty germs and dine on backyard gardens.

Intrigued, I tore a paper tag from the sign, which noted the sign makers’ website. As soon as I got back to my desktop computer, I looked up the “Coyote Crew.” According to their site, they’re on “a mission to safely and peacefully get coyotes out of your neighborhood.”

As it turns out, they’re Girl Scouts! First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt thought Girl Scouts were great. A video on Youtube from around 1937 shows her with an encampment of girls from all over the world. In her speech, she relays a greeting from her husband and urges them to “grasp every good time you can.”

Of course, I had to invite the Coyote Crew to introduce themselves here at Happiness Between Tails. That led me to research the Girl Scouts, given that I knew practically nothing about the organization.

When I was a kid, other than a bit of high school team swimming and water polo, I didn’t join groups because my family didn’t have much money. Also, contrary to a relative who’s forever tried to gaslight me, we moved around a lot. By the time I left home at eighteen, I’d lived in fifteen apartments and attended ten schools.

What I learned about the Girl Scouts is impressive! They’ve been around since 1912 and have been lauded by everyone, including President Barack Obama.

Moreover,  they’ve repeatedly fended off groups that don’t want transgender girls to join. In one case, when a Bigoted Deep Pockets mailed them a check for $100,000 with the stipulation that they not help anyone who is transgender, the Girl Scouts mailed it back to them! Better yet, they collected $250,000 from people who were overjoyed by their intregrity!

Here’s a list of links for an array of girl-positive vintage Girl Scouts TV ads. Isn’t this 2002 ad below just the very best?! It highlights how little girls, cute ones included, have brains that should be nurtured, particularly by their fathers…

The organization is big into teaching self-reliance and smarts, including when it comes to money. Their cookie selling is epic. Their aptly titled “The Cookies Are Here” commercial from 1976 is smart and funny. The way all kinds of people stash them in all sorts of unexpected places makes me want to run out and buy some…

Now, here are Ava and Jamie, the two Girl Scouts behind the sign my dog and I saw on that telephone pole, to tell us about their coyote awareness project project. They’ve put together a great website where they can emailed from…

The Coyote Crew's website photo.
Here’s a picture of a page on The Coyote Crew’s website.

 

“A Silver Award Project (But Socially Distanced)” By Jamie & Ava, members of The Girl Scouts and of The Coyote Crew

Hi, we’re The Coyote Crew, Bronze award and 500/1200 club Girl Scouts who have always fought for animal rights and against animal cruelty. Our journey with animal rights started when people close to us had their cats killed by a coyote, and we have been searching for ways to protect our neighborhood pets from coyotes ever since. About a year ago, we were faced with the challenge of coming up with a project to do for our Girl Scout Silver Award, and so the Coyote Crew was created! Our mission is to help inform people about the dangers of coyotes, and the fact that the coyotes need to be protected as well as our pets. It is our job as humans to keep our animals safe and keep ourselves safe from wildlife, while respecting the boundaries of wild animals, especially those who live around neighborhoods. This project will tell you a little bit about coyotes, how to keep your pets safe from them, why harming coyotes is a bad idea, and expose you to the personal lives of people living with coyotes practically next door to them through interviews.

Meet the Crew

Hi I’m Jamie. I have always loved animals, and after doing a research project on animal testing in fifth grade, I became passionate about animal rights. I joined PETA, and several other animal rights foundations and organizations and began buying cruelty free products. My extensive research on animal rights never touched the topic of coyotes, and although coyotes continued to be a negative thing in my life, I always thought that they deserved more than what humans give to them. Depleting their food source and taking over their land, making them skinny and hungry and unable to live without eating our pets. So I helped start The Coyote Crew. Of course, I have never particularly liked coyotes- my next door neighbor had his cat, Jazz, killed by one, and my dad had to clean up the cat’s dead body in their front lawn. Nobody liked that experience in the slightest, obviously. Jazz was an awesome cat, and we all miss him, but he is only gone because the coytes didn’t have any other options or land to hunt on. And what I hope to do is to make sure that coyotes don’t have a chance to eat the pets, and that humans don’t have intentions to hurt coyotes.

Hi I’m Ava. I have always been scared of coyotes coming into my neighborhood. Some of my firsthand experience includes having coyotes visit my neighborhood, and even being only feet away from one as a small child. Ever since I was a little kid I cared for animals and their rights. One of the main topics I wanted Coyote Crew to cover was that while we should take action to get coyotes out of our neighborhoods, we should not harm the coyotes in the process. Another point is that not only should we strive for our neighborhoods to be free of coyotes but to learn and educate others on why coyotes come to neighborhoods in the first place. Most times when there is a conflict between the two, it is misunderstood on what is really happening on either side. Hopefully in my future I will continue on this journey of learning and educating about animals as it is a topic that cannot be explained in simple words.

The Coyote Crew as a whole has always been about peace between animals and humans. Our goal is to keep coyotes peacefully and safely out of your neighborhood. That however, is only one of our motives for doing this project. Our second one is that we are Girl Scouts with the determination to achieve our Silver Award. If you are unaware of what that is, it is a project most Girl Scouts go through; the qualifications for it require 50 hours of work towards the project, it has to contribute to the community, and you have to work with the community itself. So far we have completed 50+ hours of work and presented to five classes about our project. We have also hung up posters and even started a website.

Now doing this during a literal Pandemic has been no easy feat. Whether it was the fear of contracting the virus itself or the struggle of actually getting the project planned and finished, there were complications. We would say that about 95% of the project was online or digital. We haven’t met up for any of this project.

It sounds crazy to say, but all of our meetings were either on Zoom or facetime. The Pandemic added extra stress about our working with the community, because we haven’t been able to really work with the community as of late. Luckily, we had an opportunity to present to a few classes and interview community members with experience over Zoom. And to make our project sustainable, we thought the internet is one of the few things that will stay for…well a long time to say the least. What better way to do so than to make a website?

