Ten Years Vegan

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Hi, how ya been? It’s been a year-and-a-half since my last post, but I’m not willing to let the blog die altogether, so here I am posting on my ten-year veganversary.

On October 13, 2004–the day before I turned 29–I came home from work, sat down for dinner and fired up “Meet Your Meat.” Afterward, I said, “Screw it. I’m vegan now.”

Backing up a bit…

Just over four years earlier, I’d given up meat after a brief transitional period and had been enjoying life as a vegetarian. Initially, veganism never seemed like an option or goal to me, but as the years ticked by, I started swapping out eggs in baking and soy milk for cow’s milk in my breakfast cereal. I learned more about the truth behind eggs and dairy and realized that veganism wasn’t only an option, it was a moral imperative, as they say. Thus, it became a goal. Not a goal clearly defined with a date, but a goal nonetheless.

Why did I choose to watch that video on that night? And why was that the video that pushed me over the edge? I don’t think it was the content, specifically, since I’d seen similar videos and was aware of what happened in the egg and dairy industries. Rather, I think it was finally getting to that point where I realized, “I just can’t justify this [egg & dairy consumption] anymore.”

A decade of change

So here I am, the day before my 39th birthday, thinking back over the last decade, nearly a quarter of my life spent as a vegan. I’ve gone through a number of stages. I started with the “It’s a personal choice, I won’t push it on others” phase before moving into the “Everyone needs to know about this!” phase. Eventually I turned angry abolitionist before settling on “firm & committed vegan that tries not to be an ass to other people.” I should note that every single one of these stages is valid. I think every vegan will find a different stage to settle in once they figure out what is most appropriate for their personality and for dealing with the people they see in their day-to-day lives.

I started off my veganism married, with no kids and no pets. Ten years in, I’m still married (and my wife’s now vegan) but also have two vegan kids and have lived with two great dogs. I’ve continued to volunteer at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, which was key in gently pushing me the rest of the way toward veganism.

People tend to indicate that they think going vegan is difficult. And you know, at first, it is a little tricky. It’s a pretty drastic change in diet and thinking for most people. But after a few weeks (or months), it gets a lot easier. Eventually I found myself at the point where certain things just weren’t food anymore. And when something isn’t food–that is, you would sooner eat a shoe than a fried egg–it starts getting a lot easier. You search out and find what you can eat rather than focusing so much on what you don’t (not “can’t”) eat.

When I first gave up meat, I really didn’t have a very wide variety of foods that I liked. Now, I’ll try pretty much anything. This is a common side effect, based on my discussions with other vegans: tastes change and actually expand significantly considering potential food choices are a subset of what they originally were.

Social acceptance of veganism has also increased in the last ten years. Yes, I still need to explain the concept frequently and some people just don’t get it, but in general, many more people are at least aware of what it means and curious enough to ask good questions.

Aaaaand, in summary…

At ten years in, here’s what my current beliefs are, in boldfaced list format:

  • I do not need animal products to live and there isn’t a fully non-exploitative way to consume them. Since my circumstances allow for it, I have no justifiable reason not to be vegan.
  • I won’t promote vegetarianism or (shudder) “humane meat” as a stepping stone to veganism (or any specific method, really), but instead present veganism as a goal and let folks decide for themselves how to get there.
  • I generally think welfare-focused legislation and outreach isn’t all that helpful. But I allow that I could be wrong and thus don’t actively campaign against such change.
  • I am vegan for ethical reasons first. However, I also try to be a healthy vegan, because my health matters to people other than just me.
  • There is nothing wrong with meat analogs and in no way do they reinforce that meat is OK to eat.
  • There is absolutely no reason for dog breeding to be a thing and absolutely no reason to buy from a breeder.
  • There is quite a bit of intersectionality that becomes clear after being vegan for a bit. Open your heart in one way and it will naturally open in many others.
  • I’m not sure there is a clear line about what diet is right or acceptable for your pet. Bring on more research! (It should be noted, anecdotally, our dog has been vegan for four years and is doing great.)
  • Someone can go vegan for any reason, be it ethical, health, or environmental, but unless a strong ethical component eventually becomes part of one’s veganism, it becomes far easier to justify “cheating.”
  • Vocal ex-vegans are way more annoying than the most overzealous of new vegans.
  • For veganism to really break through to the mainstream, we need to disengage from the often non-science-based rhetoric used to promote it. Stick with the ethical argument first, then show people how to do it in a healthy fashion with well supported nutrition research.
  • People need to come to veganism their own way, in their own time. Otherwise, it won’t stick.

