Animal crackers

“Animals are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.” – Henry Beston

I grew up in a pet-less household, and despite reading Black Beauty, Dr. Doolittle, and Beatrix Potter, I regarded animals as things: cute and/or impressive things that were fun to watch at the zoo, or things that might have been cute and/or impressive once, but that we were nevertheless now eating.

As I got older, I tried to be polite about other people’s pets, but to me they were hairy nuisances, forever barking, whining, pawing, and in one case, barfing on my shoes. (It was an English dog that did the barfing, and we hadn’t even been formally introduced!)

Too easy to last

So how did I become this person who stands on a stepladder to capture spiders and crane flies in her house and set them free outside?

First cat Annie

Well, I got acquired by a cat. I fed her the first time just to make her go away (I know, right?). But of course she stuck around, and I began minding that she was outside, with January rain drenching her fur, which, now I came to look at it, was actually quite beautiful. Anyway, it could have been me outside in the wet and the cold, and I’d want to be let in, wouldn’t I?

The thin end of the wedge

So I let Annie in. Then cats in general. Then dogs. Birds. Sheep. (I’m referring to my heart here. There isn’t room in my house for all these animals.)

All the way to Orkney to photograph sheep
I went all the way to the Orkney Islands to take photos of these sheep

I have more pictures of English sheep than of my English friends. At parties, I will sometimes leave the people, fascinating as they are, to go and sit with the dog for a while.

Second cat Luna
Second cat Luna

Letting animals in has brought me joy mixed with considerable pain, because, let’s face it, nature is basically just one big restaurant. A design in which so many beautiful creatures can survive only by devouring one another: whose bright idea was that?

And my childhood ambition was challenging enough without including animals. When I grew up, I planned to end war, poverty, hunger, disease, and racism. I spent hours in the back yard pretending to be Robin Hood, then Zorro, then Superman … all crusaders for the right, all in disguise. But my disguise was better. Who would suspect a skinny near-sighted little girl of being a super hero?

How has that worked out, Rhiannon?

Okay, it’s a work in progress.

Wars are difficult to stop, but I can say I’ve been tear-gassed trying. People are hard to save, but I think I’ve helped a few. I’ve rescued three cats, plus the spiders and the crane flies.

While we wait for me to acquire my superpowers and save the rest of the world (maybe in my seventies?), let me tell you about a few people who are rescuing animals right now.

Keep those critters safe!

Your dog ate the cat’s food so your cat nibbled some chives. Bad things? Yes, as you can quickly check on the Home Safety Guide for Pet Owners from This easy-to-use resource covers Common Household Dangers (rubber bands! mothballs!), Food Safety, Pet-proofing Your Home, Specialty and Exotic Pets (fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians), and Pet Safety during Natural Disasters (as a Californian in an earthquake zone, I love the tip about making a list of nearby pet-friendly motels). At the end of the guide, there’s a list of links for further information.

The goat-to people

Despite losing their house to foreclosure, Nancy Brotman and Ken Zamvil spend $120 a day providing for 100-plus surrendered goats at Goat Rescue and Sanctuary of Sonoma County. Many of their goats get adopted, while others work as animated weed-whackers. As I write this, Diego, Gretchen, Whitney, and Pine Nut are chewing their way through a vacant lot in Healdsburg.

On the job: Diego, Pine Nut, and Whitney
Three of the Grant Street Four: Diego, Pine Nut, and Whitney

Snoopy goes home

ARME’s Beagle Freedom Project – I originally typed “Beatle,” which would be a fun kind of rescue – saves and finds homes for beagles and other animals used to test medicine, cosmetics, and household products. Many of these animals have spent their lives in cages, never feeling grass under their feet or seeing the sun. All rescues are done legally with the cooperation of the facilities involved. Read here about the Portland Pups, the Tex-Mex Rescue, and other newly happy Snoopies.

Samaritans to the rescue

In January 2014, the Sonoma County Humane Society helped to rescue 61 Finnish Lapphunds from “unthinkable conditions” in a private breeding operation. Thanks to donations from around the world, the dogs were treated for a variety of ailments and most have now been adopted, but there are many other animals at the shelter in need of care, including Princess Fiona.

Eldad Hagar of Hope for Paws … if you can watch any of his videos without tearing up, you’re a stronger person than I am, Gunga Din. So maybe you could take over the saving-the-world gig for me?

Moving or traveling to a different state? The good folks at have published a helpful resource guide that includes state importation regulations for the most common household pets. An interactive map lets you check for the specific veterinary health certificates, permits, and vaccinations that are required to move your pet to a new state. Failing to meet these requirements could result in a fine or other penalties and could potentially put your pet at risk.

they also serve who only sign a check

I’ve donated to these organizations so I know how grateful they are for any amount, large or small (the only kind I can afford).

*Dons cape*

Off now to work on those superpowers.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi

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