Check out our website and email us from there if you are interested in protecting yourself and your pets, and email us with any coyote related questions! Our website explains simply how to keep your boundaries with coyotes and how to keep yourself and your pets safe. There is also a link to a podcast we spoke in (coming soon), an interview with a cat fosterer who has a lot of experience on coyotes, and pages where you can email us and have your own experience with coyotes put up, including an encounters page, a Q&A, and “a design your own flier” (to put up in your neighborhood warning about coyotes.) We hope you use the information in the website and put it to good use, as well as interacting with it. We don’t have many supporters now, but we do hope to in the future!

Thank you so much for reading our article, it means the world to us! We are so grateful to have been invited to post on this site. We never thought we would get as far as to be sought out to speak about something we care about so much, and we appreciate every ounce of support!

The Coyote Crew

Growing up, were you a member of any youth groups? How many homes did you live in and how many schools did you attend? And remember, the best way to combat gaslighting is to speak your truth…

Novelist Jacqueline Diamond Has Published 100+ Books!

Writing my first novel is hard work. Veteran writers have a lot to teach us. Take Jacqueline Diamond, for instance. She’s published — drumroll here — 102 (maybe more by the time you read this) books! It’s no wonder she won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and is a two-time Rita Award finalist. Her books range from mystery and non-fiction to romances for all ages (including some about couples over 50) that span the 1800s to present.

A few of Jacqueline's books and office staff members.
A few of Jacqueline’s books and office staff members.

This week I’m working especially hard on meeting a couple of novel-related deadlines I’ve set for myself, so I hope you don’t mind if we get right to our guest. (Oh, but first, for the many readers who enjoyed the guest blog post here at Happiness Between Tails by The Wheelchair Teen, check out the heartfelt dialog within the comments of her reblog of it to her site.)

Jacqueline began her life in Texas. Now she and her family reside in Southern California. At her site, learn more about her, her books, sign up for her newsletter, and find more of her writing tips.

Here’s a video of her discussing how to develop interesting characters. And here she describes the storytelling ins and outs of point-of-view.

Read on for her take on how animals and pets can help round out the writing of fiction, as well as make it that much more fun for readers…

Author Jacqueline Diamond.
Author Jacqueline Diamond.

Like Cats and Dogs! by Jacqueline Diamond

Characters in a novel take on a life of their own—and not always what the author expects. Animals are no exception!

There weren’t any furry creatures in sight when I began writing Really? At Your Age?, Book One of my Sisters, Lovers & Second Chances series. My heroine, Dr. Cody Matchett, has no pets. She’s too busy delivering babies, risking romance at the age of 52, and losing her heart to the possibility of finally having children of her own.

Cover of "Really? At Your Age?" by Jacqueline Diamond.Then her older sister, Mandy, a resolutely single nurse, has to move in with her for a few weeks…bringing her cats. Beanie and Queenie arrive with attitude! For me, they added a lot to the fun.

Next, while searching out cover images for my next book, Don’t Be Silly! At My Age?, I came across a cat who looks just like Beanie, squaring off with a German Shepherd. And since I wanted Mandy and the new man in her life to (more or less) fight like cats and dogs, it was irresistible.

Suddenly, my hero—a mystery novelist—became the owner of an aging rescue dog. Throughout the story, the animals play a key role. 

One of my favorite scenes occurs when the heroine’s ex-boyfriend worms his way into her house by bribing her cats. A furious Mandy tells him, “You are literally something the cat dragged in!”

Cover of "Don't be Silly! At My Age?" by Jacqueline Diamond.How did I develop personalities for my cats? That was the easy part! I’ve been owned by several of them and, seriously, have you ever met a cat that didn’t have a distinctive personality?

My experience with dogs is spottier…literally. My family once owned a Dalmatian, a rather high-strung fellow. My hero’s German Shepherd, who gazed at me with soulful eyes from the photo, turned out to be mellower.

On reflection, I’m surprised animals haven’t figured into more of my novels. Perhaps that’s because many of the stories are set in hospitals, such as my Safe Harbor Medical series.

But I’ll be looking for more furry possibilities in the future. After all, they’re fun to read about and fun to write!

What’s your fiction right now? I’m in the middle of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Garden of Eden,” published posthumously. The protagonist is a writer much like Hemingway and apart from the main story, it’s interesting to read of his writing routine and philosophy. Also, I just finished “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows,” by Balli Kaur Jaswal, a fun yet thoughtful novel that wins beaucoup points for the title alone!

Video: Cool Doggie Days + Lillian Brummet’s Leeks Recipe

K-D doggie is a singer.
K-D takes her singing seriously.

Even writers get hungry. When I hit a rough patch as I edit “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel, it’s fortunate I’ve got my workmate who reminds me to break for lunch. Having her beside me as I eat on the steps of our front porch turns breezes into caresses. If she’s in the mood, she’ll serenade me when a siren inspires her…

These soft days of late spring are when Monarch butterflies make their way across Los Angeles. They’ve flown all the way from Canada and are headed for Mexico (here’s a wild PBS video of them). How arrogant humans are to use our supposed intelligence as a yard-stick against the know-how of earth’s other life forms, insects included.

During a recent walk with K-D, I accidentally shot these photos as I listened to an audiobook (the outstanding “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House” by Cherie Jones, btw)— what serendipity! They show the beautiful sky and our shadows. This morning we even enjoyed a smattering of rain, although it was hardly enough to slake SoCal’s ongoing tremendous thirst.

Photo of amazing in Los Angeles!
The sky is amazing in Los Angeles!
This photo of my dog's shadow is a bit of accidental art!
This photo of my dog’s shadow is a bit of accidental art!

Author Lillian Brummet, who blogs from Canada, says it’s leek season. In my garden it’s time for their sisters, green onions. Before my husband started planting them, who knew one could grow food from the rooty scraps of store-bought ones. They also produce gorgeous flowers! (Khashayar, quite the cook, has contributed recipes to Happiness Between Tails such as a great hot soup, a crunchy salad, a fruity dessert and a carrot cake, an entree, and this appetizer and this one.)

