Originally published on Global Animal: 

Any animal lover can see the benefits of supporting a rescue, pound or shelter. If you’ve heard the Humane Society statistic that 4-5 million animals are killed each year in shelters, you know that shelters need all the help they can get to get these animals adopted out. 
I recently was to deal with an abandoned hoard of rabbits that were going to be killed, and I had to research how to get them to homes. One option was a local no-kill rabbit-specific shelter. They were full, which is understandable. I asked them how long it takes them to adopt out rabbits. The representative estimated that they adopt out one pair of rabbits every few months.

Contrast this with the pet stand in a nearby swapmeet that gets an estimated 25 rabbits to homes every couple of weeks.

The shelter is definitely a better place to get a pet, for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which involves the importance of rescuing an animal from euthanasia. In fact, we support banning pet stores that sell commercially-bred pets in malls. Pet stores, including this pet stand at the swap meet, get their animals from breeders and pet mills.

For animal enthusiasts, it can be frustrating to know that anyone would think of buying a pet from a breeder or store when there are so many that need to be saved. However, it turns out that sometimes consumers are incentivized to buy new animals.

Let’s compare the Rabbit Resource Center with the pet stand:

Rabbits from:




Requirements for adoption:


Rabbits Are:


How many rabbits gotten to homes each year (estimated): 
Rabbit Resource Center

Abandoned Rabbits


Strip-mall on side-street

-Must not be for a child or class room
-Must take at least two, or already have one at home
-Indoor housing
-Home visit
-No non-spayed or non-neutered rabbits at home
-You must commit to having the animal its entire life
-Must fill out 3-page application
-Follow-up home visit 

-Litter-box trained


Pet Island Pet Stand



Heavily Trafficked indoor swap meet



Animal volunteers are caring people who want to make sure that the animals go to the best home available. Policies are in place to make sure that animals that are adopted out go to suitable guardians who will take good care of them throughout their lifetime.  It is important to see where the animal is going, and make sure that the adopter knows what it means to adopt a pet. This makes sense, except when shelters and rescues go overboard.

The pet overpopulation problem is a desperate scenario, so we should treat it with some desperation. When I adopted out the rabbits I had in my care, I put as much effort as I could into finding homes for them fast, and the only stipulation was that I would trust the new guardians. They were given to friends and friends-of-friends and, as I’ve followed up with them, I know they are all healthy and happy in their homes. What would have happened if I had given them to a rescue?

An Examiner article details an account of someone in the market for a pit bull being denied by a rescue group. The potential pet-guardian found a perfect rescue pet, but the policy mandated that he keep the dog in a crate while he is not home. The rescue suspects that any dog left to wander the house while the guardian isn’t around will chew on property and then be returned to the facilities. The adopter insisted that he would not return the dog if that happened, and he refused to crate the dog while he was not home. When he was rejected, the dog went to the shelter, and the adopter instead purchased a dog from a breeder.

Think of all the ways that the rescue could have handled the situation differently. They could have made an exception. They could not enforce that particular rule. They could let the adopter take the dog for a trial period to see how the animal acted at home. They could at least give the dog over for some time; even if he does return it, where’s the harm?

Here are actual rules that some shelters and rescues enforce regarding adopters:

  • No adopters with children (minimum age varies)
  • No adopters who work (so you must spend most of your time home with your pet)
  • Adopters must have a gated yard
  • Interview with your vet (no first-time pet guardians)
  • No one wheelchair-bound (must be able to walk the dog yourself, you cannot delegate or hire someone)
  • No other pets at home
Regardless of whether the animal you’re trying to adopt is at a kill-shelter or no-kill, you’re saving a life. Even the happiest, friendliest, cutest animals are killed every day at kill-shelters when they run out of room. Before the shelter kills an animal, though, they often call no-kill shelters. If there is any room there, the animal will be transferred. Every time an animal is taken from a no-kill shelter, it means that one from a kill shelter will be saved.

The Rabbit Resource Center consistently gets calls from animal shelters asking if they have room to take in more red-listed (few days to live) animals, and they rarely do. If they could adopt out their animals in a more efficient manner then they wouldn’t have to pass up so many opportunities to rescue shelter rabbits.

