Adopt a senior, you won’t be sorry

Touch of Grey

This week marks the second anniversary of the day Touch of Grey (Grey for short) came home.  We had lost our dog Sarah in December 2009, and we were still mourning and weren’t ready for a new dog.  But Chryssi, who came from an abusive home and can be anxious and – ahem – confused under ideal circumstances was not adapting to her life as an only dog.  She was depressed and lonely without her fearless leader.

So, when John showed me Grey’s picture in the paper… naturally I immediately jumped in the car drove through a snowstorm to see him.  He had been in a shelter for five months and had pneumonia, so we met in the warmth of the lobby.  When a chihuahua came through the door, got all up in his face, and started pitching a Napoleon Complex barking fit, you could just about hear Grey (tipping the scales at 100 pounds) laugh.  “Seriously?”

I’ll take him!

The shelter manager said he was five years old.  John said eight, at least.  My vet thinks maybe ten.  When people learn his story, they invariably respond with something along the lines of, “What a charitable and kind of stupid thing you have done for this old, decrepit dog who is going to get cancer and die, probably next week!”  (Maybe that’s not exactly what they say, but it’s what they mean.)  But I think I’m a lifer with this senior dog thing.

Shelters are not comfortable for any animal.  But they are especially uncomfortable and even dangerous for senior animals, with their aching joints and aging immune systems.  Many people think that if an animal is in a shelter then something must be wrong with him, but that is simply not true.  Companion animals often end up homeless after a death or divorce.  Sometimes an animal simply becomes an inconvenience to her person and gets dumped.  Animals who get lost and are not wearing identification cannot be reunited with their families.

That’s what happened to Grey.  He was wandering around wearing an electric fence collar but his microchip was outdated and his first family never came for him.  He had obviously been well-loved; he has had knee replacement surgery, and he knows tricks including speak, sit up, and roll over (not easy to teach a dog of his size!).  He came to us a ready-made family member, house-trained, well past the chewing/nipping/scratching stage, a mellow yin to Chryssi’s neurotic yang, and a perfect family dog.

His flaw?  Cats.  You can teach an old dog new tricks, but it isn’t easy.  A younger dog would have eventually learned to peacefully co-exist with the cats (particularly considering that every feline encounter has left him bloody).  But Grey has not adjusted and we have had to take steps to keep everyone safe and happy.  In my opinion, managing his cat chasing has been much easier than dealing with puppy nonsense, though I’m quite certain the cats would strenuously disagree.

Of course, there’s the obvious drawback: We will have to care for another dying dog within a few years.  Old dogs tend to have more problems, and it tends to cost more to keep them healthy.  But there are no guarantees with young animals either, and if you are lucky old age will still come.  Yes, Grey is stiff in the winter, and yes he gets ear infections easily and gets rid of them only with great effort.  But when you compare a few courses of antibiotics with the cost of obedience school, chewed furniture, ruined carpet, lost sleep, and all the rest…I would (and most likely will) do it again in a heartbeat.

What I’m reading: Supermarket Vegan and The Conscious Cook

I am not vegan.  I am not even vegetarian.

I was vegan for a long time, and vegetarian for a long long long time.

Yet, I never felt good eating that way, and after a number of health issues arose culminating in a very difficult pregnancy, birth and recovery with Bess I made the decision to re-introduce meat to my diet.

There are other issues at play, too.  I have become more committed to eating local and unprocessed food as much as possible.  I avoid tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other heavily processed soy  and vegan substitute foods.  While the animal rights issues are undeniable, I find the environmental benefits of this diet compelling.

I eat locally-raised grassfed animals.  As part of my choice to eat food with a face, I made a pact with myself to visit my food while still on the hoof (or wing, whatever).  The least I can do is look these animals in the eye and say thanks.

For what it’s worth, I have come to believe that different bodies have different nutritional requirements because they evolved in different ecological niches.  People who live at high altitudes or latitudes where plants don’t grow have traditionally subsisted on animal protein.  People who live in tropical climates where a wide variety of plants grow have traditionally been vegetarian.  My body is healthier when it is given animal protein, and I don’t think that makes me a bad person.

That said, our weekly menu includes plant-based meals, and I am always on the lookout for recipes that will satisfy my family.  (My baking is always vegan because Bess has egg anaphylaxis and does not tolerate diary well, in addition to being gluten-free because she has Celiac disease.)

conscous cook by tal ronnenWhile browsing the cookbook section of the library, I picked out two cookbooks that looked promising.  The first one, The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat by Tal Ronnen, is a beautiful book.  The photography and graphics really caught my eye and I decided to take it home for a closer look.  Unfortunately, the usefulness of the recipes did not match the book’s aesthetic appeal, at least for my family.  The recipes were much too fancy for our palates and way too labor-intensive (Sweet Onion Beggar’s Purses, anyone?), and they included a lot of wheat and processed foods like Veganaise and Gardein.  However, if I was hosting a dinner party with a guest list that included vegans, this book would definitely be a useful resource – and I wouldn’t mind having it on display in my kitchen as a piece of art.

supermarket vegan donna kleinOn the other hand, Supermarket Vegan: 225 Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Recipes for Real People in the Real World by Donna Klein is an understated, text-only volume (with a cover price of $18.99 as opposed to $29.99 for The Conscious Cook).  But the recipes are perfect for a new vegan who is wary of unfamiliar substitute foods, or for a time-pressed whole-food family like mine.  The recipes are straightforward and simple, the ingredients are readily available, and Celiac-friendly substitutions are easy to make where required.  I think I’ll be buying a copy of this one.


Portobello Mushrooms with Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes (from Supermarket Vegan)

  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon finely chopped or pureed canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce (these are HOT so go easy if you’re cooking for kids!)
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 6 large portobello mushroom caps

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Lightly oil a baking sheet with sides or a shallow casserole and set aside.

