COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret, Nov. 5th at SIFF Film Center

cowpsiracy-smallcropA movie presentation of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret will be shown at the SIFF Film Center on Wednesday, November 5th, but you need to get your tickets in advance to keep the showing on the schedule.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following an intrepid filmmaker as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet.

See the Tugg website for more information and to buy tickets.

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Taking Action for Animals

 The Washington delegation attending Humane Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., in June included Michael and Sandy Smith (from far left) of Kirkland, Seattle residents Steve Ann Chambers, Hilary Hager and Jennifer Hillman; Geoff Urton, of Vancouver, B.C.; Seattle columnist Christie Lagally; and HSUS Washington State director Dan Paul. Photo courtesy of Sandy Smith

The Washington delegation attending Humane Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., in June included Michael and Sandy Smith (from far left) of Kirkland, Seattle residents Steve Ann Chambers, Hilary Hager and Jennifer Hillman; Geoff Urton, of Vancouver, B.C.; Seattle columnist Christie Lagally; and HSUS Washington State director Dan Paul. Photo courtesy of Sandy Smith

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News and City Living Seattle

July 2014

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

Last month, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the Taking Action for Animals (TAFA) conference. Hosted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), this conference brings together community leaders, professionals and locally oriented volunteers from around the country who are working to help animals in every regard.

Most people I meet care deeply for animals because of a relationship with their own pets or through a broader empathy for all animals. And when animals are suffering, most of us suffer in our hearts (sometimes unknowingly) because of our natural love for animals and our aversion to cruelty. Hence, TAFA is meant to inform, inspire and empower us to be better advocates for animals.

As a young adult, no issue disturbed me more than animal testing, and I had been indoctrinated to believe that it is necessary for the good of humankind. When I eventually learned about the treatment of animals in laboratories, I learned that much of the testing is actually unnecessary and fails to benefit humans.

At TAFA, I met folks from the White Coat Waste Project (www.whitecoatwaste.com), a nonprofit organization that exposes government funding of unnecessary animal testing (including testing on beagles, household cats and monkeys.)

The project reports that our government wastes $12 billion per year on animal studies, such as forcing monkeys to smoke cigarettes or feeding them high-fat, sugary foods to create obesity. Yet, the dangers of smoking and obesity are well known and are more appropriately studied in humans who exhibit these behaviors.

Luckily, we can make conscious choices not to support animal testing. Start by switching to cruelty-free household products and cosmetics. Visit www.leapingbunny.org to find a list of companies that do not test their products on animals.

Animal cruelty at farms

It was an eye-opening moment at TAFA to learn that the vast majority of animal cruelty around the world occurs in industrialized factory farms where most of our meat and eggs are produced.

In factory farms, mother pigs are confined to gestation crates that are no larger than their bodies, laying hens are confined to battery cages with no more room than a piece of notebook paper, and baby calves, who are taken from their mothers in the dairy industry, are confined to tiny crates shortly after their birth and later killed for veal. Although billions (not millions) of animals in factory farms suffer cruelty, everyone in our community can make a huge difference to help animals by reducing our meat consumption.

Consider trying Meatless Mondays, a global movement originally started in World War I to ration supplies that continues today to help people consciously reduce their consumption of meat. Amazingly, if all Americans participated in Meatless Monday, it would save 1.4 billion animals per year from factory farms. Visit www.meatlessmonday.com for recipes and ideas for sharing Meatless Mondays in our community.

Animal activism

Another goal of TAFA was to amplify our efforts to protect animals from cruelty by talking with our senators and representatives in Washington state and in Washington, D.C.

Following TAFA, I participated in Humane Lobby Day at our nation’s capital. Along with a delegation from Washington state, I attended meetings with legislative staff of Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Rep. Jim McDermott. Our delegation encouraged the senators to co-sponsor a bill to keep horse slaughterhouses from operating in the United States and to prevent the sale and transport of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption. The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094) is already cosponsored by McDermott.