These views may change over the next ten years. In fact, I expect them to.

I’m trying to become conscious of when something I say comes off as judgmental, because I know that’s the quickest way to turn someone off from ever considering veganism (or any shift in lifestyle), so if any of my lessons learned come off as preachy, I apologize. I’m here to help and answer questions. I remember what it was like for veganism to seem unrealistic and something only other people did, so if you’re starting to ask questions about it, you’re ahead of where I was 14 years ago.

And, of course

Super big up respect massive high five pound shouts to my vegan wonder twin Lindsay who went vegan on the exact same day I did, ten years ago. One of the reasons I keep this blog going is so that I can continue to wish her a happy veganversary each year!

More on ex-vegans

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After the “I”m not vegan anymore” post by Alexandra Jamieson a few weeks ago, there were all the expected reactions: anger, disappointment, insults, and, yes, support. I avoided responding right away because I wanted to make sure my reaction was appropriate and thought out. I like Alexandra. I interviewed her a few years ago for Herbivore and have liked her positive approach to promoting veganism and healthy eating from her appearance in Super Size Me to her subsequent books and consulting services. She’s never been confrontational or insulting, so I want to avoid being the same way.

But, I do feel there is something to be said about her post as well as celebrity ex-vegans and the whole “I’m not a vegan anymore” thing (see also).

I’ve written about my frustration with vocal “ex-vegans” before:

Who I find really difficult to deal with are militant ex-vegans. They are far worse than any so called “militant vegans” I’ve ever met. These are the people who feel they have the experience and, therefore, the right to disparage veganism or vegetarianism because they “used to be one of those.” I don’t know about you, but I can never imagine giving up veganism and I can’t imagine any truly committed vegan ever going back to animal products and disparaging their former lifestyle at the same time. These militant ex-vegans with a chip on their shoulder may not be worth engaging in an argument. Let them blow off their steam and, in turn, look like blowhards to everyone else.

Alexandra doesn’t fall into the militant ex-vegan category. Militant ex-vegans will start web sites telling you why you shouldn’t be vegan and start quoting the Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Mercola. Alexandra’s still promoting plant-based diets and feels they can work for many people. However, I read her announcement with more disappointment than I did with someone like Ellen who eats eggs from backyard chickens or Megan Fox who “lost too much weight”. With celebrity ex-vegans, I groan and say, “Not surprised.” We shouldn’t look to celebrities for inspiration any more than we should any random person on the street. But when someone declares “Not vegan!” when their livelihood and own celebrity has come from promoting veganism for many years, I feel like there’s potential for damage to be done to ethical veganism’s acceptance. When a vegan chef, Certified Holistic Health Counselor, and vegan cookbook author denounces her veganism, it has the effect of making veganism seem too difficult for the average person. Or worse, it makes it look like the wrong choice (“If some promoting veganism for that long decided it was wrong for her, it must be for me, too!”)

What I think disappoints me most about Alexandra’s reasoning for making the change are some of her justifications. First, the cravings:

My body started craving the “bad” stuff. Namely, meat.

It used to be that, when a friend ordered a burger out at dinner, I was slightly (though quietly) disgusted.

But I started noticing a different reaction.

Instead of disgust, I started to salivate.

The impulse to order salmon instead of salad with tofu at my favorite restaurant was overwhelming.

And, for me as a vegan, it was confusing, too.

At first, I thought: “I must be mineral deficient. Or maybe I need more concentrated protein. I’ll eat more sea vegetables. I’ll just add more nuts and hemp seeds and drink more green juice. Then the cravings will stop.”

I denied these cravings and tried to “talk my body out of them”.

I hid my cravings from myself, and my community.

I ate more sea vegetables in order to add more minerals to my diet as I had told so many of my vegan-curious friends to do. I chose more protein-heavy plant foods on a regular basis. I avoided sugar and drank green juices by the pint, all in an effort to give my body the nutrition that I thought my body was asking for.

I tried for over a year.

I felt ashamed. If I was “doing it right” I wouldn’t have these cravings, would I?

And still, the cravings persisted.

