We must stop breeding aggressive dogs!

For the second time in 6 months I have been the recipient of attacks from pit bulls or pit bull mixes. The first attack occurred in an Ocala public park and caused considerable pain and suffering to my terrier. The second occurred in my Ocala neighborhood while walking my two little poodles, both of whom are at the vet as this is written. In each case the attacking dogs overpowered their owners and without provocation attacked my pets. Other than scratches and bruises I was uninjured in either attack, but in order to forestall future such attacks, against pets and/or humans, I write this letter. We have several groups that play a role in canine welfare in our area, and these groups must work in a united front if we are to stop aggressive breeding. Let me outline some actions for each group.

PIT BULL APOLOGISTS Let me freely admit there are wonderful pit bulls in our community, sweet, loving, well trained, not posing a threat to anyone or anyone’s pet. The problem is your insistence that all pit bulls, mixes, etc. fall into this category. They do not. Because of dog breeding for aggression by humans, as opposed to dog breeding for improvement in the physical characteristics of the dog, we have numerous dogs with a penchant for uncontrolled violence. While such breeding is of course the fault of humans, the fact remains that many pits and mixes bring with them a genetic makeup that is predisposed for lethal violence against other dogs, other pets, and sometimes humans. Digging in your heels in blind denial will only exacerbate the problem and lead to the legal restrictions placed on pit bulls in many municipalities. In order to rectify this problem, you must admit first that a problem exists, then please join us in its solution.

SHELTERS I am unaware of the provenance of the dogs in the first attack, but the dog in the second was apparently recently fostered or adopted out of a local animal shelter. Let’s be honest. We know that pit bulls and pit mixes are often bred locally either for the express purpose of dog fighting, or to be as mean and vicious as possible. Such vile purposes can find their way into a dog’s genetic makeup leading to the breeding of an animal that is quite likely to exhibit aggressive behavior, often without warning. Continued breeding aligned with being raised in a hostile environment, nature and nurture, coalesce to produce animals that can become unmanageable in a moment’s notice. The point—our local shelters must recognize this as a distinct possibility among certain of the breeds they hope to adopt out. Before any adoption or fostering takes place, shelters must spend extra time and effort, documenting not only that the animal is sociable with people, but also with other dogs. Those efforts must be documented and presented to any would-be adopter before a final decision is made. More on adopters in a moment. If the efforts demonstrate a socialized animal with people and other pets, then by all means adopt out. But also let adopters know that they are accepting a large, powerful animal who must always be kept under constant control of the owner. If socialization cannot be demonstrated, then the shelter must only adopt out to a environment in which the dog will never come into contact with unknown people or animals, and the adopter must execute an agreement to make that happen.

BREEDERS Here I suggest voluntary cooperation in lieu of mandatory licensing and more ordinances or legal restrictions. More on that in a moment, too. We must stop breeding for behavioral conformation, i.e. aggression. The aggression genes are apparently very susceptible to inheritance, and we will end up, if we haven’t already reached that point, with large numbers of powerful dogs bred and trained only to inflict damage without cessation. This is not the definition of a companion animal; rather, this is the definition of human avarice and ignorance playing God for purely evil reasons. Kennel clubs, animal groups, animal societies, breeder clubs, vets, law enforcement, all of us must put pressure on unscrupulous breeders to stop breeding for aggressive behavior. This will help not only to lower the ever burgeoning population of unwanted dogs in shelters, but it will also help to reduce the number of vicious attacks perpetrated by those dogs.

OWNERS By all means adopt and rescue a dog from a shelter. However as mentioned above, if you choose to adopt a breed with a known history of aggression or fighting (such as pits, pit mixes, Staffordshires and the like) be certain that the shelter seeking to adopt out the dog can demonstrate that it is socialized and can get along with people and other animals. My experience has been that many such breeds are often very tame with their own people, but due to breeding and environment are deadly when they encounter another dog or unknown person, especially a toddler. When you are with your dog, be certain it is on a sturdy leash and collar at all times, and be especially certain, parents, that you don’t ask your child to be in charge of your 100 pound dog. Be accountable, be responsible.

