When our wonderful dog Ozzie passed away last week, my partner Dan and I were in pieces, completely shattered and broken.
He was the third member of our little family unit, our team.
Ozzie came to us when he was already nine years old and I had no idea of the impact he would have on the lives of me, Dan - and indeed the very many people who met him - and loved him.
And yet somehow I knew he was special, that's why we chose him – or rather he chose us.
Not having set out to adopt a dog, we had nevertheless found ourselves one day visiting a couple of dog shelters and being moved, as one is in such places, by the sheer number of dogs needing a home. But it was only when we encountered Ozzie that we found our soul mate. And we knew instantly.
Not that Ozzie was going out of his way to appear desperate like some of his fellow homeless pooches, who pleaded with their eyes and whimpered softly at us as we wandered past rows and rows of cages filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes that had been abandoned or had otherwise arrived in this place through no fault of their own.
Too sad for words.
Ozzie, however, tried to appear unresponsive, he didn't want anyone to think he needed their assistance. It was clear that he had been fending for himself and was not used to much attention, let alone affection. But when I crouched down and asked him for his paw, he couldn't help himself. Dan and I looked at each other and knew. We hadn't intended to get a dog that day, especially not an old timer who seemed very aloof, and yet we knew we would be going home with him as soon as the paperwork could be completed.
And so it was that Ozzie, a nine year old Doberman Lurcher mix, became the centre of our little family for the next six years.
Ozzie was a perfect gentleman, he loved everybody and everybody loved him. He was especially respectful to children and older people. Gentle and well behaved, we could trust him implicitly. And, in spite of the fact that he had clearly led a chequered life (the dogs home had known him, on and off, since he was eight weeks old), he grew to trust us and love us more than anything else in his world.
We all travelled together wherever life took us. We shared quiet and beautiful holidays including a memorable trip to my beloved St Bees, a tiny coastal village in Cumbria which I had discovered in my troubled youth and which had, during difficult and lonely teenage years, eased my mind and spirit with the sound of the sea and the endless views of big skies. And Dan was the one who took us all there again, decades later, having persuaded me that it might be good to return to this little place which had been so poignant for me, to make new memories that were less tinged with melancholy. So, thirty years down the line, we went back, together with Ozzie of course, and the place was filled with sunshine. It made my heart sing to find that Ozzie loved it there. This magical little place that had touched my soul now touched Ozzie's too, proving to me that a soul is a soul, be it human or canine.
The three of us, Dan, Ozzie and me, walked together along grassy lanes in the fresh coastal air, making new memories to treasure.
So when Oz left us a few days ago, just two days after we celebrated his fifteenth birthday, we were shattered to the very core. And we haven't recovered.
Ozzie was for us the most wonderful friend, he cared for us, he loved us and he made us smile and laugh even when we were feeling anxious or angry at the world around us.
When we lost him that world fell apart and we didn't stop crying for days on end.
While we are still glimpsing him around the house in passing shadows, our home now feels big and empty.
I can't bear the thought of never seeing him again and so I have to believe that I will.
The loss is that of a beloved family member and the grieving the same. Laden with the same tears and heavy with the same sense of parting that makes the heart ache with pain.
Ozzie taught us so much about life and love, compassion and empathy. But above all else, I know, will be the legacy he leaves behind.
When other dogs need us, Dan and I will be there for them. And when other lost souls knock at the door to our hearts then we will welcome them in.
Ozzie taught us that opening our hearts to an animal in need is one of the biggest blessings in all of life. And that will be the driving force for us from this day forward.
Ozzie will live on, in the love that we will give to others who come to seek our help.
“Kindness, I've discovered, is everything in life”, so said author and storyteller Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of the most powerful pro-animal voices of the 20th century.
And nowhere is kindness more in evidence than within a unique group of dedicated volunteers in Northern California who together make up a very special organisation called Palomacy...
Established ten years ago by Elizabeth Young, Palomacy (“Pigeon Diplomacy”) rescues and re-homes some of the most unfairly maligned and neglected of creatures - pigeons.
Elizabeth points out the reason for setting up her rescue network: “[animal] shelters got in domestic (unreleasable) pigeons every week but, instead of providing them with the care and service that all the other shelter animals received, they were for the most part ignored until they were euthanized.”
