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Humans Should Be So Noble

White Chinese Geese, originally uploaded by CARIBOUB.

In a touching opinion column in today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof shares his perspective on animal rights. While he is no sentimentalist, he came to love and respect farm animals during his childhood on a farm:

“…Then there were the geese, the most admirable creatures I’ve ever met. We raised Chinese white geese, a common breed, and they have distinctive personalities. They mate for life and adhere to family values that would shame most of those who dine on them.

While one of our geese was sitting on her eggs, her gander would go out foraging for food — and if he found some delicacy, he would rush back to give it to his mate. Sometimes I would offer males a dish of corn to fatten them up — but it was impossible, for they would take it all home to their true loves.

Once a month or so, we would slaughter the geese. When I was 10 years old, my job was to lock the geese in the barn and then rush and grab one. Then I would take it out and hold it by its wings on the chopping block while my Dad or someone else swung the ax.

The 150 geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a far corner of the barn, and run away in terror as I approached. Then I would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in my arms.

Very often, one goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk tremulously toward me. It would be the mate of the one I had caught, male or female, and it would step right up to me, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its lover.”

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What is the Mona Lisa Doing Here?

It was a cold winter day in Washington, DC, and the lines to get into the National Gallery of Art snaked all around the huge building. The year was 1963, and President Kennedy had managed a diplomatic coup by getting the French government to loan the Mona Lisa so that Americans could see the most famous work of art in the world.

The crowds to see it were unprecedented. One had to stand in line for hours and even overnight. A little boy was among the thousands who flocked to see the painting. Bundled up and shivering from the cold, he grew excited as his place in line finally got inside the building, and eventually into the very gallery where Leonardo’s masterpiece hung.

But being a short little kid, he had to wait until he could place himself squarely in front, just a foot or so from the canvas. And then he did something astonishing.

Unbuttoning his winter coat, he revealed his dog, whom he had been carrying secretly all this time.

“I wanted my dog to see the Mona Lisa,” he explained matter-of-factly to the startled guards.

How many dogs can claim to have accomplished such a feat?

Photograph: President Kennedy, Mme Malraux, French Minister of Culture André Malraux, Jackie Kennedy and Vice President Johnson at the unveiling of the Mona Lisa, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 8 January 1963
© Photo © Robert Knadsen, White House / John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston

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A Karmic Tale

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Earlier this year I wrote a story that seemed to touch many people’s hearts. It was about my friend Pamela and her beloved Brigandi, a wise soul in the outward form of a chow.

After 16 years of constant companionship, Brigandi had to depart this world.

To know him was to understand what deliberation meant. He understood his mortality, but more to the point, he understood how difficult his absence would be to his best friend. So he determined that somehow, some way, he would find a means to manifest his bond with her after he had gone.

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Call it karma or what you will. Brigandi figured out a way to guide to his Pamela another little soul in need of love. Her name is Bramwell—and as you can see, she is strong, Welsh, and overjoyed to be with her new companion.

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Love never ends. It just has new beginnings.

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Whale Thanks Rescuers

Whale Rescue

Recently a 50-ton female humpback whale had become hopelessly tangled in ropes and crab pots. Fortunately, a fisherman spotted her and called for help.

Divers took to the water in a daring rescue attempt. They had to cut the ropes with knives, and had the whale reacted, they could have been killed with a flip of her tail.

“When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me,” Moskito [one of the rescuers] said. “It was an epic moment of my life.”

When the whale realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. Moskito said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.

“It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that’s happy to see you,” Moskito said. “I never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience.”

Thanks to the San Francisco Chronicle for this heartwarming story.

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Surfing Bulldog

‘I’m NOT a surfer’, originally uploaded by Cynr.

A friend of mine sometimes invites me to her family’s beach house in southern California. One of their neighbors has a bulldog who is a fanatic about the beach. The minute the dog arrives she runs as fast as she can into the water, crashing her thick body against the waves with full force.

When a surfboard is within sight, she runs to it, jumps on it, and implores her human friends to take her surfing. What a sight she is! With her human standing on the back of the board, she balances on the front, ears flapping, mouth open in the widest possible smile.To see this bulldog throw herself into the water with total abandon is to understand what it is like to do something passionately, wholeheartedly. If only all humans could experience such total joie de vivre!

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Actor, Painter, Chimpanzee

cheeta.jpg While I was working at the National Gallery in London, the artist in residence was Peter Blake, who became famous to many because of his cover of the Beatles album, Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.As is the custom, the artist mounts an exhibition at the Gallery at the end of his stay. Peter Blake regarded another painter as his partner and collaborator, so he wanted that artist to share equal billing in the exhibition. The stage was set, then, for a historic first.As Britain’s foremost old masters museum, the National Gallery featured this artist, a chimpanzee, in the exhibition entitled Now We Are 64. The introductory wall showed photos of both artists, Peter Blake and Cheetah, with biographies. Indeed, they were both 64 years old, and like Blake, Cheetah had spent much of his life painting, especially after he retired from the movies.But what did the two artists have in common, really, I wondered? While Blake’s paintings showed subjects from pop culture, Cheetah’s were abstract: bold swaths painted for the sheer joy of movement and color. Was Blake deliberately poking a finger in the art critic’s eye? A chimpanzee at the National Gallery, home to the most accomplished masters: Vermeer, Van Eyck, Leonardo, Rembrandt–and now Cheetah?