Tag Archives: animals

At War With the Rat Army

Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer | The Farm in the Green Mountains | New York Review Books | May 2017 | 11 minutes (2,896 words) 

 

Below is an excerpt from Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer’s memoir The Farm in the Green MountainsHaving fled Nazi Germany, the Zuckmayers ended up spending several years of their exile on a farm in Vermont, where they engaged in a war of extermination against an invading army of rats. A bestseller in Germany when it was published in 1949, it was reprinted this month by New York Review Books. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

I felt suddenly that I was not alone.

It was the third summer.

That was when I saw them for the first time.

It was evening, and I had gone into the shed to mix the feed before dark.

In this shed the buckets in which the feed was kept stood across from the entrance in a long row.

There was laying meal, feed grain, and the mash for fattening the chickens. There were buckets for duck and goose feed, which we mixed ourselves.

Zuck had carried the heavy sacks into the shed for me and left them in front of the empty buckets.

I began to untie the strings of the sacks and to use a measuring scoop to fill the buckets with the prescribed amounts of oats, bran, fattening mash, and corn meal.

The quiet of evening filled the shed. Ducks and geese peeped in their sleep. Lisettchen sat above me on her beam. I called her name, but this evening she only blinked at me and wouldn’t fly down.

The feed rattled into the buckets and smelled like fields at harvest time.

Suddenly I stopped in the middle of my work, because a violent, overwhelming terror seized me, like the fear of the unaccustomed and unknown. I felt suddenly that I was not alone with my animals, that I was being watched closely from some corner.

I stood motionless and waited.

Now I heard a noise—a disembodied, ghostly tripping across the wooden floor. Then I saw something standing on the stairs. It was a large, gray-brown rat. Read more…

Sometimes a Tortoise Is More Than a Tortoise

a tortoise walks through tall grass

Hanya Yanagihara’s parents bought a pet tortoise, Fred — cold-blooded, beady-eyed, and surprisingly particular. (“He liked only red hibiscus, not pink.”) Fred is 15 years old, and will likely live another hundred years. He’s part pet, part rejection of death, and part claim on filial devotion, all under one neat shell.

In a post-industrialized country and era, there are fewer and fewer practical reasons for a family to stay together once its children are grown. We do so out of tradition, but tradition isn’t an imperative. Fred, however, was his own imperative, a difficulty that demanded a response, a legacy that, unlike a car or a house, needed a caretaker, an animal who was both a repository of a surplus of parental love and an announcement of parental need: Come home. See what we’ve taken on. When you see him, will you remember us? Fred was a way of requesting devotion without having to literally ask.

I wish I could say that we had decided what to do with Fred by the time I left Hawaii, but we hadn’t. Instead, we watched Fred circle the yard, speaking of him with the same affectionate bewilderment we would a precocious child. I had already told my parents that I wouldn’t take Fred when they died; my brother said he wouldn’t, either. Our refusal seemed to provide them with a curious, even paradoxical contentment — my brother and I might not need them to stay alive (we would like them to, but like is not the same as need), but Fred did, or so they could believe. And so, for him, they would. If one of pets’ great gifts is their ability to make us feel loved, their greater gift is how they make us feel necessary.

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Want To See a Polar Bear? Just Follow the Bones

a polar bear walks on the ice

In Kaktovik, Alaska, dozens of polar bears take advantage of the bone pile—the remains of this community’s yearly quota of bowhead whales, which locals butcher right on the shore—to supplement meager summertime hunting. The bone pile is also a bounty for locals like hunter and guide Robert Thompson, who’s booked solid through 2017 taking hopeful wildlife photographers on polar bear tours. Michael Englehard tells the story in Hakai magazine.

