Compassion is Not a Finite Resource

The “after-party” at Famous Fido: senior dogs take a snooze after a fundraising. Collage by L.J. Bailey.

Chicago is a model city for urban growth, business, invention, architecture, and quality of life. Unfortunately, our beautiful city has not been a model for compassion, especially regarding companion animals – dogs and cats. Despite our reputation for progressive ways of thinking, under current laws, companion animals like dogs and cats are considered property: commodities that are bought, sold, treated, bred, and traded by people as they see fit. This leads to a perpetual cycle of people breeding and abandoning their dogs and cats to die in shelters.

I had never heard of Famous Fido Rescue and Adoption Alliance before I began looking for opportunities to assist nonprofits with grant writing. Not only do they rescue animals, but they also advocate on behalf of them to win the rights to which they are entitled. One of the first activities I engaged in was learning more about the organization in order to write a convincing grant. They are promoting the passage of a Compassionate Care Act to protect the rights of animals and improve the state of our community overall. The Compassionate Care Plan centers on stopping the cycle of dog and cat overpopulation in shelters to prevent the unnecessary killing of millions of companion animals each year. We as a culture have done the same things the same way, and the number of animals killed in shelters has continued to climb. The Compassionate Care Plan encourages a change in our community’s way of thinking and behaving to stem the flow of animals to kill and no-kill shelters.

You may have noticed a difference in standard language in the paragraphs above. Instead of using terms like “owner” and “pet,” what if we started using “guardian” and “companion”? We use these terms to emphasize our responsibility to companion animals as sentient beings who are able to feel emotions and pain just like you and I can. What if we stopped using the term “euthanasia” and started using “killing” instead? The term “euthanasia” comes from the Greek roots eu “well” + thanatos “death” and translates roughly to “easy death.” For our companion animals, though, these deaths are anything but easy. Do you see how uncomfortable it becomes to think about killing our companion animals? It is this change that leads to the reforms we propose in the Compassionate Care Plan.

Spaying and Neutering Education: The cycle of killing begins with indiscriminate breeding by unlicensed guardians. In some cases, guardians perceive spaying and neutering as harmful when, in fact, these procedures can protect dogs and cats from reproductive cancers. In other cases, an outdated understanding of veterinary science has led people to think that female dogs “need” to have at least one litter of puppies, fueling overpopulation in shelters. Furthermore, some guardians believe that spaying and neutering are unaffordable. However, places like PAWS and Anti-Cruelty Society run low-cost spay and neuter clinics. One of our key proposals in the Compassionate Care Plan is to provide private and public funding to educate people and to expand the number of clinics in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

Prohibitions on Backyard Breeding: A backyard breeder is an unlicensed private citizen who deliberately breeds dogs and cats to make money on the side or simply fails to neuter or spay their family dogs and cats, allowing them to breed indiscriminately. This problem is more significant than most people realize: casual and small-scale operations of backyard breeding account for the sale of two-thirds of the fifty-three million dogs in the United States. Many of these animals live in filthy, disease-ridden conditions and often lack proper shelter and food. Backyard breeders do not educate or screen dog or cat buyers. Puppies and kittens may be placed in abusive homes. Unprepared buyers take them home and may quickly tire of the commitment to their companion animal, dropping the family dog or cat off at a shelter after the novelty wears off. Stiff fines and penalties for unlawful backyard breeders will halt the unchecked flow of animals from these sources and lead to a drastic reduction of intakes at animal shelters.

Microchipping: Lost dogs and cats contribute significantly to the shelter population. Sadly, only 15% of lost dogs and 2% of lost cats are actually returned to their guardians because people do not take precautions with identification. Because tags and collars can be easily lost, microchipping is the most effective way to ensure lost animals are reunited with their guardians. This procedure is inexpensive and causes very little pain to the animal. Some places offer microchipping procedures at special events for even cheaper than the market rate. The way to curb the killing of family companion animals is to enact a law requiring microchip implantation much as rabies vaccines are mandated. Lost dogs and cats can then be safely and happily reunited with their families.

Adoption Screening: Uninformed, unprepared guardians are allowed to take home dogs and cats from some shelters every day. Worse yet, some adopters turn out to be animal abusers/abandoners or backyard breeders themselves. These animals are often put out on the street to fend for themselves: lonely, ill-prepared, and frightened. Many will be picked up and sent right back to a shelter, perpetuating the cycle of overpopulation and killing. The Compassionate Care Act encourages effective screening and counseling of potential adopters, leading to a higher retention rate of companion animals and a significant decrease in animals’ reentry into the shelter system.

