Geese, cats, dogs & potbellied pigs were beneficiaries of their work
Mary Lou (Andrews) Simms, a journalist for 60 years, best known as author of more than 30 exposés of purges of non-migratory Canada geese, died on July 19, 2020 in hospice in Tallahassee, Florida, from complications of a brain tumor.
Simms died one day before what would have been her 80th birthday.
“I was outside her room when she passed, talking on the phone with her friends who she had known since the late sixties,” posted her son Sean Simms, of Bellingham, Washington. A published short story writer under the pen name Eros Salvatore, Sean Simms had flown to be with Mary Lou Simms during her last days, and had arranged her transfer from a nursing home to a hospital to the hospice as her condition deteriorated.
Mary Lou Simms’ daughter Holly Simms died in 2017.
Almost Human: The Hidden Lives of Geese.
Before her terminal illness, friends recalled, Mary Lou Simms had been working on a book of short stories entitled Almost Human: The Hidden Lives of Geese.
Memorialized the newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher, Mary Lou Simms “was recognized for her writing talent while working for the St. Petersburg Junior College [student newspaper] in the early 1960s and left school when offered a full-time reporting job at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), spending “more than 30 years as a features and lifestyles editor for newspapers all over the U.S.,” including in Orlando, West Palm Beach, Naples and Boca Raton, Florida, “as well as for newspapers in Albany, New York; Elyria, Ohio; and Fresno, California.”
The most influential part of Mary Lou Simms’ work, however, came after she retired from the “pink ghetto” of what for most of her mainstream news career were still called “the women’s pages,” and turned to freelance investigative reporting. Though living in Helena and Hoover, Alabama, Mary Lou Simms roved wherever non-migratory Canada geese are found and were in trouble.
Non-migratory Canada geese
The background to Simms’ second career was that after hunting migratory waterfowl with live decoys was federally banned in 1936, the decoy birds, who had been crossed with nonmigratory domestic geese, were impounded, bred, and released into lakes and rivers close to cities by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies. The idea was to rebuild depleted migratory Canada goose populations to huntable abundance.
Releases continued for more than 50 years, including for more than 30 years after biologists realized that the hybridization that kept the geese in place as decoys also ensured that their offspring would be non-migratory.
Instead of joining wild Canada geese in migration, the non-migratory geese demonstrated a distinct preference for remaining all summer in habitats with short-cropped grass, such as parks, yards, airports, cemeteries, and ballfields, where hunting is seldom allowed.
Meanwhile, suburban expansion tended to bring the non-migratory Canada goose release sites within city limits,
Geese now persecuted
All of this was not widely recognized as problematic for several decades. Foxes, raccoons, and coyotes are all major Canada goose predators and nest-raiders, and wherever habitat remained for them, amid urban sprawl, they helped to keep the non-migratory Canada goose population in check.
Then, however, the simultaneous fur trapping boom of 1976-1986 and the mid-Atlantic raccoon rabies pandemic drastically knocked down the goose predator populations for a decade or more. This allowed the non-migratory Canada goose population to very rapidly expand, even as increasingly dense suburban development limited the ability of foxes, raccoons, and coyotes to reclaim lost habitat.
Making matters worse, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared war on mute swans, who had been major nesting habitat rivals of non-migratory Canada geese. A patch of pond or stream-side habitat can either accommodate one nesting pair of mute swans nesting, or half a dozen pairs non-migratory Canada geese in the same place.
Persecuting mute swans encourages non-migratory Canada geese to proliferate, who are in turn now persecuted.
“Exposing wrongdoings in mishandling wildlife”
After eight years, 1993-2001, as features editor for the Baton Rouge Advocate, Mary Lou Simms “became a wildlife advocate,” summarized Editor & Publisher, “exposing the wrongdoings of local communities in their mishandling of local wildlife, particularly resident Canada goose populations. She had a rare ability to meld compassion for a misunderstood species with hard-hitting facts relating to their mistreatment and mismanagement, writing incisive exposes that opened the eyes of the general public. She received a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Washington, D.C., under which she did a two-year investigation of the USDA’s Wildlife Services involving its controversial method of rounding up and gassing resident goose populations across the United States. She also worked in the local community teaching tolerance and compassion for the native wildlife, particularly Canada geese.”
Headlined, “Taxpayers subsidizing wild life extermination program, probe shows,” Mary Lou Simms’ Fund for Investigative Journalism research was nationally distributed on August 18, 2011 by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
“The trucks pulled up at dawn. PollyAnna, a year-old disabled goose whose wing feathers were growing back, was asleep when the trappers approached,” Mary Lou Simms opened.
“Let Them Eat Geese”
Mary Lou Simms went on to “research roundups under the guise of air safety, comparing JFK, the nation’s leader in reported bird strikes,” near New York City, with airports along other super-migratory highways that use advanced avian radar, community involvement and other humane techniques to protect passengers and also preserve local avian populations,” remembered film maker Tyler A. Chase in a Facebook remembrance.
“Still the questions remains,” Chase continued. “Why isn’t JFK using advanced avian radar to keep the skies safe?”
Currently producing a documentary entitled “Let Them Eat Geese,” Chase has dedicated it to the memory of Mary Lou Simms.
Concluded Editor & Publisher, “Simms is slated to receive a posthumous Goose Savior Award from In Defense of Animals, located in San Rafael, California. She [also] raised pedigree cats which were her pride and joy,” and was a frequent freelance contributor to Cat Fancy magazine.
Pet Press publisher Lori Golden
Lori Golden, 68, died on April 10, 2020 “due to an ailment that is believed to not be related to the [COVID-19] outbreak,” blogged longtime friend and colleague Daniel Guss.