I’ve never given much value to “cravings.” To me, food cravings aren’t indicators of anything terribly substantive. I don’t think they’re indicators of “something your body lacks” like iron, protein, or some other random vitamin or mineral. Research backs me up on this. That’s not to say that cravings aren’t real feelings. They are. But rather than your body “telling you” that you’re not getting enough protein so you should eat a steak, I think it’s simply that you miss the taste, texture, or memories associated with the food you crave. Most vegans will tell you that they didn’t stop eating meat because they hated the taste. If that was the case, meat analogues wouldn’t be so popular. Vegans stopped eating meat for ethical reasons, health reasons, or some combination, and a craving for a food they used to eat simply means they want something like that again. Every so often I think, “I miss Philly Cheesesteaks.” But does that mean I’m going to go out and order a dead cow with cheese slathered all over it? No – I’ll grab some sliced seitan, fry it up all Pat’s (or Geno’s)-like, and pour some nootch-filled cheese sauce all over it. It does the trick. I think food cravings as a reason for returning to eating meat, dairy, or eggs is simply an excuse, a justification for something that feels wrong at its core.

The other part that really bothered me about Alexandra’s piece is the set of conclusions she comes to at the end. The ones that struck me as particularly bothersome:

I believe you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.

I believe humans are animals. And some animals need to eat other animals to be healthy. Some do not.

I mean. For real, though?

But, I do give Alexandra credit for being honest. Certainly, it wasn’t easy for her. And I sincerely hope that as she continues her journey, she looks more deeply at the reasons she’s no longer vegan and reconsiders her stance down the road.

So, rather than continuing picking the post apart (because, really, I don’t want this to come across as a personal attack), let me instead share a few other pieces that I think get it right:

First, I urge every single person reading this to read “Facing Failing Health as a Vegan” by Sayward Rebhal. This may be one of the most important pieces about veganism ever written. (I’m boldfacing that because I feel that strongly about it.) Sayward discusses her own health issues, the internal struggle it caused, and the ultimate, happy resolution where she was able to overcome her difficulties while remaining a vegan. She is proof that if the animals and veganism are really important to you, you can make it work.

Secondly, Jack Norris, RD has a couple of responses well worth reading. Jack can always be counted on for good, even-handed analysis.

Amina

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It’s been two years since Amina passed away and it’s taken me this long to write an entry about her. And even with all that time, writing a little bit here and there as it felt right, the post was still a tough one to put together.

History

In the fall of 2004, Amina was found wandering on a highway near Lynchburg, VA and brought to a nearby shelter. No owners claimed her. Her time was almost up when, on November 4th, a woman who did dog rescue in the area saved Amina from being euthanized. At that point, she was named Wanderer and spent time bouncing between boarding and foster homes. At some point she may have been given the name Traveller. That Christmas, she had her picture taken with Santa.

Amina with Santa

March 26th of the following year, Friends of Homeless Animals, a local no-kill shelter, brought her in, renaming her Treasure. In late April, my wife and I visited FOHA to meet some dogs. We didn’t click with any of them, so we came back on May 1st to meet some more. That was when we took Amina for a walk on the FOHA grounds.

Meeting Amina

She was stubborn on the leash, but walked at a leisurely pace, sniffing everything with her long hound nose. We took her into the play area to toss a ball for her and let her run off-leash a bit. We laughed as she showed absolutely no interest in any toys and simply kept sniffing around.

As we brought her back from her walk, she tried stealing an entire pan of brownies off of a table (why anyone would have chocolate brownies where there are dozens of dogs around, I’m not quite sure). My wife and I talked it over a bit and decided we loved Amina’s demeanor and wanted to bring her into the family. We wouldn’t be able to bring her home for another week because we had a trip planned, but we decided to start the process.

Before we left for the day, we went into the kennel area and knelt down in front of her cage. Other dogs were barking and going berserk, but she just sat there, looking at us expectantly. “Do you want to come home with us?” I asked her and, in response, she put her paw up on the cage door. We knew she was the one.

We traveled to New York that week, but upon return, we picked her up and brought her home on May 7, 2005, renaming her Amina, an Arabic name meaning “peaceful” or “secure.”

The first few weeks with Amina were a bit rougher than we expected. She was recovering from a mild case of heartworm and still had some treatment left. Unfortunately, she reacted badly to the treatment and went several days without eating or drinking. My grandmother passed away the week after we brought Amina home and because Amina was sick, we made the tough decision that my wife would stay home with her while I drove to my grandmother’s funeral.

