12 Jun 2016

An Afternoon at the Beach and Tickle's Health Check

A couple of days ago Tickle and I went down to our local beach. It was nice to resume that sweet habit that we had been neglecting over Autumn and the Winter months. We walked down the main road and then obliqued through the back lanes, past a cluster of houses, and then embraced the lowland and the marshes, checking the wildlife as we strolled along, an eye to the right where just above the lush pasture line, the blue of the sky meets up in conversation with the blue of the sea and both shimmer and mesmerize.

We took that little curved lane that gently and whimsically leads us to the beach, past myrtle bushes and other hedgerow delights. And then the path opened up to the shoreline, cluttered with heaps of dried up Posidonia oceanica, otherwise known as Neptune Grass or Mediterranean Tapeweed, a seagrass endemic to the Mediterranean sea whose clusters form dense meadows across sandy seabeds (at depths of typically 1–35m, i.e. 3.3–114.9ft). The grass sheds its ribbon-like foliage either naturally or during storms, that ends up shored up onto beaches into compact cushion-like stratae, resulting into heaps of brown grass deposits that we call 'banquettes'. Those might look disgraceful once piled up there on the sand but think what they look like under the sea when they are still attached to their clump, dancing to the current like a mermaid's mane hiding in its strands a rich sea life and oxygenating the water at the same time!

Tickle & Posidonia oceanica

I sat on the beach and Tickle laid down by my feet. And there we were, soaking up the views and the sunshine. My little companion is taking life in a mellower stride these days but it never takes long for the boisterous JRT natural instincts to spring up to the surface! Notwithstanding age is catching up with him somewhat. Although I will never know for sure his exact age, having rescued him as a young dog from the pound back in August 2006, I can only assume that he may be 10 and a half years old, maybe 11.

With this in mind, I took him to the vet's two months ago in order for him to undergo a full health check. In his case, he fell under the Senior Dog Health Check. He was weighed (just under 10kg, approx. 20lbs, which is ideal for a JRT), had a general inspection of his body, and a blood test. The vet was satisfied with the fact that Tickle had been on a veg-rich diet all of his life, which is now becoming more significant as he's reaching his golden years. Then off for a little dental clean: his teeth had a scale and polish under light IV sedation in order to remove built-up tartar which - if left unremoved - will bring a variety of ailments. The result was impressive as Tickle came out with Hollywood gleaming white teeth!

A scratchy nose?

Then the mutt had an echography to check his internal organs and, thank God, he passed with flying colours! All in all, he was given the all-clear except for one (currently minor) health concern: early-stages cataract. This has been creeping up on his eyes for the last 4 months, I believe. The condition affects most dogs as they age and leads to blindness if left untreated. I had noticed a very faint very localised clouding towards the centre of his lenses but this isn't noticeable unless you are actually looking for it, and there it was confirmed to me by the vet. She prescribed an Omega 3-rich fish oil treatment combined to an amino acid food supplement that both claim to slow down the onset of cataract and will keep my little friend comfortable. Eventually his eyesight will get affected to the point that eye surgery may have to be considered, as the only viable treatment to reverse cataract. It is a common practice nowadays with excellent results - if undertaken by a competent vet surgeon. Mine doesn't carry out eye operations but she would be happy to refer Tickle, should we wish to go ahead with the operation.

If you are a pet owner, I would recommend regular pet health checks, especially as regards life stages. In any case, once your pet gets to a certain age, I would insist you have them undergo a thorough health check and then keep up with bi-annual visits at the very least, or as per the vet's recommendations. In our case, we'll be back at the vet's in 4 months from now for a follow-up. In the meantime, we'll keep on enjoying the little pleasures of life, and our walks down the beach are definitely one of them!