We also encouraged support of the Captive Primate Safety Act (S. 1463/H.R. 2856), which prevents monkeys, apes and nonhuman primates from being transported for exotic-pet sales. Sadly, primates in the exotic-pet industry are held captive for breeding, and their babies are taken from them and sold as pets. These wild animals pose considerable danger to humans as they grow into adults and can harbor transmittable diseases.

Finally, our delegation asked for co-sponsorship of the Humane Cosmetics Act (H.R. 4148). Passing this bill would end the use of animals for testing cosmetics. If passed, the United States could join major world powers like the European Union and India, which have already banned the use of animals for cosmetics testing. This bill is currently only in the U.S. House of Representatives, so you can contact our senators to request they introduce this bill in the Senate.

The power to act daily

All of us inadvertently encounter animal cruelty in our everyday lives with just a trip to the supermarket or even paying our taxes, which funds animal testing. Although awareness of such issues is uncomfortable at first, we can take comfort that we have the power to really change the world for animals by the actions we take daily.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” which means we can be more proud to be Americans each day we make progress for animals.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane, a news site providing articles, op-eds and podcasts on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com.

 

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Keeping cats safe and ‘enclosed’

Serena the cat in her veranda enclosure

Serena the cat in her veranda enclosure

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in City Living Seattle

June 2014

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

When I adopted my cat Buca from a city shelter, I signed a contract in good faith to keep her indoors. After all, the shelter had saved her life, and I promised to protect her.

After several years as an indoor-only cat, Buca decided she wanted time outside, and she made her wishes known in potent ways. However, cats pose considerable risks to themselves and other animals when allowed to roam freely, so I decided to provide Buca with an enclosed area where she could enjoy the outdoors without the risks.

Cat enclosures are highly recommended by local shelters. Otherwise, free-roaming cats can be hit by cars; attacked by wild animals, dogs or other cats; eat poisonous plants; inadvertently get caught in a neighbor’s garage; catch fleas, ear mites or ring worm; or be kidnapped and go missing without any explanation.

Hillman's cat enclosure

Hillman’s cat enclosure

Furthermore, free-roaming cats impact the environment by killing songbirds or native small mammals and defecating in neighborhood gardens.
Providing cats with outdoor access in enclosures ensures we are good cat owners and good neighbors, explains Jennifer Hillman, Western Region director for The Humane Society of the United States.

“It means being responsible for wildlife, responsible for community space and responsible for the safety of our cats,” said Hillman, whose five happy cats enjoy a spacious cat enclosure built along the side of her North Seattle home.

Hillman built the enclosure when she moved to the neighborhood a decade ago and decided to bring her once free-roaming cats indoors. As a new neighbor, she did not want her cats digging in neighborhood vegetable patches, and she had some traumatic experiences with her cats catching wild birds.

Hillman's cats enjoying the enclosure

Hillman’s cats enjoying the enclosure

Access to the outside

Hillman said her cats seemed to easily acclimate to using an enclosure, possibly because she built it just before the rainy season and the cats were not inclined to go out anyway. She explains that the secret is to provide enrichment in the enclosure, such as stumps to scratch on, platforms to jump around on and trees to climb. Hillman’s enclosure even has cat tunnels between upper and lower sections.

Cat enclosures can easily be built with a little help on the design. Ingrid Gordon of West Seattle seeks to share how feasible cat enclosures are to build onto any home. On her Facebook page for Creative Cat Enclosures, Gordon posts videos of her cat enclosures, and she gives ideas and advice on how to plan and build your own.

Additionally, Gordon and her friend Stephanie Hillman have volunteered their time to help fellow residents build enclosures for the safety of local cats. They also built Stephanie’s cat enclosure in Ballard.

“My enclosure is definitely one for limited space or barely a yard. It gives the cats access to the outdoors through my bedroom window,” describes Stephanie Hillman. “It’s small, but functional, and I have a chair out there so I can sit outside with them.”

