shardikHappy holidays everyone! Humblest of apologies, again, for being MIA in the blogosphere. Life events and the writing of the novel are to blame. I didn’t realize how much work—wonderful work—writing a novel is. Oh, and life events seem to require a lot of work, too—mostly wonderful work, though with the soccer practices and the jiu-jitsu classes and the walnut cracking seminars, I just never realized how hard it was to raise baby raccoons.

Anyway, since I am writing a novel that centers around animals and is largely told from their point of view, I thought I might share with you some of the animal books—fiction and nonfiction—that have inspired me and influenced me. Click on the titles for links to buy the books. If you know a person who loves animals, or are such a person, you might want to pick one or more of these up as gifts for them, or for yourself.

This year, I’m getting the complete works of Hemingway for the baby raccoons to read. I’m trying to toughen them up.

cat in hatThe Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

A six-foot tall anthropomorphic cat wearing a red-and-white-striped stovepipe-like hat and a red bowtie—yay! I had a ton of Dr. Seuss books as a kid, and I read them, and gawked at the wonderful illustrations, over and over.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

A classic and beautiful animal world with wonderful characters. Lovely for children and even adults, and I suggest you seek out the original version with illustrations by E. H. Shephard. What I remember most is the beautiful meditations on friendship and love.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

This is mostly a fantasy involving humans, of course, but it features a lion named Aslan who is an actual deity. Lions deserve no less. This and the Lord of The Rings books were the major reading opuses of my childhood, and I reread both series at least once. I remember imagining that I would name all my future children after the children in this book—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. Now, at my advanced age, I realize that four children is probably a long shot. I’ll probably have to settle for just one. I’ll name him Aslan, of course. (Or Aslanette, if it’s a girl. Of course.)

webCharlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Wonderful story from my early childhood that planted the seed of feeling compassion for animals, and showed me what they really do to pigs on farms. Beautiful and heartbreaking, another timeless classic.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Richard Adams is my hero. I think he writes animals better than anyone—he anthropomorphizes them, and yet he places them in a realistic context. They talk and think and feel, but Adams also is mindful of their animal natures—their heightened senses, their fear of predators, their struggle for survival and for food, their connection to nature. Adams not only conveys a sense of what life is like through an animal’s eyes, but also is able to explore some perhaps more human emotions, and—better yet—to explore the nexus of where human and animal emotions meet. The emotions that we share with animals. All this, without losing the suspension of disbelief and without losing the suspense and joy of a story well-told. Adams is my model with the novel I am writing—this delicate and beautiful balance of anthropomorphism and exploring the inner worlds of animals.

Watership Down is his most famous work, about rabbits fleeing their warren and experiencing a grand adventure, but he has written other books that are just as amazing. A dramatic, emotional, and suspenseful adventure for adults and older children. I reread this recently, and it’s still fantastic.

plagueThe Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

This is a deeper, darker, more intense exploration of animal characters. In this case, it’s a story of two dogs who escape from an animal testing laboratory. Unlike Watership Down, which is told solely from the perspective of animals, there are animal and human characters in this book. There is a powerful message here about the horrors of animal testing. But like all great literature, it’s not preachy, and the message is in the background. In the foreground is the friendship of the two dogs and their desperate journey of escape. There is a beautiful, heartbreaking fox character in the story as well. This is a poignant work meant for adults, and it will stay with you.

Shardik by Richard Adams

This is Richard Adams’ masterpiece, and this and The Plague Dogs are unfairly overlooked. Shardik is a twisting, dramatic, complex, and epic fantasy that is about humans, but I mention it here because there is a bear character in the book that is unforgettable (and is a focal point of the story). The first forty or so pages are a bit challenging, but if you manage to weather them, you will experience an amazing adult adventure. This is the Lord of the Rings for adults. This is a book I will reread.

callThe Call of the Wild by Jack London

Kind of the opposite of Richard Adams. No anthropomorphism here. (Though that’s relative, because as soon as a human presumes to write about what an animal is thinking or feeling, he is anthropomorphizing to some degree.) Gritty, spare, fast-moving yarn about a once-domesticated dog who is forced to be a sled dog in the Yukon, and discovers his ‘wild’ nature.

Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (nonfiction) by John Grogan

One thing I want to tell you right off the bat is: put the movie out of your mind. I have not seen the movie, and that’s because, based on the trailers and other marketing materials, it appeared to me that Mr. Grogan’s story was Disney-fied and made to become more “precious” than it really is. The book is honest and heartfelt, and it earns every bit of it (no puppy close-up shots necessary). Mr. Grogan is an accomplished and beautiful writer, and anyone who has known the love and friendship of a dog—particularly a “difficult” one—will discover enormous pleasure in this book.

Dewey the Library Cat: a True Story (nonfiction) by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter

Sort of the cat version of Marley and Me. Not written quite as well as Mr. Grogan’s book, but still wonderful and deeply affecting.

CujoCujo by Stephen King

This is an underrated gem by Mr. King, about a family pet Saint Bernard who gets bitten by a bat, slowly gets sick, and eventually goes rabid and terrorizes the family that loves him (and everyone else). The writing from the point of view of the dog as it slowly gets sick and essentially goes crazy, is vivid, perceptive, and skillful.

Simon’s Cat by Simon Tofield

The link is to his website. Mr. Tofield writes books, creates comic strips, games, and even makes animated shorts. I am not singling out a particular work—just do yourself a favor and look over his website. His work is beautiful, funny, and honest and true to what cats are really like.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

This has become one of my favorite books of all time. After I finished it the first time, I read that it was a conscious retelling of Hamlet. I missed that, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story one bit. You don’t have to be an animal lover to appreciate how wonderful this book is, either, and to enjoy the gorgeous words Mr. Wroblewski writes. This is essentially a story about humans—a family living in Wisconsin, breeding dogs.

The book is a thriller, it’s also a story about family, love, betrayal, loss, and of course dogs. The bond between humans and dogs is richly explored, and Mr. Wroblewski carefully selects only a few moments to step into the body of a dog. But when he does, the results are stunning. This is a book I will reread.


Some books about animals that I haven’t read yet but want to are Animal Farm (somehow I missed this in school, and it’s at the top of my list), Never Cry Wolf, White Fang, and Traveller—which I just discovered by doing research for this blog post.

Do you have favorite animal books? What am I missing?


(All book jacket photos from


12_5_13 005I apologize for not posting and not being much involved in the blogging community in the last few months, a community that I have grown to love and cherish, and which I have missed. I have been working on my novel and it’s just been difficult for me to do both the novel and the blog. Generally the novel has to come first for me, before other writing, as well as bathing and eating and trimming my nose hairs and learning to play the jug, for the jug band I’m thinking of forming with the backyard squirrels.

There are quite a few animal characters in my novel, naturally. It’s challenging to try and see the world from an animal’s eyes, but it’s the best, most fun type of play and pretend for me.

Speaking of animal characters: Lyle, my orange tabby who is on the masthead above, got sick a little over a week ago. I’m so attuned to my cats that I can feel when they’re off almost immediately, which is a particularly helpful sense to have with cats, since they will do anything to hide sickness. I knew by the way he walked and his body language that he was not right.

I met Lyle for the first time through one of those desperation emails that I get too many of, from rescuers and cat-centric people. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2010. Lyle was on the kill list at an L.A. Animal shelter because he had a cold. I passed the email along like I always did (and still do), feeling an extra twinge because this poor guy was going to be killed right around Christmas, merely for having the sniffles.

He was six months old and an orange tabby—my opinion then was that orange tabbies were the least attractive of all cats. If there was one type of cat I knew I was never going to have, it was an orange tabby.

Attached to the email was this photo of him:

LyleThe sad look got to me. They were trying to make Lyle festive and he was having none of it. Also the big drooping nose on him (which I love) seemed to add to his mournfulness. I decided I would foster him and try to find him a tabby-loving home. Which means I was bullshitting myself like I always do when I take in a cat—pretending I was going to foster when I knew very well that I was going to adopt. I’m a terrible foster, I fall in love too easily. Ask the fifteen girlfriends I had in the third grade. My mother wouldn’t let me adopt them, though.

A week ago Lyle’s appetite dropped to about a half of what was normal for him. He was also hiding under the TV console. These are red flag behaviors for a cat. I called the vet and grabbed the earliest appointment I could get.