Closeup of flower on a green onion.
The flowers on green onions are fascinating!

Back to Lillian and her leeks. Here’s a recipe for leeks from one of her many books, “From One Small Garden,” which features 300+ recipes. Visit her site for more about her and her numerous endeavors…

Photo of Lillian and Dave Brummet.
Lillian Brummet writes books and works with her husband, Dave, on many projects.

“Leek N’ Mushroom Bundles” by Lillian Brummet

Tis the season of fresh leek harvests – this beautiful bounty is of the onion family and looks like a giant, flat green onion. Early spring and late fall leek varieties are quite sweet due to the plant concentrating the sugars when the weather turns cool. It is one of the earliest items to come out of the garden, especially if you have spread the seed just before snowfall. They don’t take much room in the garden, and they keep very well in the fridge.

These delicious, crunchy bundles make a wonderful side dish to almost anything, or served as an appetizer to enhance the appetite. The bundles can be frozen when raw; and taken directly out of the freezer and straight into the oven (do not thaw) whenever you are craving a few of these tasty tidbits.

1/3 c. olive oil, divided

2 c. chopped leeks

8 c. chopped mushrooms, dime-sized pieces

3/4 c. milk

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

16 oz. package phyllo pastry cut in 4” squares

Sauté the leeks and mushrooms in 1 Tbsp. oil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile combine the milk with salt, nutmeg and pepper, then add to the skillet and cook on low for 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated. Grease 2 phyllo squares, and layer one on top of the other offsetting the top one. This creates 8 corners to draw into a bundle. Place 1 Tbsp. filling in the center of the phyllo squares. Grabbing all the corners of the dough in one hand, twist firmly to hold in place and set on a baking sheet. Cover both the unused phyllo and the bundles with a clean damp towel while you work to prevent drying out. When you’ve made this dish a few times you’ll get faster at it and probably will only need one damp towel to cover the phyllo sheets. Bake at 350˚ for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

What are you hungry for these days?

Guest Blog Post: Healing Pets through Dreams by Pamela Cummins

My dreams swing from weird to absurd. How about you?

Read on as Pamela Cummins, author of “The Secret Language of Dreams,” (available on her site) explains how our pets can communicate to us while we sleep…

Pamela Cummin’s kitty, Merlin.

“Cat Communicating Medical Ailment in a Dream,” by Pamela Cummins

Everyone knows that I am a Crazy Cat Lady with two spoiled cats, Merlin and Rhiannon. One morning I was wondering why one of my furry alarm cats didn’t show up. Then I discovered Merlin sitting on the couch. To my surprise, he growled at me when I attempted to pet him.

Cat owner and her white, blue eyed kitty.
Merlin with Pamela Cummins.

He was cranky the whole day. I knew that something was wrong with him; however, to my relief – he did eat a little food and used his litter box. I can communicate with my two cats (and other animals) with body language, feelings, and/or flashing pictures in each other’s minds. Alas, I was too emotional to receive any information on what the problem was.

That night I told Merlin, “If you’re not better tomorrow, you’re going to the vettie-poo.” He gave me a dirty look. Just so you know – Merlin is a vet’s worse nightmare! Which makes me dread his yearly check-up when he’s healthy. How would Merlin behave when he wasn’t feeling well?

Here’s the dream I had right before I awoke the next morning: Merlin jumped up and laid down by me. Then he showed me his spinal cord in an x-ray vision, at the bottom of his spine (by his hips) it was red and swollen.

Upon awakening, I immediately knew that Merlin’s hips were out of alignment!  Merlin was lying next to me on the bed, so I asked Merlin, “Does your hippy, hip hurt?” His response was rubbing the side of his face against my hand and licking my fingers. You may be laughing at the way I speak to Merlin, yet he understands a large vocabulary of words! Can you imagine if I didn’t pay attention to my dream and shoved him in his cat carrier for a vet trip? That would have hurt his hips even more! In a few days, Merlin was back to his usual self. Another bonus from my dream was I saved money on a vet visit, hurray!

About the author: Pamela Cummins teaches how to turn the nighttime messages of dreams can be turned into daytime wisdom. Click here for Pamela’s website.

What have your dreams told you?

DIY Heaven by da-AL

Photo of my Cousin Ana's new rooster.
Cousin Ana’s Roco: Ro + Co = “rojo” (Spanish for “red”) + “colorado” (Spanish for “colored red”).

What if, despite what some writers and books tell us, there’s no afterlife? But there’s still a heaven, yet it’s one we make right here, right now. Better yet, what if it doesn’t take much to create? If easy micro-kindnesses wend far and meander back to us?

The holidays are upon us. It’s definitely not my favorite season. Not at all. It’s contrived; there’s so much expectation, manipulation…

Yet this last week turned me mushy. Not in the faux sentimental way depicted on TV and billboards targeting us to spend, spend, spend. It’s not by chance that Xmas decorations look sad in daylight. Ugh, these two months can really get on my nerves.

Back to mushiness. Years ago, when a sweet friend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, another great friend and I pledged to do a walkathon for MS. One of those where we collected donations in advance of all the miles we planned to walk.

Walkathon day came… and… what can I say other than, the truth is not pretty? It was hot and crowded and yucky, and that was while we searched for parking. The two of us ate our sandwiches in the car and promptly drove home. Sans walking, we mailed in the monies. In my case, I’d amassed a few hundred dollars over just an hour or so of cubicle-hopping around the ad agency I temped for.

What’s stayed with me is how out of the thirty or so people I begged (please don’t ask me to attempt math here), most gave anywhere from a few to twenty dollars. A little pitched in by each person within a bunch added up very quickly!

