Posts tagged Capital Hill

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 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 ( She also writes the blog “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” (


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AMONG THE ANIMALS: Art for Animals’ Sake


Sign at the gallery

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in City Living Seattle

Oct. 17, 2013

(C) Pacific Publishing Company

Photojournalist David Walega knows how to capture a potent moment in time for people and animals alike. Walega’s career has taken him to Africa and back covering stories from war to homelessness.

In recent years, this Seattle photographer now shares with others how art — including drawing, painting, ceramics and photography — can help us discover our inherent empathy for all animals.

Walega is the founder of Art for Animals’ Sake (AFAS), a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides education to support animal-cruelty prevention and awareness of animal advocacy issues through art. Along with animal advocate Melanie Sears and art instructor Jessica Ishmeal, this organization holds art classes and provides other opportunities for young people to learn drawing, photography and painting as a way to connect with animals. The goal of AFAS’s workshops is to instill a sense of compassion toward animals through the intimate act of art and to help the artist make future life choices with kindness toward animals in mind.

‘Black cat syndrome’

I met in Walega and Sears at a fund-raiser hosted by Wallflower Custom Framing in West Seattle, where local glass artist Shannon Felix was selling custom-glass black cat sculptures to benefit AFAS.

Black cat figurine

Black cat figurine

Much like the featured cat figurine, Felix’s studio, Avalon Glassworks, creates unique blown-glass art with stunning colors and deep tones reminiscent of Impressionist paintings. Felix explained that her previous experience sculpting animals was inspired by her leopard gecko, but this was her first time sculpting cats.

Felix and Walega collaborated to feature the black cat sculpture to bring awareness to the issue of so-called black-cat or black-dog syndrome. This is a phenomenon anecdotally seen by animal shelter workers in which black animals are often overlooked for adoption despite equally pleasant temperaments, compared to their lighter-colored counterparts. Walega explains that this may be because darker animals do not appear as well in photographs on animal adoption sites.

Bea Hughes, a coaching professional and fellow member of the West Seattle Westside Professionals business association, attended the fund-raiser and was picking out one of the cat sculptures when we met.

“I love that he’s doing this,” Hughes said about Walega’s work as both an artist and an animal advocate. “Artists can depict an element of society to call attention to their needs.”

(To purchase a black cat sculpture to support AFAS, visit

The human-animal bond

Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS)

Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS)

Following an assignment to document the daily lives of homeless youths in Seattle, Walega arranged one of the first AFAS workshops, where he taught drawing, fine art and painting to homeless youths and young adults at a shelter operated by Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) in Capitol Hill. PSKS ( offers support services to homeless youths and young adults, as well as to their companion animals. This workshop helped participants focus on their love for their companion animals by depicting them in works of art.

In 2012, AFAS began their “Day in the Life” project to document the relationship that homeless people have with their animals. With guidance from instructors, images produced by young, amateur photographers using disposable cameras tell a compelling story of the importance of the human-animal bond for homeless residents of Seattle. (Images of this ongoing project are on-line at

AFAS recently received a grant from the World Peace Earth Foundation ( and the Pollination Project ( to offer its Animals R. Terrific (ART) workshop this October. The event will focus on teaching compassion for all animals through art, and the event includes a plant-based lunch free of animal products. Trader Joes and Seattle’s Field Roast Grain Meat Co. are providing in-kind donations for the event menu.

The muses for the workshop will be chickens Pearl, Millie, and Gertrude, whose human caretaker will bring the gals to the studio for the afternoon. Although backyard chickens are legal in Seattle, most chickens in the United States live in cramped and cruel conditions in factory farms and are used for egg or meat production.

The ART workshop is a rare opportunity for teenagers to observe these animals in an art studio and learn to replicate their colorful feathers in paint and pencil.

According to Walega and Sears, this workshop gives students the opportunity to see chickens as individual beings rather than a meal.

The Animals R. Terrific Workshop is on Sunday, Oct. 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is open to kids 10 to 15 years old. Visit the Art for Animals’ Sake website to learn more about this organization or to register for the workshop.

Another avenue

While animal advocacy comes in many forms ranging from direct rescue, sheltering, protesting or working toward legislation, using art to help people connect with animals opens up another avenue to share the reasons we must protect animals.

Art for Animals’ Sake is working through art to help people find the emotional awareness and empathy to consider the well-being of all animals in the choices of our daily lives.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane ( She also writes a blog called “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at To comment on this column, write to

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