I don’t play favorites with my cats but if pushed I would have to admit that Lyle is my most stunning-looking cat, proving that my perceptions, especially the old, entrenched ones, like I am a dog person and One cat is enough and Tabby cats are ugly, are often wrong. He is powerfully built, his fur is flaming-orange and tiger-striped, he has big meaty paws and a full, leonine tail. He’s even got some space alien in him, which doesn’t quite come through in photos. He has huge almond-shaped eyes and sometimes, particularly at night, when I look over and see his eyes staring at me, I think it’s one of those anal-probing aliens, the grays, coming for me.

"Gray" alien. From Wikipedia Commons by Stefan-Xp

“Gray” alien. From Wikipedia Commons by Stefan-Xp

Lyle’s meow is in a high register and he often chirps like a bird. I almost renamed him, “Birdy.”

The first time I took Lyle to the vet—this was years ago, just for a check-up—he freaked out. The instant I locked the carrier door behind him, he head-butted the door. He kept thrashing, ramming the carrier with his head and body, over and over, crazy with the fear of where he was being taken or perhaps terrified of being pent-up. I thought for sure he’d bloody himself, injure himself badly, and since I didn’t know Lyle that well yet, I was worried I had adopted a nervous, mentally unbalanced cat. Perhaps an abused cat.

12_5_13 016A week ago when I brought Lyle to the vet, he was subdued in the carrier. The car ride was quiet. The vet examined him and came out with that old chestnut, “If only they could talk, tell us what’s wrong.” I hated hearing this because it was another way of saying he had no idea what was wrong. He said maybe it would blow over. I took him home and that night Lyle ate only a little. His appetite was disappearing.

I brought him back in for a battery of tests. They were all negative. He ate a little food off the tips of my fingers, like a baby, but at the rate he was going he was going to start dropping weight fast. I followed him across the floor under a chair to keep shoving the food in his face. He licked halfheartedly at the morsel on my fingers, watched it plop on the ground, and looked at me. I pressed my finger into his face again and he turned his head away. That this-is-final head turn over the right shoulder that cats do. “No more,” it means.

When cats go, it can be fast. And not eating usually precipitates the slide. One night after work, in the fall of 2008, I came home to find Hooper, the second cat I ever had, gravely ill. When I offered him food, I got the head turn. He was dead a week later. Bandit, my black cat who was best friends with Hooper, gave me the final head turn on the last day of June, 2011. He died that day.

No more.

Lyle is only four years old.

12_5_13 019

In four years, I’ve discovered that Lyle isn’t mentally unbalanced. He’s not a lap cat, either. He doesn’t cuddle and he’s particular about how you pet him (cat people will know what I mean by that). But about a year ago Lyle started showing new behaviors. One day I was in the kitchen, making my coffee and staring out at the birds in the backyard, and I felt this brushing against my leg. I turned to find Lyle staring up at me. With those soft space alien eyes. I thought, what does he want? Treat? Water? Brush? Probing of my rectum? He rubbed me again.

The kitchen rubbing has since become regular behavior, and Lyle’s timing has become preternatural, because it usually comes when I’m in the middle of some writerly brooding. I feel that touch on the back of my leg and it always surprises me and makes me soften.

After so many times, I have realized that Lyle doesn’t want anything from me. He keeps on rubbing, whether or not I pet him, or talk to him, or make coffee, or practice my jug playing.

I suspect it’s a gesture of love. My body and my being sure take it that way. If I’m in a black cloud, his touch chases it away. There’s a lot of power in that touch. A lot of power in the love of an animal.


The next step with Lyle was to schedule an Ultrasound to see what was going on.

By this time, he wasn’t even giving his food dish a glance. He licked a few morsels off my fingers, but I got the feeling that he was forcing himself to do it more for me than for his own depressed appetite. Then he gave me the head turn. No more.

It is an old chestnut, but my vet was right: If only Lyle could talk.

Tell me, Lyle,” I say to him, and he looks at me for a moment, his tail up, before skulking into the corner, under the TV console. At this point, I’m questioning myself. Questioning a big part of how I have arranged my life. Why do I insist on forming close bonds with animals that will die long before I do?

Lyle and Butch silhouette

Another new Lyle behavior that has emerged: About three or four months ago Lyle started jumping on the bed. If there was space on the bed on my left side—left side only—he’d crawl up next to my head and get comfortable. He’d let me pet him without any irritation on his part. No snuggling or spooning or anything like that—but he’d arrange himself so there was at least one point of contact with me, like the ridge of his back against my chest.

At this point Lyle had been sick a week, and his appetite had faded to almost nothing. Desperate, I called a homeopathic, uh, healer, would be the proper title for her, since her first step is for me to send a photo of Lyle so she can “tune into” him. Like a clairvoyant would do. Although she’s focusing on Lyle’s energies and his illness, not his horoscope or his dead relatives. She said she’d call me back that night.

I believe there are a lot of mysteries in life. I try to be open to them. This healer had helped me with my cat Picasso as well, though he had never been this sick. But I had gone the vet route first. I called the homeopathic healer only when I was getting no answers, and the days were slowly ticking by with Lyle eating less and less.

The healer said Lyle had a stomach infection. She wanted me to start administering Sulphur, a homeopathic remedy. Apparently it’s an all-purpose remedy, effective at treating many different conditions. I started the next day, expecting a fight with Lyle, since I had to dissolve the pellets of Sulphur into water and then syringe the solution down his throat.

He didn’t like it much that I was corralling him to stick a tube down his throat. But he didn’t fight me, either.

One of the things the homeopathic healer likes to say is that if the animal needs it—the supplement or the remedy—they’ll want it. They won’t fight it, they’ll receive it.

The first day of administering the Sulphur remedy Lyle was still turning up his nose at the food. But he showed more interest in eating from my hand. At the dinnertime meal I squatted in the kitchen for about forty-five minutes, feeling pins and needles in my thighs, as Lyle, lick by lick, ate the most he had eaten in a week.

By the second day of the Sulphur remedy Lyle was back to eating full meals, albeit still out of my hand. I saw the spring return to his step. He didn’t hide anymore. He was chirping again. My anxiety began to lift. So did any lingering skepticism about homeopathic healers.

By the fourth day—the last day of giving Lyle the Sulphur remedy—Lyle was eating on his own. The next time something like this happens, the homeopathic healer gets the first call, before the vet.


The writing of my novel has been kind of up and down lately. Yesterday I wrote one good line. One good line plus however many shitty lines that add up to one whole page. I hadn’t written a blog post in over a month. L.A. Is going through a ridiculous heat wave and it was ninety degrees when we went to bed last night, at midnight.

I couldn’t sleep. It was the heat. It was the writing. It was Lyle deciding to jump on the bed with me.

I said before that Lyle jumps on the bed, but that’s during the day. When I’m reading or taking a nap. He doesn’t hunker down with me at night. Until last night. New behavior.

Lyle has this heavy, slightly-wheezing purr, like a fat man’s breathing—though, as I said, Lyle is in good shape physically. Well, now he is. I hadn’t noticed this purr of his for the first couple of years I had him—he never let me get close enough to hear it, to feel it.

Last night he nestled closer to me. It was almost—not quite—a spooning.

Then he hopped down. And jumped back up—chirping. Down, and up again. Then he hopped over me, then hopped over my girlfriend. Then down. And around, and back up. Chirping. He was restless, I was restless. I was just grateful he had all this energy.

He crawled in close to me again. When he gets close to me like this, touching me but barely, he sinks, like he’s settling into a hot bath.

I petted him. He purred his fat man purr, heavy and chugging.

Then he hopped down. And I got up. To start writing this piece.

Lyle Who, Me



 "Dyno drumheller". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Dyno drumheller”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

When I was a boy I adopted a pet T. Rex. He was about six feet tall as a baby, scaly, green, and had teeth like roofing nails. I called him Buster because, I don’t know, he looked like a Buster.

My sister crocheted him a red collar and also matching red slippers, but they didn’t quite fit. The mittens came out well though, they fit his stubby forelimbs perfectly and were quite fetching.

I took Buster for long walks around the neighborhood and even up to Pine Grove Park, where Buster loved stomping through the bleachers at baseball games and gobbling up lap dogs. Sometimes it got a little out of hand, but T. Rexes will be T. Rexes.

On cool autumn nights Buster and I would sit in the backyard, playing canasta and sipping iced tea. Well, truth be told, I would sip, and Buster would just dump drink after drink onto his chest. Those puppet arms of his were not meant for gripping highball glasses. Buster was a killer canasta player though.