Guidelines for “Owner Surrender”: We need to think of companion animals as members of the family, not as pieces of property to be easily acquired and discarded at will. Every day, guardians abandon thousands of companion animals by taking them to shelters. This is called “owner surrender,” and in many cases, these guardians actually believe they have done the best thing for their companion animal. They comfort themselves with the fantasy that their dog or cat will find a loving home, a “better fit” than with their family.

People who tell themselves this must realize that is far from the truth. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of the 6.5 million animals who enter the U.S. shelter system each year, 1.5 million are killed. These numbers are impossible to confirm with certainty; the number is believed to be much higher. Furthermore, 10% of animals that are adopted from a shelter are no longer in their new home six months after adoption. Astonishingly, even though advice and counsel from family, friends, and veterinarians make it three times more likely for a guardian to retain a dog or cat, no counseling is provided before a guardian surrenders an animal. The Compassionate Care Plan encourages counseling to educate people and provide resources to help them retain the family dog or cat.

Stop Violence Against Animals: Society has a duty to stop the abuse of both humans and animals. Dogs and cats depend on their guardians to feed and shelter them. Acts of violence against animals are acts of violence against the community itself. A compassionate, enlightened society requires its members to fulfill their obligations and does not allow living beings to suffer and die. To ignore violence of any kind is to accept and sanction it within the community. This is not the type of world we want our children to grow up in.

Even people who are not animal lovers must realize how important it is to detect and stop the cycle of violence against animals. We know that domestic abuse perpetrators begin by abusing the family dog or cat first before escalating unpunished abusive acts to human beings. While child abuse is often hidden from the neighbors, animal abuse has less shame attached to it and is often witnessed by a neighbor. Therefore, appropriate legislation to punish those who abuse and neglect companion animals ensures that authorities will be able to investigate all allegations and evidence of violence. While this is critical to protecting animals, it also provides a means by which authorities can investigate other domestic violence issues, such as abuse and neglect of children and the elderly. If the abuse and neglect of the family dog or cat can be investigated and stopped, fining and arresting the perpetrators, this may help keep children and the elderly safe from would-abusers.

Education Programs at Home and Schools: Children must be educated in the care and respect of animals. Without careful instruction, children may end up approaching an animal in a way that causes them to be harmed. Putting a hand or face in a dog’s face may encourage that animal to bite out of surprise or misunderstood intent. After all, a dog cannot use words to tell you how to approach him. Picking up or aggressively petting a cat may cause her to scratch in self-defense because she cannot use words to tell you she dislikes what you are doing. Children are often over-exuberant in handling animals and end up sustaining easily avoidable injuries. A little education can prevent both injury and owner surrender.

If parents do not have the time or energy to teach compassion and respectful approach of animals, then schools must do so. Many schools already have anti-bullying initiatives in place. Just as children must learn not to join in with a school bully attacking another child and to report the incident to a trusted adult, so, must children be taught to report animal abuse and torture. Aside from fulfilling our obligation to protect and defend all life, the community must realize that many children who torture animals have suffered abuse themselves or may have a serious psychological condition. We must set up programs where children and adolescents who have abused animals receive counseling and treatment so the cycle of violence is not permitted to continue.

The first step towards learning to value life – all life – is never to abuse or condone the abuse of any person or creature. Children learn from the actions and words of their parents and other family members. If they observe the easy acquisition and subsequent discard of a dog or cat, this teaches them that life is expendable and that empathy is not an essential value in the family. Without models of compassionate, empathetic behavior, children may learn the wrong lessons about how to treat others.

It is a lack of compassion that leads to acts of violence such as bullying, abuse, and neglect. Unfortunately, our society has promoted technology at the expense of compassion. Companion animals are beings who cannot be deleted from social media feeds or blocked from friends lists. They are lifetime commitments, not objects to be thrown away when their guardians decide they want “newer” or “better” companion animals. Compassion is not a finite resource. When properly cultivated in others, empathy leads to societal and community improvement.

When we talk about the Compassionate Care Plan and a new way of thinking and problem solving, it is with all of these elements in mind to help shape a kinder, more compassionate and ethical society that honors its obligations and commitments to all beings. The old way of thinking about our relationship with animals has not worked, nor have our methods to attempt to reduce the overpopulation of companion animals been successful. Now is the time to change our attitudes, language, and practices to change our society and protect the sanctity of all life.