Here are some suggestions on how shelters and rescues could benefit by acting more like pet stores:

  • Invest in well-trafficked areas, such as shopping malls, so people can see the animals.
  • Instead of tons of rules, talk to each adopter and assess whether the situation is right for the animal.
  • Bring in rescued purebreds and charge money for them. Oftentimes, people think that the more expensive something is, the better it is. (That’s certainly not true with animals, but people still think that.)
  • Put lower fees on animals that have been there a long time. Make sure that no animal costs more than he or she would at a breeder.
  • Put low fees on animals, but charge for mandatory spay/neuter vouchers for those that are not fixed.
  • Showcase a variety in front. There may be someone who has been looking for a tortoiseshell tabby for a long time and sees you have one.
  • Hire business people: Advertisers to promote them, behavioral economists to improve sales, etc.
There are also many things that pet stores do that shelters should never emulate. I understand that one reason that shelter fees can be high is that they actually take care of their animals and don’t try to mass-produce them. That should remain standard. Pet stores are also often dishonest about where they got their animals, and the health and background of them. While a pet-store-like model could increase efficiency, shelters must always maintain their primary goal above (though not instead of) profit: to help animals.

I want every dog, cat, rabbit and pet to find the best forever home in the world. But a system that makes it harder to rescue a pet than to support puppy and kitten mills is completely backwards. When so many are killed for want of a home, animal volunteers must remember that a good but imperfect home is better than the back room.

No one took it seriously when the man who calls himself Starblade posted online that someone wanted to kill him. But on May 14, 2012, his friend and former lover is expected to go to trial on the accusation of having murdered Starblade.

Starblade's real name is Matthew Paul Finnigan and ever since he was a child, he had been put in programs where he didn’t belong. Matthew was autistic, and was put in special education programs with students with nonverbal learning disorders and juvenile delinquents. Matthew was often bullied by these other students, and learned their destructive habits. The issue tragically climaxed when Matthew died of a stab wound allegedly inflicted by a supposedly mentally disturbed student in one of his programs.

The Victim
Matthew’s mother, Patricia Finnigan, is not fond of the educational system that her son was put into. She told me about Matthew’s history.
As kids on the autism spectrum sometimes tend to be, Matthew had problems being social and seemed to lack sufficient awareness of those around him. But he was also remarkable. In kindergarden, his mother recounted, he got frustrated in math class because it was too easy for him.  While the class was still learning addition, Matthew had incredibly mastered multiplication.

On-line, Matthew was known as “Starblade,” along with a host of other aliases accumulated as each one built up a bad reputation. He frequented the websites of a subculture called “furries,” or fans of anthropomorphic animals. The community consists of partiers, social outcasts, animal artists, roleplayers, costumers and others, but it is centered on animal characters. “Starblade” is Matthew’s character, a coconut-flavored dragoness. Unlike most furries, he was also an otherkin, or someone who believes he has a non-human soul. Matthew believed that he was literally a dragon on the inside.

Matthew met with furries in real life as well, and had no more respected of a presence. A furry named Synn, whose character is a peacock-wolf, recounts a story illustrating his general mannerisms, taking place at a friend’s birthday party. Although Starblade was not invited, the event was temporarily posted in public on a bay area furry meetup group website. He came and, right in front of the birthday boy’s mother, drank some soda, spilled half on his beard and shirt, and then dropped the half-empty cup on the floor, stepped over it and walked away.

His journal and forum posts were considered dramatic and sometimes threatening. He is even accused of stalking people. He is most infamous for the meme “Fuck you, I’m a dragon!” based on some debate forum responses which have since been deleted. He was so consistently over-reactive that when he insisted that people were stalking him, or when he threatened to kill himself, few of the readers took it seriously. He posted multiple times a former boyfriend had threatened to kill him. On August 24, 2010 he posted this to an on-line journal site at starblade-enkai.livejournal.com: 

Furry 3 [Referring to himself] receives death threats.Nobody listens. They offer no means to escape this furry's impending doom and likely no pity when the furry is eventually killed.Tell me again why furry is considered full of good, caring people?