Things were wonderful and we even had our own language. I would say, “Hi, Buster! How are you doing, boy?” He would shriek at me in response, and the sonic boom would break all the windows in a three block radius and knock squirrels out of trees.

Once in a while there would be the odd rampage, like when Buster barreled through the nursing home, but since the old people didn’t move too well only a few lost their lives. This is not how you would think it would work out—you’d think slow would get your head crunched like a gumball—but a T. Rex will go batshit crazy at rapid movement. Skipping, hopping, or darting children make a T. Rex light up like a slot machine. Especially when the children are overstimulated and flapping their arms all around their heads like they do. So if you happened to lose your dementia-wilted aunt at the nursing home last week, well just count your lucky stars it wasn’t your six year-old daughter and all her arm-flapping friends.

Buster was loyal to me and a bit overprotective, we lost five mail carriers because of this. I know, I know—there’s a repetitive theme here. But you have to understand that most of what you’re trying to do as the guardian of a T. Rex is to steer him away from your friends, acquaintances, neighbors, loved ones, complete strangers, and anything or anyone with flesh that’s in his eyesight.

"Baby Tyrannosaur" by en:User:K00bine - Moved from en:Image:Baby Tyrannosaur.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Baby Tyrannosaur” by en:User:K00bine – Moved from en:Image:Baby Tyrannosaur.jpg. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Besides rending and chomping flesh, Buster also loved playing Storm the Castle—Buster was very good at this, and if you ever get your own T. Rex I would recommend that you not play this game with your own family’s house. Try painting a large refrigerator box like a castle, or just use your local Social Security office.

As far as reading, we had a short phase where I got Buster into Hemingway and knock-knock jokes printed on Dixie cups, but he wouldn’t touch Proust.

Buster definitely had a thing for Burt Reynolds movies. His favorite was Sharky’s Machine, and he clapped his forelimbs when the bad guy fell off the building at the end—well, when the dummy fell off the building. It was just so obviously a dummy—but Buster didn’t care.

Unfortunately we lost my stepmother to Buster when she tried to ground me that one time when Buster and I went drinking and I puked all over the car. Buster puked all over the car, too. Matter of fact, he filled the car with his vomit. Then he puked all over me, then all over my mother.

Anyway, the day Buster coughed up my stepmother’s femur bones is the day my relationship with my father started looking up. A message was imparted there, if you know what I mean. We had some great parties after that and Dad was more than accommodating if our beer supply needed replenishing or when my buddy Freddy Longlegs needed Dad to run the odd errand down at the crack house. FYI, it’s best to keep a drunk T. Rex away from power lines, bridges, and pre-schoolers—pre-schoolers are like popcorn to a T. Rex. Especially if they’re moving fast.

Sorry about your daughter and her nine friends. Ten with the teacher.

"Tyrannosaurus-01-ZOO.Dvur.Kralove" by Mistvan - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Tyrannosaurus-01-ZOO.Dvur.Kralove” by Mistvan – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

But as college approached for me I knew my life with Buster would have to change. For one thing, he had grown to over forty feet tall, weighed seven tons, and the Army was on our front lawn trying to stop him. I was told the commanding general was a descendant of Patton. Buster ate him and went through half a brigade—what stopped him was all those helmets, they were hard to get down and gave him bad gas.

I loved that little T. Rex and I’m really terrible at goodbyes. Thankfully I didn’t have to say goodbye, because he followed me all the way to the University of Iowa. I was glad to see him, of course, but I had no idea a T. Rex had that good a sense of direction.

He ate the dean, the President, and about half of my advanced writing class—the insufferable half, thank God.

I don’t know how long I have with ol’ Buster—our time with our pets is always too short—and I’m hearing army helicopters circling the house even now.

But just so you know, I’ll put up a T. Rex with any pet. Dog, cat, hamster, anteater—bring ’em on.

Buster beats them all for loyalty. And friendship. I’ll concede cuddling—Buster and I tried that once, and I broke my neck in two places—but I bet your dog can’t swipe helicopters out of the sky.


Even when I was a carnivore—which was a choice, not a condition—I couldn’t stand raw meat. Raw meat has a stink, and a neon pink-red color straight out of an acid nightmare. And though the supermarket meat section is principally stocked with muscle meat, it all looks to me like organs—human organs—brains and kidneys and livers all covered in sheets of plastic and put under lights. (Two pounds of ground beef shaped just right can look like the lobes of a human brain.)

A trip to the meat section always seemed like a trip to the morgue to me.

And of course it is. It’s the refrigerated graveyard for chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs, lambs, fish, and other animals—and sometimes they leave the heads on the fish, so we can all take in the bug-eyed stare of a dead creature.

When I became a vegetarian and later a vegan I was happy to skip the meat section. The more time I was off meat the less time I could take being around it. When I would set foot in a supermarket I could easily sniff out the meat section and head in the opposite direction. Had I the choice, I would have traded those germaphobic hand wipes that they hand out at the front doors of supermarkets for a couple of barf bags, in case I had to scrape by the meat section.

I have four cats, and while it’s possible to “convert” dogs to veganism, it’s difficult if not impossible to do so with cats. Humans and dogs are omnivores. Cats are strict (“obligate”) carnivores. Though there are a scattering of people out there pushing products who claim that it’s safe and healthy turn them into vegans, I am skeptical that this is effective in practice. To say nothing about forcing a diet on an animal that is contrary to its nature.

So I have always fed them meat. Out of cans. Commercial canned food. (Dry kibble is all kinds of bad in my opinion, but I don’t have time to go into that here.)

I bought the canned food at pet stores. No meat section to circumvent.

Recently one of my cats developed a persistent health issue and veterinarian visits and antibiotics were not helping. I consulted with a homeopathic professional and she pointed to diet as the first and most important issue to address.

Her primary advice was to wean them off the commercial stuff and feed them raw or at least cook it myself.

She told me something that I had already suspected: commercial food, even the high-end/organic/grain free/“free range” (a bullshit term) stuff, is junk.

Most of the meat used in commercial pet foods is the slaughterhouse dregs—you will often read on the label in small print “not fit for human consumption.” This substandard gruel is then cooked to death to squeeze out whatever few nutrients were in it in the first place. Junk.

Cats (and dogs, for that matter) are dependent on us for their survival, since hunting for food has largely been bred out of them. That’s our fault, they had no choice in the matter. We snatched them from the wild and brought them into our homes to become our little friends. While it’s a long way from squaring things up with them, I figure the least I can do is not feed my cats the equivalent of McDonald’s every day.

So in the last month I’ve found myself trolling the meat section in the supermarkets. In fact, I’m a regular there now. I’m holding my breath against the stench and poking around all these pink cellophane-wrapped slabs of once-living things. I’m talking shop with butchers, and my desert island list of People I Do Not Want to Be Stranded With would place them just below hunters and slaughterhouse owners.

Slabs of meat jumbled in rows under bright lights—this presentation makes me feel like I’m scoping the wares at some porn newsstand (sexual meat). I look around to make sure no one I know sees me.

When I get home I have to prepare the meat. I add water to it and a small amount of organic vegetables, cook it in some cases (a couple of my cats are more likely to eat it if it’s cooked ), and then mix in a few supplements.

I puree the meat in the food processor and it’s messy. It splashes, spurts, and spatters, it dribbles thickly like pink-colored snot and sticks to counters, cupboards, my fingers, the ceiling, and hours later I’ll inevitably find some globule of raw meat hanging off me like alien larva.

I wash my hands every time I touch the meat—so many times that I often scrub them raw—and the stink has me gasping like I’m wading through a gas attack. I feel like I’m rooting around in radioactive Play-Doh.

In the beginning there was also a nagging fear. I was afraid that cooking the meat—the smell of it—would somehow awaken old carnivore “instincts” and perhaps transform me into a drooling, gibbering, meat-crazed Neanderthal. Is eating meat like an addiction that I could easily slip back into? I suspect that meat eaters think that this is exactly what would happen to a vegetarian or a vegan in a weak moment.

Nope. More like, I felt like I have made my kitchen into a slaughterhouse.


© Jeffrey O. Gustafson / Wikimedia Commons.

I realized that using commercial canned pet food all these years was yet another way to remove myself from the animal doomsday machine that is the meat industry. Another way to disconnect my appetite—or in this case, the animal’s appetite needs that I’m taking care of—from the pain and suffering of the dead animal on the plate.