I am proud to help this animal rescue group with senior and special needs animals, but also in their important advocacy work. We must work towards a kinder, gentler society, and the Compassionate Care Plan is a move in the right direction. Learn more about the plan and the rescue group by visiting Famous Fido Rescue and Adoption Alliance.

Bird by Bird: Grant Writing Research for Chicago Audubon Society

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker
A sapsucker is secured in a paper bag for transport to a wildlife rehabilitation center and veterinary care and evaluation. Photo courtesy of F.L.A.P.

“Are you dreaming?” my life coach asks me every time I see her, pen poised above her yellow legal pad. I shake my head no, yet that isn’t quite truthful. I can’t find words to describe the flutter of wings against my face or the vision of joining a collective flock evading a net.

[It’s March and cold, but I am sweating…]

“I’m thinking about the grant. We need to hire someone to answer the hotline. I sat in my driveway for three hours yesterday returning calls,” Annette, director of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, says. I am about to respond, to ask a few more questions about salary, independent contractors, training, when our eyes catch the flutter of brown wings against a revolving door, not unlike a moth battering its wings uncomprehendingly into porch glass.

“There’s one now! Let’s go!” and she springs forward in a blur, throwing her duffle bag, large net, and Sharpie marker onto the ground. I watch her position herself with the butterfly net, and she brings it down with a whoosh over the bird. As she reaches down to remove the bird from the net to place it in a paper bag, it escapes, flying to a railing overlooking Lower Wacker and perching there. Annette looks around wildly and then prepares to climb up the planters to see if she can capture the bird, but it is on to her and it, clumsily and drunken, over Upper Wacker and to a building across four lanes of traffic where it promptly smacks right into one of the expansive lobby windows. It puffs onto the ground and does not move.

“Shit!” says Annette and she starts running down one side of the street to cross and avoid the huge median.

“But wait, your stuff!” She’s already gone. Did she even look both ways before darting across the street? It is 6 am on a Saturday, but still. I run to pick up her bag, the big net, and the Sharpie, all of which have somehow landed many feet apart.

She’s going to need this equipment, I thought, and I ran after her as best I could, still nursing my ankle that was healing after surgery.

I forget to look both ways myself because I am caught up in this rescue hunt, and when I swing around the median, I see the bird, a tiny brown speck from my position, up from its position on the ground and repeatedly flying into the glass.

This entire task seems impossible. Car tires whine by even though it is only 6 a.m. as the owners speed down Upper Wacker at what must be fifty miles per hour, and the bird bounces back each time it collides with the window. I feel sure this is going to end poorly, with a tiny bird smashed by some angry lawyer who has to put face time in at his firm on a Saturday.

I keep running, and when I get there, the bird is sitting on a beam near the top of the window, which is about a story tall or more, covering the cavernous lobby of the high rise where I worked so many years ago. It’s way out of our reach, and I don’t know how we’re going to help this poor bird.

“We have to get him,” she says, not taking her eyes off of the bird. It looks like a Little Brown Job or LBJ, what some of us call those ubiquitous brown birds that represent a large number of species but are indistinguishable to the untrained eye except by a muted white eye stripe or a yellow throat.

I’m ready to sit there and wait for the bird to come down, but it seems stunned because it hasn’t moved from that beam. This flight across Wacker and repeated window collisions might be enough trauma to kill the bird.

There is an underground parking area blocked off with a red and white striped movable arm controlled by a uniformed security guard who watches Annette with what could only be called an amused expression. A cement wall on one side of the descending ramp has a small ledge as it butts up against the window, and as I watch in horror, Annette is moving around the ramp to hoist herself up. What have I gotten myself into? These people are crazy! Wait – I’m part of this group. We’re crazy.

She slowly brings her back up after hoisting herself on the ledge, and balances with both palms against the glass. The bird hasn’t moved. She hasn’t taken her eyes off of the bird.

“Laura Jean, move over to the side so he isn’t encouraged to fly that way, and if he does, intercept him,” I hear her voice bouncing off of the glass. Holding her net high over her head, she waves it at the bird, trying to startle him off the ledge. My stomach is so tight because I am sure this is going to end with a squished bird and an ambulance for Annette.