Further Reading on Senior Dog Health:

2 Jun 2016

Harambe to Homo Sapiens: 2 Degrees of Separation

Here's another irony. Only one week ago, we might have not heard of Harambe while he was still alive but now that he is dead, his Swahili name full of fortitude and noble grace has come booming centrestage as a rallying cry from behind the locked Gorilla World enclosure of Cincinnati Zoo - the second oldest zoo in the US - as a painful reminder of our human failings. Such a tragedy is imputable to us in our tampering with the natural order, with the laws of nature.

Harambe the Western lowland gorilla

It's all about control with us. Yet animals do not belong in zoos or circuses. As the manipulators and controllers of nature - that we never leave alone to sort itself out - we humans have thrown it out of whack. Today we are faced with a shrinking wildlife count, the looting of our natural resources by Big Corporate (TransCanada anyone?), pollution at every corner of the globe and a galoping worldwide population whose consumerist needs and fads cannot be sustained.

Here the laws of nature had been flawed from before Harambe had even been conceived. The magnificent Western lowland silverback male gorilla, part of a critically-endangered species (traditionally found in the dense Central African rainforests), was born in captivity (at the Gladys Porter Zoo) on 27th May 1999 and relocated to Cincinnati Zoo in September 2014 in order to fulfill the gene pool and as a star attraction in his own right that got the zoo a bang for its buck in the entertainment stakes. Then last Saturday, an unsupervised 4-year-old kid intent on getting close and personal with the young primate, fell into the exhibit moat at Gorilla World. By that point, the writing was on the wall, bearing Harambe's name.

"Despite its massive size and ferocious reputation, the gorilla is actually a peaceful and social animal. Gorillas and humans are close relatives, and share many things in common. They are very intelligent, have emotions and personalities, and live in family groups." - Cincinnati Zoo, Western Lowland Gorilla

The inquisitive gentle gorilla, described as 'very intelligent and curious' by the zoo itself, dragged the kid out of harm's way (see video footage). Harambe wasn't acting out of sorts or displaying any animosity towards him. Yet the keepers didn't take any chances, because as much as zoos are artificial environments, we are still dealing with wild animals forcefully confined into unnatural habitats. And in a country where litigation and media are trigger-happy, so had to be the next course of action. Except this was anything but happy. Taking a chance with an inquisitive wild animal was not on the agenda, so the zoo’s own SWAT Team, the Dangerous Animal Response Team, was dispatched over and put control back into the controlled environment of the zoo: they shot Harambe dead.

It was, as The Conversation noted, a lose-lose situation that claimed the life of a gorilla pottering about minding his own business, a curious kid who soon enough will realise the consequences of his decision, and the keeper who ruled out tranquilizer shots, and instead took the great ape's life. No doubt will that guy be forever haunted by his decision, despite it being for the kid's best interest.

There is no happy ending to the story and no winner. Just one hapless chain of events triggered by an unsupervised kid (where were the parents?!) that spelt disaster along the way, not only to Harambe, but to the other gorillas, his former caretaker, the zoo staff, the kid's family, the local community, conservationists (Dr. Jane Goodall), animal lovers, and the animal kingdom at large. Hereby we have witnessed yet another failed experiment of human foray into wildlife, snatching it from the wild, parking it into zoos for breeding programmes and boosting the balance sheets, and making spectacles out of jailed animals plucked out of their natural habitats for our eyes only.

King Kong (1933), movie poster revisited by graphic artist Laurent Durieux, commissioned by Mondo.

And you know what? I cannot help but think of King Kong as I am penning this. Do you remember how the story goes? A magnificent gorilla plucked out of the jungle and brought back to New York City, which he then tries to escape, cradling in his hand a young American woman he had saved earlier on from an unchartered faraway island. No happy ending for this guy either. Before I bow out to honour Harambe's memory and legacy, I shall leave you with a ponder:

"Surely we can begin to agree that animals which share 98 per cent of our DNA should not be kept as entertainment for us to gawk at in a zoo." - Mimi Bekhechi, PETA UK Director, via The Independent.

Please join me in signing the Justice for Harambe petition.