Thankfully, Amina started feeling better while I was away and with those first couple of weeks behind us, we were able to relax and get to know one another a little better.

All About Amina

Amina was probably a hunting dog (she had a small buckshot under the skin on one of her hind legs) and was likely bred, as she’d had a litter of puppies. We always hypothesized that she was a bad hunting dog because she got along so well with other animals and never showed any prey drive. Plus, contrary to Blueticks’ tendency for loud and frequent barking, Amina barked less than ten times in the five years she was with us. Many hunting dogs that aren’t “useful” will be shot. Fortunately, Amina either ran off or was let go to fend for herself.

Amina was a calm spirit, but when she first came home with us, she clearly had some anxieties. On walks, she would jump anytime a car drove by, surely a result of wandering on her own along a highway. The first time she met my dad, she growled at him (something she’d never do again with him or anyone else). With time, she learned to trust people and not be anxious around cars.

And though Amina was calm, she also had a sneaky streak in her. Not long after we’d brought her home, Huyen and I were upstairs when we heard a crashing sound downstairs. I ran down and found Amina standing there with an entire baguette in her mouth, bumping it into the table as she turned her head trying to get past.

As sweet as Amina was, she was also notoriously stubborn. There would be times when I’d try to get her to stand up so we could go out for a short walk before bed, and she was absolutely not interested. It would take lots of convincing some nights, prompting her with treats and embarrassing voices. On walks, Amina would have a very set plan in mind about where she wanted to go. More accurately, she had it set in her head where she didn’t want to go. More than once she stood there, feet planted firmly on the ground, unwilling to move in the direction I wanted to move. So, I’d try going another direction, figuring she had a specific route in mind. She didn’t budge. I tried all four directions and she wasn’t interested in going in any of them. She just wanted to stand there until she was good and ready to move. I’m pretty sure she would have made Cesar Milan throw his hands up in frustration.

My favorite “stubborn Amina” story comes from a time we dropped Amina off at my parents’ house when we took a trip to New York. My mom took Amina out for a walk, but by the time they got to the end of the driveway, the skies opened up and it started pouring rain. It was at this point Amina decided to plant it and not move. My mom stood there, getting completely drenched, urging Amina back to the house, without success. My dad still laughs when he describes my mom coming back in the house soaking wet and scowling at Amina for choosing that moment to display her stubborn nature.

Though Amina was likely a hunting dog, clearly we never had her out hunting. She really didn’t have much of a hunting instinct, anyway. We used to petsit a friend’s rabbit for a month each year and Amina showed little more than mild curiosity about the houseguest. However, Amina did like to use her hound nose, so we would challenge her by hiding treats in between sofa cushions, perched on shelves, and behind table legs. We’d come in from our last walk of the night and say, “Where is it?” and she would tear around the room looking for her treats, sometimes burying her face nose-deep into couch cushions or other common hiding places she remembered.

Another personality trait of Amina’s that I’ll never forget was her passive-aggressiveness. If you think a dog is incapable of this type of behavior, allow me to share a common occurrence:

Most nights, Amina slept in bed with us. Usually she’d curl up at the bottom of the bed before I even got under the covers. Sometimes, she’d spread out and I’d have to contort myself in order to find a place to sleep. But every so often, I’d get into bed first and she’d lay on the floor. A few hours later, I’d wake up, open my eyes, and find myself face-to-face with Amina. She would sit there quietly—and kind of creepily—staring at me, waiting for me to move so she could get into bed. Huyen told me that sometimes she’d hear Amina very subtlely whine, just loudly enough to wake me up, but not loudly enough that I’d take notice of it upon waking.

So, I’d groan a bit and say, “OK, girl, hop up,” and pat the bed, making room for her at the bottom. But Amina wouldn’t hop up. She’d just keep staring at me. Eventually, I learned, she was waiting for me to get up and go to the bathroom so she could hop into bed and steal my spot. I guess she figured if she started the night on the floor, I was supposed to finish it there.

I also can’t go without mentioning that she was super patient and very tolerant when our daughter was born. There were no issues with introducting a new member to “the pack” at all.