“Golden will most widely be remembered,” Guss assessed, as “founder, chief editor, and publisher of the widely distributed, San Fernando Valley-based Pet Press,” which Guss described as a “Pennysaver-like newspaper found in every veterinary office, pet adoption center and high-kill pound across Southern California.”
Published approximately monthly, beginning in 1999, Pet Press under Golden usually consisted of a feature article or two, often profiling a celebrity who did volunteer work on behalf of shelter animals; many profiles of dogs and cats offered for adoption by Los Angeles-area shelters and rescues; and ads from pet-related businesses.
Free tabloids pushed adoptions
Golden’s Pet Press was scarcely the first of its kind, even in Los Angeles, where a similar Pet Press produced by others existed as early as 1993.
Originally Pet Press-like periodicals were dedicated pages or even whole mini-sections of mainstream newspapers, using ad space donated to promote pet adoptions to attract pet-related business ads. Some such special sections appeared in the early 1950s.
By the 1980s they were commonplace––but increasing newsprint costs, growing competition among participating shelters and rescues, and a desire among the animal advocates who produced them for editorial independence often led to partings of the ways.
Between circa 1990 and about 2005, when web-based media began rapidly devouring the advertising base, nearly every major U.S. and Canadian city had a giveaway tabloid similar to Pet Press.
Few, however, were more successful than Lori Golden’s.
Worked in entertainment before journalism
“A roll through her social media pages reveals that Lori, born in 1951, had a broad and diverse group of friends,” wrote Guss, “including many dating back to her New Jersey roots, through her years in the Los Angeles entertainment industry, where she worked on The Merv Griffin Show and a variety of game shows.”
This background gave Golden unique access to the many stars whose appearances in photos or profiles––along with the photos of adoptable animals––attracted readers to Pet Press.
Golden managed to work with most sectors of the widely diverse and often fractious Los Angeles-area animal sheltering and rescue community, but there was an exception.
Criticized Los Angeles Animal Services
“One place where you could no longer find Pet Press,” Guss recalled, “is in Los Angeles Animal Services [shelters], because Lori dared to speak up about dubious practices like transporting animals from Los Angeles” to be rehomed elsewhere, “with no accountability for their whereabouts or what happens to them.”
Golden, Guss indicated, was chiefly concerned that animals were being transported from Los Angeles only to be impounded and euthanized elsewhere.
Another prominent Los Angeles-area blogger, Phyllis Daugherty, has repeatedly exposed instances of pit bulls, in particular, who have been impounded by Los Angeles Animal Services after attacking people, only to be released for transport or rehoming, going on to attack others.
Vet Medicine Outreach program founder
Linda K. Lord, DVM, 57, died after a seven-month struggle with pancreatic cancer on May 23, 2019, but word of her death did not reach ANIMALS 24-7 until more than a year later.
Spending most of her career at Ohio State University, in Columbus, Lord earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1999, practiced small animal medicine for five years, and then returned to OSU to earn a Ph.D in 2006, before joining the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine faculty.
“Lord conducted extensive research on companion animal issues, specifically in regard to homeless pets and pet reunification,” colleague Rustin Moore remembered, “and she had a strong interest in the health and wellness issues impacting veterinary students.
Finished career with Merck Animal Health
“Lord co-founded the college’s Veterinary Medicine Outreach program in 2009,” Moore continued, “which initially started with one day per month visiting homebound individuals served by Meals on Wheels through LifeCare Alliance. This program grew to provide care to the pets of vulnerable populations of people––homebound, homeless, low income, elders and others – four days a week, partnering with seven Columbus-area organizations.”
Appointed OSU associate dean of professional programs in 2011, Lord organized National Veterinary Health & Wellness Summits in 2013 and 2014, and was a past president of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association.
Lord left Ohio State University in February 2017 to finish her career with Merck Animal Health.
Potbellied pigs & shelter traffic
Recalled OSU Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine chair Thomas Wittum, “From the time she was a student, Linda always wanted to learn more about homeless, lost, and unwanted pets, and to understand how to get them back into good homes. She was the first to ask what happened to unwanted potbellied pigs when they outgrew their homes, and to generate an answer to that question.”
Wittum also credited Lord with “reporting the first comprehensive and scientifically valid animal shelter population estimates for Ohio, including the shocking euthanasia numbers needed to manage the overwhelming number of unwanted animals.”
Those claims that Lord achieved firsts, unfortunately, are at best hyperbolic.
Ohio sanctuarians Dale Riffle and Jim Brewer had by December 1991 gathered data to demonstrate the fast-growing magnitude of the cast-off potbellied pig problem, and organized a network of other concerned individuals around the U.S. to do pig rescue.
Riffle and Brewer in 1992 formed PIGS: A Sanctuary near Charlestown, West Virginia, and remained involved in pig rescue for more than 10 years.
Nolen & Boatfield
The actual “first comprehensive and scientifically valid animal shelter population estimates for Ohio, including the shocking euthanasia numbers,” at least for dogs, were gathered in 1992 by Diana Nolen of Stop The Overpopulation of Pets, in Mansfield, Ohio.
Nolen telephoned every shelter in the state to get the numbers. Her work was updated in 1996 by the late Mary Pat Boatfield and team at the Toledo Area Humane Society, who spot-checked the shelters reporting having handled the most animals.
The Nolen survey found that Ohio shelters acknowledged killing 109,683 dogs in 1992. Projecting her findings to non-responding shelters, based on ratios of intake to human population served, Ohio shelters appeared to have killed 132,148 dogs and 93,376 cats.
The Boatfield data projected to 134,764 dogs killed.
Wittum and Lord reported in 2002 that Ohio shelters had killed 128,637 dogs. While their initial data did not project cat deaths, Lord went on to produce data in 2007 indicating that Ohio shelters were by then killing fewer then 50,000 cats per year.