Gordan explains her enclosure provides her peace of mind, knowing her cats will be safe while she is away. Meanwhile, her cats get time outside watching bugs and birds whenever they wish.

‘Catios’

Serena in the catio

Serena in the catio

Seattle resident Cynthia Chomos had the same concerns for her cat, Serena, a female orange tabby with a tranquil presence. When Chomos adopted Serena just more than a year ago, she saw the need to protect her with a cat enclosure — but one that Chomos and Serena could share.

Chomos is a certified Feng Shui consultant and color designer, which made her uniquely qualified to design outdoor spaces for cats and people to enjoy together. As a new addition to her consulting services, Chomos runs a small business designing and building custom cat enclosures called “catios”; hence, the name of her business, Catio Spaces (www.catiospaces.com).

Chomos works to design the enclosure to visually complement the home’s exterior, and she can specifically design and decorate the catio to meet the resident cats’ needs and likes.

At her Ballard home, Chomos has two cat enclosures: a “window-box veranda” outside her office, and a large, ”garden sanctuary” catio in her backyard that she and Serena share. Both spaces incorporate the design principles of Feng Shui to make the spaces restful yet stimulating. And since catio structures are a modification to the house itself, Chomos is a licensed and bonded contractor qualified to complete the work with her team of carpenters.

Hillman's upper enclosure

Hillman’s upper enclosure

There are many good reasons to keep cats indoors, and the options for creating an enclosure are nearly as diverse as cats themselves. A simple add-on wire structure with plenty of enclosed space, a sturdy window box or a built-in structure such as a catio can all be successful by providing the cat with plenty of enrichment, with grass, a fountain, tunnels or walkways or a sunny place to safely watch the birds.

Your own peace of mind and the joys of keeping cats healthy are worth the investment of time, creative energy and money to create a cat enclosure.

For more about keeping happy, indoor cats, visit www.humanesociety.org/animals/cats/tips/cat_happy_indoors.html.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane, a news site providing articles, op-eds and podcasts on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com.

- See more at: http://citylivingseattle.com/Content/News/Urban-Dwellings/Article/AMONG-THE-ANIMALS—Keeping-cats-safe-and–enclosed-/22/169/90071#sthash.VvhDI2oP.dpuf

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Shelter finding home for chickens

Greyson the Rooster at SAS

Greyson the Rooster at SAS

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News and City Living Seattle

May 2014

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

Coreena the Hen graciously allowed me to spend some time getting to know her when I visited the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) last month. She had laid an egg in a makeshift nest in the Critter Care room at SAS, and occasionally, she sat on it with pride.

One of several hens surrendered to or rescued by SAS each month, Coreena has an unknown history; she was found wandering in a Seattle neighborhood. SAS waits three days for the chicken’s owners to claim their lost animal.

“It’s never happened,” said Killy Keefe, SAS’ Critter Care team lead volunteer. Keefe explains that, although plenty of chickens are found wondering Seattle, their owners rarely claim them.

Coreena was soon joined in her cozy kennel at SAS by two other hens. Keefe said that chickens are often surrendered because the hens are no longer producing eggs. Chickens only lay eggs consistently for two years of their lives; yet, they can live to be 10 years old. For surrendered hens, the onus is then on SAS to find the chickens new homes.

SAS spokesperson Kara Main-Hester said choosing a new home for a chicken means screening applicants carefully. Chicken adoption is a commitment to care for that animal for a lifetime, and chickens like Coreena are only adopted out to homes where they will be cared for as a pet, like a dog or a cat, and not be killed for meat.

“They need to be part of the family,” Main-Hester said.

In just a week, Sharon Miller of Whidbey Island adopted Coreen and her two hen sisters. Miller keeps hens and roosters as pets in small flocks on her farm.

“They have personalities like cats do,” Miller said of the unique nature of each of her 14 resident birds.

Miller’s vegetarian/vegan family keeps the chickens as pets, although she says it is a bonus to have a fresh eggs once in a while from her flock. Miller became a vegetarian after seeing a truck full of chickens being transported while stuffed in tiny cages. Naturally, Miller found this mistreatment incompatible with her love of these creatures.