Hugs to the Best Doggy

The Illness

After Amina had been with us for about 3 1/2 years, she started throwing up some mornings. At first, it was about once a month, but then gradually increased to once every few weeks. Initially we thought it was because she was hungry, so we fed her a small snack first thing in the morning, but that didn’t have much effect. We took her to the vet because this was unusual for Amina. They were dismissive about it, telling us, “Oh, she probably snuck some food and was just throwing it back up.”

But the throwing up progressed and became much more frequent. It started happening every two weeks. Then every week. Then every few days. We tried diet changes. We tried various short-term medicines. We went to a holistic vet and had accupuncture done. No one could give us any real, definitive answers. For months, we were making vet appointments, begging them to help us find what was really wrong with Amina. It got to the point where she was throwing up multiple times a day. Several times we had to take her to the emergency vet for dehydration, once after having thrown up eight times in a single day. Amina stopped eating almost everything.

It wasn’t until a year after the first time we brought her in because of her vomiting that a different vet in the practice suggested we get an ultrasound and endoscopy done to help get a more accurate picture of what was going on inside.
So, we did. Amina was losing weight and though we hated to put her through an invasive procedure that would keep her at the emergency vet overnight, we did it. The doctor that did the procedure told us that the lining of Amina’s stomach, which was supposed to appear smooth, looked “cobblestone-like.” It was completely bumpy and that was why she couldn’t keep any food down.

They took a biopsy to test for cancer. We were relieved when the test came back negative and the doctor diagnosed Amina with the somewhat catch-all diagnosis of “inflammatory bowel disease” (which, it should be noted, is different from “irritable bowel syndrome”). She presented IBD as a harsh and lifelong disease, but that the symptoms would ultimately be treatable. Initially the medications would be somewhat heavy. But that was necessary, she told us, in order to treat the damage that had already been done. After a month or so, she assured us, Amina’s meds could be cut back to a more theraputic dose, once she started eating better, gaining weight, and showing overall improvement.

Amina was put on metocloprimide, Pepcid, a limited ingredient food, metronidizole, and prednisone. Over the next couple of months, the cocktail was adjusted slightly, but those were the typical meds she took. And she didn’t like them. While we were initially able to give her meds in peanut butter, she eventually took a dislike to peanut butter and we had to try every other nut butter in existence just to get her to take her pills.

While we were relieved at the diagnosis and very pleased that the mediciations were keeping her from vomiting (in fact, she didn’t vomit again once she went on her meds), about a month later we started seeing some problematic things. For one, Amina’s appetite was still not great, even with an occasional appetite stimulant. Secondly, and more disturbingly, we noticed she was starting to lose strength in her legs. She was keeping our walks short, stepping tentatively up the stairs onto the porch, and tripping wjem trying to go up to the second floor. We talked to the doctor about this, and she said this was a normal side effect of the prednisone (something she’d never told us to expect). She gave us some recommendations on how to keep Amina’s muscles from atrophying.

Unfortunately, over the next several weeks, it got so bad that we had to help Amina stand and that her legs would completely give out on her. Sure, she wasn’t vomiting anymore, but she was miserable and couldn’t even stand up on her own. It took a lot of pressure, but the doctor finally reduced the dose of prednisone and was going to start transitioning Amina to a replacement.

For our part, we continued the exercises, got her to a physical therapy appointment, and even took her for some water therapy (the first time we ever saw her swim!). In early June, she was still not doing very well, but we had a little bit of hope that we’d be able to turn the corner, get her muscle strength built back up, and get things a little closer to normal again. I had a conference in Las Vegas and it crushed me to leave the family with things in such a precarious state with Amina, but I did. Before heading out the door, I gave Amina a hug and told her, “Start feeling better, OK, girl?”

Two days later, June 11, 2010, after the first session of the conference, I got a call from Huyen. Amina was gone.

Huyen had gone out for the morning with Rasine and was going to go from their first appointment to a playdate at a friend’s house. But Huyen realized she’d left something at home, so stopped by the house to pick it up and decided to take Amina out for a quick pee before she left (the medicine had Amina peeing 10-12 times a day). As they walked through the front yard, Amina collapsed. She couldn’t get up. Huyen knew this was beyond the stumbles Amina had taken before, so she picked Amina up, put her in the back seat of the car, and called the emergency vet to let them know she was on the way. During the five minute trip to the hospital, Amina died.

