Why I LOVE Animals: Beautiful Parrots

Why I LOVE Animals: Beautiful Parrots

Why I Love Animals is a monthly column published by Michelle Mantor in Houston PetTalk Magazine. Each column focuses on a different species, their value to our environment and what makes them unique in hopes that their future’s are preserved. Photo by Photography By Prudence What I love about animals is how they instill WONDER in me. I can’t really explain the reason why and I’m satisfied not to – I’m ok with just embracing the fact that God gave me a passion and I’m fortunate to have found it after years of searching.  Some of my earliest childhood memories were of my dogs and cats and the feeling that I needed to help them and somehow protect them from the many harms that could (and did) come their way. It was a compulsion in a sense that made me hyper-aware of any animal’s plight. For instance, it was painful for me to see my pets, or anyone else’s for that matter, hurting or not allowed to come inside in the cold West Virginia nights. I felt such anger when the old man next door would kick my dog for daring to come into his yard;  I felt such sorrow when my kittens died of everything from being hit by a car to being killed by the neighbor’s dog. I wanted nothing more than to protect my pets but at a young age, there was only so much I could do.  I lived in a world where i felt misunderstood. Didn’t anyone see that animals have emotions? Didn’t anyone feel their pain? Didn’t anyone see their value like I did? Obviously I still carry that pain or I wouldn’t be talking about it in my mid fifties LOL! So, yes, it is confirmed that I have the animal-empathy gene for sure! The pain still resonates because my love of animals is innate and heartfelt.  Having said all of that, for one reason or another, I didn’t choose a career in animal welfare.  Instead, I got an MBA and went corporate. I slogged through that career path, never feeling quite at home. Then, in 2003, I got my break from the life of desks, spreadsheets, quotas, meetings and mega-egos when the opportunity to publish PetTalk manifested. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a huge learning curve but I took the leap and never looked back. For all of the gratefulness I have in finding this path, I decided to start a column in 2019 about my love of all creatures and to share the unique qualities of many species with you, in hopes that you too will celebrate the value of animals that make our world so interesting, sustainable and beautiful. Fast forward to here and now, as I sit in the presence of this charming Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot and this fantastically beautiful Green-wing Macaw. Their colors are so brilliant and defined, as if drawn by a meticulous artist. Not a single feather is misplaced on the landscape of color variations. Their body is artwork, yet they offer so much more. Macaws, the largest type of parrot, are native to Central America and North America (only Mexico), South America, and formerly the Caribbean. Like other parrots, toucans and woodpeckers, macaws are zygodactyl, having their first and fourth toes pointing backward. Many macaws are “colors in the wind” with brilliantly defined plumage which is suited to life in Central and South American rain forests, with their green canopies and colorful fruits and flowers. They have large, powerful beaks to crack nuts and seeds, while their dry, scaly tongues have a bone inside them that makes them an effective tool for tapping into fruits. Macaws are intelligent, social birds that often gather in flocks of 10 to 30.  Their loud calls, squawks, and screams echo through the forest canopy as they vocalize to communicate within the flock, mark territory, and identify one another. Typically, they mate for life and they not only breed with, but also share food with their mates and enjoy mutual grooming. In breeding season, mothers incubate eggs while fathers hunt and bring food back to the nest.  When properly taken care of, some macaw species can live 60-80 years. For those interested in adopting a macaw, you must be willing to commit enough time to care for them and make provisions for their care in case they outlive you.  Unfortunately, as with many majestic and amazing animals, some macaws are now endangered in the wild and a few are extinct. The greatest problems threatening the macaw population are the rapid rate of deforestation and illegal trapping for the bird...