Another personal story of how one small gesture can ripple wide, this one recent

Last April, a friend mentioned she’d begun foster parenting. It was the start of Los Angeles’ quarantine, and Covid-19 was creating a worse need than ever for people to take care of kids. (Note to self: when I am Goddess of the Universe in my next life, foster parents automatically get express tickets to heaven.) For anyone who isn’t aware, the 24/7/365 job requires half a year to get certified and pays heck, as this foster parent reveals.

My friend is Wonder Woman when it comes to embracing all that life presents. A devoted mother, wife, business owner, daughter, and more, she and her husband are now fostering an adorable baby girl with health issues and a super charming little boy with challenges too. When I mentioned to my husband what she was doing, he decided to knock on the doors of several of our neighbors who have kids. He requested whatever hand-me-downs they could spare and Voila! Over two weeks, even the friends’ friends contributed to what became quite a heap of helpful kid things!

Further confirmation that our little gestures can create a positive groundswell was in my local newspaper a couple of days ago

(And by the way, this also shows why local news is a necessity, not a luxury. Every city would benefit greatly to have a news outlet of its own.) Turns out the good deeds of a man living on the street have given rise to much more goodness. As you’ll see in this article about him, as well as this one that includes a video link, generosity small and large boomerangs all over the place and continues to add up to a whole lot of fabulous! The comments on the GoFundMe page that Bruce De Mille put together are beyond heart-melting.

All this leads me to explain these delightful pictures

Any little stray dog or innocent chick who meets my Cousin Ana has hit the sweetness jackpot! Her house is t-h-e place to go to be safe, sound, and never eaten…

Cousin Ana's chicken, Pepa, was 11 when she passed away not too long ago...
Cousin Ana’s chicken, Pepa, is 11 years young…

 

When Pepa was gone, Cousin Ana got 5 baby chicks. Here they are, 3 months old now! Surprise, one is another rooster...
When Pepa was gone, Cousin Ana got 5 baby chicks. Here they are, 3 months old now! Surprise, one is another rooster…

 

Cousin Ana's is heaven for needy little dogs! (L-R) Here's Tiky, Albert, Bella, Nike, Beethoven, Charlie. The last ones are brothers and sister.
Cousin Ana’s is heaven for needy little dogs! (L-R) Here’s Tiky, Albert, Bella, Nike, Beethoven, Charlie. The last ones are brothers and sister.

 

Beethoven loves modeling whatever Cousin Ana knits.
Beethoven loves modeling whatever Cousin Ana knits.

 

Here's Cousin Ana's Albert, on his way home from the groomer's.
Here’s Cousin Ana’s Albert, on his way home from the groomer’s.

When I try to be kind or when I see others being nice, I feel safer and happier — like heaven is here, right now.

How do you create your own heaven?

Gandhi, Hitler, a Book, & Dog/God by da-AL plus Cheryl Batavia’s poem

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — supposedly Mahatma Gandhi said that. (Isn’t this picture of him great? He’s drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942. My novel-writer side can’t help but wonder if he knew that writing longhand enhances creativity — and I bet intelligence!) First off, he didn’t….

Gandhi drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942.
By Kanu Gandhi – gandhiserve.org, Public Domain.

Second off, if anyone said it, is it true? I love animals and have followed a vegetarian diet for years. All the same, I’m definitely nowhere near a saint, particularly given my now-and-again deviations into the hypocracy of eating fish. My father was wicked to his family, yet tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard that local geese were slaughtered. Hitler and was a vegetarian for the last part of his life. And he adored his dog, Blondi

Photo of Hitler with a dog.
Hitler & dog. Photo by Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051673-0059 / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

What I know for sure is that when I see someone acting kindly toward an animal, it makes me feel like there’s a soul somewhere within their despicableness…

Scratch the last paragraph — that was just my lazy brain leaning on clichés to please you with niceties, gentle reader. It was my typing falling into well-worn grooves of platitudes. Really, if someone is mean and shows neither remorse nor interest in reforming themselves, if people around them erect the scaffolding to sustain their meanness… well… Delving into morality is too lengthy to weave into this post.Cover of "Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey," by Kathleen Rooney

Here, look! My fingers have switched gears to copy this for you: a paragraph from wise and poetic Kathleen Rooney’s latest novel. She was a Happiness Between Tails guest to tell about her amazing Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and then to tell us about her newest tale, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Her Cher Ami book is written in the style of first-person characterizations of various humans and Cher Ami, a true-life heroic pigeon who saved many World War I soldiers’ lives.

The most dazzling chapters are those through Cher Ami’s eyes. I’m about halfway through the book and am most recently awed by this bit of feathered philosophizing. Cher Ami thinks this about the soldiers:

“Sometimes they renamed animals as different animals. They called the canned corned beef in their rations “monkey meat” and referred to their body lice as “shirt rabbis.” They’d pick the insects off one another, comparing themselves to apes grooming in some great gray zoo. I could tell that many of the men felt terribly lonely, helpless and estranged from their fellow soldiers, but they were never alone and never powerless thanks to all the life that depended on them, the lice and the rats and the mice. Each man was the miserable monarch of a kingdom that squirmed with vermin, one that consisted of the dirt and the bit of sky each one could see from the dirt of their feet in their boots, of their boots in the mud — a kingdom all but indistinguishable from a grave.” An excerpt from Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney, who also wrote marvelous Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

About dogs…

So okay, I’m not one to dwell on whether ”God,” the kind with a capital “G,” exists. But the fact that Dog spells God backwards in English — isn’t that an interesting metaphor for how even the worst dirtbags among us can experience the love of a dog? (Here’s a post where I dip another toe into that conversation.)

Dogs… their lives are far far too short!!!! They get better and better with age, more perceptive of our needs, more adoring of us, and ready to kiss us for our slightest kindness. Just the other night, my husband mistakenly called our current dear doggie by the name of one of our two dogs who passed away — when? yesterday? two years ago? — either feels not much different at times (a bit about that here and more on it here). My heart goes out to a good friend who sweet Bambi-faced furry girl passed away recently… In these times of the COVID pandemic especially, our pets do so much for us. It’s no wonder that more folks are adopting furry family lately.