To say we were crushed and heartbroken would be an understatement. We’d try so hard to help Amina, did our best to get her through her illness and make her comfortable during the treatment… and it was all over, just like that. We were sad, of course, but also angry. We were angry at the vets who blew off our initial concerns. We were angry at the emergency vet who often made us feel like we were doing something wrong with Amina’s treatment or that we were wasting her time. We were angry that we never really found out why Amina was sick.

Even two years after the fact, it’s something that’s hard to talk about. I suspect the wounds will always be there. But, fortunately, we were able to spend five great years with Amina. We have thousands of pictures and even more memories. And I know that as difficult as the last few months were for her, Amina loved us and knew we were doing our best to help her.

We miss you, girl.

Amina's Relaxation Pose

Chistmas Eve Family Portrait

Family Portrait Xmas Eve

Daddy with his Daughters

The furry daughter with her dad

Amina

The last photo I took of Amina, a low quality cell phone shot a few days before she died.

Amina on Flickr | Amina on Dogster

Excessive Force

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This morning, I was chatting with a neighbor and somehow the conversation turned to the time a police officer shot and killed a dog on our street a few years ago. As the conversation progressed, I found myself feeling agitated because even though she noted that she would “never forget the sound of the dog crying,” she defended the officer and blamed the dog’s guardians for the outcome. On the other hand, I told her that it was absolutely unnecessary and that the officer should never have pulled his pistol. And here’s the thing: I saw it happen. I know it didn’t have to be.

Here’s what I wrote the day it happened, just over two years ago:

Yesterday morning, when I was out walking the dog, we walked by a group of three dogs that were off leash, a Rottweiler, a black lab mix, and a smaller dog that I couldn’t identify.  I was a little curious, but they seemed to be sticking around one particular house, so I figured their guardian had just let them out.  They weren’t aggressive and didn’t even come over to sniff.

Last night, we were out again and we saw the dogs again, this time in the yard of a house on the opposite corner from ours.  They were running about, including out into the road, so obviously something was up.  I had my cell with me and called animal control (who I have stored in the phone because the need to call seems to come up every few months).  They were closed and their message seemed to indicate that if the dogs didn’t appear sick or dangerous, there wasn’t much else to do.

After we got back from our walk, I went across the road into another neighborhood where I remember seeing a sign about a lost black lab mix.  I called, but that family had already been reunited with their dog and just hadn’t removed the signs.

When I got back home, the pack was nowhere to be seen.  I went back inside, frustrated, and figured I’d call the next morning if I saw them again.

This morning, I ran an errand, talked to a neighbor about the dogs and thought about it all a bit more.  Something weird was going on.  Last night, they were hanging out in the front yard of the house near ours.  I saw them run towards a man walking past and bark at him, which seemed to shake him up a little, but they didn’t attack him.  It just seemed like they were defending their territory.  I think that these three dogs live in that house, which was just recently moved into by the new owners.  Usually there were some dogs in the backyard, but I hadn’t heard them bark recently.  Plus, the house’s front lawn was getting to be very overgrown.  It’s like they hadn’t been there in quite a while.  Had they left the dogs to fend for themselves?  Did they leave overnight and just forget to lock the gate?  It wasn’t clear.

When I got back from my errand, a cop car pulled up to the house.  The officer got out of the car, walked into the front yard towards the three dogs who were laying there.  They got up and came at him, barking like the did at the man the night before.  The cop got freaked out.  He reached in his holster, pulled out his pistol, and then POP.

The dogs (two of them or possible all three, I’m not sure) scurried around the house.  I could hear a loud, painful crying and whimpering that ended a minute or so later.  The cop stood in the front yard, looking a bit stunned, and then called in backup.

A kid across the street saw it happen and yelled out to a friend down the street, “I think a cop just popped a cap in that dog!”  I watched the whole thing unfold from my front porch, not being able to shake that sound of the dog crying.

A few minutes later, more police and animal control showed up.  The woman from animal control carried the limp body of what looked like the black lab to her van.  I didn’t see the other two dogs.

I held out a small bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t a pistol he had pulled.  Maybe it was a tranquilizer.  But as I left for work a few minutes later, I saw the cops in the overgrown front yard with a metal detector, trying to find the shell casing.