And so that's when Elizabeth decided to set up her amazing group which saves homeless domestic pigeons from being killed, providing them with vet care, foster homes and adoptions.
“We advocate for pigeons and doves- all of them- wild, feral and domestic– every day of the year. While most of the thousands of people we meet may never see another domestic pigeon, all will encounter the feral Rock Pigeons who are somehow able to live their gentle lives on our mean streets. We speak up for those birds, we debunk the myths, we inspire compassion.”
I think it's especially heart-warming to hear about an organisation that is focused on helping one of the most misunderstood of all the species with which we share this world, and I couldn't agree more with the ethic of this rescue.
Without organisations such as Palomacy, the intelligent and adaptable pigeon would not have a voice. “We know that pigeons are a gateway to compassion” says Elizabeth – and for those who have never really given pigeons much thought, well I think that is something to ponder...... “a gateway to compassion”.
Palomacy relies on donations to rescue and re-home birds.
You can find out more about them by clicking on their advert.
A few days ago I announced that my blog will carry an unlimited number of FREE advertisements for wildlife and animal rescues and with readers in more than 80 countries I'm inviting enquiries from anywhere in the world.
I am offering this because there are lots of very small charities, organisations and individuals out there who are working tirelessly on behalf of sick and injured animals and they are doing so on the tiniest of budgets, relying on donations and the generosity of strangers in what are difficult times financially for many people.
So, with that in mind, I am very happy to tell you about two of our first advertisers....
The Nutkin Ward
First, I'd like to introduce you to a wonderful lady by the name of Tess who set up The Nutkin Ward in 2010 in Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire.
Very quickly she found herself inundated with wildlife casualties in spite of having little room to accommodate them... “I don't think people realize how small I am. Its me, an 8 x 12ft shed and a couple of small aviaries. Overflow can often be found in the bathroom or spare bedroom!”
But even with limited space, last year alone Tess, who is a registered veterinary nurse, admitted more than 400 casualties. And she doesn't discriminate “I will take in and care for any wildlife. I always think it's so strange that people will distinguish between animals that deserve help and those that don't. In my opinion any animal deserves help be it bat, mouse, owl or pigeon.”
With hardly any spare time to fund raise, (as you can imagine looking after so many patients!) Tess nevertheless relies on donations and The Nutkin Ward has an Amazon wish list which can be found by clicking HERE or click on the ad below to visit their Facebook page.
London Wildlife Protection
Our second amazing organisation is London Wildlife Protection who offer a 24/7 rescue service for birds and animals in and around London. They are a volunteer run organisation and endeavour to provide a rescue and ambulance service when possible for all trapped, injured, sick or young birds and they also save eggs and nests. “Our core values are to investigate and increase public awareness of animal abuse, educate the public, protect and promote animal welfare legislation, and offer non-lethal wildlife control. London Wildlife Protection has a no-kill policy which means that we NEVER put down sick, injured or unreleasable animals.”
London Wildlife Protection are a Not For Profit Organisation, and rely solely on donations from the public for provisions of foods and medications.
Click on the ad to visit their website and to donate.
".....they will be shot at point blank range with a low velocity rifle."
After my piece about the gassing of Barcelona's pigeons and the resulting outrage from all around the world, I feel compelled to spread the word about another appalling cull that is happening right now, today, this time in Australia, a hotbed of bird culling in recent years.
The Corella, better known perhaps by the generic name Cockatoo, is an intelligent and characterful bird. The Corella family actually includes a number of closely related species, some of which have faced near extinction at the hands of humans during the early 20th century due to a mass killing spree of shooting and poisoning, perpetrated by people intolerant of the birds whose territory they had invaded. Populations of this resilient and rescourceful bird have since increased. And once again their interaction with humans has caused conflict. The point to remember is that people are the reason this bird flourishes in urban areas. Where there are human populations there are Corellas. Much like the pigeon, Corellas have learnt to live alongside people and adapt to the conditions created by human settlements.
There is something remarkable about a species that can adapt to its environment in spite of human interference, in a world where so many other species succumb to the pollution and destruction that our society causes.
