Welcome to Our Blog!
This blog tells the story of our role on the planet as Animal Balance. It is our wish that through the work that we do, the experiences we have and the stories we share, we can connect with others, open up minds and, essentially, shake things up in order to move our collective direction forward. Our goals is to increase global love and compassion for all species, everywhere.
Thank you for taking the time to read it.
The Animal Balance Team
“You can taste the sweetness of the grass as you move your mandible from side to side…”
In my life, there have been several moments where I suddenly take stock of where I am and what I’m doing. This is one of those moments.
I’m in the auditorium at UNAM, the national public university in Mexico City. My shoes are off and I am on my hands and knees, imagining myself as a cow.
I’m chewing my cud, switching my tail, lounging in the grass with the rest of my “herd,” who are in actuality other human attendees of the 4th International Minding Animals Conference. We are all participating in the “Imagining Cow-Being” workshop and I’m finding that this conference is continuing to challenge me and expose me to new ideas in ways I could never have anticipated…including spending 30 minutes imagining myself as a cow.
The workshop is being led by Terry Hurtado, whom we would later learn is running for office in his home country of Columbia on an animal rights platform. This session is one of the more unconventional offerings at Minding Animals, a week-long conference that aims to bring together activists and scholars to discuss new ideas, philosophies and programs dedicated to improving the rights of non-human animals around the world. Other, more traditional sessions, were held in classrooms at the University, including presentations on animals and religion, feminism in animal rights, veterinary ethics, helping wildlife, photojournalism presentations, LGBTQA issues in animal rights, and even a lively presentation on Prince and his animal rights legacy.
The ideas discussed may be eccentric at times, but they are also progressive and inspiring, igniting intelligent debate and conversation around how we, as humans, can help ensure that other sentient beings are treated fairly in an environment that has been taken over, and irreversibly altered, by human animals.
Many of the ideas are new to me, as this is my first animal rights conference and the first time that I have been exposed to much of this material. Each day I find myself being challenged, as philosophies that I had always taken for granted (ie: the idea that humans are naturally on top of the dominance hierarchy) were turned upside down, introducing me to a world in which exists enough room for all animals to live together, human and non-human alike.
Over the course of the week, we were afforded the opportunity to hear talks from some of the leading scholars in many fields of study, and were introduced to work being done for animals across many disciplines. Our own Founder and Director, Emma Clifford, spoke on the field programs that we have established in the Galapagos and the social change that occurred as a result of Animal Balance’s work in the area. We were able to discuss ideas one-on-one with other participants over vegan lunches in the courtyard, and engage in thought-provoking debates when presented with the opportunity to share an opposing idea.
The fact that the conference was held in Mexico City added another level of depth to the for of us in some way. It was the childhood home of one member of our team, and offered opportunities to explore art, culture, history and culinary delights (roasted yams and bananas with strawberry jam from a street cart!) that enhanced the experience. And, not to be ignored, with Mexico being the epicenter of a national and worldwide debate on inclusion/exclusion of humans, it was an appropriate place to carry on conversations about considering the importance of the lives of all beings as we navigate our complicated world.
Animal Balance has a history of dropping me into these situations, creating these magical moments that are both so simple and life-changing at the same time.
For instance, there was the time that I found myself in American Samoa, talking to a man named Samoa about his 1986 trip to the Super Bowl, playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. Incidentally, our team trapped about 20 cats on his property and successfully neutered and returned them.
I have been challenged with setting up a MASH clinic in some of the most unlikely locations (carports, jungle clearings, a living room).
But, we will never know our limits if we don’t continue to stretch them, right?
Would I have imagined that a simple guided cow meditation would have such an impact on me? No, probably not.
But in the end, it made me realize the number of ways my work in this field has helped me to grow as a human animal, to think about the world we live in in a different way…in a hundred different ways. I can step out of my comfort zone, into the body of a cow, to have a conversation with a football player, dance the merengue (poorly) in a local bar in the Dominican Republic, all while spreading the same message of compassion, kindness, and inclusion that we bring with us everywhere as representatives of Animal Balance.