I’m really angry by the way things went down.  First of all, how come animal control isn’t on call after 5pm?  If they had been able to help when I called the night before, this wouldn’t have happened.  Secondly, where the heck are the owners of that house?  Why would a brand new family leave a yard to get completely overgrown and leave behind their three dogs?  Lastly, and most frustratingly, why did the cop shoot the dog?  It was absolutely unnecessary.  Of course they got up and barked at him, he approached them, infringing on their territory.  Why didn’t he just call over to them from a safe distance?  Or call in for backup?  It was three dogs he was dealing with, what made him think he could deal with it on his own, even if they were completely docile?  Should an officer that’s that skittish around dogs really be the one to go on that type of call?

I’m going to talk to another neighbor that I saw talking with the cops and try to find out the full story.  If everything turned out the way it appeared to, I’ll be writing a letter to the police department about the way it went down.

I keep replaying the situation in my head.  There’s no reason it had happen like that.

Later that day, I wrote this:

I talked to my neighbor tonight and she filled me in, letting me know that yes, indeed, the lab was killed by the bullet. In addition, the bullet went through the lab (the oldest of the three) and grazed the smallest dog. Thankfully, the small dog is back at home, recovering, after a visit to the emergency room. It may have been the small dog that I heard wimpering, but I don’t think so.

Apparently the dogs have been digging holes under the fence and have gotten out frequently over the last few weeks. Animal control’s been there a number of times. Everytime the family there fills the holes, the dogs dig them back out again.

After I talked with my neighbor and got some more information, I went over and talked to the man himself, who was out in front of his house. He told me that the police seargent told him that the two large dogs “lunged” at the officer and that the officer didn’t even have time to get the gun fully aimed after he pulled it out of the holster.

As a recap:

  • From my vantage point, the officer made no attempt to call to the dogs. He walked directly at them, on their property.
  • Though the dogs did get up and come at him (and may have been barking, I can’t remember), I saw no evidence that they were lunging. What I saw was the officer back up, get nervous, pull his gun, point, and shoot.
  • Even if they did come at him agressively, he was approaching them on their property; shouldn’t he have been prepared to use non-lethal force, like his baton or mace? Aren’t police trained in this?

I’m also still confused why one cop was sent to handle three dogs and why he didn’t just wait for animal control to arrive since these dogs were doing nothing but laying in their own front yard.

This was the first time I’ve met this particular neighbor. While I’m downright angry at the way the situation went down, he seemed more stunned and saddened, just trying to make sense of it all. He told me about going to see his dog one last time and get his collar. He said he noticed that the bullet went in the dog’s side, near his rear leg, which seemed like a strange place if the dog was indeed lunging. He showed me the bloodstains on the ground and the spray paint marking where the bullet casing was found (the cops didn’t find it with their metal detector, he found it).

I gave him my name and number and let him know I’d be happy to help if he was going to file a complaint or press charges.

As I was walking Amina tonight and I thought about the pain this guy must be feeling at the loss of his friend, I thought that maybe there was a reason I locked myself out of my house today. Though nothing will bring his dog back, I hope he can get some sort of resolution to this.

Something I didn’t mention in the update is that when I was talking with the man in his front yard, I had Amina with me. As we were talking, I looked down and her tail was between her legs and she was shaking, something that doesn’t happen unless something’s spooked her. It was clear she could sense something bad had happened there — maybe she could smell the other dog’s blood on the ground — and she didn’t want to stick around.

The days following the shooting were very tense and stressful. I talked to a reporter from the local paper and spoke out (anonymously) about what happened. The feedback on the paper’s site was half “I can’t believe the cop did that!” the other half cheering the cop on and saying that I was full of crap despite the fact I witnessed it. A number of times, I looked out my front door and saw a cop car parked there, the officer staring at my house and taking notes. I spoke with an animal control officer, who was conducting an investigation for his office.

Eventually, the policeman who I saw outside my house on numerous occasions came to the door. I stepped out onto the porch and spoke with him. He was in charge of the police’s internal investigation and wanted to get my side of the story. I told him everything, as I did the newspaper and the animal control officer. The cop spent a lot of the time defending his fellow officer, almost like he was trying to convince me the shooting was justified. He showed me how much more difficult it is to pull the mace from a holster compared to the gun. He was friendly about it all and didn’t come off as intimidating, but I still came away from the conversation feeling pessimistic about how things would turn out.