But this clever adaptation is also the Corella's downfall because, as we know, humankind is intolerant of any other species that shares its space. And so we see today the announcement that a mass cull of Corellas is being carried out in Australia where these remarkable birds are labelled as 'pests'.
The mayor of a city called Geraldton in Western Australia said (in a particularly distasteful and unenlightened statement): "We're going to kill a few of these pesky little birds, and hopefully that sends a clear message to them to rack off." He told ABC News that: "They will be netted after being lured to the ground using wheat or any other nice snacks that they might like to consume, at which point they'll be rounded up and taken to a place to be humanely gassed."
In another city, Bunbury, an environmental officer is quoted as saying that "...The hardest thing is when the birds start disrupting people's sleep."
If that's 'the hardest thing' then one has to ask whether the residents really have anything at all in their lives to worry about.
The same environmental officer described in an interview with ABC News just how their city intends to cull the birds, it's a slightly different, but no less horrific, method to that employed by Geraldton..."We attract birds to sites where we can establish a regular feeding pattern....Once we get enough birds in attendance, we use a net that goes over the top of them and they will be shot at point blank range with a low velocity rifle."
Callous and cold blooded.
This is the 21st century, supposedly an enlightened era for conservation and awareness of wildlife.
Despite some opposition to the culls (which have been taking place regularly for the past few years), there are many voices in support of the killing due to the damage the birds can do to human infrastructure.
But with one of the primary reasons given for supporting the cull being 'difficulty getting to sleep because of the birds' then it seems that bird song is enough reason these days to shoot them.
Imagine if people felt the same way about the dawn chorus?
You know when people complain about the noise from birds then there is something very wrong with the state of the human race. We have already largely lost the ability to peacefully co-exist with any other form of life on this planet, now it seems we are so intolerant that we are exterminating other creatures simply because they are in our way or even just making a noise.
It's not a reason, it's just plain despicable.
Call me an old cynic.... but I am suspicious about this new plan to create a 'Northern Forest' that the Government announced last week.
This, by the way, is the same Government that is forging on with HS2, the publicly despised high speed rail project, which will decimate nearly 100 ancient woodlands across large swathes of England as it ploughs through everything in its path. What springs to mind is not necessarily a bold plan to create a new forest but a giant dose of hypocrisy.... the Government has sanctioned the mass felling of thousands of acres of ancient woodland with one hand while announcing plans for a new 'forest' of trees with the other. And that's if the 'Northern Forest' plan ever comes to fruition.
While a tiny £5m has been allocated by the Government to this noble sounding plan, a whopping £104 billion is the cost forecast to build HS2. Which kind of makes the Northern Forest sound like something falling short of even a token gesture. The cost of the Northern Forest is projected to be £500m over the next 25 years but charity donations will be needed for the £495m that the Government are not funding.
Not only that but the cities that the Northern Forest will link together are not exactly renowned for their nurturing approach to trees. Liverpool felled 36 old Maples last year and replaced them with a horrible multi storey car park that harks back to the worst architecture of the 1960's, while Sheffield has gained a reputation for frenzied and uncontrolled tree felling that has made the city notorious worldwide for its callous approach to conservation. So, although it is the Conservatives who are pushing HS2, both of the aforementioned cities have Labour run councils illustrating that this muddled ignorance towards trees is a cross party problem.
Cynic that I am, I can only think that this cunningly timed announcement for a Northern Forest is a naïve attempt to pacify the HS2 protestors and divert attention from the destruction that HS2 is causing to our countryside. But if the Government think that their 'dream' to plant a forest somewhere 'up North' will silence its critics then they are mistaken. Why? Because people are not stupid. The decimation of our ancient woodland is a national scandal, and the precious habitat it provides for our wildlife cannot be replaced with a ribbon of newly planted trees which will take centuries to reach the kind of maturity needed to support the diverse ecosystem that is being obliterated in the wake of HS2.
Of the Northern Forest plan, Environment Secretary Michael Gove is quoted as saying: "Trees are some of our most cherished natural assets and living evidence of our investment for future generations. Not only are they a source of beauty and wonder, but a way to manage flood risk, protect precious species and create healthier places for us to work and live.”
What a pity he doesn't view the mass destruction of woodland by HS2 with the same concern. Perhaps he's so shallow that he hasn't made the connection....