Or in the can. The meat in canned pet food is cold, it’s cooked, it’s processed—so it looks, smells, and feels less like what it really is—dead animals. (The meat in dry kibble of course is also dead animals, and even more disconnected from reality, since it’s molded into shapes that look like children’s cereal niblets.)

That cooked pet food in the can is a neat round shape but it’s just as ugly as the raw pink stuff: the main ingredient for some commercially processed canned chicken food for dogs, for example, is baby chicks tossed into a meat grinder. They’re alive when they’re thrown in.


© Fir0002/Flagstaffotos / Wikimedia Commons.

After only a few days on the fresh meat—mostly raw, some of it cooked—my sick cat’s health improved (though his condition hasn’t disappeared completely). It wasn’t a slight improvement, either. It was dramatic—he went from a low-energy sulker to a bouncing-off-the-walls cat more typical of his young age, and his coat became softer and shone like peacock feathers. I’ve since transitioned all of my cats off of commercial food for the most part, and they all look better.

But every time I go to work in the kitchen, mucking around in that repulsive pink slurry, I think of living, breathing, feeling, suffering animals. This is precisely how my brain is wired now: show me a piece of pork and I think of Babe. Getting shot with a nail gun.

I became a vegetarian because I woke up. I became aware that I was living a paradox: the animal lover who eats animals. I could not live with this anymore and I needed to change. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made about anything.

But now I’m living the twistier paradox of the animal lover who serves up dead animals to his cats that need the dead animals to survive.

I love my cats and I would do anything for them.

I love all animals and they deserve to be spared the brutalization, torture, and murder that lands them in neatly-stacked cans on the shelves. Or being hacked into pieces and displayed as pink porn in the butcher section.

All animals deserve to be spared these fates.

Except, apparently, the animals that are murdered to feed my cats.

Dealing with raw meat every day has allowed me to see the truth. The truth is an ungodly pink color, and it has a stench.




ME: I’m worried about you, Butch. What’s with you not eating lately?

BUTCH THE CAT: You’re thinking I might be sick.

ME: Yes. Maybe. I can’t tell.

BUTCH: It’s a bitch, I admit. We cats. We play that stuff close to the vest. Kind of hide it. When we’re sick, I mean. Seems like one day, everything’s catnip. Then bam. Deader than Dillinger.

ME: I’d rather you’d stay away from the outdated dead gangster metaphors. Particularly the dead part.

BUTCH: Suit yourself.

ME: I wish you could talk. Imagine if our companion animals could talk. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, goldfish—

BUTCH: Pigs, snakes, hermit crabs, anteaters…

ME: Yeah. Yes. Though maybe not so much anteaters. If our animals could talk, then we wouldn’t have to worry. We’d know if they were sick or not. If only…


ME: Oh yeah. You can talk! Wow, it’s a miracle. So… are you sick?

BUTCH: Not sure. But I might have scurvy. Might, I’m saying.

ME: Really? Cats can get that?

BUTCH: Possibly. If they’re sailors especially.

ME: But you don’t have it, right?

BUTCH: I don’t think so. And I thought about the navy, but decided against it. It was the hats. I’d look ridiculous in a hat like that.

ME: So is anything wrong with you?

BUTCH: It might be a touch of leprosy.

ME: Oh my god. You have leprosy?

BUTCH: Probably not. Well, at least I think not. If my paw falls off in the middle of this conversation, then maybe yes.

ME: I don’t think cats can get leprosy.

BUTCH: But you’re not sure.

ME: No, I’m not.

BUTCH: You’re not sure about a lot of things.

ME: That’s true.

BUTCH: Like you’re probably not sure if you’re really having a conversation with me right now.

ME: That’s true—

BUTCH: Like maybe you’re just a loon. A loon who talks to cats.

ME (brow furrowing): Could be. It’s just I worry about you.

BUTCH: Shit, like you needed to tell me that. Your brain is a fear factory, you got like assembly lines cranking overtime in that flat little head of yours. All kinds of heat and choking fumes—

ME: Assembly lines in my brain?

BUTCH: Don’t interrupt me, I’m on a roll. Like I was saying, you got little kids up in your head, working twenty hours a day, slaving over your panicky thoughts. Child slave labor—I could be wrong—but didn’t they phase that out like a hundred freaking years ago? Might want to give it a break.

ME (sighing): If you tell me you’re alright, maybe I can.

BUTCH: You probably got kittens up there too, in that brain. Working them to death. Sweet little kittens. How could you?

9_3_13 007

ME: Butch. Your health. Are you alright?

BUTCH: So the other day. When you laid down to take your nap. In the late afternoon, the sun just so? The window open, the sparrows talking shit out there. Remember that?

ME: Yes! Yes I do. You jumped on the bed and came to me. You circled me for five minutes, stepped over me, kept poking your nose in my face. I didn’t know what was going on—

BUTCH: Making sure is all. Checking that everything was copacetic—

ME: And then you curled up right next to my chest. You spooned me. For the first time. I’ve had you for six years, and you’ve never ever done that before. That made me so happy.

BUTCH: Yeah, that was nice.

ME: It took so long… I knew you had a rough kittenhood. Why did it take so long for you to curl up with me like that?

BUTCH: You were patient. I’ll give you that.

ME: It was so… amazing. My arm cradling your whole body, like a baby.

BUTCH: Whoa, “baby”?

ME: Like a kitten, I mean.

BUTCH: Better.

ME: Yeah, and your face was tucked into the crook of my elbow. I could feel your cool breath on my skin. And your heartbeat—for the first time I could feel your heartbeat. I felt your energy… your being… sort of flow into me, if you can believe that. And vice versa. It was like our bodies were joined.

BUTCH: Yeah. That was nice. I liked your arm around me, that felt safe.

ME: Maybe it reminded you of the womb or something—

BUTCH: Let’s not get carried away, kay?

ME: Okay. So, please tell me. Is there anything wrong with you? Are you sick?

BUTCH: I think I’m gonna nap on the window sill for a bit. Catch you later.

ME: You’re not going to tell me, are you?

BUTCH: Relax. Go pound like five cups of coffee. For you, that’ll slide you down some. Pull you back from the edge. I probably have a few naps left in me. A few more naps in your arms. If you’re partial to that sort of thing.

ME: Of course! But you know… if you are sick. Now that you can talk, it’s like a fantastic opportunity to let me know—

BUTCH: Yeah, that reminds me. Now that I can talk. We should do something about my name. I think you can do better. We need something with more…. gravity. How about “Hannibal”?

ME: Are you kidding?

BUTCH: I’m as serious as J. Edgar Hoover. Oh. Hey look.

Butch gives me his paw.

BUTCH: My paw didn’t fall off. Guess you can definitely rule out leprosy.



St. Francis of Assisi, the "patron saint" of animals. Painting by Giotto di Bondone (c.1266-1337) / Louvre, Paris, France / The Bridgeman Art Library

St. Francis of Assisi, the “patron saint” of animals. Painting by Giotto di Bondone (c.1266-1337) / Louvre, Paris, France / The Bridgeman Art Library

I have heroes that inspire me for all my passions: writing, film, baseball, among other things. Raymond Carver wrote “Cathedral,” Sam Peckinpah directed The Wild Bunch, and David Ortiz won more playoff games for the Boston Red Sox than I can count.

But none of those heroes, that I’m aware of, have actually saved lives.

My vegetarian and vegan heroes do save lives. On average, one hundred lives are saved per year by each person who makes the choice to not eat animals.

So I want to honor them by listing some of them here. These are the people that inspire me.  These people remind  me how important my initial decision to become a vegetarian (now a vegan) was, and how this choice goes beyond my personal beliefs and is, in fact, an act of service to my fellow animal creatures and to the world.

Most of these people have made this choice for their own personal and ethical reasons. Some have done it for their health or even the survival of the planet.

Perhaps some of these names will inspire you. Or surprise you—many of them surprised me. Some of the names will show you that vegetarianism has been around for as long as people have been eating meat—it’s not some foofy recent trend.

Gandhi. Vegetarian. Hero.

Gandhi. Vegetarian. Hero.


If there is a “v” in parentheses next to a name then that means the person is a vegan. Some general definitions of the difference between a vegetarian and vegan:

Vegetarian: Does not eat meat, fish or poultry but they tend to consume dairy products and eggs.

