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seeing #Blackfish

photo source: blackfishmovie.com

photo source: blackfishmovie.com

I wrote a few months back about anticipating the release of Blackfish, the documentary about Tilikum, a killer whale captured, then raised in captivity. I must admit, though I’d committed to myself to see it, I let it come and go through the local theaters, thinking of excuses as solid as the ones I use when I skip my workout. It was when I saw it advertised on television that CNN would be premiering the film that I realized if I wasn’t going to the film, it was coming to me. I set the DVR.

It sat in my feed for a couple of days, then yesterday I mustered up the courage and pushed aside denial.

I expected the film to be centered only around the treatment of killer whales and their lives in captivity–why they shouldn’t be in captivity. It was about that, but it was equally about the cover-up by Sea World, mainly, of, not only known concerns about the animals, but about the safety of their trainers. The trainers who universally loved the animals and who built close emotional relationships with them were often kept in the dark and lied to about the reality of the situation they were central to. This was news to me.

I grew up going to Sea World, San Diego at least a couple of times a year. As I mentioned in my previous post about Blackfish, it wasn’t until I was halfway through college that I changed the course of my career from that of a killer whale trainer. What the Blackfish interviews captured from the trainers about how they got started was exactly how I felt. There is just this magnificent wonder. There is a burning desire to be near these animals.

But even if one doesn’t go so far as to become a killer whale trainer, there is still the magic of being in their presence that can’t be denied. Few of us have the means to go to the native waters of these pods of killer whales, so, instead, we go to Sea World, where we can view them close-up in a seemingly controlled environment and score ourselves a hot dog and a stuffed toy in the process. Good ol’ family fun. But at what cost?

If you want to know the answer to that question, see Blackfish, which, here in the U.S. is currently being shown on CNN and is available for order on DVD. I’m not one to cry out boldly about politics and sensitive issues, as I have friends, family, and colleagues on both extremes of the political spectrum. I have close friends who frequent Sea World with their families. I see their treasured photos with Shamu on Facebook. If you’re one of those people, I’m not going to turn on you. I believe you don’t know. Because if you did, you wouldn’t be so proud of those photos. See Blackfish.

It’s akin to my philosophy about eating meat. I’m not going go shun you for doing it. Heck, I’m an almost-vegan who enjoys a beef burger every so often. I get it. But know where your meat comes from. Make an educated choice, not one in denial. See Blackfish before you go back to Sea World.

I practically grew up at Sea World. Though I haven’t been back since my college days, I could still probably navigate the park with a blindfold on. It was like a second home. If I can say good-bye to it, so can you.

My kids (age six and four) watched Blackfish with me. Yes, it upset them, but that’s okay. I want them to know the truth and be able to make their own decisions. I paused the film (thank goodness for the DVR) in several spots to help them understand. A few minutes into the film, they asked, “so we can never go to Sea World?” At the end of the film, my four-year-old daughter declared, “we’ll never go to Sea World because it’s not okay to treat the killer whales like that. It’s wrong.” My six-year-old son sat there in silence with his head down.

And that sums it up. It’s okay for them to know the truth. And it’s okay for you to know it, too. See Blackfish.

You can check out the trailer, here:

silly state law Saturday: California


Ah, California, I miss you so. Though I’ve lived in Arizona since 2005, Californa will always be home. Nice to know they are up on their animal regulations. Check it out:

• Animals are banned from mating publicly within 1500 feet of a tavern, school, or place of worship. Because they totally know that it’s a tavern, school, or place of worship. Get a room.

• In Cerritos, all dog waste must be removed from any yard within seven days. That long, huh?

• In Norco, all persons wishing to keep a rhinoceros as a pet must obtain a $100 license first. I’m thinking the cost of the license is the least of their worries.

• In Ventura County, cats and dogs are not allowed to have sex without a permit. And where should said cats and dogs apply for their permit?

• In Belvedere, “no dog shall be in a public place without its master on a leash.” Finally, a solution for those unruly masters.

• In Chico, driving a herd of cattle down a street is against the law. I knew Chico was a party school, but I didn’t know they got this wild.