Now here’s Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet, to put smiles on our faces. A nature-lover, she blogs from Florida and has published books for all ages. She can also be reached via email.

Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.
Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.

Tribute to a Family Dog; In loving memory of Clifford, 2001-2015

Copyright© 2020 by Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet

Enthusiasm

Your spirit is enthusiasm!

When you wag your tail,

your entire body shimmies.

You leap high into the air

to catch popcorn in your mouth,

drool at the dairy drive-thru,

anticipating your ice cream cone.

You swim far out into the lake,

to fetch a stick…

and swim back to fetch again.

You run alongside a wheelchair

that travels eight miles an hour,

keep pace with kids

on rollerblades and bicycles.

When I come home from work,

you greet me at the door,

all four feet in the air!

Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Friendliness

Friendliness is your persona!

You show open-hearted affection

for family, friends, neighbors…

and kindly strangers.

Grandmothers are your favorites…

The feeling is mutual!

The vet, when you are boarded,

locates you in a run where you can

greet all those who come and go…

You are overjoyed!

Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Love

Your aura is love!

Love radiates from your eyes,

shimmers from your wagging tail.

Love is you resting near us,

ignoring the sassy new cat,

not snatching the Thanksgiving

turkey cooling on the countertop.

Somehow, you know we’ll share.

Love is barking at things

that go “bump” in the night.

Love is wet kisses, warm cuddles,

and sharing group hugs.

Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Empathy

Empathy is in your soul!

You have a silly smile,

know family members by name,

understand most of what we say.

You talk to us with

unintelligible vocalizations…

We try really hard to understand!

You are happy when we are happy.

You comfort us when we are sad.

When we are injured,

you lick our wounds.

Petted and praised,

you know you are loved!

Tell us — what are your thoughts about the bonds between humans and the rest of the creature world? Or about anything else you want to discuss?…

5 Writing Inspos by Rachel Tindall w Video: 2 Hot 4 Lizzy

Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill. Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill.

Today is too darned hot to write–neither a full-blown blog post nor the novels I’m writing. Instead, I’ve made you this refreshing video. If you want another, there’s this one too.

When it’s this muggy, I can barely sleep. I got out of bed early to find a new friend on my window sill, enjoying the heat. Watch to the end and let me know if you think it was too warm, even for my extra skinny pal Liz…

For you scribes with air-conditioners, Indiana writer Rachel Tindall offers inspiring tips. She and her blog, Capturing Your Confidence, are devoted to bringing out the best in writers…

Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua). Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua).

5 Critical Self-Talk Strategies for Writers by Rachel Tindall of Capturing Your Confidence blog

I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you want to be a writer. Or you are a writer, but maybe you’re stuck. Or you think of yourself as a writer but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to announce it to the world.

Wherever you are, it’s okay! Life is an adventure, and your experience as a writer is an ever-evolving journey.

But how do you take that next step? You know the one: where you tell the world you’re a writer and share your words.

The first step is to have a conversation with yourself about being a writer. That’s right, I want you to actually talk to yourself about being a writer.

Before you resist (I know it sounds kind of crazy), let’s talk about it.

What is Self-Talk? 

Have you heard the term self-talk before? When I started writing again as an adult (after a years-long hiatus), I started hearing all this stuff about self-talk, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

Essentially, self-talk is the little voice in our head that’s always giving us advice and considering what’s going on in everyday life. Part of self-talk is the inner critic, which is a whole other conversation, but the majority of self-talk is just our regular thoughts.

It includes things we know we’re thinking, like how good that BBQ restaurant smells when we drive past, and also unconscious things like the belief that if you get food from the BBQ restaurant, you will gain weight.

Self-talk can be good and bad. Overall, it mostly serves to help us figure out what’s going on around us and what we believe about those events.

Self-Talk & Self-Exploration

Self-talk creates an inner dialogue. I don’t know about you, but my self-talk can get kind of noisy – my brain is quite a talker! And I’ll tell you, not all of what she’s saying is important or useful.

One of the best things about self-talk, though, is that it allows us to explore what’s really going on inside our brain. If we take time to listen to our self-talk, it can be incredibly enlightening. We often get so bogged down by external distractions that we either ignore it or pass over it without really listening.

What happens when we listen?

We can do some GREAT self-exploration. We can find out so much about ourselves by simply listening! If/when we don’t listen, we run the risk of thinking we know ourselves (I mean, we’re in our body all the time, how could we not, right?) but really knowing an out-of-date version of ourselves. Doing self-exploration and listening to the dialogue in our mind is kind of like when you empty the Recycle Bin on your computer – it makes everything run more efficiently.

Occasionally we need to spend time cleaning out that old junk and negative self-talk to make way for the future and our great new ideas. We need to explore and listen to make sure we are pursuing what we actually want instead of what we wanted a few years ago, or when we were a kid. While we might have similar dreams, it’s worth double-checking with some good self-exploration.

Why is Knowing Yourself Important to Successful Writing? 

So what does self-exploration have to do with writing?

Well, besides clearing out the junk (if you’re like me, it might kind of be in precarious stacks just waiting to fall over and make a mess all over my current projects), you can also learn a TON from exploring the inner workings of your mind.

You’ll find out information like:

  • Interests – What do you actually like to do? What do you want to do? What piques your curiosity?
  • Passions – What’s most meaningful to you? What sets your soul on fire? What makes you excited to get up in the morning?
  • Habits – What do you do on a regular basis? What regular habits are helpful? What needs to change?
  • Desires – What do you want from your interests and passions? Do you have a new habit you want to try (or one that you want to get rid of)? What would make you excited to work on?
  • Goals – What do you want to achieve from your desires? Where do you want to be as a writer, or even just as a person a year from now? 5 years from now? How will you get there?

There will always be more you can learn from yourself, but you have to be willing to do the work and listen first.