The juncture of lingering bears waiting for freeze-up, the windfall of a bone and blubber cache, and a nearby community eager for economic opportunities, has resulted in a burgeoning bear watching industry in Kaktovik. Thompson, one of seven coast guard-certified tour boat captains, makes a good living from the castaways at the bone pile between September and November. A popular captain who is already fully booked for 2017, he can get so busy that he rushes to work without breakfast, grabbing a fistful of coffee beans to chew on his way out the door. His boat Seanachaí, Irish for storyteller, is aptly named—the man who can see bears making a beeline to the bone pile from his living room chair and who once got charged by a marauding male right on his doorstep regales visitors with tidbits about life in the North. A favorite is the technique for how to prepare a polar bear skin. “You stuff it through a hole in the ice and let shrimp pick it clean,” he says, adding that he’s also seen bears steal from set fishing nets and once watched one pull a net to shore. Thompson’s porch is a still life of body parts and implements: a pot with chunks of unidentifiable meat chilling in the frigid air; a caribou leg for his dogs; snowmobile parts; a gas tank; and, like a cluster of fallen angels, a brace of unplucked, white-phase ptarmigans. On a driftwood stump near the shed grins a mossy polar bear skull; it’s not a scene for tender romantics.

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The Sense of an Endling

Elena Passarello / Animals Strike Curious Poses / Sarabande Books / March 2017 / 12 minutes (3,100 words)

Illustrations from “The Last Menagerie” by Nicole Antebi.

The last Woolly Mammoths died on an island now called Wrangel, which broke from the mainland twelve thousand years ago. They inhabited it for at least eight millennia, slowly inbreeding themselves into extinction. Even as humans developed their civilizations, the mammoths remained, isolated but relatively safe. While the Akkadian king conquered Mesopotamia and the first settlements began at Troy, the final mammoth was still here on Earth, wandering an Arctic island alone.

The last female aurochs died of old age in the Jaktorów Forest in 1627. When the male perished the year before, its horn was hollowed, capped in gold, and used as a hunting bugle by the king of Poland.

The last pair of great auks had hidden themselves on a huge rock in the northern Atlantic. In 1844, a trio of Icelandic bounty hunters found them in a crag, incubating an egg. Two of the hunters strangled the adults to get to the egg, and the third accidentally crushed its shell under his boot.

Read more…

They’re Good Dogs, Brent: Meet Costa Rica’s Stray-Dog Whisperer

three brown puppies

In Outside magazine, Bob Shacochis profiles Lya Battle, creator of Costa Rica’s Territorio de Zaguates, an open-air shelter home to hundreds of dogs. His own love of man’s best friend comes through loud and clear in his descriptions of the Territorio’s denizens.

Incredibly, every dog has a name. Everybody’s different, clownish and hilarious: fuzzy splats of happiness, skeletal shells of wincing eagerness, buoyant lumps of grinning muscle, the faltering and the withered, the robust and the dignified, dogs like pieces of frayed rope with legs and head, senatorial dogs like Boris, old and wise and reposed, a seeming mix of corgi and Bernese mountain dog that resembles the 30-pound butt of a half-smoked cigar. Blanquita is a dirty-white floor mop who has betrothed herself to Ronney, one of the workers, and cries inconsolably from the minute he leaves the compound until his return the next morning. There’s a sweet little dog I of course call Stumpy, his right front leg hacked off with a machete by his owner after a long night drinking at the cantina. And there’s Milu, one of the precious cohort Lya calls her “walking dead,” who came to her with distemper a couple of years after she opened the Territorio in 2008. To save a dog from distemper is no small task, and now Milu, in his dotage, weighs less than a fart and walks like a drunken tarantula.

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Some Pig

Cover of 45 rpm record of Three Little Pigs

This story is very short, but it’s ridiculous and wonderful.

Derek was a magician and I thought I’d convince him by saying a mini pig would be perfect for his act. The two of us had met at a smoke and rib house where I worked as a waiter. But when Derek came home he was furious that I hadn’t spoken to him first. The pig (whom we later named Esther) looked like hell. She had a ratty pink collar, sunburned ears, her nails had chipped varnish and she looked so sad.

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The Intelligence, Intuition, and Sex Lives of Octopuses

In an interview at National Geographic, Sy Montgomery, author of the book The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, reflects on the uncanny intelligence, intuition, and surprising sex lives of octopuses.

The fact that three-fifths of an octopus’ neurons are not in their brain, but in their arms, suggests that each arm has a mind of its own. All of these things make it very hard to measure the intelligence because, we only have four lobes in our brains, while octopus have 50 to 75, depending on how you count them. It’s hard to take the measure of the mind of somebody like that.

I heard one story about an octopus in a home tank, who would get out, cruise around the house, take knick-knacks and drag them back to its tank. Like a dog! They’re so smart that there are octopus enrichment handbooks so you don’t bore your octopus. I’ve seen them play with Legos, Mr. Potato Head, you name it!