Only hens allowed in city

Coreena the Hen at SAS

Coreena the Hen at SAS

In Seattle, residents can keep only female chickens (hens); male chickens (roosters) were banned several years ago. Unfortunately, people purchase their chickens from local hardware or animal feed stores as baby chicks or purchase the chicks online, and at that age, there is no easy way to tell if you are purchasing a hen or a rooster. Residents inadvertently find themselves violating the ban on roosters.

“It’s been noticeably increasing in the last few years,” Main-Hester said, regarding the number of surrendered roosters to SAS.

This was the case with Greyson the Rooster, a glorious, tall, red-and-brown bird who was weary of surroundings at SAS. Roosters like Greyson are re-homed at local sanctuaries, instead of being adopted out to Seattle residents.

Although SAS is happy to re-home the roosters, indiscriminant sale of baby chicks to the public leads to shelters and sanctuaries having to provide short- and long-term care for these animals whose future was apparently not considered prior to purchase.

“People need to know there are consequences,” Main-Hester said, about the sale of baby chicks in Seattle.

Currently, the sale of farm animals is not regulated in Seattle, but Main-Hester said one possible solution is to ban the sale of roosters. Since it is difficult to determine the sex of chicks, perhaps it would discourage their sale.

An ‘unjust’ relationship

Sadly, the plight of chicks in industrialized hatcheries, where the vast majority of birds like Greyson and Coreena are born, is heartbreaking and unacceptable. Since only hens lay eggs or are raised for chicken meat, approximately 50 percent of the chicks born in factory barns are killed once they are identified as male.

In a recent undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals, a chicken hatchery in Canada owned by Maple Leaf Foods was found to be committing egregious acts of cruelty against baby birds. Undercover video shows employee flinging chicks by their fragile wings, scalding chicks with hot water and drowning them and shoving chicks into machines and grinding them alive.

Unfortunately, these atrocities are not specific to this one facility and have been documented by several animal-welfare agencies around North America.

Yet, there are easy ways we can change this unjust relationship that humans currently have with chickens. First, consider reducing your consumption of eggs and poultry to help save the 9 billion chickens that are killed every year in factory farms.

If you wish to house backyard chickens, be sure to “adopt — don’t shop,” much like the mantra to avoid purchasing puppies born in puppy mills.

Finally, commit to care for your chickens for their natural lifetimes in honor of their gift — not just of eggs, but also of spritely companionship.

For information on chicken adoption, visit www.seattle.gov/animalshelter.

To learn about advocating for chickens, visit www.mercyforanimals.org.

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Zoo needs to retire elephants to sanctuary

Elephants Watoto and Chai in their stalls at the Woodland Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Elephants Watoto and Chai in their stalls at the Woodland Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News and City Living Seattle

April 2014

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

 

The evidence against keeping elephants in captivity keeps mounting. Recent findings published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” show that elephants can distinguish between different human languages and discern whether men or women are speaking in a recording played for the herd. Multitudes of studies like these over the last 30 years have led us to the undeniable conclusion that these creatures are thoughtful beings with independent intelligence and vast awareness.

Wild elephants live in close-knit matriarchal family groups and need a warm climate and wide-open spaces to roam. These are just some of the conditions that can never be met for elephants that are held in captivity in zoos and circuses.

Like the evidence against keeping elephants in captivity, the calls from the Seattle community to retire the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) to sanctuary also are mounting. In December 2012, The Seattle Times published a two-part exposé on the horrific conditions for elephants in zoo and circus industries, including at WPZ. Since then, the Times has published four editorials calling on WPZ to retire elephants Chai, Bamboo and Watoto to sanctuary and chastising WPZ for its relentless and abusive elephant-breeding program.

