Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Wildlife doesn’t exist only in the wild, and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has some tips for how we can be better neighbors.

The animals who live among us are part of our communities; they are residents, cohabitants, contributors — not outsiders or intruders. What’s more, our assault on them can be viewed as harbingers of our larger environmental destiny. If we can’t attend to the animals in our own backyards, the long-term chances for biological diversity in the rest of this world are grim.

Every animal whose space we share in our urban and suburban neighborhoods — from the diurnal deer, squirrels, bees, and birds to the nocturnal foxes, skunks, rats, raccoons, mountain lions, and opossums — face challenges that threaten their very survival every day: noisy leaf-blowers and unleashed dogs, speeding cars and light pollution, chemical runoff, rampant habitat loss, and a human species so hostile to their existence we install non-native landscapes they can’t eat, delicious plants they love but are hindered from or punished for eating, and fences that inhibit their ability to travel freely to find food, water, or shelter.

Biological diversity in our urban and suburban areas is declining at alarming rates, and since the underlying cause is easy to identify — human behavior — the underlying solutions are equally apparent: human behavior.

A few changes can make all the difference. We can:

*Stop planting non-native landscapes. Animals can’t survive without the plants they co-evolved with.

*Give plant-eaters a break. Yes, newly planted trees and shrubs will be tested by hungry deer, but just keeping new plants protected from these natural herbivores for the first few years means they can withstand a little nibbling once they’re more mature.

*Stop using netting to protect those trees. Animals who get caught in them suffer tremendously.

*Stop poisoning rats. If not because there are more humane ways to deal with uninvited critters in our homes, then because rat poison hurts everyone in the food web.

*Create wildlife corridors to allow animals to move freely through our yards without risking the dangers of the road.

It’s not that we can make a difference in this world. It’s that we do make a difference. Everything we do has an impact on something or someone else. The question is: do we want that difference to be negative or positive.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and writer living in Oakland.

Roll up your sleeve past your bicep, bend your arm at the elbow, and squeeze your bicep muscle. Now, relax and contract again. And relax. What do you see? Movement, right? Do you see a little mouse?

Well, some anatomist did when the word ‘muscle’ was coined; it comes from the Latin word ‘musculus’ – meaning little mouse named such because the movement of a muscle is reminiscent of a little mouse moving under a blanket.

In fact, a number of terms for our anatomy have animals hiding within.

The coccyx, commonly called the tailbone, is the small triangle-shaped bone at the base of the spinal column and named for its resemblance to the beak of a cuckoo bird. ‘Coccyx’ comes from Greek for cuckoo bird.

The cornea, the transparent membrane covering the surface of the eye comes from the Latin word ‘cornu’, meaning “animal horn,” because – delicate though it seems – this tissue is surprisingly hard, like an animal’s horn.

Another anatomy term comes from cornu. Keratin is the tough protein that is the main structural component of hair and nails in humans and hooves, claws, feathers, beaks, and horns in other animals.

The cochlea, a spiral-shaped cavity of the inner ear is called such because it looks like a snail shell: snail is ‘kokhlos’ in Greek.

And if you think you’re going to have trouble remembering all of this, you’re underestimating your hippocampus, the part of our brain crucial for long-term memory. The hippocampus was a mythological sea creature who was part horse – ‘hippo’ is Greek for “horse” — and part fish. An Italian anatomist thought this area was suggestive of the curves of the Hippocampus’s tail, and so it was named.

We also have a few less scientific terms for parts of our anatomy inspired by animals: cowlick, dewlap, crow’s feet, buck teeth, harelip, goatee, ponytail, and pigtails.

These and many more animal-related words reflect how deeply rooted animals are in our consciousness, in our history, in our lives – and deep in our animal bones.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an author and animal activist living in Oakland.

I was 16 years old when a classmate threatened to kick my…well…butt. I had done nothing to provoke her, but for weeks in our high school hallways, she terrorized and terrified me until finally she named the day – the day she was going to find me and hurt me.