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Respect

Respect

Respect – as published in December 2018 Issue of Houston PetTalk: Photo by Evin Thayer; LB provided by Mini Pig Rescue of Houston Being a part of humanity is filled with questions – Why are we here? What are we trying to accomplish? What is God’s plan? Why is there evil and pain? The list could go on and on with the BIG questions that drive us crazy because the answers are arbitrary and typically not provable, thus reducing the answers to a matter of faith.  We are barraged with information, hatred, love, cruelty, injustice, good-hearted people, freedom of choice, suppression, abuse, jealousy, heroism and more in this big black cauldron being stirred together in a soup called LIFE. As a people, we have to navigate through it, digest it all and make choices based on our own beliefs and individual situations. Simply put, it can be hard to be a human and live in this world. Some people unfortunately can’t cope and create their own demise. Others struggle but find a way to see a positive outcome and on the whole, seem to maintain a balance. For me personally, the uncertainty in our world and the evil that exists are two of the most disconcerting aspects.  However, there is one element of humanity that I don’t struggle with, I don’t question and that I know for sure: the concept of respect for all things. Between humans, respect for one another is a universal expectation (but that doesn’t mean it actually occurs 100% of the time). There are plenty of examples to point to that defy this basic principle of humanity but for the most part, respect between people exists unless there is a factor of greed or evil present. Moving past respect between humans, the slope gets very slippery. As humans at the top of the food chain and possessing the highest IQ, we have a responsibility to be the stewards of all else including animals, plants and all aspects of our environment on earth and beyond. Just because we CAN disrespect, abuse or misuse something doesn’t mean we SHOULD. The world we have been given is quite spectacular. If you’ve ever stared at Caribbean waters, studied a peacock’s feathers, smelled a gardenia, hiked to a waterfall, witnessed a rainbow, watched horses race across a meadow, been mesmerized by a harvest moon, then you know what I’m talking about. There is so much beauty, innocent life-forms, and extraordinary geological displays that to not steward and protect them is not only disrespectful, it’s reprehensible. I’m not talking about being extreme and being upheld to impractical standards, I’m referring to a basic level of respect for all living things and our environment.  Take LB (short for Little Bit) as an example, who was so gracious to pose with me and underscore my point. He comes from one of the most abused, tortured, misunderstood yet intelligent species on earth…the pig. Many studies have been conducted regarding pigs and it’s no secret among those who care to know the truth that pigs can solve cognitive problems, they display emotions, they have unique personalities, they love to play and they are easy to train. Authors Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and founder of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, and Christina M. Colvin, a professor at Emory University, published a research paper about domestic pigs in which their findings conclude that pigs are mentally and socially similar to dogs and chimpanzees. They go on to say that pigs  are cognitively complex and share many traits with animals whom we consider intelligent. I have often heard that pigs have the intelligence of a 3 or 4 year old human.  The unfortunate circumstance for pigs is that they are considered a food animal all over the globe and they are treated horrifically for that purpose. Over 97 percent of pigs in the world are raised in factory farms. Meaning, they never see the light of day, they are kept in crowded unsanitary conditions and injected with hormones to make them grow abnormally large and antibiotics to keep them breathing until slaughter. In addition to the unhealthy conditions this food animal is raised in, pigs are known to carry some diseases, the processed meat of pigs is deemed a cancer causing agent by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the pig’s digestive system is ripe for keeping toxins intact. But having said all of that, there are plenty of people who will consume pork all over the world, every day. I can’t convince a person not to eat something but I think a balanced awareness is in order when it comes...

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My Rescue Horse Freedom: Our Journey of the Heart

My Rescue Horse Freedom: Our Journey of the Heart

After a year and a half, I finally saw my dream of a Horse issue for PetTalk come true featuring my rescue horse Freedom and our journey together. Many people were instrumental in helping me save him and I hope our story inspires others to rescue any species their hear desires! Read our story in the digital issue of Houston PetTalk Jan. 2018....