Each day, more and more voices call for elephant retirement. Former WPZ director David Hancocks and former Seattle City Councilmember Judy Nicastro both have written op-ed pieces for The Seattle Times advocating for the elephants’ retirement and citing the “physical, social, psychological and emotional deprivation” they suffer at WPZ and their need for “autonomy, huge spaces, companionship of their choosing and a warm climate.”

For the last decade, The Seattle Times has published countless letters to the editor from citizens who empathize with the plight of the WPZ elephants and want them retired to sanctuary. Further, a recent survey commissioned by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants shows that 62 percent of Seattle voters believe the elephants should be moved to a sanctuary immediately.

Yet, 16 months after The Seattle Times articles and as of this printing, there are no public plans by WPZ to retire the elephants or improve current conditions.

Instead, last September, WPZ’s Elephant Task Force, appointed by WPZ to review the elephant exhibit, released its findings. The Task Force majority recommended retaining the elephant exhibit and starting a breeding program, while a minority strongly recommended improving conditions for the elephants in the short term and then “discontinue its elephant program.”

Public input

The City of Seattle contracts with the Woodland Park Zoological Society to run the zoo. The zoo receives approximately $6 million per year ($6,478,611 reported on 2012 income statements) from the Seattle City General Fund and an additional $4 million per year ($3,983,460 in 2012) from the King County Special Property Tax Levy. Hence, taxpayer dollars account for approximately one-third of the zoo’s total annual budget of around $30 million.

The zoo’s elephant program costs approximately $787,470 per year, according to Task Force documents.

With one-third of the zoo’s income coming from taxpayers, it is reasonable that public input on the ethical decisions of keeping or retiring these elephants to sanctuary should be voiced, heard, considered and immediately acted upon.

In recent months, a new organization has formed to help local residents voice their support for elephant retirement. The Community Coalition for Elephant Retirement (CCER) seeks to unify, and therefore amplify, the voices of citizens who support sanctuary retirement for Chai, Bamboo and Watoto, and I, too, have lent my voice to CCER’s cause.

CCER’s message is simple in that we as a community are calling on the WPZ to start making plans to move Chai, Bamboo and Watoto to a sanctuary accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. CCER is asking the community —including you, me and our friends and neighbors — to give a shout-out for elephant retirement just like The Seattle Times editorial board and our community leaders have already done.

CCER is making this advocacy very easy: Simply go to Facebook and “Like” the CCER page to add your name to the list of supporters. Every “Like” counts to help the zoo understand that compassion for the plight of captive elephants is truly a community value.

Also, visit the CCER webpage at http://www.elephantretirement.org to learn about Chai, Bamboo and Watoto and how to get involved and make sure the voices for the elephants are heard.

Undeniably, it’s time to move these precious three souls from their rainy, one-acre exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo, to live out their lives as permanent snowbirds in a sunny sanctuary. It’s time for them to retire.

Following the herd

To date, 27 zoos in the United States and Canada have closed or plan to close their elephant exhibits for the same reasons that apply to Seattle’s WPZ exhibit.

As a community it has always been our job to call out and rally against injustice, cruelty and abuse. Seattle has faced many such challenges in the past and has shown that when a community advocates for the voiceless, the community benefits — even when it means a diversion from the status quo.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane (livinghumane.com). She also writes the blog “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” (www.sniffingouthome.org).

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Vegfest celebrates joys of vegetarianism

Author and Chef Miyoko Schinner

Author and Chef Miyoko Schinner

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News and City Living Seattle

March 2013

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

 

Nearly every day, I am inspired to hear the majority of people I meet say they love animals. I take joy in meeting every doted-over dog, cat, horse and bird in Seattle.

We make it a priority to ensure our animals are safe and free from harm. We also support organizations that care for and rescue animals that would otherwise be out of our reach to save.

For this reason, I am grateful for organizations that advocate for the humane treatment of farm animals, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and similar groups. These organizations bring animal cruelty into the light of day so that we, as a community, can make positive changes in our lives and in our laws to protect all animals.