Talk To Yourself in These 5 Ways

I’m hoping that talking to yourself is sounding a little less crazy. Just in case you like to skim to the “good” stuff in articles (me too!), I don’t mean to have a normal “How was your day?” out loud conversation with yourself. I mean the deep, self-exploring, figuring out you conversations.

Here are 5 critical ways to yourself that will help you become (or continue to become) the writer you want to be:

1: Self-Assessment 

First and foremost, take some time and do a self-assessment. Ask yourself the questions above (about your interests, passions, habits, desires, and goals) and thoughtfully take an inventory of what you find. It will be helpful to write this down as you think it through.

You might surprise yourself and realize that your passions and interests have changed over the years. Or that your goals have shifted as you’ve gotten older. Whatever you find, be kind to yourself! Assessing yourself isn’t about judging, it’s about figuring out what you’re all about. It’s hard to make changes or form new habits when you aren’t up to date with what you actually want, you know?

2: Speak About Yourself as a Writer 

When you’ve done your self-assessment and confirmed that you do want to be a writer, the next step is to speak about yourself as a writer. This can be hard when you first start because you might feel doubts like you’re not qualified, or you don’t really know if you’re a writer. Imposter syndrome is a real problem, even for those of us who have been writers for a long time.

This, too, is okay – and common! I was scared when I first started acknowledging myself as a writer, too. Take it slow. Tell yourself first. Write it down, say it to yourself in the mirror, whatever it takes for you to begin to believe. Practice until you feel the truth of it down to your core.

3: Name Yourself as a Writer 

When you’re confident in yourself, it’s time to take a little leap and start telling others. At first, this might just be your parents or your significant other. It might be your best friend. Someone who won’t judge you. Weave it into conversation and keep saying it in the presence of others.

Eventually, you’ll get the courage to share it with others outside of your immediate friends and family. For some of us, this takes a long time, and for others, it’s a quick progression. You might even want to put it on social media or your own website! As a writer, you will see your name out there with your words, so it’s important to get used to naming yourself as a writer.

4: Write Yourself a Reminder 

Not every day is a good one, and some days will be hard to think of yourself as a writer. There will be days where you don’t want to read words, let alone write them. Days where you feel like you’ll never finish your project or get published or be able to write full time (if that’s what you want).

It’s because of these days that it’s critical to write yourself a reminder you know you will see. I have a rainy day note, which is a letter I wrote to myself to remember why what I’m doing is incredibly exciting and worth it. Your reminder doesn’t have to be fancy, though. Even “I am a writer” will do. Whatever you choose to write should remind you that you are a creator, and a bad day doesn’t invalidate your creativity or your writing. Put this reminder where you will see it multiple times and take a breath. As my mom always says, this too shall pass.

5: Actually Write 

The thing about being a writer is that you do actually need to write. This probably sounds simple or cheesy, but you won’t feel like a writer if you don’t do the work of writing. This is because writing is what we writers do. It’s our bread and butter. You can’t be a writer without the hard work of writing.

This doesn’t mean you have to have a new magnum opus project you’re working on at all times, but you do have to write something. What works for me is writing in a journal every morning. I do 3 pages and let my mind go wherever it wants, be it complaints, plans, or excitement, and then go about my normal day. Sometimes even just this 15-20 minutes is enough to kick off my creativity throughout the day.

Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com

What do you think? Can you try these strategies?

You don’t have to answer, but I wanted to congratulate you on wanting to be a writer! It’s hard work, but it is by far the thing I find most satisfying and exciting to do. I would encourage you one last time to talk to yourself. Do some self-exploration to find out what’s really going on in your brain. What you really want – what makes you excited.

Do your self-assessment talk – which doesn’t have to be painful! – and answer the questions on a piece of paper and review them once in a while. Once you’ve figured out what you’re all about, you’ll want to start speaking about yourself as a writer. Start small and make sure you feel comfortable with yourself (at least a little) before you name yourself as a writer to other people. Jot down a quick reminder for the bad days, and then get to writing.

That’s really it!

Writing is a skill, and as long as you are willing to learn and put in the effort, you can be a writer.

Tell us—how are you staying cool?

16 Reasons Pigeons Need Celebrating n Kathleen Rooney’s New Novel!

Doves get loads of love.

Pigeons get nada. Make that less than nothing.

Why?

As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.

Hmmm…

Doves: white

Pigeons: colored

Hmmm…

Doves: a little trimmer

Pigeons: a little stouter

Hmmm…

DO NOT TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LINK that elaborates on what I’m getting at if you’re offended by ribald humor with liberal use of the f-word. FOR EVERYONE, THERE’S THIS LINK.

What do a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, they’re both birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In their case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.

Marvelously, Penguin Books is publishing Kathleen Rooney’s most recent novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!

Kathleen’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post.

Today she’s back to tell us about the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and 16 reasons pigeons need to be celebrated.

This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.

Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.
Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney

My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.

Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.

Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.
Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.

Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.

Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.

Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.

Coo and Walter's babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
Coo and Walter’s babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
  1. The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
  2. The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
  3. Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
  4. In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
  5. Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
  6. Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
  7. People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
  8. Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
  9. Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
  10. Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
  11. According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
  12. According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
  13. When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
  14. Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
  15. Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
  16. The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.

About Kathleen Rooney: she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poems on demand. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte. Her reviews and criticism appear in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Chicago magazine, and her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is available now from Penguin.

Do you like pigeons? (It’s ok if you didn’t before this post.)

A Dog Day of a Pandemic Summer in 12 Steps and a Cool Video by da-AL

What’s a novelist, writer, creative, any kind of person, to do amid COVID-19? Preface: I know I’m super lucky that to date, and fingers crossed that it stays that way,  my circle has been relatively unscathed by any coronavirus. That said, I invite you to join me in whining…

There’s only so much writing and reading I can do during this pandemic sheltering-in-place without feeling stir-crazy… lonely… and just plain hot. We’re into the dog days, the part of summer when there’s no evading stickiness and the persistent “fragrance” of each other……

Khashayar and K-D dog stroll the beach.
1. K-D likes the seashore, um, sorta…

These days, masking up, talking to people from afar through the muffling, and daring the germs feels like endeavoring a safari, albeit not a blood-letting one. (Dear reader, my condolences if you’re plagued by maskne.)