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Essay: Vulnerability

Essay:  Vulnerability

Michelle Mantor with Jeda as published in December 2016 Issue of Houston PetTalk Magazine. Photos by Evin Thayer. We live in a world that values strength, power, and toughness. Whether it’s a movie with a powerful main character or a parent teaching their young boy to “be tough” with his emotions or the images of muscled bodies in magazine ads, there’s no denying that our culture rewards the idea of strength. Which, in turn, is why it’s so hard for us to be vulnerable. Opening ourselves up to needing something or someone is a scary prospect. If we think about the many lessons we are taught in life, quite a few of them are centered around the theme of self-reliance. Think back to the values that your parents and other teachers have worked hard to ingrain in you – be your own person and don’t be influenced negatively by others, find a way to make enough money so that you don’t have to rely on others for your basic needs, stand up for what you believe even if it’s not the most popular stance, and so on. These are all positions of strength and they are important lessons because they help us make good decisions, encourage us to be self-reliant and basically help us survive in this world. However, as in most things in life, a delicate balance is needed in order for the best possible outcome. In the case of vulnerability, the scales often tip too far to the side of needing to project strength, which isn’t surprising given that the stakes for being weak are quite high in humanity. The unfortunate result of this imbalance is that vulnerability, because it’s viewed as negative, is an emotion or state of being that many people avoid, thus stripping them of some of the most basic connections a human can experience. Vulnerability is that place where we allow ourselves to feel unsure. It’s the place of no guarantees and possibly even pain or rejection. Being vulnerable is asking someone on a date while knowing they might say no. Being vulnerable is telling someone you love them first, not knowing if they will reciprocate. Being vulnerable is trying out for a team or a position knowing you might not get it. Being vulnerable is being a human or pet parent that loves your child or pet so immensely, all the while knowing God could call them away from you at any time. We are so afraid to feel this level of insecurity that we find a myriad of strategies to avoid the feelings. We overindulge in food, we drink alcohol, take pills, shop incessantly and cram our schedules full so that we don’t have time to come face to face with the scary monster called vulnerability. But what do we give up for the attempt at not being vulnerable? We give up the deepest feelings of attachment because we are too afraid of what we will feel like if the attachment breaks. We falsely believe that it’s better not to be “All In” and preserve our heart than to let go of fear and connect as our authentic self to those important beings in our life. To that point, we can take a lesson from our pets about how to love with all of your heart, not just part of your heart. Pets don’t put restrictions or “what if’s” into their thought process. They just do what instinctually feels right with no thought of consequences, failures or rejections. Accepting the very deep place of vulnerability into our lives and giving up our need to control all outcomes, might be one of the hardest battles we face in becoming a well-rounded, loving, inclusive, self-confident, grateful participant in humanity. If you fear vulnerability, this holiday season is the perfect time to start allowing yourself to feel the “space” of your mind and your heart. Let go of the frantic pace, the facade, the fear that you may be imperfect. Instead, celebrate that you ARE imperfect, like everyone is, but you are UNIQUELY imperfect, thus offering the world something special. Take time for a walk in nature or meditation in place of shopping or overindulging. Discover what things make you feel vulnerable and embrace them. Go ahead and say Will You Marry Me? if that is what’s in your heart for that someone special. Go ahead and ask for that promotion if you really want more responsibility. Go ahead and adopt another pet if you’ve lost one and you’re afraid of loving and losing another companion. Stop trying to be perfect, strong and totally self-sufficient. That’s just a scam....

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Essay: Friendship

Essay: Friendship

Michelle Mantor with Jeda as published in December 2015 Issue of Houston PetTalk Magazine. Photos by Evin Thayer. Meet my new friend, Jeda. As many of you know, I lost my Briard and long-time friend of 15 years, Remy, in 2011. I still miss her and think of her often. Life’s journey offers us hilltops with great highs and valleys with great lows and Remy was steadfastly there for the ride. But once she was gone, daily life just wasn’t as rich. Enter Jeda. Also a Briard, Jeda is quite a character and has carved out her own little piece of my heart. I’m happy to say that we’ve built trust between us and have become friends. That’s what friends do – they make our lives more fulfilled. Can you imagine your life without friends? I’m not referring to acquaintances or relationships that might be characterized as “friends” but are not enduring, meaning with just a small change, the communication ends. Those relationships certainly serve a purpose in our lives working as a secondary support system but I am referring to those friendships that have substance, strength and longevity. I am blessed to have many of these lasting friendships and the cool part is that I keep making more. Life never runs out of people for us to give our love to! The secret to building strong friendships is to be a reliable friend yourself. That means helping a friend in need even if it’s not convenient, listening for hours to their woes, being honest when they ask for advice, being respectful of commitments you make to them, showing them they matter and the most important one in my opinion – don’t forget to be silly and have some fun together! Laughter, before or after the tears, is an essential element of the friendship bond. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who is a true friend and who is not. I believe there are a few fundamentals to true friendship versus “being friendly”: One is the test of time and the other is sacrifice. In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends. Of all the different types of friends in my life, there is one I never have to question what their commitment is to me – my furry friends. Our pets are in a different category all to themselves. Of course they are not as dynamic in their interaction with us as a human but what giving souls they are! Can you name a time when your pet wasn’t happy to see you? They need our care in order to survive and they realize we are their strongest ally in life. For being their caretaker, we are given devotion and I can’t think of anything I would rather have. Many a word has been written about the human-animal bond as well as why dogs are called Man’s Best Friend. Yes, they are loyal, love us no matter who we are, they have our backs, they have no hate, greed or jealousy, only pure hearts and they love to be part of the pack and socialize. I for one am happy God gave us these authentic little creatures. This holiday, celebrate your friendships, both human and animal. Give your friends your attention and your love. I don’t know about your human friends but your furry friends will happily give you a big sloppy kiss of thanks – the best Christmas gift of all!...