Vegan: Will not eat any animal product (so no dairy or eggs) or participate in any activity that involves the exploitation of animals. Generally, the reason people choose to work toward becoming vegans is simply to do the least harm to animals (or to eat as healthy as possible).

Don’t let definitions get in the way though. Heroism isn’t accomplished by wearing some “vegan” medal, it’s for taking concrete actions that save animals. Abstaining from meat for even a day is a positive action.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive and reflects my own personal and biased awareness. They’re in no particular order other than numerical and under general categories of professions or callings. As a matter of fact, I saved the animal advocates—the people who go the extra mile for animals, besides just choosing not to eat them—for last. To me, they’re the most heroic.


1. Pamela Anderson, actress (v)

2. Linda Blair, actress (v)

James Cameron. from Wikipedia by Angela George.

James Cameron. from Wikipedia by Angela George.

3. James Cameron, film director (v):

I believe we are all sleepwalking over a cliff if we don’t do this.”

4. Jessica Chastain, actress (v)

5. James Cromwell, actor (v):

I drove through the stockyards of Texas on a motorcycle. It doesn’t let you escape what surrounds you and what it smells and feels like—and what hit me was the realization that something that was alive and had feelings will suffer before a piece of it is placed on our plates.”

6. Penelope Cruz, actress

7. Ellen DeGeneres, actress, comedienne, talk-show host:

I forced myself to watch a documentary called Earthlings, and it’s inside footage of factory farms, and dairy farms, and… you just see that, and you go, I can’t participate in that… I can’t imagine that if you’re putting something in your body that’s filled with fear or anxiety or pain, that that isn’t somehow gonna be inside of you…”

8. Peter Dinklage, actor (v)

9. Ira Glass, radio producer, NPR host

(who was partly influenced to become a vegetarian by visiting animal rights advocate Karen Davis’ animal sanctuary)

10. Samuel L. Jackson, actor (v)

11. Nicole Lapin, journalist, news anchor

12. Steve Martin, comedian, actor, writer

13. Joaquin Phoenix, actor (v)

14. Brad Pitt, actor (v)

"Mr. Rogers". from Wikipedia

“Mr. Rogers” (public domain)

15. Fred Rogers, television personality (“Mr. Rogers”):

That’s something I’ve noticed in my work with kids. When they first discover the connection between meat and animals, many children get very concerned about it.”

16. Alicia Silverstone, actress (v)


17. Joan Armatrading

18. Bryan Adams (v)

19. Garth Brooks (v)

20. Chuck D

21. Philip Glass, composer

22. Emmylou Harris

23. Gustav Mahler, composer

Paul McCartney. From Wikipedia by Oli Gill

Paul McCartney. From Wikipedia by Oli Gill

24. Paul McCartney:

If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everybody would be vegetarian.”

25. Moby (v):

If you don’t want to be beaten, imprisoned, mutilated, killed or tortured then you shouldn’t condone such behaviour towards anyone, be they human or not.”

26. Steven Patrick Morrissey (v)

27. Russell Simmons, musician and entrepreneur (v):

…The more I opened myself up to the idea of the full scope of exactly what non-violence translates to, the less interested I became in consuming the energy associated with the flesh of an animal that only knew suffering in his/her life and pain and terror in its death. The more I learned about factory farming and the cruelty animals raised for food must endure before they are led (or dragged) to slaughter, the more I realized that I could not, in good conscience, be a contributor to such violence…”

28. Diane Warren, songwriter, Grammy Award winner


29. Confucius, ancient Chinese teacher, philosopher

30. Saint John de Brito, ancient Jesuit missionary and martyr

31. Gautama Buddha, spiritual teacher:

“One should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world.”

Thich Nhat Hanh. From Wikipedia by Duc (pixiduc)

Thich Nhat Hanh. From Wikipedia by Duc (pixiduc)

32. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, peace activist (v)

33. Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, educator, writer


34. Carol J. Adams, writer, women’s rights and animal rights advocate:

Just as feminists proclaimed that ‘rape is violence, not sex,’ vegetarians wish to name the violence of meat eating. Both groups challenge commonly used terms… Just as all rapes are forcible, all slaughter of animals for food is inhumane regardless of what it is called.”

35. Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights advocate

36. Brigid Brophy, writer, social activist (v):

Whenever people say ‘We mustn’t be sentimental’ you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add ‘We must be realistic’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.”

Cesar Chavez. From Wikipedia by Joel Levine and user Mangostar

Cesar Chavez. From Wikipedia by Joel Levine and user Mangostar

37. Cesar Chavez, labor leader, civil rights activist (v):

We need, in a special way, to work twice as hard to help people understand that the animals are fellow creatures, that we must protect them and love them as we love ourselves… We know we cannot be kind to animals until we stop exploiting them – exploiting animals in the name of science, exploiting animals in the name of sport, exploiting animals in the name of fashion, and yes, exploiting animals in the name of food.”

38. Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader

39. Rosa Parks, civil rights leader and pioneer


40. Patrick Baboumian, strongman competitor, psychologist, and former bodybuilder (v):

Strength should build up, not destroy. My strength needs no victims. My strength is my compassion.”

41. Ed Bauer, crossfit athlete (v):

I stay vegan for the same reasons I went vegan in the first place, to cause the least amount of harm as possible, to animals, the planet earth, and myself, physically and spiritually.”

Surya Bonaly. from Wikipedia by Uwu Langer

Surya Bonaly. from Wikipedia by Uwu Langer

42. Surya Bonaly, professional figure skater

43. Timothy Bradley, professional boxer (v)

44. Robert Cheeke, bodybuilder (v)

45. Stephanie Davis, professional rock climber, writer (v)

46. Arian Foster, American professional football player (v)

47. Walter “Killer” Kowalski, professional wrestler:

The meat industry cons people into thinking you must eat decaying rotting flesh to get your protein. Bullshit, that’s a lot of baloney. Big, healthy, strong animals get their protein from vegetarian sources…”

48. Andy Lally, race car driver

Tony LaRussa. From Wikipedia by SD Dirk

Tony LaRussa. From Wikipedia by SD Dirk

49. Tony LaRussa, former Major League Baseball manager


50. Marc Bekoff, ethologist, professor (v)

51. Patrick O. Brown, biochemist, professor (v)

52. T. Colin Campbell, biochemist, professor (v)

53. George M. Church, geneticist, molecular engineer, professor (v)

54. Thomas Edison, inventor:

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.”

55. Albert Einstein, physicist:

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

Brian Greene. From Wikipedia by Markus Poessel

Brian Greene. From Wikipedia by Markus Poessel

56. Brian Greene, theoretical physicist, professor (v):

I would ask… why the vast majority of people are not vegetarian. I think the answer is that most people don’t question the practice of eating meat since they always have. Many of these people care about animals and the environment, some deeply. But for some reason—force of habit, cultural norms, resistance to change—there is a fundamental disconnect whereby these feelings don’t translate into changes of behavior.”

57. Leonardo Da Vinci, Renaissance genius:

“My body will not be a tomb for other creatures.”


58. Neal Barnard, physician, author, clinical researcher (v)

59. Michael Greger, M.D., called as expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial (v)

60. Dr. Mehmet Oz, physician, television personality

Albert Schweitzer. from Wikipedia by The German Federal Archives

Albert Schweitzer. from Wikipedia by The German Federal Archives

61. Albert Schweitzer, physician, theologian, philosopher:

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”

62. Dr. Benjamin Spock, pediatrician, writer (v)


63. Lord Byron, Romantic poet

64. J.M. Coetzee, author, winner of the Nobel Prize

65. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World

66. James E. McWilliams, writer, professor (v)

“I became a vegan the day I watched a video of a calf being born on a factory farm. The baby was dragged away from his mother before he hit the ground. The helpless calf strained its head backwards to find his mother. The mother bolted after her son and exploded into a rage when the rancher slammed the gate on her. She wailed the saddest noise I’d ever heard an animal make, and then thrashed and …dug into the ground, burying her face in the muddy placenta. I had no idea what was happening respecting brain chemistry, animal instinct, or whatever. I just knew that this was deeply wrong. I just knew that such suffering could never be worth the taste of milk and veal. I empathized with the cow and the calf and, in so doing, my life changed.”

67. Rainer Maria Rilke, poet

68. Matthew Scully, author, journalist, speechwriter for George W. Bush (v)

69. George Bernard Shaw, playwright:

“Atrocities are not less atrocities when they occur in laboratories and are called medical research.”

70. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, a very early expose of factory farming

Isaac Bashevis Singer. From Wikipedia by MDCArchives

Isaac Bashevis Singer. From Wikipedia by MDCArchives

71. Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature:

“In their behavior toward creatures, all men are Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they’re the victims. Otherwise they victimize blindly and without a thought.”

72. Leo Tolstoy, writer:

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.”


73. Karyn Calabrese, chef and restaurateur (v)

74. Chloe Coscarelli, chef, author (v)

75. Rory Freedman, author of Skinny Bitch (v)

76. Richard Landau, chef and owner of Vedge restaurant in Philadelphia (v)

77. Isa Chandra Moskowitz, chef, writer (v)

Ani Phyo. From Wikipedia by

Ani Phyo. From Wikipedia by

78. Ani Phyo, nutritionist, television personality, writer (v)

79. Tal Ronnen, chef, owner of Crossroads gourmet vegan restaurant in Los Angeles (v)


80. Cory Booker, U.S. Senator

81. Benjamin Franklin, American Founding Father, all-around genius:

Flesh eating is unprovoked murder.”

82. Mohandas Gandhi, spiritual and political leader:

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

83. Al Gore, philanthropist, former Vice-President of the United States (v)

84. Dennis Kucinich, former American Congressman (v)

85. Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay


86. Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company

87. William Clay Ford, Jr. executive chairman, Ford Motor Company (v)

Christine LaGarde. From Wikipedia,_Christine_%28official_portrait_2011%29.jpg

Christine LaGarde. From Wikipedia

88. Christine Lagarde, director general of the International Monetary Fund

89. Biz Stone, Twitter founder (v)

90. Steve Wynn, entrepreneur, casino owner (v):

The notion that you need animal food as protein is one of the great conspiracies of bullshit by the government. Did we not all grow up saying we had to have four glasses of whole milk a day for healthy bones? It’s ridiculous. It’s liquid cholesterol.”


91. Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Animal Sanctuary (v)

92. Karen Davis, writer, animal sanctuary founder (v):

We are told we are being ’emotional’ if we care about a chicken and grieve over a chicken’s plight. However, it is not ’emotion’ that is really under attack, but the vicarious emotions of pity, sympathy, compassion, sorrow, and indignity on behalf of the victim, a fellow creature—emotions that undermine business as usual. By contrast, such ‘manly’ emotions as patriotism, pride, conquest, and mastery are encouraged.”

Gary Francione. From Wikipedia by Gary Francione

Gary Francione. From Wikipedia by Gary Francione

93. Gary Francione, law scholar, professor, writer (v):

“We do not need to eat animals, wear animals, or use animals for entertainment purposes, and our only defence of these uses is our pleasure, amusement, and convenience.”

94. Melanie Joy, professor, writer (v):

It’s just the way things are. Take a moment to consider this statement. Really think about it. We send one species to the butcher and give our love and kindness to another apparently for no reason other than because it’s the way things are. When our attitudes and behaviors towards animals are so inconsistent, and this inconsistency is so unexamined, we can safely say we have been fed absurdities. It is absurd that we eat pigs and love dogs and don’t even know why.”

95. Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher (v):

I have seen a lot of animals die. And I will tell you that once you go into a slaughter plant, once you see what is happening there, it’s branded on your soul. You are never gonna walk away from that again. I can tell you vividly the memories I have of the looks of the animals at the time when they were killed.”

96. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, writer, educator (v):

We are not encouraged, on a daily basis, to pay careful attention to the animals we eat. On the contrary, the meat, dairy, and egg industries all actively encourage us to give thought to our own immediate interest (taste, for example, or cheap food) but not to the real suffering involved. They do so by deliberately withholding information and by cynically presenting us with idealized images of happy animals in beautiful landscapes, scenes of bucolic happiness that do not correspond to anything in the real world. The animals involved suffer agony because of our ignorance. The least we owe them is to lessen that ignorance.”

97. Tom Regan, philosopher, professor (v)

98. Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of PETA (v)

99. Jill Phipps, animal rights advocate (v)

(crushed to death by truck while protesting on behalf of animals)

100. Captain Paul Watson, environmental activist, President of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (v):

If you want to know where you would have stood on slavery before the Civil War, don’t look at where you stand on slavery today. Look at where you stand on animal rights.”

I’ll leave with one last hero, Saint Francis of Assisi, the “patron saint of animals,” and the saint who the current Pope honored by taking his name. It’s not clear whether he was a vegetarian, but he was definitely a hero for animals. He said this:

Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it… If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”



Thank you for taking care of my four cats. Please read these instructions carefully at least five times, though ten is preferred and should give you a leg up on my pop phone quizzes.

My four cats are like four extensions of myself. Think of them as my arms and legs. If you forget or fail to follow an instruction, think of your failure as cutting off one of my limbs. So for example if you mistakenly serve my cat Sundance raw food, just picture yourself sawing my left arm off at the shoulder.

The most important thing to remember is that I live in the hills and in case you were wondering THERE ARE PACKS OF RABID CAT-EATING COYOTES OUT THERE. So please remember to KEEP ALL DOORS SHUT AND DEAD-BOLTED. If for some unfathomable reason you manage to screw this one up and let one of my cats out, it’s probably best if you throw yourself to the coyotes right after the cat. Otherwise perhaps picture me sawing off one of your arms.

The alarm code is 0510. That’s Lyle’s birthday—May 10th, 2010, in case you were wondering. A beautiful day for him and for me, so that when you press those buttons on the alarm keypad it’s not just an action that prevents a horn blaring in your ear and cops busting in and throwing you against the wall, it’s also a gesture of honor and adoration. 0510—don’t forget it, you have like 15 seconds to get your ass from the door to the keypad, and make sure you SHUT THE GODDAMNED DOOR FIRST.

If you don’t make it, and the alarm goes off, you have precious seconds before the cops storm the house. The alarm company will call you and ask for your name and password. I hope you know your name. The password is, “Butch of the Hole in the Wall Gang.” I’ll explain what this means in the appendix, but it’s witty and definitely fits his personality, which you would know if you read these instructions ten times like I asked and maybe watched “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid” at least twice.

Now I’ll give you brief portraits of my cats which I hope will be helpful:

009PICASSO: Tabby, brown. Friendly, but he has standards, so don’t put on airs or go all high-pitched with the voice. Be earthy and real. Fake it if you have to. You will have to. Favorite toy is a shoelace, which he will chase around. Try to master a quick jiggling wrist snap motion with the shoelace or he may become disinterested. Practice snapping 100 times to the left, take a brief rest, then 100 times to the right. Do this for an hour every day, gradually phasing out the rest period. Say nice things about his paintings.

Lyle sun 1

LYLE: Tabby, orange. Birthday is 05/10, that’s 0-5-1-0. Shy at first, but he will open up gradually, after a breaking in period in which you must grovel on the floor before him. Try to be consistent and still as possible with your floor grovelling—so no bathroom breaks or even kneeling, otherwise this breaking in process must be started over from the beginning. Lyle loves the Halo freeze-dried treats, and when I say “loves,” I mean “goes batshit crazy for.”  I suggest first putting on the welding gloves before offering him a treat. The heavy gauge steel ones—not the light welding ones. Note the severed finger limit of liability clause at the end of this document. Sign it before offering Lyle a treat.


9_3_13 009BUTCH: Tuxedo cat, more black than white. My cat psychologist says Butch is the most balanced and stable of my cats. He’s serene but not too sleepy. A born leader and cat-about-town. You can see his profile on EHarmony. Butch can be very Zen, and if you encounter him in a meditative state please do not disturb him. Light a candle and spread some sage around, sprinkle catnip on a pillow and make sure you offer it to him barefoot and with a pure mind, body, and soul. Especially the soul. Don’t make eye contact with him.


SUNDANCE: Tuxedo cat, more white than black. Brother to Butch. Sundance is ivory to Butch’s ebony. Redford to Butch’s Newman (This will be on the quiz). Sundance is the shyest of all my cats, so I have been working on socializing him. It is very important that you continue this process, so please set aside a few hours each day to play board games with him. Don’t insult him by breaking out Candyland—he’s too old for that. Chutes and Ladders is okay if he’s in the mood but it’s very important that you let him slide the token down the chute with his paw. It’s his favorite thing about the game. Feel free to say, “Weeee!” in an encouraging voice as he performs this action. If you play Monopoly with him be careful, he’s the only cat I’ve ever seen pull off a railroads- and utilities-owning strategy.