• In Temecula, ducks have the right of way to cross Rancho California Street at all times. I brake for ducks.

• In an animal shelter, lizards and snakes are to be treated under the same guidelines as cats and dogs. Equal rights for all! Except the other animals who are not lizards and snakes.

• In Los Angeles, it is a crime for dogs to mate within 500 yards of a church. The law is punishable by a fine of $500 and/or six months in prison. I don’t know about your dog, but mine doesn’t have that kind of money.

• It is a misdemeanor to shoot at any kind of game from a moving vehicle, unless the target is a whale. Because the whaling industry needs protection?

• In Hollywood, it is illegal to drive more than two thousand sheep down Hollywood Boulevard at one time. Because the traffic is bad enough as it it.

• In Portola, it is illegal to fish from an overpass in the city. I’ll be honest. I’ve never been to Portola, but I believe an overpass, by definition, passes over another roadway or railroad, no? Seems to me it would be enough of a challenge to get a bite. What do I know? I’m not a fisherman.

• In San Jose, it is illegal to have more than two cats or dogs. I’m supposing none of my readers are from San Jose.

• In Chico, it is illegal to own a green or smelly animal hide. Those frat brothers are at it again.

• In San Francisco, it is illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner. But as long as it’s not on the corner…

• In Lompoc, it is illegal to posses, own, or raise roosters, as it is considered disturbing the peace. Cock-a-doodle-doo!

• It is illegal to set a mousetrap without a hunting license. Love it. Love it. LOVE it! Go mice! The next time I want a law passed, I’m asking their lobbyists for help.

• In San Diego, it is illegal to shoot jackrabbits from the back of a streetcar. Use your own car, dammit!

• In Palm Springs, it is illegal to walk a camel down Palm Canyon Drive between the hours of four and six p.m. Any other time, have at it.

• In Oakland, it is illegal to rob a birds’ nest from a public cemetery. Who would do such a thing?

• In Pacific Grove, molesting butterflies can result in a $500 fine. It’s about time those butterflies got some respect, boys!

• In Fresno, no one may annoy a lizard in a city park. So take your lizard-pestering elsewhere.

• In Portola, no person may carry a fish into a bar. Unless he’s 21+, and then I’m buying that fish a drink.

• In Portola, one may not allow his or her dog to chase a squirrel in the summer. Any other season is fine, though, so let your dog know he only has to take a break for a couple of months.

• In Cathedral City, one may not bring their dog to school. In order to preserve California’s high education standards?

• In Shasta Lake, raffling off a dog as a gift in a public place is prohibited. Beware of underground dog gift raffling. Shasta Lakers, we’re on to you!

• In Glendale, one may not take his dog on an elevator with him. So I guess you’ll have to send your dog up separately, on his own. Let’s hope he can reach the buttons.

• In Arcadia, peacocks have the right of way to cross any street, including driveways. And, no, you may not just back over them, even if you’re late for work.

• San Francisco prohibits elephants from strolling down Market Street unless they are on a leash. I wonder what the street trolley fare is for those unleashed elephants.

• In Ontario, roosters may not crow in the city limits. You’ll have to buy yourselves alarm clocks, Ontario.

• In Los Angeles, toads may not be licked. No way, maaaaaan…

• In Blythe, you are not permitted to wear cowboy boots unless you already own at least two cows. But what if I’m just passin’ through?

• In Los Angeles, you may not hunt moths under a streetlight. Well, of course. That would be an unfair advantage.

• It is unlawful to let your dog pursue a bear or bobcat at any time. One bear law? That’s it? I say, if your dog has the cojones, let him go for it.

Check back next week when we take a look at Colorado! If you missed anything from past weeks, here are the links:





Law information source: stupidlaws.com and dumblaws.com.

The Animal History Museum: Understanding and Celebrating the Human-Animal Bond

Animal_History_MuseumII_biggerThe grand opening date may still be in question, but the mission is not.