I glance at the security guard to see if he is going to tell her not to stand on that ledge, but he is looking elsewhere, away from our position as if he doesn’t know we are there. Annette still waves the net when suddenly the bird, as predicted, flutters off the beam and down, pushing forward with its wings using all of its might, bashing its head right into the glass. It gives up and falls down the parking ramp.

“Don’t go after it!” Annette shouts, and I stand, paralyzed and not at all considering how to pursue the LBJ. I’m between the ramp and the street and hoping that the bird doesn’t fly in my direction. This is my first outing, and I am just now being trained. I’ve never netted a bird before.

She leaps off the ledge, and I wince thinking about how far she dropped. My stomach tightens so hard that I feel a cramp in my back. Would the bird be dead? How could anything survive that kind of trauma?

Annette walks up the ramp, holding the net wrapped around a small brown bird that is very much alive. I feel myself exhale and the blood rushes to my head. I had been holding my breath for a long time.

“Oh no! Did you see where I put my stuff?” she cries out.

“I picked it up after you threw it,” and I start laughing. “I can’t believe you threw it! I can’t believe how fast you can run!” I laugh harder. She starts laughing, too.

“Welcome to training day at Chicago Bird Collision Monitors,” she says as I pull out a paper bag, clip, and Sharpie. This I at least know how to do.

“It’s a little swamp sparrow,” she says, rotating the net around.

“How do you know? My friends and I call them LBJs for Little Brown Jobbies.”

“I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. These things are almost reflexive.” She points out the distinguishing markings for me: a rusty cap, dark line through the eye, rusty brown color in the wings. It still looks like a nondescript sparrow to me, but I squinch my eyes up trying to memorize the yellow on the underside of its beak.

* * *

Later on, I text my friend Jessica who is the one who introduced me to this world to begin with. I want to tell her about Annette and our crazy run across Wacker.

Unimpressed, she texts back, “Yeah Annette is like that.” Jessica has been a monitor for over ten years and is probably crazy enough to dart across Wacker, too. I have to write a grant for these people. Wow.

* * *

After Annette decides that I meet minimum requirements, she sends me to the East Side to “do the route.” I have had some training with another monitor who took me around this labyrinthian route as I rotated the map trying to figure out our position relative to these buildings, many of which are curiously unmarked.

Today, I am by myself. I grip my net tightly and carry a bag full of brown bags for the live birds and plastic bags for the dead ones. I have the dog-eared map between my thumb and index finger as my remaining three fingers hold one of the reusable canvas grocery bags. I was told to avoid backpacks because they slow you down and make accessing supplies extremely difficult after you have caught a bird.

The East Rout takes monitors through what people refer to as “the New East Side.” To me, the East Side has always been the southeast part of Chicago where the iron and steel workers lived, a place of homes built in the 1880s, once part of a thriving community and now in disrepair as the neighborhood was repeatedly divested after the steel industry started closing its plants and moving them overseas for cheaper labor.

This neighborhood could not be farther from that reality and forms an enclave separated from downtown by Michigan Avenue and then a block of hotels: Hyatt, Swissotel, The Fairmont, and so on. For my two decades in Chicago and countless days spent downtown working or visiting the Art Institute and the like, I never made my way over here. This place didn’t even register with me. The buildings were not distinctive, not like my beloved skyline, and I went about my life without ever needing to roam among these steel and glass buildings.

The neighborhood itself is like a gated community. It’s mostly residential over there with multi-million dollar condominiums, a beautiful park, and a dedicated Mariano’s that has a live pianist playing jazz and classical music. Think of the Aon Building (formerly called the Amoco Building for old-timers), and the neighborhood is mostly a little north of that, east of Michigan Avenue. The park has a gazebo and fountains and its own dog park within the park. I’ve written about it before here.

The thing I cannot figure out, though, is where all the people who do not have homes go east of Michigan Avenue. I arrive downtown anywhere from 4 to 5:30, depending on sunrise times, and I walk from the L to my route, traversing through the Loop area before it wakes up for the day. I pass over a dozen people sleeping on the streets, especially when the weather is warmer and they are not sleeping in the L cars. There is a group sleeping under the Cultural Center overhang. There are people spread on those uncomfortable bus benches that were designed to keep people from actually curling up on them for the night. There are people huddled under construction scaffolding. Many are regulars, and I have come to recognize them with their refrigerator box blankets and piles of old clothing and possessions in plastic bags. Some people have bags of Corner Bakery food lying next to their heads – I am pretty sure those are provided by a giving soul who wants to help people by providing a bite to eat. Some people are awake at that hour and chatting quietly amongst each other.

