Tag Archives: kindness

Just A Bird

11 October 2016
In the spring, I heard strange noises that seemed to be in the ventilation system of my apartment. Perhaps some sort of rodent? I was pregnant and overwhelmed at the time, and also wondered if I told my landlords whether they would use a humane pest removal service. So I didn’t mention it to my landlords, hoping that the little animal would leave on its own (and not take up residence!). I heard the noises, like scuffling or fluttering, a few times over a two-day period. Then nothing. I hoped this meant that the little creature had left the ventilation system, but something did not feel right. I wondered if I should have done more to investigate the sounds.

feathers on filterThen in September I was replacing a furnace filter because the deadbeat landlords don’t do this. There were feathers all over the filter. Startled, I managed to use a flashlight to peer into the narrow slit where the filter goes. I could see the wing of the dead body of a bird, a starling.

My heart sank. Now the noises back in the spring made sense. Somehow the starling got into the ventilation system, and must have been fluttering at an intake grate, the only light it could see.

I felt terrible. A sentient being had been in need, and I had done nothing.

This morning at 5am, nursing my baby back to sleep, I thought of the bird and performed a kind of inner ceremony. I called upon the bird’s spirit, and visualized a conversation with the bird. I apologized to the bird’s spirit and asked for forgiveness. I promised that the next time someone needed help, I would do my best. I also said that I truly would have helped if I had understood that it was a bird who could not escape without help, versus a mouse or squirrel I thought would be able to get back out of the ventilation system.

The starling’s spirit forgave me. I asked if there was any message the starling had for me. The bird said that the promise to help next time was good. That it was in my nature to help others, and to not let external circumstances cause me to stray from what my heart knows is the right thing to do. (The bird also told me that the message of its death within the darkness of the ventilation system was not to warn me away from darkness. In fact, it is my responsibility to illuminate any darkness I encounter. But that is for another writing project.)

Fast forward to today. I took my nine-week-old daughter to the Mommy & Me yoga class at Bayshore Shopping Centre. I could have driven, but I decided to try taking the bus. It was my first time taking my daughter on the bus. The trip there went well because she was asleep! When I got off and walked in the overpass to the Bayshore Shopping Centre at 9:50am, I noticed a small dark bird with white speckles all over within the overpass, huddled on a beam at the entrance into the Bayshore OC Transpo station. (Thank you Safe Wings for identifying the bird: a European starling in non-breeding plumage.)  The bird flew several times into the windows, trying to escape. Then would return to perch on the beam by the entrance.justabird_11oct2016

I quickly determined that there was no way for the bird to get out except the exit at the other end of the overpass. The windows were open but there were grates and screens on them. Especially given I was carrying my baby in a carrier, I couldn’t undo any of the fastens holding the screens on. I figured it would be a two-person job to free the bird. Two people could shoe the bird gently down the overpass corridor towards the exit. Then one person could hold the door open while the other person shoed the bird through.

The yoga class was at 10am, so I went into the mall seeking help and was directed to the Security Desk. But the young security guard on duty said there was nothing that they could do because the bird was in the overpass, which is OC Transpo’s jurisdiction. He said he would call the appropriate OC Transpo number. I asked to make sure that he would actually do this. He said he would so I went to the yoga class, but was concerned.

The yoga class went pretty well (lots of cute babies!!), my daughter let me do maybe 2/3 of the class. The rest of the time I walked and bounced her. And by the end, she was quite fussy, and I suspected she was having gas pains. So I made a hasty departure, hoping that I could get her back to sleep by the time we got on the bus.

To my dismay, the bird was still in the overpass. It had been over an hour since I notified security in the Bayshore mall, and since they had told me they would notify OC Transpo. My daughter was crying and I was trying to sooth her while simultaneously find phone numbers on my ancient slightly broken cell phone and ask for help from those walking by.

I managed to find the number and call OC Transpo Customer Relations. The representative said he would call the appropriate Department. Once again, I just had a feeling the situation might not be addressed quickly. So I texted my partner to find the number to the Wild Bird Care Centre. When I called the Wild Bird Center a volunteer on the line told me they were a very small charity and couldn’t send anyone to help. She gave me advice on how I could try to shoe the bird towards the exit. I explained I had a fussing 9-week-old baby in a carrier and the ceiling of the corridor was very high, so the bird could fly back over me back to the beam near the entrance that lead deeper into the Bayshore station (versus towards the other exit to freedom). She said maybe I could use a blanket to wave above my head. She told me it was OK to tire the bird out so that I could then capture it in the blanket.