GOVERNMENTS We must launch a concerted effort to wipe out dog breeding for aggression in our communities. This effort will require an education blitz of great length and breadth. We can start with our schools and, in keeping with the legally required mandate to teach humane education in the public schools, we can easily subsume the evils of breeding aggressive dogs under that mandate. We can have special websites and hot lines for reporting dog unscrupulous breeders, and our law enforcement personnel and excellent animal control staff can be augmented and empowered to speak at various groups and clubs to spread the word. Breeding for aggression must be stopped, as it is done not to improve the physical characteristics of the breed, but rather to make the poor dog a tool of human greed. Again, initially I hope that educational efforts and voluntary cooperation among breeders and the other groups previously mentioned will help eliminate this problem. If not, then government will need to enact ordinances outlawing breeding for aggression, equating such breeding with animal cruelty and prosecuting it accordingly as animal abuse. Indeed, to manipulate genes for this venal purpose is the greatest example of animal cruelty there is.

In sum, we have a problem with aggressive dogs, and we must deal with it directly. The time has come. We should be able to walk in our neighborhoods or in our public parks without fear of some 100 pound monster who, by dint of breeding and training, has been turned into a killing machine. Let us acknowledge this problem and work cooperatively to solve it. If we don’t, many more such attacks will occur leading to serious consequences for dogs and their owners. Even worse, these aggressive dogs will continue to end up in shelters with lengthy waits for adoption or euthanasia their ultimate fate. I know that there are many wonderful pit bulls and such who bring comfort to their families. Our job is to make certain that all such dogs fall into that category by stopping the cruel, thoughtless breeding for aggression that produces the contrary.

For the Love of a Dog!

Joey 1*

*(author’s note–Each of our 3 male Kerries has been named Joey in deference to my wife’s father. By numbering them and by letting them be their own Kerries, we have been easily able to keep them separate).

Joey 1 hated houseflies; in fact he showed towards flies an aggression usually reserved for much more formidable foes. In due time he came to dislike toddlers, roller skaters, skate boarders, and almost every other dog he encountered! But I am ahead of myself, so let me revert to the beginning.

It was 1984 and I was stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point as an Army lawyer. My wife and I decided that we needed to add a pet to our lives, and as I had an issue with pet dander, we looked for a dog breed that would minimize my discomfort. I remembered the Kerry Blue as just such a breed; indeed, my parents had years earlier brought a Kerry back with them from their time in Dublin and had extolled his virtues to me. We dutifully inquired of one of the Kerry organizations extant at that time in the U.S., and they supplied us the name and contact information of a breeder in one of the Dutch towns farther up the Hudson in New York State.

We saw Joey, fell in love at first sight, and Joey came home to our apartment on the fifth floor of an old building at the Academy. Needless to say, housebreaking a puppy from the fifth floor of a building without elevators (this is the Army, of course) brought with it certain problems. As my wife said, however, it sure kept us both in good condition! Joey grew and thrived with an occasional setback here and there. As an Army officer I had a large supply of black nylon socks to go with my regular uniform. One day Joey got one of these socks and, in ways known only to him, managed to swallow the whole sock. We called the vet in a panic but he calmed us down and said simply put a teaspoon of salt on Joey’s tongue and make sure he swallows it. Then stand back. Sure enough, Joey regurgitated my sock as well as a few other items.

At age two Joey moved to a house in northern Virginia, in what was then a barely developed suburb of D.C. I can remember his happiness when we fenced in the back yard. We let him out back for the first time off the leash, and he gave us a characteristic look of endearment, then proceeded to chase a squirrel the length of the fence until the squirrel disappeared into the woody area behind our dwelling. Joey continued to mature, and in fact he was so handsome that when we walked him people would drive by, slow down and remark on what a beautiful dog he was. He had the perfect Kerry coat, coloring, and shape. With his physical beauty, however, his true Kerry temperament started to show.

At age 6 Joey moved to Binghamton, NY., and he resided in a sixth floor apartment overlooking the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers. My wife and I liked to take Joey on long after dinner walks through Binghamton’s west side. Immediately he made the acquaintance of a German Shepard who lived two blocks away in a duplex. Neither dog liked the other, and when we walked Joey all we had to say was “find the Shepard”, and he would arch his back and adopt the stiff legged walk of a Kerry on the hunt. Once we learned where the Shepard lived, Joey demanded to walk by the house every day. The Shepard’s house had a staircase leading to the front door, which door had a floor to ceiling window next to it. Joey would walk stiff legged up the stairs and bark for the Shepard, and the Shepard, not being willing to back off, would come to the floor/ceiling window and bark back. Thankfully the Shepard’s owner enjoyed this as much as we did!