Friends warned me not to go to the promenade that Friday. She would be waiting for me, but that’s where I went every day, and I figured getting beaten up was better than living in fear of getting beaten up.

That was 30 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was the day I learned what I – and the world – was made of.

A crowd had already gathered by the time she arrived to find me sitting on a bench. She approached aggressively. A few friends who had been sitting next to me got up and left me by myself. She cussed and screamed at me to get up and fight. With a shaking voice, I told her I wasn’t going to. She hit me hard across the face. Another friend walked away.

Tears welled up in my eyes from the pain – and from feeling utterly alone.

Voices from the gathering crowd yelled out for me to hit her back. I wouldn’t.

Before I knew it, she punched me hard across the other side of my face. At this, the crowd began turning away. Fights aren’t fun when they’re one-sided. At that point, it’s just blatant cruelty.

She left me alone after that, “because,” she said, I “wasn’t going to play.” I saw it differently. I saw a coward whose cruelty became clear to her that day, and to everyone else who bore witness.

I also saw cowardice in those who didn’t stay with me, and I vowed never to be passive in the face of violence. Two years later, I became an advocate for animals after learning about the violence perpetrated against them on a daily basis – unprovoked and unwarranted. Ever since, I’ve been sitting next to them on the proverbial bench holding up a mirror to the one-sided fight they endure every day, and I’m proud to be their witness and their defender.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and author living in Oakland. 

The word ‘tragedy’ is built from two Greek roots: ‘tragos’, meaning ‘goat’ and ‘oide’, meaning ‘ode’. It literally means ‘goat song’, referring to the dramatic plays of the ancient Greeks named such for the actors who dressed in the skins of goats to represent satyrs, goat-like mythological deities.

A tragedy was characterized by a protagonist whose flaw in character leads to a series of events that cause his downfall, a trope that began with the Greek dramatists, reached an apotheosis in the plays of Shakespeare, and prevails in both our contemporary literary realm as well as in the real world of power and politics.

In public figures today, we recognize the pride of Achilles, the rashness of Oedipus, the impulsiveness of Romeo, the ambition of Macbeth, and the greed of Walter White, all of whose fatal flaws portended their inevitable ruination.

Inevitable, because the fate of the tragic figure was already predestined -not because the gods had willed it or because a hostile universe was acting against him — but because fate is the manifestation of disposition and personality. “A man’s character is his fate,” said Heraclitus. Blinded by self-pity, our tragic figure sees it differently.

Ranting and raving, he rails against what he perceives are the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and weaves a web of paranoid conspiracies to divert attention from his own infractions, but the audience knows what he will learn before his end: that wherever you go, there you are.

After witnessing hours of torment and the demise of a sad and pathetic character, ancient Greek audiences found comic reprieve in the satyr plays that followed the tragedies. These comedic parodies provided a much-needed catharsis for the emotionally exhausted audience.

And though those specific types of plays have disappeared from our own modern theatres, their spirit remains in our late-night TV comedy sketches and comedians, whose lampoons of real-life figures provide the same for us: the salve necessary to heal from the daily exposure to the tragedies unfolding before us.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and author living in Oakland.

As January 20th approaches, not everyone is talking about the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Some of us, namely me, are talking about the word ‘inauguration’ itself and the animals hidden within. An inauguration is the act of starting something new — like a business or a practice or a presidency — and its origins go all the way back to the politics of ancient Rome when religion was organized under a strict system of priestly offices, one of the most powerful of which was made up of the nine augurs. The main role of the augurs was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the omens, aka the auguries, a practice referred to as “taking the auspices.”

They did this by reading the flight patterns, songs, and eating habits of birds.

An augur was literally “a diviner of birds.” The augurs were consulted prior to any major decision — be it related to war, commerce, or religion — and were depended upon to predict whether the undertaking in question was auspicious or inauspicious.