Nevertheless, we decided to make a foray — to the shore — dog beach, to be exact. Mid-week and mid-morning, we calculated, would be sparse. Once we got there, no lifeguards shooed us away, so the three of us were tight.

Khashayar and K-D doggie wet their feet at the beach.
2. …but K-D’s not so certain about liking water.

Masks on… it was time for our dear little K-D doggie to learn to swim!

After all, my lovely girl has water-loving labrador-ish-ness twined into her DNA. Unfortunately, her older lab-ish sibs taught her to be suspicious of water. The sorely missed Lola and Pierre would tremble through warm showers. Their hearts, nonetheless, were huge, their love of their hu-Man great. That water-fearing duo steeled themselves to wade into a shallow lake when they thought their hu-Man was drowning, never suspecting that he was play-acting.

Khashayar and K-D doggie look at a stick floating in the water.
3. K-D spotted a toy! Alas, it’s in the water…

K-D is defined by two loves: playing and eating, in that order.

Khashayar and K-D doggie look at stick in water some more.
4. Khashayar assures her there’s nothing to fear.

Joy! She found something to play with; a stick.

Khashayar shows K-D a stick at the beach.
5. My bigger sweetheart wades into the water to show my littler honey how refreshing it is.

With gentle persistence, my dear Khashayar enticed her deeper.

Khashayar walks into water as K-D doggie looks on.
6. K-D worries when one of her fave people is getting wet…

It took time for play-mode to kick in — that plus her aversion to getting left behind by her fave hu-Man.

K-D runs along beach with Khashayar in tow.
7. K-D is perfectly aware of doggie on the far right and has already told all roving canines to ‘stay offa my stuff’…

At some point, she set down her toy to pursue other activities — but when another critter showed interest in it, she told ’em off. Three sessions of that, and she’d had enough. Dang it, she was going to play with it with her hu-Man… maybe…

Khashayar continues to coax K-D doggie into water.
8. K-D waits to be super-duper sure that water is ok…

Khashayar had confidence enough for both of them!…

Khashayar coaxing K-D doggie into water some more.
9. K-D subscribes to “better safe than sorry” no matter how awesome that stick looks…

… and Khashayar has patience…

Khashayar looks on as K-D doggie doggie paddles back to shore.
10. K-D wants me to tell you that they don’t call it “dog-paddling” for nuthin’. Note: she’s sheltering by watching Emergency!, wherein TV Californians talk lakka Chicagoans…

O-m-g!!! We should’ve brought a surfboard for her to hang ten!

K-D doggie swims past a wave as Khashayar looks on.
11. K-D also wants me to tell you that she never was scared…

Patience and love work well in all situations, no?

Khashayar looks on as K-D reaches dry land.
12. K-D, a natural water sprite!

Turn up your speakers and sit back for a cooling video of one of her many subsequent swims that day. Bliss out to wet ears flapping against a happy dog’s face, one who’s fresh from a doggie paddle frolic and free of the day’s worries…

Read more posts I’ve written to uplift you during the pandemic here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

How’s it in your part of the globe? How’re you personally weathering all this?

Elephants in India: 3 easy tips for how we can help by Chelsea

Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks By jinterwas - [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22849407 Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks, by jinterwas – [1], CC BY 2.0

It’s simple to be cynical. When I travel, it’s easy to regard those different from me derisively. When I point at others, as the old saw goes however, the majority of my fingers point back at me.Living in the prosperous United States as I do, it’s tempting to ignore how our politics hurt ourselves and other countries. If it was ever possible to do — now amid our police brutality of innocent people, during these perilous times of COVID19 — how can anyone overlook how intertwined and interdependent everyone everywhere is?

Blogging has gifted me the unexpected delight of a number of followers from India, a huge country I’ve yet to visit, but obviously multi-faceted and amazing in countless ways. For one thing, they’re home to the amazingly evolved creatures called elephants!

Globetrotter Chelsea, a native of Northern England, is based out of Barcelona, Spain. On Chelsea’s blog, along with epicurean insights, she offers her unique take on various lands. Here’s a slice of her visit to NW India and her insights about how we can all become part of the solution when it comes to helping animals. The main organization she discusses, Wildlife SOS, is an award-winning charity founded by and administered by Indians…

Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India. Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India.

Elephants in India: 3 simple ways to help by Chelsea

It was my love of nature and animals that led me to Wildlife SOS India. Today I’d like to tell you all about the encouraging work of this fantastic conservation non-profit, particularly with regard to elephants, how COVID-19 has affected wildlife, what you can do to help, including other organizations.

What’s Wildlife SOS?

It’s a conservation non-profit set up in 1995 to protect and conserve India’s natural heritage, forest, and biodiversity. It is currently one of the largest Wildlife Organisations in South Asia. Its main missions are:

  • Conservation and protection of wild populations and habitat.
  • Rescue of injured and displaced wildlife, and to look after the welfare of captive populations.
  • Research into better protecting and caring for wildlife.

WSOS leads a massive variety of projects: battling illegal animal trading and poaching, advocating for wildlife within the legal and legislative systems, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and organising awareness workshops, to name just a few.

And the projects are just as diverse as the huge variety of animals they rescue every year ranging from snakes illegally captured by snake ‘charmers’, peacocks poisoned by pesticide, sloth bears forced to ‘dance’ for entertainment, and elephants enduring a life of cruelty in the tourism industry.

Love elephants? Read on!

Although WSOS is internationally known for its pivotal role in eradicating the practice of dancing bears, they are becoming increasingly well-known for their rescue and rehabilitation of elephants.