Recently, HSUS exposed a slaughterhouse in New Jersey where baby calves are severely abused and beaten before they are killed. Baby calves are routinely taken from their mothers at birth so the cow’s milk can be sold to humans, and the slaughtered babies are sold as veal.

HSUS also exposed a hog farm in Kentucky found to be feeding mother pigs remnants of deceased baby pigs. Seen on undercover video, all of the mother pigs were indefinitely confined to gestation crates so small that they could not walk or even turn around. This cruelty of extended confinement and forced cannibalism in our meat and dairy industry is intolerable to people who love animals.

Although we are far from Kentucky or New Jersey, we can make a big difference to help animals by reducing our consumption of meat and dairy and shifting to a vegetarian diet. And, as it turns out, what is good for the animals is also good for us.

“The consumption of animal products is completely unnecessary,” said Stewart Rose, vice president of the Vegetarians of Washington.

A plant-based diet is highly recommended by doctors and dieticians as a powerful tool for the prevention and even reversal of many common diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and several forms of cancer, Rose said.

Sharing cooking techniques

In Seattle, vegetarianism is a celebrated part of our community, and this year’s celebration begins with the 13th-annual Vegfest (www.seattlevegfest.org) at the Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall.

On March 29 and 30, carnivores, omnivores and herbivores are all invited for the biggest food-tasting event in town. More than 200 food companies will serve around 500 different kinds of delicious food, including a special tasting section for kids.

“At Vegfest, you’ll discover that being healthy never tasted so good,” Rose said.

Chef Miyoko Schinner made a splash at last year’s Vegfest with her book “Artisan Vegan Cheese.” Schinner visits again this year for cooking demonstrations, alongside local chef Sunita Shastri, who will feature Indian cooking techniques.

Chef Bianca Phillips joins Vegfest from Memphis to teach Northwest residents to cook vegan soul food from the Deep South. Mexican, Thai and American food cooking demos fill out the weekend and remind us that vegetarianism is a tradition from around the world.

Vegfest features an expert lineup of physicians, including cardiologist Dr. Arun Kalyanasundaram from Swedish Medical Center, who will give talks on health matters. Dr. Esther Park-Hwang, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, will discuss preventing common women’s health problems with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Several doctors will offer onsite health screenings.

Our friends from the Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN), Mercy for Animals and Fur Bearer Defenders, among others, will be at Vegfest to share messages about living more humanely.

The Humane League (THL), a national organization that just opened a branch in Seattle, comes to Vegfest for the first time. THL provides outreach, including a “Team Vegan” running group and initiatives to encourage us to try Meatless Mondays.

Starting young

In recent years, several school districts (including Los Angles, Detroit and Oakland, Calif.) have adopted Meatless Mondays to help fight rising childhood obesity rates. The program has been suggested for Seattle Public Schools, as well.

“If Seattle Public Schools went meatless for one day a week, it would save 25,000 animals per year,” said THL-Seattle director Rachel Huff-Wagenborg.

Last year, Public School 244, Queens Elementary in New York began serving only vegetarian meals. Since then, school officials have reported a rise in attendance, test scores and attention spans of their students.

Transitioning to plant-based meals in public schools is a growing trend. Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, will also be featured at Vegfest to speak on the topic.

Vegfest is a family-friendly event with kids’ foods, story time, a kids’ stage and clown; admission is free to children under 12 years.

Whether you are vegetarian, transitioning to plant-based foods or want to learn about better food options, Vegfest offers a celebration of a lifestyle that is good for your body, your mind and your heart that loves animals.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of “Living Humane,” a news site providing information on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com. She also writes a blog called “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at http://www.sniffingouthome.org. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Seattle Audubon Society’s work is for the birds

Birding in Seattle.  Courtesy Seattle Audubon

Birding in Seattle. Courtesy Seattle Audubon

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in the Queen Anne & Magnolia News and City Living Seattle

February 2013

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

In the cold, dark days of winter, the chirps of neighborhood birds seem to be heard more sparingly, and it can be easy to forget Seattle is brimming with wildlife through the end of winter and into early spring. Birders know this all too well, as members of the Seattle Audubon Society (SAS) make good use of the winter months, enjoying the resident flocks right here in our own backyard.