We are all the cow, the cat, the island dog…we are all just sentient beings trying to share space on this planet. In order for this to work, we all need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones just a little bit, become the other, to see that we’re all really just one and the same.
Kissing Dogs in Kathmandu…Asia for Animals.
Flying through the crazy Kathmandu traffic in thick dust after two days on a plane, with no idea what time zone my brain or body is on, we come to an abrupt stop. The taxi man tells us to get out. We do, and someone runs off with our bags. We head off in the same direction, trying to keep pace. Navigating a bustling market, a kaleidoscope of color, exotic smells and lights, we try to keep up with the man with our bags. He stops, and with a big smile he says, ‘Namaste’. We have reached the Kathmandu Guest House, an oasis of quiet in the middle of the market, which we quickly dub ‘The Mall.’ Its real name is Thamel, but we don’t know at that point that is pronounced ‘T-hamel’. We have so much to learn!
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo
We, AB’s Director of Operations Meredith, myself, and Carla Naden of Animal Synergy, have come to the other side of the world to learn about the animal welfare work here and share stories of our work. We hope to take back ideas and information that will help save lives. After all, we all face the same challenges. We will be attending the Asia for Animals Conference in Kathmandu for the next four days, but first we have one day to explore and meet the beautiful Nepalese people and, of course, kiss every dog, pet every cow, and eat all the vegan food we can find!
Kathmandu is like nowhere else! Dogs are not just family, they are the gatekeepers to heaven. The kindness and gentle nature of the Nepalese people literally stopped us in our tracks, and each of us have been changed by the experience. We have been humbled by the sheer beauty of the people.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
In case you don’t know, the three of us all follow a vegan lifestyle and spend the majority of our time working to save animals. We are an odd little collective, but we have the same ethics and sense of adventure. We head off with Big B, a local man who sells tea that Carla met, who has kindly offered to show us around. He takes us to the Great Boudha Stupa, a breathtaking temple and world heritage site. We meet the local mandala artist and teacher upstairs in an ancient room full of easels and artists. He takes time to explain the entire Mandala history to us, as tourists and locals bustle through the square below. Sharing the sky are hundreds of pigeons. who soar around the temple, hanging out on the rooves of orange flowers. One Monk feeds them, while another Monk plays Candy Squash on an IPhone. Hundreds of colorful prayer flags flap, the mix of the ancient and modern blending peacefully and perfectly together. There is a quiet respect and feeling of deep wisdom everywhere. We don’t talk much as we take it all in.
“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”
― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi
Next, we go to Lord Shiva’s temple and are led over a walkway bridge by two dogs and a cow. We sit by the river with a new cow friend, Carla says this is the spot, and I spread my dog Sage’s ashes, into the river. We cheer her on. We go inside the temple grounds, as far as we can go as non-Hindus, and I reach in my bag to get a fruit offering for Lord Shiva. Immediately, out of nowhere, a monkey jumps on me and takes my fruit offering from my hand and runs off with it! Big B, who is Hindu, laughs and tells me not to worry, as the monkeys work for Lord Shiva. Old dogs lay around the temple, so we spent some time kissing them all. We did not see any puppies. In fact, we had not seen any since we arrived, just older dogs. We started to wonder what was going on.
The amazing local group, ManuMitra (https://www.facebook.com/ManuMitra-917204091732595/) and the KAT Center (http://www.katcentre.org.np/) have done such a fabulous job at spaying and neutering that there are no puppies, at least in the areas that we visited. The street dogs are older, and while they may have some parasites and such, they were in quite good shape. Super friendly too! I think we managed to say hello and kiss pretty much everyone. Each zone in Kathmandu has a dog guardian and he/she looks after the dogs in that zone. It is a natural, loving program that simply works.
The AfA conference was THE best conference I have ever been to. It began and ended with beautiful local cultural performances. The signage and layout was beautifully thought out and prepared. It was as esthetically kind as it was in every other way. The staff and volunteers were so helpful and kind to us. The vegan buffet was incredible. We ate our food outside, on the grass surrounded by a beautiful garden. It was truly magical. There was even a juice table where a local culinary school tried out different recipes to offer us. The conference organizers have planted hundreds of trees to combat the carbon foot print caused by us flying in. Incredibly thoughtful and respectful to Mother Earth. This holistic thinking works!