The Animal History Museum is the first museum dedicated to understanding and celebrating the human-animal bond. Its purpose is to serve and educate the public through the creation of a museum in Los Angeles County, California, for the collection, preservation and exploration of the history, culture, science, and law relating to the relationship between human and non-human animals; by presenting exhibitions, lectures and other activities that are consistent with, and supportive of, the museum’s educational goals and purpose.


Amy Breyer

I spoke with Amy Breyer, Executive Director and President of the museum’s Board of Trustees, about how the museum was conceived, what it’s all about, and what the status is on the grand opening. Ms. Breyer has spent most of her career in Chicago practicing animal law, and I got the feeling from her that however stressful working on a museum opening may be, she feels like it’s a breath of fresh air. She said that though she didn’t wish to practice litigation any longer–after opening and running Illinois’ first animal law practice–she wanted to “bring up these concepts in a non-confrontational setting.” Her passion for the project is insatiable, and she’s humble as can be. Though the museum is her brain-child, she was much more comfortable talking about the elite team of “pioneering individuals in all disciplines related to animals” that she has surrounded herself with. “It’s a privilege to know these people,” she said.

Ms. Breyer began working on the Los Angeles-area (a specific site is still in the works) museum with her founding board, and though the museum is not yet a physical building, after speaking to Breyer and looking over their online exhibits, I feel as if I’ve already visited it. Breyer is warm and smart and informative, which is exactly what I imagine the Animal History Museum to be.

So what’s the scoop? Breyer and her team are in various stages of discussion regarding pinning down a site for the physical museum. She’s not exactly sure when it will open, but projects that we won’t have to wait much longer. In the meantime, the online gallery her team has curated is nothing short of spectacular. The online gallery currently has six exhibits including fine art, historical photography, and even art and stories culminating from social media.

I asked Breyer about these non-traditional exhibits that were curated from social media. She explained that the exhibits Breaking Stereotypes: America’s Pit Bull Rescues & the Human-Animal Bond and Single, Experienced Animal Seeks Mature, Loving Relationship: Stories of Older Animal Adoption were a surprising result of Facebook contests. The Animal History Museum received such an overwhelming number of quality submissions that the sensation evolved into a community, of sorts, from which the exhibitions were born. I found this fascinating both in the role that social media can play in the development of such an exhibition and how open Breyer is to taking advantage of societal trends to create exhibits that people will not only be naturally drawn to, but that they can participate in, all in the name of animals.

Both these innovative exhibitions and the museum’s more traditional exhibitions will be featured online and in the museum, some on a rotating basis, and some permanent. Even when the physical museum opens, Breyer plans to continue to grow the online gallery, both as a support to the museum and as its own entity with separate, unique content. Upon entering the online gallery, the museum’s Web site states:

The Animal History Museum plans to make its online gallery an important part of its mission–both as a way of giving you, our guest a taste of what the brick-and-mortar museum will offer once it opens–as well as growing along side it once the museum opens its doors as a vibrant, integral complement to our physical collections.

Like our brick-and-mortar plans, the online gallery will feature both permanent collections as well as rotating ones. We believe it to be the first permanent, virtual museum collection dedicated to all things animal anywhere in the world.

Throughout my conversation with Breyer, she was reluctant to toot her own horn, and quick to highlight the efforts of her contributors, scholars from all over the English-speaking world. “No one person is a museum all to themselves,” she stated. Aside from being pioneers in their chosen field, these initial contributors–now two dozen individuals–”didn’t have a place to put their work in front of a mainstream audience,” Breyer explained. Some of these individuals are highly specialized and are doing groundbreaking work, so to have them contribute to this collection and to be able to see all of their efforts come together is quite special.

Piers Locke

Piers Locke

Breyer holds all of her contributers in high regard and mentioned Piers Locke as an excellent example of the pioneering work these people are doing. She explained to me that Locke is instrumental in creating a new field, that of elephantology. Though Breyer is well-versed in Locke’s work, she spoke about this emerging field like an excited little girl as she shared information with me regarding these studies in human/elephant interaction, including the elephant’s role as worker, protector, and companion. Her passion shone. As a New Zealand-lecturer in Anthropology, Locke has found a new audience with the Animal History Museum. The museum Web site describes that Locke

is pioneering the nascent field of elepantology, through his efforts conducting historical and ethnographic research involving elephant and human communities in Chitwan, Nepal since 2001. This research raises issues in: apprenticeship learning and expert knowledge, practice and identity in total institutions, human-animal intimacies and the ritual veneration of elephants, and the role of captive elephant management in nature tourism, protected area management and biodiversity conservation.