Weeks passed, and nothing. No news in the paper, no calls from police or animal control. The neighbor decided not to press charges after he found out the most he’d be able to get out of it was $80 for the “value” of his dog and possibly reimbursement for cleaning blood off of his carpet. I eventually found out from speaking with another neighbor that the police had completed their internal investigation and found the officer was in the right. No action would be taken against the officer.

Big surprise.

Even though this happened over two years ago, the event still weighs on my mind. I’ve found myself scowling as police drive by and haven’t called animal control since then (rather, I’ve done a few catch-and-returns on my own). When I see an officer, I think to myself, “Is that the guy that shot the dog? Is he the one who fired a pistol with a kid only 20 feet away?” And I’ve lost a lot of faith in neighbors who feel that shooting a dog point blank is justified just because he’d escaped his yard and had been wandering the neighborhood.

I understand that police work is dangerous and I know that an aggressive dog, just like an aggressive human, may need to be subdued. But I sincerely hope that officers are receiving better training about how to deal with groups of animals (don’t try to handle them alone, don’t approach them on their property, use non-lethal force, etc.). Sadly, I suspect this is not the case.

Why I’m No Longer Going to Vote for Terry McAuliffe

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Here in Virginia, the Democratic primary for the state’s gubernatorial race is underway. We have a few candidates running, including former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe. I was initially considering throwing my vote his way, despite his campaign’s irriating calls multiple times every week, but after a mailing I received yesterday, there’s no chance. If you don’t want to open up the PDF, take a look at the video instead:

As a vegan, I cannot justify supporting a candidate who wants to turn animal waste into energy. Why would I reject an option that, in theory, doesn’t hurt the animals? Especially one that helps clean up the environmental mess that’s a result of their intensive confinement? Because it’s just not that simple…

  • Agribusiness doesn’t deserve the money. As an ethical vegan, why would I want to support factory farms (because, believe me, ain’t enough waste coming from farms like the imaginary one in the video to support McAuliffe’s plan)? Using chickens’ waste doesn’t solve the real environmental problems of overconsumption and factory farming. Rather, it financially rewards those causing the problem. Let’s look at another by-product of meat production: leather. The argument is that leather is just a by-product and the materials would otherwise be wasted and discarded. But, a USDA report states that animal skins are “the most economically important byproduct” of the meatpacking industry. It’s not just an afterthought, it’s an essential part of the operation of slaughterhouses and the poultry waste used for energy could potentially become nearly as essential.
  • It’s not proven to be environmentally sound. If it ain’t clean and sustainable, why is it even a topic for consideration? This Washington Post piece points out a number of criticisms of the chicken waste-to-energy concept:

    Environmental groups have been largely critical of efforts to generate energy from waste products such as garbage or droppings. Often such plants produce harmful emissions.

    In addition, critics note that raw poultry waste already brings in top dollar as a fertilizer — more, sometimes, than the energy it can produce.

    “It does not make sense to try to solve a waste problem as an energy solution,” [Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network] said. “It is an unproven technology that is going to serve only to delay and confuse the real solutions in Virginia, which are energy efficiency and true renewable energy like wind and solar.

  • Fibrowatt. Fibrowatt is a Pennsylvania-based company aiming to build a power plan on the Eastern Short of Maryland that would run completely on logging and poultry waste. There has been a lot of opposition to Fibrowatt and “poultry litter incineration” in North Carolina, calling the process “dirtier than coal, more expensive than wind, and litter incineration as an economic threat to farmers” (Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League).

Where do the other candidates stand? Brian Moran supports it in a passing comment, but:

Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for Moran, criticized McAuliffe’s fixation on chicken waste. “He’s made it seem like chicken waste is the solution to the problem, and we’re not even sure how much of an answer it is,” he said.

I couldn’t find a stated position for Creigh Deeds. I’ve sent him an e-mail and a note on Twitter and am awaiting a response.

While I’m sure none of the candidates are going to completely satisfy my lefty political desires, I can definitely say that I will not be voting for a candidate that so enthusiastically and aggressively supports plans like chicken waste-to-energy. We shouldn’t be putting more money into the pockets of factory farms while diverting attention from real solutions like reduced consumption, energy efficiency, and clean technogies like solar and wind power.

(Update: Creigh Deeds replied to my inquiry on twitter: “Great potential in poultry waste, and other ag waste for that matter.” Sigh.)