Category Archives: Animal Mistreatment

Birders should return to observation instead of ‘collecting’

From the Washington Post
By Marlene A. Condon July 11, 2014

Marlene A. Condon is the author of “The Nature-friendly Garden” and a columnist with the Bay Journal News Service.

When I was a young girl, one of my most valued possessions was a little book called the Golden Nature Guide to birds. Perfectly sized for small hands, it introduced me to the avian creatures I saw around me, teaching me their names and providing me with fascinating tidbits about their lives. It’s also where I learned the term “bird-watchers” to describe those who enjoyed observing and learning about birds. I was proud to call myself a bird-watcher.

Sadly, in the decades since, the enjoyment of birds has evolved from a passive hobby to a competitive sport. It’s no longer sufficient to simply view the birds around you to appreciate their beauty or satisfy a curiosity regarding how they live. Nowadays, many Americans see birds as points on a scorecard. Competing against others, or maybe just themselves, these driven birders seek to amass an ever-longer list of viewed species within a certain time frame, at a certain locale or both.

Moreover, the serious birder now sometimes sees himself as something of a scientist, too, contributing knowledge about birds to the rest of the world by participating in activities defined as “citizen science,” such as bird counts and bird banding. Unfortunately, for far too many folks, birding and citizen science have become excuses to harass birds.

For example, last winter a large number of snowy owls flew to the eastern United States from the Arctic. Birders, buzzing with excitement, used Internet list-servs to share the locations where owls had been spotted. One owl stayed for many days in a Virginia field where it could hunt rodents. While many of the people who arrived to see the owl — perhaps to add it to their birding life lists — did not leave the roadway, others forged ahead, showing no respect for either the owl or private property

Many, if not most, of the owls who come so far south are juveniles that do not have much experience as hunters. Especially prone to malnutrition, they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle every day — which birders make more difficult every time they press close. Why is it so hard for some individuals to empathize with these animals, given that they have taken such a passionate interest in wildlife?

It’s not just high-profile species such as snowy owls that can suffer from human harassment. This past winter, one birding scientist described online how he had walked through a Virginia field where pipits were feeding. Because the pipits were hidden by high corn stubble, he reported, he “only found them when [he] flushed them,” which he did “repeatedly, hoping to see a longspur or bunting.” When I expressed shock that he would deliberately bother these animals, he angrily explained that he hadn’t been chasing after the birds but simply walking through the field to see what was there.

His point was that such disruption is simply a fact of life for the animals in our midst. That’s true, but there’s a difference between inadvertently disturbing wildlife and doing so on purpose. This birder was hindering the pipits’ ability to get food while causing them to expend energy needlessly, a potentially devastating combination during the winter of the polar vortex.

The birder also excused his behavior by suggesting he was doing “research” on the birds. But with many songbirds in decline, any research with the potential to further reduce their numbers is not helpful. It is for this reason that the U.S. Geological Survey should stop allowing migratory birds to be banded every fall as they move south. Birds are severely stressed by the banding process itself, with many birds suffering injuries or even dying at banding stations. Such stress can also drain the energy reserves (in fat deposits) that a bird spent weeks building up in order to make its journey of perhaps a thousand miles. While ornithologists argue that banding provides knowledge that can be used to maintain avian populations into the future, we already know that the primary factor in declining bird (and other wildlife) populations is habitat loss. It would be far better to work on habitat preservation than to put a band on a bird.

In a world where natural habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate, humans have a responsibility to avoid deliberately intruding on the lives of animals that are barely hanging on as it is. For the love of birds, let’s stop birding and return to bird-watching — thereby putting the welfare of wildlife ahead of human desires.

Outlaw cockfighting

“Outlaw cockfighting, too”, published 12/06/2007, The Hook

By Marlene Condon
Published online 8:00am Thursday Dec 6th, 2007
and in print issue #0649 dated Thursday Dec 6th, 2007
Under news shorts in the November 29 issue of the Hook [“Dogfight: Locals enabled Vick indictments”], Delegate Rob Bell is quoted as saying, “You don’t have to be an animal rights activist to find [dogfighting] absolutely repulsive” and “This kind of animal cruelty has to be stopped.”
If that’s truly how Bell feels, I don’t understand why he didn’t pass a law that made cock fighting illegal as well.
All animals feel pain, and it’s just as wrong for people to attach razor blades to the legs of roosters to tear each other apart as it is for them to set dogs upon one another. Such blood sports are an abomination. A legislator who is sincerely compassionate would have passed a law to put an end to all of them– period.
Bell seems to quickly sponsor legislation being pushed by a large number of people, as if his true impetus is the thought of gaining votes for the next time around. The dogfighting legislation is a case in point. Plenty of folks were complaining about dogfighting, so Bell worked to get a bill passed for them.
Sadly, the outcry against cockfighting was not as loud, and, in fact, it was reported in the media that a group of folks made the trip to Richmond to persuade legislators that cockfighting should not be a part of this legislation. Not too surprisingly, our supposedly caring lawmakers bowed to their wishes.
I hope folks with a genuine compassion for animals will contact Bell to let him know how disgraceful it is for Virginia to allow cockfighting.