As hoped, we learned a lot about many aspects of animal protection in Asia. The local groups presented from a positive standpoint and they used mostly positive images. In fact, the majority of the conference was positive and done in a way to inspire, rather than to make you feel sad or shock you. We made contacts, talked about all aspects of our programs, had photo shoots with our new friends and drank so much tea!
Following the conference, the AfA team sent us to Chitwan National Park to visit the elephant sanctuary. Three buses flew us up and around and around a scary ravine for 10 hours. We didn’t die! We arrived and were allocated a lovely local family to live with. We stayed with the teacher’s family and they were the best hosts ever. Even with no Nepalese or English, we managed to communicate our appreciation of the amazing curries and strong coffee. The trip costs are put back into the community, helping with infrastructure and schools.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust
Thanks to the elephants, we saw lots of Rhinos in the wild. The elephants are domestic rescued elephants, not wild. These beautiful crinkly mammoths who look into your soul with their piercing brown-green eyes, are all living out their retirements as walking leads in the jungle. They cannot be free, but they cannot be caged, so they live here together and are so incredibly loved. I have to say, the 3 of us were rather judgmental at the start, but we checked ourselves and reigned it in, then learned about the lives of the elephants and people here. We quickly understood how remarkable and ground-breaking this work is when creating a sustainable eco-tourism. http://www.tigertops.com/
My magic moment was when the elephants bathed at sunset. I was away from other humans and was watching two adults bathe about 15 feet away. They stuck their trunks in each other’s mouths and purred. Yep, they did elephant size purrs! I looked around to say to someone – did you hear that? – but no one was around. Then one let out a mini squeal. Sounded like a ‘hee hee’ kind of sound. Finally, a guide came over and I said rather shyly – um…. they seem to be purring – and she laughed and said yes, they are sounds of happiness, these two love one another deeply. WOW!
There is a thick sense of family and belonging here. Without even knowing why, when I met Carla in Kathmandu, they first words out of my mouth were, ‘we are home’. It is like being at the mecca of love and compassion and respect for all. We were profoundly touched by Nepal and its beautiful people. The trip has given us hope, inspired us to be kinder to one another, and to never, ever give up on our missions.
We are recharged, reenergized and cannot stop talking about Nepal!
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
Saving Cats on Maui
Prior to 2015, the outlook for feral cats living on Maui was bleak. Although environmental conditions are ideal for supporting a prolific feline population, cats were considered a nuisance, and the cat population was managed using a singular technique, euthanasia.
“I have worked for Maui Humane Society for almost 25 years,“ says Kelly Maguire, a Maui native and the leader in a movement to help bring humane, community based sterilization solutions to the island’s feral cat colonies. “We have always had feral cat issues. There are no winters, no predators, it’s a great situation for cats to multiply. We’ve just always had feral cats everywhere, in parks and neighborhoods. The understanding was that the only way to control the situation was by euthanasia.”
Maguire describes the conflict that she felt, as an animal lover, when cats were brought to MHS in traps for the sole purpose of being killed.
“I’m a vet tech, I want to help animals. I was taking animals back for euthanasia. I love animals. It’s so not fair. They’re doing great out there, they’re healthy, they’re living good lives. It was a horrible situation. We all wanted better and we knew there had to be a better way.”
Maguire started doing what she could, working with small grants and donations given to the MHS to subsidize their spay/neuter program, coordinating efforts with colony caretakers, and holding what she calls “mini clinics” to sterilize cats on the island. But she knew that ultimately this wasn’t enough. In order to make a true impact, Maguire knew that there would need to be a large-scale, targeted effort and MHS would need to find enough money to offer free surgery to those who brought animals in for sterilization.
The tides for the feral cats of Maui began to turn in 2014, when MHS CEO Jerleen Bryant met Animal Balance Director Emma Clifford at the HSUS Expo.
