November 20, 2013

On dogs, butterflies, and bruises...


"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the 
rest of the world."    ~ John Muir


dog walk
By KAAY. Click on photo for full citation.

Sometimes the answer to a problem seems black and white.

But it's important to consider the gray areas.

For example, dogs are man's best friends.

I don't have a dog, but if I had to choose one nonhuman animal to accompany me in a survival situation (and I couldn't have a horse), that animal most likely would be a dog.

dog love
By Michael McPhee. Click on photo for full citation.

Many of my friends, and most of my family members, have dogs. They're cherished members of their nuclear families as well as our larger extended families.

dog run
By 4028mdk09. Click on photo for full citation.

We don't want them to hurt or to suffer in any way. That's a black-and-white issue for most of us.

And then there's the issue of the disappearing monarch butterflies.

monarch2

It's easy to put off thinking about them until next year or until they're endangered. Or worse, yet, to give up and think there's no hope for them, or to simply not care. There are so many factors stacked against them. And all they are, afterall, is ... butterflies.

It's not like they're man's best friend.

dog tilt
By Vindhyana. Click on photo for full citation.

This issue is a little more gray.

monarch1

Consider the words of John Muir at the beginning of this post: "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." Are monarch butterflies "canaries in the coal mine"? What impact would their extinction have on the rest of the world? Put another way, are their disappearing numbers trying to tell us something?

So much has been published about dogs and butterflies, and most of us care deeply about both of them. Again, black and white.

Unfortunately, what helps one species harms the other:
  • Monarchs need Milkweed--that's all the caterpillars can eat;
  • But Milkweed is toxic to dogs.

milkweed seeds

I harvested seeds from two types of Milkweed this fall: Swamp Milkweed and Whorled Milkweed. I asked friends and family if they wanted seeds for their gardens to help the monarch butterflies. Several without dogs didn't hesitate to say "yes."

Of course, I mentioned to the dog owners that Milkweed is toxic to dogs, so they'd have to be careful where to plant it. Frankly, that brought the enthusiasm about planting Milkweed down to about a one or two, on a scale of one to 10.

My goodness, I can't blame them. A dog is a part of the family. Dogs chew ... on just about anything. Dogs that chew on Milkweed might get sick. Black and white, right?

I'm terrible at sales--especially in situations where I completely understand the "No, thanks." So when a dog owner says, "Oh, well, I can't grow that because my dog might eat it," I give up.

But this post is about the gray areas. If you have a dog (or a horse, or an outdoor cat, or any other mammalian pet), but you also care about monarch butterflies, consider the gray areas before you give up on the monarchs.

milkweed

Here are just a few ideas on how pet owners can protect their pets and also help prevent monarch extinction:
  • Plant Milkweed in fenced-in gardens that your pets can't reach;
  • Support organizations and public gardens dedicated to supporting and protecting the monarch;
  • Volunteer at a nature center to help maintain monarch habitat; or
  • Consider rearing monarch caterpillars in a safe container or tent, away from predators (including pets). Click here for instructions on how to do it.

If you have other ideas on how to protect both pets and monarchs, please add them to your comments.

For more information about the status of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and how you can help, visit the World Wildlife Fund or the Monarch Joint Venture.

Monarchs have been on our minds and featured on our blogs more than ever this year, because they're "near threatened," according to the World Wildlife Fund. Man's best friend is, arguably, the most important and cherished species for human survival. But there are gray areas--ways we can support both.

For months now, the song "All I know," written by Jimmy Webb and popularized by Art Garfunkel has been going through my mind. It's a simple song, really, and some might call it overly melancholy. But I find it powerful and wise in its simplicity. It applies to human interactions, but also to how all earth's creatures--including man and his best friend--interact and "bruise" each other. Here's to working on the gray areas, and making the bruises less severe.

(For a poignant video set to the music of "All I Know," click on the picture below.)

40 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Yes, they were taken by other people who shared them on Wikimedia Commons. I think they're great, too. I love the expressions.

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  2. Such a great analogy. I haven't read anything with this comparison, despite, as you mentioned a lot has been written about dogs and butterflies. I have lots of milkweed in my garden and I have two dogs. My dogs don't eat plants so its never been an issue. They are more carnivores. They go after the rodents...voles, moles, chipmunks and squirrels. I can see how it would be a concern to pet owners. I think you offer some great alternatives to supporting monarch populations if you can't plant milkweed in your own garden.

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    1. I don't remember reading about it much either. But it really happened to me, so I figured it might be worth discussion. As if the monarchs don't have enough workng against them already.

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  3. I have had many dogs throughout my life, and never did they eat milkweed. I am sure there might be some really dumb dogs trying to eat the bitter tasting plant, but none that I have ever heard. Dogs usually need to consume large amounts of plants to suffer serious issues, like Poinsettia that always carried the warning. Animals are much smarter than we give them credit, but it is better to err on the side of safety, than not. Good you warned the seed takers.

