Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters

Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009

filllingHurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States.  However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE,  a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters  takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.

In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.

Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all,  it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.

In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »

Mine: Taken By Katrina

Posted by lisagbrown on April 19, 2009

n46819729090_171Mine: Taken By Katrina, is a new documentary by filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski, about the effects of hurricane Katrina on human-animal relationships. The film follows a number of individuals who try to reunite with their animals after the natural disaster, and the tragic conflicts between people who have newly adopted the lost animals, and the original families who were separated from them.

Ever since hurricane Katrina occurred, the animal studies community has been teaching about the impact the disaster had on the way Americans think about relationships with companion animals, the intersections between race, class, and human and animal welfare, and also the way the government deals with animals during a natural disaster. This film is a way to bring this message to a broader audience, and has the potential to completely transform the way Americans understand the complicated, essential bonds between humans and animals.

Mine is already receiving attention and accolades, having won the audience award for best documentary at SXSW 2009. The film is showing on Saturday, April 25th and Sunday, April 26th at the Independent Film Festival Boston. (For tickets, go to IFFBoston.) For more information, visit Mine: Taken By Katrina, and watch the incredibly powerful trailer below.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations, Television | 2 Comments »

New York Times writer Charles Siebert: The Complete Works

Posted by lisagbrown on March 12, 2009

To read my interview with Charles Siebert, click here.

06oped1901One of the challenges of writing with an agenda — that is, writing for the purpose of helping animals, or bringing greater awareness to animal issues — is that sometimes it seems as though lyricism and the beauty of words must be sacrificed. It can be difficult to imbue the language of public policy, welfare and rights, with the cadence of poetry.  I started my career as a writer — not as an animal advocate, that came later — and so the weight of words matters to me. I am as much concerned with how I say something, as I am with what I am saying.

Therefore, when I find someone who manages to advocate on behalf of animals, while also creating worlds of imagery with his words, I become … shall we say … enthralled. Charles Siebert is becoming increasingly well known for his New York Times Magazine editorials, and below I’ve gathered a bibliography of his writings. Within each article, book and radio piece, you’ll find a searing analysis of human-animal relationships that is hidden inside the folds of personal, accessible, and above all, poetic writing. He manages to educate readers about the plight of animal sheltering in the United States, the inherent conflicts in caring for adult chimps, and the complex relationships between humans and the environment, all in the context of visceral autobiographical writing that engenders rawness and self-discovery, without becoming remotely saccharine. Enjoy the works below, and don’t forget to check out my interview with Siebert

BOOKS:

2009 The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals (Scribner)

2004 A Man After His Own Heart (Three Rivers Press)

2000 Angus: A Novel (Three Rivers Press)

1997 Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral (Three Rivers Press)

 

ON NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:

7/21/09 Charles Siebert: The Wauchula Woods Accord The Diane Rehm Show

6/13/09 The Surprisingly Social Grey Whale Fresh Air

3/06/09 350: Human Resources, Act three. “Almost Human Resources” This American Life

10/06 Are Humans Causing Elephants to Go Crazy? Day to Day

 

ARTICLES:

06/09 Watching Whales Watching Us New York Times Magazine

03/09 Something Wild New York Times Magazine

05/07 Falling Down Green New York Times Magazine

 04/07 New Tricks New York Times Magazine

10/06 An Elephant Crackup? New York Times Magazine

01/06 The Animal Self  New York Times Magazine

06/05 Planet of the Retired Apes New York Times Magazine

09/04 The Genesis Project New York Times Magazine

03/03 Making Faces New York Times Magazine

 

Click here to see four articles by Siebert published in Harper’s Magazine:

(Please note: You must be a Harper’s subscriber to access the full text.)

05/97 Our Machines, Ourselves

02/93 The Artifice of the Natural

05/91 Where Have All the Animals Gone? The Lamentable Extinction of Zoos

02/90 The Rehumanization of the Heart: What doctors have forgotten, poets have always known

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Cats, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Fish, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!

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Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Cats, Comics, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Music, Photography, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Religion, Representations, Television, Theory | 3 Comments »

An interview with “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” creator Paul Klusman

Posted by lisagbrown on November 17, 2008

With close to 3,000,000 hits on Youtube at last count, An Engineer’s Guide to Cats (video posted below) became an overnight internet phenomenon in mid 2008. “Guide to Cats” creator Paul Klusman documents his devotion to his three cats, Zoe, Ginger and Oscar, using a video camera and a little bit of humor. Since then, Klusman has expanded the cats’ video oeuvre with the addition of An Engineer’s Guide to Voting: Ginger for President, and others. In October, he was quoted in the New York Times for an article about men and cats, and below, Klusman was kind enough to answer my questions about the unexpected success of his “Guide to Cats.”

paul-and-3-cats

Animal Inventory: First of all, how are Zoe, Ginger and Oscar?