To his friends and family in real life, he also faced the many challenges. But friends and family write on memorial pages that he had a genuinely kind soul, felt remorse for those he wronged, and was just trying to do his best being dealt a challenging hand. “He just needed so much help in his life,” Patricia said.

Children on the autism spectrum, depending on how high-functioning they are, can need special education. Some subjects they may excel at, but they might have problems understanding the subtleties of human emotions and interaction. There are programs designed to help these students learn in a group environment. Matthew was placed in several of these as a child.

He attended a school called Marchus in Concord, California, for students with special needs. He was bored with the teachings as they only taught to the lowest California high school graduation standards. Since other students had disabilities ranging from physical disabilities to mental retardation and criminal violence, the situation, as described by his mother, was far from a warm, nurturing one. Instead he was preyed upon by bullies, exacerbating his social problems.

Patricia knows this topic well. Her own mother was a special education teacher who taught autistic kids. When the school system started lumping the emotionally disturbed and children with nonverbal learning disorders with the autistic ones, the class was so disruptive that she couldn’t teach anymore.

When he graduated high school, Matthew and his family found what they thought would be a great arrangement for college. They visited Monterey, California, and Matthew fell in love. He enjoyed the beach, and there was a community college, a California State University campus, and a private university, the first of which he ultimately enrolled in. Matthew’s parents were concerned, though, that he wouldn’t be able to adjust on his own to college. They were initially relieved to find a program called College Living Experience, which is designed to help students with learning disabilities and other challenges transition to life on their own.

One semester, Matthew overloaded on classes,(Patricia couldn’t recall if it was 17 or 19 units) and the stress drove him to a bout with what was diagnosed as temporary schizophrenia. He was given treatment and meds supported by the state. However, Patricia recounted, once someone accepts clinical help from the state, they and their family lose certain rights to decide treatment. On February 25, 2010, he posted his feelings on Livejournal.

I need some place to go, where people aren't deciding what's best for me. What's best for me is strangely enough what's worst for me. Prison is more desirable than when they can throw me into the retard pit. I just want out.

It was difficult to tell which of his actions were a result of the bout of schizophrenia, which were his autism, and which were just a result of being a bullied and sensitive teenager. It seemed that Matthew’s life was prone to throwing him curveballs. Still, he eventually got off of the schizophrenia meds and was considered cured. He even started expressing remorse for the drama he took part in online and posted that he wanted to make amends.

College Living Experience
College Living Experience seemed like a program that could lead Matthew in the direction he wanted to go while at Monterey Peninsula College. According to the website, the program “provides intensive assistance to students of with varying abilities. Some students have autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Syndrome. Others have conditions such as dyslexia and ADD/ADHD or social and emotional maturation issues.”

“CLE offered everything that they really needed for him to succeed, everything that kids on the autism spectrum don't really get naturally,” said Patricia. They do not list their costs on their website, but a fact-sheet of resources for students with learning disabilities lists the program costs as around $30,000 per 12-month period. The program is private and operates off-campus, and provides a variety of services, including a variety of academic and social mentors. This program is where Matthew met James Torrey Hill, who is said to be emotionally disturbed.

Matthew may have seen himself as a dragon, but his mother saw him as a lamb: gentle and somewhat vulnerable. Patricia felt that putting Hill in the program was “like putting a wolf in with sheep.”

The Accused
The mugshot that appeared in newspapers in 2010 looked little like the suspect being detained in Monterey County Jail. James Torrey Hill's photo was in a newsbrief, and the same picture was on an identification bracelet he wore. In the picture he was heavy and pale, with short hair and a large hole in one of his earlobes, made by a thick-guage earring. Now he sat behind thick glass with a phone to his non-modified ear, with glasses, long hair, and minus 60 or so pounds.

He’s called “Torrey” by most, “Magician” and “Big Bird” he claims by others, but when he first came into jail he wanted to be called “Phoenix.”

“I’m like a Phoenix rising from the ashes,” he explained, smiling and gesticulating. “I’m on a path to becoming a better person.”

Hill and Finnigan attended Monterey Peninsula College together, and although they had no classes together, they met at an CLE. According to news sources, the two had dated for a period of time, but were friends at the time of Finnigan’s death.