This seemed a dubious approach, but I did have a receiving blanket. So I waved it over my head, trying to convince the bird to fly down the long corridor to freedom. But it kept flying back over me to the beam near the wrong exit.

I knew there was another organization that might be able to help, but I couldn’t remember the name. I kept asking passersby for help, and though initially friendly due to my baby, they were all evasive once I asked for help with the bird, though a few seemed sympathetic to the bird’s plight.

Then I saw a Caucasian man with sandy-coloured short hair and steel blue eyes walking with a young child, maybe 4 years old. A fellow parent! Surely he’d be keen to teach his young one about kindness. I greeted him and quickly explained the situation and possible solution. He looked at me with hostility and said, “It’s not important. It’s just a bird. It flew in here, it will find its way out, too.” And walked away before I could say anything.

This interaction really troubled me. It was obvious to me the bird had gotten itself into a situation that it could NOT easily find its way out of. (Who reading this has not done the same?) And why not say he didn’t want to help or couldn’t? Why make up some story about it, and make a blanket statement? It was not important to him. That did not mean it was not important, period.

It was important to me. Especially since that very morning I had received forgiveness from the starling that had died in my ventilation system. And the reminder to be true to my nature. I do believe I am a kind and responsible person. Some of my favourite adventures were rescues, like a mouse, a vole, a green heron, a puppy, among others. I didn’t mind if I looked a bit silly, there in the overpass waving a receiving blanket over my head with my daughter starting to fuss.

But she started to get more and more distraught, likely gas pains. I had to get her home, and reluctantly headed towards the bus. One came shortly, and unfortunately for most of the ride she screamed. I’ll write more about that some other time, because I would like to use public transportation as much as possible, but I feel bad if my baby is crying.

But back to our story, once I got home I was able to post about the situation on Facebook with a photo of the starling in the overpass in case a nearby bird-lover could help. I called the OC Transpo Customer Relations again, and the man said that he had contacted the appropriate department and that a contractor would take care of the situation within the hour. This time I felt more hopeful the situation would be handled well.

And then I was reminded of the name of the organization I had wanted to call when I was still there: Safe Wings Ottawa. Many people on Facebook had the same thought and suggested I contact them. By 12:30pm I reached a volunteer via Facebook, and they said they would look into the situation and follow up with OC Transpo if needed. I was relieved. My baby needed my attention.

At 2pm the Safe Wings volunteer swung by Bayshore’s OC Transpo station to check the overpass. No bird. So one way or another, the bird was out. I hope the rescue was as humane and stress-free as possible. But I don’t know. All I can do is send the bird blessings.

I wish I had been able to just free the bird myself. Or that a passerby had been willing to help me. But I did my best. I don’t think it was a coincidence that a bird needed to be rescued the very morning I asked forgiveness from the bird I had failed. I believe everything is interconnected. And so every being is important. And I personally believe the world would be a better place if the people rushing by in that overpass had actually stopped to try to help a terrified little bird. I think we all pray for kindness should we ever need to be rescued.

It was not “just a bird.” It was an opportunity to make the world just a little better.

For All My Relations,
Julie

Comments
I’m always been interested in what readers have to say. Have you been in situations like this where you’re not quite able to do what you thought was right? How do you decide when you’ve done enough to help?

Dedication
I did not know at the time that Elder Jacob Wawatie was passing to the Spirit World when I was attending to this starling. I now think of the video, below, in which he tries to get the logging industry to see the consequences of their logging: a dying baby bird whose nest was destroyed by the logging machines (see especially 8 to 16 minutes into the video). This post is dedicated to Jacob.

text for “6 Minute Speech Project” Rio+20: end factory farming

I made a video for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. It will be part of “The 6-Minute Speech Project“, a unique speech built by people from all over the world through the power of social media which will be delivered at Rio+20 later in June.

Here’s the text of my video:

Hello my name is Julie Comber. I’m a singer-songwriter, activist, dancer, capoeirista, writer, Dreamer, and PhD candidate in environmental education. But more than anything else, I’m just someone who cares deeply about the world, and I truly hope that I can contribute to making this world a better place. Our World is so beautiful. But there is so much suffering and injustice, and the destruction of our natural world seems relentless.