Yet, when I cross Michigan Avenue and end up by Michigan Plaza, Swissotel, The Fairmont, the Hyatt, and then into the residential areas, there are no people sleeping in doorways, under construction scaffolding, or curled up in the beautiful park. Where has everyone gone – why and how? I don’t see anyone attempting to sleep or even walk over there. I also do not see CPD on regular patrol over there, at least at this hour. It’s like its own gated community within Chicago, a private enclave.

* * *

The first bird I find is part of a bird, a bloody wing lying on the curb by the Subway near the dog park. It’s something I might have seen a thousand times and thought nothing about. Now, however, I needed to pay close attention to this stuff. The wing bone near what would be a bird’s shoulder looks just like chicken wing bones, and the feathers are remarkably untouched. They line up in a beautiful arrangement of black and white, as if a bird were still attached and unfurling its wings. The pattern and size indicate to me this is probably a woodpecker of some sort. No LBJ with brown stripes through the eye for me to memorize.

I’m disgusted. I feel what writers always describe as “my gorge rising,” and I start to salivate, not with hunger, but with the feeling I am going to throw up. I dig around in my bag for a Ziploc and pull out the Sharpie, admonishing myself for being grossed out.

“I’m not touching that. I’ll use the bag to pick it up,” and I try this method, turning the bag inside out around my hand the way a dog owner would pick up dog waste. This isn’t bulky like dog waste, though, and the plastic is so slippery that it causes my hand to slide across the delicate wing ineffectively. I try repeatedly, and I can’t pick it up. Cursing myself for listening to Annette and not bringing gloves (“Some people do, but I find it decreases sensation and you can’t quite pick up birds effectively or know how they are positioned in your hand”), I turn the bag right side out and stretch out my right hand to pick up the wing with my bare hands. I can do this. I own pet birds, and I’ve touched them many times. This isn’t much different than that. I pick up the wing. It’s light and unsubstantial in my hand. I maneuver the wing to the bag and try to drop it in. It won’t go. The tip gets stuck, and when I turn the wing the other way, the bloody stump is stuck. I’m going to have to push the stump in.

Nauseated and feeling sheepish and completely unprofessional, I push the wing into the bag, seal it, and write the information on the outside. I place the bag in the canvas bag and try not to think about what my right hand touched.

I’m in my second season of bird rescue now, and I am officially part of that green-shirted crew of people rescuing birds, educating the public about Neotropical bird migrations and the dangers posed by the choices made in designing and constructing new skyscrapers when we know better now how to make bird-friendly designs.

More on the continuing bird saga and the grant writing process later in Part Two.

Thank you for taking the time to read and, if so inclined, leave a comment.

Fossils for Free


Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop in Evanston, Illinois. Photos and collage by L.J. Bailey.

Immediately north of Chicago is the largest private collection of fossils readily accessible to the public. Home of the Northwestern Wildcats, Evanston is also home to The David and Sandra Douglass Prehistoric Life Museum located in the basement of Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop.

With the help of his mother and father, Dave Douglass opened the shop nearly fifty years ago when he was only twenty years old. Most of the items sold in the shop back then were collected by Dave and his family. The Douglass family had a lifetime of fossils collected from trips around the United States and the rest of the world. When faced with the question of what to do with the vast accumulation of fossils, Dave and Sandy opened the museum back in the 1980s, deciding that the fossils should be on display for everyone.

Fossils from every geological time period are represented in the collection, going all the way back to Precambrian times from 4.6 billion years ago to 542 million years ago, or seven-eighths of the Earth’s history.

3.4 billion-year-old stromatolite from the Precambrian. This is formed by secretions from cyanobacteria, named because they are cells that performed photosynthesis. Photo by L.J. Bailey.

This collection also boasts the largest number of Mazon Creek fossils on display. The Mazon River (Creek) is a tributary of the Illinois River and the Mazon Creek area is comprised of present-day Grundy, Will, Kankakee, and Livingston counties. Twenty-five to thirty meters of shale were formed about 309 million years ago during what is called the Pennsylvanian epoch, the latter part of the Carboniferous period. Earth back then looked very different than it does now.