According the the Monterey County Herald, Hill had a preoccupation with killing someone and made it his life’s goal. The Herald reported that Hill said he was “sick of school,” “sick of life” and “might as well go to jail.”

I asked Hill if any of these claims were true. “One thing I have learned in here,” he said, “is that newspapers lie all the time. They’ll just make up whatever they want to sell newspapers.”

The Incident
People involved in the case have been advised not to discuss matters with the media, so it was challenging to get information for this article. According to the Monterey County Herald, Hill has pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but what happened on the night of Matthew Paul Finnigan’s death will not be legally decided until the jury trial, which is scheduled to take place by the time this is published, on May 14, 2012.[UPDATE 8/1/12: The case has not gone to jury trial. A doctor report is scheduled for 9/19/12.]

Virginia Hennessey of The Monterey County Herald, as well as other news sources, reported updates from a hearing:

Matthew went over to Hill’s apartment and played some video games. Hill testified that he had gone into the kitchen and got a knife, which Hill hid up his sleeve.

Officer Jeff Gibson responded to a 911 call in which the voices of both Hill and Matthew were heard, reporting a stabbing. Matthew had asked Hill to call the police, but Hill testified that he refused because he wanted to see Matthew suffer. Gibson testified that Hill came to the door with blood on his shorts, and that a bloody knife was found in a kitchen trash can. Matthew was found bleeding from a stab wound and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in San Jose. He bled for two hours before dying.

During a recess in the hearing, the mothers of both Hill and Matthew went into the bathroom and sobbed.

Synn remembers that she was at a weekly furry get-together when she first heard about Stablade’s death. She recounted this story on Facebook chat. 

here's something funny (maybe) but sad. Most of us were at chicken when we heard starblade was dead. We had seriously been telling funny awkward starblade stories the week before. Some fur, I can't remember who, comes up to a group I'm with and says "starblade is dead!" We all laugh and someone said "if only!" Then the first person assured us it was true and he had seen it on the news. We were silent for a few seconds then all burst into laughter. He became the butt of a ton of jokes, there was no "too soon" period for him. 

When Matthew's prediction of homicide came true, the responses were mixed. Many posts on his pages are private, have been deleted or the writers banned from the websites on which they wrote. On October 6, 2010, an anonymous user wrote on Starblade’s livejournal:

Even I, who hated you with the best of them, fucking cried.

You were always genuine and unfiltered. You always said what you felt. But for once, Starblade, you were disturbingly prescient.

Nobody should have to die this way. Nobody should ever have to be jealous of Furry #2, and nobody should feel fated to be number #3. Starblade was going to die, he knew he was utterly doomed, and here he was writing an obituary for himself.

Nobody gave a shit.

I'm really sorry.

After that, another anonymous comment:

I'm also sorry that the only place that you found solace and a sense of belonging, a place where people understood and shared your interests, in [sic] couldn't wait to be rid of you.

Some posted that they were genuinely glad about Matthew’s death. Others didn’t post anything publicly, but still hated him very much. Others were upset at the death of any member of the fandom, and still others said they won’t miss him, but he didn’t deserve this.

His family and friends held a funeral service in Danville, California, near his family’s home. In lieu of flowers, they asked for a donation to the Matthew Paul Finnigan Scholarship Fund. I tried to send a letter to the donation address, but it didn’t go through. I asked Patricia where that fund was going.
“Well, we were going to use the money to help another student get into CLE,” she said. “But now there’s no way in hell we’re going to do that!”

The End
Matthew’s family hopes for some small justice, in that more care will be taken to improve the standards for how people on the autism spectrum will be treated in education. The furries have gone on their way; they continue to attend conventions and draw characters. The dragon is dead, but there’s no hero to this story. And there’s no more time for Starblade to make amends or find peace or acceptance. 
Two-headed calf skeleton by C.Puremorning

I can hammer a nail into my nose, and I know all the names of the deer with fangs. I listen to Ripley's Oddcast, and I've been trying to get a group to go together to go to the California Institute of Abnormal Arts. My desktop is a picture of a two-headed cow. I hula-hoop with fire and read about cults. The normal is great, but the abnormal is most captivating.