From the Latin noun ‘augur‘ was derived the verb inaugurare, “to foretell the future from the flights of birds”. This term was applied to the installation of someone in office after the appropriate omens, or predictions, had been determined. This became the word we use to elect politicians into office with the hope that their inauguration will prove to be auspicious.

By the time inaugurare reached English as ‘inaugurate’ and ‘inauguration’, the association with the divination of birds had been forgotten. But in each of these words — inaugurate, inaugural, inauguration, auspices, auspicious, and inauspicious, the birds remain in their shared Latin root, avis, meaning ‘birds’.

The function of the augurs wasn’t necessarily to enact policy but to discover whether or not the gods approved of a proposed course of action.

I wonder what the gods are thinking now. Perhaps we should ask the birds.

With a Perspective, I’m Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen-Patrick Goudreau is an animal advocate and author living in Oakland.

The human urge to place things into neat little categories is at once a necessary tool for survival as well as a sometimes useless — and even harmful — instinct.

Like most people, I learned to compartmentalize animals into arbitrary categories of those we love and those we eat, those we live with and those we use.

Interestingly, we also categorize people according to the animals they have an affinity for. We ask: “Are you a dog person or a cat person?” As if we have to choose. Growing up, I did choose. I was what people approvingly call a “dog person.” And I made certain not to be mistaken for a “cat person.”

Even though I had never spent any time with cats, I bought into the myth that cats were aloof, unsocial, manipulative, unaffectionate and independent to a fault. As an animal advocate of more than two decades, it pains me to say that I genuinely disliked cats for the first 20 years of my life.

It wasn’t that I had ever had a bad experience with cats. I had no
experience with them, until I started housesitting for a family in my early 20s. It wasn’t the humans who changed my mind. It was their cats.

They were — despite what people had said — affectionate, social, vocal and responsive. As soon as I was able, I adopted two cats of my own and two more when they died, and I honestly can’t imagine living without these enchanting creatures.

And I’m proud to say that they’re stellar ambassadors for their species, shaping and changing perceptions for the better — whether in person or via the photos I post of them every day. They epitomize the best of the feline traits, while exhibiting characteristics people think are reserved only for dogs. They greet me at the door when I come home, they come when I call their name, they bring me their toys and drop them at my feet.

In other words, cats don’t fit into one neat little compartment — just like humans don’t.

We don’t have to choose which particular species we have more affection for. We can be “animal people,” who revel in the company of the feathered and the furry. The more relevant question is “who do we want to live with?”

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

This year my husband and I celebrate 21 years together and 14 years married. By either calculation, our relationship has lasted longer than that of my mother and father, whose bitter divorce shaped who I am more than either of them ever realized, for better or for worse.

The unhappiness in their marriage was palpable by the end of it, and although separation was the better alternative to miserable co-habitation, it's safe to say I didn't have a healthy, loving relationship to look to as a model for my own.

Yet in a way, that may be exactly why my own relationship endures – and thrives. After all, knowing what we don't want is sometimes even more important than knowing what we do want. 

Even more than that, once I identified the areas in my parents' relationship that contributed to its demise, I saw the chance to avoid the same fate for my own. It wasn't a good marriage I had the opportunity to emulate; it was a troubled marriage I had the opportunity to learn from.

In other words, it is precisely because my parents' marriage failed that I work to make sure mine doesn't.

Because I saw the pain caused by not having your partner's undivided attention, I strive to be fully present when my husband and I are talking, when he's telling a story, when we're in each other's company. We even have a name for it. We call it facing forward.

Because I saw how lack of respect can corrode a relationship, I never fail to hold my husband in the highest regard – when we're alone, when we're in the company of others, even when we're separate. I believe that the way we talk about our partners when they're not around speaks volumes about how much respect we have (or don't have) for them.  

Because I witnessed the carnage of things you can never undo and words you can never unsay, I avoid those battlefields altogether.

In appropriating the marriage that didn't work out for my parents, I've been able to save my own. I know we can't change our past, but we can certainly change how we react to it. 