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    1. That's good to know, Donna. I just want people to be aware of the risks, but I'm glad to know it's unlikely dogs would eat a lot of it. I have a few friends/family who say their dog eats everything--even whole plants outside and strange objects inside.

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  4. Excellent and thought -provoking post. And you have prompted this gardener on the other side of the pond to try growing milkweed again, they are migrant visitors to the UK, and rare ones at that, but have been seen to lay eggs where asclepias is available. Besides, they are beautiful plants.

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    1. Interesting. I suppose they hitch rides on travelers' luggage or something--maybe in the form of eggs on leaves or caterpillars or chrysalises (sp?). Yes, they are beautiful plants, but they can be invasive--especially the Common Milkweed. Maybe Butterfly Weed (bright yellow and/or orange) would be good in a pot? The main thing is, it's important for us here in their native habitat to supply enough Milkweed and nectar plants for them.

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  5. Thanks for an interesting post, I know monarchs are a rare sight in Britain, and if they are here they are seriously off track, but with changes in climate we might get to enjoy them more perhaps? They are welcome to come and enjoy my Dregea sinensis, I think they would find it an excellent food source!
    That Chowchow (if that’s what it is?) is seriously cute!!
    Have a great day, Beth, take care.

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    1. I'm amazed that they would get that far, but a I mentioned to Janet, perhaps they hitchhike on airplane rides or something. The monarch caterpillars only eat Asclepias plants, but I'm sure the butterflies would love your garden--so many nectar sources there! I agree--the dogs are so cute.

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    2. The Dregea sinensis is a milkweed plant, although not an Asclepia, not sure if all milkweeds will do, this is a topic I know very little about! The monarchs that sometimes appear here usually fly over the English channel or are brought here on winds from the Canary Islands or the coast of Spain/Portugal in the autumn, they do not survive the winter sadly.

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    3. Ah, I see. Actually it looks like Dregea sinensis is in the same family (Apocynaceae) as the Asclepias plants, but a different genus. The monarchs, unfortunately, can only eat species in the genus Asclepias--that's part of the reason they're struggling now because American development and farming has destroyed too much of their habitat. Anyway, that is amazing that monarchs would fly in from such a distance. Butterflies are amazing.

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  6. Mam pieska i dziękuję za ten pouczający post. Pozdrawiam.
    I have a dog and thank you for this informative post. Yours.

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    1. Yes, I remember seeing your photos of your cutie. Take care, and have a wonderful weekend with your family, Giga!

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  7. Thought provoking post and I'm ashamed to say I was not aware of the issues. As a dog owner I think the problem of toxicity can be overcome in the ways you mention. One BIG problem with the post .. those dogs in the photos are sooo cut, I kept getting sidetracked and giving involuntary "ah"s !!

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    1. Hehe. Yes, I had the same problem. Their little faces are so distracting. I remember reading about how Milkweed is toxic to all mammals, and then I read some information about how dogs have had to go the vet after eating Milkweed. I guess that's why monarchs eat it--which has served them well until now--when we've destroyed so much of their natural habitat and the Milkweed plants.

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  8. Great post. It is the grey areas that allow us to be more open-minded and able to consider first before settling on a decision.
    I have some butterfly weed and another milkweed that blew in but has yet to flower.

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    1. Thanks, Patty. It's hard to plan ahead and make choices, but sometimes it really pays off. I sprinkled more Swamp and Whorled Milkweed seeds in my garden recently--hopefully they'll sprout come spring. I also have Butterfly Weed, but it didn't produce seeds--I don't know if the plant will come back next spring.

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  9. You make us think, and that's so good. We don't have a dog, but we do have Boo, our cat..I had no idea that milkweed was poisonous to them. I think that the Monarchs just don't hang out here,I am pretty sure we don't see them, but a flutterby that looks similar. I am doing as much planting with the animals, birds, bees, and other fly by's in mind as I can. So it's always good to find new solutions.

    Jen

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    1. Thanks, Jen. The crisis has certainly made me think about these things lately. I would be sad if my cats ate Milkweed, too, but they're indoor cats. I suppose Donna's right that most dogs and cats would probably take one bite and spit it out. But it's better to be safe than sorry. Take care of your sweet Boo!

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  10. Very interesting thoughts. Setting aside the dog issue though, I think the answer to what you said about the monarchs is black and white and it's all in John Muit's quote. But I am afraid that we are going to spend so much time trying to make it gray that it will be too late.

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    1. Good point, Carolyn. I certainly think of the monarchs as "canaries in the coal mine." Maybe losing them would be sad, but losing their habitat--which supports so many other insects and animals, too--is scary and tragic. Thanks for sharing your wise thoughts.

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  11. Oh my, I just planted some milkweed seeds, but I had no idea they were poisonous to dogs! My dogs generally don't eat anything from my garden--other than Sophie chewing on fresh green beans while I'm picking them:) So I think we'll probably be okay, but I'll be extra careful when they're around the milkweed...that is, if it grows for me.