Joey also demonstrated an intense dislike of kids on skateboards and roller skates, and we think he may have developed this at West Point where, as we kept our windows open much of the year, he likely heard the shrieking kids who lived below us engaging in these activities. Anyway, whenever we walked Joey and came across a skate boarder, roller skater, toddler, or all of the above, we had to maneuver Joey behind some object (parked cars worked well) that would disrupt his sight and sense of the offending person. He would smell those people, of course, but if he could not harmonize sights and smells, he was less anxious to kill those wheeled kids. Other dogs?–well we lived in an apartment building, as I said, and one day while waiting for the elevator to take Joey to the ground floor for his walk, the elevator door opened on our level, and in the car was a magnificent white male standard poodle and his poor owner. Joey was taken aback for one split second, and then he unleashed a torrent of invective against this interloper on his territory. To be fair, the poodle, Miles, turned out to be a lovely, well behaved dog, but explain this as we tried to Joey, it did not change Joey’s opinion that Miles was a lowlife upstart. Needless to say we had to avoid all meetings with Miles after that.

And the flies! All we could figure was that Joey, who liked to snap at all insects, had a fly activate inside his mouth and decided henceforth to wreak havoc on that insect species. Anyway, all we had to do was to grab a fly swatter and tell Joey “let’s get the flies”, and he went into instant attack mode. It got so bad that all my wife had to do was draw a facsimile of a fly on a post-it note, paste the note on the wall, show it to Joey, and go “Bzz”, and Joey was on the hunt.

It was at Binghamton that we first noticed the problem. Joeys poops were coming out not whole, but as if they had been shaved or sliced in half. Our local vet referred us to a nearby vet school for a consult, and we were fortunate that this school turned out to be the Cornell Vet School, one of the finest in the world. The vets diagnosed Joey with a severe lymphatic cancer, operated on his bowels, and gave him medication and six months to live. Well–Joey lived 5 years from that diagnosis and during those five years continued to evolve into the Ur Kerry described above. In fact when we took Joey to our vet we had to sneak in the side door to a special room to avoid all other dogs!

His condition naturally worsened, and ultimately he lost control of his sphincter to the point that we lined each room in our apartment with plastic sheets so as to catch and clean his emissions. One night he came to us as we were outside on our balcony looking at the rivers, laid down beside us, and gave us a look that said “it is time.” We took him to our vet, said good bye to him, and in a second he was gone. My wife and I cried bitter tears of sadness and loss, and I remembered some lines from Kipling:

When the body that lived at your single will
When the whimper of welcome is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You still discover how much you care
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

Joey taught me to bear sufferings with equanimity, to live each day to the fullest, and to attack your flies, even if they are illusory!

Frater, ave atque vale!

Compassion, not vengeance!

This is no way to treat animal hoarders! Retributive justice is alive and well and living in Florida, this time in the guise of a law to deal with (actually “punish”) animal hoarders. The proposed law is SB 86, and the “Vengeance is mine, I shall repay” crowd are already extolling its virtues and wishing it levied a lifetime ban on animal ownership against those detestable hoarders. Unfortunately, at first blush the proposed law looks to reflective of the “ill-conceived” supported by the “ill-advised”. Quickly, the law provides imprisonment and fines for those who engage in hoarding, even though the definition of hoarding also provided by SB 86 includes “…displaying an inability to recognize or understand…the conditions under which animals are being kept.” It also appears to be one of government’s favorite tricks: an unfunded mandate, and it of course does nothing to ameliorate the two major problems of animal abuse: unlicensed and unsupervised animal breeding, and a lack of educational efforts to instruct on humane education, even though Florida statutes explicitly make this a legal requirement.

Following is a plan to deal with animal hoarding.

First, each county must form an animal hoarding response team. This team is made up of local animal control personnel, local shelters and rescues (their help may well be needed to house and care for rescued animals), local vets, law enforcement, county attorneys, mental health professionals, red cross and other homeless shelter advocates, and anybody else the team feels can contribute. This team must formulate a plan for dealing with hoarding situations for people and of course for domestic and farm animals, such that each team member knows what is expected, where animals will be sent, who will do what, etc. I recommend that the county animal control folks be the lead agency on this.

Second, this team must decide upon funding sources such that proposed actions are funded. I would think a combination of county funds and private donations would be ideal.

Third, the team and county must engage in a continuing education effort such the public comes to understand hoarding, knows how to recognize it, and knows what to do about it. Let’s face it, the vast majority of hoarders are known to someone somewhere, be it lawyer, doctor, neighbor, friend, family member. The goal of this effort is to raise awareness and , see 5 below, maybe convince people and hoarders to seek assistance.