For this post, I won't explain why we love to learn about the abnormal, but why we should. Looking at that youtube vid of a two-legged kitten is fun, but maybe it can mean more than that.

Inherently, the fun aspect is a practical value; it fosters curiosity, learning and amusement. Additionally, there's no reason not to capitalize and expand on amusement. In journalism, we learn this adage: “If a dog bites a man, that's not news. If the man bites back, that's news.” People love knowledge of the bizarre, so we should love the potential it has for media.

Secondly, one could argue that it fosters a more accepting environment by expanding our view of reality and opening our minds to diverse practices.

When I worked at the rock wall at California State University, Northridge, one of my co-workers was reading a magazine, and she expressed alarm at an article that was written there. It detailed the relationship a woman had with a younger man, a man who was friends with, and more similar in age, to the woman's daughter.

“Isn't that weird?” my co-worker asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I've seen weirder.” I didn't mention it, but I had read of a man who married a dog, and a woman who married the moon. There's always something weirder, and at some point you just accept that there are strange tastes out there. I'm always interested, but it's hard to put me off or freak me out. In other words, through my knowledge of diversity, I'm more accepting of the marginal lifestyles.

Of course, that's not to say that the strange are always portrayed fairly. Ask any person whether their profession, hobby, culture, or they themselves—strange or not—have been portrayed fairly in the media, and they will say “no.” No matter how hard a journalist tries to get the full story, someone will think it's unfair. C'est la vie.

Learning about the heterodoxical can also teach us about the normal. For example, in the book Mutants: On Genetic Variety and Human Form, the author discusses diprosopus, or the formation of two faces on one person or animal. Creatures with this condition have an excess of a protein called Sonic Hedgehog Homolog, the gene that controls for facial width. Cyclopes, who have a face so narrow that their eyes merge into one, don't have enough of this protein. Without the cyclopes and two-faced freaks (and of course I mean that in the most endearing way), we would have known of no connection between face widths and the Sonic Hedgehog Homolog protein. To a biologist studying embryonic development, there are pertinent implications.

Sometimes, though, we learn about the strange and determine that it is actually a normal thing. For example, say you do something particularly strange. Say you're not attracted to anyone, and you are asexual. Then you see an article or news segment describing a strange culture of people as bizarre, maybe “messed up,” a group of asexuals. AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, brings together people to discover that there is a group of people who feel the same way. Although it's likely that the group was portrayed as an oddity, and others look at the group as weird, you've just discovered that your little strangeness is not unique, and ultimately it's just an uncommon variation.

So learning about the unbelievable has a lot of implications, from scientific to social to just entertainment. Perhaps these are the reasons that we love abnormal, because it expands our minds and has real-world implications. So, here's a picture of a unicorn (tricorn?) cow. Expand your mind with it.
In her late thirties, Spencer Bane’s wife became sick with breast cancer. As her condition worsened, the couple was faced with the unthinkable, and they sat down to discuss what they would do differently with their lives. If they could do it again, knowing that life is so fleeting, what would they change?

Spencer Bane (not his real name) has lived an incredible life thus far. He's graduated from Harvard and MIT, been a doctor, invented medical equipment, became a millionaire, started several businesses and a nonprofit, married, and now he teaches at Stanford, works in a nonprofit he helped found, and has wildcats in his Northern California home. He's also full of poignant wisdom, dispelled eloquently and garnered from his impressive travels. 

By my standards at least, and more importantly by his own measure, Spencer's fifty years have been exciting to say the least, and successful in more ways than one. This is why it's surprising to hear how he's been spending his time and money lately.

"I'm really pushing furriness this year," said Spencer. "I must be hitting eight conferences this year, and I'm really enjoying that."

"Furriness" means different things for different people. Spencer goes to "furry conventions," which, for the unfamiliar, are meet-ups for those who celebrate, draw, and sometimes dress up as an animal persona. Spencer has been to many conventions, and he wears full-body spandex, called Zentai, in the pattern of various wild cats. He also has a custom-made serval costume, complete with fur, tail, and claws. It looks somewhat menacing, but it was clear that many felt comfortable approaching him, talking about the costume, and hugging. Many were comfortable enough even to follow him to his room or other room party for casual encounters.