Their Elephant Conservation and Care Centre was created in 2010 to rehabilitate severely abused and exploited elephants, and nowadays houses over 25, many of which were rescued from a lifetime in captivity where they were forced to beg on behalf of their abusive owners, work as temple elephants, perform in circuses and give rides to tourists, among countless other atrocities.

Elephants in captivity face a life of cruelty and abuse, starting with being poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, and beaten until they can be coerced to do anything. (Note from da-AL: the video link that follows is truly upsetting.) The taming’ method for an elephant usually goes like this: baby elephants are kept in a small cage similar to those used in intensive pig farming, and they are tied up with ropes so they can’t move. The elephant will then be subject to repeated beatings with nails, sticks, chains, and bullhooks. In a process lasting several weeks, the animal is starved of food and water while enduring sleep-deprivation, until they submit to their owners, who can then use them for financial gain.

This cruel practice is aptly called phajaan or “breaking of the spirit”.

All captive elephants will go through at least some form of this vicious ritual. Next time you see an elephant used to give rides or appearing in a film, the signs of abuse will be easy to spot. Shredded ears where they have been torn by bullhooks, nasty skin conditions, lacerations all over their body, and tears in their eyes are all indications of abuse. It’s simple really — no wild elephant would voluntarily paint pictures, perform in the circus or let people ride them.

Only a creature that has had its spirit crushed through abject torture would submit to such unnatural behaviour. While in Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to still find a circus with real elephants, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,700 captive elephants all around Asia that are still actively subjected to some form of exploitation.

Such abuse is particularly sad when we consider that elephants are among the most intelligent of all land mammals. Elephants exhibit renowned cognitive skills and share many behavioural traits with humans. These sensitive souls exhibit grief, altruism, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness and have excellent memories. They remember other elephants and humans they had met briefly decades previously, and they will certainly never forget the anguish they endured all their captive lives.

As visitors to the Agra Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, it was heartwarming to see elephants which had endured a lifetime of cruelty finally be able to spend their days in peace, enjoying long relaxing mud baths, receiving a nutritious diet and veterinary care, as well as enjoying a daily stroll in the open fields with their friends.

Some phony ‘sanctuaries’ are more like petting zoos and little other than dressed-up tourist traps where the mistreatment of animals is commonplace (here’s how to spot one). In total contrast, at Wildlife SOS’s rescue centre in Agra, only small groups of visitors are allowed to come on a prearranged visit, and no touching of or direct interaction with the elephants is permitted. Elephants are in no way made to perform for visitors, and riding is, of course, banned. Although these elephants would not be able to survive in the wild again following decades of captivity, they are well cared for and live as natural a life as possible in the centre.

Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park , by Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24916395 Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park, by Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

How to visit Wildlife SOS

I was deeply impacted by the life-changing work Wildlife SOS is carrying out and would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Agra should carve out a firm place in their itinerary to visit both WSOS centres in Agra to see the projects first-hand. We hired a driver and visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and Elephant Conservation Centre all in one day, with time to get the 5pm train back to Delhi, so it’s definitely possible to have this eye-opening experience on a day trip!

For more information, check out Wildlife SOS’s website to find out more about how to visit the Elephant Conservation and Care Center. Make sure to get in touch in advance by sending an email to visit@wildlifesos.org to organise a customised visit. It’ll be the highlight of your trip to Agra!

Refuse to Ride Elephants sign by Chelsea. Photo by Chelsea.

How has COVID-19 affected Wildlife?

The current COVID-19 crisis is making its effects felt universally and is forcing us to reexamine our relationship with wildlife and nature.

Now confined to their homes, people are increasingly realising the benefits and importance of spending time in nature, notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi are enjoying some of their first blue-sky days in a long time, and wild animals have been venturing into urban city centres now devoid of the usual throngs of people and heaving traffic. Wild boars have even been spotted taking a stroll around the metropolis of Barcelona!

Another silver lining of the current pandemic is that it has shone the spotlight on the illegal global wildlife trade. There is more awareness than ever of the risks that exotic animal markets pose to human health and increasing pressure to close them down for good.

At the same time, wildlife tourism is being severely impacted by restricted international travel. On the one hand, this is good news – the lack of tourists will be a relief to elephants who are otherwise forced to give rides all day. On the other hand, rescue centres like Wildlife SOS will not be able to welcome visitors whose entrance fees go towards the animals’ upkeep.

Ultimately, whether it comes as a blessing or a curse, COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call, and one thing is certain: we need to seriously rethink how we treat the natural and animal world around us.

3 Easy Ways Everyone can help — Wildlife SOS and beyond… 

  1. Visit the WSOS site for everything from how to spread awareness, fundraise, volunteer, and sponsor an animal, to opportunities to assist children in Kalandar. In addition to learning more about their groundbreaking conservation work, visit their bear and elephant facilities in Agra, if you’re in Bangalore, South India.
  2. Here’s a WSOS link if you’d like to sign a petition to ban riding elephants, to ban the use of animals for medicine and food, this one to protect India’s wildlife from open wells, and this one to outlaw the use of elephants for tourists to ride.
  3. Donate elsewhere: every little helps, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis with food shortages looming.

My visit to the elephant centre left me emotional, and a lot of tears went into writing this article. The way humans treat their fellow living creatures is disheartening, to say the least. We call people ‘animals’ when they act aggressively, brutishly, and uncivilised, but really, animals don’t hold a candle to the depths of fiendishness us humans are capable of on a regular basis. In fact, it’s animals who time and time again surprise us with their altruism and affection towards humans. Here are examples of our wonderful dolphin friends!

But I’m also optimistic. Yes, there is still an enormous amount of needless animal cruelty going on today all over the world in the name of entertainment, medicine, food, or whatever other reason you can find a justification for, but there are also beacons of hope like Wildlife SOS.

As more people shun the use of animals for their own perceived gain, I like to think we can stride in the direction of a world with a little less suffering, and a lot more love and compassion.

Sending you sunshine and positivity, Chelsea!

Dear readers, please weigh in…