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Essay: Having Fun

Essay: Having Fun

Michelle Mantor with Neema and Miles at the Houston Zoo as published in the December 2014 issue of Houston PetTalk Magazine. Photos by Evin Thayer. One gorgeous Houston day, I was out playing my favorite sport of tennis with some other ladies. I was having a great time and suddenly I realized I was skipping back to my place to return serve. Skipping! Then I had the thought, “What are you doing? You are way too old to be skipping. That’s for children!” But in reflection. I started wondering why, as adults, are we not supposed to show such frivolousness? Why do we have to behave with such decorum? Somewhere along life’s journey, society teaches us that the silly, fun, spontaneous actions of a child is not appropriate for an adult. If we were to see someone in the middle of a shopping mall turning circles and looking to the sky and then jumping around and sticking their hand in the water fountain, we would deem that person mentally disturbed. But isn’t that a sad thing to think that we must drop our outward sense of childlike fun to show that we are a sane, responsible grown-up? Each of us has a different idea of what we think is fun but that’s what makes people interesting –  the fact that we are different. I, for example, liked to play Barbies with my daughter when she was younger. Unfortunately, she has “outgrown” Barbies and I have to wonder is that because she really doesn’t like to play any longer or because she feels she is too old? Can you just imagine how crazy my friends would think I am if I invited them over to play Barbies? It’s unthinkable! (By the way, that’s one of the little known secrets about being a mom. It gives us a chance to play our old childhood favorites without looking like we are nuts!) Having fun means “to have an amusing or enjoyable experience.” It is good food for our soul to sometimes set aside our more serious concerns, problems and worries to amuse ourselves and give our hearts a reason to smile. For me, going to the zoo and observing animals is fun. I loved feeding the giraffes during my photoshoot. They were not shy about nudging me for more lettuce which of course made me giggle. You can see by the outtakes that I was having a great time! For pet lovers, the free-spirited nature of animals may be one of the reasons that we find their companionship so fulfilling. If you watch your dog or cat (or most animals), you can see them at play essentially having fun. We may wonder why it appears so amusing to go get a ball and bring it back and go get a ball and bring it back and so on but for whatever reason they find it enjoyable. They don’t seem to really care if we think it’s crazy or not. They are just following their instincts, not rules imposed upon them by the judgments of others. And, what I really find fascinating about animals is that they are willing to play most anytime. Short of not feeling well, any of my pets will hop right up and start playing instantly out of a dead sleep if given the opportunity. I think that’s an awesome characteristic to never miss a nanosecond of a chance to have fun! Imagine if we could get every human being in the world to stop what they’re doing and have 10 minutes of fun. No matter the gravity of their problems, if they could just be allowed 10 free minutes of joy. This could possibly change the world by showing us that essentially we are all the same but we unintentionally deprive ourselves of one of the best gifts given to us by our Creator which is to experience joy in our hearts. Sometimes I wonder when I look at the strife in our world, especially the man-made strife of an evil terrorist, how that person got that way. How did their heart get consumed with so much evil? Were they deprived of life’s gifts and the depravity led them to feel animosity and hate? I know it’s idealistic but wouldn’t it be cool if these people could have 10 minutes of fun, feel the joy of it and decide they would rather spread joy than hate? Clearly not going to happen but it is an interesting thought to imagine that taking time for fun could bring world peace. This holiday season, if even for a moment, do something you think is fun even...

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