Paul Klusman: They are doing just fine. Their recent fame has not gone to their furry heads and they are still “kitties from the block.”

AI: How did you decide to make “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats?” More specifically, why did you choose to make a movie about your cats?

PK: “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” is a derivative of an earlier film called “Oscar: The Artist Cat” and was made specifically for a short film festival in Australia called Sony Tropfest. This film festival requires all entries to be new films so I used some of the footage from “Oscar: The Artist Cat” combined with new footage and a new story to create “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats.” Sony Tropfest rejected the film so I put it on YouTube thinking that my friends and family could at least enjoy what I assumed to be a mediocre film. It did very little on YouTube for about the first two months and then exploded all over the internet in early April of this year. According to a website called viralvideochart.com, on Sunday, April 13, 2008 “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” became the #1 viral video on the entire internet that day and repeated its #1 rating again the following weekend.

The decision to use my cats in my films is partially out of an affection I have for cats plus the fact that they are available 24/7 for filming. Also there is a unique challenge in extracting a story from cat behavior. It is simply impossible to make a cat do what it does not want to do, so you have to observe the cat’s behavior, capture it on video, and then build a story around the cat behavior. This often takes tremendous patience. I have hours and hours of boring cat video footage.

AI: Early on in the film you talk about “that guy … who has all those cats…” This description seems to reference a cultural stereotype that your audience is familiar with — and the indication is that nobody wants to be “that guy.” Can you explain who “that guy” is, and if people have accused you of being him? Do you think the film helps to transform the stereotype of “that guy?”

PK: I think “that guy” is characterized by a personality that allows him to interact with animals as well as humans. He may be more comfortable with his cats than humans and because of this some people can’t easily relate to him. The fact that my character is also a stereotypical engineer adds to this.

People don’t accuse me of being “that guy” as much as I claim it for myself. I don’t mind being seen as someone who counters the “macho” male stereotype that insists “real men” cannot like cats. I don’t know if the film transforms “that guy” but hopefully it demonstrates that it is ok to be “that guy.” The fact that TJ and I have both received many romantic inquiries from ladies all around the world indicates that it is not such a bad thing to be “that guy!”

AI: It is easy to find instances of humor being used in media when animals are involved. But usually, the artist is either making fun of the animal, or making fun of human affection for animals. You’ve managed to create an hysterically funny video that does neither. Was this a specific goal of yours? How did you achieve this?

PK: Humor was the primary goal, but I do believe in having respect for animals so I was very careful to make sure this was apparent in the film. I was particularly worried that people would view the “corporal cuddling” and “static electricity” scenes as mistreating the cats, so I made sure to include elements that demonstrated the cats were possibly annoyed but not harmed.

AI: I think that there has long been an impression that when something is funny, it’s not smart. For instance, comedies never win a Best Picture Academy Award. But I believe that comedians like Jon Stewart have introduced a kind of humor is easily identifiable as smart humor. “Guide to Cats” follows in this tradition, but with a twist. This is smart humor about human-animal relationships. Beyond making people laugh, did you hope to reveal a new perspective on the friendships between people and cats? Did anyone (aside from your cats) inspire you in the making of the film?

PK: I just liked the idea of showing single guys who like cats in a positive light and I suppose this is a bit of a new thing. Film has many examples of “a boy and his dog” or “the cowboy and his trusty horse” but “a guy and his cats” is unusual.

As for the humor, I do enjoy having many levels of humor including some that is obvious to all members of the audience and some that is harder to catch. From the comments posted about the video, many people are mystified by my character always wearing the same red shirt. One person commented that this is on purpose as a stereotypical characteristic of an engineer. At least one person gets the joke that is the red shirt and I think that is cool.

My interest in making films started when a buddy of mine quit his engineering job to attend film school. He showed me a short film he had made and it looked like so much fun I decided to try it, myself. I started experimenting with a video camera and computer editing and I found that it was not that difficult get a story from brain to video. At some point I stumbled across the films of Robert Rodriguez and researched his path to film making. I read his book “Rebel Without a Crew” where he emphasized making inexpensive films quickly and making many of them to learn the craft. I followed this philosophy and I am continuing to learn today.

AI: Why do you think this story resonated so strongly for viewers?

PK: It has cats.

…ok, seriously, aside from the humor I think it also has an innocence that people enjoy. I appreciate films that have “innocent” main characters like “O Brother, Where art Thou?” and “Napoleon Dynamite” and I am surprised there are not more of them in the market given the success of these films.

AI: Since the success of “Guide to Cats,” most of the videos you’ve posted on Youtube have been about your cats. Do you expect that your cats will continue to be your inspiration?