So I felt compelled to share my thoughts for the 6 minute Speech project for the UN’s Rio+20 about “The Future We Want”. I will just quickly situate myself so you know where I’m coming from. First of all, I wish to acknowledge that I have created this video in Ottawa, Canada which is on unceeded, unconquered and unsurrendered Algonquin Land. I have lived in Canada, Guyana, Australia, and Tanzania, and traveled through Europe and the Caribbean. My background is in zoology, genetics, bioethics, and animal welfare, and my current research is on Wildlife Clubs in Guyana with the Makushi, one of the indigenous tribes there.

There are so many issues we need to work on, but I will focus on an important issue I feel is still neglected: factory farming. Also called intensive livestock farming or intensive animal production. This is an issue that I first found out about when I was 15 years old, right at the time of the first Rio Summit. I was a kid who loved animals, and not just cats and dogs, I had a lot of experience caring for horses, rats, and cockatiels, too. So someone gave me a book about animal welfare and that’s how I found out about factory farming. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand how humans could treat nonhuman animals so horribly. And I knew immediately that there was no morally relevant difference between a horse and a cow, a dog and pig, or a cockatiel and a chicken. So why was our society allowing so many millions of these animals to suffer? And what does that say about us as human beings?

Over the past 20 years, I’ve come to understand this really is a crosscutting and essential issue for us to deal with as a species. Factory farms are not only horrible for the animals that are raised within them, they have a huge impact on our environment and a terrible impact on human health and well-being. The numbers are truly appalling, and I think many of us numb out or tune out. We humans don’t seem to be very good at responding appropriately and compassionately to large numbers of “others” that do not seem close to us, to our daily life and family. As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic. When we hear of one animal, one cow escaping from the slaughterhouse, for example, most people cheer.  But the fact that 9 billion chickens are raised and killed for meat each year in the U.S. alone, is not discussed. 112 million pigs are killed in the US each year. And the list goes on and on.  So worldwide, billions of animals are raised in horrendous conditions and then don’t even get a good death. And we don’t do enough about it. So I’ll move on to ideas about how to eliminate factory farms.

Ten years after the Rio Summit I was doing my Master’s in bioethics and my interest was in the HIV AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. It just so happened that Dr. Solomon Benatar, a doctor and AIDS activist from South Africa, came to McGill University, and he gave an incredible talk and was a guest at one of our classes. I’ll never forget one of the things he said, which was directed at those of us in the West, in Developed Countries: “We have to stop living our privileged existence based on the suffering of unseen others.”  He was speaking about the social and economic inequality that fuels the HIV pandemic. But I could see how his comment applied to so many other problems in our world. Especially to factory farming.

But a positive way to look at this is that when we truly see and appreciate “Others”, then we can heal ourselves and the World. When I say “Others” I don’t just mean other humans. I mean other species, too. We are not fully human except in relation to other species. Animals, plants, bacteria, all forms of life have a distinct and unique way of being in this world. Through appreciating them, spending time with them, we expand the realm of possibility for ourselves.

There certainly is scarcity of some natural resources, but one human resource that seems scarce is actually completely renewable, and inexhaustible: empathy.  Empathy and compassion for our fellow humans and for all other species. I had the privilege of meeting Jane Goodall in Tanzania 15 years after the Rio Summit. And what really struck me about her is that she has a warm heart and a sharp mind. She also has a very strong sense of purpose, of what she is trying to achieve with her life. She embodies the characteristics that we are trying to nurture within children through humane education. By humane education I mean the broad definition which emphasizes the interconnectedness of social justice, the environment, and animal welfare.

So I think if we really do want to have a future that is fair, and beautiful and joyful, and where everyone can flourish to his or her full potential, then we need to get very clear as individuals and collectively as communities and societies about what is our purpose. Why are you here? What is the Gift that you want to give the World? And when you know that, then every day it’s a matter of seeing if your actions are aligned with your purpose and your values.