It’s no wonder Breyer is so excited about the work contributors such as Locke are doing.

What’s next? The museum is currently working on an exhibit of Seth Casteel‘s Underwater Dogs, scheduled to open this month in the online gallery.

In it’s quest to open the facility, the Animal History Museum is offering the public opportunities to contribute. An especially exciting and attainable opportunity is to become a “Founding Member.” By joining for as little as $30 per year, you can help this museum and receive gifts available to only to members who join during the initial fundraising drive. And your annual membership won’t begin until the doors open. Large donor opportunities and corporate sponsorships are also available.

I, for one, can’t wait for the Animal History Museum to open! Until then, my family and I are enjoying all that the Web site galleries have to offer.

Follow the Animal History Museum on Facebook and Twitter for information and updates.

silly state law Saturday: Alaska

Happy Saturday…er…Sunday. Did I say silly animal laws by state would be coming to you on Saturday? I meant one of the “S” days. Silly me!

In any case, sorry to keep you waiting on pins and needles for this week’s installment: Alaska.

What I’ve learned from this research on Alaska is that they take their moose seriously. Mooses? Meese? You know what I mean. Without further delay, in Alaska:


• It is considered an offense to push a live moose out of a moving airplane. Not to get morbid on you, or anything, but I guess this means pushing a dead moose out of an airplane is fair game. And a live moose out of a moving train is cool, too.

• Moose may not be viewed from an airplane. So when you’re taking that aerial tour of the Alaskan countryside, close your eyes the whole time in order to remain in full compliance with the law.

What is it with moose and airplanes?

• In Fairbanks, it is an offense to feed alcoholic beverages to a moose. But what if it’s just one of those teeny-weenie bottles of booze that you get on an airplane? If you’re really going to go all outlaw, at least get the guy drunk before you push him out of the airplane.

• It is illegal to whisper in someone’s ear while they are moose hunting. Next time I go moose hunting in Alaska, I’ll be sure to shout to my partner, “LOOK, there’s a MOOSE!”

• No moose is allowed to have sex on city streets. Good luck preventing that.

• It is perfectly legal to shoot bears, but waking a sleeping bear for the purpose of taking a photograph is prohibited. So if you do want that great photograph, just don’t go for the kill shot.

• In Anchorage, no one may tie their pet dog to the roof of a car. Well, that’s a relief.

• In Juneau, flamingo owners may not let their pet flamingo into a barber shop. So what do the flamingos do when they need a haircut? Now we have all these hippie long-haired flamingos running around town. They’re going to have to pass a law about that.

• It is illegal to eat live eels in public unless you shout “warning! Idiot eating eels!” beforehand. I can’t. I just don’t know.

Thanks for stopping by!

Last week we took a look at Alabama. Check it out, if you missed it.

Law information source: stupidlaws.com and dumblaws.com.

silly state law Saturday: Alabama

Our teen thing, B, is taking a law class this semester, and he is surprised by how much he’s enjoying it. He likes it so much that he and his law class buddies have taken to spending some of their free time looking up and debating silly laws. Last week, he started reading some of them to me, and we were laughing so hard we were crying and gasping for air. Of course, many of them are silly today because they were only really applicable during the time they were instated. It’s amazing some of this stuff is still on the books! What’s even more entertaining to me is how many of these laws involve animals.

I was inspired by our new family “game” and wanted to share this great new source of entertainment with my readers, but there are just too many to include in one post, so we’ll be visiting this topic by state in alphabetical order, starting with good ol’ Alabama.