Fourth, the county must declare a hoarding amnesty wherein, without fear of reprisal (save for losing their animals should a court so decide), hoarders can in effect turn themselves in and seek help. Given that many hoarders cannot recognize the magnitude or effect of their actions, success may be limited, but if even one case can be identified early, treatment may be provided and more important, animals may be saved! Far better to get out ahead of this matter then to be surprised by the magnitude of animal suffering when it is too late.

Fifth, the county mental health professionals and county attorneys must have their own plans for dealing with those individuals thought to be hoarders. This plan can include veteran’s groups, senior citizen groups, housing advocates, faith based groups and so on. The latest DSM considers hoarding to be a psychiatric condition necessitating special types of treatment and intervention beyond those normally associated with other types of OCD. This is a mental illness that requires treatment, not incarceration. The Pew Charitable Trust quotes Randall Lockwood, a psychologist for the ASPCA, as saying:”

And that’s why traditional criminal sanctions don’t work for hoarders, he said, adding that hoarding-specific laws, like Hawaii’s and Illinois’, are unnecessary because existing neglect standards already cover situations that cause pain and suffering to animals.

States, mental health experts and animal rights advocates should instead focus on harm reduction and helping hoarders manage their compulsion, which is unlikely to be cured, he said.

Just going in and taking away their stuff, removing the animals and then thinking, ‘OK, the case is over’ — that’s never a solution because you haven’t gotten to the base of the problem.”

Rather than criminal penalties on hoarders and banning them from having pets, Lockwood said it would be better to leave a few healthy animals in their care for long periods of probation. That would give mental health and animal control officials legal recourse to check up on them. “

Finally, as mentioned before, public schools must fulfill their madated duty to educate children on humane edcuation topics, including how hoarding is a problem, why hoarders do what they do, and most importantly, where and when to report potential situations.

We need to move our dealings with hoarders, indeed with all life, out of the thrist for vengeance, and into a thrist for knlowledge leading to betterment of the situation.

We can yet right this ship!!

write in response to the author of the pessimistic letters on population control and climate change. I must say that there are days when I share his unsanguine view of the potential of the human race to right itself. And yet….

Let’s try to create an historical analogy to the mess in which we find ourselves at present. I liken our predicament to a passenger on HMS Titanic, which passenger has knowledge that the ship is hurtling full speed towards an iceberg laced area. As he is not a uniformed member of the crew, our passenger has no official duty to share his knowledge with those who can make a difference in the ship’s course. He has then, two alternatives as I see it. One, the passenger can sit back, remain silent, curse the idiots on the bridge for their willful blindness, and hope that the ship miraculously avoids the icebergs known to be in her path. Alternatively, the passenger can recognize and assume an unwritten duty for the preservation of life, and because the fate of each life on the ship is interwoven, choose to raise the alarm, again and again and again, using every means possible to convey the urgency and direness of the ship’s position. Will the alarm be heeded? I don’t know, but it seems to me far more worthwhile to endeavor to turn things around, no matter how much effort it takes, rather than naively hope that despite evidence to the contrary, all may yet be well. So I urge the author of those letters, and all who believe that SS Earth is on a collision course with an undesirable future, to keep raising the alarm and never give up. The only alternative option appears to be the likelihood of a devastating shipwreck.

Well, we want to raise the alarm, but where to begin? First, we humans must alter radically our view of our place in nature. For too long we have seen ourselves as lords of the manor with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, free to consume, pollute and squander with no thought for the deleterious effect of such selfishness on all other life on this planet, not to mention the deleterious effect on our own lives. We must come to see, understand, and act upon the now obvious truth: we are but one of innumerable species all sharing the fragility and wonder of life on this tiny spec of a rock in our vast (beyond all conception) universe. All life is intertwined, and all that we do, or fail to do, affects all other life on this planet. We must eschew outworn creeds that encourage humans to treat the earth as our oyster, and we must seek an ethos that compels us to examine our actions with a view towards protection and enhancement of the biosphere.

OK, what is that ethos? What replaces the anthropocentric dogmas that have driven human life for centuries? There are many candidates, but I always return to Albert Schweitzer’s “Reverence for Life” as our ideal driving force. As Schweitzer said: “A man is ethical, only where life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. “ Is it a perfect credo? No, but it gets us started and points us in the right direction. Humans must examine each proposed action, program, process, and plan with a reverence for life in mind. We must ask of each proposal in front of us: is the current model with its attendant destruction of life, of animal life, plants, trees, wetlands, habitats, absolutely necessary? Is there no other less intrusive way? Can we not find a way to seek our ends and simultaneously enhance the biosphere for as much life as possible?