A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. – Adlai E. Stevenson II
Have you ever seen the magnificent bird that is the Great Indian Bustard? No? And the sad truth is that you probably never will..... because they are on the very brink of extinction, down to as few as 50 individuals and about to disappear forever from the earth thanks to wind farms.
The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) has historically been hunted in large numbers and its habitat reduced through agricultural expansion - yet it has somehow overcome these threats against all the odds. But, in spite of its capacity for survival, we can likely say a sad final farewell to this incredible bird because it is being killed as a direct result of those most macabre and hideous of mankinds' newest wildlife-killing inventions, wind turbines.
Marketed as 'green' but flying in the face of conservation, the wind farms and particularly the power lines that serve the wind turbines are now directly responsible for the imminent extinction of this magnificent bird.
The Great Indian Bustard lives in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. It is a beautiful and unusual creature, standing one meter tall and similar in appearance to a small Ostrich. But unlike the Ostrich, the Bustard can fly, making it one of the heaviest of all flying birds.
Once widespread across the Indian grasslands, the bird is now largely confined to the Thar region where less than 150 individuals, at best, are believed to survive. This area is also where 'renewable' energy companies have decided to install their lethal wind farms and the associated 6,000 kilometres of power transmission lines which are now believed to kill around 18,000 birds a month through collision and electrocution, some of this number being the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard. Remains of the extraordinary bird have been discovered beneath the power lines and it is unknown just how many of the birds have been killed in this way.
Calls for the energy companies to install brightly coloured bird deterrents, possibly the only method of reducing deaths other than removing the turbines altogether, have been met with an assurance that the idea is being 'discussed' - but so far no action has been implemented and birds of several species continue to be killed in large numbers.
The Bustard is one casualty of these turbines, though similar problems occur wherever in the world there are wind farms. They are perhaps one of the biggest current threats to the survival of many species of endangered birds and their impact on wildlife and the environment must not be underestimated.
Fighting wind energy has become a personal battle of mine and my intention is to educate and inform the public about the misinformation spewed out by renewable energy companies and their underhanded methods of marketing their energy as 'green'.
I've said it many times but now I'll say it again in the name of those magnificent Indian Bustards, the latest catastrophic casualty of the money making green scam:
Wind farms represent one of the biggest environmental threats of modern times. Their manufacture, installation and operation are responsible for the decimation of environment, landscape and wildlife wherever they appear. And now it seems they might also be the nail in the coffin of yet another of the world's most beautiful creatures.
The Great Indian Bustard. R.I.P.
If karma exists - and it surely does, being the only explanation for injustice in the world - then members of the UK government will have reason to be quaking in their boots when karma comes around to visit them - and it will be in the spectre of 45,000 murdered badgers.
The current British government is responsible for sanctioning a badger cull which has, during the past five years alone, seen the slaughter of tens of thousands of badgers across the British countryside in a highly controversial attempt to eradicate bovine tuberculosis in cattle. The badgers are believed to carry the disease and unwittingly spread it to cattle through their dung. Bovine TB is clearly a significant problem for farmers not least because they are forced to slaughter their cattle if they are shown to be affected - even though there is no ethical reason to do so.
But badgers are being randomly killed in huge numbers without any good reason or scientific fact to back up the weak hypothesis that they are the guilty party. According to Wildlife Trusts who are vehemently opposed to the cull, “This is a cattle problem, not a badger problem.... the primary route of infection is via cow-to-cow contact”.
I'm told that the vast majority of the culled badgers have not even been tested for TB so it remains unclear just how many are actually infected anyway, indeed tests carried out between 2002 and 2005 found that 83% of badgers culled in trials were free from TB. This means that the cull is a hugely random act of mass extermination without any genuine justification. Many times it is reported that the badgers suffer lingering, agonising deaths after being shot during the course of the cull.
Opinions are so polarised on this contentious issue that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Some claim that culling the badgers has actually increased the incidence of TB due to the destruction of the badgers' social groups, leading surviving members of one group to encroach on the territory of another, spreading the disease to a previously unaffected population.