Alabama’s silly state (and city) laws regarding animals:

• Bear wresting matches are prohibited. This law was designed to protect the bears from this inhumane form of entertainment. Is there no limit to the types of animals we will pit against each other? In addition, a person may not surgically alter a wrestling bear. I guess since it’s unlawful for bears to wrestle, then we can only surgically alter non-wrestling bears. Which would be all bears. Sure.

• It is considered an offense to open an umbrella on a street, for fear of spooking horses (repealed). I wonder how many horses currently roam the streets of Alabama. We’ll just get wet…it’s worth it for the horses.

• Elephants may not be placed in electric ovens. Well, there go the Thanksgiving plans.

• It is illegal to marry an animal that is not already a relation. Um. Well. I guess marriage equality does have limits. Apparently animals are considered family members of their owners. And we can marry them.

And my personal favorite…

• If an animal control officer is in uniform, it signifies to the public that he is an animal control officer. So glad we cleared that up.

Drop by next week when we take a look at Alaska!

Law information source: stupidlaws.com and dumblaws.com.

the wild horses of the Arizona desert


There is a stretch of road–the infamous highway 347–that stretches between Phoenix and the city of Maricopa through the Gila River Indian Reservation. As a day-in day-out commute, the desert’s beauty can sometimes lose it’s luster, but there is one main attraction. If you’re lucky enough, you can catch a glimpse of the wild horses.

We’ve all seen horses, so it may not seem spectacular, but it is rare to see so many at once in the wild. They come out predictably just after the rains that stimulate the brush to be as lush as it can be in this parched climate.

Since it rained a lot last week and we had to drive that stretch of highway a couple of times this weekend to visit some animals, I thought we had a pretty good shot at catching a glimpse of them. Searching for them keeps the littles occupied during what would otherwise be a long, dull trek. There are only so many cacti a kid can take.

Typically, the horses appear as tiny figurines in the distance, their movement and grazing barely perceptible. Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to catch them running. The tell-tale dust cloud is easy to spot, but when it’s so hot, they are usually still, conserving their energy.

What a fantastic surprise it was to see them grazing just yards from the road yesterday!

Since I’m always telling the littles that it’s far too dangerous to stop on the 347 if they’ve dropped their shoe or graham cracker, they were amazed when I pulled over. They could see just fine from the safety of the air-conditioned minivan, but I braved the spectacular danger of standing inches from cars blazing past, commonly at 90 mph. There were several of us parked by the road in awe, and I’ve seen some fantastic pictures–far better than mine–posted on my friends’ social media feeds. What a treat!

We could see their sinew and ribs, but they seemed strong and powerful. And so calm, considering they had human spectators and screaming-fast cars just yards away. The sight of them was truly spectacular.

protecting the dove from the crow

This morning I was taking advantage of the cool(er) about 95-degree summer morning air by doing a bit of gardening in the front yard when a young, tattered baby dove landed at my feet. The bird did not seem injured, but I immediately got the impression that it needed assistance.

My elderly, sweet, wonderfully originally-from-Brooklyn neighbor shouted from across the street, “good morning, Kristen! Can you believe that dove? It really likes you. Maybe it’s looking for protection from that black crow. We had four mangled doves in our yard last week!”

Tell it like it is, Celeste.

Sure enough, a large black crow was looming nearby. It approached, and the dove got even closer, just an inch from my foot. I squatted down, and the dove walked just out of my reach, moving no faster than what was required to maintain independence. When I stood up, it once again sought protection just next to me. We went through this cycle a couple of times as the crow paced nearby.

“You should run after that crow and shoo it away,” cackled Celeste. “It slaughtered doves in my yard last week! They’re NASTY!”

Yes…I remember, Celeste.

She and her husband drove off, but not before she rolled down her window and made one last announcement “really, that dove seems to want to be with you!”

And it did.

So the dove and I did the do-se-do for a while. I couldn’t chase the crow away because I was the shelter for the dove and couldn’t make any sudden movements. Eventually, the crow gave up and flew off, and then my friend left me. Had it let me touch it, who knows what would have happened. I feel bonded to the poor thing, nevertheless.

I hope to see it again under better circumstances.


I couldn’t leave my dove to fetch the camera, so I had to snag this photo from http://www.rspb.org.uk.