Why does our queer community actively embrace the stray dogs, broken-winged birds and endangered wildlife of the world? I don’t want to play armchair psychologist or animal biologist — but wait — I really do! Sure, some similar outward attributes of our two species are worth noting. Anecdotal evidence suggests that queers are the most adorable, playful and charismatic Earth-beings, second only to our animal friends. There’s nothing cute or cuddly looking about gay bashing politicians, for instance.
On the sad-dog-eyes side — and in all seriousness — we also understand exclusion. We’ve been tossed on the street and sometimes tamed against will. Many of us identify with wild things; we outright reject hetero norms, be it marriage or monogamy. We’re the fiesty honey badgers who don’t give a #$%@! But we’re also like black swans who crave soul mates and domestic nests; our pets could practically be pushed in a baby carriage.
We see the gentle beauty within the pit bull “beast.” We’re the first to provide them safe shelter without breaking their spirit. “These dogs deserve the same love and compassion shown to other breeds,” insists Sebrina Alfonso, conductor of the South Florida Symphony. Along with partner Jacqueline Lorber, she’s tirelessly challenged the pit bulls’ maligned stereotype and found homes for over 20 dogs on the verge of being euthanized.
We also can’t pass by a frightened, flea-ridden cat without at least offering all of last night’s leftovers. We write Christmas-sized checks to support rescue efforts. We might even own a wall-size portrait of our pet wearing a pink tutu (and we’re only too proud to show you).
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Combine our boundless love and open bleeding hearts with rabid loyalties, and our marginalized queer population becomes fiercely primed to protect our kindred animal friends. “All my dogs have been rescued,” said Wendy Silva, owner of Phoebe & Friends, who, with partner Robin Schwartz (former Aqua Foundation director), cares for mixed-breeds Stella, Sebastian and Pooka. “They add so much to our lives, and we can only hope to give them love as unconditional as theirs is for us.”
Our instinctive care could even be spiritually connected. Ganesh, the Hindu deity, appearing in form as an elephant, is often associated with the queer community. He is worshipped for removing obstacles, protections against adversity, and evoking creative arts and expression. St. Francis Assisi, the revered patron saint of animals, preached honor and equality of all creatures and has also been thought to have engaged in gay relationships.
Call it nature or nurture, but 71 percent of LGBT adults compared to 63 percent of heterosexuals are pet owners — according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Here in South Florida, nestled between the endangered Everglades and the globally warmed Atlantic king tides, we’re especially attuned to organizations focused on animal welfare.
Many South Florida animal rescue associations combine volunteer initiatives with educational ventures that make for amazing field trips. While so many non-profits make great use of contributions, here are a handful of remarkable organizations that offer friendly adventure in exchange for (or in addition to) a supportive financial donation.
Rolling in the Deep
Fun(d) Facts: Dolphins are smart, playful, and frisky. The bottlenose, for instance, is also known to exhibit homoerotic behaviors, but did you know that they can also provide therapeutic interactions? Like many aquatic therapy techniques, spending time with dolphins has proven to aid human ailments ranging from anxiety and depression to physical disabilities and autoimmune diseases. Research suggests that by stimulating the production of endorphins and hormones, dolphin therapy can help reduce pain, enhance recovery and stimulate T-cell production.
Local Efforts: Island Dolphin Care, located in Key Largo, provides intensive dolphin therapy for children and adults with special needs and intensive disorders such as PTSD. Through deep immersions with the dolphins, participants enhance self-esteem, attention span and social development. Shorter programs are also offered to groups for half and full days, as are observation sessions.
Learn and Return: A tour can be pre-arranged for anyone interested in learning more about this unique animal. Financial contributions and volunteers for administrative assistance are always welcome.
Grace Under Water
Fund(d) facts: Unlike their land-based counterparts, sea turtles can’t hide their head and legs inside their shell. Like us, they’re totally vulnerable. So much so, that they’re going extinct, in spite of predating the age of dinosaurs.
If that wasn’t enough reason to support their conservation, consider that sea turtles often travel more than 10,000 miles to lay their eggs at the same location they were born.
Local Efforts: Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach is worth the drive (especially when you consider how much farther than you the sea turtles have traveled). This leading center of research and rehabilitation cares for injured sea turtles such as Burt Reynolds, who was discovered tangled in a net. Like his celebrity namesake, Burt is responding well to therapy.
Learn and Return: From turtle hatching observations to veterinary learning lab-tours, Loggerhead offers educational activities for every age. And if you’re searching for the perfect gift, you can sponsor the adoption of your very own reptile. For a $35 donation (which goes toward food, medication and hospital care) you — or the recipient of choice — is anointed “turtle ambassador.” You can visit your turtle anytime, so helicopter parents can receive progress updates.
Fun(d) Facts: Anyone who has spent time around South Florida’s waterways knows that a pelican’s vertical dive rivals that of Greg Louganis’. The brown birds with the big gulls are also first-class poopers who leave special packages on every marina. But what you may not know is that pelicans are an endangered species as consequence of losing their natural habitats and sustaining injuries from fishing hooks and lines.
Local Efforts: These birds flock together along our overdeveloped coastlines and therefore need urban-based treatment centers. Miami’s Pelican Harbor Seabird Station is located on the 79th Street Causeway and cares for injured pelicans impacted by this ongoing overdevelopment. Thousands of displaced and injured animals are received and cared for thanks to the generosity of private donors.
Learn and Return: The center welcomes visitors and offers group tours. For the ultimate urban eco-education take a guided sunset birding tour along Biscayne Bay, during which you could spot over 30 bird species. For a fun way to support, make plans to attend the annual Pelican Party on April 22nd at the Miami Shores Country Club (pelicanharbor.org).
Lemurs, Monkeys and Bears
Fun(d) Fact: Only in South Florida could a panther be confiscated during a drug bust or a tiger found illegally kept as a stripper’s pet. And of course, there are the monkeys allegedly held captive in the name of research. Suddenly, our pelican poop problem seems so benign.
Local Efforts: Bob Freer and his wife were innocently caring for injured birds, raccoons and possums. Times being what they are, it wasn’t long before their Homestead-based Everglades Outpost transformed into a refuge of last resort for unwanted, and/or abused zebras, camels, alligators and any other animal unsuccessfully — and often illegally — procured as a pet. The Outpost’s aim, whenever possible, is to rehabilitate and release animals back into their natural environment.
Learn and Return: To support treatment and caretaking costs, the Everglades Outpost offers tours, airboat rides, alligator-feeding shows, and personal snake-handling sessions. Don’t worry! If you’d rather keep all your fingers accounted for, simply write a check before leaving. Godzilla, the alligator, will be most appreciative.
Our potent pet connection is scientifically proven to stimulate health and reduce stress. All the more reason to take on Pet Project, a Wilton Manors organization that helps people afflicted by HIV-related illnesses and other debilitating diseases care for their personal pets. Initiatives include a pet food bank and delivery, assistance with pet exercise, vet transporation, and – when needed – fostering and adoption facilitation. Pet Project eagerly welcomes hands-on assistance, but they also suggest a creative way to contribute, one that every queer can relate to: Throw a party in the name of charitable contributions. After all, festivity, even in the face of extreme adversity, is perhaps our most admirable trait.