…the female whooshed into the male’s arms. They enveloped each other and turned colors with their emotions. There was a lot of wrapping around and afterward they turned white, which is the color of a relaxed octopus and they lay literally in each other’s arms, holding each other, for hours. It was lovely.

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Learning to Live with a Panther in Your Backyard

“The core message is: In the long run, the best thing for people and the best thing for wildlife will be the same,” he added. “We’re called to love our fellow man, and we’re called to be good stewards. So find a way to work together—either legislatively, through compensation, through whatever kind of programs—so that you want to have panthers on your property.”

In Florida for Orion magazine, Dean Kuipers examines efforts to manage the coexistence between homeowners and endangered panthers, without killing them.

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My Favorite Animal Longreads of 2016

In November 2015, I adopted a dog. Harley. These 12 pounds of mostly shelter-raised animal cracked open the harder parts of my heart and I found myself sobbing into my coffee, almost daily, while reading the latest stories about rescue dogs. I’d gone so far as to set a Google Alert on “rescue dog,” and while I have calmed down — somewhat — I still find myself getting weepy when I read that a shelter has had its entire stable adopted or some flawed pooch got a new lease on life or … you get the idea.

I present my state of mind to explain why my favorite read about dogs this year was a Longreads exclusive by Richard Gilbert: “Why I Hate My Dog.” A year ago, I might have enjoyed this piece as an abstraction, but reading it after AD (After Dog) made it hit home in ways I would never have felt in my BD (Before Dog) era:

See what Belle brings out in me? The worst. My sadistic streak. Dogs are supposed to do the opposite. Would a good dog occasion such darkness? I think not.

As an extension of human ego—an undeniable dog role: something that kindles pride in their owners—she’s a washout. The odd thing is how close I’ve grown to Belle. The odd thing is how much her anxious nature illuminates mine.

I get this.

Not all my favorite animal reads this year are about dogs, or even directly about animals, they’re more about the complex ways humans interact with and react to animals. Some of these are a reach, but they’re all excellent reads with animals (in one case, a Triassic period aquatic crustacean, no really) as the instigator. Read more…

Why I Hate My Dog

Richard Gilbert | Longreads | July 2016 | 18 minutes (4,584 words)

Belle Krendl, “our” dog but really mine, is a furtive, ragtag creature. She suffers in comparison to our prior dogs—and to most we’ve known. In fact, she suffers in comparison to any pet we’ve ever owned, including jumpy, escape-prone gerbils; a pert exotic lizard that refused to eat; cannibalistic chickens that stared with malice in their soulless green eyes; and a sweet, dumb, tailless black cat named Tao who spent his life staring into space with huge yellow eyes—but once, in a blur, grabbed and gulped down a gerbil our daughter dangled before him by way of introduction.

A Jack Russell terrier, or maybe a Jack cross, Belle Krendl is covered in whorls of stiff white hair. Bristly brows and white lashes accent her black eyes, as do her lower eyelids, a disconcerting garish pink. In the house, her movements are wary; outside, she streaks like a Greyhound after any creature unwise enough to enter our yard. Her long skinny legs with knobby joints—King crab legs, I call them—make her too gangly, at 16 inches tall, for a proper go-to-ground Jack. At 22 pounds, she’s too heavy for a lapdog. She’s ambivalent about cuddling anyway. We’re seldom inclined to offer much physical affection, given her peculiar odor, an intermittent acidic stink, especially pungent when she’s hot from running. A mouthful of missing, broken, and bad teeth partly explains her vile breath.

Richard's rescue dog, Belle Krendl.

Richard’s rescue dog, Belle Krendl.

“She’s a rescue—6 years old when we got her!” we crow, cashing in where we can, harvesting meager props for having saved her from euthanasia. In reality, she’d been lodged at a no-kill shelter. It had placed her twice in good homes before we showed up.

Baiting my family, I say, “I’d return her, but now she’s 12. Belle may have to take a dirt nap.”

“You can’t have her killed!” everyone cries.

“I’m thinking about it.”

“But you can take her back! They have to take her back! And they can’t kill her!”

I’m certain it would be more humane to have her euthanized than to take her almost anywhere. Read more…