Feeding times are promptly at 8 am and 8 pm each day. Please, no excuses—stuck in heavy traffic, or “I had to work late,” or “My child got bitten by an anteater!”—there’s just no excuse for not being punctual to feed my cats. I have prepared this detailed food list to assist you in what to feed who, and in what amount:


Picasso:         1 teaspoon at night

Lyle:                1 glob* per feeding

Butch:            1 tablespoon only on Sunday

Sundance:    NO RAW! Feeding raw = sawing off an arm!



Picasso:          Considers this food an insult. Will hate you.

Lyle:                 Nope.

Butch:              Feed him 1/2 can; the Paul Newman half only.

Sundance:      Feed him 1/2 can; Robert Redford half only.



Picasso:          Okay, but don’t try to lace it with medication. Will smell it. And hate you.

Lyle:                 Where’s this crap from? New Zealand? Nice try.

Butch:              1/2 can, mashed with lobster fork**

Sundance:      1/2 can, built up into “food mountain”***



Picasso:           You lick it first, I want to see if you’re trying to pull some shit on me again.

Lyle:                  Cool label. But nope.

Butch:               1/2 can, but if I get scared you have to feed it to me under the bed.

Sundance:      If he’s scared, I’m scared. And I won’t eat his portion, so don’t mix them up.

*1 glob is more than 1 tablespoon and less than 1 hunk.
** Fondue fork is acceptable in a pinch, but regular fork is unacceptable and Butch will smell that he’s being served with an unworthy metal and will refuse food and won’t even look at you again.
*** No Devil’s Tower food mountain, that is frightening to cats. Aim for something pleasant and mildly majestic, like something out of the Adirondacks mountain range.

9_3_13 019



Look, if the Egyptians can do it, you can do it. The Egyptians revered cats and built pyramids, you know. And mummies—they had mummies! Don’t forget the real tiny pieces of old clumped urine and feces that the scooper sometimes can miss. Buy a pair of Velcro gloves—the sticky Velcro on the outside—and then just sift through the litter with your gloved hands. Those little pieces of filth will find you! Once your gloves are thickly coated with little shit- and piss-balls, you can simply discard them. Or scare your children with them!


Don’t worry, I won’t blame you. Not to your face, which is what matters. But look, all I’m saying is that the cats were fine when I left. Cat curses are a bitch to remove, so you know—all your hair falls out at the very least, and I’m talking armpit hair as well as head hair.

My veterinarian’s number is 1-888-ohmygodwhatdidyoudotomycats.

If anything happens, call me anytime, day or night. Even something like vomiting a hairball—please take photos of the scene and be able to describe in detail what the cat was doing before and after the regurgitation event, where exactly you were, and what exactly I was thinking when I entrusted you with my cats.


I hope you enjoy your time with my cats. Help yourself to anything you want around the house—except the coffee, snacks, computer, blow dryer, or garden rake. Feel free to relax, have a cat or two curl up in your lap, and watch a program on my 60” high definition TV—as long as you pick one of the 27 nature programs I’ve recorded for the cats.

Just remember to keep the goddamned door SHUT AT ALL TIMES.

Picasso plus_Auguest 2013 005



Marius. Photograph by Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images

Marius. Photograph by Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images

When I first heard about the killing of the baby giraffe Marius in the Copenhagen Zoo I thought it was a joke. It seemed like some absurd satire about an evil zookeeper, something I could have seen on Funny or Die: a healthy two year-old giraffe is lured away from the other giraffes by his veterinarian caretaker with a piece of rye bread, only to have his brains blown out, and his lifeless body skinned, sawed into pieces, and fed to the lions. All of this was done in full view of hundreds of people—including a lot of children.

And they filmed it.

So who’s running things over there at the Copenhagen Zoo, Ted Nugent?

No, it’s actually a man named Bengt Holst. His official title is “Director of Research and Conservation.” The “research” involved in this act, according to Holst, was showing children how big the giraffe’s heart was and that a giraffe had the same amount of vertebrae as a human, “and so on.”

The “conservation” part of his title—well, based on his own words, to conserve sometimes you have to not conserve.

I’ve looked over the zoo’s website and I will say that there seems to be a certain consistency between their callous treatment of Marius and their overall philosophy. Their mission statement has only a few mentions of animals, and the language is bloodless, with no mention of animal welfare or ethics except in one example, describing how they are caged: “…high standards and quality regarding the keeping of animals and the standard of animal enclosures… good architecture and design add to the value and quality of the experience.”

They certainly care a lot about their cages. And the “quality of the experience” they are referring to, if the way they dispatched their baby giraffe is any example, is obviously the human one, not the animal one.

The closest their mission statement gets to acknowledging animals as living beings is their last paragraph in their mission statement, “Be actively involved in the international efforts to preserve animal species and habitats and thereby contribute to the conservation of the biodiversity.”

More bloodless language. Keep in mind, the “conservation” zoos supposedly practice always begins with the kidnapping of a wild animal from its natural habitat and its enslavement behind bars—usually for life.

So the Copenhagen Zoo’s mission statement has very few mentions of animals—you know, the point of visiting a zoo—and the section ends with this statement:

All of these activities must be based on science.”

Holst has given many interviews by now. From what I can gauge the “science” involved in the killing of Marius consisted of an autopsy aimed at children so they could learn the “vertebrae” and “big heart” facts—facts which of course the children could have looked up in a book or online, rather than witnessing the assassination of a healthy young giraffe.

Holst has also said that this live killing and dismemberment “helps increase the knowledge about animals but also the knowledge about life and death.” Surely he is not saying that blowing a giraffe’s brains out, carving it up into chunks, and throwing it to the lions is how life and death works in nature?

The other aspect of the “science” Holst refers to, and the key to why Marius was killed, is the breeding programs the zoos utilize.

Since zoos keep so few animals (mainly because of space), the gene pool of the captured animals is very small. Inbreeding has to be avoided—otherwise unhealthy animals could be born.

Some zoos will practice contraception, sparing the animal’s life. Or they’ll sell them to circuses or less savory animal “attractions,” transactions that the zoos try to keep secret since it is known that animals in these other venues have even worse lives than in zoos.

Keep in mind that this is an artificially narrow gene pool created by the zoos themselves—the ones capturing, enslaving, and breeding very small numbers of formerly wild animals.

In the end, many zoos—particularly European ones, but zoos all over the world, including in the United States—will just kill healthy animals for the sake of the standards of the gene pool. The figure in Europe alone is 3000-5000 healthy animals killed per year.

Usually not in the open though.

Zoos are always trying to uphold a compassionate-toward-animals image, because it keeps the families coming to visit and paying their money. This is why the killing of Marius is so startling and revealing.

Many people were outraged after watching the documentary Blackfish, in which we saw the consequences of kidnapping and enslaving an orca whale named Tilikum—how to SeaWorld, the life of the whale and the safety of the trainers who were hurt or even killed by this abused animal seemed to pale in comparison to SeaWorld’s desire to uphold the image of their “fun” theme parksand the desire to make money.

Marius and every other animal confined in zoos are seen no differently. With zoos, instead of whales in bathtubs we have giraffes in prison cells. Tilikum and Marius are products, useful as long as keeping them around makes economic sense. Tilikum has been largely banished from performing (without SeaWorld admitting any wrongdoing or addressing the issues), and Marius was shot because his existence was inconvenient.

When I was a kid I visited zoos on several occasions. What child wouldn’t be excited to see a “wild” animal up close? I think every child visits a zoo with an innocent curiosity and a natural desire to observe and maybe even bond with an animal. Certainly as a child I had the expectation that the veterinarians at the zoo cared for the animals and loved them.

Looking back on these visits, I can’t ever remember one animal that was doing anything but lying down, looking dazed and lethargic. They were never close enough to touch—which is what I was thrilling to do, to touch a “wild” animal—and they sure didn’t seem to want to be touched.

They didn’t look happy at all.

The killing of the baby giraffe Marius might just be a watershed event, in that it exposes the lie that zoos really care about the welfare of animals—Holst himself has said, “we can’t be led by emotion,” in the pursuit of “science.”

Of course Mr. Holst doesn’t want us to use emotion when thinking about animals in zoos. Because emotion leads us to feel compassion, and points us to considerations of ethics and morality.