With a Perspective, I'm Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.

On a recent trip to Italy, while touring the baths of Pompeii, a woman in my group looked up at a graphical depiction of a boy swimming with a dolphin and declared that the ancient Romans must have loved animals. I conceded that they most likely regarded animals with awe, while reminding her of the grueling chariot races in the Circus Maximus, the gruesome fabricated "hunts" in the Roman Forum, and the egregious animal slaughter that took place in the Colosseum — all for the sake of human entertainment.

The ancient Romans were, like us, a diverse and complicated people. They were resourceful, intelligent and innovative. They were also violent, ignorant and opportunistic. In all these ways — both good and bad — we are the same.

The Colosseum in Rome is a testament to this. Awe-inspiring though it was to stand inside this architectural feat and to contemplate the ingenuity, hubris and labor that went into its design and construction, it was equally disquieting. Imagining the amount of blood shed, bodies strewn and lives wasted over the centuries it was in use was unsettling — not only because so much unnecessary torment once took place but mostly because it continues to.

The practice of using and killing animals for our own pleasure runs throughout history and cultures. It's certainly not unique to the ancient Romans, and it did not end with them. We like to pretend that we've shed our barbaric selves, but the violent echoes of the past resound in our own amphitheaters:

*In modern harness racing, horses are pushed beyond their limits only to be discarded and often slaughtered when there is little chance they will earn a laurel crown for their riders.

*For our contemporary circuses, majestic wild animals are beaten into submission for the entertainment of stadium spectators.

*In "canned hunts" animals are pursued in a confined area and then slain to be displayed as trophies.

We like to believe that we are more "civilized" than our ancient predecessors, but when it comes to our relationship with the non-human citizens of the world, little has changed.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a vegan author and educator. She lives in Oakland.

My relationship with my mother was always a struggle. Each of us had expectations of the other that neither could possibly meet. And for decades, we rode a roller coaster of hope, frustration and disappointment.

During one of the worst of those times, someone close to me observed that my mother and I clearly loved each other very much. I was incredulous. I had just described yet again how misunderstood and hurt and un-mothered I felt. How could that possibly be translated into love? "Because neither of you give up," my friend said. "Despite how much you struggle, you keep going back. If you didn't care, you wouldn't even try."

It took 20 years for that to really sink in, but it was a strange comfort whenever I was upset with my mother. Anger, after all, was better than indifference.

There was a time when one of my greatest fears was that my mother would die before I resolved my issues with her, leaving me with regret and remorse. Of course, perceiving her as the problem that needed fixing, I suppose I figured that resolution would come in the form of her miraculously becoming the mother I needed her to be.

Not surprisingly, that never happened, but something better did.

I came to realize that the problems in our relationship had nothing to do with her and everything to do with my expectations of her. And so I decided to stop expecting her to be the mother I wanted her to be and decided instead to be the daughter I wanted to be, the daughter I could be proud of. Rather than lamenting about what I wasn't getting from her, I started giving those things to her.

And remarkably, the resolution came. With all of my expectations stripped away, all that's left is that love my friend perceived so many years ago.

A couple of years ago, my mother suffered a mini-stroke, and some of her speech and memory has been impaired. She often struggles to articulate what she wants to say, and dementia can sometimes make her confused.

But ironically, our communication is better than ever, and she has no problem understanding me when I tell her I love her and has no problem telling me back.

With a Perspective, I'm Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a vegan author and educator. She lives in Oakland.

I moved to California 16-and-a-half years ago — intentionally and with great appreciation for this state 3,000 miles from the one in which I was raised. My then-boyfriend, now husband, and I drove from New Jersey with our two cats in tow and exclaimed, "We're home!" as we crossed the border from Nevada.

Since then, we've explored a lot of our golden state but mostly the obvious places, and so during a weekend in the Sierra foothills, we make a goal to sleep in every county in California. There are 58. We have 36 to go. Napping in the car doesn't count.