In a large saucepan, place the sweet potatoes in enough salted water to cover by a few inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat slightly and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain well and return to the saucepan; add the coconut milk, 3 teaspoons of the oil, chili, garlic, and pepper.  Mash until smooth but still slightly chunky.  Add the scallions, stirring well to combine.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Mound equal amounts of sweet potato mixture on the gill side of each mushroom cap.  Transfer the mushrooms to the prepared baking sheet and brush the tops evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil.  Bake in the lower third of the oven 10 to fifteen minutes, until mushrooms begin to soften and release their liquids.  Place on the center oven rack and bake 5 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are lightly browned and mushrooms are tender when pierced with a knife.  Serve immediately.

Humans, non-humans, and respect

Nothing beats a horse kiss!

Check out my guest post at Humane Connection, the blog of the Institute of Humane Education:

It is so difficult to manage the messages our children receive when it comes to attitudes about non-human animals.  There are animals who are eaten and those whom we would never eat.  There are those who live in our homes, and those we go to great lengths to keep out.  There are those who are companions, and those who have jobs, and those we prefer not to interact with at all.  There are those who live in zoos, and those who live on farms, and those who live in the wild.  There are those who are hunted, and those who are protected.  It’s all so arbitrary, really.  I want my daughter to respect non-human life, but is that end best served by indulging her love of horses despite my misgivings?  Is it served by visiting zoos so that she can experience the magnificent creatures who live there and having frank conversation about the value of freedom and happiness to those animals?  Is it served by taking a hard line?  Or is it best served by sharing these questions with my daughter and examining the shades of grey?

Please feel free to leave a comment!

People in Glass Houses

Our Ally Cat

When I was younger and very active in companion animal rescue, I had a hair-trigger when it came to judging people.  I judged them for not being good enough to adopt a dog or cat, I judged the way they cared for their animals, I especially judged people who relinquished animals to the shelter.  Our companion animals are part of our family, and I would just as soon give up one of my children as one of my cats or dogs.

Or so I thought.

When we started down the rescue path, John had a cat allergy, but it was mild (and truth be told, I was a little selfish and self-righteous) so he tolerated the cats.  Plus, I rationalized, he has tons of other allergies – pollen, mold, dust, you name it – so it’s not like he would be itch- and sneeze-free if we didn’t have the cats.  Recently, his allergies seemed to be getting worse, and he constantly had red, burning eyes.  One morning he woke up and his eyes were oozing and he could barely open them; a trip to the doctor produced a diagnosis of conjunctivitis.  We went on vacation the next day, and his eyes cleared up almost immediately.  We returned home a week later, and the next morning he woke up with painful blisters on his eye.  (And I mean ON HIS EYE.  He actually had a blister on. his. cornea.)  Back to the doctor, home with a new antibiotic since obviously the nasty critters were resistant to the other one.  He went away for work, and again the eyes cleared almost immediately.  Then he came home, and – you guessed it – swollen, painful, blistered eyes again.

So, the new diagnosis is that he has become hyper-sensitive to some sort of allergen.  That allergen seems to be our cats.  Hence we find ourselves in quite a quandary.  He says he would rather go blind than deal with the guilt of re-homing our cats, and he’s only half kidding.  I have gone into overdrive, washing everything in sight constantly, confining the cats to one side of the house and John more or less to another, and reminding him to use his eye drops a dozen or so times a day.  My efforts have helped, but not enough.

On the one hand, the thought of losing my cats breaks my heart.  One of them I saved from gangrene and pneumonia in her kittenhood, and the other I’ve had since he was one day old.  I am definitely beating myself up on many levels – from I should have known better than to have them in the first place to how could I even dream of finding them a new home, and everything in between.  On the other hand, I don’t want John to be miserable and/or blind for the cats’ remaining days.  They aren’t young, 11 and 13, but they aren’t old either in cat terms.  We could have another seven or so years in front of us.

So, as I struggle with my dilemma, I also learn – there but for Grace go I.

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary

In honor of my humane educator roots in animal rights activism, my first post on Ahimsa Mama is about our recent family trip to Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in Poughquag (Duchess County), New York.

Dr. William Crain, who founded and continues to operate the sanctuary with his wife, NYC physician Dr. Ellen Crain, was one of the keynote speakers at the Cultivating Children’s Creativity conference I helped to organize at Wellspring Community School last month.  As part of his presentation, he showed video of some young children interacting with the sanctuary residents, and I knew right away that I had to see this place.  There are not tons of farmed animal sanctuaries around, and among those there are just a few that welcome young children (such as my nearly-five and nearly-three-year old) for a visit.  Given that the Drs. Crain are a child development specialist (Bill) and a pediatrician (Ellen), and exceptionally warm people to boot, they not only welcomed our wee ones with open arms but offered to make us lunch (which, for the record, we declined, opting instead to bring our own brown-bagged vegan lunches).

Bill and Ellen enthusiastically led us through their rain-soaked, muddy farm and introduced us to their furred and feathered friends, offering each resident’s story as we met them.  The kids were encouraged to touch and feed the animals (except the turkeys who are apparently going through a crabby phase right now), and it was great to see how they reacted to the trust that the Crains placed in their ability to interact with the animals kindly and gently.  Even my whirling dervish of a son was relatively calm though he did find the temptation to chase a chicken or two too great to resist.  The chickens, I’m glad to report, seemed to take it in stride – I suspect this is not the first time they have been subjected to a little boy of Harry’s ilk.

I encourage you to check out the Safe Haven website, and to schedule a visit if you are in the area.  We can’t wait to go back – on a drier and sunnier day, we hope.