The Seattle Audubon Society was founded in 1916. Its mission is to conserve habitat for birds and other wildlife through education, community involvement, funding and advocacy. The organization hosts birding trips for small groups and neighborhood walks open to the public, as well as classes for children from elementary age through high school.

SAS communications coordinator Jennifer Leach explained that members enjoy and appreciate birds, and they work to foster that connection to nature through conservation and bird habitat protection.

This winter, Seattle birders participated in the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The event takes place on the last Saturday of December, and participants walk within a 15-mile radius from Downtown Seattle in search of birds. An experienced birder leads birdwatchers of all experience levels. This year, 186 participants volunteered their time; roughly 48,000 birds were identified representing 126 species in Seattle.

SAS recently announced that the population of Anna’s hummingbirds, seen in high numbers in this year’s CBC, has increased more than 700 percent in 15 years.

“It’s likely that more and more people have learned that hummingbirds can be fed through the winter, and so a lot more people leave feeders out all year now — this alone may account for the great increase,” explained ornithologist Dennis Paulson, working with SAS.

The CBC is an example of citizen science, initiatives where volunteers from our community participate in the documentation of wildlife and the natural world. The information collected is used by SAS and by policy makers to help shape future decisions on city planning and habitat conservation.

Additionally, the CBC data is provided to the National Audubon Society to be added to a nationwide database.

Other birding opportunities

If you missed the CBC, SAS hosts other citizen-science programs. The Neighborhood Bird Project is an ongoing survey in which volunteers record monthly sightings of birds in Seattle neighborhood parks. There are currently seven regularly counted parks, from Seward Park in Southeast Seattle to Carkeek Park and Magnuson Park. The goal of the Neighborhood Bird Project is to maintain an accurate understanding of species diversity in our area and to “[empower] citizens to advocate for wildlife habitat,” according to SAS.

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS), another SAS citizen-science initiative, is a multi-month survey of shorebirds. The information collected helps inform decision makers in the event of an oil spill in Puget Sound that could greatly impact birds in our region.

Nestled in the heart of Seattle’s Wedgewood neighborhood, the SAS runs a birding supply store called The Nature Shop that sells bird-inspired gifts like jewelry and cards. The store boasts that it is “where the profits are for the birds” and, indeed, the store proceeds support initiatives at SAS.

Seattle resident Rachel Lawson serves as a volunteer at The Nature Shop, where she helps patrons find birding supplies like bird books and bird feeders. She also advises the public on how to create a bird-friendly yard by keeping cats indoors and planting native plants for the birds to feed.

In addition to her duties in The Nature Shop, Lawson serves on the SAS board of directors and leads birding field trips. She said that although she has been active in several other birding organizations, she appreciates volunteering for the SAS because they serve as an environmental advocacy organization to protect bird habitat.

Lawson also studied to achieve the title of master birder. She explained that volunteers can take master birding classes through SAS, and in turn, SAS gains a knowledgeable army of birding specialists to run classes and be field guides.

Although the SAS offers a diverse set of programs year-round, this coming May is its annual Birdathon. This affair is a fundraiser and a competitive birding event. Bird watchers challenge themselves and compete against other birders to find as many birds as possible and obtain pledges from friends, family and neighbors for each of their bird sightings.

To participate, start by finding sponsors and then sign up for one of many SAS field trips, or go birding on your own. Check the SAS website (www.seattleaudubon.org) for more information this spring.

Stellers Jay by Alistair Turner

Steller’s Jay by Alistair Turner

In my North Seattle neighborhood, local birds remind us daily that nature is still close by, even within our city limits. From Steller’s Jays that chastise my dog as they perch on our roof, to the Anna’s hummingbirds that visit my neighbor’s bird feeder, our neighborhood would not feel quite like home without the wild birds.

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