Armed with that ethos, what are the steps to implement it in our behavior. How does it become embedded in human life? The answer is easy (not so implementation, of course): our institutions must adopt this ethos as their own and factor it into their decision making processes. Which institutions? Government first of all. Elected officials must exercise their authority in a way that preserves and enhances the biosphere for all life, not just for those humans with wealth (and thereby influence) who wish to destroy wildlife habitats in the name of large agricultural enterprises, sprawling housing developments or endless strip malls with their attendant macadamed parking lots. Next comes organized religion. For millenia religions have placed man as the center of the universe, and with such placement religions have given man Carte Blanche to fell forests, slaughter animals and wildlife, pollute rivers, the atmosphere and the oceans, and yes, over populate, all with thoughtless impunity. This must change. Humans are wreaking havoc on our planet at an alarming rate. Our excesses must be curbed, and this means that religion must, frankly, put us in our proper place: as stewards of the environment, not gluttonous consumers. Finally comes education. Our school systems must inculcate in us at an early age, and continue through all grades, a sense of responsibility to all life on this planet, an awareness that as the most intelligent and organized species on the earth, we hold our planet’s well being in trust for all other life. As trustees we are obligated to do our level best to protect and preserve that life, and our education system must teach this knowledge and reinforce it with actual involvement by students in Eco-friendly projects.

Now the hard part already alluded to—how do we do this? How do we make this happen? If Tip O’Neill was right that all politics is local, then perhaps we can extrapolate from that adage that all useful change is local as well, or at least it begins locally. Locally what we can we do? We can demand that our public officials listen to us regarding the protection of the biosphere, wildlife and their habitats, wetlands, springs and all life and nature. Let us work against those who see Ocala’s future as nothing more than the hideous sprawl mentioned earlier, and let us find and support those candidates who cherish all life, will work to promote renewable energy and other green programs, and who see Ocala as an Eco-tourism mecca.

For religion, for those profess faith work with your churches, synagogues and so forth to advocate for a change in how humans are viewed as outlined earlier. Work for sermons that adopt this view, and take organizational action as a religious institution that reinforces the concept of a reverence for life, of man as steward of his surroundings, not master. And of course, change your own views—realize that man is not the be all and end all of life, but merely one player in this world with an unparalleled capacity to destroy everything.

In the realm of education work with teachers, principals and school boards to ensure that the human duty of ecological stewardship is understood and taught to all students, reinforced by field trips and volunteer efforts. In fact, in Florida you can help bring about the statutorily mandated teaching of humane education, and, to cite a Florida statute:


(b) When recommending instructional materials for use in the schools, each committee shall include only materials which

accurately portray, whenever appropriate, humankind’s place in ecological systems, including the necessity for the protection of our environment and conservation of our natural resources.


So, when you advocate for protecting the biosphere, for enhancing life, you have the law on your side in Florida. All we need do is convince school systems that here is a law worthy of their time and attention.

There you have it—a blueprint for change advocacy. You may well be rebuffed many times. In each such instance just dust yourself off and politely resume the discussion. Will you change things? I don’t know. But I do know that a failure to make this attempt will lead inexorably to a calamitous outcome. This may be our last opportunity to set a proper and safe course before irreversible damage takes place, so keep those letters coming.


Ad astra per ardua!


Robert Echols


For Our Friends the Animals Foundation

So glad we can partner with Project Pup and Meals on Wheels

Please see article in today’s Ocala Star Banner.

Very nice article (see link below) in today’s (September 19) Ocala Star Banner.  For Our Friends the Animals is privileged to partner with Project Pup and Meals on Wheels (MOW) to bring pet food to MOW recipients who have animals.  Without this service many MOW recipients would share their lunches with their pets, meaning that neither human nor animal receive their basic nutritional and dietary needs.  With this partnership all affected creatures receive adequate nourishment.  This is what having a reverence for life is all about–acting with compassion to take whatever actions we can to enhance the lives of those we touch.  My thanks to Project Pup and Meals on Wheels for allowing me this chance to be of service.

Pax vobiscum.


Human Perfidy on Parade

Today’s (September 14, 2016) Ocala Star Banner has an AP wire story reporting 46 young sea birds found dead on Florida’s Gulf Coast.  Probable cause?–millions of gallons of municipal sewage dumped into the Gulf. Once again humans pollute the environment and kill flora and fauna, and once again nobody gives a damn.  If some child had fallen into this human made cesspool and died, the outcry would have been immediate and earsplitting.  Here, because no humans were harmed in the making of this ecological disaster, no comment from anyone.