A barking dog is a mistreated dog

“A barking dog is a mistreated dog”, published 06/12/2008, The Daily Progress

By Marlene Condon |
Published online 7:00am Thursday Jun 12th, 2008
and in print issue #0724 dated Thursday Jun 12th, 2008
In the June 5 article regarding the barking dog ordinance being considered by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors [“Ruff story: Will neighbors bark out summonses?”], Hank Martin’s observation that dog disputes “can and should be” settled outside the courtroom represents an idealistic vision that, sadly, clashes with reality. The reason we need so much government intervention is that so many people refuse to be considerate.
Allowing a dog to bark continuously is not only incredibly disrespectful of neighbors, it also represents animal cruelty. A dog that barks and barks without an obvious cause– such as at a person or another animal– is a dog that is terribly unhappy. A dog that has companionship does not bark continuously.
Even though they exhibit a great deal of diversity in size, molecular genetic evidence shows that domestic dogs are gray wolves, which means that dogs are highly social and do not want to be alone. Dogs continuously barking are dogs that have been placed in what amounts to solitary confinement.
With approximately 45 million Americans owning dogs, it’s really surprising that our society doesn’t seem to recognize that (1) barking for hours on end is not normal dog behavior, and (2) such behavior should be recognized as resulting from inhumane treatment.
As for Dave Heilberg’s concern that false accusations could be “lobbed by feuding neighbors,” this is easily avoidable. If Animal Control officers arrive to find a dog barking, you can bet that dog has been barking for more than the 30 minutes required by the proposed ordinance because often you can’t even reach an Animal Control officer for more than 30 minutes.
It’s unbelievable that dogs are exempt from the noise ordinance anyway. A barking dog is every bit as aggravating to put up with, if not more so, as loud music. Considering the inhumane aspect of it, it’s hard to understand anyone justifying opposition to this ordinance.
Marlene Condon

Hunting with hounds

“Time to re-evaluate hunting with hounds”, published 12/20/2007, The Roanoke Times

Editorial commentary

Marlene A. Condon

Condon, author of “The Nature-Friendly Garden,” lives in Crozet.

In the wake of Michael Vick’s conviction for animal cruelty because of his participation in dogfighting, it is time to re-evaluate the old Virginia tradition of hunting with hounds. This activity, which is sometimes cruel to the hounds themselves and always cruel to the wildlife being chased, negatively impacts many species — some of which we are losing in Virginia. It is time for this pastime to come to an end.
Game birds, such as the American Woodcock and the Northern Bobwhite quail, nest on the ground. According to “Virginia’s Birdlife” (published by the Virginia Society of Ornithology), decades-long breeding bird surveys have shown declines in the numbers of these birds, precipitously in the case of quail.
Hunting dogs (and pet dogs, which also need to be restricted) undoubtedly wreak havoc with ground nesters by disturbing nesting activity. And this impact is likely felt by nongame ground-nesting species, as well. The Eastern Meadowlark, a once common bird with a beautiful song, has suffered “significant statewide declines since the 1960s.”
Lack of habitat — the result of too many people and too much unnatural landscaping — is a main contributor to such declines. Wildlife is being forced into smaller and smaller areas because of overreaching human development. Allowing hunting dogs to run uncontrolled through these limited-in-size areas undoubtedly adds insult to injury.
Additionally, Virginia law has placed burdens on landowners that rightfully belonged on the hunters, which has turned numerous landowners against hunting altogether. As a result, more private lands are closed to hunting and more dogs are let loose to chase wildlife on state lands that may be the final refuges for some of our disappearing species.
Last but not least, abandoned hunting dogs are not an uncommon sight in Virginia. These hounds are often hit in traffic or, perhaps worse, suffer uncontrollable shaking as blood sugar levels drop due to starvation. Too weak to walk, they finally collapse and can’t get up, awaiting whatever fate befalls them. Can anyone deny this is cruelty inflicted by hunters upon man’s “best friend”?
And what about the wild animals that are absolutely terrified while being chased — either just for hound training or to their deaths? Shouldn’t compassionate humans care about such cruelty to them as well?
Unfortunately, many people do not realize that there is absolutely no difference between animals that are born wild and animals born into domestication. Wild animals suffer the same pain and terror as any living being. And, just as is the case with pets of whatever kind, each individual has its own unique personality.
Travis Quirk, a University of Saskatchewan graduate student who shot skunks when he was growing up but who now studies them, could verify this. As reported in National Wildlife Magazine online, Quirk had to hand-raise a litter of orphaned kits (baby skunks) one year, feeding them with a syringe. He is quoted as saying, “They were like kittens, playing games, following me around. Just sweethearts.”
Making wildlife suffer the sheer terror of being chased by hounds solely for someone’s enjoyment is an activity that has gone on for far too long. If you wouldn’t find it acceptable for your pet to endure this terror, then you should find it unacceptable for wildlife, too.
There are many reasons to silence the baying of hunting hounds — even if that baying has been a source of music to some hunters’ ears.
Constituents can contact the chairman of a committee studying this issue by writing to Rick Busch at the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, 4010 West Broad St., P.O. Box 11104, Richmond, VA 23230. Or you can send an e-mail to him at