This is the Earth during the late Carboniferous period. It looks far different from our Earth today! At the equator are the vast swamps that ended up preserving the fossils from the Pennsylvanian epoch. Source:

Plant and animal remains were rapidly buried and the natural bacterial decomposition of those remains produced carbon dioxide that combined with the iron in the groundwater. This sediment surrounded the remains and formed incredibly detailed casts of their structure. Plants and invertebrates were preserved, rarities because of the lack of bone in their bodies. This is where the Illinois state fossil was found: the Tully monster.

The Douglass collection also includes holotypes, single specimens that are the basis for the description and name of a new species. These holotypes are named after the Douglass family; Dave himself found many of these when he was just a kid.

There are other fossils from around the world: dinosaur eggs, a complete cave bear skeleton, complete skeletons of small dinosaurs from China, a collection of amber encasing varieties of plants and insects, an extensive collection of trilobites, and a case of crab fossils.

A case of crab fossils, mostly from Italy. This is not to be missed. These are whole-body fossilizations. Remember – none of these fossils are casts! Photo by L.J. Bailey.

A femur from a giant apatosaur sits in the museum basement with a sign instructing us “Do not touch.” Oh, but how tempting it is!

If you’re a Chicagoland resident and you haven’t been here, make a point to go to Evanston. Check out all the wonderful offerings of the city and make sure to stop here. If you don’t live in the area but love rocks and fossils, I’d say go to the Field Museum for sure (if you can afford it), but make a point to travel north to Evanston and see this collection for yourself.




After-Party at Famous Fido

Snooze Fest! Clockwise from the top left are Sherman, Gia, Odie, Cosmo, and Coco recovering from Sunday’s Chihuahua Fest.  

After a whirlwind of activity at Famous Fido’s Chihuahua Fest on Saturday, the dogs needed a break, as did I! It was great to see all the people who came out to support our cause. This is one of our annual fundraisers designed to celebrate chihuahuas and raise awareness about this second most-killed dog breed in the United States.

Famous Fido is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to reduce the number of homeless pets euthanized each year through an adoption program, community education, and promotion of spaying and neutering. The organization receives no federal or state funding and relies solely on community donations, fundraising events, and volunteers to support operations and animal care. The group also advocates for legislation and ordinance changes to secure rights for all animals. For more information, visit Famous Fido’s website at

If you missed this event, don’t worry – the Halloween party is October 20th and there will be a costume contest with prizes, as well as live music and games.


Gone “Batty” for Bats

“Hey! I was napping here.” A silver-tailed bat fails to impress us with a showy display of hissing and teeth baring. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Don’t be deceived by this silver-haired bat’s ferocious appearance! You would be upset, too, if strangers burst into your room while you were sleeping and pulled you out of your bed only to put you in a paper bag. That’s kind of what happened to this little guy who was found hanging off a building in Chicago’s Loop this morning – snoozing! Although he did not appear hurt, we relocated him to a preserve south of the city anyway. Bats’ echolocation (the ultrasonic method they have of “seeing” their surroundings) becomes confused with unnaturally smooth surfaces like building glass. Thus, downtown Chicago is a not a friendly place for bats. Plus, these bats are so tiny that they are eaten by crows and seagulls, much the way songbirds are picked off by them, too.

Wasn’t I concerned about rabies? I’m so glad you asked. While you should never ever handle any wild animal, especially a bat, some people (like me) have been trained how to safely do so. However, very few bats actually have transmittable rabies viruses. The United States Center for Disease Control reports that only 6% of the bats submitted to them for testing have rabies. Bats submitted to them were sick or injured enough to be easily caught and contained, so this is not an accurate sampling of the actual percentage of rabies-carrying bats in the wild. Therefore, it is likely that a bat you encounter in the wild poses no rabies threat (or any other threat) whatsoever.  However, it is possible that bats active during the day, found in your home or on your lawn, or generally on the ground unable to fly could have active rabies virus. This is why you call the experts to help you out.

If not all bats are rabid, what other myths are there about bats? I’m glad you asked that as well:

  • Bats are not blind. They can see well even in low light but use a combination of eyesight and echolocation to zero in on some of their smaller insect prey.
  • Bats do not want to hang out in your hair. Sorry if you thought your new ‘do would be a great draw. Because bats rest upside down, they become airborne by dropping off of their perch before using their wings to swoop up. This creates the impression that they are aiming for your head. They’re not. They want nothing to do with you.
  • Bats are not bloodsuckers – mostly. Out of the over 1,200 species of bats in the world, only 3 feed on blood. Interestingly, not one of those species is in Europe, although you might think so given the stories and folklore surrounding bats and vampires.
  • Bats are not rodents with wings. Stop thinking that. Genetically speaking, they have more in common with primates than they do rodents. They’re also not birds – they’re mammals.