For the likes of Rick Scott and his band of merry environmental butchers, this is a good business decision. It’s low cost, and nobody gets hurt–what could be better?

Isn’t it time we humans realized that we are stewards of the environment, that we hold it in trust for all life, and that to despoil anyone’s home or habitat is to despoil our own?

We must understand that all life is precious and intertwined, that we are a part of the biosphere, not the owners.

This is truly tragic, but I fear, only a harbinger of things to come.

For Our Friends the Animals will continue to press for habitat protection, for the protection of all life, for humans to realize our obligations vis-à-vis our ambient surroundings.

Vox clamantis in deserto?

We must create habitats

We must protect entire habitats, not just individual species


So the Florida Fish and Wildlife (sic) Commission has sanctioned another slaughter of innocents–this time alligators.  It must be evident now that government wildlife organizations exist not to protect the wildlife under their domain, but rather to adjust the populations of these wildlife such that humans are incommoded as little as possible.  Accordingly, any living undomesticated creature that has had the bad luck to run afoul of burgeoning human expansion can expect to be “harvested”, in the word of the commission spokesperson.

With the expected exponential growth of the number of humans calling Florida home, the upshot of this equation is obvious.  More humans results in more nuisance interactions, and so bears, alligators, deer, possum, coyotes, raccoons, poisonous snakes, maybe all snakes because some humans are frightened by them, predatory birds, water fowl, and the beat goes on, face “harvesting”  by human hands.  How unfeeling are the people, supposedly charged with enhancing wildlife, who Bowdlerize the deaths of those species by equating those deaths with reaping a wheat crop.  Guess pollinators will require harvesting as well, as some pollinators may actually sting a human.

It must also be evident by now that no human, or group of humans, has the multidisciplinary knowledge and training to be able to state with any certainty the numbers of alligators, bears, deer, bees, or butterflies which are required to maintain a healthy ecosystem.  What is certain is that the continued destruction of ecosystems and habitats by human sprawl is having a devastating effect on the environment.  There are many who believe the tipping point has been reached and that, thanks to humans, life on earth is on its last legs.  I prefer to remain optimistic that things can be changed, but such change must be drastic and quick.

First, we humans must establish large swaths of land dedicated solely to habitat enhancement and protection.  Human development of any kind would be prohibited in these reserves; only benign human stewardship would be permitted.  By the creation and defense of these large habitats, we will be able to offer a thriving environment to all living things that call such a habitat home.  We must recognize that all life is sacred and interdependent.  Man is not the measure of all things, but by our intelligence and organizational capacity we can be the curators, the stewards of all things.  We must come to understand that the butterfly effect is real, that harming one species, one element of the habitat, harms all life in the habitat, including ours.  We are all in this together.

Second, we must teach our children that the unjustified and unwarranted taking of any life, e.g.  the upcoming alligator butchery, must be viewed not with joy and satisfaction, but with sadness and revulsion.  Our ethos must be a reverence for life, all life.  John Donne was correct, but he didn’t go far enough–the unjustified taking of any life diminishes us all, for we all share thus habitat together.  Life, being sacred and worthy of protection, is only to be ended when such an act promotes a greater good and there is no other alternative.


I believe government at all levels is best suited in terms of resources to bring about these changes, but not as currently constituted.  In Florida let’s combine all wildlife and ecological/environmental functions into one central authority: the Florida Habitat Authority.  This body would be invested with the clout and the resources to purchase and manage tracts of land as described above. The mission is not to protect individual species, which, as noted, we humans have botched pretty thoroughly. Rather, by creating large habitats free from human encroachment, nature will be allowed to do what nature does best—balance itself out.

Private citizens will have a crucial role to play as well, not only in encouraging our political leaders to enact the necessary legislation, but also by both acquiring land and easements dedicated to the habitat, and most especially, by furthering  humane education for our children.  We must ensure that our children develop and practice a reverence for life, nurturing a realization that we all in this together.  We all come from the same stardust.

The For Our Friends the Animals Foundation will devote its resources to bringing about these changes in habitat creation and usage and in humane education.



Who will join us?


Time to deal differently with wildlife

Time to re-examine how we deal with wildlife.


In the wake of the horrible misfortune at the Cincinnati zoo and the upcoming Florida bear hunt (sic), it is high time we re-examine how we, the human race, treat the wildlife that lives on our planet.  Why?  The moral arc is clearly trending towards an awareness and creation of animal rights and protections, yet just as clearly we have such a long way to go.