Whatever the real facts turn out to be, one statistic that cannot be disputed is that since the cull began, a whopping 45,000 badgers have been killed, significantly reducing the overall population and with no proof that the cull is being effective in any way. The fact that mass extermination of a protected species can be allowed, let alone positively approved, is deplorable.
A simple understanding of basic morality suggests that this slaughter is wrong on so many levels.
The pro-cull lobby has also tried a rather distasteful tactic of pitching one treasured creature against another, suggesting that the badgers are also responsible for the dramatic decline of the hedgehog, going so far as to say that the British hedgehog population may recover if badgers are culled. While there may be a tiny modicum of carefully manipulated 'truth' hidden somewhere in this claim (namely that badgers do occasionally eat hedgehogs), the blame for the demise of the British hedgehog lies squarely with the human population who have embarked on a wholesale destruction of its habitat. To blame badgers for the harm perpetrated by humans is a very cynical attempt at diverting responsibility and doesn't wash at all. Hedgehogs have disappeared in areas of the country entirely devoid of badgers so it doesn't take a genius to work out that we humans are the cause of their decline.
The badger cull is far from over, many thousands more badgers may still be shot in this horrible killing spree which is yet to show significant results in eradicating bovine TB but has already resulted in a widespread decimation of one of Britain's rarest, most loved - and supposedly protected - species.
Quite how the government considers it acceptable to cull a species that is protected by law is open to conjecture but the whole escapade is evidently very confused and chaotic.
Flying in the face of the government's 'green' promises to improve animal welfare and protect the environment, the truth appears to be somewhat contradictory. The government have, albeit belatedly, announced a ban on bee-killing pesticides and have vowed to tackle puppy smuggling - good news indeed - while at the same time they are stubbornly ploughing on, quite literally, with the HS2 railway project which is decimating the countryside and killing all animals in its path.
The same government's wishy washy position on the grotesque practice of fox hunting shows little understanding of what constitutes 'animal welfare', the dictionary definition of which is as follows: "the protection of the health and well-being of animals". Quite how badger culling and fox hunting fit into that definition is difficult to fathom and the government's promises to uphold animal welfare appears to be a nonsense when seen in that context.
Not that the governing Conservatives are alone in their muddled thinking. It was only two years ago that the Labour party were busy extolling the virtues of bird-killing wind farms after accepting a hefty donation from a wind energy mogul, leading some to suggest that money can be painted 'green' and used to fund cloak-and-dagger environmental destruction on a grand scale.
With politicians of all colours making dodgy decisions with regard to our wildlife and environment, is there any hope for the natural world they so glibly and superficially claim to care about?
Rule number one remains 'don't trust the politicians'. While one party condones the mass slaughter of a protected species, their opposition will spout loud words of condemnation, all the while doing their own shifty deals with little or no regard for the preservation of that which belongs to us all – our precious wildlife and countryside.
45,000 dead badgers should be all the proof we need.
One shocking story follows another this week. First we had the reports from the UK highlighting the idiots who have been attaching bird deterrent spikes along tree branches to protect their precious cars below from bird droppings - and now comes this news from Spain of a distinctly hideous event that has gone largely unreported.
The city authorities in Barcelona took the startling decision to gas nearly a thousand wild pigeons, spinelessly employing a 'specialised control company' to carry out the massacre under the supervision of the ASPB (Barcelona Public Health Authority). But a bird-loving blogger watched the despicable act and broke the shocking news to his horrified audience.
The ASPB gave the order to kill 950 birds, which must surely represent a significant percentage of Barcelona's pigeon population, as part of its plans to stage a Municipal Christmas Fair in the Plaza Catalunya, a city square ironically famous for its pigeons.
Defending its decision, the Health Authority claimed that the birds posed an 'exceptional health risk', something which has been strongly challenged by ornithological experts. In Barcelona alone, a staggering 60,000 wild pigeons are exterminated every single year.
To callously dispatch so many wild birds in this way is clearly outrageous and illustrates the contempt some people have for the wildlife around them. Murdering the birds to make way for a Christmas Fair is particularly vulgar and offensive.
When a thousand wild birds are casually gassed because they are 'in the way' of a temporary street market - and the atrocity goes unreported in the world's press - then I fear for the future of our wildlife.
Such cold-blooded cruelty is both sickening and disturbing and, alas, appears to be a growing trend.
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