But I also don’t want to get stuck thinking that it’s just an individual’s responsibility. Our societies, especially in the West, are currently structured so it’s very difficult for individuals to make the choices that are better for themselves, other species, and out Planet. For example here in Canada $1.4 billion of our tax payer’s money subsidizes the already rich oil and gas companies. Imagine what we could do with $1.4 billion! We could invest in children and youth, in green jobs, in honoring our Treaties with our indigenous peoples. There are so many possibilities that would better reflect our values as Canadians. That is just one small example, well, 1.4 Billion is pretty big! But one example of how our collective decision making is so off—base.

So in closing, one thing that those in Developed countries can do is to reduce our consumption of animal products in general, and to categorically refuse to buy factory farmed animal products. Of course we can use our reason to know this is the right thing to do by taking a hard look at the numbers. For example, we know climate change is a huge threat, and livestock account for nearly 20 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. But I’m also arguing we need to do this because that allows us to be aligned with our life’s purpose and values, to take our sharp, critical mind and link it to our warm heart. We might be able to fool our rational mind that it is Ok to buy factory farmed products, but do you really thing you fool your heart and soul when you consume those product? Do you really think your body doesn’t know, doesn’t feel the suffering and destruction contained within the meat, milk, or eggs that comes from animals that suffered? Would you raise an animal the way they do in a factory farm? If not, why are you willing to pay someone to do it for you?

Every dollar is a vote. When we buy a factory farmed meat, milk or eggs, we are saying with our actions “Yes. I like that. Do it again”. Tell me, do you really like the horrors within factory farms? The pollution and contamination of our drinking water? The terrible soul-crushing working conditions for workers? That our landscape is being turned into a soy and corn monoculture to feed miserable animals hidden away from our view?

Or would you rather more compassion? More kindness? Better health? Soul-enriching jobs? To spend time in intact ecosystems where you can appreciate other species in all their beauty and splendor?

I know the future I want: a future where each of us humans, and all other species, can thrive, shine, and flourish in our own unique, beautiful, and irreplaceable way. I think shifting away from factory farming helps us get to that future.

Thank you, Merci, Obrigada, Asante, Miigwetch for listening.

a dog

“who’s dog is that?”

“no one’s.”

“what will happen to her”

“that kind of dog should be shot so other dogs won’t get the sickness.”

Light brown, painfully thin, coat rough and patches of fur missing, she spent most of her time lying down, scratching her mange infested ears and rump so the open sores bled.  One story was that while the other dogs were considered to be Bina Hill’s, she was considered a stray.  No one’s responsibility.   Her ears were so bad, they were kept at a strange half-mast position, making her look a bit like a gremlin.  So I dubbed her Gizmo.

“you’re worried about that dog.”

“yes,”

“why?”

“she’s suffering.”

“so?”

“so I care about suffering.  anyone’s suffering.”

That a dog should count in our moral calculus was politely tolerated in public, who knows what was said later.  Like with the glue traps and mice in Georgetown, me caring about the suffering of an animal was considered weird. 

“so no one will care if i get the vet to either treat her or kill her?”

“no”

“done”

The vet assistant showed up to use the phone.

“i have a dog for you to see.”

“OK, just now.”

Diagnosis was severe mange that was getting secondarily infected, and worms to explain her skeletal frame.  He gave her a subcutaneous injection of Ivermectin for the inner & outer parasites and a Vitamin shot, then an intramuscular injection of antibiotic.  The whole veterinary intervention cost $600 GYD, about $3 CAD.  I also learned about the recommended vaccinations for dogs in this area, and confirmed the epidemic I saw in Yupukari n 2006 was distemper.  The antibiotic had to be jabbed into her rump muscle, which hurt and caused her to yelp and escape from these treacherous humans.  She forgave me later when I fed her. 

That afternoon, she became the focus of my lesson on Observation.  One type of observation relevant for budding wildlife managers is to be able to observe an individual animal carefully.  We went through what to look for to assess an animal’s health.  Most of the students said she was just an old dog, but I pointed out how her eyes were clear, nose good, and teeth in great condition.  She didn’t look old to me, just sick.  Turns out she is quite old for a dog here, 5 ro 6, maybe even 9 yrs old, and survived the distemper epidemic in 2006.  The students took more interest in this ignored dog now that they had to observe her carefully.  I got them to compare her to a healthy dog.

Now I wait to see how the treatments go, which can also teach my students about measuring change over time.  I wonder if my $3 investment will have a Lazarus effect on her, and increase empathy in the students.