Virginia Morel spells it out most eloquently: ”No matter how different our morphology, we animals are basically alike because of our shared evolutionary past. But animal bodies are equipped with sensory cells and brains…What do the minds of animals tell us about ourselves? That, like us, they think and feel and experience the world. They have moments of anger, and sorrow, and love. Their animal minds tell us that they are our kin. Now that we know this, will our relationship with them change?”

It must change, and here is a suggestion for a way forward.  In my view, this change requires both a micro and a macro approach.  First let’s apply the micro approach to Cincinnati and Florida.

The micro approach informs (or should inform) human behavior regarding interactions with a single animal or a small group of animals.  The most useful approach is one advanced a century ago by Dr. Albert Schweitzer and not much improved upon since then; namely, a reverence for life.  Dr. Schweitzer further defines this reverence as:

“Man’s ethics must not end with man, but should extend to the universe. He must regain the consciousness of the great chain of life from which he cannot be separated. He must understand that all creation has its value. Life should only be negated when it is for a higher value and purpose — not merely in selfish or thoughtless actions. What then results for man is not only a deepening of relationships, but a widening of relationships.”

Examining the Cincinnati tragedy against this standard, it seems clear that a reverence for life was followed.  While we may question the care provided by the parents and the safety standards followed by the zoo, once the child had fallen into the gorilla enclosure an immediate decision was required.  That the gorilla, even without malice, could have easily injured or killed the child is not in question, and given the need for quick action, only the taking of the gorilla’s   life could have saved the child.  It was a necessity that could not have been avoided, and certainly zoo officials acted with great thoughtfulness and regret before euthanizing the gorilla.

As for the sanctioned slaughter of a Florida bear, that activity does not pass muster under a reverence for life standard.  There is no necessity here that could not have been avoided, and the proposed slaughter resembles far more a thoughtless trophy hunt for a small group of humans rather than the result of thorough research and deliberation.  The arguments against the bear killing have all been made and merrily ignored by the state of Florida.  But as hope springs eternal, and as I have not yet given up the belief that there is still some compassion left in human hearts, here they are again:

The killing of a bear in this situation is the antithesis of a reverence for life, as there is no higher value or purpose served—this is killing for the sake and enjoyment of killing;

The killing allows humans to escape responsibility for a problem we created;

The killing underscores and reinforces the notion that violence is an acceptable solution to our problems; and

It flies in the face of the Florida charter to teach humane education and act accordingly.


On a micro level, Schweitzer’s reverence for life is the proper moral principle to guide our actions viz-a-viz encounters with single or small groups of wildlife. We run into difficulties, however, trying to apply this philosophy to a broader spectrum of human/wildlife interactions.  At the macro level, an ethos with more breadth is indicated, and the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare seem to fit the bill nicely.

The five freedoms as currently expressed are:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering


With the five freedoms as our moral guide, let’s take a satellite view of zoos and bear hunts.

For any zoo, there will be problems and issues in meeting freedoms 2, 4 and 5, and as such it is now time to discuss and assess whether zoos serve any useful purpose at all.  We must view wildlife, all animals, as possessing some basic rights of existence, not solely as an entertainment venue for us.  Even though most zoos have moved beyond simply caging animals in small, barred enclosures, the “natural” habitats in which most zoo species are now housed are only a small inmprovement.  Let’s face it, zoos exist primarily to enable humans to gawk at other species in captivity and for few other reasons, and the time has come to switch zoos out and replace them with large, open animal preserves.  These preserves will have 2 functions:

  1. to allow the animals within the preserve to enjoy as many of the five freedoms as possible and to the greatest extent, and
  2. to teach the human animal about our place in the biosphere and the need for intelligent, compassionate stewardship.

As to the bear hunt, when measured against the five freedoms it is an unmitigated disaster.  We in Florida have sanctioned an event that will violate all five principles.  What is needed is not slaughter, but rather large tracts of land, including wildlife corridors where bears (and the myriad other creatures who share their environment) can roam freely and safely.


The time has come to rethink and redefine how we interact with and treat wildlife.  For micro interactions, a reverence for life shows the way.  For macro interactions, applying the five freedoms provides the moral rationale to guide our conduct.  As with all human maxims, they are imperfect and will require thoughtful and careful implementation.  That said, they share one key human value that needs to come to the fore: they encourage a compassionate stewardship towards our fellow creatures, a realization that this planet is not our sandbox but rather an environment that we share and for which we are now responsible.  As earth’s most intelligent, advanced, and organized dwellers, we owe our fellow denizens nothing less.