    I wouldn't plant milkweed at all if it weren't for the Monarchs; they may not be "man's best friend," but they are such beautiful, fragile creatures that symbolize so many different things, including hope and rebirth. I can't imagine what life would be like if we lost both of those ideas.

    By the way, have you ever read Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behavior"? A great book, and one I know you would enjoy.

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    1. Better safe than sorry, I guess. Sophie sounds like a well-behaved dog. ;) I have friends who say their dogs chew on everything! I didn't plant Milkweed until this year, because I didn't think any Milkweed would do very well in shade. But I found a spot in dappled sun where it thrived, and it did attract the monarchs! No sign of eggs, but maybe next year when the plants are more established. "Flight Behavior" is on my book club's reading list this year--I'm looking forward to reading it!

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  12. How beautifully written. As my mother always said, the older we get, the more gray we see. She wasn't talking about her hair either. Thank you for this. I'm going to post it on Facebook and everywhere else. BTW, I have dogs and milkweed. The dogs have never touched it. There are so many poisonous things out there anyway.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Dee. Yes, I would have to agree with your mom, and I think we could all learn a lot by considering the gray in our own lives and in others'. Good to know your dogs don't go for the Milkweed!

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  13. I have many poisonous plants in my garden. I always assumed that creatures (all but humans) are hard-wired to know what is good for them and what to avoid. It could be that we have bred that instinct out of some dogs (shame on us). We're cat people, and Sami is much too smart to nibble on the wrong things out there. I have heard of animals harmed by eating something familiar that had been treated with pesticides (a duck dining on slugs that had been poisoned).
    You raise issues that could keep a conversation going ad infinitum.

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    1. I've read that rabbits and deer avoid Milkweed, but dogs, horses, and cattle sometimes eat it. Generally, they spit it out after one bite, but then some dogs (and cats) don't know when to quit. My kitties are inside cats, so it's not an issue for me. And the neighbors' dogs have an invisible fence. Yes, I have a feeling this topic will continue to be discussed.

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  14. What a beautiful and articulate post on Monarchs. I'm truly an amateur gardener but am working on habitat gardening. I especially love seeing the Monarchs utilizing what I planted.

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    1. Thank you! It sounds like you're on the right track--and that's truly the joy of gardening. Seeing how the beautiful habitat you've created welcomes wildlife and is a pleasant place for humans and all visitors. Cheers!

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  15. How lovely to have monarch butterflies, you are so lucky. But I'm surprised that dogs would eat milkweed. I grow so many poisonous plants-we all do.The only way my dog would eat them is if they were served in a sauce with roast chicken or braised steak. I love the John Muir quote.
    Chloris

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    1. Yes, I felt lucky to have monarchs in my garden this year--which seems strange because they used to be so plentiful, I took them for granted. I'm glad to know that many dogs are unlikely to eat plants that are bad for them. Thanks for visiting!

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  16. Beth what a great post especially for pet owners. I do not have pets and had not considered those who did and their trepidation...

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    1. Thanks, Donna! I'm just catching up with some comments after hosting Thanksgiving and then having a wonderfully relaxing, lazy day yesterday. ;-)

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  17. I appreciate your post about these things. Regarding poisonous plants, we have lots of them and lots of free dogs roaming around (you see our area in the province is still free, unlike here in urban areas). Our dogs, cats, chickens roam free like the old days, and only few houses have fences. I guess they know what is bad for them and what are used as their medicines! We always see dogs eating that special type of weeds when they are not in good condition.

    Regarding the ONENESS of things, we are all connected. Have you heard or read the experiment to illustrate this? Some live shrimps are put in a glass aquarium wired with electrodes to measure their responses. Then in another room, few meters away from the shrims, a live egg was slowly dropped in boiling water. Do you know what happened to the shrimps? They showed very agitated movements and showed unusual results in their electrode measurements!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Andrea. I had heard about that experiment--it's fascinating! I believe there are a lot of "unseen" phenomena going on around us--unseen to human eyes, but perceptible to us and the plants and animals around us. We just don't always realize or acknowledge them. I think you're right that animals in the wild learn what they can and cannot eat. Rabbits and deer do not eat Milkweed.

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  18. I have tried to grow milkweed with little success, but I have started another sunny garden with room for some more flowers, so milkweed will be added to that area. I have seen few monarchs lately, and I miss them! I believe the use of pesticides in many areas has contributed to the monarch's decline. Thanks for including the All I Know video. I really enjoyed it. I have heard it before, but your post gave me a new perspective!

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    1. I miss the monarchs, too. And the other butterflies, and the summer songbirds, and the flowers. Oh well, time to curl up with a good book and take a rest while the garden takes hers. :)

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  19. Do dogs and other cats really have a tendency to chew on milkweed? This is the first I have heard that this was a problem. I have been cautious about planting things that might attract and poison children (Baneberry for example), but have not considered this before.

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    1. I read several articles about how some pets have made appearances at vet clinics with Milkweed poisoning. Usually, they would take one bite and spit it out. But some dogs are so anxious to eat everything they can chomp on. I just didn't want people to be uninformed of the possibility--even if it's unlikely.

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