Sometimes Spencer will even wear these costumes in public, non-furry-related places. He wore a tiger-striped full-body suit with a tail and a jacket to a university class reunion, claiming that his outfit adhered to the "coat and tails" dress code. His classmates were surprised, but amused. 

Spencer says that going to furry conventions "didn't even rate on the scale" of weird things he's done when he told his family about (the more innocent parts of) furriness. More surprising, he said, was when he announced to his family that he was going to get wildcats in his house. His residence is now a registered rescue, and he allows people to come in and visit his cats. This includes a bengal (or Asian leopard cat), a Savannah cat (hybrid of domestic and wild cats) and a full serval. The serval, who stands about three feet high, was a runt of a litter and so a zoo reject.

One of the more surprising things he did was when he (temporarily) dropped out of medical school to start a company called Boston Medical Research.

After Venture Capital invested in his idea, Spencer got to work creating a chip. "What we were finding was that a large number of cases of medications not working, and hospitalizations, were due to the fact that people didn't remember to take their pills," explained Spencer. "So our company created a chip to put in pill bottles that would remind users when to take their pills."

The product proved effective in clinical trials. However, insurance companies didn't want to pay for the technology and care providers were concerned about jealousy should only some patients get this advantage. In the end the product failed.

"It was probably the saddest day of my life, up until that time. I would say it was the saddest thing that ever happened to me, other than the loss of people. I thought it was like losing a small child, except now that I have children, I know how different it is."

However disheartened Spencer might have been, he was not thrown off course. He continued inventing, made a few businesses, and became a millionaire. One of his inventions that did take off was the T-stat, a sort of X-ray that measures the growth of tumors non-invasively. Now he's working on a non-profit for reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

"Even if someone came and bought this company, you know, for $100 million, and this time as opposed to the Venture Capitalists getting most of it, we got most of it," Spencer said, "I would still spend some of my time on invention. Because it's intellectually interesting, it's exciting."

In her early forties, Spencer's wife succumbed to cancer. She was survived by her husband, children and mother, who all live together south of San Francisco, California. Spencer hasn't remarried since then, but he's able to find love in all sorts of places.

So what did they decide in their final days together, about how they should have lived their lives?

“It was really kind of amazing,” said Spencer, “because we thought we wouldn’t change anything. There was nothing that we wanted to be doing better then we were doing right then. And I want to keep on doing the same thing...finding new, exciting things, finding new places to go, maybe getting some more cats, maybe bigger ones. That would be fun."

That is kind of amazing.
Pretty cool right?

1. Research what kind of lizard is local. It's impressive to catch a lizard, but even cooler to know what it is. Shown above is a blue bellied/western fence lizard, or Sceloporus Occidentalis. 

2. Go hiking. It's fun!

3. Pick a long piece of grass or bring unscented dental floss to tie to a stick. Here, I took the wheat off a a long strand of wheat grass. 

4. Tie a noose in one end. Yes it's fine, it won't hurt Lizardo.

5. Keep your eye out for lizards. You may not find that many, but your company might point out a few.

6. Don't let him/her see you. It's important not to let your shadow get too close because shadows are the major way that they see. Also, of course, no sudden movements. With blue bellies, you're more likely to see a male. If they've seen you, they'll start doing pushups, but you can still try to catch them. They do push ups to show you that you shouldn't attack them because they're so macho.

7. Slowly slip the noose around his neck. Yes, he'll let you do it! This is because he's afraid of animals and people, not grass. even if the grass hits his face, he still won't care!

8. Yank the trap up quickly and then hold the lizard in your hand. Again, this won't break his neck or anything. Just pull him up kind of fast. He'll squirm, and with your other hand just hold his body.

9. Take off the trap. You can loosen it or break it. 

10. Show all your friends. Now you can tell them what you've learned about this lizard! In the case of the blue belly, you can tell them about the parasites behind their cheeks, or look at the little turquoise scales they have. 

Photos by Shanna Renee'.