But even putting emotion aside, does blowing a baby animal’s brains out and sawing the carcass up in front of children even make much common sense? The Copenhagen Zoo is so desperate to justify this cruel act they won’t even admit it was a bonehead move on a public relations level.

For me as a boy of six visiting those zoos years ago, I knew that something wasn’t right with the animals. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I couldn’t articulate it, but I knew.

I am betting most of the children who were at the Copenhagen Zoo that day knew there was something wrong about carving up a baby giraffe and pulling its heart out.

You’re right, Mr. Holst, the children did learn a lot that day.

They learned that zoos are horrible places for animals.



From Wikipedia Commons.
By Titanium22

I got sober from drugs and alcohol in 2000. In the process of recovering I realized that from then on spirituality was going to be an important focus of my life—that it had to be, since the connection to a Higher Power was necessary to keep me sober and alive.

I didn’t realize that recovery would connect me to myself as well, to what was really inside me.

During the early part of my recovery I realized that spirituality could be an open field to play on. I grew up around Catholicism and I didn’t feel like it was that way at all when I was young. I realized that my Higher Power could be one of my own understanding—that I had a lot of room to explore.

So I started exploring. One day I was reading a passage written by a Buddhist monk that was addressed to people of the West. I came across this section where he wrote (I’m paraphrasing):

Can you be a spiritual person if you are participating in the cruelty and suffering of animals by eating them?

This is the first time that it really sunk in that there was a possible connection between spirituality and not eating animals.

Months after I read this passage, I was talking with a friend of mine, and she mentioned that she had become a vegetarian. When I asked what had sparked her conversion, she said it was her cat. Her cat? Yes, she couldn’t look at her cat after eating a plate of meat. She felt guilty.

I thought about my own cats. Through my drinking years, my cats were probably my one shred of connection with anything remotely spiritual. I adopted my cats Bandit and Hooper in 1995.

Bandit on the left, Hooper on the right.

Bandit on the left, Hooper on the right.

Girlfriends came and went, guy friends came and went, cars came and went crashing, my job came… and almost went three times, because I showed up to work drunk or didn’t bother showing up at all.

The one constant was the drinking. And the cats.

No matter how drunk I got I still fed them. No matter how depressed, I played with them. No matter how many times I was hungover and late for work, I was early (and sober) for vet appointments. No matter how many times Bandit had to meow at me to turn that thumping AC/DC off—which I would blast at two in the morning—he seemed to forgive me. My neighbors sure didn’t.

No matter how self-loathing, self-destructive, self-pitying I was… they crawled into my lap, purred, and loved me.

I realized they were not just pets. They were family. And they had carried me through. What love I had to give was given to them. What love I could receive was through them.

What spirituality I had was given to me was through taking care of them.

When I awakened from the nightmare of drugs and alcohol, although it wasn’t in my consciousness, I think deep down I was aware of this bond that had been formed.

What these two little animals had done for me.

As I recovered, grasping for my own image of what a spiritual life would look like, I realized that my empathy for all animals (and humans, for that matter) was deepening. That caring for animals was going to be one of the core principles in this spiritual life I was trying to live now.

I was told that in order to recover from drugs and alcohol I had to have a complete psychic change.

I think this was starting to qualify as one. I think I wanted to become a vegetarian.

But was it even possible to not eat meat? That was the thing. I wasn’t sure. Which, in retrospect, was silly—alcohol was the biggest obsession of my life for almost 20 years and I wasn’t drinking anymore.

For the first time, I thought about what I was eating. I thought about if I even really liked the taste of meat. This is not a silly question. Looking back, I hated the taste of alcohol—all of it, from cheap beer to hundred-dollar-a-bottle whiskey, from my first drink to my last. That’s the truth. People talk about how refreshing beer is or wax poetic about wine—I don’t get it. I drank to get drunk, to wreck myself, and booze was always hard to get down.

Was it the same for meat? I liked a good burger from time to time. I liked pepperoni on pizzas. But did thinking about this stuff make my mouth water? No. The inherent flavor of meat—the taste of the flesh itself—was that something I enjoyed? I didn’t think so. If I ate a steak I wouldn’t enjoy it unless it was doused with spices, external flavorings.

Raw meat absolutely repulsed me. I had a hard time buying it at the grocery store.

I was starting to think it was possible to quit meat—to realize that the flesh itself wasn’t really something I needed or even wanted.

I joined PETA but wasn’t interested in watching any of the graphic videos they sent me. That stuff was too extreme. On the other hand, I was interested in the founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk. She was obviously a person who cared deeply about animals, a kindred spirit, and I was interested in what made her decide to do what she was doing. HBO broadcast a documentary on her life and her work called I Am an Animal and I decided I’d try to watch it. I figured I could fast forward through any of the “rough” parts.

One of the images I recall was video of an adult cow in a slaughterhouse. I realized I had never seen what the inside of a slaughterhouse looked like. The cow was terrified as it was shoved out of a door onto the floor of what looked like a warehouse.

From Wikipedia Commons. By Dave Young from Taranaki, New Zealand

From Wikipedia Commons.
By Dave Young from Taranaki, New Zealand

I held my breath. I didn’t fast forward. I couldn’t look away.

The cow was wounded, flailing. It was trying to get to its feet but it couldn’t because the floor was a lake of blood. I could see it screaming.

I saw a monkey held down in a lab. I couldn’t tell what were the monkey’s limbs and what were restraints or electrodes. Its whole body looked stretched out and pinned. The monkey screamed as it was prodded with something.

The other scene I recall was on a mink farm. The face of a tiny, ferret-looking mink was in close-up in the foreground as a man’s boot came into frame. This man stepped on the mink’s skull first with one boot, then brought up the other one. The rodent struggled, the bones of its skull crunching under the man’s boots, blood gushing out of the mink’s nose. The film then cut to a different mink being skinned alive—I could clearly see the animal’s mouth opening to scream with each stab of the knife.

As I watched this… out of me came this sound. It was a howl that shook the room. My cats fled in terror and I could only imagine what my neighbors thought. Nothing that’s come out of my lungs has ever been that loud, lasted that long, or come from so deep a place. Then I burst into tears.

The next day I was a vegetarian. Over time I have become a vegan. I have never looked back, and could not live any other way.

I know now that this was a profound spiritual experience. The only comparable experience I have ever had is my moment of clarity about my alcoholism—a sort of “burning bush” that some, but not all, alcoholics experience. My burning bush was a voice in my head: If you keep drinking, things will get worse.

A simple truth perhaps. One that the whole universe was aware of—I was the last person to find out. But for me it was a thunderclap of wisdom. This was a thing that I knew to the core of my being—it wasn’t just a fact, it was a part of me.

There’s knowing in your head and there’s knowing in your soul. This was knowing in the soul, and this is the same place as my howl for the animals came from. The deepest place there is.

In both of those moments I knew I had to change. That I must.

In both of those moments, I discovered connection again. To a Higher Power, to myself.

And to animals.


Lyle, pre-rubbing.

Lyle, pre-rubbing.

Yes, I am a cat

And yes, I like to rub things.

Yes, this is my calling

And yes, my duty.

Yes, this is the core of my cat-ness

And before I am done

Oh yes!

I will make you tremble

before my rubbing of things.

I rub to leave my perfumed scent

I rub to show up my fellow cats—

Away with you while I rub here!

I rub the book you hold,

And do I not

help you to read it?

I rub the answer

to that question

It’s yes.

I rub couch, chair, and bed.

I rub corners, doorways, and your head.

I rub the dead mouse on the floor

I rub the mailman at the door.

I rub you coming out of the shower

I rub you scrubbing those dishes

I rub you rubbing your girlfriend

That’s some nice rubbing yourself—

I commend you!

I like to rub things

Look there’s the couch

I like to rub things

Look there’s your chin

I like to rub things

Look there’s a poisonous jub jub tree

I like to rub things

thirty-six times each

just to be sure

I like to rub things

Hey what do you have in your hand

Let me ask you one thing

Would it be okay

If I rubbed it?

Look I know there is no money

in this rubbing

but hear me out here

I have a great argument

for rubbing…

(Hold on a second

while I rub this over here.)

Now what was I rubbing?

I am a rubbing fiend

I will leave no surface un-rubbed

I am a rubbing fiend

Get your girlfriend on board

I am a rubbing fiend

And I must be adored.

Do you believe me when I say I rub

for world peace?

Do you believe me when I say I rub

to balance the budget?

Do you believe me when I say I rub

because I love you?

Please now

Rub the answer to me.