Robert M. Echols


For Our Friends the Animals Foundation

Time for all people everywhere to come together and work as stewards of our environment.

This from today’s (May 1, 2016) Ocala Star-Banner.



Let us, indeed, be humane!
Well, there they go again. Once again we face another sanctioned killing of bears, and yet again we’ll create some euphemism for the slaughter such as management or harvesting or weeding, or some such. Call it what you will, the essence of the deed remains unchanged: it is the unprovoked and unacceptable taking of life, pure and simple.
Let us once more charge into the breech and outline the arguments against the slaughter. At the conclusion of this letter, though, please note a new call to action, one around which every person in Marion county can rally.
The killing of bears is the antithesis of a reverence for life. This phrase was most famously coined by Dr. Albert Schweitzer. His words still resonate a century later: “Man’s ethics must not end with man, but should extend to the universe. He must regain the consciousness of the great chain of life from which he cannot be separated. He must understand that all creation has its value. Life should only be negated when it is for a higher value and purpose — not merely in selfish or thoughtless actions. What then results for man is not only a deepening of relationships, but a widening of relationships.”
The bear slaughter is both thoughtless and selfish and utterly devoid of compassion. Thoughtless, because short shrift, at best, has been given to alternative, long term, less invasive solutions. Selfish because the slaughter aids only human beings, and to be frank, a very small number of them. Worse still, the slaughter is totally lacking in compassion for another sentient being, one aspect of life on this planet that does set humans apart from other living creatures. We can show mercy, or at a minimum, we can strive to do no harm. That’s what having a reverence for life is all about.
The slaughter lets humans escape responsibility for a problem entirely of our own making. The bears did not cause this problem. They seek only to live in what is a rapidly dwindling habitat. Human development in Florida has nearly reached the tipping point wherein the entire state will be reduced to one continuous stretch of CBS homes. Habitat destruction caused by thoughtless human sprawl has put all wildlife, bears included, at risk, as the environments upon which they depend for their existence are radically altered and degraded. With little room and food left to them, it is no wonder that bears are moving into areas now occupied by humans. The saddest aspect of this situation is that we humans, as beings given to ratiocination, have the capacity for remediation. We can actively choose to make things right, to be stewards of our environment, rather than consumers and destroyers. It is not too late, but the clock is ticking.
The slaughter underscores the presumption that violence is an acceptable solution to our problems. One has only to read the papers or watch reality crime shows to encounter the obvious: violence is rampant and growing more acceptable as a remedy to what ails us. Actions that once might have caused a shrug of the shoulders or a curse word muttered under one’s breath now lead to unimaginable acts of brutality and heartlessness. Tempers quickly flare and guns are as quickly drawn with predictable consequences. What is needed is an effort to stem violence, to have us realize that violence is not an acceptable solution to the problems that befall us on a daily basis. A taking of life sanctioned by the state erodes efforts of peacemakers to resolve issues that confront us. The bear slaughter is the solution of a throwaway society: if there’s a problem, kill the nuisance and toss it away. Oh by the way: it is small step indeed from ending the lives of quadrupeds viewed as nuisances to exacting the same fate from bipeds that annoy us. Germany and other states have climbed that step already.

The slaughter erases any good that might come from humane education for our children. Two Florida statutes, 233.061 and 233.09, require that humane education be taught in our public schools. Whether these statutes are being followed and to what degree are subjects for another letter. Suffice it to say that the State of Florida speaks from both sides of its mouth. There is nothing humane about the sanctioned killing of innocent animals, and the duplicity of the state will be apparent to all children who are told one thing and then witness adults do the exact opposite. Children need to understand that we humans are just one inhabitant of the biosphere, and as the inhabitant most able to understand and solve problems (most of which are of our own making), it is incumbent upon us to act as stewards for the betterment and enhancement of all living things. That’s what humane education should be all about.
And now the call to action. It seems futile indeed to ask anyone to contact his/her state representatives, as the empty suits in Tallahassee have ignored the will of the public with appalling arrogance. Rather, let us deal with people who appear more receptive to the plight of animals. I call upon the Marion County Commissioners to issue a proclamation condemning the bear hunt, standing for the proposition that Marion County residents believe there are other solutions to the issue and are willing to invest the thought and effort to effectuate those solutions. Even if the proclamation is nonbinding and has naught but exhortatory value, that act alone sends a message that we in this county care about our environment and the biosphere and are ready to accept the responsibility that human stewardship brings.

Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem

Robert M. Echols
For Our Friends the Animals Foundation