“Jerleen went to Expo and met Emma. They spoke about the situation. Emma explained what Animal Balance did and Jerleen invited Animal Balance to Maui.
Soon after that meeting, Clifford made a visit to Maui to meet with Maguire and the folks from MHS. As with all AB campaigns, it was crucial to Clifford to design a plan that would work for and with the local communities. She shared with Maguire the basic template for an AB MASH spay/neuter campaign, but also spent a great deal of time listening.
“When I met Emma, it was like two kindred spirits. We met, and after about an hour of talking I didn’t want to leave” recalls Maguire. “I told her that this MASH program was a dream of mine, but I couldn’t figure out how to put all the pieces together. Emma inspired me to believe It could all happen. She didn’t just come out and say ‘We’ve been here, we know what to do.’ She sat and asked who here knows the community? Who here has the biggest issue getting their cats fixed? She listened to what I had to say about how to approach different areas.”
With the help of Clifford, it seemed that Maguire’s dream was closer to becoming a reality, but there were still some hurdles to overcome. You can’t do successful TNR without traps, and traps are expensive and difficult to ship to Hawaii. But, Clifford had a plan.
Enter Becky Robinson, President of Alley Cat Allies and crusader for feral cats worldwide.
Robinson told Maguire to get in touch with Tru-Catch traps and arranged for Alley Cat Allies to purchase 150 traps and 150 transfer cages for MHS. Meanwhile, Emma searched the island for a way to get the traps over from the mainland. The solution came by way of a local feed store owner who agreed to tuck as many traps as he could into each shipment of hay that was shipped over and, just like that, traps started arriving on the island. Ten traps, three traps, on and on, with each shipment that MHS employees picked up Maguire was closer to seeing her vision come to life.
It finally materialized in April of 2015 when, with the help of the team from Animal Balance, MHS held their first MASH sterilization campaign.
And the community responded.
Maguire tells the story of one cat owner who built his own makeshift “cat carrier” out of a large pot with a colander taped to the top, that hitchhiked from Haiku, a fair distance, to get his cat fixed.
“The community responded!” says Maguire, the excitement in her voice still infectious, even 2 years after that first campaign. “I was amazed and humbled by all of the volunteers that helped make this happen. On our first cat campaign we did 712 cats!”
But Clifford, Robinson and Maguire all knew that a one-time campaign would not be enough. The program needed to be sustainable to have a lasting impact and continue to save the lives of the island’s feral cats.
With the help of Clifford and Robinson, MHS was able to obtain a grant through Petsmart Charities to continue to build the program. MHS has thus far carried out 12 MASH campaigns and completed a build out of their surgery facility so that they can now do free, stationary surgeries five days a week.
MHS has sterilized 6,020 animals since Maguire led the MASH program in 2015. Live release rates have skyrocketed for animals being surrendered to MHS and Maguire has seen a remarkable difference in areas that were once known for having hundreds of feral cats.
“We were told that we wouldn’t see results for 3-5 years,” says Maguire. “Within one year we had a day when our cat room was completely empty in the front. We all cried. It’s so much different. It’s a dream come true.”
MHS is now working on creating a Return to Field program to continue to save the lives of feral cats that are brought into the shelter. Maguire sits on that planning team.
“It takes a village,” says Maguire, crediting the help that she received from Alley Cat Allies and Animal Balance. “It was the perfect storm, all these people coming together to help us. We were ready for it. The community was ready for it.”
Maguire isn’t stopping. In addition to her work helping create a Return to Field program with MHS, and always being on the lookout for cats to trap on Maui, she looks forward to helping out animal welfare groups on other islands that are facing similar circumstances that she was in 2014.
“I love all aspects of it, coordinating, trapping, MASHing, I want to be part of all of it,” says Maguire. “I want to tell people it is possible, you just have to move forward. People like AB and ACA are willing to step up. There are so many more people than you would ever know that are willing to help you.”
“It’s amazing to see. It fills your heart with happiness. When we all come together and work for a common goal respectfully and enthusiastically, wonderful things can happen. We are changing the face of the island and the animals that live here. Dream come true.”