the challenges of introduced species

The introduction of non-native species to regions and islands, and the ongoing implications of these, are a legacy of human chauvinism. Our ideological arrogance continues to shape decisions and forms of (strategic) ignorance will have long-lasting implications based on the actions we take today. Apparently we have learned, and continue to learn, little.

The Australian government has funded a program seeking to address the introduction of non-native species to Macquarie Island, which is located half way between Tasmania and Antarctica (see video). The hundred thousand or more rabbits, in particular, are having a devastating effect on the islands ecosystems. Past attempts at management or control of the population have included introducing debilitating and painful disease into the population, paralleling similar approaches on the Australian mainland.

The main aspect of the current approach, whilst arguably incorporates an acceptance that human folly is the source of the current ecological challenges, similarly disregards the rabbits in question. They are, in essence, being blamed (as is normative for most species) for some something we have led to. The first stage of the new program is poison baits. The baiting is timed to minimise ‘collateral damage’ (their term), and it is accepted that native populations may be impacted by this for up to 50 years. Subsequent stages involve trained dogs to locate the rabbits, gassing burrows and hunters shooting others.

In a society in which we can seemingly develop vaccines and other medical technologies, could we not develop a means of chemical sterilisation for the species? As a least harm approach, could this not be undertaken rather than the use of poison?? Those already born would live out their existence, with the population decreasing over a short period of time. There certainly will be implications of such an approach.

By way of exposing the hypocrisy of the current approach, are we considering poison-baiting humans given the dramatic ecological impact we are having as a species?? After all, the vast majority (perhaps all) of the ecological problems that exist today and human induced…

companion animal adoption and vegan diets

After giving away most of my material possessions, saying good bye to family and friends, and moving to the other side of the this planet** I am in place (in the broad sense) to consider fostering (possibly adopting) a cat from a shelter. I am still trying to get my head around/resolve some concerns and a moral conundrum. In reflecting on these, I share some concerns that the words of others have helped me to gain perspective on — to a point which I feel I can make an informed decision.

I am opposed to the notion of a ‘pet’, of animals being chattel property. That we can walk into a store and buy an animal, that this animal becomes ‘ours’ and that we have a number of legal rights to do what we wish (within differing limits, depending on where we live) is predicated by and on human chauvanism. There are many others who have provided clear expressions of the why behind this, so I will not expand on that here.

I also have concern with keeping companion animals locked up. The most clear example being birds in a cage (I am horrified how many Australian bird species I have seen as ‘exotic’ pets in other stores and homes in other countries). I also have issues with dogs in yards, cats indoors, etc, etc. To me a cage is a cage irrespective of size. This has been one of two significant issues that have played a significant role in my not adopting an animal in the past (my transient status, and not feeling that I could provide enough care/attention, what I would consider adequate are also significant concerns/barriers). My thoughts on the housing of companion animals (in specific circumstances) have since been influenced by people who someone I meant earlier this year.

To put it simply, keeping an animal locked up is preferable to an animal being kept in a shelter, and most likely euthanised because of how fucked up our society is.

The numbers of companion animals euthanised every day is astounding (in the order of 10 million in the USA, based on 1997 figures) — all because of the manifestations of anthropocentrism, subset by notions of what is considered cute and the whims of animals as accessories.

In light of this, I feel that I can do at least something to improve the life an an animal whose suffering is no fault of there own, rather our species’ outrageous non-consideration and selfishness. In such a context, restrictions on freedom (i.e. some level of a ‘cage’) are not as significant as issue. Notwithstanding concerns that I may not be home enough, I feel that I can do something here.

My main stumbling block is a moral conundrumºº that I have struggled with for more than a decade. It is a conundrum as there is not an ideal outcome. To frame this directly, how can I justify killing one animal to keep another alive? I am aware, and have discussed the issue of vegan cats with a number of people at length — many of the stories have been fraught with concern and struggles seeking to ensure health and well being. Serious health (urinary tract) issues have emerged with many people who have rescued cats and sought to feed them a vegan diet — even those commercially available and advertised as 100% nutritionally complete.

To be clear, I do not have issue with cats being carnivores. My issue is the farming of animals by humans to feed other animals. We should not be farming animals at all. The moral conundrum is rooted in a moral disconnect at best, and a moral schizophrenia at worst.

I guess what emerges from this is that I need to do more research on the suitability of vegan cat food…

** There is much I am still coming to terms with, which has prevented me from posting any thoughts here for some time — though these will come.

ººThis moral conundrum is something I have reflected on for many years.

we buried a member of our family today.