We've visited — or most likely — driven through more than 22 counties, but in staying the night we get to know towns we otherwise would have just passed through and people we otherwise wouldn't have stayed to meet.

The inspiration for this idea was sparked in Calaveras County, and so the towns of Murphys and Arnold still hold a special place in our hearts.

With vineyards dotting almost every region, we've drunk our share of local wines, including at the annual Lodi Zinfandel Festival in San Joaquin County. We've cuddled with rescued farmed animals at a sanctuary in Glenn County, hiked up the river at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Monterey County, and had the best gourmet vegan meal in Amador County in Plymouth, a town whose population was 1,000 at last count.

Airbnb has made our objective very affordable, although we still love the charm of bed and breakfasts such as the ones in Nevada City in Nevada County, and Cayucos in San Luis Obispo County.

We decided to give ourselves until we're 50 to accomplish this goal, though if it comes too soon — and I won't say how soon — perhaps we'll stretch it to 58, one county for each year.

People often ask us to name our favorite county, and though there are a number we'd like to visit again, the truth is our favorite is the one we sleep in almost every night — the one we call home. Now, that could change, and if it does, at least we'll know enough about the other 57 to choose again.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is a vegan author and educator who lives in Oakland – in Alameda County.

The gathering of 52 English colonists and 90 Wampanoag Indians in 1621 marked the beginning of what we call Thanksgiving today. Enduring a year of starvation and disease, for the Christians it was a time to praise God for the abundance of the harvest. For the Native Americans, it was a time to praise the Earth for the same.

For me, 400 years later, not much is different. Community, gratitude and seasonal crops dominate my thoughts, though I have to work hard to drown out the constant talk of baked turkeys, roasted turkeys, leftover turkeys and turkey pot pies.
I've been celebrating a vegetarian Thanksgiving for 23 years and a vegan one for 16, and deciding what to serve each year is the most difficult part; not because of the lack of options but precisely because there are so many.
When people think of a vegan Thanksgiving, I think they envision something lacking because we're all taught that a proper main dish comprises some type of animal flesh. But really I think what matters most is having a beautiful centerpiece on the table and a focal point on the plate, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is through things that can be stuffed, such as winter squash, little pumpkins, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms or corn husks.
Even before I stopped eating animals, for me, Thanksgiving dinner was always all about the side dishes, and there's no dearth on our table: mashed potatoes, rutabagas, mushroom gravy, bread stuffing, cranberry walnut relish, fresh corn, green beans, roasted vegetables, cornbread, homemade biscuits and green salad. Dessert options range from pies, cakes, cobblers, cookies and crisps. With just a few switcheraoos — vegetable broth and plant-based milks and butters — our Thanksgiving feast is as traditional as it is beautiful.

Despite murmurings that it's not a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey, the truth is we all shape our traditions out of our values, but we don't have to choose one over the other. We can enjoy food-based rituals where nothing need be sacrificed – not taste, familiarity, a sense of community or an animal.

With a Perspective, I'm Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.

I've been vegan for 15 years, and I've been eating meat the entire time. I've also been drinking milk and baking with butter.

Not mock meat. Not fake butter. Not imitation milk.

I eat real food based on real ingredients. I don't consume substitutes, alternatives, analogs or replacements.

I grew up conditioned to believe that animal-based meat, dairy and eggs are the barometers by which all other comestibles should be measured. Thus, we're told, anything that doesn't come off of or out of an animal is considered an alternative.

The marketing arms of the meat, dairy and egg industries have no doubt shaped our thinking in this area. The National Milk Producers Federation has been trying for years to forbid plant-based milk companies from using the word "milk" claiming they have proprietary ownership of that word. Try telling a lactating mother she has to say breast beverage.

Hence, I drink milk. Although water is the only beverage for which we have a physiological need, beyond our own human milk when we're young, it is certainly convenient and tasty to be able to make creamy, nutrient-rich milk from nuts, grains, legumes and seeds.

