Monday, October 31, 2011

Bats, Black Cats and Hooting Owls

It’s that time of year again. Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin airs on television, pumpkin patches become filled with children searching for just the right rounded orange gourd to carve into a jack-o-lantern and retail shops are haunted by ghouls and goblins wanting to buy the scariest and spookiest of Halloween merchandise.
According to the CBS Early Show, ‘Broomstick and Business’ Americans will spend nearly $7 billion celebrating this Halloween season.;lst;2 That, explains National Federation’s Ellen Davis, is about $72 per person and predicts many celebrators plan to spend money on dressing up their family pet.
So why is Halloweens tradition filled with folklore, myths and omens that invoke so many spooky superstitions and ghoulish misfortunes for animals? For thousands of year’s historic myths and monster like predictions of death and doom surround some of our most beloved and sacred animals. Why?  
Let’s be reasonable here, cats can’t cast spells, bats aren’t vampires (except for the vampire bat, owls seen during daylight hours aren’t omens of death and a crow’s caw does not foretell that death is upon you. Even in ancient history, the Sparrow was thought to carry the souls of the dead and bring you bad luck if you killed one.
Where do these animal related superstitions come from? Let’s examine a few.

Pilgrims coming to America used religion as reason to hate black cats.  Arriving from Europe and England, they brought with them many suspicions, one of them being that black cats possessed evil spirits and anyone owning a coal colored cat would be subject to punishment and even death.
Black cats were thought to be reincarnated spirits who had a supernatural ability to see into the future, and a middle ages myth created the cat into an apparition of a witch who was in disguise.

Animal shelters across the country have often contributed to this beastly myth. By banning or limiting the adoption of black cats during the month of October, shelter workers have inadvertently committed themselves to believing that satanic cults or mischievous monsters rush to animal welfare agencies to trick workers into adopting out a black cat who will then be used in some type of satanic ritual.
I believe that if a shelter has a solid adoption policy the situation can be avoided. As an animal advocate, I do encourage extra vigilance if a suspicious characters inquiry is specific to a black cat, just as I am when someone wants a guard dog, un-spayed female or intact male (but those topics really are for another blog). Even local shelters like Milford Animal Control are often cautious when someone requests a black cat around Halloween and makes certain the adopter has the right intentions in mind when adopting (any animal).

Where are black cats seen as the deliverance of good fortune? The Scottish revered black cats who arrived to someone’s home as a sign of prosperity, while in Ireland and Great Britain the black cat is a symbol of good luck. The Egyptian Cat Goddess, Bast or Bastet,
 also represented good luck. There is even a national black cat appreciation day.

What about bats? Why are these creatures of the night more frightening this time of year? They are nocturnal, they do hunt after dusk but they don’t suck blood through their fangs. Their beady little eyes and odd shaped heads, along with their sonar style hunting (echolocation) help them catch their prey, which are mostly bugs and insects.
Spiders are beneficial because they entangle insect pests in their sticky web, while toads should not be part of any witch’s brew. In fact they are a good indicator of a healthy environment that has little pollution. When the local toad population dies out, that can be the first sign of environmental toxins and a faulty eco-system.
The silent flight and glowing eyes of the predatory owl make some goblins howl in fright. But owls are not eerie and their screech is not to scare you (unless you plan to do them harm), but to communicate everything from warning oncoming predators to stay away, to juvenile antics and begging momma owl for food.

So superstitions whose centuries old origins of bad luck, omens and predictions can now be cast away to recognize cats as good luck, toads as eco- predictors and bats as bad-bug eaters.
Have a HOOT-Y Halloween.

(Searches used to create this blog)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Milford’s Running of the Bull

In most urban dwellers reality, a cow is known only by the name the local grocer assigns it. Those terms are: ‘flank, rump roast, rib eye, steak, hamburger; not living, breathing, feeling, sentient being.

Recently Milford, with only 278 acres for agricultural use, another 1,665 acres for open space and only 7 registered farms, has been host to a four-hooved friend. A bewildered bovine has taken up refuge in backyards & wooded areas in the Calf Pen Meadow School area since late June or early July.

When Milford Animal Control was alerted to a roaming ruminant wandering, grazing and ruminating in residential neighborhoods, the investigation to discover exactly how this beefy boy, most likely a fugitive from slaughter, began. From the first photograph sighting, ACO Rick George concluded his black coloring, size and tag in his ear labeled him as a Black Angus breed, who probably escaped from a corral across from Lattella’s Farm on Prindle Hill Road on the West Haven/Orange line, where he was being raised to be food.

Rumors began to circulate that this was one mad cow (I know, a cow is a female, a bull or ox is a male) who refused to end up on someone’s dinner plate. And with that, it seems he decided to create his own fate. He hoofed it right out of that slaughter house queue and into his current life on the lamb.
Always elusive and rarely allowing photographs, this sacred bull somehow seems to sense that if caught, he could end up dying a horrible slaughter house death. So he has kept himself well hidden deep inside his wooded sanctuary, defying statistics to be yet another neatly cellophane wrapped hunk of meat lying about in a refrigerated section of some Piggly Wiggly cut up into pieces unrecognizable, except for the label slapped upon his once living and now decaying carcass.

So what is a dog catcher do when such a brazen bovine challenges fate? Trying to round up a herd-of-one can be quite a challenge, especially when this elusive hoofed ox has settled into the same 15 acres of wooded land where history’s lure claims local residents hid their cattle from the British during the Revolutionary war.

Animal Control Officer Rick George has since created an elaborate humane trap, scaled to fit a nearly 4oo lb, plumped for slaughter steer. But to slaughter he won’t go, absolutely not states Officer George. It seems that if this hapless farmer did want his chattle back, there would be a hefty fine to pay. Thus far, no rancher has claimed him.

Officer George said the bull is skittish, and has organized a reconnaissance type mission; with the help of the State Department of Agriculture, a large animal veterinarian, and a tranquillizer gun, to try and capture the bull before the cold New England winter sets in. “He needs to be moved to a safe place before the weather turns bad”, George said.
George could not stress enough that this bull would not be anyone’s burger. “Not on my watch”, he stated with authority.

As soon as he is safely secured, ACO George said has made arrangements for this herbivore to have a forever farm-charmed life; a life reminiscent to Old MacDonald’s farm, where there is a promise to love, honor and cherish this beefy boy until NATURAL death do they part. He will be living a charmed country cows life, mooingly happily ever after.