PK: I’ve got a series of “Engineer’s Guide” videos planned that will feature the cats in some minor role at least. It is fun to portray the cats as having human motivations and characteristics and once you get the hang of it this is not terribly difficult to do. Humans themselves are also fascinating creatures so I will expand to include more of them as well.

AI: What do you hope the trajectory of your career will be, and will animals continue to play a significant role?

PK: I would like to write and direct feature films as well as publish music and books. I’ve also thought about doing fun and educational videos about science and engineering. I think our country is starting to lose its competitive edge in science and engineering, and too many kids want to go for an MBA or become lawyers in my opinion. I’d like to use film to illustrate how much fun it is to understand how things work and how enjoyable the creative process of technical problem solving can be.

I will continue to have animals in my films but they may not always have a central role. My films will always advocate kindness and respect towards animals.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Cats, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Identity, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

Animal Inventory on KZUM radio

Posted by lisagbrown on November 2, 2008

Monday morning, November 3 at 8:30 am, Eastern Time, Animal Inventory blog and Animal Inventory TV will be featured on KZUM radio’s Canine 360 (89.3 in Lincoln, Nebraska). I discuss the purpose and goals of Animal Inventory in a lengthy interview with the show’s host, Jill Morstad.

Morstad describes Canine 360 as an opportunity to “pause to take a look around, to consider the concentric circles of home and family, neighborhood and community and explore how dogs create and reflect our values and ideals, and our conceptions of the good life and the good state for dogs and people.”

Listen to the show LIVE (8:30 am, Eastern Time) by going to the KZUM home page and clicking on the LISTEN LIVE icon on the left side of the page. If you miss the show, don’t worry — I hope to post a podcast of the episode within the next couple of weeks.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Cats, Dogs, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Radio, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Grieving

Posted by lisagbrown on September 24, 2008

The death of an animal family member is unlike any other death. Companion animals fall asleep with us at night and wake up with us every morning. They wait for us eagerly to return from work. They see us at our best moments and at our worst. We sometimes spend more time with them than we do with our spouses or best friends. After losing an animal friend, every aspect of a normal daily routine can remind people of their animal’s absence — the empty space on the bed where the animal slept, the early morning silence that replaces breakfast sounds, the utter quiet when opening the front door.

There are some brilliant, warmhearted children’s books about coping with the death of an animal. But what about the rest of us? Although the bookstore psychology shelves are lined with books about grieving, there are not many accessible resources to help people cope with the loss of an animal. In fact, our culture generally assumes that relationships between humans and other animals are not real friendships, and the expectation is that the mourning process will be similarly superficial. For example, think about what it would feel like to ask your boss for a day or two off from work so you could grieve the death of your cat… it is not hard to imagine that you would be viewed as melodramatic and eccentric. Further still, even the kindest of friends will suggest the inevitable “you should get a new cat (or dog, canary, goldfish, goat…).”

When humans die, friends and loved ones gather at funerals to express grief, to find support in community, and to share stories and memories about the person who has passed. Yet there are no similar outlets for mourning over an animal. People end up feeling completely alone in their grief. To complicate things even further, animal guardians must often choose when and if to put their animal to sleep, and the decision is usually fraught with complicated questions — what course of action is in the animal’s best interest? How much money can I afford on expensive medical treatments? How much emotional upheaval can I endure? Regardless of whether the decision is clear-cut or complicated, it is never easy. And ending an animal’s life in order to prevent the animal from suffering, rarely provides much solace for the human who has to make that choice. In fact, it often adds more layers of grief, responsibility, guilt and confusion.

Last week, the world lost two wonderful dogs. Quinn was an enormous black lab mix, the kind of huge, clumsy dog who didn’t know his own size. His tail constantly slapped bystanders with its happy, harried wagging. He had perfected “the lean” whereby he would joyfully rests his whole body against the legs of any human he happened upon, because all he ever wanted was to play, and be petted.

And then there’s Wilson. Wilson was well within his rights to hate humans. As a puppy, he was kicked and abused until he was completely deaf, and many years after leaving his abusers, an old bullet was found lodged in his skull — apparently they’d used him for target practice, as well. But the French bulldog couldn’t have been more loving, more open to friendship with people. He charmed everyone who met him, and didn’t even realize that, by all accounts, he should have been completely traumatized by his past. Instead, he decided to love the people who loved him, and he never seemed to think it was more complicated than that.

These beings meant something to me, and for the humans they lived with, the sun rose and set on their furry little faces. They will be missed.

Photo: There are animals we love, and then there are the animals that change us. Murray (pictured above) was both. Three years after his death, I still miss him.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Cats, Dogs, Human-Animal Bond | 4 Comments »

An Engineer’s Guide to Cats

Posted by lisagbrown on May 29, 2008

A very charming ode to cats, by two engineers who clearly know and love their critters:

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Cats, Film, Human-Animal Bond | Leave a Comment »