Bats also have many amazing qualities and help us out in ways we might not be aware of:

  • One bat can eat as many as 1,200 insects in an hour of feeding. You know how the mosquitos are out of control in the Chicagoland area? We need more bats.
  • Bats are critical pollinators for the plant kingdom.
  • Furthermore, fruit-eating bats perform the vital function of seed dispersal.
  • Bat poop (or guano), when collected responsibly, can have a very positive effect on local economies. It serves many functions, including acting as fertilizer.
  • Bats are tourist attractions. Bats don’t want to see us, but many of us want to see bats. In Austin, Texas alone, one bridge known for harboring tens of thousands of bats, generates $10,000,000 in tourism revenue each year. There are places like Carlsbad Caverns and others too numerous to name that generate a lot of revenue for the local community.

What if we saw bats as the allies that they are and not scary flying mice who want to nest in our hair? Check out Bat Conservation International for more information about this fascinating animal.

Striking Memories

Picket signs ready for pickup at the Hyatt in downtown Chicago. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Fred Klonsky muses on Duncan’s ridiculous comment and remembers the historic CTU strike – 6 years ago! His post is here:

I’ve been treated to my own memories of the CTU strike in my Facebook memories feed, and what strikes me is how passionately we believed in our fight, not just for ourselves but for our kids.

So, to the striking hotel workers in Chicago and the potentially striking teachers in L.A., I send you solidarity. As a former CTU member, I still feel a kinship with my fellow brothers and sisters.

A Scientist Walks Into a Bar: The Arapaima

The Field Museum: A Scientist Walks into a Bar event hosted by The Hideout. Photo by L.J. Bailey

The arapaima is a rather robust fish found only in Brazil and Guyana in the Amazon basin. Above is a picture of one of the fish where you can judge its size against a human being’s size. Not too long ago, many of the fish caught were fifteen feet long; today there are no fish longer than ten feet being caught. The arapaima are important to indigenous communities who rely on the fish for food, as well as cultural and religious ceremonies, and when arapaima size and population became alarmingly low, the Amerindians asked the scientific community for help to preserve these animals.

Lesley De Souza had been working on her Ph.D. in Neotropical fish studies when she came across this opportunity to head to the Amazon in Guyana and study the arapaima, and she took it. Part of her plan was to place a radio transmitter on the fish to track their movements. Because the arapaima move into the flooded forests during the rainy season, external transmitters were out of the question as the fish could become tangled in tree roots and injured or even killed. The plan was to surgically implant the transmitters in a cavity in the fish. Lesley studied the specimens in the Field Museum to form an idea as to how this surgery would work and received extensive veterinary advice.

You see, things become complicated because this is a fish that does not breathe underwater. Every five to fifteen minutes, the arapaima must return to the surface where it gulps the air before submerging to rest on the bottom of the water column again. In fact, it is this predictable behavior that led to the conservation concerns today. However, Lesley felt confident that she could perform the surgery quickly so as not to jeopardize the animal’s breathing.

Of course, things in the wild often do not go as planned. When they caught the first arapaima for the procedure, Lesley carefully took her surgical tools to open the cavity for the transmitter. Much to her surprise, the scales were hard, almost like an armor, and impossible to cut through. She started to doubt her ability to perform this procedure, but one of the members of the indigenous community who had provided invaluable information on the arapaima already asked why she wasn’t simply removing the two scales. She hadn’t thought of that and took a hemostat (similar to a pair of tweezers or forceps) to pry the scales free. This became one in a long series of events where the indigenous communities’ expertise proved invaluable, reminding members of the scientific community that it is critical for them to work with the people who know the land best and have been there for thousands of years.

One of Lesley’s biggest surprises was discovering that arapaia secrete milk from glands in their head to feed their young. This was not even well-known in the scientific community until recently, and it was not officially confirmed until an analysis of the stomach contents of a young arapaima showed the presence of signatures of the milk. The indigenous communities were surprised the scientists did not know about the milk – even more proof that scientists need to listen to indigenous people who are experts on their land.

Are there any surprising facts about plants or animals that you have discovered? Tell us about it in the comments. Thank you for reading!