No cholesterol, no lactose, no casein, no harmful saturated fat, no pregnant female who will subsequently lose her offspring, as well as her life.

I also eat butter, which has more to do with fat than animal fluids – as in "peanut butter" or "cocoa butter." The butter I eat is simply made from the fat of plants rather than animals.

I even eat meat, which comes from the Old English word "mete," which originally referred to solid food rather than a beverage. This history is still evident in our language when we say "coconut meat" or the "meat of a nut," and it is in that vein that I embrace and consume meat made from plants.

Far from fake, these foods reside in the major plant kingdoms from which we derive much of our pleasure and most of our nutrition. In using words that celebrate the plant foods of the world, we normalize the healthful, humane way of eating called "vegan."

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based vegan author and educator.

I grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey on a street that dead-ended in a forest of trees. The houses were modest, but sat on relatively large plots of land that spilled into one another. No fences to define boundaries. My best friend — and my first kiss — lived in the house behind ours, and we along with all the children in the neighborhood would play together outside for hours. Summers consisted of three-legged races, block parties and running through sprinklers; we had Easter egg hunts in the spring; built snow forts in the winter; and delighted in the autumn ritual of jumping into huge piles of fallen leaves.

Until recently, I had forgotten all of this. The dominant narrative of my childhood memories became the divorce, the custody battle and the pain of leaving my home, my friends and especially my dog. Over time, fantasies displaced my memories, as I imagined living in a close-knit community, romanticizing what I imagined small-town life to be like, and tearfully watching re-runs of "Little House on the Prairie" and recently BBC’s "Larkrise to Candleford," both of which depict idyllic 19th century rural towns, where neighbors know each other by name, share meals together and look out for one another.

In other words: my dream.

Recently, my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood and learned very quickly how special it is. We didn’t buy the house knowing there were weekly happy hours in the summer, cookie exchange parties around the holidays and spontaneous gatherings in front of each other’s houses as a matter of course – but here I was – here I am – living a real-life version of what I thought was possible only in my imagination or in fiction.

And then I remembered. The neighborhood of my childhood. I realized that all these years, I wasn’t trying to capture something I hadn’t experienced before; I was trying to return to something I had loved. I created my past through selective memory, but now I get to have the best of all worlds: the fantasy, the memory and the reality.  

With a perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based author and teacher on compassionate living.

On the basis of compassion and good sense, the California State Legislature made it illegal to sell foie gras as of July 2012. The production of foie gras necessarily involves the force-feeding of ducks and geese, resulting in a diseased and painfully enlarged liver, for which the animals are eventually killed.

All for a cracker spread.

In 2011, the California State Legislature made it illegal to sell shark fins. The ban became effective as of July 1, 2013. To keep restaurants in supply, sharks — as many as 70 million a year — are caught, have their fins sliced off and are thrown back into the ocean to die a slow death, gravely affecting not only those individuals but the larger ecosystem and the population of dozens of shark species.

All for a soup ingredient.

Since the foie gras ban went into effect, most restaurants have taken it off their menus, but some have been either overtly selling it or covertly offering it to knowing customers as a "secret" menu item. Some restaurant owners are delighting in the creative ways they're exploiting a loophole in the foie gras ban that makes it illegal only to sell it, so they're giving it away for free to patrons.
We have yet to see if opponents of the shark-fin ban will do the same, but, as in the final legal days of foie gras, people were urged to order shark fins before they went underground.

Personally I see no difference between killing a duck for his liver, a shark for his fins, a chicken for her wings, an elephant for her tusks, or a rhino for his horn. Cultural prerogative and personal choice — the common refrain of those who defend such acts — are feeble excuses for what amounts to desire, profit and pleasure.  

I take heart in each anti-cruelty law we pass and find hope in each person who advocates for those who have no voice. They remind me that — aside from a few antagonists — our hearts are larger than our taste buds.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an Oakland-based author and teacher on compassionate living.