Tae, a blue-cattle cross we adopted more than 10 years ago, was put to sleep today, after suffering a ruptured (previously undiagnosed) Hemangiosarcoma. It was the first time I was directly involved in a euthanasia decision and process. The varied emotions, thoughts, hope, catharsis of it all. The apparent peace, the warmth, the softness, the sleep-like state that resulted were all new experiences. The level of compassion of the staff at the veterinary hospital is something I could not have expected. Something almost overwhelming in itself.

In the weeks prior, Tae’s vision and hearing had deteriorated rapidly, after more than a years steady reduction, and we were adjusting to caring for a vision and hearing impaired companion. She was adjusting well, (re)learning to navigate via different means — after a couple misadventures. In monitoring her, we noted some changes in her behaviour, physical stature, energy levels and mobility over the last few days. I had hoped it was an intestinal blockage. On arriving at the veterinary hospital early this morning I became aware rather quickly that it was far more serious.

Given her age and the symptoms resulting from Hemangiosarcoma, the vet outlined the options. Kidney failure (revealed by bloodwork) and cardiac arrhythmias may or may not have been related to the Hemangiosarcoma, though the latter would significantly reduce the chance of her surviving a splenectomy. My concern was for Tae, and it became apparent that euthanasia was the most compassionate option, though this option was not one I was 100% certain on — for reasons I will return to…

It was decided that I could take Tae home for others to have the opportunity to say good-bye to her, to give her a few final hours in which we could express our love. How much this was for us is up to question — and a valid one that does require some reflection.

Whilst she was at home today, I decided on her resting place (adjacent to the other animals we had adopted) and began the preparation. It was somewhat cathartic — as writing this, trying to consider how to broach her condition with others in her life, and trying to (rationalise how to) come to terms with it myself have been.

Why was I not 100% certain about euthanasia? What it comes down to is perhaps a romanticised notion, but also based on speciesism. I have grave concerns about decisions humans make for other animals. Often, euthanasia is the easy option. Looking at the notion of euthanasia for humans exposes some of the issues (comparatively). I also hoped that she would either get better/be found to have a treatable condition without loss in quality of life or any suffering or that she would die without me making the decision.* The latter is perhaps problematic, and shares, somewhat, some of the recurrent themes/issues that debate about human euthanasia. For me (problematic or not), it was about not making decisions for her, wanting it to be on her terms.

To me, it seemed like Tae was deteriorating as the day progressed. She was comfortable, though it was obvious that the internal bleeding, Abdominal distension, inappetance and general weakness were progressing. When we returned to the veterinary hospital, with Tae sitting on my lap, my reaction to her appearance differed to those of who I was with. Tae was starting to drool heavily. I thought this another sign of her deteriorating condition. The member of the family with me viewed it as a sign she was very happy in her final living moments.

The injection and Tae’s passing was very quick. What was to immediately follow has given me a new perspective. I have never witnessed an animal euthanised, and it seemed to be very peaceful. As the injected chemicals passed through her body, Tae had two members of her (adopted) family stroking her with almost benign familiarity. She was in a very comfortable position, one I had seen her sleep in many times. The Veterinarian adjusted her head position, placing her head between her front paws post the process. It was picturesque. I continued to stroke Tae, and the warmth of her body, the softness of her fur. These were far from any thoughts I had about how this would progress.

As mentioned, albeit perhaps lost in the cloudiness of my own emotions and reactions, my main concern was for Tae. The compassion of the veterinary hospital staff certainly made the process easier on us. Their compassion was far from anything I had considered would be provided. It was almost overwhelming. I will be going back to thank them. Their actions has made the process easier, whether it should be a factor or not, for the thoughts that have emerged. Clarity. In the past when a companion had died, the grief was a barrier to adopted another animal in need. I am now able to more clearly recognise that adopting animals is about them, restitutive justice as much as it can be, their quality of life (I have renewed feelings of anger about the world we have constructed, the suffering inflicted on other species for our wants).

Whilst being about them — as it should be, adopting animals does impact on our lives and change us. Tonight as we reflect and each of us deals with Tae’s passing in our own, some very different, ways, this is strongly reinforced. The first emotion/reaction I have had (and I think it is one I have experienced in the past) is the profound emptiness of the yard without Tae there…

These are my immediate thoughts and feelings. I have shared them as is, no to suggest they are free from critical comment or challenge. They may, however, provide some solace to others in similar situations or a starting point for thought.

I will search for a photo of Tae. I considered taking a photo of her lying on the couch at home today, though thought I would rather a picture of her happy, playing. This contrasted with my thoughts on her lying peacefully, picturesque, immediately following the euthanasia…

* My usage of the term hope shares Derrick Jensen’s definition, which I have mused about before